Not All Movement Is Progress

I was having a conversation with a friend recently. We both work in “Big Tech.” Both our employers are sensitive to employees making remotely public statements – and his in particular is pretty notorious for over-reacting. So in an abundance of caution I’ll point out that this rambling represents neither of our companies – just a conversation between two people who’ve been in tech “a fair while.”

We were talking about the most recent operating system released by a Big Tech company that runs on their fruit-themed hardware.

The release has caused a bit of a kerfuffle – it no longer runs a set of applications that were supported by its predecessor. Like other transitions in this company’s past, this one was deliberate and foreshadowed across a couple years. If a customer depends on an application that this OS won’t run, they find an alternative, convince themselves they don’t really need that application, or they don’t upgrade. This last is problematic. Not in the short term – they’ll still get critical updates for their old operating system for a while – but eventually. And if they need to buy new fruit-themed hardware, that new hardware likely won’t run that old operating system. So those customers are one hardware failure away from running out of options.

It’s also generally been a bit of a bumpy release. The initial release had more than its fair share of issues, and even after a couple minor releases there are ongoing sources of customer pain and breakage. I’ve encountered some of these bumps personally, and I reached out to this friend – on a personal basis – to relate my anecdote.

I think it’s safe to say that most tech consumers don’t have personal contacts inside “Big Tech.” They can potentially contact support if they have a problem, but that’s where it ends.

“I don’t expect you to fix this,” I started, “I just want you to hear the unfiltered voice of your customer.” I went on to explain the problem, and how I thought they could have given their customers more options – as they had during past large technology transitions.

I pointed out that, from my perspective, this transition was different from the big transitions in the past. In the past, I argued, customers saw a difference, and that visibility made the changes – even the unwelcome ones – easier to understand. During the transition from their “classic” operating system to their NeXT (sic.) generation operating system in c. 2001, everything looked different. When they changed the CPU their machines were built around in c. 2006, customers bought new computers. Those changes were moments of transition – painful transitions for some customers – that enabled new things.

This time, a customer who “upgrades” their software gets to do less. And it’s pretty hard to explain to a customer how being able to do less enables new things.

That got me thinking about the idea of progress in computing, and software. This is a case where we’re “improving” a computing systems by making it do less than it could do before – and that feels like not progress.

Maybe I’m just old. Part of me can’t give up the Apple ][ that I could open the cover on, and basically understand from the component level up.

That’s not computers anymore.  And as magical as carrying the internet around in my pocket, or on my wrist, is – and it is – I think we’ve lost some valuable things along the way.

…but a whimper

So the Senate acted as expected – voting along party lines to acquit Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of congress and leave him in office.

To paraphrase my favorite TV shepherd “I’m not even sure I think they were wrong.”

Trump is undoubtedly guilty of the offenses he was charged with. Mitch McConnell is undoubtedly a toadying ass. And Mike Pence is undoubtedly more adept at manipulating the US political establishment than his boss, and thereby likely even more dangerous.

“If you strike me down, he shall become more powerful than you can ever imagine.”

“I dunno, I can imagine quite a bit…”

That Pence is not in charge is cold comfort.

There was no winning move. To not impeach Trump was tacit approval of his behavior. To impeach Trump mandated giving the Republican controlled Senate control over the outcome.

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,”

The odds of the Republicans breaking ranks and removing Trump from office – regardless of the charges, or the evidence – were basically zero from the outset.

Democrats fall apart. Republicans fall in line.

Well, save Mitt Romney, it turns out. And his behavior over time has made it really difficult to think about his actions in any rational way (or maybe difficult to think about his actions in any way other than a rational actor).

Basically, McConnell was correct in saying “If this was all about politics, and it was, at least at the moment I think it is fair to conclude that we won and they lost.”

Take a second to unpack “we” and “they.” “We” is pretty clearly the Republican party. “They,” as far as I can tell, includes the Democratic party, rule of law, and whomever tries to reign in presidential power in the future.

Including “American Democracy” in that list feels like hyperbole. Just because something’s hyperbole doesn’t mean it’s false.

As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight gives Sanders nearly even odds of gaining a majority of pledged delegates in the Democratic primary. A self-described socialist that has or will alienate moderate voters, regardless of which side of the aisle they lean toward.

I’ve been saying it since he was elected, and I see no reason to amend it now – “If he [Trump] runs again, he wins again.”

I don’t think it’s likely that Trump wins the next election – I think it’s nearly guaranteed that the Democrats lose it.

Please, America.

Prove me wrong.

Not with a bang…

As of a handful of hours ago the United Kingdom is officially out of the European Union.

I don’t think anyone really knows what that means.

One thing it means is that you shouldn’t ask a large group of people a question unless you already know the answer. (cough: Mr. Cameron, please take note.)

Anyway… I’m not normally a “chat with the person next to you” sort of person on a plane. I’m more of the “we’re both stuck on this flying cigar, let’s ignore eachother and focus on getting to the other end” sort of person.

This trip was different. I ended up having a chat with the pensioners next to me. We were flying from LHR to SFO (I had a meeting in the Bay Area before heading to Seattle). From there they’d board a five week cruise to Sydney (as in Australia). She was Irish and had worked for an airline. He was British and had been a printer, working for others before ending up running his own business before he retired.

They were, as they put it, “obviously” Brexit supporters.

This put me in the position of being able to play the “I’m just a dumb American living in the UK, please explain this to me” card. You gotta play the hand you’re dealt, so…

I managed to ignore the occasional Euromyth (it was the first time someone had asserted to my face that the EU required carrots to be straight – I litterally bit my tongue to avoid laughing out loud), and focused on trying to understand the core of their position. I think it came down to four pillars.

  1. The EU started as a free trade organization but was increasingly encroaching on national soverignty – imposing rules over member countries far beyond free trade.
  2. The EU governing body was unelected and increasingly corrupt, so the UK was better out than in.
  3. The UK was outside the EU before and it was fine, so it would be fine again.
  4. Specifically, the “EU needs the UK as much as the UK needs the EU,” so the negative repercussions of leaving would be mild, if there were any at all.

We talked about Boris (he’ll be fine and was a far better choice than Corbyn who was “away with the faries”) and Trump (he’s a complete idiot and the comparison to Boris is purely superficial). We talked about the Irish border (there won’t be one, but even if there is, a country has a right to control its borders).

Through the conversation I said two things which – I like to think – gave them pause. I argued that by their description Brexit wasn’t that different from one of the large economy states in the US choosing to break away from the union. I came down on the remain side because, “teams are stronger than heroes” (thanks Zach) – we’re stronger together than we are apart.

Staying in the Union, or the EU – I argued, took sometimes uncomfortable compromise, but so did marrage. They had clearly been married for decades, and the glance they shared suggested I might have touched on something.

The other moment they seemed affected was when I said I wondered what impact Brext would have on those in the UK just making ends meet. To me, I said, it would be irritating if imported food stuffs and staples increased in price by 10-20%. Since they were about to check into a floating hotel for over a month, I figured they’d be ok too. But I wondered out loud if their (adult) children, or their grandchildren might be more affected. They had been nodding along in agreement when I mused that they’d be fine. Their nods slowed a bit at the mention of their kids and grandkids.

I concluded that maybe their kids aren’t as financially solid as grandma and grandpa are.

Guess it’s too late to worry about that now.

Hope they kept some of their pension fund aside to help their kids. ‘Cause they seemed the sort who’d look down on taking assistance from the state.