Posts Tagged ‘entropy’


September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but this quote seems magical to me:

So, in the midst of the relentless erosion of integrity of all matter over time, how in the hell does anything ever get organized in the first freakin’ place? While something is being created  in real-time, be it you or me or our own creations, the 2nd law of thermo is magically suspended from doing its damage.

It takes “work” to create something. As soon as the entropy-defying work stops, the disintegration of that something begins.

Open Loop

I’m currently working on a really exciting and fun software development project with several highly competent peers. Two of them, however, like to operate open loop and plow ahead with minimal collaboration with the more disciplined (and hence, slower) developers. These dudes not only insert complex designs and code into their components without vetting their ideas before the rest of the team, they have no boundaries. Like elephants in a china shop, they tramp all over code in everybody else’s “area of ownership”.

“He who touches the code last, owns it.” — Anonymous

Because of the team cohesion that it encourages, I’m all for shared ownership, but there has to be some nominal boundary to arrest the natural growth in entropy inherent in open loop systems and to ensure local and global conceptual integrity.

Even though these colleagues are rogues, they’re truly very smart. So, I’m learning from them, albeit slooowly since they don’t document very well (surprise!) and I have to laboriously reverse engineer the code they write to understand what the freak they did. Even though feelings aren’t allowed, I “feel” for those dudes who come on board the project and have to extend/maintain our code after we leave for the next best thing.

Closed Systems

In “Entropy Demystified“, Arieh Ben-Naim states an often forgotten fact about entropy:

The entropy of a system can decrease when that system is coupled with another system (e.g. a heating system connected with a thermostat). The law of ever increasing entropy is only valid in an isolated system.

In the figure below, the system on the left is coupled with the external environment and its members can use the coupling to learn how to adapt, dynamically self-organize, and arrest the growth in entropy that can destroy systems. In the isolated system on the right, which models a typical corpo mediocracy run by fat headed and infallible BMs who ignore everything outside their cathedral walls, there is no possibility of learning – and entropy marches forward.

Positive Or Negative, Meaning Or No Meaning?

April 29, 2010 1 comment

In Claude Shannon‘s book, “The Mathematical Theory Of Communication“, Mr. Shannon positively correlates information with entropy:

Information = f(Entropy)

When I read that several years ago, it was unsettling. Even though I’m a layman, it didn’t make sense. After all, doesn’t information represent order and entropy represent its opposite, chaos?  Shouldn’t a minus sign connect the two? Norbert Wiener, whom Claude bounced ideas off of (and vice-versa) thought it did. His entropy-information connection included the minus sign.

In addition, Shannon’s theory stripped “meaning”, which is person-specific and unmodel-able in scrutable equations, from information. He treats information as a string of bland ‘0’ and ‘1’ bits that get transported from one location to another via a matched, but insentient, transmitter-receiver pair. Wiener kept the “meaning” in information and he kept his feedback loop-centric equations analog. This enabled his cybernetic theory to remain applicable to both man and the machine and make assertions like: “those who can control the means of communication in a system will rule the roost“.

Like most of my posts, this one points nowhere. I just thought I’d share it because I think others might find the Shannon-Wiener differences/likenesses as interesting and mysterious as I do.

D4P Has Been Hatched

April 25, 2010 6 comments

Friend and long time mentor Bill Livingston has finished his latest book, “Design For Prevention” (D4P). I mildly helped Bill in his endeavor by providing feedback over the last year or so in the form of idiotic commentary, and mostly, typo exposure.

Bill, being a staunch promoter of SCRBF feedback and its natural power of convergence to excellence, continuously asked for feedback and contributory ideas throughout the book writing process. Being a blabbermouth and having great respect for the man because of the profound influence he’s had on my worldview for 20+ years, I truly wanted to contribute some ideas of substance. However, I struggled mightily to try and conjure up some worthy input because even though I understood the essence of this original work and it resonated deeply with me, I couldn’t quite form (and still can’t) a decent and coherent picture of the whole work in my mind.

D4P is a socio-technical process for designing a solution to a big hairy problem (in the face of powerful institutional resistance) that dissolves the problem without causing massive downstream stakeholder damage. Paradoxically, the book is a loosely connected, but also dense, artistic tapestry of seemingly unrelated topics and concepts such as:

Bill does a masterful and unprecedented  job at connecting the dots. The book will set you back, uh, $250 beaners on, but wait….. there’s a reason for that astronomical price. He doesn’t really care if he sells it.  He wants to give it away to people who are seriously interested in “Designing For Prevention”. Posers need not apply. If you’re intrigued and interested in trying to coerce Bill into sending you a copy, you can introduce yourself and make your case at vitalith “at” att “dot” net.

Update 12/29/12:

The D4P book is available for free download at The second edition is on its way shortly.

Supported By, Not Partitioned Among

April 24, 2010 Leave a comment

“A design flows from a chief designer, supported by a design team, not partitioned among one.” – Fred Brooks

partitioning == silos == fragmented scopes of responsibility ==  it’s someone else’s job == uncontrolled increase in entropy == a mess == pissed off customers == pissed off managers == disengaged workers

“Who advocates … for the product itself—its conceptual integrity, its efficiency, its economy, its robustness? Often, no one.” – Fred Brooks

Note for non-programmers: “==” is the C++ programming language’s logical equality operator. If the operator’s left operand equates to its right operand, then the expression is true. For example, the expression “1 == 1” (hopefully) evaluates to true.

Knowing this, do you think the compound expression sandwiched between the two Brooks’s quotes evaluates to true? If not, where does the chain break?

Morally Irresponsible Stooges

April 23, 2010 Leave a comment

In the first place, it is clear that the degradation of the position of the scientist as an independent worker and thinker to that of a morally irresponsible stooge in a science factory has proceeded even more rapidly and devastatingly than I had expected. The subordination of those who ought to think to those who have the administrative power is ruinous to the morale of the scientist, and quite to the same extent, the objective scientific output of the nation. – Norbert Wiener.

By stealing Norby’s quote and replacing a few words, we can make up this nasty, vitriolic, equivalent passage (cuz I like to make stuff up):

In the first place, it is clear that the degradation of the position of the product creator/developer as an independent worker and thinker to that of a morally irresponsible stooge in a corpocracy has proceeded even more rapidly and devastatingly than I had expected. The subordination of those who ought to think to those who have the bureaucratic power is ruinous to the morale of the wealth creator, and quite to the same extent, the productive output of the CCF. – Bulldozer00.

These days, exploiters are more valued than explorers and makers. In the good ole days (boo hoo!) and in most present day startup companies, the exploiters were/are also the explorers and makers, but because of a lack of respect and support for the species, the multi-disciplined systems thinker and doer has gone the way of the dinosaur. It’s only getting worse because as complexity grows, the need for renaissance men and women to harness the increase in complexity’s dark twin, entropy, is accelerating.

Continuous Husbandry

February 5, 2010 2 comments

One definition of a system is “a collection of interacting elements designed to fulfill a purpose“. A well known rule of thumb for designing robust and efficient social, technical, and socio-technical systems is:

Keep your system elements Loosely Coupled and Internally Cohesive (LCIC)

The opposite of this golden rule is to design a system that has Tightly Coupled and Internally Fragmented (TCIF) elements. TCIF systems are rigid, inflexible, and tough to troubleshoot when the system malfunctions.

Designing, building, testing, and deploying LCIC systems is not enough to ensure that the system’s purpose will be fulfilled over long periods of time. Because of the relentless increase in entropy dictated by the second law of thermodynamics, continuous husbandry (as my friend W. L. Livingston often says) is required to arrest the growth in entropy. Without husbandry, LCIC systems (like startup companies) morph into TCIF systems (like corpocracies). The transformation can be so slooow that it is undetectable – until it’s too late. In subtle LCIC-to-TCIF transformations, it takes a crisis to shake the system architect(s) into reality. In a sudden jolt of awareness, they realize that their cute and lovable baby has turned into an uncontrollable ogre capable of massive stakeholder destruction. Bummer.

Structure And Work

October 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Under the inescapable second law of thermodynamics, fragmentation and dis-integration are natural consequence of organizational growth over time. Real leaders respect and arrest the destructive power of the second law by conscientiously applying structure and work to keep the org intact and aligned toward a higher purpose. All cookie cutter managers know how to design and impose structure. Hell, that’s the easy part because you could look one up in the standard hierarchical patterns handbook (which has only one page and one pattern – the command and control hierarchy where the kahunas at the top rule over the kingdom and ignore input from everyone else).Entropy

The “work” is the hard part. Unlike leaders, managers hate work and they’ll do anything, no matter how harmful it is to the org, to avoid it while feigning that they’re bustin’ their butt to “get things done”. Thus, after unveiling his/her latest masterpiece corpo structure, which is always an insignificant  hierarchical tweak, he/she “abdicates” the day-to-day work of keeping the fragments in harmony to…….. “others”.


So, what is the “work” part of the powerful, entropy-arresting, work+structure dynamic duo? It’s a continuous and active “sampling the value stream” and a continuous monitoring of the interfaces and interactions between the org fragments to sense signals of disintegration. Without doing the work part, performance will not improve, and of course, it will deteriorate further; triggering yet another round of restructuring to “meet the changing needs of our customers”. Bummer.

Yin And Yang

Structure, Work, Entropy

August 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Entropy can be interpreted as a measure of chaos, or disorder. The second law of thermodynamics asserts that entropy increases with the passage of time. Tick, tock, tick, tock. The universe is constantly but surely on the move toward randomness.


As the universe unfolds in a  continuous and creative dance, it temporarily suspends its own law of increasing entropy. It spontaneously forms new structures while others are simultaneously disintegrating.

As human beings, we are of the universe and thus, we also possess the awesome power to create. It takes structure plus work to create and, maybe more importantly, sustain something of value. The best we can do is temporarily arrest the growth in entropy by applying structure and performing the work required to keep the structures that we create in tact. Eventually, the inexorable rise in entropy wins and our creations disintegrate. It is what it is.

Structure Plus Work

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