Categoría: Behavioral Economics

A contracorriente: ¿Libertad de información o libertad de difamación?

Creo que en ciertos momentos es necesario dejar clara la posición personal para evitar confusiones, de modo que allá va:

No me gusta la forma en que ha llegado al poder en España el líder del PSOE, Pedro Sánchez, no me gusta su actuación en los principales temas de España, no me gustan sus socios, no me gusta que remolonee en la convocatoria de elecciones y la ocultación de su tesis me parece un asunto sospechoso del que el tiempo dirá, a corto plazo, si hay algo real o es una tormenta en un vaso de agua. Está claro ¿verdad?

Sin embargo, me parece impresentable que el gran asunto actual no sea nada de eso sino que haya osado exigirles la rectificación a algunos medios de comunicación y cómo esa exigencia atenta supuestamente contra la libertad de información. En esta trampa han caído interesadamente periodistas y políticos e intentan que los demás caigamos también. Pues no:

La libertad de información no es un derecho del periodista a decir lo que le parezca sino un derecho del ciudadano a recibir información cierta y desde la perspectiva que a ese ciudadano le apetezca.

Si el periodista difama, está tan sujeto a la ley como cualquier otro y no puede invocar la libertad de información como si fuera una patente de corso.

Si alguien, en este caso un presidente de un Gobierno y con independencia de la opinión que se tenga de él, cree que ha sido difamado por un medio de comunicación está en su perfecto derecho de exigir una rectificación.

¿Quiere llevar el asunto a los tribunales? Adelante; es su derecho aunque sea una jugada arriesgada porque, si pierde, no tendrá manera humana de amarrarse a un sillón al que ha llegado de una forma tan irregular.

Desde luego, quien no puede ni debe tratar de impedírselo son los medios de comunicación, alegando libertad de información que, al parecer, consideran sinónimo de libertad para decir lo que les de la gana.

Insisto: No defiendo al personaje sino su pleno derecho a acudir a instancias judiciales si cree que ha sido difamado. Si lo ha sido o no, ya lo veremos pero no cabe rasgarse las vestiduras por un atentado a la libertad de información ante el ejercicio de tal derecho.

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THE HARD LIFE OF AVIATION REGULATORS (especially, regarding Human Factors)

There is a very extended mistake among Aviation professionals: The idea that regulations set a minimum level. Hence, accepting a plane, a procedure or an organization means barely being at the minimum acceptable level.

The facts are very different: A single plane able to pass, beyond any kind of reasonable doubt, all the requirements without further questions would not be an “acceptable” plane. It would be an almost perfect product.

Then, where is the trick and why things are not so easy as they seem to be?

Basically, because rules are not so clear as pretended, giving in some cases wide room for interpretation and because, in their crafting, they are mirroring the systems they speak about and, hence, integration is lost in the way.

The acceptance of a new plane is a very long and complex process till the point that some manufacturers give up. For instance, the Chinese COMAC built a first plane certified by Chinese authorities to fly only in China or the French Dassault decided to stop everything jumping directly to the second generation of a plane. It be judged a failure, but it is always better than dragging design problems until they prove that they should have been managed. We cannot avoid to remind cases like the cargo door of DC10 and the consequences of a problem already known during the design phase.

The process is so long and expensive that some manufacturers keep attached to very old models with incremental improvements. Boeing 737, that started to fly in 1968, is a good example. Its brother B777, flying since 1995, keeps a very old Intel-80486 processor inside but changing it would be a major change, despite Intel stopped its production in 1997.

The process is not linear, and many different tests and negotiations are required in the way. Statements of similarity with other planes are frequent and the use of standards from Engineering or Military fields is common place when something is not fully clear in the main regulation.

Of course, some of the guidelines can contradict others since they are addressed to different uses. For instance, a good military regulation very used in Human Factors (MIL-STD-1472) includes a statement about required training, indicating that it should be as short as possible to keep full operating state. That can be justified if we think in environments where lack of resources -including knowledge- or even physical destruction could happen. It should be harder to justify as a rule in passenger’s transportation.

Another standard can include a statement about the worst possible scenario for a specific parameter, but the parameter can be more elusive than that. The idea itself of worst possible scenario could be nonsense and, if the manufacturer accepts this and the regulator buys it, a plane could by flying legally but with serious design flaws.

Regulations about Human Factors were simply absent a few years ago and HF mentions were added to the technical blocks. That was partially changed when a new rule for planes design appeared addressing precisely Human Factors as a block on its own. However, the first attempts were not much further than collecting all the scattered HF mentions in a single place.

Since then, it has been partially corrected in the Acceptable Means of Compliance, but the technical approach still prevails. Very often, manufacturers assemble HF teams with technical specialists in specific systems instead of trying a global and transversal approach.

The regulators take their own cautions and repeat mantras like avoiding fatigue levels beyond acceptability or planes that could not require special alertness or special skill levels to manage a situation.

These conditions are, of course, good but they should not be enough. Compliance with a general condition like this one, in EASA CS25  “Each pilot compartment and its equipment must allow the minimum flight crew (established under CS 25.1523) to perform their duties without unreasonable concentration or fatigue” is quite difficult to demonstrate. If there is not a visible mistake in the design, trying to meet this condition is more a matter of imagining potential situations than a matter of analysis and, as it should be expected, the whole process is driven by analysis, not by imagination.

Very often, designs and the rules governing them try to prevent the accident that happened yesterday, but a strictly analytic approach makes hard to anticipate the next one. Who could anticipate the importance of controls feedback (present in every single old plane) until a related accident happened? Who could anticipate before AA191 that, perhaps, removing the mechanical blockage of flaps/slats could not be so sound idea? Who could think that different presentations of artificial horizon could drive to an accident? What about different automation policies and pilots disregarding a fact that could be disregarded in other planes but not in that one?…

Now, it is still in the news the fact that a Boeing factory had been attacked by the WannyCry virus and the big question was if it had affected the systems of the B777s that were manufactured there. B787 is said to have 6,5 million of code lines. Even though B777 is far below that number, checking it should not be easy and it should be still harder if computers calculating parameters for the manufacturing must be also checked.

That complexity in the product drives not only to invisible faults but to unexpected interactions between theoretically independent events. In some cases, the dependence is clear. Everyone is conscious that an engine stopped can mean hydraulic, electric, pressure and oxygen problems and manufacturers try to design systems pointing to the root problem instead of pointing to every single failure. That’s fine but…what if the interaction is unexpected? What if a secondary problem -like oxygen scarcity, for instance- is more important than the root problem that drove to this? How are we going to define the right training level for operators where there is not a single person who understands the full design?

In the technical parts, the complexity is already a problem. When we add the human element, its features and what kind of things are demanded from operators, the answer is everything but easy. Claiming “lack of training” every time that something serious happens and adding a patch to the present training is not enough.

A full approach more integrated and less shy to speak about using imagination in the whole process is advisable long ago but now it is a must. Operators do not manage systems. They manage situations and, at doing so, they can use several systems at the same time. Even if there is not an unexpected technical interaction among them, there is a place where this interaction happens: The operator who is working with all of them and the concept of consistency is not enough to deal with it.

 

WHEN THE WORLD IS FASTER THAN ITS RULES

Anyone in touch with dynamic fields can find this phenomenon: Things are faster than the rules intending to control them. Hence, if the capacity to be enforced is very strong, old rules can stop the advancement. By the same token, if that capacity is weak, rules are simply ignored, and the world evolves following different paths.

The same fact can be observed in many different fields:

Three months ago, an article was titled “POR QUÉ ALBERT EINSTEIN NO PODRÍA SER PROFESOR EN ESPAÑA” (Why Albert Einstein could not be a professor in Spain) and, basically, the reason was in a bureaucratic model tailored for the “average” teacher. This average teacher, just after becoming a Bachelor, starts with the doctorate entering a career path that will finish with the retirement in the University. External experience is not required and, very often, is not welcome.

The age, the publications and the length of the doctoral dissertation (17 pages) could have made impossible for Einstein to teach in Spain. The war for talent means in some environments fighting it wherever it can be found.

If we go to specific and fast evolving fields, things can be worse:

Cybersecurity can be a good example. There is a clear shortage of professionals in the field and it is worsening. The slowness to accept an official curriculum means that, once the curriculum is accepted, is already out-of-date. Then, a diploma is not worth and, instead, certification agencies are taking its place, enforcing up-to-date knowledge for both, getting and keeping the certification.

Financial regulators? Companies are faster than regulators and a single practice can appear as a savings plan, as an insurance product or many other options. If we go to derivative markets, the speed introduces different parameters or practices like high-frequency trading hard to follow.

What about cryptocurrencies? They are sidestepping control by the Governments and, still worse, they can break one of the easiest ways for the States to get funds. Governments would like to break them and, in a few weeks, EU will have a new rule to “protect privacy” that could affect the blockchain process, key for the security of cryptocurrencies and…many Banks operations.

Aviation? The best-selling airplane in the Aviation history -Boeing 737- was designed in 1964 and it started to fly in 1968. The last versions of this plane don’t have some features that could be judged as basic modifications because the process is so long and expensive (more and more long and expensive) that Boeing prefers to keep attached to some features designed more than 50 years ago.

In any of these fields or many others that could be mentioned, the rules are not meeting its intended function, that is, to keep functionality and, in the fields where it is required, safety as a part of the functionality. Whatever the rule can be ignored or can be a heavy load to be dragged in the development, it does not work.

We can laugh at the old “1865 Locomotive Act” with delicious rules such as this: The most draconic restrictions and speed limits were imposed by the 1865 act (the “Red Flag Act”), which required all road locomotives, which included automobiles, to travel at a maximum of 4 mph (6.4 km/h) in the country and 2 mph (3.2 km/h) in the city, as well as requiring a man carrying a red flag to walk in front of road vehicles hauling multiple wagons (Wikipedia).

However, things were evolving in 1865 far slower than now. Non-functional rules like that could be easily identified and removed before becoming a serious problem. That does not happen anymore. We try to get more efficient organizations and more efficient technology, but the architecture of the rules should be re-engineered too.

Perhaps the next revolution is not technologic despite it can be fueled by technology. It could be in the Law: The governing rules -not the specific rules but the process to create, modify, change or cancel rules- should be modified. Rules valid for a world already gone are so useful as a weather forecast for the past week.

Useless diplomas, lost talent, uncontrolled or under-controlled new activities or product design where the adaptation to the rules are a major part of the development cost and time are pointing to a single fact: The rules governing the world are unable to keep the pace of the world itself.

El efecto Twitter

Mucha gente considera Twitter como un sitio poco serio y, por tanto, decide no tener una cuenta en Twitter. Grave error:

Muchos individuos y publicaciones muy conocidos tienen sus cuentas y publican regularmente contenidos. Es cierto que 140 caracteres no dan para mucho pero la cosa se pone más interesante si se considera que, dentro de esos 140 caracteres, puede haber vínculos a artículos recién publicados por ellos mismos.

Seguir a mucha gente es enloquecedor porque, a menos que se viva con la nariz pegada a la pantalla, se perderá información pero nuevamente hay una solución: Elíjanse los temas más interesantes y prepárense listas especializadas en esos temas. Una revisión diaria o semanal, según el nivel de actividad, será suficiente y, si se escogen los miembros de las listas con cuidado, se puede mantener uno actualizado sobre cualquier tema imaginable. Ni que decir tiene que se pueden añadir o quitar miembros de las listas.

En resumen, hay buenas razones para recomendar a alguien que tenga una cuenta en Twitter: Es un recurso valioso para mantenerse informado casi sobre cualquier tema. Ahora viene la parte más difícil: ¿Cómo debe ser la interacción en Twitter?

Mucha gente simplemente se mantiene en silencio. Siguen las fuentes que consideran interesantes y se acabó. Es una buena opción si no hay intención de compartir contenido propio. Puede encontrarse gente que utiliza sus propios nombres mientras otros prefieren no estar identificados, especialmente si tienen intención de participar activamente en discusiones sobre temas que puedan ser controvertidos y ahí precisamente aparece el lado oscuro de Twitter, un lado oscuro muy difícil de separar de la parte positiva.

Twitter es muy rapido. Por ello, medios tradicionales como la radio o la televisión lo utilizan como forma de mantener el contacto con sus seguidores y es frecuente ver una línea en televisión con un flujo de mensajes en Twitter. Esto les da a los programas sensación de actualidad y, al mismo tiempo, le da relevancia a Twitter, tanto en sus aspectos positivos como en los negativos.

Una vez que Twitter aparece como algo relevante, mucha gente empieza a utilizar la red para sus propios objetivos. Por ejemplo, se utilizan cuentas falsas con bots diseñados para convertir cualquier tema de su elección en trending topic en cuestión de minutos. Cuando se actúa así, por supuesto, la información sobre la relevancia real de un tema está falseada porque hay gente dedicada activamente a esa falsificación y, por añadidura, no se necesita ser un gran experto en redes sociales para ello.

Ésta es una parte negativa pero hay algo aún peor: La interacción entre miembros de Twitter es muy animada. Es fácil identificar grupos -incluso hay aplicaciones que permiten hacerlo automáticamente- y hay una fuerte presión hacia la conformidad dentro de esos grupos. Sus miembros, buscando el aplauso de sus compañeros de grupo, presentan visiones cada vez más extremas sobre cualquier tema controvertido y las discusiones resultantes aparecen en los medios más tradicionales como tendencias confundiendo la caricatura Twitter con la imagen real de una sociedad, imagen que a su vez se ve afectada por la difusión de la caricatura como realidad.

Hay muchos ejemplos actuales pero el caso español y su situación política es paradigmático. Tenemos de todo: Bots convirtiendo cualquier cosa en trending topic y gente que va derivando hacia visiones cada vez más extremas en sus posiciones políticas, especialmente si se trata de cuentas no identificadas o se trata de líderes de opinión que no quieren decepcionar a su auditorio. Por añadidura, esto no es un efecto específicamente español sino que, si se sigue la campaña americana, se encuentran exactamente los mismos fenómenos: La velocidad de la interacción y la brevedad de los mensajes, sin mucho espacio para matices, pueden ser los factores determinantes de ese comportamiento.

En suma, Twitter es una herramienta valiosa para mantenerse actualizados sobre cualquier tema pero, al mismo tiempo, tiene facetas muy negativas cuya influencia trasciende Twitter. Estar dentro es positivo pero mantenerse activo es algo para pensárselo dos veces. Aceptar las tendencias que marca Twitter como reales es algo que debe evitarse y no sólo porque probablemente sean falsas sino porque, dándoles carta de naturaleza, se puede contribuir a que se conviertan en reales aunque originalmente no lo fueran. Quizás todos tenemos una tarea de evitar que eso ocurra porque, debido a la presión hacia la conformidad, suele ocurrir que la posición ganadora se le llevan precisamente las más impresentables tendencias y comentarios…sin distinción de adscripción ideológica o de cualquier otro tipo.

La banda de la porra en Twitter ¿Son sólo bots?

Hace sólo unos días se publicó con pruebas irrefutables como los chicos del nazipopulismo utilizaban bots, es decir, un montón de cuentas falsas de Twitter que transmitían los mismos mensajes al mismo tiempo. Estas cuentas son utilizadas para difundir los hashtags con las consignas del momento y convertirlas en el trending topic de turno.

Esto ya es sabido pero acabo de observar algo extraño y que podría tener el mismo origen, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta que siempre he sido abiertamente crítico con el nazipopulismo:

  1. Hace unos días, una persona empieza a seguir mi cuenta de Twitter. Me sorprende que tiene miles de seguidores y sus mensajes son absolutamente inocuos sin que pueda encontrarse ninguno con la menor relación con la política.
  2. Hoy me encuentro con otra persona que empieza a seguir mi cuenta. El perfil es idéntico; tiene miles de seguidores y los mensajes no sólo son inocuos: SON LOS MISMOS.

Naturalmente, la cosa huele mal y bloqueo a las dos. ¿Alguna idea?¿Son spammers o hay otro objetivo?

Política española: ¿Una salida digna para casi todos?

La hay:

  1. El PSOE puede conseguir gobernar y, además, distanciarse de Podemos y evitar ser fagocitado ya o en unas elecciones que se convoquen porque nadie consiga la investidura.
  2. Ciudadanos, después del patinazo de la campaña, puede aparecer como quien ha logrado el gran acuerdo y, de paso, como los más razonables y los más centrados. Por añadidura, tendrían la función de vigilar al gobierno resultante en el cumplimiento de los compromisos establecidos. En caso de incumplimiento, el PP siempre podría prestar su apoyo a una moción de censura.
  3. El PP…puede hacer una jugada maestra: Abstenerse pero a cambio de algo: Que el PSOE retire inmediatamente su apoyo a los gobiernos municipales y autonómicos que le ha regalado a Podemos. En algunos casos podría significar que algunos de esos gobiernos volverían al PP y, además, el PSOE escenificaría más el distanciamiento reduciendo el riesgo.

¿Quiénes serían los perjudicados? Podemos, que está apostando a unas nuevas elecciones porque las encuestas les auguran subida de escaños y los nacionalistas, que tendrían mucho más difícil el chantaje.

Es así de fácil. Falla sólo una cosa: Rajoy. Como en la película de Amenábar, está muerto pero no lo sabe y, como le ocurrió a Stalin, nadie se atreve a decírselo dentro de su partido.

Big Aviation is still a game of two players

And one of them, Airbus,  is celebrating its birthday.

Years ago, three major players were sharing the market but, once McDonnell Douglas disappeared, big planes were made by one of them. Of course, we should not forget Antonov, whose 225 model is still the biggest plane in the world, some huge Tupolev and Lockheed Tristar but the first ones never went out of their home markets while Lockheed Tristar could be seen as a failed experiment from the manufacturer.

Airbus emphasizes its milestones in the timeline but, behind these, there is a flow marked by efficiency through I.T. use.

Airbus was the first civilian planes manufacturer having a big plane with a cockpit for only two people (A-310) and Airbus was the first civilian plane manufacturer to introduce widely fly-by-wire technology (the only previous exception was the Concorde). Finally, Airbus introduced the commonality concept allowing pilots from a model to switch very fast to a different model keeping the rating for both.

Boeing had a more conservative position: B757 and B767 appeared with only two people in the cockpit after being redesigned to compete with A-310. Despite the higher experience of Boeing in military aviation and, hence, in fly-by-wire technology, Boeing deferred for a long time the decision to include it in civilian planes and, finally, where Boeing lost the efficiency battle was when it appeared with a portfolio whose products were mainly unrelated while Airbus was immerse in its commonality model.

The only point where Boeing arrived before was in the use of twin planes for transoceanic flights through the ETOPS policy. Paradoxically the ones in the worst position were the two American companies that were manufacturing three engine planes, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed instead of Airbus. That was the exception because, usually, Boeing was behind in the efficiency field.

Probably -and this is my personal bet- they try to build a family starting with B787. This plane should be for Boeing the A320 equivalent, that is, the starter of a new generation sharing many features.

As a proof of that more conservative position, Boeing kept some feedbacks that Airbus simply removed like, for instance, the feeling of the flight controls or the feedback from autopilot to throttle levers. Nobody questionned if this should be made and it was offered as a commercial advantage instead of a safety feature since it was not compulsory…actually, the differences among both manufacturers -accepted by the regulators as features independent of safety-  have been in the root of some events

Little-size Aviation is much more crowded and, right now, we have two new incomers from Russia and China (Sukhoi and Comac) including the possibility of an agreement among them to fight for the big planes market.

Anyway, that is still in the future. Big Aviation is still a game of two contenders and every single step in that game has been driven by efficiency. Some of us would like understability -in normal and abnormal conditions- to be among the priorities in future designs, whatever they come from the present contenders or from any newcomer.

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