How Could This Be Wrong?
The difficulty of motivating my fundamental research with sustainable computing.
This was originally penned on the 16th day of February, 2021. It was a Tuesday. It has been reprinted here for posterity and/or austerity (whichever you prefer). Enjoy.
I have something of a confession to make: in a broad sense, the consensus my work detracts from is right.
Of course, qualifying that and defending my case is the object at hand. If you are not already aware, I have written countless essays on this very website about fundamental problems of correctness and developer accessibility in computing. My Ethos for Sustainable Computing and Law & Order in Programming with C* are among my best work. I have also variously disposed of Rust as it is so often claimed a solution to the problem of bugs.
Unfortunately, these arguments only work on a scale in which your everyday code monkey is simply unable to appreciate. In the day-to-day trudge of devops and maintaining bewildering piles of spaghetti code, they will be of no use. By understanding this as an order of things in its own right, my arguments can be properly contextualised as the challenge to that order that they are.
To furnish this kind of context, perhaps it is helpful to see this recent example of trouble plaguing the Signal app, according to Moxie Marlinspike:
This is the shadow form of “zero rating.” FB has a huge advantage when so many devices ship w/ settings that enable FB, but break Signal.
Right now if you install Signal on a common phone in Africa, you prob won’t receive messages. Messenger/WA are on an allow list and work fine
—Moxie Marlinspike on Twitter
These kinds of issues are just eviscerating for everyone out-of-order with the order of business. I would have a lot more content disposing of crypto as a solution if it wasn’t a load of technical hot air purported by wannabe Wall Street Ponzi schemers. People are simply looking at a change of ownership over their technology, and no, it’s not the people who are to own it. It’s not hard to figure the gotcha when people like Curtis Yarvin are the progenitors of this “new wave”.
No, the only way this is going to be solved is, you guessed it, the hard way. Don’t mistake it for the obtuse, either – the answer is not a return to ye olde yonder of the algal bloom of independent websites. The answer is probably something those in geopolitics are already familiar with: increasingly localised alignment with major powers in a multipolar world. Wouldn’t it be interesting if those things got to run on the same underlying technology? I think it would be quite competitive. It’s still a lot to expect from the world that even that could come to fruition. We could end up with less.
At the end of the day, the only thing that can make a better future possible are the concerted efforts of people. We can choose to work together and build these things, simply because they need to be built. The decadence of monied interests is bordering on comical at this point. The financial system has become a bigger vacuum of real value than ever. As far as me goes, I only have some tens of thousands of days, and can only give so many of those to these efforts even then. Do we want to live in a world where agile development is the only way? I don’t. It’s hell. Everyone with sanity retained ends up quitting permanently. What of the things made that way will stand long enough for our grandchildren to see? Not much. I want to make stuff worth being proud of, and I hope that you can share that spirit with me.
Hey! Thanks for reading. This one is a republishing, so it’s a free read, as before. I run this Substack to help break myself out of relative poverty and earn the white collar lifestyle I was not endowed with growing up. It’s $5.55/month to subscribe, or $55.55/year. That’s like the Interstella movie, or something. Think Daft Punk. Totally worth it.