To Grok or Not to Grok Data Models: A Summer Special

Click to learn more about author Thomas Frisendal.

We need something
light – yet still important – to ease our minds in the summertime. As a data
modeler I have often experienced serious disconnects between not only business
people and myself, but also between the real world and the vocabulary and
definitions attributed to it.

There is plenty of evidence
that data models are dealing with somewhat fluffy matters, showing why “grokking
people and data” is so important.

We will look at:

Cultural disconnectsConflicting interests and terminologyDiscovering unknown exceptionsCultural
Disconnects: Stranger in a Strange Land

I have often felt like a stranger in a strange land, and I keep thinking back on the book with that title from 1961. It changed not only my way of thinking, but also that of many other in my age group. The book is a science fiction book written by Robert A. Heinlein. Wikipedia describes Grok like this:

”Grok /ˈɡrɒk/ is a neologism coined by American writer Robert A. Heinlein for his 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. While the Oxford English Dictionary summarizes the meaning of grok as “to understand intuitively or by empathy, to establish rapport with” and “to empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment”, Heinlein’s concept is far more nuanced, with critic Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. observing that “the book’s major theme can be seen as an extended definition of the term”. The concept of grok garnered significant critical scrutiny in the years after the book’s initial publication. The term and aspects of the underlying concept have become part of communities as diverse as polyamory (in particular the Church of All Worlds) and computer science.”

Specifically, for computer science, we learn from Wikipedia that:

“When you claim to “grok” some knowledge or technique, you are asserting that you have not merely learned it in a detached instrumental way but that it has become part of you, part of your identity.”

(Cover of Stranger in a Strange Land, NEL, 1965-1981) Grok comes from Mars
and Martian culture. Once upon a time there was an expedition from Terra
attempting to colonize Mars. 1 captain and 7 scientists were on board. After
two weeks the landing was initiated. Since then, nothing was heard. A quarter
of a century later a rescue expedition was deployed. An all-male crew of 18
spacemen and 23 male pioneers made up the force commanded by none other than
Captain van Tromp (and I am not kidding)! The rescuers sent three messages: “No
survivors”, “Mars is inhabited”, and “Correction: one survivor is located”!
They brought back the survivor, Valentine Michael Smith, born on Mars. He was
in a double sense the stranger in a strange land. R
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