Neurotic Products

Over the last few years I have attempted to incorporate a number of system administration applications into my environment (from a certain major vendor). But in every case, after a few weeks or months of frustration, I pulled it out. What I found was that in my small environment the constant demand for attention to remedy this or that perceived problem simply consumed me — so instead of being a benefit I was net worse off. And the wreckage left behind after product removal was almost too depressing for words. Oh, sure, the agents would uninstall from the console. But the registry changes left behind would block future reinstalls and interfere with other, related products that I played with later. Ouch.

To be sure what these tools purport to be doing is non-trivial and require a deep knowledge of this vendors own components. But when a problem was encountered the universal response was to flag an error, quit and wait for the human to realize that the problem was a transient one and manually restart. So constant attention was required to keep humoring the products along. And of course, many of the complaints were undocumented, and the vendor support sites only casually reviewed, so one was left trolling around in the dark — and often the only solution was to just restart.

What I found so interesting was that doing these things manually, like backups, one simply did not encounter these constant problems. So concluded that the real fault was in the vendor software and not the environment — but the approach was always to blame the user and make it as obscure as possible to sort out the real issues.

In this day of ‘smart’ products one of the most depressing things was the endless repeat of software inventories. Every day, if I wanted to get a summary of the state of my environment I would get a very long email listing the software configuration of every device — everything, not changes, everything. Problem is that any real changes were buried in the endless detail — so I would have to save them all and compare side by side. No way to tell the software to do it, guess that was too hard. And to be sure, the overhead of doing this inventory hit the user device when they were logging on and trying to start work. So once again we were all net worse off.

Closely related was the issue of continuous availability for user devices. If the user device was not left on continuously and connected to the network, things failed and once again it was the messy manual restarts. Has not anyone heard of the energy crisis? Any smart business turned their gear off when it is not in use to reduce costs — not tripling them as an added cost of hosting this neurotic software system administrator.

I have started to call these products neurotic because they constantly clamor for attention like an insecure child instead of just doing their jobs. Probably reflects the personalities of the over-enthusiastic but inexperienced software engineers who write them. A pity, because the one thing any small business needs is more help so the people can concentrate on running the business. But with these products they get more demands for attention so in the end the business has to choose — feed the neurosis or stay in business.

Citizens or Consumers — The Crunch Comes

There have been some interesting comparisons of the present day to the years around the Great Depression. There certainly have been some big slides in the market and huge fortunes (and a lot of retirement funds) have been severely hit. And there is a huge wave of layoffs triggered by the collapse of international trade. And of course, like in the 1930’s there is a lot of discussion about protectionism to keep them ‘damn foreigners’ from taking our jobs, etc. But one thing that troubles me is what has changed since then and will these changes affect out ability to recover this time?

Over the last few years governments in the US and Canada have made it increasingly difficult to get unemployment and other forms of social assistance — force people back to work was one of the mantras. And the contingency funds, like UI in Canada, were raided for funds (or quietly merged into ‘general revenue’). And private companies were allowed to dig into pension fund surplusses — was just too much money sitting there. It is a rainy day and the rainy day funds have been spent.

But more important,what has happened to the civility and willingness to endure hardships for the benefit of the country? Much has been said about how psychological marketing has successfully changed citizens into consumers — for products and policies. And how the view that people were ‘entitled’ to huge homes, fancy vacations and other extravagances. But the rising home prices that they were borrowing against and the exotic financial instruments that were providing the funds have all come crashing down. But having convinced people that they were entitled to things and having broken their cohesiveness through divisive politics, how are these same business and government forces going to get people to believe that things can get better, so they can get better.

It is my view that the real problem is a loss of faith, not the consequential economic downturn. So the solution is probably more of the economic version of a revival meeting than specific patterns of government spending. But having worked so hard to destroy social cohesiveness, how can our ‘leaders’ get people to come to the tent and get their faith restored? And what is worse, what will prevent these displaced people from following their programming to get all they can for themselves from spilling into social unrest and real societal turmoil?