Obtaining Information from Events and Results, the limitations (a draft)

The purpose of information technology is to capture the result of an event. The result is represented or embodied, in general, in a transaction or a report. For heuristic purposes here, I would include business intelligence, semantic data, and sensor data. Again, this is only a heuristic statement. The data may be minute, “big,” or a meaningful semantic and graphs. Whether data sources are large amounts, submitted to massive parallel processing, and analyzed with NEW statistical procedures those may result in trivial reports such as the sheer raw number of “tweets.” Users, databases, other machines, sensors are even for minute events, consumers and producers of results. A result belongs to data curators, data stewards, DBAs, developers, and testers.

An economics of information can be seen as the effort and expense required to capture a result of an event. The economic costs versus benefits of information are measured by the significance and meaning, and values of results. The economics of data, seen in a simple way compares the probability that the benefits exceed the costs Good or bad, true or false, a representations of results can come from any size system. Designation of “data at rest” or “data in motion” is a distinction without a difference. Any transactional result is an instantaneous report, and a report is a persistent, but not necessarily permanent and can be seen as representation of a transaction. At any instant, data in motion must rest in order to be converted into new data or information, and data at rest must move in order to capture history, become master data, or be archived.

Data integration is a means of cutting the fat from the lean of information. Too often typical enterprise architecture stack diagrams or matrices portray “data” as sitting between business intelligence and applications as in the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF). The FEAF model reduces data architecture to a storage and management function of applications. The “data” element is supported by applications and technology. In contrast to this, Zachman’s framework gives “Data” a cross cutting importance through all layers. Some Zachman diagrams name this first column “What” and other John Zachman diagrams label it “Data.” However, no application is worth more than the result of the data captured. The foundation of systems should be seen in terms of their function, not in terms of a popular sensibility looking for a technology or infrastructure foundation.

It is important how data” is depicted” in any ‘stack’ diagram. No matter how the rest of the application and infrastructural are stood up or configured, the referential integrity and semantic continuity are essential. Representation of where “data” sits or in what “swim lane” it appears, conveys meaning.

Typical IT Stack Diagram

BI, Report, GIS




The role of data is minimized in this representation and depicted as supported by the infrastructure, and not as a pervasive, cross-cutting, requirement. Furthermore, the fundamental ground of data is the “semantic layer.” There is no semantic “layer” in a swim lane by itself. Even such a robust software development book as “Design Driven Development” emphasizes the need to ensure understanding of
semantic content of data.

When “glossary” or “vocabulary” words are used to attempt to identify data semantics that does not mean that either is a complete or comprehensive or enterprise approach. A glossary can refer to only the words in a single system, API, or group of applications, or any non-enterprise development. A glossary can have no or little relationship to foundational meanings. Even “semantics” can be assumed to be equivalent to glossary. These views of meaning may reflect a strictly as-is and bottom-up approach to capture concepts that comprise physical data models. However, a to-be and top-down approach starts with a canonical model.

A canonical environment and its semantic derivations are foundations of continuity from data collection to analytics.  Building an ontology (or trying to automate discovery of one) or using Natural Language Processing to see into data and to check on its validity, and organizing data are foundations. Data cannot be analyzed which is not collected in the first place, and data that isn’t collected consistently is probably worthless. The data collected is a result of an event no matter how transient or persistent. The trajectory of data collection is analysis.

Nevertheless, there are three major contradictions in the organization of “analytics.”

  1. Creating and maintaining a “controlled vocabulary” and semantic continuity is possible, but doing so may not keep up with changes needed by users to gain analytical insight.
  2. Making faster and flexible self-service BI applications may be desirable, but doing so may be at done the cost of data quality.
  3. Relying solely on a client’s statement of a data problem may be “business” oriented, but may miss insights into the actual substance of the problem at hand. This is not an IT problem – it is not a problem of too much or too little data – it is a problem of knowing the subject at hand (medicine, health care, customer demographics, geography, housing finance, agribusiness, civil engineering, urban design, linguistics, logic, and all the rest).

The purpose of information technology is not software development for its own sake. Definitions of information technology may just be a list of the means of creating systems and data with emphasis on the technology, and not the information.

Odor of Absolute Knowledge

Absolute knowledge of the Hegelian model is elusive either because it either exceeds the grasp of thinking and history or is veiled from sight or smell.   That is, one can’t obtain Absolute Knowledge or wouldn’t recognize it if one did. What is the tell-tale sign of the trail of Absolute Knowledge after Hegel? In his impressive history of the interplay of theory and praxis, (Lobkowitz, Theory and Practice: The History of a Concept from Aristotle to Marx, 277) calls this the “opiate of Absolute Knowledge…”

He argues that Left Hegelians’ search for Absolute Knowledge yields a definition of practice as the exercise of self-consciousness to identify their own critical escape from religion and underscore the hope that one-day humanity may develop a critical consciousness.  Whether in publications or in solitary exercises of critical thought, while attending to signs of history manifesting Absolute Knowledge, they doubted efficacy of political engagement. Lobkowitz suggests that the atmosphere of this position is an opiate clouding better thinking about praxis.

Lobkowitz picks up Marx’s phrase to characterize the “Left Hegelians” predecessors of Marx. Chronologically in texts, the opiate of religion follows the “opiate of Absolute Knowledge” but both address religion as a barricade to social and historical development. In this case, the opiate applies to reliance on self-conscious critique or the rumblings of history. Salvation comes from humanities’ escape from religion. Even then “Spirit” lifts the veil and shows the way. Spirit’s vision must be manifested by being externalized in the consciousness and critique.

At the end of Hegel’s “Phenomenology,” the externalization of Spirit takes shape in movement from self-consciousness to time, space, and History. “Externalization” (A.V. Miller; trans. 492) is also “kenosis.” A brief search of definitions yields definitions including “emptying oneself” and “abasement” A Catholic definition is that In Christ’s “kenosis” “He freely subjected Himself to most of the pains resulting from bodily exertion and adverse external influences, e.g. fatigue, hunger, wounds, etc.….Besides, He could prevent their disturbing the actions of His soul and His peace of mind.” –(http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08617a.htm) If one were to imagine the most base result, that would give off some kind of odor.

Lobkowitz writes of the course of the Left Hegelians that until 1848 in “them the general politicization of thought had developed under the unlucky star of Absolute Knowledge.” (209) Leaving no stone unturned relevant to his criticism, he writes that these “cranks” amount to thirty persons at the most. (216). That Left Hegelians were under the shine for an unlucky star is another metaphor for their limited sense of politics and history. The star of Absolute Knowledge is unlucky, not a guiding star by which to navigate

In an unrelated but appealing connection here, Adorno exposes the popular version of finding unlucky stars through astrology. Astrology (T.Adorno, “Stars Down to Earth”) portrays itself as a key to understanding and predicting one’s place in the cosmos. When newspapers (or now other media) carry horoscopes, then, comfort and hope displace feelings of despair and hopelessness. Astrology is a sign of and vehicle of reification.

For Adorno, “occult” beliefs and practices – e.g. astrology – embody or spiritualize social and cultural domination and reification. The individual subjective search for meaning is surrendered to the stars and planets. Adorno writes that followers of occult beliefs find only the “offal of the phenomenal world” outside the configuration of time of birth, place of birth, and positions of the sun, moon, planets, stars, etc.; especially as given in “Christian Astrology” of 1647. (http://www.renaissanceastrology.com/horary.html ).  Adorno (174) uses the term “offal” to describe occult followers’ perception of worldly context. However, I don’t think it is farfetched to think that Adorno feels this way about occult practices themselves.

Offal means the organ parts of animals that are usually undesirable to eat (e.g. lungs, gizzards, livers, kidneys, feet, tongue, or brain) in spite of its appearance. In the U.S. lungs, chitterlings, pork rind, brains, and tongue are parts of the culinary scene. For example, my parents always wanted gizzards and livers from fried chicken. I met a Norwegian sea captain who left the delicacy of fresh salmon eyeballs for a tasty last bite. In Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom walks through the city with a lamb’s kidney in his pocket. Needless, to say Romans found auspices in the entrails of birds. Like opium in the Communist Manifesto, the smell of offal might be the smell of sewage, roses, decay, desirable cuisine, or even the hope of further prosperity.

An individual’s taste affects what is offal and like opium. Offal has substance that becomes a stink. Whether offal or opium, the odor may be acceptable to some people in order to get some pleasure. Offal or opium exhibit their own form of thoughtful stimulants. In both cases, the critique of religion falls short of theory and praxis. Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.” (Helen Keller)