What Society Wants.

Digital Divide; Society Divide.Since I’m writing about technology related things, it makes sense that I talk a little about society. After all, technology is a tool that society uses for a variety of things – from million dollar lawsuits over flatulence based applications to ‘sex beds’ in Second Life having copyright issues to… oh, things that very few people see as meaningful. As a society, we’re kind of like kids and we want to play, eat sweet things and have everything catered to us. No, maybe not you. After all, you’re reading this… but take a look around at what is popular. Take a look at

That’s all open to argument, I suppose – I’m a bit cynical of late – but the point is that as a general rule, society pretty much tells us what it wants from technology. It wants stuff that is easy, that is fun to use, allows us to be healthy while tasting perfect, that boosts our sex appeal even when everyone else has it, and so on. This is a bridge a bit far for us, so let’s keep it simple.

We want to have tools that allow us to do things with less effort. Plowing fields? Yeah, got a tool for that. Shoving metal pieces into wood, or even twisting them? We have tools for that. Boosting your social media presence? Well, we allegedly have tools for that.

So what is it, exactly, that society wants?

Stuff that makes doing things simpler. And the stuff that makes doing things simpler should be simple.

And that requires a fairly high level of complexity to create it.

Behold, the cognitive dissonance of humanity.

Apple vs. FBI: Hedgehog Factor

Sonic the HedgehogOn the old site, I wrote quite a bit about the Hedgehog’s Dilemma and how it applied to social media. I didn’t write about my own experiments with code, what I found, etc. – and that’s because I didn’t fully understand what I found. I still don’t. But I think it’s appropriate to bring it up now in the context of Apple’s amazingly open battle against the government about backdooring it’s own phone. It almost sounds like forced incest when you put it like that. Give me about 4 paragraphs before I make the point, OK?

So, first, the Hedgehog’s Dilemma itself. I like what Schopenhauer wrote:

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.

This is the battle within social media and networks with their consumers and the government. It’s constantly shifting. Personally, I’m amazed at how much people give away to simply have social connections of convenience – but it somehow works. So we have people’s expectations and wants of privacy, varying from person to person, across a network. But privacy is also intimacy, and privacy is largely a matter of how much one wants to be intimate with someone else – not everyone else. So we’re lax about privacy because we don’t consider much of what we do to be a personal space.

Cross into that intimate space, and bad things happen. People get upset, talking about privacy. I suppose in myself, my intimate space is a vast wasteland and I take it more seriously than others do, projecting that into how I interact on social media and networks without actually sucking too much at it. It goes beyond settings hidden behind a gear icon. It’s how much you share, what you share, etc.

So I’m going to drag this home. What’s at stake is the government forcing Apple to backdoor – to create something that wasn’t there – their own device, where so many people now keep their intimacy.

The Hedgehog factor, you see, is intimacy.



About 2 months of WordPress.com

So, I switched from running my own Drupal site, managed over decades, lost more than once (because of hosts and their odd way of doing things). I switched over to here on WordPress.com.

Granted, I don’t get to look under the hood. But I don’t want to look under the hood.  I know what’s there and if I’m REALLY interested, I can download a copy and throw a fix at the project for something that bugs me. That’s pretty awesome.

Anyway – so almost 2 months. And I’ll tell you something…. though I am not the most predictable of writers on the Internet and haven’t amassed the large number of posts I made in the 90s and early 2000s, I can tell you that I feel like I’m writing more adequately just because I don’t have to consider doing anything else when I want to write something. Sure, I could write things offline, but we all have our own tics.

This site has begun doing what I intended it to do. Be an outlet for some of my creative writing while allowing me to be a user and understand what people actually want (rather than being lead to what other people think people want). It has kept me from furrowing my brow when I thought of the site.

It’s like a well worn pair of jeans you can’t throw away.

I’m not elated. I don’t get elated for jeans, either, for that manner. The requirements are actually pretty low for what I want a content management system to do for me – but amazingly difficult to find.

So on a scale of 1-10, I’ll give this a 7.

But on a ‘worn jeans’ scale, this site is a 9. I like comfortable jeans.

SunTechRamble: Liability And Technology

Atomic CruiserThe really interesting thing that happened this week relates to the regulation of a computer system as a driver (at least in some circumstances).  It means that computer systems are gaining ‘privileges’ that were formerly only for humans. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but admittedly I blinked when I saw it.

Google’s efforts and it’s return in this area are noteworthy:

It appears that Google has persuaded federal regulators that — in some situations at least — the Tin Man has a heart.

In a letter sent this month to Google, Paul Hemmersbaugh, the chief counsel for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seemed to accept that the computers controlling a self-driving car are the same as a human driver…

So there’s the very cool side of this where we could celebrate this as a win. Technology in this area has gotten to the point where we can replace humans as drivers by virtue of increased safety. Google has been posting monthly reports on their self driving car project, and it seems that self-driving cars greatest danger comes from behind.  Google’s first accident involving one of their vehicles was in July of last year – and they were rear-ended.

It’s going to get more complicated if you consider the architecture.

If the vehicle is self-contained, it means it will likely need software updates. That means that unpatched cars may be roaming the countryside, since unpatched software is all over the place.

If the vehicle is completely stupid without an internet connection, as the Amazon Echo is, then connectivity to the controlling application will be an issue.

It’s most likely to be a hybrid of both. Where does your responsibility as a passenger of a vehicle you own start and begin? Will you be able to modify your own vehicle as you can now? What about auto insurance, will that go away or will we be paying insurance on a vehicle we may not own and can’t control ourselves?

Technology and Law are about to meet again. It’s going to get messy.

You might want to start negotiating your side now.

Did We Stop Dreaming of Technology?

It seems we’ve stopped dreaming of technology. It’s something that we just kind of expect, the constant improvement of what we can do with what we have. Technology has become so common place that it’s boring, and access to it is a necessity.

Mundane and addictive. A mother has to convince her neighbor to lock their wifi so that the children’s internet curfew is enforced.

There was a time when we dreamed. There was this period of Star Trek, of SkyNet and the Terminator.

The Matrix, Tron: Legacy, and so much more. People were talking about Collective Intelligence and things of that ilk. SecondLife opened up the concept of the Metaverse and became an early simulator for what the Internet of Things would be credited for.

But we don’t really have this sort of stuff anymore because we have this sort of stuff everywhere.

The electric sheep need a new dream.

So You Think Documentation Sucks.

GNOME doc sprint 2013I had a few conversations today involving documentation in email and otherwise. One was griping about someone else not writing documentation. I had someone saying developers don’t like to document, which is a fair statement, but it’s like saying that they don’t like holding heavy bricks over their naked feet. That’s the equivalent, and if you’ve been around a while, you know that. Even the best coders with perfect memory don’t like explaining their code to others over and over, and it’s a blessing for them in that way. 

Later that day, that person griped about someone writing documentation because they needed something done fast.

Another person and I were going back and forth by email about documentation (oddly related to the same thing), and the perspective presented was that automated documentation was the way to go. I’ve seen automated documentation. Developers work around it. “Oh, I have to put something above the header for my class. I’ll write something witty”, instead of accurate, or both, and 3 years later you get hired in to stare at functions named after this person’s cat, or SuperDuperIntegrator, or – my personal favorites – the Monty Python characters (seen it). That’s just one of the many problems.

The idea behind documentation is that things should be easy to find, easy to read and comprehend if your IQ is above 90 and below 300. It should be accurate, clear and concise – or as close as you can come to it.

Over the years, people taking large amounts of your time to explain the same documentation over and over again causes you to write better documentation. You may not be the best at writing it, but when you’re pestered by people over the years, you end up spending more time about the questions that will be asked and answering them in advance. I’m not kidding. What’s more, it actually helps you with your coding because of it because you’re thinking as you do it, “How do I explain this?” It’s a code review in your head by people’s past implicit criticisms of your documentation by making you repeat yourself.

Documentation becomes a habit.

Or you can keep griping about the lack of documentation by not writing any. See where that gets you. Frustrated teams, tired of having to research everything goddamned thing as if it were the first time, every time. That makes it a bit harder to hire people, because the people who leave aren’t going to be happy. Maybe you’ll be one of those people to go work in a cushy job where there is great documentation (the El Dorado of career software engineers).

Good documentation assists software processes. Requirements traceability alone can become easier. Distinguishing scope at a code level becomes easier. Dependencies are easier to police. Design decisions can be made understandable with things like, “We did it this way because we were rushed for a prototype.” It necessarily slows development because development sometimes needs to be slowed – QA assures quality, software engineers put the quality in and quality, even with a peer review process, is adversely affected by lack of time and in a culture like that the software complexity increases until you’re swimming in a sea of software entropy. Code so fragile that a glance from a user can level it.

Yeah, documentation sucks. I actually hate it though some people seem to think otherwise. Documentation is anticipating needs in the future while describing the present and, if done well, the past as well.

If it was hard for you to figure out, it will be hard for someone else. Document it. If it was easy for you but after a moment’s pause while writing the documentation and looking at the code again, you’ll think about the how, why, what, when, where and who of what you’ve done and may even see things you have missed or see you don’t even understand.

Yeah, documentation sucks. But a lack of it is much, much worse, and bad documentation is almost as bad.



SunTechRamble: Right to Repair and Modify

copyright-hackingThere’s a new advocacy group lobbying for the right to repair everything. It’s not so odd that I found this the same week that Apple will brick (make useless) your phone if you get non-Apple repairs.

It’s not a coincidence. There’s a quickening. Just recently, General Motors (GM) told consumers that they don’t own their cars. They license them.

Why? Because profit. Share prices. And maybe even that 401K you’re letting someone else manage is applying the pressure to the companies to make larger decisions like this. Or maybe it’s just the way things go, like when Dell was nasty enough to make sure that it’s computer components were compatible with off the shelf components. I don’t know if they still do it, but I still won’t buy a Dell. Sadly, I use one at work because… low cost. Warranty. Convenient for companies.

Most people who don’t fix things may not understand why all of this is important. Most people run screaming from anything that blinks 12:00 at them – which is kind of understandable because that was a horrid design from the start (what, no battery? Really?). But non-technical people don’t want things that blink at them expectantly.

People want their cars to run. They want their computers and software – to them, they are sometimes the same thing – working so that they can do whatever it is they wish that apparently includes malware. They don’t want technology, as Douglas Adams wrote. They want stuff that works. So why is this so important?

What people need to  understand is that the idea that you could pay for something and not have anyone but the seller repair it could be a win for everyone except for one thing: Things inconveniently break, and warranties aren’t always as long or as inclusive as those that paid expect them to be.

Ask anyone who has been to a car dealership with a problem, or has had to return a device they got.

Repairing things, be it on your own or in your local area, is a handy thing that enhances a local economy, develops intellectual capital in a geographic (and geopolitical) area. Sure, Cuba’s been embargoed so long that many people don’t know why – yet they have cars from the 1950s driving around. Why? Because they fix their own stuff.

For those of us from the the 70s and before, that was simply a fact of life.

Now we have manufacturing life cycles.

The life cycle isn’t, ‘built to last’. It’s ‘built to last this long’.

Probably before the moment you started hearing about a life-time warranty, this was reality. The days of building things ‘to last’ had passed into the days of manufacturing things ‘to last this long’. Really, it’s not all bad, but in doing this in conjunction with Copyrights and Patents assures that no one can repair but those that are authorized.

To those of us in the software world who have been paying attention, this is nothing new. Famously, the Free Software Movement began when Richard Stallman (RMS) was unable to fix someone else’s code. The Open Source Initative splintered over distinctions in defining whether people could lock the source code away or not. There are plenty of opinions on that, and I do have one, but suffice to say that while distinctions are made between the two, the overall philosophy is largely the same. Both sides would argue with me.

Software itself suffers entropy. It gets more complicated no matter how hard you try for it not to – except maybe Solitaire and Notepad.

So people fix software if it’s worth it to them. Like a car, if they want to spend the money to get something fixed, they can – except maybe in the near future. I wonder how they’ll handle the performance market, the tuners, etc.

I won’t even touch patents in this post.

The point is that what started off as just software has become seen in just about any field. And it’s why Repair.org exists now.

What Repair.org focuses on.

The focus is on a few different industries:


I just joined as an individual member. I’m not going to make money off of my membership, and neither will you. But you may be able to help make legislation such that you’re not stuck with items that can’t be repaired or modified.

The Sunday Tech Ramble (Jan 31, 2016)

I’ve set a high bar for myself – to come up with an interesting Tech Ramble every Sunday to force me to a schedule and a focus. We’ll see how long it lasts.

This week, I’ve been in an introspective mood. It is necessarily nostalgic and is a focus until I sort out some choices I have to make about my future. This influenced what I read, having been let down by the promises of technology in the past, one looks for meaning in what you do. I was looking not for the great philosopher of our time but for my own great philosophy. The next one, anyway.

The first article I’ll toss out there is The 21st Century Philosophers:

…And whether you like their thinking or not, today’s techno-philosophers are incarnating the next generation of big ideas, intentionally tackling fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness and what constitutes the good life, questions that once lived mainly in philosophy departments…

I’d like to think that this is true, that some great philosophers over in Silicon Valley are going to make the world a better place despite the world’s best efforts otherwise. I don’t necessarily agree with them, either, but they have something I do not have. Consumers. It’s not that I don’t have people who have used my work in the past and continue to do so, it’s that I don’t study the popularity of things as large marketing departments do. As an individual, I’ve floundered in that regard because I was taught by people who floundered in that regard and because maybe, just maybe, that’s neither who I am or who I am capable of being.
A fear sits in me that we become that society. A society that markets to us more than listens to us. A society that doesn’t get the best product or service that their money can buy but instead the best marketed product or service. I’m an engineer. I have an admitted bias, but as someone who buys things, I’m also a consumer. I’m a lazy consumer. I quit running Drupal on my own site and paid WordPress for handling the CMS updates for me when I could do it all myself.

So then I read How Intellectuals Create A Public, and I laughed because that fits so well with what I described above – only it’s being done with marketing tools:

…The problem with our public intellectuals today has little to do with their style. It has little to do with their professional location, whether they write from the academy or for the little magazines. It has little to do with the suburbs, bohemia, or tenure. The problem with our public intellectuals today is that they are writing for readers who already exist, as they exist…

That’s exactly what Silicon Valley has been doing. It’s not so much about advancing things to make things better as much as it is to sell things that make people think things are better. I’m sure that there are some well intentioned folks out there, I’m sure that they understand this better than any one of us probably could. It’s how things are done in society. Rocking the boat is a dangerous game, and the status quo does make for easier living of the few. To balance that, Crowdfunding sites have shown how much people are willing to scratch their itches with their wallets, directly.

In How Innovation Became A Whim, this one line put things in focus:

…To steal a line from Carlos Castenada, the path of innovation many have chosen does not have a heart…

I’m not really sure where technology has taken us, but I can say the promises of yesteryear have not yet come to pass.