Standards by Michael Hooten
In my day job, I’m a test engineer. Specifically, I create electronics to test other electronics. At work recently, I have had an ongoing… debate. Yes, I think debate is the right word. Because my boss told me to look at a test and think of some ways to improve it. And my initial response was, this is a horrible test, and you need to rethink it entirely.
That was not the answer he wanted, of course, but he’s a good boss, and an engineer, so he asked me to explain. Without getting technical, the short answer is: you are using the system to test the system.
From a test engineering standpoint, this is not only wrong, it invalidates the test. You cannot verify that a component works by saying that it works in the system, because the next question is usually, how do you know the system works? And the answer is, because it works with components we previously tested. With the system.
There are several reasons why this is a dangerous way to approach testing. First, you have no outside verification. There is no external standard that you can point to and say, “When I test it this way, I get the same results as when I test in the system.”
But you also have the issue of verifying something is good because it hasn’t really failed yet. Not enough to notice. Oh, sure, the whole process may have drifted over time, but it still works, right? We just want to verify it works.
Now imagine your customer starts complaining that their system isn’t working correctly. You bring in the defective device, and you test it against your own system, and it works fine. How do you determine where the fault lies? What authority do you appeal to? Your system works. Theirs doesn’t. But you are also saying the systems are the same, because they were tested in the same way.
This is circular logic. I prove that x=y because y=x. The sky is blue because blue is what we call the color of the sky. It doesn’t tell me anything in the end.
The product manager said, “Well, we’re doing a qualitative analysis, not a quantitative one.” And that’s fine, but you still haven’t shown me how you determine your quality. What is your standard?
So what does this have to do with anything?
If you want to know how well something works, you have to tell me how you measure success. Larry Correia is famous for saying that the only measurement of a book’s success if how many dollars people give you or it. But we have the whole Hugo debacle claiming that books are measured by the gender/race/sexuality of the authors and the characters. Who is correct? They both are, because they’ve set up different standards, and then they test against those standards.
An SJW does not care how well a book does in the market, because that’s not how they determine value. Likewise, Larry doesn’t care about what the authors or characters look like, he just wants to know how many people are buying it. And it’s not like those are the only ways of looking at it.
But with everyone talking about different things, it makes it very difficult to communicate. We see it in politics all the time. “Socialism takes care of the people that fall through the cracks!” And that goes up against, “Socialism causes widespread economic collapse!”
Both can be true, you know. And we have some proof of both. But which is the standard you want to use? Which outcome has more value to you?
We struggle with this question every day. I see a homeless man begging on the street. I have a $20 in my pocket. But I need to put gas in my car, too. What do I do? Your answer depends on a lot of things, but no matter how you choose, someone will always say you were wrong. Because they judged you by their standards, not yours. And on an individual basis, we agree to disagree, hopefully.
But what if I believe my standards are so important that I will force you to follow them? Then we get political parties. Or regulations. Or marches, riots, and yelling matches disguised as debates. Again, your standards will determine your response in a lot of ways.
What does it mean for the country? Well, America was founded on the idea that we could create a system where everyone could follow their conscience, as long as they all agreed to a few simple rules. We call those rules our constitution, and they are mostly guidelines for the places where you can’t tell people what to do.
You can’t tell someone how to practice their religion, or to follow a religion at all.
You can’t tell people to house soldiers.
You can’t force people to provide evidence against themselves.
And then the tricky ones:
You can’t tell people what they can or cannot say.
You cannot keep people from owning guns.
But what if someone says something you don’t like? Well, it depends. How do you respond? The Constitution forbids you from silencing them. But you can say whatever you like in return, even if it offends them. What if they vow to kill you? Well, you are not allowed to kill someone (not specifically in the Constitution, but still generally accepted), so it starts getting into a gray area. Depending on where you live, threatening someone can get you anything from jail to a restraining order. A lot of times it depends on how credible someone in authority finds the threat.
And guns? Well, the Constitution says you can own them. We have clarified how you can use them. And legally, you can go through all the hassle of buying pretty much anything you want. And if you don’t want it legally, for whatever reason, then it doesn’t matter how many laws you pass. In this case, you test the effectiveness against your standard. Legally, you may not kill someone with a gun. Of course, legally, you may not kill someone at all, with a few exceptions. So what does the gun control laws do, exactly? Restrict how guns may be purchased legally. But no one ever expresses gun deaths in terms of deaths per legally owned guns. Which is the only standard that tells you how effective your gun control laws are, at least for preventing gun related homicide. Even the guy in Las Vegas, having purchased his guns legally, took them someplace it wasn’t legal to take them. So even before he fired them into a crowd, he had broken a law.
In a perfect system, you could control all the variables to get the result you wanted. But life, real life, is a system that has so many variables that you have to figure out if the one little thing you changed had any effect. But let’s say you want to lose weight, so you change your diet, and let’s assume you stick to it pretty well. But your weight doesn’t change. Do you stick with the diet and just keep watching the scale not change? Or do you try adjusting something else, like your activity level? It depends. What is your real goal? What standard are you testing to? Because if weight loss is less important than sticking to your diet, you can complain about the former while still feeling that you are succeeding in the latter.
Pick your standard. Stick to it. And be willing to admit that what you value, what you test to, is not the same as someone else. You can both be right, you can both be wrong. Just be honest about what you really want. And please express it clearly.
Maybe our first standard should be to agree which dictionary to use.