Notes on professional frustration

Pieter Wisse

What follows are excerpts, taken from my email correspondence during the years 2002 to 2005.



Perhaps it is even worse than we think. Looking at young children behaving, they seem expert adaptors, switchers etc. of behaviors. So what really happens in education is that we unteach them contexts. Indeed, how much more could they learn when the human capacity for contextual differentiation is reinforced, rather than obstructed?

I'm still struggling to raise interest in metapattern. What a huge gap lies between rhetoric of innovation and people's actual behaviour. Effectively, conservatism rules.

I couldn't miss the similarities to my own predicament with metapattern. To me, it's so obvious that its deployment offers huge practical advantages. I don't believe, though, people are willingly suppressing such innovation. Who needs to be paranoid, when frustration is bad enough? I'm afraid they just don't see ‘it’ from within their traditional paradigm and then feel awkward about reacting. Well, it's stupid, anyway.

It's so &*&^% obvious that a richer approach is required for coordinating information at the scope of open interconnection. Metapattern is a formally rigorous, conceptually grounded mechanism for precisely balancing differentiation with identity. Isn't it amazing that also database software companies aren't interested yet? Everybody still seems stuck to an old, limiting paradigm.

Everybody up to cabinet ministers argues improvements are imperative but when it comes down to action, each government organization still wants to safeguard its autonomy through information self-sufficiency (such pseudo-autonomy is a trait especially strong in Dutch culture; for it is difficult to image a country where people are in fact more interdependent) at the expense of the citizens (but who cares?). Nothing much changes, except that loads of money are ill-advisedly spent.
So, it really is a struggle to find an opening. I'm probably too naive (but not about the problems; about twenty-five years ago I held the job of coordinating information systems for one of the Dutch government ministries, i.e. Foreign Affairs). Likewise, I haven't been able to raise interest for metapattern yet in the academic community on conceptual information modeling. I'm aware the additional dimension of situation/context establishes a richer paradigm, and changing one's paradigm is especially difficult. Despite the problems in information management that people simply cannot solve with the old paradigm, there indeed seems to be a huge obstacle for them to change it.

I've invested to the point of near bankruptcy in developing metapattern as a tool for conceptual information modeling and KnitbITs as the corresponding implementation tool. Regretfully, I'm not yet attracting paying customers. It's not because of useful criticism, though. There simply is no interest with the people I've contacted so far to have a look at what I'm convinced is breakthrough technology at the scale of the Internet. At least conceptually, I believe I'm well ahead of the so-called semantic web. Bluff?

Are we both really arguing from another side of a paradigm shift? Have you read 'Flatland'? The two-dimensional square is touring the three-dimensional world where, in a flash of abstraction, he refers to the possibility of worlds with even more three dimensions. His host, a sphere if I remember correctly, is greatly offended and hurls the square back into the two-dimensional world he originated from, to live unhappily ever after. So in contrast, did we, for reasons I don't quite get, survive an attack of spheres? Are we allowed to enter worlds beyond their traditional dimensions?
Let's be honest. Ours is not an easy paper. But then, papers only get easier again after the other side of a paradigm shift has become sufficiently populated. I find that it is simply impossible to popularize — what we believe are — necessary and sufficient 'dimensions' by just dropping a few.

In my lecture, I have to enlighten an audience ranging from politicians to programmers on the 'architecture of e-government.' I will make the brave attempt to have the two hypes, one on 'architecture' and the other on anything prefixed by 'e,' cancel each other out.

I'm also still busy with general guidelines for so-called e-government. Nobody seems to take an interest, though. Rhetoric about networking abounds, but in the meantime every minute government institution aims to maintain its splendidly isolated position.

The dilemma is that the people directly involved cannot appreciate the value of constructive criticism. So, mostly, I don't bother.

The idea of a paradigm shift explains why it takes so long (and why pioneers are not likely to benefit commercially; oh well, don't let me be too pessimistic).

I am still working at creating problems awareness. It involves running the risk of being seen as the messenger of bad news. The trick, of course, is to let somebody her- or himself articulate a problem for which you — what a coincidence! — just happen to have the solution available. After many centuries, it is now the routine approach for medical doctors etcetera. I haven’t yet reached that stage.

For several years already, we even have a working prototype to show for it, too. Regretfully, it doesn't make a difference. Not yet.

Difficulties getting acceptance for metapattern etc. notwithstanding, I feel confident to point at opportunities in the area of e-government.

In view of increasing scope for information services I really find an infrastructural offering beyond what is now known as the semantic web compelling. My R&D company Information Dynamics has already done a lot to prepare metapattern’s implementation at the level of technology (an additional control layer for — distributed — relational databases, web services etc.). We have a working prototype as proof-of-concept.[message to Microsoft, November 25, 2003]

My experiences attempting to collaborate with suppliers have so far not come out successful. Their focus is really on their own product; they're not 'open' to assimilation (which, I admit, is precisely what accounts for commercial success). But viable approaches for dealing with complexity are 'in the air.' In this respect it's actually amazing how long metapattern is still uncontested (which is, at the same time, a problem).

You can effect change sure enough if you can partition a 'project' into the smallest of steps whereby people can perceive each step as easy 1. for themselves and profitable 2. in the short term. Some change, however, doesn't lend itself to such decomposition (without serious reduction). The proverbial example is the paradigm shift, which requires an all-out change in attitude almost right from the start of change. So, we are confronted with a dilemma. Over time, some momentum may build. When, say, the culture has slowly effected enough of a paradigm shift, the potential for successful stepwise break-down may finally be available.

Now if we remain inactive, we're sure that we don't 'help' such an evolution. That's why I favor to engage myself with change. Whether that really helps?

I wouldn't know how to criticize their ideas constructively in their own terms. It seems there is a dilemma involved in applied philosophy. The complexity lies in digging the tunnel, resulting in easy passage. However, the 'passage' that they propose is largely illusory; it's just not there. It is therefore practically, i.e. not 'just' theoretically, unavoidable to return to their assumptions on tunnelling. Of course you are right to argue how far we may retreat to foundations and still call it engineering. (I agree the metaphor of 'foundation' is already biased toward engineering, too.) If you ever want to address such issues for information modeling in general in your magazine you're most welcome to ask for a pertinent contribution on my part.



2002-2005, web edition 2006 © Pieter Wisse