Sarah Sheard's Thoughts and Theories

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Anti-Cult

Or at least the Anti-Destructive-Cult Guy, Steve Hassan, spoke at the conference I attended this week. If you need to help someone get out of a destructive cult, see his website, which also lists a number of groups that use "mind control" techniques to keep people mentally enslaved rather than having them think for themselves (a more widely edited list is included on Wikipedia).

For information and possibly a few chuckles, see for the secrets of Scientology, exposed...this from a group dedicated to opening the inner secrets of this group to all for debate and discussion. Steve believes that groups that are not destructive allow debate on all tenets and do not cloud them with secrecy, making them available only to those who open their bank accounts to them and who agree not to leave the group ever.

Mind control techniques (from the Cult Information Center) include the following. If you are being subjected to such techniques, get out. This is not a legitimate enterprise!

Confusing Doctrine--Encouraging blind acceptance and rejection of logic through complex lectures on an incomprehensible doctrine.
Removal of Privacy--Achieving loss of ability to evaluate logically by preventing private contemplation.
Time Sense Deprivation--Destroying ability to evaluate information, personal reactions, and body functions in relation to passage of time by removing all clocks and watches.
Uncompromising Rules --Inducing regression and disorientation by soliciting agreement to seemingly simple rules which regulate mealtimes, bathroom breaks and use of medications.
Verbal Abuse--Desensitizing through bombardment with foul and abusive language.
Sleep Deprivation and Fatigue--Creating disorientation and vulnerability by prolonging mental an physical activity and withholding adequate rest and sleep.
Dress Codes--Removing individuality by demanding conformity to the group dress code.
Confession--Encouraging the destruction of individual ego through confession of personal weaknesses and innermost feelings of doubt.
Financial Commitment--Achieving increased dependence on the group by 'burning bridges' to the past, through the donation of assets.
Isolation--Inducing loss of reality by physical separation from family, friends, society and rational references.
Change of Diet--Creating disorientation and increased susceptibility to emotional arousal by depriving the nervous system of necessary nutrients through the use of special diets and/or fasting.
No Questions--Accomplishing automatic acceptance of beliefs by discouraging questions.
Fear--Maintaining loyalty and obedience to the group by threatening soul, life or limb for the slightest 'negative' thought, word or deed.
Replacement of Relationships--Destroying pre-cult families by arranging cult marriages and 'families'.

By the way, Steve agreed that the U.S. Military has aspects of destructive cults, particularly in bootcamp, but "how else are you going to train people to kill on command?", and at least there are grievance procedures and the like.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Now THAT says it all...

At the conference today, a speaker defined Dog Breeding as:

Intelligent Design by means of Evolution.

There now.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Gee, who is that wise woman

with all those sage words about Silence Meaning Consent? Must be some kind of Facilitator?

Here's one page quoting her:

Sarah Sheard, a systems engineering expert, found two things happen when you poll your team members:

Build a Better Solution. Those who have reservations state the reservations, which they might not do if silence was the only option...

Internal Buy-in. If a team member is required to respond to a request for buy-in, they have to make a commitment to the decision internally...
Gosh, I wrote this in about 1993! Wow, things go around and come back around!

And the original article, published in The Facilitator (no date given, and I'll be durned if I can remember that long ago):

Is "silence means agreement" a good ground rule?
By: Sarah A. Sheard

If there is no contention, does that means that there is agreement? Some groups use "Silence Means Agreement" to speed up decisions and move the discussion along. If no one objects to a decision, it is implemented as having full consensus.

However, I have found this NOT to be a good idea. Why? ...

(and so forth)

Half of all people out there

Take all the people out there and rank them from dumbest to guess what the IQ of the middle person it closer to:

a) 97
b) 108
c) 114
d) 119
e) 121
f) 126

Remember, half of all the people out there (driving cars, standing in front of you in the grocery line, getting their teeth cleaned) have IQs less than this number.

Answer is in the first comment below.

Quote from Terry Pratchett

Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day.
Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

-Terry Pratchett

The funniest British writer today...also see his Wikipedia entry.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Two Kinds of Trust

There are two kinds of trust:

You can trust that someone means well (or doesn't) and
You can trust that someone is actually capable of doing something (or isn't).

For example, you can believe that a boss or employee plans to do something and will give it his or her best effort. (In contrast, you know other employees who will only go so far and then take shortcuts. Some bosses will just forget what they promised, and some are downright malicious and will backstab you to make you look bad, "take you down a notch," push their own agenda, or just think some other idea is better and they don't want to create a fuss by being honest with you about it.)

This type of trust is related to honesty and integrity.

Honesty means if someone said X happened, you know X really happened.
Integrity means if someone said they will make X happen in the future, you know they will move heaven and earth to make it happen.

The second kind of trust is related to skill. Is the person actually able to do what he or she intends to do?

"Mom, trust me, I can drive in this rain." Suppose you have a very solid, well rounded sixteen year old, but it's very late, and dark, and the child has less than a year of driving experience. Do you trust her? Sorry, no. It's not that you don't trust her honesty or integrity, it's that you don't trust her skill level.

I had a coworker who was always meant well, but I think he needed to be on Aricept. People with early signs of Alzheimer's disease don't even remember that they promised you something yesterday, so they don't have any idea that what they promise you today they won't remember tomorrow. I trusted his intentions completely, but his ability not at all.

You need a boss who you can trust both ways.

You need an employee who has honesty and integrity. Skills can be developed.

You need to demonstrate honesty and integrity to your children. Pay the higher "teenager" prices at the movie theater, even if your 13-year-old looks young. Your children are watching.


Multiple Personality and Complexity Theory

You have heard of Chaos theory...that theory that makes all those pretty fractal pictures? Well, Complexity theory is related and the next step. It investigates the structures that arise when many small things get together and self-organize into something example is a flock of birds, or a community of people, or an anthill or bee hive. The larger thing begins to develop characteristics of an organism itself that are independent of the characteristics of the smaller thing.

Now, I have a theory... (this should surprise no one reading this blog).
You know how brain cells are individual organisms, each with a nucleus, taking in nutrients from the bloodstream, putting out wastes that are cleared by the blood? Clearly they work together to form an organism, the brain. Clearly the brain has developed very important characteristics that are independent of the characteristics of the brain cell. Some of these are mechanical in nature, such as the plumbing that keeps the brain alive (arteries and veins, the chemical blood-brain barrier that keeps almost all toxic substances in the blood from reaching the brain cells, etc.)

But many of the characteristics that the brain has developed are far more wondrous than this. The brain has developed memory, for example. We still don't really know how that works. The brain has developed language processing, spatial ability, the ability to think about exponents. For heaven's sake, we can think! We are conscious! We are self-aware! How is that even possible, from a bunch of neurons?

Another interest of mine is dissociative disorders, having been close to someone with what turned out to be a variant of multiple personalities while I was growing up. I read an amazing article that address the development of multiple personalities in terms of complexity theory. Their contention, which I believe entirely, is that development of a personality is the process of pulling together a number of personality factions, usually something that happens during adolescence (actually, I think this is my interpretation of their contention). If something goes wrong, the factions are not integrated well, and something akin to a poorly organized society ensues. They make the analogy to countries where minority opinions are repressed. The minority opinions don't go away, they fester. Occasionally they take over, and then they repress the other opinions. Exactly the same thing happens in multiple personalities.

I could write a thesis on this.

That last sentence may prove prophetic.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Visiting the Washington DC area?

Here are my suggestions for Metro-riding visitors:

Metro map:

First suggestion: Google one of the commercial "Tour Washington DC" sites like (no endorsement intended; it’s the only one with a conveniently short url!). Not that you’d necessarily take a tour, but you’ll see what they think are good places to see. Then you can look those up on your own.


The Zoo and Rock Creek Park.
If you like natural areas and walking, this is actually free except for the drinks and stuff you'll want to buy. Pretty place. (Yellowish green blob at 11 o'clock on the DC Diamond shape)
Metro: Red line, Woodley Park/Zoo stop.

Eastern Market
A huge multicultural flea market. My daughter loves this place
Blue and orange lines, Eastern Market stop.

Library of Congress
You can get a tour but really don't need one as I recall, as much of the first floor is a self-guided tour area and very interesting to us geeky types. Right next door to the Supreme Court building.
Metro: Capitol South (Blue and Orange Lines) or Union Station (Red Line)

The Supreme Court
Never been there (at least since I was a teenager) but it's got to be cool.
Metro: Capitol South (Blue and Orange Lines) or Union Station, Red Line

Washington Monument
Long lines but hey, it's a staple. Stairs aren't even open any more, in case you are thinking of physical fitness.
Metro: Orange and Blue lines, Smithsonian stop (and it's something of a hike from there)

Smithsonian museums
Air and Space is the number one most visited place in Washington DC. For good reason. The more famous one (and fully equipped with snack bar, gift shops, rest rooms) is downtown, the newer and huge (dwarfs the space shuttle and the Enola Gay housed within!) but not necessarily more interesting one is out by Dulles airport (requires a car)--Called Udvar-Hazy museum. Free entry but 12 bucks to park.

Other Smithsonian museums listed here include
several Art museums (good), Natural History (good but kind of has a 60s feel to much of it), National Postal museum (too small, not interesting for teenagers for long), Arts and Industries (Cool, kind of 60s feel to it), American Indian (I’ve heard mixed things, never been there) and of course, Museum of American History (a big winner!)

Metro: Smithsonian Stop (duh) on the Blue or Orange lines for most, but actually for Air and Space, which is on the east end, go to L'Enfant Plaza (Blue, Orange, Yellow, or Green) and go to the 7th & Maryland exit door, which is just a half a block south.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing
This is where they print paper money. The tour is fun but kind of long, and that is even if you don't have a line to start it. Near the Holocaust museum, if you can take that.
Metro: Blue or Orange Lines, Smithsonian stop. Independence Avenue exit.

Holocaust Memorial Museum
I haven't been here. My kids both went on school trips.
Metro: Blue or Orange Lines, Smithsonian stop. Independence Avenue exit.

International Spy Museum
Very interesting, not cheap though.
Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown (Red, Yellow, and Green lines)

Great Falls Park.
You need a car to get here. If you can get here though, it's a cool, fun place to hike and see the falls and boulder hop and see the canal that Geo. Washington built before that nasty little civil conflict called the Revolution. On the Virginia side you get great views of the falls; on the Maryland side you can take a ride in a canal boat on the "real" canal, the C&O canal.

Kennedy Center
There are some national orchestra shows on, and sometimes free shows at lunch. Just click Find a Performance.

National Geographic Society headquarters, especially Explorer's Hall.
This is too cool for words. Being in the headquarters of the people who send folks all around the world, making those maps, taking those pictures...they have posters of all those cool pictures up and I believe always for sale in the hall. Highly recommended.
Metro: Red Line, Farragut North stop; or Blue and Orange Lines, Farragut West stop.

Some additional possibilities with concerns as follows: (you'll need to Google them)

Teddy Roosevelt Island: Peace in the Potomac...but you need a car.
Union Station...history, nice to stop on your metro travels, but in the end it's just a train station.
Textile museum...I've never been there.
Newseum...I went when it was in Arlington (it's moved to DC) and it was too small and really mostly for those interested in journalism when I was there in Arlington.
FBI tour...we went before 9/11 and had a hugely long wait. In the end we got permission to skip most of the tour and just go to the shooting gallery at the end, and wished we'd done it literally 2 hours earlier. Do that if you can. That's the best part. The guy doing that is funny.
City Museum...Brand new, I don't know what it's like.
C&O Canal (in Georgetown) need to take a cab there, Metro doesn't go there.
Fredrick Douglass National Historical Site...I haven't been there.

Things To Learn Before Going Out In the World

Things One Should Learn Before Going Out Into the World

Copyright ©2002 2005 Sarah Sheard


How to swallow a pill
How to treat a cold, the flu, or a speck in the eye
How to get enough sleep
How to get yourself up at a consistent time of day
How to handle an accident or injury to others when blood is present
The shortcomings of birth control


What to do if you’re stranded
What to do if you think a friend has serious problems
How to stick to a task, even though you decide halfway through that you hate it
Integrity: to only make promises you can keep, and to keep them
How to swim
Self-control…How to control your temper when you’re angry but it’s unwise to show it

How to keep a secret
When to call in an authority
How to prioritize
How to say NO graciously
How to suffer fools


How to study
How to pay attention in a lecture.
How to find needed information in a library and online
The difference between schoolwork and learning


How to cook several different well-rounded meals
When food in the refrigerator is too old, and how long fresh meat and fish will keep
How to handle chicken, ground beef, and eggs
How to clean a kitchen and a bathroom
How to vacuum a rug
How to do laundry, including separating whites and colors, use of bleaches, washing and drying, and hand washing
How to change batteries in smoke detectors and other items in your house
What kinds of hammers, wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers there are and how you use them


How to drive safely (enough to pass the typical driving test, but more practice)
How to plan a route by reading maps
How to get to a known place from a place where you are lost
The procedures to follow a car accident such as exchanging names and insurance information
How to navigate an airport, including ticketing, security, gates, and baggage claim


How to register to vote and how to vote
What to do if you are faced with getting into the car of a person who is impaired by alcohol or drug consumption
How to get a bank account
How to make a budget
How to use a credit card, library card, etc
Understanding the liability of credit card debt
How to write a check
How to balance a checkbook


How to throw and catch a ball
How to change a diaper.
How to start a fire, from just a match and found material
When to look up rules in an etiquette book

How I teach this stuff:

Expect them to do it
Tell them what they’re doing right

You have good judgment
You can do this

Be genuine
Get out of the way

Presented at Beyond IQ Conference, Reston, Virginia, November 5, 2005.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Science of Shopping

Paco Underhill's new book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, has a lot of very interesting tips both for store owners and for shoppers. I'm personally one who gravitates toward not accumulating a lot of things, but find that I too am snookered into picking up things I didn't intend to when I go out.

This book is easy to read, and fun, and engrossing for those who are into unusual nonfiction. Some of the tidbits:

No one looks at anything in the first few feet of a store. They're too busy transitioning into the store.

Stores should not place hand baskets at the front of the store. People go in for a few things, then find a few more, and by the time they need a basket, they're somewhere deep in the store. I myself have done this hundreds of times! If you want a hand basket now, you actually have to go out beyond the cash registers to get one! How smart is that? Store owners actually want you to stay there and pick up more and more things to buy, but they're actually encouraging you to go toward the exit, where you're just as likely to say, aw never mind, this will do, and leave.

Women's clothing stores can boost sales by putting in comfortable chairs with magazines that interest men next to them. That way the "wallet carriers" won't be bugging the women to go, and they'll stay longer and buy more.

You know those nice displays next to the cash registers at bookstores? You can't see them when you have time (when you're waiting in line) and you don't have time to look through them when you can see them (when you're at the cash registers) so they aren't doing anything other than cluttering up the space. The bookstore should put them where people waiting in line can look at them.

A whole lot of the book meets my own personal definition of genius which is:

Until you say it, nobody has thought of it.

After you say it, it's obvious to everyone.


Suggestion: Airplane Loading

You know how airlines have tried all sorts of schemes to speed up loading airplanes, from letting anyone on in any order, to loading the back first (typical), to letting people choose any available seat (Southwest), to some now trying front and back? Well, I think I have a possibly best way which none have tried:

Load by number of carry-on bags.

Load anyone right away who has no carry-on bags.
Then, load anyone with only one.
Then load anyone with two.
Continue with three, then four, etc. You could even allow an infinite number of carry-on bags in theory, because people with the most bags would get on last, when they know they run the risk of there being no more space for them in the overhead bins.

My idea is likely to work precisely because one of the reasons people rush onto the plane is to grab space for their carry-on bags. If they knew that the space-hogs wouldn't be allowed on until after they get on, then you'd have a very orderly seating of everyone without bags.

Furthermore, I believe this would encourage people to check more bags (carry on fewer) so they could get on faster. This would speed up boarding as well, because if you don't have any, you get on, sit down, and you're in. What currently slows down most boarding is people trying to cram bags into overhead bins.

What do you think?


Monday, June 19, 2006

First Post

Sarah Sheard has decided to update herself and get with the blog flow.

First of all: WHICH Sarah Sheard am I? No, not the Canadian author, though I have conversed with her and she's delightful. No, not the dragon boat racer, nor the recruiter, nor the twenty-something other blogger... I am the systems engineering geek, well enough covered on the web that you can probably find me... except that mostly what you find is me in my old job, thus:

Second of all: WHERE am I? I have left my previous employment with "The Consortium" (Sounds like Sci-Fi, I know) and have started my own company...for details, see I am not happy with my current web site and am soliciting help and advice for improving it, by the way. My skills however lie elsewhere, neither in programming nor in giving specific requirements so that someone else who does only programming can fulfill my requirements. I need someone who has a good grasp of what I want to actually help, make recommendations, do some things and show me, and take initiative. You know how to contact me if you're the person I'm looking for.

Third: What am I trying to do? Many things!

1) Introduce the worlds of systems engineering and the complex systems sciences, including chaos, complexity theory, and research into complex systems and how they act. If you have read books by Strogatz, Barabasi, Bar-Yam, Holland, Waldrop, Watts, Buchanan, and Lewin, that's what I mean by Complex Systems Sciences. I have a drawing of what I call the "Complexity Quagmire" that I make available to those who are interested.

2) Build up my new business. Note please that this is second in priority, not first. I find myself in the extremely happy position of having work fall on me, and being able to turn down a lot of work that is usually associated with the 40+ papers I published during my first ten years in INCOSE (the International Council on Systems Engineering, that is stuff I'm still interested in somewhat, but not as much as #1. See, for example, #3 below.

3) Other professional interests. Systems engineering improvement, systems engineering curriculum development and training, process improvement, the importance of paying attention to security in software-intensive systems, definitions and value of systems engineering and how to make it valuable to you, whether you are the government or a small project or business.

4) Interests other than professional: Being a mom (2 older teens), music (violin, temporarily on hold while I get #2 above going), folkdancing, work with gifted children, languages (Spanish, French, a bit of Japanese, a few words of numerous others, and even teaching ESL), trying to keep myself fit, health care (enough to know about celiac and other interesting syndromes), sewing and a few other crafts, group psychology, watching TV you wouldn't predict I'd watch, and anything that smacks of being truly and deliciously odd.

That's plenty for a first post. I'd be thrilled to have comments, suggestions, help with the blog, recommendations on my website, anyone interested in joining any of my alien interests, etc.