Contrarian Views Matter – A lot

We humans have certain innate traits that often get us in trouble and they are the reason why people who approach an issue from a thoughtfully contrarian point of view are important in contributing to progress.

Abraham Maslow famously described the situation via his famous quote “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” (Maslow’s Hammer)  This essentially tells us that we tend to see the world through our own history and perspective, desperately trying to reduce all information to bits we can understand in our own frameworks and this often leaves us astray.

Along the same lines is the parable from India that discusses blind men and an elephant: Each man touches the elephant in one spot — the trunk, the tail, the belly, etc. — and comes away with a different description of the creature. Every man is both right and wrong at the same time. All of them failed to see the entire elephant, and none accepted the points of view of the others.


Why fiber (to the X)?

Much touted for increased bandwidth speeds the detractors say smaller locations such as residential housing do not need that kind of bandwidth. I think they are both wrong. The real reason to use fiber (single mode – SMF) is to prevent cable changes. SMF is the only communications technology that has no theoretical limits which effectively future proofs it and means you never have to re-trench that cable. Think of it as a storm sewer pipe that never has to be upgraded. Instead of a large expenditure to upgrade the pipe, it might cost something between 5-20% of the complete replacement cost to increase the capacity of the fiber.

Podcast Review: The Economist’s Guide To Drinking While Pregnant

For some reason health advice is black and white but the research it’s based on is anything but. Example: You’re not allowed to drink while pregnant. Turns out that most of the studies this is based on, most of the participants were on cocaine. Of the people not on crack, they were heavy drinkers – 5-6 beverages per day, every day. Turns out, it’s hard to tell if there is any effect for someone who occasionally drinks (less than 1 a day). But doctors are pre-disposed to be more cautious since they can get sued if they take a liberal approach.  This podcast speaks to Economist Emily Oster and how she used economics to approach her own pregnancy and pregnancy related health research.

802.11 wireless – install easy / performance hard

Wireless can be easy to install but getting wireless performance is not. An easy installation is convenient yes, but does it work for every application? It can but doing it the right way could be difficult and/or expensive. Often times, the cheapest & most effective answer is a wired connection.

However, the trend in easy consumer access to inexpensive 802.11 devices has made it the “duct tape” of the networking world. This logic is dangerous. Why? Wireless is an open system, unlike wires (closed system) which means that the variables affecting performance in a specific location can only be estimated. 802.11 itself, in an effort to make wireless more accessible has made many trade-offs that make it often useless for anything but the least demanding applications.

Since we can only estimate conditions, there is a standards body (ITU-R) that provides models to help with accuracy. Model updates in the last decade have made drastic changes. The P.452 model update from revision 14 to 15, for instance, impacted the model calculations less favourably by 20dB. Decibel math is a way to do logarithm base 10 math (exponential) in your head using simple addition & subtraction. For example, a 3dB difference is double, whereas 10dB difference is 10 times. So 20dB means 10×10 worse or 100 times worse than the older revision. For the engineering types, wireless propagation modelling and the different models available are discussed in this whitepaper: