Maps and Metaphors


The other day my friend Jennifer, from the MEP, gave me a tutorial on GIS mapping (geographic information systems mapping), I used arcgis and made a map of all the mints with my son who is obsessed with gold.  Jennifer and I then went through a series of story maps.  Story maps are like essays with maps, maps that tell a story or explain a point of view. They can show different perspectives or changes over time. We have medium for writing, and youtube for video, why dont we have something for maps, why are maps less of a narrative medium? We went through the story maps and described what we liked and did not like about each story and what we are going to include in our own story map that we are building.. stay tuned. 

I have been fascinating with mapping for a long time. In fact one of my early skills, before GPS, was reading maps, and my parents would say things to me like “Meredith, you are good at reading maps, where are we.” And it was true I was good at reading maps and I loved maps.  

As I grew and learned about the situationists and psychogeographics. I am still not entirely sure what  psychogeographies is, especially if both Guy Debord and Robert Macfarlaine are both psychogeographers, one a marxists using psychogeography as a way to live more ‘authentically’, the other writing poetic meditations on walking knowledge, nature, and history. But whatever, the journey is more important than the destination and perhaps psychogeography is about that.  

There is the idea of the Derive, what is my personal journey through the urban landscape if I am motivated by nothing other than the terrain itself (versus say my need to get to a meeting).  However this idea of a personal journey plus a map is also interested, because I am interested in the map as a landscape but really I am interested in navigating the map via routes. 

Then there is knowledge embedded in the land (this can be extended to physical objects, or perhaps psychic objects like memory palaces). There are some excellent discussion of this in books like Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places, or Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta. We can understand why people walk pilgrimages – like in the Canterbury Tales or the Carmen de Santiago.  Knowledge and experience, knowledge and the journey are of a piece and they interact with the moving through the land (walking) and the land itself. 

All these things titillated me, but not enough to actually make a map until this past week when I fired up ARCgis. And suddently I was wondering why people dont make more maps.

But what is my meta interest around maps and here I drew inspiration from Conner Habib’s podcast with Peter Bebergal. The main take away here is that maps are metaphors. I don’t know if that is true, but maps are something, they are a gauze over the world that enable you to see things from a particular vantage point and isolate particular features. A hill in a topographical map, is something different in a nature map (like what is growing on the hill). So we see an item in many different perspectives, or perhaps we can call it world views.  Sometimes you need the right map to highlight the route you want to take. Like I want to see a topographical map of San Francisco not just a road map, because SF is hilly and I don’t want to deal with that. 

How is a map a world?  A map is a tool, it is a technology. It is a world building technology. It outlines a particular ontology – ie it outlines beings. What are the tools that outline a metaphysics, ie the assumptions of the world. The map exists in a metaphysical frame where there are different world views. Ie metaphysics create an environment for tools. Or perhaps tools create a world in tandem with a metaphysics. 

One thing I would like to note is the discussion on technology in the podcast. There was a discussion on the role of the consciousness of the user in interacting with a tool – this I think is non controversial, although there is the one perspective of tool building that commodifies sense perceptions in that they standardize inputs and outputs.  The possible range of measurements that come from a ruler with inches and feet will always result in inches and feet, and this ruler will look at everything in terms of length (or two dimensions). There was a discussion of the film My Friend Dahmer, and how Dahmer would have fake seizures, but then had a real seizure and would not stop – that is when the ‘complex’ took hold, when he became a serial killer. Tools are things we can use to displace these sorts of personal transformations, we can work on a tool before we work on ourself. 

Personal work makes a difference. The particular practices an individual undertakes, whether it is religious, athletic, meditative, or what not affects a person both internally and externally. Tools and technologies are a way to transform the world with minimal transformation on the self.  If we imagine ourselves in co-creation with ourselves and the world, this additional variable what are ways to act on the world in a low footprint way is an ecological perspective. 

Living in world can be a heart hardening experience, how can we preserve the softness in our heart?


Monitoring and Observability


I am talking at a meetup in a few weeks. My topic, Overcoming Metric Fatigue with Artificial Intelligence.  The meetup is about Software Observability and Continuous Updates. Now that I am preparing my talk I am taking a deep dive into Observability and Continuous Updates… What does that mean beyond buzz words.

Software Observability

So first off we are talking about software, not hardware, so we are talking about log statements (and logs), exceptions, stack traces, and events. 

But what is observability? Once we have observability we have the related concept of monitoring and instrumentation. Let’s split this up. 

Instrumentation is for business intelligence. The goal here is to understand how people use the system and how to extract additional information from this usage in order to either improve the software, create new products, or add new processes to the pipeline (like altering a sales pipeline).  This perhaps is a problem to be solved in the datawhare house or OLAP system, statistical methods, and visual displays. We want to capture as much information as possible and then run analysis on it.  

Monitoring is for understanding the health of a system.   Here the goal is to capture the most salient information in order for a human to act on it.  We imagine a one to one correlation between an alert in monitoring and something like pager duty alert.  Rather than logging an exception, monitoring is about looking for events and certain ranges and thresholds (like 10 events a minute, or an event with a certain value).  We can engage in whitebox monitoring – an alert triggered by monitoring the internals of a system, or blackbox monitoring -an alert triggered by monitoring the external interfaces of a system (such as user interaction or systems integrations).

How to determine what to monitor can be refined by instrumentation.


Observability is related to understanding how a system is behaving internally.  

To reiterate, monitoring is about looking for threshold events and immediately actionable alerts, instrumentation is about logging information to help decisions (about product, pipelines, and monitoring), and observability is about understanding how the internal pieces of a system work together (or rather don’t work together as excepted). 

The idea is that if an event is triggered via our monitoring software, then we can use tools in the observability camp to track down, understand what is happening and fix it. Observability is the ability is to tie back a piece of data in instrumentation or monitoring to the software code itself.

Observability, is also about context. It is about examining the state of a system as it compared to its recent (or ancient) history. Where as monitoring is about an event or a thing, observability is about ranges. When observing a system, I want to see how the software is working within its historical context. When an alert is triggered via monitoring, we also want to observe what is happening within context (either in real time or in log files) in order to understand what is happening and to apply an appropriate fix later. 

Metrics and Monitoring

Where do metrics come in? Metrics are the things that we are building our alerts around.  What we are monitoring are metrics. Any time I see a systems diagram where ever I see I line I see an opportunity for a metric. These lines can increase more and more as we dive into the internals of a system. There is a great old blog post by etsy about measurement. It talks about how to measure everything. This is metric fatigue. 

For instrumentation we want to measure everything, for monitoring we only want to measure the most salient things, for observability we want to monitor things that a human brain can realistically comprehend. 

This is the subject of my talk – how we can separate out the different types of metrics. This is a notion of worlding or worldview, we can also call it phase transition or granularity. Just like we can examine a mountain by looking at it’s ranges, it’s individual rocks, or the atoms that make up the rocks, we can also look at instrumentation, observability, and monitoring as different world views of our systems.

There are all different ways of setting up observability in a system  – like in this detailed but probably out of date document from twitter.  Also all different ways to integrate as in this medium post.

My talk is about adding AI into the mix.  How to use AI to determine which metrics to observe. Once you do this tho, you need to add additional metrics and observation to gain intuition into how the AI algorithm is making its decisions. Its turtles all the way down.

Maybe next I’ll write about continuous updates.