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Abstractions and Metaphors: building better tools and processes by caring about words

De45f73e374e7f3d93c661f5b8022776?s=47 Nigel Kersten
September 29, 2016

Abstractions and Metaphors: building better tools and processes by caring about words

We use a lot of metaphors and abstractions in operations and our automation tooling such as "war room", "technical debt", and "orchestrate". Metaphors have largely been treated as a purely linguistic construction in the Western academic tradition, yet cognitive linguists such as George Lakoff argue that metaphors are in fact conceptual and shape our thoughts whether we’re aware of them or not. In this talk we’ll take a quick tour through some concepts of cognitive linguistic theory and how understanding the impact words have can lead to better tooling and processes.

De45f73e374e7f3d93c661f5b8022776?s=128

Nigel Kersten

September 29, 2016
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Transcript

  1. ABSTRACTIONS AND METAPHORS: BUILDING BETTER TOOLS AND PROCESSES BY CARING

    ABOUT WORDS NIGEL KERSTEN CIO & VP OF OPERATIONS, PUPPET.
  2. The curse of ambition

  3. WHY LISTEN TO ME AT ALL?

  4. I was an unreliable student

  5. I’m not a linguistics expert

  6. I’m not a UX expert

  7. death to thinkfluencers

  8. I like words and tools

  9. SO WHAT IS THIS ABOUT?

  10. George Lakoff wrote a cool book in 1980. I liked

    it.
  11. Central Thesis: The lives of individuals are significantly influenced by

    the central metaphors they use to explain complex phenomena.
  12. “Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both

    think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” – George Lakoff
  13. A metaphor is simply understanding and experiencing one kind of

    thing in terms of another
  14. We’re not actually aware of how much we use metaphor,

    and how foundational it is.
  15. Not all linguists agree on this

  16. Examples

  17. Argument is War Your claims are indefensible. You attacked every

    weak point in my argument. Their criticisms were right on target. I demolished their argument. I’ve never won an argument with them. If you use that strategy, they’ll wipe you out. They shot down all of my arguments.
  18. Time is Money How do you spend your time these

    days? That flat tire cost me an hour. I’ve invested a lot of time in them. I don’t have enough time to spare for that. You need to budget your time. Is that worth your while? She’s living on borrowed time. He doesn’t use his time profitably.
  19. WHY SHOULD *WE* CARE?

  20. Computing is full of metaphors

  21. Digression: skeumorphism isn’t evil

  22. Computing is full of metaphors throwing and catching errors programming

    with threads containers
  23. We create abstractions in computing to manage complexity by hiding

    information. All the way down.
  24. All we do in the automation space is build abstractions

    on top of even more abstractions.
  25. There is no automated future in which we’re dealing with

    fewer abstractions.
  26. It can’t hurt us to think more deliberately about abstraction

    and metaphor.
  27. New metaphors can have the power to partially define reality.

    The War on Drugs The War on Terror Tax Relief
  28. IT’S UP(DOWN)TIME

  29. GOOD IS UP; BAD IS DOWN Things are looking up.

    We hit a peak last year, but it’s been downhill ever since. Things are at an all-time low. They do high-quality work.
  30. HAPPY IS UP; SAD IS DOWN I’m feeling up. That

    boosted my spirits. My spirits rose. You’re in high spirits. Thinking about them always gives me a lift. I’m feeling down. I’m depressed. He’s really low these days. My spirits sank.
  31. HEALTH AND LIFE ARE UP; SICKNESS AND DEATH ARE DOWN

    She’s at the peak of health. Lazarus rose from the dead. She’s in top shape. As to her health, she’s way up there. She fell ill. She’s sinking fast. She came down with the flu. Her health is declining.
  32. RATIONAL IS UP; EMOTIONAL IS DOWN The discussion fell to

    the emotional level, but I raised it back up to the rational plane. We put our feelings aside and had a high-level intellectual discussion of the matter. He couldn’t rise above his emotions. She had base desires.
  33. UNKNOWN IS UP; KNOWN IS DOWN That’s up in the

    air The matter is settled Let’s bring it up for discussion Contrasts with “up” in other metaphors.
  34. User intent helps us choose between metaphors

  35. Designing interfaces is hard

  36. Fighting over uptime - what is it? The server is

    on the network The application is running Some of the application is running The user can do what they’re trying to do
  37. More Examples

  38. TIME IS A MOVING OBJECT The time will come when

    . . . The time has long since gone when . . . The time for action has arrived.
  39. Not all metaphors are universal: The future is behind us

    Ancient Greeks conceptualized the future as behind us, and the past as in front. We walk backwards into the future.
  40. None
  41. THE MIND IS A MACHINE we’re still trying to grind

    out the solution to this equation. my mind just isn’t operating today. the wheels are turning now. I’m a little rusty today. we’re running out of steam.
  42. THE MIND IS A BRITTLE OBJECT His ego is very

    fragile. You have to handle him with care since his wife’s death. He broke under cross-examination. He is easily crushed. The experience shattered him. I’m going to pieces. His mind snapped.
  43. Personification that server isn’t happy this code is fighting me

    systemd doesn’t play well with others the service isn’t listening
  44. THE WORDS WE USE

  45. containers vs zones vs jails

  46. Why do we call them “war-rooms” ? Positive imported concepts:

    Urgency, criticality Group in a common cause Negative imported concepts: Hero Complex “Truth is the first casualty of war”
  47. Thinking about “post-mortems” Positive imported concepts: dispassionate detailed examination Negative

    imported concepts: subject is no longer alive focus on causes vs improvements dominated by experts
  48. Thinking about “technical debt” Positive imported concepts: grows over time

    interest payments can be entered into wisely Negative imported concepts: insufficiently critical? usually never paid back size of debt rarely known when incurred
  49. Adjective order in English The awesome clean new Google programing

    language Go. The Google awesome new clean programming language Go.
  50. Adjective order in English Order: Opinion, Size, Shape, Condition, Age,

    Color, Pattern, Origin, Material, Purpose, Noun.
  51. “Thanks.”

  52. Lakoff, George; Johnson, Mark. Metaphors We Live By. University of

    Chicago Press. T. Colburn, G. Shute. Abstraction in computer science; Minds and Machines: Journal for Artificial Intelligence, Philosophy, and Cognitive Science, 17 (2) (July 2007) T. Colburn, G. Shute. Journal of Applied Logic: Volume 6, Issue 4, December 2008, Pages 526–533, The Philosophy of Computer Science Readings