Friday, June 8, 2012

What Bad Software Can Teach Us

Image credit: Screenshot taken and edited by Cujo359

So much for the "new media". I received an e-mail from the Darcy Burner campaign today, suggesting that I really, really needed to watch a speech she made at Netroots Nation. They sent me to this link. I tried to seek past all the introductory speeches to Burner's. No luck. After thirty seconds or so, it seeks back to the beginning. I have heard the phrase "My name is Tim", the introduction to the AFSCME commercial, so many times that I have started yelling "Fuck Tim and his no doubt imaginary problems!" every time the loop goes back to the beginning. It's a good thing I live alone.

I don't know if the problem was that the video player wasn't up to the challenge of staying at the point in the stream I wanted to be at, or if someone just decided that I need to see that AFSCME commercial so that I'm properly informed about something. Either way, I gave up. There's only so much time-wasting nonsense I'll put up with.

Here's what I have gathered from the small portion of Burner's speech that I was able to watch - good policy doesn't make for successful campaigns. Power does. She learned this at Microsoft, where they were able to beat their competitor Lotus by dumping their crappy Office software onto every computer that the big hardware producers sold. This is a rather ominous start, but it's as far as I've gotten.

Let me just address what little I've managed to hear, because I think I know where this is headed, for reasons I'll get to shortly. We need to get more Democrats, and more women, I'm sure, in power, so that we can get the policy we want, right?

Well, here's the problem - quite often, power becomes the end in itself. For instance, when people congratulate someone on a job well done after passing what they should have realized was a crappy piece of legislation that will succeed in making the situation it was designed to address even worse. Why do such a thing? Because the people involved had the power to get the thing passed, and because those people run your party. Pursue power long enough, and it's easy to forget why you were after it in the first place.

I can get behind the idea that power is a means to an end. What I am all too uncomfortably aware of, though, is that all too often, once they have that power, those who have it won't use it for the reason they sought it in the first place. There are always more important things to worry about.

Much like crappy software that persuades its users to give up trying to watch the part of a video they want to see, but endlessly shows them a part they don't, power sought as a means to an end often does not ultimately serve that end. And, as happened here, quite often the people who can choose not to continue to provide that power will no longer do so.

I can tell you this based on my own experience writing and testing software: There are two kinds of people who matter in the software world. There are those who want to make the software as good as they can so that users can use it to do the things they want to do, and those who want to sell you the crap that will make them the most money. As Bill Gates taught us, you can start out being one kind of person and end up being the other. As Linus Torvalds and others have taught us, you don't have to.

That's a lesson about power that more politicians need to absorb. I don't know if Darcy Burner needs to learn that lesson or not. After all, I didn't ever get to the end of the video.

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