Unless otherwise noted - Photos and Text by Mike Strong. Copyright © Mike Strong All rights reserved

Professor of Ballet
- The Algorithm -

March 2015

Al Go Rythm
I created this name tag in Photoshop.
Maybe I should hang a red clown nose from it too. Naw, too much.

Or, for St. Patty's day this could read "Appointed by Al G. O'Rythm"
I thought of Algae O'Rythm but it was too much of a slider to be a pun
The same thing for Al Gore Ithm
But I had to mention them anyway. Just for the pun of it.
- cheers -

"The computer" is always right

You just HAVE to love computers.

I'm on a job search, something I haven't done in years. A lot has changed. Starting with people. Or rather, the lack of people. Such as what, rather than who, examines our resumés.

And where -- on the internet, not in newspaper want ads. Pity the youngsters who will never wander and peruse the want ads in print, coming across possibilities they never imagined.

Now, on the internet, human bureaucrats (bad enough) have been replaced by robot bureacrats which have entire new vistas of stuffy, corroded, insufferable pomposities with little imagination who wish to exercise total control through computer forms, which unlike paper forms, cannot be written on outside the blanks and have no room for anything or anyone un-anticipated.

Oh, for what we could do
with pen and paper
in the margins
between the lines
on forms
in the old days,
when you could talk
with a human

But - as the bartender in "Irma La Douce" would have said - "That's another story."

During my job search I found a few unexpected credits in one of those online forms after I fed the site my resume. Here is the screen capture (cropping the width, to fit easier)

Professor of Ballet

1 - Which web site am I really on?

On one of the sites (CareerBuilder.com) I clicked on the "submit" button for a job and was advised by an alert box that I was no longer on CareerBuilder even though the URL still started with CareerBuilder.com. I'm guessing they were either framing the outside site with an "iFrame" or had client areas not fully controlled by themselves in terms of page code. The header area still showed the CareerBuilder logo.

2 - My last job

What first caught my eye was that the form was partially filled in. At the top of the page I read that my last job was Staff Sergeant, US Air Force, November 1968 to November 1972. A little more than 44 years ago. Well, I was in the Air Force, from Nov 8, 1968 to Nov 7, 1972 and was a Staff Sergeant when I left. But it was hardly my last job and I had two occupations in the Air Force, geodetic computer and geodetic/astronomic surveyor. We were trained in the Army's engineer school which uses the term topographic instead of geodetic.

I'm an "old coder." I wrote my first computer program (code) in the fall of 1966 on an IBM Systems 360 mainframe - though I should put an asterisk (*) on that reference because I remember being pretty clueless as I typed code into punch cards. Since then, I've written enough parsers over the years, looking for information in data and document files, so it was obvious what had happened. I had to chuckle.

Then I looked down the page at the previous job section.

3 - My position before that

Now I went from chuckling to laughing. According to what the "bot" had filled in, my job before the Air Force was "Professor of Ballet" and my employer was "PACE" (UMKC's Program for Adult Continuing Education, what in the old days we called correspondence or extension programs).

The computer program which parsed my resumé did not have start and end dates for my "Professor of Ballet" job. But I didn't do any work with PACE until March of 2003 (still work there) although I did web monkey work for a University of Missouri Kansas City grant project which ran from 1999 to the end of 2000 in what was then the CSTP (Computer Science and Telecommunications Program) creating online learning courseware for an Information Technology program.

So, the dates were out of order. But, I reasoned, as a Science Fiction fan I'm used to odd things happening with "time lines" in story plots. Maybe I was just zipping in and out of time machines. Maybe the computer knows something I don't.

I did teach for the dance division in the conservatory, but as an "instructor" or "lecturer," not a professor and certainly not as a professor of ballet. My class was in computers, as part of the technical requirement for dance students. It was a class in using 3-D animation (with DanceForms software) to record choreography. It was a face to face classroom but because most students were in rehearsals or shows it amounted to a "blended" format in which the material and examples were online so they could get to it at any time. Here is a link to that: (http://www.artfuldancer.com/Lessons/topics/DanceTech/Default.htm).

As a Result

I immediately made a screen capture of the job-application page using Photoshop to make the GIFs you see here. Then I sent the pictures to the dance division of UMKC conservatory. Here is the text I sent:

I would like to announce my new qualification - thanks to resume-parsing robots. In looking at job possibilities I managed to get into this form at careerbuilder. It was pre-filled by a computer algorithm, a “bot.” (I should note that my CV missive does not follow the usual format for these things.)

I want you to know that I am quite pleased to note my newly-awarded academic credential – Professor of Ballet - - - at PACE!

I am ready to handle one of your classes RIGHT NOW! Or maybe I should just set up my own academy, say in the parking lot of the PAC. (Performing Arts Center)

Maybe I should get a name tag: “Mike Strong, Professor of Ballet at PACE”

I just want to assure everyone that I am ready to fulfill my bot-determined qualifications. After all, if it comes from a computer it must be right.

Paula Weber, head of the division, welcomed me aboard. Mary Pat Henry, ballet, former head and current dean, sent me back a message welcoming me to the faculty. And, of course, a laugh out loud (LOL).

So there it is. Get a human and get it right, right away.
Get an algorithm and you're a "Professor of Ballet."

There should be a cautionary note too about valuing computer output, but that is another story, an old one still with us and maybe not as funny. Just think of all those things algorithms are deciding for you even as your read. But, for later ...

Here is a link to my real resume, CV, and gallery site: MikeStrongPhoto.Com


Sampler expanded: Typical Burearacracy in a Typical Form

No viable options

To further show the bureaucratic mind at work, here is a detail from the form above, the “Reason for Leaving” pulldown. The “pull down” allows me only four options, none of which sounds right and in any case there are no still-on-the-job options. Computer forms are worse than paper forms because at least with paper I can write outside the blanks (and I do, often, with big arrows).

This nonsensical, but hardly new exercise in futility, reminded me of one of my old favorite movies “I Was a Male War Bride” with Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan (1949). All the forms Cary's character had to fill out were for women only. They were hilariously wrong for his character, a French lieutenant, male, 1 each.

I've long told students that computer programs are absolute bureacrats. They only follow rules. Indeed, another name, not used for some time, for a program is a command file - a file with a list of commands. You can't cajole, threaten, bribe or implore a computer program. To me, the true Turing Test will not be a program which can fool a person into believing they are interacting with another person, but will be a program which can be corrupted by money, fear, compassion, and so forth.

Later Note (April 10th, 2015):
As if to go with the "I Was a Male War Bride" reference, my prescription at the VA yesterday included an instructional print out with the pills warning me not to take them if I get pregnant. As a 67-year old male, if I get pregnant I'll just throw those pills away. Whoever scripted the program to print instruction sheets for the prescriptions failed to come up with a way to correlate the sex of the patient with any gender specifications in the instructions. I feel closer to Cary Grant already. :-))


Update January 2016

A couple more of "Al's" (Al Go-rhythm's) grand analyses and our brave new world of algorithms which "enrich" our lives invisibly and constantly

After sending in the same file to Honeywell's job site I found out that I am still in the Air Force. Surprise. I really thought that when I drove out of the gate of F.E. Warren Air Force Base November 7th 1972 that I was leaving.

Apparently an algorithm decided my current and previous two employers are and were the Air Force. It did start with Staff Sergeant, although, as I noted that was my rank on leaving, not my jobs (I had two occupations). Before that I was apparently a videographer and a technical writer in the Air Force. Not even close. I've had a lot of odd job listings sent to my email. Thanks to the ever "accurate" algorithms of those who are too lazy to deal in person with a human to human contact.


Honeywell take


RichardDancer.Com is Available

This also clearly extends to other than job areas, such as insistent offers to do me a favor by giving me a chance to claim a web name like "my" name, you know, "Richard." Except of course that my name is Michael, or Mike, or, if I want to sound fancy maybe I will take up Miguel or Mikhail or ....

The wierd thing about this is that Network Solutions has my name because they are my registrar for a couple of web sites and have been the registrar for me since the mid 1990's. My guess is that this is another division of Network Solutions which wastes time and resources by scanning the web, gathering "data" (you know, BIG DATA which makes it so much better), parsing it and extracting these "gems" of "value."

Shifting the Subject just a tad

The hubris of the assumptions of those who sell us measurements of ourselves, via the uncomplaining, ubiquitous, unseen slaves in the machine of computing never seems to stop. This does not enrich our lives or make us more "efficient" in any way I can really see. I am an old programmer, not a Luddite (as that phrase is used though it is a tad inaccurate to describe the actual first Luddites).

Essentially there is a deliberate confusion between intended input (the sales claims) and actual output (the human result). Output is not being checked against the input to determine whether it holds up. No one seems to be listening to and for beta testers or first customers on release. I've written enough software that I know how much you find out about your software when you release it commercially. Regardless of how well you tested your software and regardless of responses from beta testers this is when you really get hit with bugs you need to fix, quickly.

In the "old" days new technology was sold as a sort of magical solution to anything. Every computer store was selling packages to businesses which would make them work better. Forgetting the effort to make it work all. New technology is still being sold on magic. On illusions. On lies. And now it is used as an automatic data gathering and measuring and ranking magic "solution."

There is a deliberate mis-quote of W. Edwards Deming which this parsing and measuring of data reminds me of. Often Deming is quoted by those who want to push measuring tools as saying "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it" but the quote is so badly out of context that it states the opposite of what he said. His actual sentence has a lead in and an afterword to this. He wrote, "It is wrong to suppose that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it – a costly myth."

Not that Demings wasn't a data guy. He was known for collecting data and applying it. He just understood the limits on evaluating only what you could readily list out and categorize. Readily visible and defined data items are used because they are easy to see and handy to get hold of. 1 - That is lazy and 2 - That doesn't mean already defined items are the best things to consider when evaluating the outcome of someone's work..

You can extend that to the use of algorithms. Deming also said: "the most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable (Lloyd S. Nelson, director of statistical methods for the Nashua corporation), but successful management must nevertheless take account of them." This is not something an algorithm can do. They are programs and programs once written do not stray from the confines of their instructions. Even the best "AI" efforts fail at intuitions and a recognition of when to guess. Programs are, as they used to be called, "command files" (before "exe" files replaced "com" files).

The excuse for using machines to do the work of humans is to free us from labors. But that never happens. A few workers are fired for cost savings and to encourage investment. Those workers who remain work longer hours at less money and with less stability. I remember in the mid-1980's a former boss of mine who was a partner in a chiropractic management firm, shamelessly, in front of me, telling one of his clients to make a point of firing one or more persons on her staff every once in a while. That way those remaining worked harder and protested less because they were afraid of losing their job and were also proud of being "survivors." That was in the back seat of a limosine carrying him (Dr. Rolla Penell, now long deceased), his client (Dr. Denise ???), myself and another employee. Penell was taking all of us to the last performance of "Dream Girls" on Broadway, showing his generosity, not to mention (and he didn't mention) his cynicism and lack of conscience. He enjoyed doing that in front of employees.

To me, the most efficient world is one designed to give labor back to humans at decent pay and decent conditions with decent respect. Human to human.