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February 1st, 2008

That's what we used to call it: the World Wide Web.  The acronym must have been too much to digest.  It included global concepts like "world" instead of "me".  We're talking about systems that are not complex yet totally interconnected (and interdependent), and equally dependent on every piece fitting correctly into the puzzle. 

A doctor got upset that he couldn't check his email from the hospital today.

Me: "He could have checked it from the office.  Outlook clients were not affected."
Customer: "Yea, he eventually remoted in but he couldn't do it via a browser at the hospital.  What happened."
Me: "Residual affect from the hosting system upgrade.  No one could log in via the web because of back-end authentication issues."
Customer: "Well eMail me what you find because he wants to know."
Me: "Fine.  You'll get my analysis of what happened."

Who is this guy?  To me, he's a mailbox number in a myriad of other mailboxes housed in a cluster of servers of which none could login.  This was a systems failure, not a personal vendetta.  The majesty of networked computing systems is that they are closer to egalitarian ideals than any political system we've founded.  Computer professionals actually (arbitrarily) fudge the absolutely equal processing of data, such as email, to appease value normative ideals, such as higher paying (or infamous) customers.  Furthermore, we suspend services when you stop paying; but these alterations are not technical in origin.  The bits could still travel at the speed of light (in vacuum, of course).  Processing power and network latency is altered by us when we assign unequal quotas to otherwise equal resources.  Here again, it's the person and not the gun that kills.

I find this repugnant, and sometimes find the doctor's frustration sympathetic.  Other times, it's just pathetic.  I think people just don't like the concept of being fundamentally equal with everyone else.  This flippant feeling is at odds with the bigger picture.  The world-wide email system couldn't function if we didn't agree on some standard way of processing messages, i.e. RFCs on SMTP, IMAP, etc.  It's not any more complicated than agreeing to speak the same language.  In this case the doctor and I both speak English but his (ab)use of the imperative voice is valued more than mine because we've assigned it some societal weight for arbitrary reasons.