uncertainties stifle innovation
Wednesday, July 2 2003
Despite several years of rapid advances in my web development skills (thank you, dotcom bubble), the back-end methods used in this online journal have remained almost completely unchanged. When preparing to write a new entry, I've always had to go through a complex series steps, most of which could have easily been automated using available back-end technology. My main reason for resisting was my dubious faith in the longevity of the technology. How sure could I be that it wouldn't change in a few years or remain available on whatever server I found myself running on?
Over the years, though, my confidence has gradually risen, but only with respect to Open Source solutions (so long as they are running, in turn, on layers of Open Source all the way down to the hardware). That describes the PHP-Apache-LINUX environment of Spies.com, my journal's host. The code underlying everything is open for the inspection of anyone, and no one is agitating to change file formats and APIs in an effort to force people to upgrade. One gets a feeling of permanence from Open Source, like there's a real language being spoken that will continue to be spoken in an understandable form many years from now. Computer technologies are changing (and occasionally advancing) all the time, but there's no reason there can't now be languages and file formats that persist.
By contrast, I consider Vodkatea's reliance on Microsoft technology a serious liability. Microsoft's business model relies on the money they get from developers paying to take (and later retake) their certification courses to stay current on their "latest technologies." The Microsoft business model also relies on people "upgrading" their operating systems and office suites every couple of years. But to force these money-precipitating events, Microsoft must radically alter their technology on a regular basis. For someone trying to build lasting works of beauty, it's the environmental equivalent of Michæl Jackson's face. The resulting uncertainties stifle innovation. Or they cause it to migrate to more stable environments.
This evening Gretchen and I watched Ali, the movie documenting the most interesting years in the life the boxer Muhammad Ali. I should mention here that Muhammad Ali was such a unrelenting presence in the media of my childhood that I never thought there was anything the slightest bit strange about a famous black American having a completely Muslim name.
Watching this movie, I got the sense that Ali's boxing talents came almost as much from his convictions (and his unwillingness to back down from them) as they did from his flying like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Watching the straightforward manner with which he refused to fight in Vietnam seemed to highlight our present airless political situation. True, I was watching a morally-abstracted Hollywood presentation of those days, but even so it was instructive. In the scruffy not-fully-formed past, big celebrities took real risks, sometimes over nothing. Today we have to make do with the doughy rebellion of the Dixie Chicks.
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