Lying Liars

It has become something of a tradition in IT circles, particularly in Software Development, to trash your predecessor. There are a number of perfectly valid reasons to do so, of course. The old guy isn't there any more and he took with him a good chunk of institutional knowledge that is now lost--things like what were they thinking when they did that. And you want to look good to your new boss, the simplest way being to trash the guy who left him in the lurch by leaving or who got himself fired for (presumably) plenty sufficient reason.

Knowing the tradition well, having been to my shame a participant from time to time, I expected to hear stuff when I was given "involuntary sabbatical" from XanGo recently. Well, my expectations have been exceeded, it seems, and I find myself in the most extraordinary position. How do you defend your track-record against public assault when you have signed an agreement not to disclose proprietary business information about your former employer? Even saying "there was no such project!" is enough to constitute a potential violation. New IT management at XanGo has decided to spend a whopping lot of cash to bring in a new tool that will rid them of all cares and worries, bring paradise on Earth, and cut current and future costs practically to zero all at the same time. This new vendor has made it a practice of leveraging the contract with XanGo by making the most outrageous claims about former XanGo development practices and how purchasing the new tool has solved all their problems.

Since I still have friends in XanGo IT, I have had a front-row seat to the goings on since my departure. It has been frustrating for me to watch as the pain begins to penetrate there. This new tool has some serious "feature challenges" that have plagued the poor souls left to attempt implementing them. No source control, no Unicode support, seriously compromised object oriented principles, clumsy system backup, you get the picture. It's a nightmare for any serious developer to work with, particularly in a multi-developer environment. And worse still because they have been forbidden from speaking of any of the drawbacks or challenges with threats of being fired should they squawk even internally at XanGo. And since the project seems so doomed, when it comes time to implement this great new tool, they are pretty clear that the sacrifices to expedience will be the developers due to their "lack of performance" (because such a great tool must mean that they are the reason for failure).

So I'm being trashed, the team I left behind has been cut all to pieces and some of the best programmers I know are finding their competence being denigrated all for the sake of a questionable business relationship of questionable value to the company with a partner who was very near closing their doors until the XanGo contract showed up and saved them from worry or care (how looking at the financials and law suits against the company didn't prevent them from going with this vendor I'll never know).

How do things like this happen? How does a rapidly growing company leave itself open to such outrageous conduct, and what can possibly be done about it? I don't have any answers to those questions. Frankly, there isn't a lot that can be done from where I sit. The only ones with the power to alter the situation are busy with all the concerns brought about by their rapid growth and popularity. Anything I can do is compromised by the fact that I was forced out in the first place, anything I say is easily dismissed as mere bitterness and spite.

I will say this, though: This whole thing has strengthened my resolve not to participate in the time-honored tradition of trash-the-old-guy in my next position. And it has strengthened my suspicion of tool vendors and their extravagant claims of cost/time savings.

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8. June 2005 10:41 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Apologies to Canadians

There's a "letter" making the rounds lately on the internet--a supposed "apology" to Americans by a Canadian. It's unbelievably condescending and with a primary purpose of attacking us. Now, I know a number of Canadians of sense and good taste and I say that not just because I tend to agree with them. At the very least, they wouldn't stoop to such ugly tactics as to embed a snide attack in the veneer of humor. Now, the advent of this letter happens to coincide with a number of recent communications I've had with other friends from Canada that contained really cruel comments about Americans--somehow forgetting that, well, I am one. Well, I've had it with that crap so I crafted the following just because I can as a response in kind-sort-of-thing*.

Apologies to Canadians,

On behalf of Americans everywhere, I'd like to offer an apology to Canada. We haven't thought of you much lately, and we're sorry if you've been feeling neglected. It has been shocking the kind of vituperation you've had to resort to in order to get our attention and I guess we have been neglecting you lately.

I'm sorry we can't remember any of your political leaders. I keep looking for them on CNN or at the UN, but they seem to be forever "on break" or to have "stepped out" when world events are heating up or something.

I'm sorry that all you have to offer in trade for our stuff is a bunch of soft timber. I can see how you might be defensive if your most notorious export grows on its own in the wild. I'm sure we could relocate a computer firm, think-tank, or I don't know, religious cult or something to liven it up up there. And I have to give you props for all the artists you keep sending us. I mean, I could take or leave Celine Dion, Loverboy, or William Shatner but it's nice of you to let them come over here to entertain us all these years. And hey, good work on the X-files. Again, I'm sorry they all have to come here to "make it big"--I'm sure they enjoyed being small at home while growing up, though.

I'm sorry the RCMP got stuck with those funny stiff uniforms, though we have to admit that they do set them off from their horses (no mistaking one for the other--a leading design decision, I'm sure). We've tried to spare you having to pay for an actual military all these years to help make up for the embarrassment. Wasting the spare cash on socialized medicine isn't how we'd have spent the money, but there you go. And hey, we're still here for those surgeries that are too complicated or too urgent to bother going through all the paper work.

And I'm really sorry that you got talked into declaring French your national second language. We're all for multi-lingualism if you want it, but who'd have thought you'd pick a cheesy, whiney language like French? I guess it's the fault of all those Quebecoise. Really you should let them separate already and get it over with. Maybe you can throw in a free one-way trip to France and let them truly separate. You know we'd back you on that one.

And I know the metric system never really caught on down here but we all thought it was a joke! A measuring system invented by snooty Frenchmen using metres and litres (I mean, come on don't they have any imagination in frog-land) just had to be a put-on. Sure it made math easier, but scientists and mathematicians are supposed to be smart, ya'know?

And finally, on behalf of all Americans, I'm sorry we can't bother learning all those idiosyncrasies that make you oh-so interesting up there. Sew a zed on a tuch and ship it down on the next dogsled and we'll see if we can't put it in a museum with a plaque or something. We'll even put it in a theatre in a real town centre and won't even ask for a cheque if that'd make you happy.

Hey, don't worry about knocking us when we really need you. We liked being friends and all, but if you feel it's time to move on, well, you gotta do what you gotta do. You want to stand up on your own, please feel free to kick us in the teeth on your way. All the jealousy and feelings of inferiority need an outlet; that's understandable. Turning on our friends isn't how we'd do it, but then, we haven't had to listen to France in their native tongue all these years, either--I suppose it was bound to rub off eventually.

In the meantime, there's some work we've got to do and we can't rely on our friends to do the heavy lifting for us. We'll be a bit more preoccupied than usual and that's bound to exacerbate your need for attention. I'm sorry, can't be helped, there's some bad men trying to kill us and take away our freedoms and force their theocratic fascism on the rest of the world. You've stood with us against tyrants before; we understand if you don't feel up to it this time around...

*thus preserving the right to be petty if I want to

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4. March 2003 13:39 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Po People

Poor me. A month or so ago, I received an email from a member of an online religious discussion group I enjoy. A prior post of mine had confused him because (in so many words) it expressed sympathy and compassion and he hadn't known that I could do that. In effect, his email was meant to encourage me in my softer side. I thanked him and responded to specific points he had made. Since I never heard from him again, I'm relatively certain that I offended him afresh and that my compassion has been safely filed in his mind among those things that happen occasionally out of the aberration of human personalities and that I remain as harsh a bastard as before.

Which happens a lot when the topic is poor people. That's because I'm a firm believer in individual responsibility and fiscal autonomy (if such a thing is possible). I think that people should work and that if they aren't making enough to support their families, that it is typically their own fault. Particular examples that came up in that discussion included a teacher who loved to teach and whose family had barely enough and the father spent time with the children, but they didn't have much materially (my opinion—good for him! He is fulfilling his duty to his family and doing so responsibly). And another example of a father who loved being in the Highway Patrol, but due to lousy wages he had to hold another (and sometimes two) job that kept him from his home (my opinion—the selfish jerk is sacrificing his family's interests just so he can work in a job he enjoys). And a single mother who lived so close to the bone that she didn't have a TV (in the U.S. where 98% of the population has a TV, this is a pretty extreme level of poverty) and lived in a house too small for her children and when her car broke she went to her bishop (equivalent to what ya'll might think of as pastor or priest—the head of a congregation) for help (which is what she should have done) who told her that she should be budgeting a little each month for just such emergencies (my opinion—the jerk bishop, you do not make such statements unless you first ensure that you are intimately familiar with the realities of her life and can give specific advice about things that she can/should change—information that it is his duty to obtain should he feel his advice is necessary).

You can see why someone might be confused. While talking in terms of principles, my position can be pretty harsh—people should shoulder their responsibilities and provide for their needs as much as possible. But when I talk about real people, I have no trouble admitting that sometimes the principle doesn't apply (as in the case of some single mothers). And in all my examples above, I'll freely admit that there are details that might mitigate, even reverse, my opinion. And my principles are harsh—personal responsibility often is.

The interesting thing is that the same principles that you apply to individuals can often be ported into the realm of nations. And again, my attitude is often described as harsh. Right now, poor countries are gathered together for an economic conference. In the past, this conference is mainly a meeting to discuss tariffs and so on. This year, just to change things up I guess, they decided to complain a bit about how globalization discriminates against them,

"The envisaged benefits have not materialised for most of the poor countries and even when they have, these are not equitably shared while the costs are borne by all," the statement said.

First, it's a stupid statement. I'm willing to bet that the costs aren't equitably shared, either. And frankly, anyone who gripes that, hey, I'm getting help but someone else is getting more, isn't going to get access to my heartstrings. Now, assume that their statements are true—they're still behaving like people in a downhill race without any gas who complain about bumps in their tires—smooth tires might help, but let's stop kidding ourselves. Poor countries don't have to be poor. And they aren't being kept poor by evil Americans.

The way to stop being a poor country is no longer a mystery—but it does take a lot of work and sacrifice by the people least likely to want to work or sacrifice in the country—the rulers. Fiscal responsibility, freedom, private property, the rule of law, and building an infrastructure of knowledge and innovation are how it's done. If you aren't willing to do the work, then you don't have a lot of call on my sympathy. Countries have pulled themselves up with nothing but rock or desert for natural resources—Singapore, Taiwan, and Israel to name a few. Turkey and Iran could be next if they can manage to get over the internal forces holding them back.

The problem is, though, that if I ever get popular enough for people to start listening to what I'm saying, I guarantee that I'll be called all kinds of bad names starting with mean and probably not ending until I withdraw. It's much more acceptable to sit back with a show of sympathy and maybe some weak token assistance. Well, the point I am trying to make here is that these shows of sympathy and even the money being given are not only not helping they are actively harming the people they claim to want to help. Assistance that is not accompanied by true concern and a willingness to confront harsh truths is waste and, worse, it builds dependence and undermines actions that bring lasting change.

The people of Iraq are poor, with inadequate health care, medicine, and sometimes food. But a lack of food and medicine is not the cause of their poverty. Now, some people have the audacious mendacity to claim that the cause of Iraq's problems is the U.S. embargo. As if everything was perfectly fine there until we imposed it (here's a clue: they weren't). Anybody with a lick of sense can see that the cause of the poverty is the ruler. Iraq is an easy case, but other countries aren't that hard to understand, either—provided you're willing to take a hard look and not assume that external factors can be found for every ill.

Which is why I am so unwilling to soften my principles. Weakness kills. Vacillating when lives are on the line is irresponsible and, just maybe, evil. Showing sympathy and giving pocket change to look good to your friends is selfish, immature, and wrong. And I'm tired of being yelled at about how mean I am when I'm the one who cares about the well-being of those in need.

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19. July 2002 13:38 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Third World Aid

The World Wildlife Fund has released a "report" that claims the Earth can only last till 2050 at the most. I suspect that this little cultural artifact will bring much amusement in 48 years time. The details of our "plundering" include things like deforestation, disappearing species, and certain fish stocks dwindling. I'll let Bjorn Lomborg carry the brunt of countering those claims, mainly because he did such a fine job of it. What I want to point out is that the real aims of the environuts is readily ascertained,

Matthew Spencer, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said: 'There will have to be concessions from the richer nations to the poorer ones or there will be fireworks.'

There you have the crux and the threat. Their purpose is to extort payments from rich countries to pay off poorer ones. The motives probably aren't bad, I believe they probably really do want to help people. They're just stupid. Money has never been the problem. Neither has resources. My biggest problem comes, though, with their methods. Like making outrageous (and easily disproven) claims. Or choosing a metric that has no meaning,

The WWF report shames the US for placing the greatest pressure on the environment. It found the average US resident consumes almost double the resources as that of a UK citizen and more than 24 times that of some Africans.

Based on factors such as a nation's consumption of grain, fish, wood and fresh water along with its emissions of carbon dioxide from industry and cars, the report provides an ecological 'footprint' for each country by showing how much land is required to support each resident.

America's consumption 'footprint' is 12.2 hectares per head of population compared to the UK's 6.29ha while Western Europe as a whole stands at 6.28ha. In Ethiopia the figure is 2ha, falling to just half a hectare for Burundi, the country that consumes least resources.

The report, which will be unveiled in Geneva, warns that the wasteful lifestyles of the rich nations are mainly responsible for the exploitation and depletion of natural wealth. Human consumption has doubled over the last 30 years and continues to accelerate by 1.5 per cent a year.

Now WWF wants world leaders to use its findings to agree on specific actions to curb the population's impact on the planet.

A spokesman for WWF UK, said: 'If all the people consumed natural resources at the same rate as the average US and UK citizen we would require at least two extra planets like Earth.'

You should automatically be suspicious of any metric that privileges Burundi over the U.S. as a model to follow. The suggestion is ridiculous on its face and worse when explored in depth. For one, never, ever forget that consumption has a flip-side—production. The U.S. produces more than it consumes and is a net benefit in all those measurements that show how bad we are. Take CO2 production, for example. The technology of the U.S. has let us give more land to forests than ever before with the result that we are a net CO2 sink (i.e. our forests absorb more CO2 than we produce). If you counted net and not gross, you'd be begging the U.S. to have higher not lower populations for while our consumption might be accelerating by 1.5 per cent a year, our productivity is increasing by over 2 per cent a year.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should simply ignore poorer countries. I'd like them to be as well-off as possible. Economics are not a zero sum activity and their progress is not at all a detriment to us. The problem is that too often, they're not much interested in doing the kinds of things that are needed for the prosperity they claim to desire. That's mainly because the foundation is so unglamorous. I mean, farm reform is the basis of gaining lasting prosperity, but that's nowhere near as cool as building a new soccer stadium or airport. And it means a lot of effort (and money) spent with the 'peasants'—people who don't have the power to reward your generosity even in a democratically elected government. And don't ignore the fact that the very eco-nuts who want us to send aid to foreign countries are often the same people who will oppose exactly the reforms that are needed to produce lasting benefits—we don't dare alter centuries old lifestyle and customs. Well, that's what has to happen if you want a country to pull itself out of the third-world pit.

Anyone who wants to convince me that they want to help the third-world has to pass a simple test—how do they want to help? If they talk about drug and food shipments or they go on about the superb native cultures that must be preserved (and they aren't talking about on film or such), then you know immediately that they aren't being very serious about it and are likely trying to assuage a guilty conscience (their own or in presumptive behalf of others). If, on the other hand, they talk about capital investment, you know that they're probably self-interested and that they mean capital they plan to collect money for in one way or another (like by building an airport they plan on capturing the contract for). But if, slim chance, they talk about sending teachers down there who can help people learn new farm and medical techniques then you have yourself a winner and someone you can back with confidence. Real improvement, real aid, takes actual ground-level knowledge and low-level work in improving the technological skills of the people (as opposed to simply improving the technology of the people).

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8. July 2002 11:35 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Caveat Renter

Renter beware. I've heard a number of technology companies lately extol the great virtues of renting—both hardware and software. They sell the concept to their investors and shareholders and talk about the wonderful revenue stream they will build. And I'm afraid that is all that they see. As such, they are doomed to failure. There will be a backlash, mark my words. The thing is, as pointed out in Infoworld,

But we don't see any vendor propaganda promising that we'll save money by renting.

In fact, companies moving to rental are missing a fundamental rule of business—the customer is king. The whole point of capitalism is that the absence of compulsion means that you have to win customer dollars by providing something people want. And the bottom line here is that nobody wants to rent. At the very most fundamental, nobody wants to rent unless doing so is significantly cheaper than buying. Not just a little cheaper, significantly cheaper. Renting means that someone else has control over your destiny. It means you do not own the tools that make your business run. In something like IT spending for businesses in particular, where change represents significant cost, you do not want to be dependent on another company for the continuing good function of your computer systems. It is suicide. And Ed Foster at the same magazine says similar things about "maintenance" contracts which is rent on the back side.

Companies aren't going to agree to draconian rental policies just because tech companies want them to. Even when they want them to really badly and they prattle on about bug fixes and free upgrades.

  • Fact, free upgrades won't happen—companies will invent new names and split upgrade paths to, well, generate more revenues.
  • Fact, bug fixes aren't going to happen any faster with rental agreements—you can guarantee that companies won't bump spending on support and programming just because they have more revenues coming in.
  • Fact, new revenues will go to new programs, new initiatives, and new products to generate new revenues.

Consumers are not stupid. Companies who see their customers as walking revenue streams have lost the focus that made them successful in the first place. You build revenues by accurately identifying the wants and needs of your customers—not by accurately identifying their budgets. My advice? Avoid tech companies with great plans for rental revenues like the plague—not only their products, but I'd stay away from their stock, too. The resentment of their customers will rebound and they will end up the worse for it.

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13. June 2002 10:34 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink


Immigration in general is going to be something that gets a lot of attention in the coming decade so I should probably take some time to articulate my position. The latest census shows that we had a record breaking decade in immigration growth, even when measured in terms of population percentages. Personally, I think that immigrants are what make this country so great. We keep skimming off the risk-takers of other countries and it has rebounded to our benefit a hundred fold. Frankly, immigration stands a good chance of off-setting a small population bomb scheduled to hit us in a few years—you know, when the boomers begin to retire. And I don't buy the whole degradation of society or xenophobic issues of race and culture. We're a richer culture for their additions.

I do have a concern, though, and I think it is an important one. In past generations, new immigrants were encouraged to adapt to the wider American culture. Not necessarily giving up their own, but learning to accommodate ours. This was, in my opinion, a good thing. Now, however, too many misguided intellectuals and well meaning advocates are trying to tell us that we are wrong (they use words like imperialistic or paternalistic) to push for accommodation. Apparently, these elites want to erect some kind of pen to hold new immigrants so that they can cling to the ideas and culture of their homeland—incidentally, the origins of the word and fact of "ghetto".

This policy stands on the foundation of relativism and the belief that no culture or idea is better than any other. This is a corrupt policy. America is great because of the ideals of freedom, responsibility, the rule of law, and private property. We should insist that new immigrants study our founding precepts, that they try to learn English, and that they accommodate our wider culture and not the other way around. I'm not saying that all our ideas are better than theirs, but some of them most definitely are. And I’m not saying that we make it harder for them any more than necessary. But what they are attempting is hard and we make it even harder if our attempts to make it easier mean that they never really do learn to accommodate the culture they now live in.

And really, my concern is that in moving here to find better opportunities, we'll end up adopting the corrupt ideals that caused the problems they are attempting to escape. It would be a bitter irony if they came here only to find that we have recreated the very problems they have attempted to leave behind.

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5. June 2002 11:32 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Teacher’s Reps

I have to admit that I'm pretty antagonistic to teachers' unions. The central truth about teachers' unions is that teachers' unions don't now, and never have, represented the best-interest of children. I don't know how they got this one over on people—this assumption that they are merely seeking to make education better and thus help children—but they have and it is high time they have that mantle of glamour removed. Teachers' unions do not represent, or seek in any way, the best interests of children. Teachers' unions seek the best interests of teachers. If there is any group in the country that has interests opposed to our children, it is teachers. Now, I'm not claiming that teachers are out to destroy children. Most people will hesitate to do active harm to children—and I believe that most people would try to avoid any indirect harm as well. And I personally know a number of fine teachers who try to do the best they can by the kids they teach. My favorite uncle, for one. But those fine teachers are often forced to work against their own union in order to actually accomplish the great things that they do (can't have people destroying the curve or raising the bar for the rest of us, you know). I guess what I am trying to point out is that if there is any group that needs to have their motives and initiatives questioned, it is the teachers' unions. You can see this dynamic in action with the priorities that teachers' unions have. Take classroom size. This is pretty much their number one call for reform. And it's true that some correlation to classroom size and quality of education exists. But there are a billion different things that are a) cheaper and b) more effective than reducing classroom size that would provide better benefits sooner. But that doesn't stop the teachers' unions because the unambiguous thing that reducing classroom sizes does is make it easier on the teachers. The other needed reforms make more work for teachers—work the good ones are already doing and work that the rest of them don't want to even attempt.

And really, when it comes right down to it, the single biggest problem with education today doesn't have anything at all to do with the public schools. The biggest benefit to children—and the single greatest factor in determining success in education—is parental involvement. There's been a big push for homeschooling lately. And I should mention that we homeschool our children, so I'm sympathetic to the 'cause'. Homeschoolers are cleaning clock on most measures of academic success. They're winning national championships, they average higher on standardized tests (even when controlled for ethnic and income factors), and they are entering colleges better prepared than their public schooled compatriots. But most interesting to me is that many of those benefits disappear when studies factor in parental involvement. Involved parents turn out to be the deciding factor in the success of children no matter where they are or where they go to school.

Don't pat yourself on the back too fast, though. Statistically, you probably don't qualify as an involved parent. Being involved means more than just going to the games and recitals. It means more than getting a report card twice a year and meting out punishment and reward. Involved parents help with homework, ask their kids what they're up to, and spend time with their children every day. Being an involved parent is a lot of very hard work, which is probably why it is so very rare. It isn't a whole lot of extra work to go from being an involved parent to being a homeschooling one. It is almost impossible to have a career and be an involved parent. Here's a simple 'involved parent' test—is a parent present when the kids get home from school to ask what they did and how their day went? Anything less than that tells children that they aren't that important and that their concerns take back seat to the important stuff the adults are doing. Being an involved parent is a tangible, scary, large sacrifice—one that I believe to be well worth it, but not in any way I could ever 'prove' and certainly not in any way economic.

4. June 2002 10:31 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Sun Blind

Attack! One of the fundamental rules of business I have learned is that to succeed, you must attack the leader. If your efforts aren't geared to become better than the current #1, then you don't really have any justification for existence. Find the weaknesses, become more efficient, discover hidden customer wants.

Attacking yourself is a problem with Sun Microsystems. They just don't seem able to do it. Oh, they do okay when they’re in the pack somewhere competing for profits, but whenever they find themselves ahead, they have a tendency to sit back and enjoy the scenery. But even worse is when Sun only thinks that they’re number 1. Their release of Java as a competitive development language was brilliant and they managed to put it out there with enough oomph to attract every anti-Microsoft developer on the planet. And they achieved enough momentum and enthusiasm that they thought that they would be able to coast into number 1 position in development languages. Coasting along for the last year, they haven’t been very responsive to the development community. They’ve delayed standards reviews. They’ve stalled on effective IDE issues. And, perhaps worst of all, they stopped pushing Java in broad marketing initiatives.

The result is disaster. Java is steadily losing ground to Microsoft’s .NET and there’s no end to the slippage in sight. By not maintaining their momentum, Sun has allowed Microsoft to overcome their advantages and leverage the millions of existing Microsoft developers into the Internet development arena. As a result, Sun faces more than just the direct challenge of VBScript vs. JavaScript (or even VB.NET vs. Java). Now they face whole architectures they let get out of the bag with what amounts to no answer from Sun—XML, ADO and SOAP to name the most obvious, and groundbreaking, examples.

So have they learned from their mistakes? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be “no”. Scott McNealy seems to have decided that his ego alone can overcome any obstacle and he has failed to give any answers with substance about how Sun will manage to overcome these threats to Java. This is making a lot of developers who have banked on the popularity and utility of Java very nervous. New third-party tools are coming out that help extend the usefulness of Java immensely, but these tools can be expensive and make a poor comparison for a development house that is looking at the ease of VB.NET and comparing that to the hoary, expensive, patch-work monster that Java has become.

Good thing Sun has that lovely server business to fall back on. Um, or maybe not. While Sun was playing around doing whatever they were doing back there, their server market is being eaten alive from the bottom. Sure, Sun makes incredibly reliable servers, but they’re pricey suckers and Sun hasn’t implemented any substantive improvements recently. In other words, they didn’t attack themselves. Their prices didn’t come down until they started losing business and that is far, far too late. Further, consumers have found that if reliable costs too much, they can often achieve the same results with less reliable, but redundant. Thank Michael Dell for that little epiphany. Dell pushed server prices so low that you can afford three of his servers for the price of one Sun. And that’s after a major price-slash on the part of Sun.

My prediction? Sun is in for a tough time. They’re clearly in decline and the pit seems to be bottomless. McNealy and co. don’t seem to have fully realized their danger. Upon hearing that Sun needs to recalibrate, Scott McNealy’s response is simply “We couldn’t be better positioned.” He’s known as a tough guy, but even tough guys get knocked out if they’re not careful. Particularly when they walk around with their eyes closed.

What do you do once you're #1? Same thing. Attacking yourself is a tough thing for companies to do and it isn’t something they typically do well. Those who do, however, will tend to reach number 1 and stay there. This principle is the single biggest factor in the continuing success of Microsoft. Bill Gates is the most paranoid man on Earth and he is convinced that if he rests on his laurels for even a moment, some upstart will come around and nail him. He’s right.

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15. May 2002 10:29 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Family Sacrifice

The post-40 mother seems to be the topic of the day, particularly with Mother's Day so near. I watched a late-night women's issues show earlier this week and one topic they covered is the dangers of having babies post-40. They discussed how women don't seem to give enough weight to this difficulty and that they delay having children too long due to career and other achievements. Some of the women (the panel had a good mix of conservative and liberal women, actually--it was a good discussion) bemoaned the fact that men didn't have the same restrictions and could have children even as their careers flourished. Mention was made, of course, of Karen Hughes who recently resigned a high-powered post in the White House in order to be a parent for her teenage son. Supposedly, men don't ever do this--resign a position in order to spend more time with their families. Or at least, if they do, it isn't as extreme as pulling entirely out of the work force. I found a great treatment of the topic by Marianne Jennings. It's worth a look.

But I want to go into the whole man thing. You see, I'm personally in a position to attest that some men make career sacrifices for their families. I met this specifically when I worked at Jenkon. Unlike other programmers there, I went home at 5 or, at the latest, 6 every night. I did so to be with my family. This "lack of dedication" was noted. It came up in conversations with my boss. I'm convinced it played a role in my compensation. And really, it should play a role in my compensation because, frankly, it means that I'm arguably not as productive as I would otherwise be (I believe that I am more productive than other co-workers, and I believe that part of that is the rejuvenation I get with my family, but that's a belief and hardly proven). The call of family is an important one and having a family means making sacrifices. That's just the way it is.

Some claim to perceive the workings of Satan in this pressure on the family. While that may certainly be true (I'm one of those quaint religious people who actually believes in an active force in opposition to good), it is not the whole story. You see, this sacrifice hasn't always been an issue. In past centuries, a married man could out produce a single man on the job. That's due mainly to the amount of home manufacture that was required to maintain a household. Think of it in terms of making dinner and doing laundry. These activities had to be tackled in the home and took a significant amount of work. Eating a balanced, healthy meal required literally hours of preparation. Likewise clean food and healthy living conditions. In the absence of chemical soaps and automated washing processes, it took hours of care and a lot of hard work to ensure a clean home environment. It was weighted enough to the advantage of the married man that single men often congregated in boarding houses--thus pooling their resources and essentially "renting" domestic service.

And it wasn't just having the wife that helped out. Children were also a net asset to the household income with the average child bringing in close to 1,000 pounds net before leaving home--in the study I read about a year ago (I'd reference it if I could--I hate vague statistics thrown out like that, so I'm open to refutation or confirmation). Children worked farms and stores, they did chores, there were no child labor laws. Having children was more than just a personal joy in your offspring, it was a direct benefit to the home in specific material ways--and a form of retirement insurance as well. This dynamic exists still in poor countries. Population controls in countries with heavily agrarian economies is going to continue to run into road-blocks as long as children contribute to total household income. This is why you see the average number of children per household decline in developed countries and birth control initiatives run into brick walls in undeveloped countries.

Contrast all that to today. Home production is a thing of the past. A balanced meal can be had in five minutes and a microwave. Laundry is similarly streamlined and home maintenance is easier and cheaper than it has been in the past. Further, children are now a huge sacrifice on the part of parents costing literally hundreds of thousands of dollars before leaving home and requiring a huge amount of concentrated effort to rear--often incurring the double whammy of requiring the wife to stay at home in addition to their consumption of family resources. Which means that the strains on the family are as much economic as they are demonic. This economic pressure is real, it is harsh, and it requires sacrifice on the part of men and women if it is to be done right.

For me, the trick has been to accept that and move on. I decided to have children, not for their economic benefits, but because I believe that it is right for me to have children. It is a religious conviction for me. It is an explicit doctrine of my church. So I make the sacrifice. I don't achieve the peak of my profession and never will. I'm resigned to that. And I'm happy to support and applaud those others who resign from the full extent of their potential achievements in order to raise a family. So, I guess this is a Mother's Day post when it comes right down to it. Thanks Mom! You pioneered a difficult process and I hope I can live up to the standard you set.

9. May 2002 10:27 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink


Like so many others this week, I've been stunned as I try to process the enormity of events in New York and Washington D.C. And now, like so many others who are emerging from their ruminations, I feel compelled to add my own thoughts to those churning around on the internet and in personal conversations. Most of you who are reading this have already read one thing after another on this tragedy. In fact, many have already expressed what I am feeling, much better than I could say it. You'd have a tough time not hearing essentially what I am thinking. So I am going to confine my thoughts to the one topic that I think isn't getting enough emphasis. You can go to the Jewish World Review,, or The Heritage Foundation if you really want to read well-written analyses and ideas on what has happened and what should happen. Or watch Fox News if you want the best coverage of events as they unfold.

And I should state up front that I am deeply saddened by what has happened. And I would bend any effort I am capable of if I thought I could help those who are suffering. My heart grieves at the pain borne by innocent families who will have to live with the aftermath of this atrocity for the rest of their lives. But that sentiment has been expressed as well in the links above and this isn't going to be a post that contains my grief and compassion.

Mainly, I want to make a point that is chiefly mirrored by Andrew Sullivan, with whom I have many philosophical differences, but in this matter we are principally aligned. So pay attention, because there is something very important that I want you to understand:

What happened in New York is not a crime. It isn't even terrorism.

We will make fundamental mistakes if we treat this as a crime or as a terrorist attack. We do not want to make mistakes at this important juncture. Or rather, we do not want to pay the price of any mistakes we will make if we come at this from the wrong angle. If this were a crime, we would carefully investigate all that happened. We would gather evidence, find the culprit, arrest them, and bring them to trial. While it may be important to gain evidence of what happened, we already know the important facts and any addition to those facts is extraneous detail with no actual bearing on the decision at hand. Now is not the time to be moderate in our response, to be civil, or even to be careful. Our civility and care are the very tools being used against us and while they are an important part of our society (or any society that wishes to prosper in peace), they are not so important that we can afford to cling to them while we are under this kind of attack.

This is not even a terrorist attack, or at least, treating it as a terrorist attack will prevent us from enacting any meaningful change to the situation. If we treat this as a terrorist attack, we will seek out those who perpetrated it and deal with them as the vicious animals they are. Which is fine as far as it goes, but also misses the point in a dangerous way. We call those who perpetrated this attack terrorists because they have terrorized us in a deliberate, calculated manner for purposes of their own. But to call this a terrorist attack is to make the fundamental assumption that a single, relatively small group of people is responsible for the evil that has been committed. That assumption is wrong. Dangerously wrong. The problem we are fighting is not the problem of Usama Bin Laden deciding to kill as many of our civilians as he can.

What we have is a declaration of war. War sucks. War is the single most perplexing human endeavor. War means death and force and fire and blood and suffering on scales so grand as to defy true comprehension. War cannot be controlled, it cannot be measured, and most importantly (and frighteningly), it cannot be stopped short of the unconditional surrender or destruction of all but one side (anything short of unconditional surrender or destruction is just an agreement to rest a bit until the next war). War is a baseball bat, not a laser scalpel, but sometimes it is the only tool available to do the job that needs to be done. And unfortunately, one thing inescapable about war is that only one side has to choose to start one. Anyone who has been attacked in a war has the choice to surrender, join the attacker, or submit to destruction. Those are the only choices.

Our response should be the response of any innocent nation attacked by violence--righteous reprisal. I use the word righteous because unlike ethical equivalists, I believe that both sides in a war are not inherently equivalent. Oh sure, wars of aggression are wrong and wars can certainly contain two (or more) sides who are equally at fault--there has to be a bad guy in every war, but sometimes there are good guys as well. Protection from tyrants is a perfectly valid and even noble reason to wage war. Certain nations have decided that they hate us enough to encourage their citizens to kill us. They are our foes and while I am reluctant to react to anyone just because they hate me, that hate has been given violent expression and requires a response in kind--not in the same kind of hate, but in the recognition that we are at war and that violence can no longer be avoided. Any nation that harbors and encourages terrorists should be destroyed or required to surrender unconditionally to us. Any terrorists who plot to kill U.S. citizens should be destroyed or forced to surrender unconditionally. If these nations or people do not want to die, they must lay down their arms and submit to us right now. Any other response will only mean that the war will continue. This is not justice. It is not pretty. This is not easy. But it must be done to protect us from the tyrants who would rule us if we do not defeat them. This is no less than a defense of freedom. Make no mistake, our enemies have decided that they will either force us to submit or destroy us. And unless we deal with them on that level, we will continue to suffer and die until we get to that level.

What we have right now is guerilla warfare with the twist that while most guerillas originate inside the target being attacked, these guerillas start out in other countries. Guerillas are the tactic of choice when a weaker foe decides to take on a stronger target. It is a horrible and bloody way to wage war, but terribly effective. Our response must be the complete surrender of our enemies. Our enemies hide behind lies and deceit, but we know who some of them are and should not hesitate to take them out. I'll name names. Afghanistan and Iraq should right now be forced to surrender and accept our troops in their country until we root out every terrorist we can find and the leaders of both countries should be forced to adopt the same reforms we forced on Germany and Japan when we defeated them--free elections, a free market, and a free press. If either country refuses, it is time to treat them as the foes they are and destroy them. Any other country that refuses to cooperate in our war against these guerillas should face similar treatment--they are allies or enemies, their choice which. That likely means attacking Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

Oh yeah, and while we're at it, we should aid other free nations in their fight against the same kind of guerilla warfare. Not all guerillas are bad, mind you. Don't forget that our nation started out of a rebel insurrection and was fought by some of the first guerillas in the modern era. The problem isn't war and we should not fall for the trap of moral equivalence that says that all who fight are evil. What we should be unequivalent about is that we support the fight for freedom (note that support is an indefinite term and means anything from our wishes for success to sending in troops--the level of support is dictated by other considerations). This war is about freedom--the only thing really worth fighting for. We are right to fight. The fight for freedom is vitally important not just to ourselves, but for all others who yearn to be free. I'm not saying that we should intervene wherever freedom is oppressed--you cannot force a people to be free. I am saying that anyone who requests our help against tyranny should find a sympathetic response and all the aid we can give them. And, of course, anyone who threatens our freedom should be recognized as the enemy that they are and forced to surrender or die if we have the power to do so.

A final comment on the dilution of language. War and freedom have both been diluted by our experiences with peace and prosperity. We talk about "freedom from poverty" as if such a thing exists. And we talk about "the war on drugs" as if drugs were an enemy state with a standing army. I hate the watering down of words that have such specific and powerful meanings. War is very serious and while we fight drugs, we hardly have a war--for one thing, we aren't killing people and our military isn't even engaged. And freedom from poverty is only possible if poverty were some kind of tyrant conscripting our youth or stealing our property. People use these words because of the very strength that they are eroding in their casual exploitation. The problem comes at such a time as this when we need those words in all their strength to express our true situation.

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13. September 2001 10:26 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink


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