Bureaucracy and Thermodynamics

In his otherwise spot-on post, The Collapse of Complex Business Models, Clay Shirky makes the confusing statement:

Bureaucracies temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

Now, I’m no physicist, but it seems pretty clear to me that bureaucracies absolutely obey the second law of thermodynamics.

“Process” isn’t anti-entropic at all, any more than gasoline-powered engines are anti-entropic. The process itself, the bureaucratic imperatives, are entropy and waste heat. Which isn’t to say that you can perform useful work without a certain amount of process, or that certain applications don’t require an enormous quantity of process. A good startup is an efficient engine, generating lots of results with a minimum of process. A good large organization is less efficient, but trades that efficiency for reliability and consistency—it’s a big rig, with a big diesel engine, or possibly an industrial motor of some sort.

Misleading Housing Numbers

I’m sick of articles like this which report data as follows:

The 20-city slice of the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price index recorded a drop of 0.6% from March to April, compared with a 2.2% drop in the prior month. The index has declined every month since July 2006.

The problem is, as Seattle Bubble is fond of pointing out, there’s normally a bump in housing prices from March to April due to the seasonality of home sales.

A more fair comparison would be comparing the year-over-year price changes from March and April. The Wall Street Journal reports that the 20-city index reported a year-over-year decline of 18.7% in March, and The New York Times reports that the 20-city index reported a year-over-year decline of 18.1% in April.

The numbers CNN reports sound as though we saw a 72% improvement, but once you remove the seasonality and look at the year-over-year numbers, the improvement is only 3.2% better. That’s quite a difference.

And in either case we’re looking at a second-derivative number here: the change in the rate of decline. We’re still talking about a very significant decline, which appears to be ongoing. Even if we see a few months of positive changes, Japan saw several multi-month periods of positive improvement in their housing market before it bottomed out.

Professionalize Tech Support, part two

A few months ago, I wrote about professionalizing technical support.

Last week, I presented at SASAG on this topic. I’ve made my presentation on Professionalizing Technical Support available here; it’s still a PowerPoint document. Please let me know if you’d like this data but require a different format. The extensive notes, of course, represent what I wanted or tried to say, not what I ended up actually saying. (Like any good SAGE meeting, the presentation was much more a discussion than unidirectional transfer of information and ideas.)

Read on for my impression of the meeting.

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Professionalize Tech Support

[ Update, 2007-07-16: Please see my followup post ]

I’m in tech support, and I love my job: I love helping people solve problems, and I love working on the tricky things. I like working on streamlining processes to reduce support effort, I like figuring out how to communicate internally and document our processes. I even get to do a little bit of writing scripts for internal use and to solve customer problems that, strictly speaking, shouldn’t be our problem.

That said, I often feel like I’m making it up. I feel like my management’s making it up. And I don’t think that’s their fault, or mine.

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