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2021-07-10

Everything Changes or Re: Obsolete in the IT crossfire

tags: nosimpleanswer



Solene writes:

> I'm a bit lost in this crossfire. Should a resistance organize against this?

gemini://perso.pw/blog//articles/obsolete-feeling-in-the-crossfire.gmi


And yes, this quote is totally out of context, so I suggest to read her post in full. I'll wait, no problem.



Back? Ok then.



I had my first contact with computing devices around 1986 or so. IBM AT and XT machines being all the rage. As a student of physics I was lucky enough to attend an outstanding introduction to computer science (2 semesters). It taught me enough fundamentals to proceed, learn, make a lot of mistakes along the way, and actually be able to do all my dayjobs even to this day. Big thanks to all involved folks!


So, yes I am a member of this "old style" group. I want to understand to a certain degree, what my (computer) system is doing.

I prefer native programs over docker containers, snap and flatpack any old time.

I prefer vi (not vim!) and emacs over VScode or whatever the most hyped text-input-environment is today.

I prefer the shell over mostly anything else (obvious exceptions are Gimp, KiCAD and the openstreetmap editor).

I prefer \LaTeX over any wysiwyg(or deserve)-thing, I even hate LyX!

I prefer plain make over qmake, cmake or whatever the most hyped build environment is today (conan maybe?).


From the more mechanical world


So you might ask "What's wrong with $newfangled-item?" Well. I want to be "in control". Now I am a scientist by education, and I do acknowlege that this is not achievable in an absolute sense. Examples:


I have grown up with a technology called bicycle. I have build a very nice one from parts --- a long time ago! Yes I even built the wheels from parts. I would believe that I had understood the role of almost every piece in that particular set of pieces[a] comprising that particular bicycle. However, apparently there are people, who are unable to fix a flat tire. Unbelievable!


I use a technology called car. While the beloved old Simca 1100 did not last long, I had access to the repair manual and I managed to replace a number of broken parts with working ones. It takes some time and some dedication to do this. Now here is the thing: could I fix a flat tire? Hmmm. Possibly, if it is a tire with an internal tube. But these are rare today. I can replace a wheel with a flat tire with a good wheel. But that is not fixing, see? This is merely a workaround to move on and get the flat fixed elsewhere.


I use a technology called train and occasionally one called airplane. I cannot pilot such a thing, let alone fix anything that might break.


You see where this is heading?


I do have some expertise with regards to bicycles. But I cannot expect that same level of understanding from anyone else. I do not have that level of expertise regarding cars, especially contemporary ones, or most of the technology that we use routinely.



Now what? Give up and forget all the old fashioned stuff and move on? Well, yes and no. Giving up the expertise on something will not be easy, and I argue, it would not be desirable. There still exists this old fashioned stuff. And I still use ist. Because I can! And why should I give up on something that I understand? Especially if it provides all I need from it?


To add to this bicyle example:


I also ride a recumbent. And I do not understand, why not many more people are riding one. It is much more nice on my back and spine. But it is also a lot less practical when it comes to parking, using the train etc. So why is not everyone riding a newfangled-bicycle? Hmmm.


And I used to say: "I'm not ever getting an electrically assisted bicycle! It's betrayal!" But today, where I can feel my health starting to deteorate, I'm not so sure about this any more. And I suspect I will be unable to fully understand an e-Bike without spending considerable time and dedication.



From the World of Nines


There is one more thing I think is worth mentioning. The world of nines, like 99.9999 percent availability. While it sure is nice to be online as often as I wish, I have maybe already lost the ability to organize my life without it. There is some interesting read with respect to grid power at LowTechMagazine:


> For example, a calculation for an off-the-grid house in Spain shows that decreasing the reliability from 99.75% to 99.00% produces a 60% cost reduction, ...

https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2018/12/keeping-some-of-the-lights-on-redefining-energy-security.html


It is also my firm believe that making things more unreliable would be good. If we don't do this intentionally, it will happen later with more impact and less understanding. Maybe the preppers have a point here.



Conclusions


It depends on personal expertise and context.


Using this hard won level of expertise is part of "the fun".


It depends on how much effort I want to spend in order to understand $newfangled-item. I still can and do learn new things. But as I'm getting slower with this, the question "is it worth the effort" springs to mind sooner. Remember the old days? This question did not exist. Of course we had to grok why some input would lead to surprises! Remember? Yes?[b]


It is the role of the "young folks" to drive the world, like we did. It is the role of the "old and fogey" to gaze at it with awe, surprise, sceptisism, "told you so" moments, and hopefully some helpful wisdom. I certainly have progressed to this latter group.


As a member of the second group, please feel free to pick the fun stuff from the $newfangled-items list and stay clear of the rest[c].


I will not give up my expertise. It's still fun to use. It still produces my paycheck. And on the fringes at home, I still can get things done. It keeps my mind occupied. It keeps me busy and mostly out of trouble. I will happily teach others if they ask me. I will occasionally try to give some unwanted lectures. But heck, I try to keep them short. Let them youngsters find out for themselves[d].


And it is my firm believe that there is a third role waiting for me. The day I forget my mantra to the computer, the day I cannot fix any in-house-computing related stuff, I have to pull the plug. Or I have to instruct someone else beforehand to pull the plug then. I am afraid of this day. Allthough I actually do not forsee, if I will experience it consciously. This is what keeps me away from anything "smart home". I still operate none of this automatically even though I collect sufficient data, which could be used to derive automatic action. I prefer not to.


There is no right or wrong with respect to the roles outlined above.


The very appearance of "repair cafes" is an indication, that there are people interested in the level of expertise and control outlined above. Not all is lost!


It is okay to stay clear of things that you do not see as helpful to the advancement of the planet, e.g. I do not believe that cryptocurrencies are anything else but a giant waste of energy[e].


It is okay to be picky about how to spend your time. This is the most precious resource we have, and we do know, it's limited. All the other resources are limited as well, but we tend to ignore this simple fact.




Still reading? That's very kind of you, thanks!


Cheers,

Erich


--


[a] A handmade frame from Schubert & Scheffzyk; a box of Campagnolo components --- finest mechanical parts I ever had in my hands! Absolutely marvelous! Plus rims and spokes and cables and what not. There was only one part from Shimano: a lever to handle the dynamo :-) This particular bicycle lasted from 1994 to 2021. Rust had gnawed on it too much, thanks to using salt on the streets in winter (another questionable habit btw). So it went to the nirvana of metal scrape. And I still feel somewhat guilty about that.


[b] In my first dayjob I met K. He was a few years away from retirement. And he unknowingly taught me a valuable lesson. There was the day when we had to roll out a dozen or so new servers. K. would print out a dozen sheets with his checklist, add the details of every machine by hand and go. He'd be done in a week at most. --- At the time I never understood, why K. did not create a tool to automate this tedious task. The answer I have today is this: I would have spend that week to create a tool and finished the servers in an hour on Friday afternoon. K. did the same thing manually and finished before Friday high noon. Today I can acknowledge that K. probably was faster by doing it the old fashioned way. My deepest respect!


[c] There is a paragraph or two in "The Shockwave Rider" about this. The "old and fogey" are able to surf on the shock-wave of $newfangled-items and even enjoy the ride!


[d] Quote from "The Twelve Networking Truths" (RFC 1925)

> Some things in life can never be fully appreciated nor understood unless experienced firsthand.

https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/html/rfc1925


[e] Even if we manage to tap the source of nuclear fusion (not fission!), we will heat the planet, because ultimately all of this generous energy is converted to heat.



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