Confirmation Bias in IT

Confirmation bias, what is it and why is it important?

Confirmation bias is described as the tendency for people to favour information or arguments that coincide with their own beliefs or hypotheses. There is also a tendency for people to select only evidence that supports their position and to accept ambiguous evidence in a positive light.

Social experiments including those conducted by Stanford University have shown that individuals, rather than evaluating each position logically, tend to favour their own viewpoint and can even convince themselves that their position is right in the face of insurmountable logical evidence that they are not correct.

I am sure that by now you are starting to see where I am going with this, how many people do you know in IT that fall into the description above. In particular I am thinking of those that fall into the Cisco, VMWare, Oracle camps. Many of the professionals I know and have worked with don’t even consider alternative products and can’t see any benefits in moving away from what they consider are the only choice.

Lets have a brief aside here, Adolf Hitler we all agree was a bad man, in fact some would describe him as the epitome of evil. No redeeming features whatsoever? Well he was a fantastic orator, a charismatic leader and he really loved children. We all feel a bit uneasy recognising these qualities in this man so what we tend to do is just focus on the bad and leave out the good qualities. Don’t  think I am making excuses for Hitler, just using him as an example.

It’s the same when we look at VMWare, you’ve all heard it by now, ‘industry leading product’, ‘nothing comes close’, ‘crazy to pick anything else’. If you suggest looking at Hyper-V then you hear, ‘not mature’ ‘not ready for the enterprise’ you don’t hear about how much less it costs, how the licensing model is less convoluted, how well it integrates into a Microsoft enterprise, in short none of the good points and only the bad. Confirmation bias.

The consequences of this can lead to:

  • Overconfidence in the selected product and its performance.
  • Failing to identify and adopt the right product for the job.
  • Spending more money than required – ‘the no one got fired for buying IBM’
  • Failing to keep up with emerging technology, falling behind.
  • Fostering a culture of ignorance and conservatism.

Have a look around next time your at work, ask yourself some serious questions. Do I really evaluate objectively or am I biased, can I be proved wrong and accept it? If not them you could be confirming your own bias and falling into the closed mindset that is prevalent in many IT departments. It is ironic that a profession that focuses on advancing technology sometimes has the hardest task in embracing different ways of doing things and adopting different hardware and software.

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Conversion of a Microslut

Having been an early adopter of technology, I had an Acorn Atom, Dragon 32, Amstrad CPC 464, Atari 520STFM and then breaking into the PC by self building 286 using Windows  3.1 and so on until culminating in the present day with Windows 7 running on the latest hardware, the one thing I never ever touched was MAC, they were an anathema to me having had to support them once on a Novell Network in a major University.

However, I got an iPad in September of 2010 and within two weeks I had a Macbook Pro 13″. I am now waiting for Sandybridge and I am going to buy a 27″ iMac and a Macbook air for my wife. I don’t even have Windows 7 installed on my Macbook.

How did this happen?

I don’t really know, it has crept up on me little by little, the good feeling that is generated when you open the Macbook and it springs to life instantly, the fantastic trackpad, the reassuring build quality the great screen and the ease of transition have seduced me. Don’t get me wrong, Windows 7 is really really good but for some reason, at home I don’t go near my neglected Lenovo x200 windows 7 tablet and now exclusively use either my Macbook or iPad (when I can pry it from the clutches of my three year old daughter).

I have an ipod nano that I wear as a watch and find myself hankering to purchase the iPad2 and also a time capsule for backup, I have become worse than a fanboy I am a convert !

Do I need help? Is there a group therapy or rehab available for this or do I just accept it?

 

 

 

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Access

No recent updates do to websense blocking my access, strange that it should suddenly start to do that when it was working fine.
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Smartphones

For the last few months I have been testing various smartphones to try and determine the best one for use with push email on our Exchange 2007 setup.
 
You would think that Windows Mobile devices would be the best and obvious way to go… you might be surprised.
 
HP 614c Business Navigator Windows Mobile 6.1
Traditional phone style with a regular keypad that has a twist in the form of the jog wheel that works as you sweep your finger round the keys. Good touchscreen with an integrated stylus that fits nicely into the case. Good choice for those that like a phone and text but rubbish for email you have to use the stylus and the soft keyboard for anything reseaonably long. Bit on the chunky side but definetly useable.
 
HTC Tytan ll windows Mobile 6.1
Big bold screen with only a few buttons because its a horizontal slider that has a full qwerty job. It really seems compromised though, not a great phone and hard to use as a text device as you have to hold it horizontally and use both hands. Better for email but ultimately i found myself just using it like a touch screen with the stylus and not opening the slide out keyboard. fat and heavy no wonder it comes with a belt pouch.
 
Samsung Omnia Windows Mobile 6.1
Gorgeous looking touchscreen phone that skins Windows semi successfully. It really jars when you drop out of the big finger friendly buttons into the standard mobile 6.1 interface. This is not a phone that puts function above style, really doesn’t gel with the idea of windows mobile apps and is tricky to get used to. The stylus isn’t integrated into the phone so you either use the dubious lanyard to anchor it to the phone or find yourself poking the screen with pens and pencils, pencils work surprisingly well and the graphite cleans off easily.
 
Nokia E71 Symbian 60
Slim sexy and very functional this nokia has a work and business mode for easily adapting to your needs and has Mail for exchange all ready to go, works great and with the full qwerty keyboard a la Blackberry is really easy to use for both mail and text, also a very acomplished phone with great wireless, HSDPA and even a built in radio. No touchscreen but hey that means no finger marks and much improved battery life over the windows phones, 3 to 4 days instead of barely a day. 
 
 BUT the big bonus is that it just works with push mail, for some reason the Windows phones ALL stop synching at some point and you have to input your password again to kick it off. At least the HP asks for it, up to 4 or 5 times a day, the other two HTC and samsung just stop picking up mail meaning you have to notice and then go into mail profile go through all the options, blank your password and re enter it, then voila it works again. The Nokia… entered it at setup and haven’t had to touch it again, it begs the question why?  I also tried my Nokia N95 8Gb and it was the same as the E71 no synch problems at all.
 
The Nokia is my phone of choice.
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Microsoft’s Vision

Microsoft has put together a video extolling it’s vision for 2019, mmm once you watch it and then look into the technologies demonstrated they are all pretty much available, 10 years is a long time in IT. I would have expected some really innovative oeven off the wall stuff to provoke us and challenge our expected thinking. I am slightly disappointed by their lack of vision.
 
Check it out at :
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The worm has turned

 
Or has it? Things may not be as bad as feared, the epolicy orchestrator doesn’t appear to be giving us an accurate reading as to whether a PC does or doesn’t have AV installed, early signs are that there are more protected than not.
 
Corporately the way forward is more defined and pushing out the products and patches have been tested and work just need to hit all sites now.
 
Other organisations have also been hit and generally our experience has been no worse or better than the average.
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To Patch or not to patch

The age old question, do you apply patches to your windows servers timeously or don’t you. given the amount of malicous content and the speed of it spreading patching is a no brainer. the problem is when you patch and the server doesn’t come back up as happened to our webmail server. Of course it had to happen to theat server as it is the only weak link in the chain everything else is redundant allowing us to patch and test before doing the other side.
 
In summation then we patch, the risk to a part of the service is worth taking rather than leaving it until the whole system cold be crippled by one well written virus. It is now up to us to address the issue with the weak links in the chain.
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