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Professional Liars

A few moments ago, Chris mentioned something about hiring a pair of XP programmers. Someone then joked he was a jargon bot. It struck me once again how amazing and unnatural it is for someone's entire mode of conversation to be comprised of buzzwords and mumbo-jumbo. It makes it incredibly hard to tell if he is being serious, or if he is pulling a prank.

Then I started thinking about how Chris McKinstry might actually be a whole team of pranksters who carefully and meticulously plan out their gags so that they might be run across the entire internet (and other forms of media, ei Wired) simultaneously, over the course of years, to as large an audience as they might attract. This group of super-pranksters might even have a few 'Mindpixel's in various forms. Ideas which are so hopelessly convoluted and enshrouded in sizzle and jargon that it is nigh indeterminable whether or not there is actually steak.

Then I realized that over the years, a lot of money has probably changed hands because of people doing exactly this. The tech industry is probably uniquely vulnerable to such snake oils because it is, by definition technical. In the last decade or so there has been a lot of investment into the tech industry which may never yield fruit. But some people, some where, were getting a lot richer by selling that sizzle.

I know that this is all elementary, but it was the first time my thoughts flowed in such a way. (Wouldn't it be funny if... -> Oh man, people get rich this way all the time.) At first it mad me sad, then I thought about doing it myself, then it made me even more sad.
Permalink Jeff Barton 
August 26th, 2005
I've said before that I think there's a point where the money means that someone, somewhere was cheated out of something.
Permalink I am Jack's Friday fallout 
August 26th, 2005
>> I've said before that I think there's a point where the money means that someone, somewhere was cheated out of something.

Gimme 20 bucks and I can tell you how ...
Permalink Mongo 
August 26th, 2005
The financial services industry is probably a better example than tech. How many people really understand insurance, investments, etc.
Permalink Ward 
August 26th, 2005
Or how about the political science industry, then.
Permalink Christopher Wells 
August 26th, 2005
Ward... yes.

I only know insurance well, but man... fleecing is an understatement.
Permalink I am Jack's Friday fallout 
August 26th, 2005
Yeah, I think you guys are right. The financial industry is likely easy pickin's for good con artists. It drives me crazy when I think about how actual substance and merit have so very little to do with so much the economy.

What to do with this kind of realization? I don't want to ignore or suppress it blindly believing nobody is *really* getting screwed here. But I don't want to be depressed either. I certainly don't feel a calling to go educate the masses with documentary films or anything.

I guess I'll just try to minimize the importance of money and material property for me and my family. Thankfully, I've never really been much for them anyway. But I have a lot of competing voices to deal with in raising my children that way. Ugh.
Permalink Jeff Barton 
August 26th, 2005
Well, I think there are a couple colliding issues here.
1 - Social groups tend to use markers to indicate "in group" and "out of group" persons. For some groups, that is clothing, for some groups it is jargon/slang/language. It could be body language: you'll recognize a cop or a Marine even if they've been out of the service for 40 years.
2 - Some guys behave as if "I don't know" is such a *wrong* thing to say, that their wiener will fall off if they say it out loud.
3 - Some people like to make fun of others. Like Sokal.
4 - "Fake it till you make it" is a very common motto. Common enough that some of its users have hypnotized themselves into believing it.
5 - The urge to belong is a very strong impulse. Many groups will create bonding rituals, to enforce who belongs and the belongingness. Might be golf, or in the case of one poster on the JoS forum, playing Worlds of Warcraft.

A - Words mean different things to different groups. For example: the word "theory" means something totally different to a scientist as it does to a non-scientist.
B - If someone uses the wrong words, or wrong regalia, they can be spotted as an out-group person immediately (and shunned as necessary). For example: wearing a suit when all your co-workers wear polo shirts and khakis (or vice versa).

With 1&5, you're going to get people trying to "belong" and trying to use the jargon/slang/language of the group, even when they don't understand what the words really mean (compounding with 2).

With 4, you'll see people trying to determine the rules for using words by observing how others use them (which is how children learn language). Sometimes groups deliberately intend to make the rules impossible to discern. Like in postmodernism, or bush's politics: what is said isn't what it really means; you need "spin" to translate it into english. Some postmodernists believe that postmodernism cannot be described in english, it has to be in french only. Sort of "the tao which can be described is not the real tao." Or, more likely, they don't know either, and asking them to explain what color the emperor's new clothes are, and they get angry.

"I suppose that it might be argued that articles in physics journals are also incomprehensible to the uninitiated. But physicists are forced to use a technical language, the language of mathematics. Within this limitation, we try to be clear, and when we fail we do not expect our readers to confuse obscurity with profundity. It never was true that only a dozen people could understand Einstein's papers on general relativity, but if it had been true, it would have been a failure of Einstein's, not a mark of his brilliance.

Part of Sokal's hoax was in his description of developments in physics. Much of it was quite accurate, but it was heavily adulterated with howlers, most of which would have been detected by any undergraduate physics major."

My response is to treat all posts starring Chris as fiction, and to reply "in character" with the fiction. It *is* possible that he believes what he says (like the joke, what is the difference between a priest and a con-man? The con-man knows what he is selling is false). However, he strings so many buzzwords around that his text is remarkably content-free. Like Sokal's hoax. Could it be real? It sounds vaguely real, like Sokal's hoax did to non-physicists, or Intelligent Design sounds to people with little-to-no scientific education. Could it be a hoax? It reads fake enough to fail a smell test, especially when people with direct, expert knowledge in the area take a whiff. Just like Sokal's Hoax.
Permalink Peter 
August 26th, 2005
Has anyone else seen Boiler Room?

I just caught it about a month ago.
Permalink KC 
August 26th, 2005
I actually just read that link above and if you take a look at all the posts following you'd see that we don't hate Chris nearly as much as the folks in Winnepeg do. My what a nutjob. Somehow he is a millionare.
Permalink Jared 
August 26th, 2005
Boiler Room was to the financial industry what Wargames or Swordfish were to computer programming. I'd be very surprised to find it was written by someone who had a clue how the securities industry works.
Permalink Aristides 
August 26th, 2005
"It struck me once again how amazing and unnatural it is for someone's entire mode of conversation to be comprised of buzzwords and mumbo-jumbo."

Go work with a slick sales guy for a length of time and be amazed - you can tell him something and ten minutes later hear it coming out of his mouth like he's known it for years.

It's kinda freaky.

Permalink Philo 
August 27th, 2005
You mean like how when I was at the Guitar Center buying my acoustic guitar, and I said "let me try that Acoustic Simulator" guitar pedal, and they all said "Why would you want to do that? You're already using an acoustic guitar!" but they plugged me in anyway at my insistance.

The sales guy loved the sound so much, he practically grabbed my (well, soon to be my) guitar out of my hands and jammed away.

As they were ringing me up, someone asked "What does an Acoustic Simulator pedal do?" and without skipping a beat, the salesguy answered, "It's to make your electric sound like an acoustic, or to make your acoustic sound better."
Permalink MarkTAW 
August 27th, 2005

This topic was orginally posted to the off-topic forum of the
Joel on Software discussion board.

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