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Semantics, and being wrong on the internet

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How do libertarianism, cloud computing and George Orwell collide?  Internet arguments, that’s how!  Nerds love arguing about semantics, and for good reason: the word choice shapes how we and others view the world.

Let’s consider for a moment the term Left Libertarianism. I have my own thoughts on the topic, and consider the term the closest of various available descriptors to my own views on the world.

If the internet is to be believed, I am not the only person who identifies with the term “Left Libertarian”.  I certainly didn’t write the Wikipedia entry on the topic.  A quick Google of the term leads to a number of websites for various groups that identify with the term.  In fact, so many different beliefs fall under the term “Left Libertarian” that if you get us in a room together we’ll have wild debates about which particular strain best represents the whole.

I don’t think all of the above is a delusion.  I mean, it’s entirely possible I dreamed up going to pubs with other left libertarians, but the existence of the internet evidence make me lean towards “not quite hallucinating social events (yet)”.  So I’ll proceed from here with the assumption that left libertarianism exists as a classification of belief systems.

Now, let’s discuss today’s recent internet argument.  It begins with my debating partner asserting that I am not a libertarian, because he is unable to separate the term “libertarian” from the hard right libertarians that exist predominantly in the USA.

I attempted repeatedly to point out that left libertarianism and right libertarianism isn’t the same thing.  No dice.  The individual in question simply could not get past the term “libertarian”.  In his mind the use of that word had very specific connotations and that was that.

Fair enough.  Left libertarians are rather used to this.  Normally, I’d just shrug the encounter off as another in a long series of identical encounters, however, the night progressed into further arguments about linguistic semantics and the recalcitrance of this individual regarding the nuance of “left” versus “right” libertarianism becomes important.

Choosing your definitions

Recently, I wrote an article in which I defined various tech terms that I commonly use. Among these definitions is the controversial distinction between Public Cloud provider and Service Provider Cloud provider.

A common school of thought amongst technologists is that any organization making services available over the public internet is a public cloud provider. The key word for them here is “public”.  I happen to disagree.

When I say “Public Cloud provider” I mean specifically Google, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM.  All the rest I consign to the “Service Provider” category.

The why of this is twofold.  First off, there is a world of difference between the Big Four public cloud providers and everyone else.  They dwarf the service providers not only in the scale of their networks, but in the diversity of the services they offer.

Even popular service providers like Rack Space, Digital Ocean or Heroku can’t compare to the big four public cloud providers.  The differences are just so immense that they are their own category.

My debating partner for the night appeared to be exceptionally frustrated, even angry that I refused to change my views on use of the term “Public Cloud” to reflect his.  He suggested that I instead use the term “major public cloud” or something similar.

I bailed on the argument before pursuing it much past this point, in large part because of something else that he had said.  He said that he felt it was our job to educate others, and implied that for this reason I should choose his definition of “Public Cloud”.  This is an idea I’ll come back to.

Perception deltas

In addition to the gap in capability between service providers and the big public cloud providers there is a real world difference in how non nerds talk about cloud computing.  When your Average Joe talks about “the cloud” they typically mean – at their most expansive – the Big Four public cloud providers and the SaaS offerings that live in their ecosystems.

Even that’s being generous.  My admittedly unscientific polling in this area consistently shows that “cloud = Amazon” in the minds of most, with Google and Microsoft both getting the odd mention.  Including IBM is a huge hat tip to the nerds as it is.

As I see it, tech nerds aren’t exactly a huge percentage of the population.  So when I write I need to take into account more than just the viewpoints of nerds.  Common usage of language is just as important as semantic accuracy, and we collectively decide all the time to use definitions that are not entirely accurate or make no sense.

My personal linguistic frustration with common usage is our collective inability to understand the difference between “on-premises” and “on-premise”.  The former means “on location” and the latter “on idea”.  This oddity also comes plays a role in the night’s ponderings.

Power words

With the night’s debating partner, individual words have enormous power.  “Left Libertarianism” means nothing to him because he can’t get past the word “libertarian”.  He cannot separate one loud group of not very nice people who self-identify with that term with all the other people who identify – or partly identify – with that term.

Similarly, any discussion about Public Cloud providers simply ends at the word “Public” for him.  That’s the important part, as it if for so many people.  I find it frustrating that he’s utterly immune to the irony of suggesting the addition of a qualifier; in my experience saying “Major Public Cloud” is a bit like saying “Left Libertarian”.  The qualifiers get lost in the power words.

(Note: I am entirely aware that “words that have power” is likely more accurate, and that “Power Words” probably has some specific meaning to some group of people.  Hush.  “Words that have power” just sounds dumb.)

By rights “Left Libertarian” should be different from “Libertarian”  Just as $Variable_1 should be different from $Variable_2.  They’re just labels.  But that’s not how humans work.

Humans aren’t machines.  We don’t consider all linguistic identifiers equal.  We fixate on things.  Why does “on-premise” bother me so much?  I have no idea.  The same individual so frustrated that segment “Public Cloud Provider” from “Service Provider” once told me I should give up trying to correct people who use “on-premise”.  As he put it: it’s not a hill he’s willing to die on.

Service providers

Right in the middle of this I want to throw the term Internet Service Provider (ISP).  I gave up before getting to this part of the argument with tonight’s debating partner, but it’s worth a brief mention.

If you ask your average citizen when the term ISP means they will say something to the effect of “the company that lets me access the internet”.  In other words: your Fibre Optic, Cable or ADSL provider.  I’d be very curious to see how many associated the term with mobile providers.

Legally, however, ISP means something different.  In many jurisdictions ISPs include domain registrars, web hosting companies, e-mail providers, backhaul providers, colo facilities and more.

What’s really interesting is that over time the common definition of the term ISP overrode how nerds used it as well.  With a few rare exceptions, a tech nerd talking about an ISP means quite specifically an internet access provider.  Everything else they’ll lump under “cloud” in one form or another.

This leads to interesting internet arguments between tech nerds and law nerds.

ISP isn’t the only term where common usage has overcome the use of one or more class of nerds.  I’m certain, for example, that I don’t have to rehash the history of the term “hacker” for anyone reading this blog.

Linguistic control

Where this all gets stitched together is in the concept of linguistic choice as a forcing factor in conceptualization.  George Orwell taught us that how we use words determines how we can communicate concepts.  Over time, this can even affect our ability to conceptualize various concepts in the first place.

The beliefs of the individual provide context.  Tonight’s debate partner is ardently “pro-cloud”.  I would go so far as to call him a True Believer.  He evangelizes not only the subscription-based/OpEx model of service provision, but the Agile methodology, cloud native application development…all of it.

Everything relating to the word “cloud” is important to him both personally and professionally.  It makes perfect sense that he would have a very specific view on what words should mean and that he would believe those definitions should be used to “educate” others.  He wants those people to believe as he does.

I, on the other hand, am far more agnostic about the cloud.  I view the word “cloud” itself as so distorted by marketing as to be utterly meaningless without taking some attempt to narrow a definition.  Remember, there are dozens of vendors who have tried to assert “virtualization = cloud”, followed by “hyperconvergence = cloud”.

It should thus not come as a shock that I don’t get all weepy over the educational value of the term “public cloud”.  When I talk about things cloudy the difference between the big public cloud providers and the service providers is almost always critical.

I don’t have time to get caught up in people mentally skipping qualifiers because they saw a power word.  It’s actually more effective to link to a definition that they outright dislike – such as how I segment public cloud providers from service providers – and proceed from there.

The semantics nerds will then think nasty thoughts about me as a person, but most of them then proceed to understand what it is I’m trying to communicate.  This isn’t true when I just slap qualifiers on terms with power words.

It’s the same reason I don’t write Internet Access Service Providers.  It means nothing.  All anyone will see is ISP.

Someone is wrong on the internet

I would like to think that both opinions on the use of the term “public cloud” are valid.  I certainly see my debate partner’s point.  I even understand the linguistic control concepts that make the word selection so important to that individual, even if I don’t share his convictions or beliefs.

Similarly, I would like to think my own viewpoint is valid.  We all like to think our viewpoints are valid!  I also recognize that it is highly unlikely the night’s debate partner will ever consider it to be so.

When I wrote my definition article I told my editor that this would probably end up being a yearly thing.  Definitions change.  Language is fluid.  For me, those definitions are a tool.  A way to clarify what I mean so that I don’t have to type the same explanation in every article, list the same disclaimers and define a series of terms.

Maybe, when I revisit those definitions a year from now some new term will have evolved to mean “the big four public cloud providers”, and I can use that.  I could then use “public cloud” to mean “everything that isn’t on a private network”.  Whatever “private network” means when everything has a publicly addressable IPv6 address.

Maybe.  I view the terms themselves as largely arbitrary, and such flippancy is probably driven by an unhealthy amount of cynicism.

The lesson to be extracted from all of this?  When you challenge the terms that help someone evangelize their beliefs through linguistic shaping, you are challenging their beliefs – and thus them – directly.

Now go forth and frolic in the market of ideas and enjoy the evolution of nomenclature as beliefs, convenience and common understanding all compete to solidify the definition of the words we use…and how we conceive of the world.

On not dropping the PR and marketing ball

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As a tech journalist and as a commercial tech writer the bane of my professional existence is PR and marketing people who don’t know anything about the companies or products they are trying to promote. The very worst among offenders among them are simply applying “tickbox” marketing and PR; they go through whatever list they were given in school and figure selling tech is the same as selling apples.

Fortunately, not all PR and marketing people are like this.

I don’t have time to praise everyone in tech PR and marketing that are great at their job. There are a lot of you out there, and I love each and every one of you for it. There is, however one comparative anecdote I’d really like to share that should drive home the difference between someone who’s terrible at their job and someone who is truly amazing at it.

Dropping the ball

On the terrible at their job side we have an individual working for a hybrid-cloud-in-a-can company that doesn’t know what their own product does. The solution in question is an OpenStack-based hyperconverged appliance starting at four nodes that has some built-in options to interconnect with OpenStack-based service providers and/or a major public cloud provider.

This isn’t exactly rocket surgery anymore. At the end of 2017, there are a dozen cloud-in-a-can providers, many of which shift OpenStack based solutions. By now, anyone who knows anything about private cloud technology can tell you pretty much all you need to know about this product just by saying “OpenStack-based hyperconverged cloud-in-a-can”.

I published a blog on a tech news website that mentioned the vendor in question’s solution. It was a passing comment as an example of a vendor in the space who has done reasonably well and had a few big customer wins.

A marketing person for this company wrote me to ask that I make some changes to the article. They didn’t want me to mention that they were using hyperconvergence to lash the nodes together. “They’re not hyperconverged” sayeth the marketdroid (yes they are, BTW), they’re “multi-cloud” (that’s a huge stretch).

If that wasn’t enough, the marketing body had a list of things in the article they wanted clarified. From common acronyms to terms of the trade to idioms. There was even a discussion about how “snapshotting” isn’t a verb. (Terrifyingly, this is the second time in less than a month that this particular conversation has come up with supposed tech people who should know better.)

I was blown away. Not so much that a marketing person asked that I change an article to be more “on message” for their client – that’s sadly par for the course – but that someone working for a hyperconvergence-based cloud-in-a-can company doesn’t know that nerds use “snapshotting” as a verb.

Juggling with style

My salvation lies in the part where there are marketing people and then there are marketing people. The polar opposite of Marketing McDerpy up above is the incomparable Jane Rimmer.

Let’s consider a recent conversation I had in the vEpxert Slack. I was discussing with some vExperts how I’d like to do some testing on a node that a vendor is sending me for review. I was thinking about reaching out to a few VDI vendors so that I could use their software to push the node to its limits and include their software (and the results) in my review.

One of the vendors I mentioned directly was Liquidware Labs, who happen to be one of Jane’s clients. A couple of hours later I have email from Jane saying she saw my comment on Slack, and could she help.

I don’t know why I was so shocked by this. Jane’s not some fresh out of school marketing droid eager to sell clouds like they were apples. She’s so devoted to her craft that she herself is a vExpert.

Because of course she is. She’s Jane Rimmer. If tech marketing had a super hero, she’d be it.

The bottom line

Having marketing and PR people who care enough to learn about your product and the market in which you operate makes all the difference. It makes life less frustrating for the writers you interact with. It helps to build a community around your brand. More importantly, it helps everyone understand what it is you do and why organizations should give you money to do it.

The tech industry needs more technologically competent people like Jane Rimmer. The Tech industry needs a lot less buzzword bingo playing derpologists in senior marketing and PR positions.

It’s up to tech vendors to choose whom they’ll employ. And it’s up to us, as buyers of that tech to choose which vendors we support.

No, Trump voters aren’t okay.

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A post-election sentiment of rapprochement and forgiveness seems to be espoused by some, now that the American election is over.  It is typified by this statement from Ian Noble: “Need to get away from the culture of calling people with different views names, it just leads to polarisation and topics that should get discussed, don’t. Need more respect for people having different views and not jumping to the conclusion that they must be a bad person.”

As much as I am usually in agreement with this type of sentiment (see: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/11/07/tabs_versus_spaces_and_bullying_in_it/), I must dissent in this case.

We’re not talking about the Americans having elected someone reasonable like Kasich, with whom we simply happen to have a disagreement about some minor politics and/or economics.  Donald Trump is a fucking monster.  He has repeatedly threatened to use his influence to seek revenge on those who have called him names, accused him of criminal endeavours, and so forth.

Donald Trump has pandered directly to – and promised many horrifying things to – white supremacists, neo-nazis and other powerful bigotry groups.  He has promised to eliminate freedom of the press, enable police brutality by codifying it in law, normalize torture, pull back on commitments to NATO and other world peace efforts, repeal critical climate change agreements and to export all of this (and much, much more) as part of foreign policy via demands in international treaties.

And that’s just the stuff I can remember.

Trump has repeatedly asked aides – apparently very seriously – why the US doesn’t use nuclear weapons on its enemies.  He categorically refused to rule out using nuclear weapons on Europe if they don’t do what he says.

I’m sorry, Ian, for all that I personally believe we need to learn to play nice and stop acting like bullies, Trump is a goddamned monster, and all of us around the world are going to regret this decision by America a whole lot.  Mostly likely double plus regret when you smoosh in the fact that the UK has a fascist in power now too.

This isn’t a joke.  This isn’t a “love thy neighbour” kind of thing.  This is the point where, if you live near/in a large city or a point of military interest, you spend the next four years hoping that nobody starts a war that ends up with a flash of radiation and your face melting off as you scream your burbling, bubbling last whilst you agonizingly experience the worst death mankind has yet imagined.

That’s a thing – a very, very real thing – that my generation simply didn’t have to contemplate until now.  Raised after the cold war, during a time of relative peace, we never had to honestly contemplate the idea of that kind of war.  The Americans – my country’s supposedly closest allies – just elected the sort of man who casually tosses off the idea of starting exactly those kinds of wars.

I don’t believe that being all lovey dovey with the people who elected him is really the appropriate response here.  I don’t think this is a small gap that can be bridged with some beers and nice feelings.

There is a gap in belief, in understanding of the world, our perceptions of consequences, of risk, a gap in how we value human life itself that is so fundamental, so very clearly core to our personalities that it likely cannot be bridged.

To believe that those who elected Trump have values anything at all like mine I must also believe that they either can not learn from the past, they will not learn from the past, or they have willfully chosen to disbelieve mountains of evidence about how he and his compatriots both lead and treat others.  Regardless of which of those is true, I can’t bridge that gap.

I understand entirely the discontent with the system.  I even sympathize with those who feel trapped, lost, slipped through the cracks and more.  I hate many aspects of political correctness, I think a lot of liberal policies – especially in academia – are a bridge too far, and I too feel my white male privilege under attack.  It’s not a feeling I like.

But I can’t shake the hand of the Trump voter.  I can’t treat them – or this election – like it’s just some gentleman’s disagreement.

I’m sorry, sir, but the people who elected Trump are the enemy.   Hate me for saying or believing this if you must, but the next two years, where Trump has carte blanche due to a fully republican senate and house that just realized he is the future of their party, and where he has control over potentially a lot of key supreme court seats, will be terrible.  Not only for the United States, but for all the rest of us as well.

For the next two years, when America farts in bed, the rest of us are going to get blow into a wall with gale force winds.

On Left LIbertarianism

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Recently, I self identified as a left libertarian.  I have been asked what a “left libertarian” is.  This is a frequent question by those who associate libertarianism with social conservatism and the right of the single-axis political spectrum.

The following is my personal take on politics, the concepts of libertarianism and essentially “who I am”.  Please understand that others will, of course, define terms differently, depending on how it suits their worldview.  (Words appear to have no absolute meanings in the age of the internet.)

The political spectrum as I understand it

To be able to understand what I mean when I say left libertarianism, some background and terminology need to take place.  The political spectrum is really broken down into three axes.  Social (progressive <-> conservative), economic (laissez faire <-> planned) and intervention (libertarian <-> authoritarian).

Social progressives believe that everyone is equal and we should not be allowed to group people and then discriminate against them.  Discrimination can be in the form of organization, economic isolation, refusal of service or physical or psychological harm.  I am strongly socially progressive, as are most left libertarians.

Social regressives believe that some people are worth more than others and/or that we should have the right to group people and then discriminate against them.  This is a strongly authoritarian view on both the left and the right.  They differ mainly on who they’d like to be the outgroup.

Authoritarians – whether left or right – believe that state power should be used to enforce moral beliefs.  This ties in closely with social regression.  Outlaw abortions, outlaw homosexuality, so on and so forth.  The authoritarian left, for example, typically has strong moral beliefs regarding things like GMOs, nuclear power and so forth.

Looks like you've had a little too much to think

Libertarians – whether left or right – believe that the state should interfere in the life of the individual as little as humanly possible.  Libertarians believe that, by and large, people should be allowed to do whatever they want to do

Left libertarians and right libertarians tend to split predominantly upon along economic grounds.  Both groups believe strongly in market economies, but left libertarians believe in regulated markets for some verticals, with state control of certain key industries.  Most right libertarians believe very hard core in Randian laissez faire economics.

Three views of libertarianism

Personally, I view the difference as that between those who believe in evidence-based legislation and regulation and those who believe in an ideologically “pure” form of capitalism that is for all intents and purposes a religion.

There is another form of so-called “right libertarian” that isn’t libertarian at all.  These false right libertarians are actually nothing more than hypocritical authoritarian bigots using the term “libertarian” to refer to freedom only for the group with which they self-identify.

These false right libertarians are violently against anyone interfering in their lives or telling them what to do, but demand the “right” to dictate what others may/may not do.  The classic example is the individual who protests the building of a mosque but rallies to demand Christian prayers be said every day in school.  Or the individual who protests against public social services for children but demands women not have the right to an abortion.

Believing in “one rule for us, another for them” isn’t libertarianism.  It is bigotry and authoritarianism.

My own beliefs

As a left libertarian I believe that some services are “natural monopolies” that can only be provided either by the state, or by the free market in the context of a heavily regulated environment.  These would include things like national defense, fire protection, education, utilities (power/heat/telecommunications) food (see: lethal pet food, poisoned baby food, etc), parks and recreation, social security/basic income and health care.

We pay taxes and we receive these services.  We also pay taxes to ensure oversight and regulation in areas commerce where industry has proven they are willing to overlook externalities in their business model.  These include things like environmental regulation.  (Not poisoning our drinking water is usually good, and not something industry has a history of giving fvcks about.)

Here is the field in which I grow my fvucks. Look upon it and see that it is barren

In essence, the “left” part of left libertarianism means that I understand important concepts like The Prisoner’s Dilemma, The Tragedy Of The Commons and that both corporations and individuals are not rational actors in an economic sense.  (The myth of “enlightened self interest” is just that.)

Thus the existence of a social contract whereby we voluntarily surrender part of our individual freedom – in the form of taxes – in order to receive a greater benefit collectively than we could ever achieve through individual irrational investment and uncoordinated selfishness.  (My hobby: getting a bunch of left libertarians together so we can all argue about what parts of that social contract are required.)

What sets me (and other left libertarians) apart from other “leftists” is that I emphatically and overwhelmingly believe that, where not absolutely necessary for the state to intervene, the state should keep its nose out of all of our business.  I don’t believe the state should be used to force others to comply with a particular group’s moral beliefs.  Regardless of the group.

Let’s look at some examples.

The war on drugs: taken in moderation, many – if not most – illicit substances have benefits for the majority of people.  The problem, however, is that they can do very bad things to a minority.  Education – not prohibition – is the answer here.  Portugal has proven this.  America’s prison system has shown what happens under the prohibition model.

Censorship: this is a complicated topic.  For the most part, I believe in freedom of speech.  The big exception is incitement of violence.  At some point speech does become a very real and present threat to public safety and action should be taken.  In accordance with my libertarian view speech should be pretty extreme before the state steps in to censor it.  Extreme enough that even in nations of a billion people (such as India) they can be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Insurance: Insurance is an example not a lot of people think about when talking about libertarianism, but it serves as a great example of where different interpretations can and do clash.  For the right libertarian the ideological purity of unregulated capitalism holds primacy, so they would allow insurance companies to discriminate based on gender, etc.  As a left libertarian, I believe that equality holds primacy and thus accept regulation of the insurance industry to ensure everyone is treated equally.

Spying: I believe governments shouldn’t spy on their people.  Nor on the civilian population of allies.  Too often has this sort of power been used not to protect against existential threats such as terrorism, but to seek out political dissidents and silence them.  The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  That vigilance is not the burden of the state, seeking to protect its own power, but the burden of the individual to protect against the undue expansion and misuse of state power.

Removing planks from the house of privacy to build the fence of false security

I could go on for quite some time, but I think you get the drift.

Thoughts on localism

Government encroachment on individuals is arguably more impactful the smaller you go.  The condo board has a greater chance of interfering in your daily life than the federal government.  Similarly, the condo board is far more likely to be interested in what you, personally, are up to than would be your federal government.

Here – as with anywhere else – the discussion is one of balance between the common good and the rights of the individual.

For example, it is rational and supported by evidence that laws exist requiring individuals and corporations to shovel any public sidewalks on their property within X hours of a snowfall.  This is a clear health and safety issue.  Left unchecked, unshoveled walks become icy and dangerous.

Part of the social contract is that we give up our “right” to be lazy douchecanoes and shovel our walks for the common good.  There are other possible ways this social contract could be handled.  Taxes for shoveling could be levied communally and all public walks be handled by the municipality.

What is irrational and not backed by evidence is a social policy of leaving the walks unshoveled, or leaving it up to the individual to shovel “if they feel like it”.  Such a social policy would also be highly discriminatory.  While young, wealthy and able-bodied individuals might be able to afford the right clothing and tools to safely navigate a city of unshoveled walks, a significant percentage of the population could not.

Thus a minor surrender of individual liberty (a requirement to shovel walks or the paying of taxes to have them shoveled) results in greater liberty for the majority and prevents an unacceptable instance of “one rule for us, another rule for them”.

A converse example is that of condo board regulations against air conditioners.  Most cities have laws about volume levels emanating from individual properties.  X decibels until 11pm, for example, and then Y decibels until 8am.  Assuming that these laws were implemented as the result of a rational and evidence-based approach then condo boards should have no call to ban air conditioners that do not breach these laws as there is no evidence to support a rational appeal for restricting the individual for the common good.

Despite this, almost all condo boards claim the right to control the installation of air conditioners.  Some will allow you your air conditioner if you “get permission”.  The granting of this permission is all to often arbitrary and rational for denial or acceptance unevenly applied.  This is abuse of power.

Some condo boards will simply allow no air conditioners at all, though not because of noise regulation; they instead use aesthetics as a rationale.

All of these condo board examples are what I would consider unacceptable infringements upon individual liberty, despite the fact that they are occurring from the most local source of extra-household authority I can think of.  Locality doesn’t guarantee fairness, justice, equality or even that the individual has an equal (or any) say.

The condo board example was picked deliberately because it is a controversial edge case.  When we buy a condo we are presumed to be fully aware of the rules.  If the rules are put in place we are presumed to have a say in the creation of those rules.

Anyone who has bought into a condo and lived with the arbitrary rulemaking and enforcement typical of such entities will know that both full initial disclosure on purchase and ability to affect the creation/enforcement of rules are actually rarely true.

The very personal scope of impact combined with the statistical likelihood of both mild corruption and a lack of any effective oversight make condo boards a great place to stop and ponder about the level of regulatory intervention in the lives of individuals that is acceptable.

Skeptical child smoking a pipe.

As you might expect, a narrative that points out the susceptibility of local regulatory bodies to overreach doesn’t play well with the false “right libertarians” who are actually bigoted authoritarians.   These frequently champion localism blindly specifically because it allows the creation of enclaves of exclusion.

False right libertarians view keeping outgroups away from them and the places they want to be as an important part of their personal liberty and thus typically demand the ability to discriminate and restrict others based upon local legislation.

The localism issue is also a point of contention for true right libertarians.  They are typically very much against government interference in the life of the individual.  Yet part of what they view as the rights of the individual is the right to voluntarily form groups, cliques and so forth that decide what the rules of everyday life are going to be.

Unfortunately, in reality, we don’t all get to choice which groups we’re part of and thus the rules to which we are subject.  This is what causes me depart from the own-group-centric view of right libertarians.

The right to choose

As a left libertarian, I am sympathetic to the right libertarian viewpoint, but also bear in mind the rights of those who don’t get to choose.

The false right libertarian concerns himself with the idea that your right to swing ends at the tip of his nose.

The true right libertarian believes that not only does your right to swing ends at the tip of his nose, but that his right to swing ends at the tip of your nose.

The left libertarian believes that not only are our rights to swing bounded by the tips of one another’s noses, but also concerns himself with the fact most of us don’t have a say in the rules, regulations and laws under which we live.

As this discussion is about my own beliefs, I will use myself as an example.  I am a Canadian.  I did not choose to be a Canadian.  My nationality, citizenship, all of its attendant laws, social contracts, international perceptions and more were thrust upon me.

I was born in the city of Edmonton, Alberta, and I have never been in a position where I could live anywhere else.  I have never had the money to move.  If I wanted a job (generally considered requisite to reliably obtain shelter and food so as to survive our winters) I had to get an education, and ultimately a car.  This required crushing debt that I am still paying.

I did not vote for the people who created Canada’s constitution, nor the overwhelming majority of our laws.  I had no say in the creation of the regulations and so forth that govern much of my life.

If I do not obey these laws, then I will be fined or even ordered to jail.  If I don’t pay the fines or I refuse to voluntarily go to jail then people with guns will give me a choice: go to jail or die.  I live under laws imposed upon me under threat of death.

What is important to remember is that those who come after me will also live under laws imposed upon them under threat of death.  Laws that my decisions will affect.  Whether those decisions be action (such as voting, protesting, agitating, etc) or apathy, my choices have played will play a role in creating or affirming laws.  Or, through apathy, simply not altering the extant.

The importance of apathy cannot be overstated.  I firmly believe that – politically, at least – silence is consent.  Choosing not to speak out when confronted with the unethical, corrupt, egregious or atrocious is to condone those acts.  The future is shaped at least in part through our acts of will.

Homer fiddling on an ipad while the plant melts down

Currently, this idea of the rule of law is the most stable society we know of, so it is unlikely to change any time in the next several generations.  While it is easy to chafe at the restrictions imposed by this societal structure, we also bear the burden of responsibility for shaping the regulatory environment of the future.

I thusly concern myself with electing people who will agitate for the lowest possible number of laws.  I strive for laws that will intrude as little as possible into our lives while still bearing in mind that those laws impact not only myself and people “like me”, but everyone to whom they apply.

We will never make perfect laws.  We will never find the perfect balance.  We can never perfectly predict the future.  The best we can do is use a strongly rational and evidence-based approach and hope that we get it right most of the time.  Science, logic, evidence and compassion are the best tools we currently have at our disposal.

Equality and evidence then are key.  For myself to feel that laws are just, but also so that the legacy I am creating is fair, just and honest.  Freedom for me and for thee; today and forever more.

That is what it means – to me at least – to be a left libertarian.

The future is right around the corner.

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The Liberal party of Canada (the folks currently in charge) had their annual convention this weekend, and voted on fundamental stuff like “the party constitution”, “what should the party do”, etc.

Amongst other things, it is now party policy that the Liberal Party of Canada implement a Guaranteed Minimum Income strategy in Canada. In fact, from all discussions thus far, it looks like this will be a national implementation of Basic Minimum Income.

In theory, this could/would/should replace all other forms of safety net.  No more need for a government-sponsored pension plan, no more need for welfare, income plans for the disabled/ill/mentally ill/etc.   Every single person in Canada gets enough money from the government to pay rent buy food and so forth.

If you want to live somewhere other than a not very nice place in a not very nice part of town, own a car or other things, you must have a job and supplement the government income.  Progressive taxation will work as per normal and the whole thing should be accomplishable without raising taxes.  (A shocking amount of efficiency is possible when you collapse multiple bloated government departments down to one fairly simple one.)

If implemented, this is world changing.  Literally, actually world changing.  Canada would be the first G7 nation to eliminate poverty within its borders.  I could conceivably live to see social change that I would consider “birth of the federation” class advancement in the fundamental decency of socioeconomic policy.

I can only ask: “what took so ****ing long”?

Faith is the enemy of success

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I realize this is highly impolitic to say, in tech it is a really bad idea to be one of those people who allow their faith to guide their every decision.  Believe whatever you want, but the idea that things will work out “just because”, or because a given group/individual/organization was traditionally (or is currently) dominant is patently absurd.

Faith in this context doesn’t mean simply belief in a deity of some variety.  People – especially in tech – become irrationally attached to corporations.  Especially if employed by them.  This attachment becomes faith, as strong as any religious devotion, and just as irrationally immune to logic or evidence.

Just because Microsoft, for example, traditionally dominated the endpoint market doesn’t mean they will forever.  Indeed, by most calculations Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) have a much higher share of the endpoint market than Microsoft.

In response, Redmondian faithful limit the discussion to only talk about traditional desktops and notebooks, because limiting it to that subset of endpoint means that they can continue to believe they are dominant.  They then use their “dominance” to justify all sorts of upsetting things, ranging from compromising the integrity of the Windows Update mechanism (including the Security Updates portion!) to removing the right to control updates, to obscene VDI licensing.

That this fanboyism persists beyond the corporate borders is even more alarming.  It affects customers, partners, ecosystem developers and, sadly even journalists and analysts.  (In my personal opinion this would include Ed Bott as regards Microsoft and Gartner as regards, for example, NetApp.)

I submit to all present that VMware is purposefully fostering this level of Blind Faith.  They are actively attempting to build it not only amongst the customer base – as would be expected from any current competent marketing outfit – but that they are working exceptionally hard to create such an environment amongst their own staff.

This is a problem.

Staff who are blindly loyal to their organization contribute to corporate hubris.  They are incapable of objectively analysing competitors for threats.  They are also trapped in a logic loop where customer needs equate to the product sold, and nothing more.

For many, the foundation of this loop is that customers continue to buy the product(s) in question.  Sales are taken as validation that all is well and that nothing needs to change.  The concept of “they aren’t customers, they’re hostages” is heresy and can’t seem to be considered directly by the mind of the faithful.

For VMware the result is a company where the majority of their staff are simply unable to conceive that their private/hybrid cloud software is wholly inadequate, both in functionality and in pricing.   The minority that speak up are considered trouble makers.  They are either disciplined or subjected to intense peer pressure to keep quiet.

The same holds true for VSAN.  Dogma says it is adequately priced, superior to all opponents and required no major evolution.  Any new functionality that is added – to VSAN, the cloud suite or anything else – is not due to need, desire or requirement.  It is a “gift” to the customer base, developers and ecosystem partners from VMware.

And if those groups aren’t adequately grateful, VMware will retaliate.

We can change names and products and have this conversation about many organizations.  Oracle comes immediately to mind, and is certainly worse about corporate hubris than VMware.  (Though the argument about who is worse, Oracle or Microsoft, could go on for ages.)

Roadmaps can and do exist at these organizations.  They may even address some or all of the concerns that customers or analysts have.  Unfortunately, once a corporation has reached an adequate level of hubris those roadmaps tend to be too little, too late.

Microsoft, for example, is kicking VMware’s ass at private and hybrid cloud ease of use.  The Azure stack should be viewed by VMware as a screaming klaxon of emergency WTF, but it is functionally ignored at all decision-making levels of the organization.  VMware has their nearly impossible to install, configure, administer and use vRealize suite and since that is seeing horrible uptake, clearly the market for private/hybrid clouds is limited.

Boy are they in for a rude awakening!

Similarly, there are still companies out there – from startups to VMware itself – selling (and pricing) hyperconvergence as though it were a product.  It’s not.  It’s a feature.  And all those many and myriad companies that can’t wrap their minds around it are going to get wrecked in very short order.

The examples are many.  The companies and products and failures I can pick on are many.  But it keeps circling back to one thing:

Faith.

The instant you rely on faith to justify your belief in your company’s inevitable and unending dominance you’re done.  You don’t serve your company because you have lost your objectivity and are thus blind to threats.  When the majority of a company – or even just the majority of charismatic influencers who can bring social pressure to bear – at a company relies on faith the whole of the organization’s fate is sealed.

Leave faith behind when attempting analysis.  Of your own company.  Of your competition.  Of anyone.  If you don’t, you may find that the company to which you’ve dedicated your faith is just another name on the list of “might have beens” that litter the history of tech.

On the why of social media

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As I write this blog post, I am a little inebriated.  There is some madness to the method and some method to the madness.  The alcohol occurred as a byproduct of a fairly irrelevant social obligation to a friend, but a long (and probably irritating) rambling conversation with my wife triggered something of a revelation about internet usage for me.

I have a theory about the popularity of social media amongst adults: we use it because we want to talk about the things we think about and care about.  But we want to do so without irritating or offending the people in our real world lives that we care about.

One great example from my own life: I sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my high school and college years.  Days of youth and experimentation, drunkenness and wild drama llamas.

I really want to talk to about many of these events and people with others, because I am still to this day fascinated by many of them.  They are sociological puzzles, and my mind likes puzzles.  Why did this person behave like this?  How did they (or didn’t they) change with time?  How did this event 15 years ago contribute to who this person is today?

My wife doesn’t care.  And, to be fair, why should she?  She’s as fascinated by intellectual puzzles as the next nerd…but these people mean nothing to her.  They are a dizzying array of names and places and events all wrapped up in drunken memory, nostalgia and might-have-beens.

So, I want to discuss my thoughts, and ponder the imponderables, and think on how these people were reflections of the society of the time, their parents, their schooling and so forth.  It fascinates me.  But I don’t want to bore my wife to tears.

So I write a blog.  I talk on a forum.  I fire off only vaguely comprehensible missiles on social media.  I suspect – though I have little proof other than some intellectual puzzle solving – that this is ultimately why so many of us “waste time” on these mediums, too.

We want to be wanted.  We want to talk to others who think like us, and nerd like us and care about what we care about.  We want our past to mean something and our future to hold hope and promise.  And as much as we love, respect and admire our friends, family and loved ones…few of us ever find that perfect combination of individuals in our real lives that share an interest in all of the bizarre aspects of our personality.

Social media is the 21st century equivalent of howling our loneliness at the moon and seeking relevance in the tedium of our existence.  It is a lifetime of missed opportunity, sexual frustration, confusion, misunderstanding, screw-ups, mistakes, successes and triumphs.  It is our emotions of the moment mixed with curiosity and the desire for validation.  It is a social lubricant even if the only we’re trying to disinhibit is our own selves; to allow ourselves to think the thoughts that bother and fascinate us.

We like to think that as adults we are so much more put together than we were when we were kids.  But somewhere deep inside us there is a scared, confused teenager trying to figure out what to do with everything from impulses and instincts to thoughts about hypocrisy and questioning authority.

We turn to the internet as a place that seemingly has no consequence…even if we know better.  The people we talk to are avatars.  Names, but not faces.  They come and they go; if we offend one group, there are a billion more to choose from.

Being an adult is about having learned what not to say and to whom we must not say things.  Social media is the pressure valve; the outlet for all that we suppress.  That’s why we love it.  That’s why we hate it.  That’s why we’re ashamed of it.  And that’s why we can’t give it up.

 

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  • Published: Feb 7th, 2015
  • Category: Pointless Posts
  • Comments: Comments Off on On being a horrible, no good, very bad person.

On being a horrible, no good, very bad person.

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So I wrote a tweet that caused a minor bit of a stir.  I used the word “whore”.  It is offensive.  I knew it was offensive.  The purpose of the tweet was to offend.  But where Twitter’s 140 characters causes the loss of critical nuance is who I meant to offend, and why.

The tweet in question is here. It reads “Do you work for $vendor? Do you tweet? You’re a tech whore. Cope. Stop getting all shocked when others call you biased, or when they are.”  (I corrected a typo here in this blog.  The original tweet contains a typo.  “Getting” was spelled “gettong”.)

Now, I understand that some individuals will choose to take great offense to this tweet for a number of reasons.  Oh, and yes, I knew that I as wrote it.  You can vilify me doubleplus extra for that, if you’d like.  There are lots of things mean and bad and terribly unkind there, but the one everyone is going to get caught up in is the use of the word “whore”.

That’s a bad word

Some people equate “whore” with prostitution.  It can easily be argued that such a significant portion of our population makes this connection that everyone else – including myself – should fall in line with this particular interpretation of the word.

You know what?  That’s fair enough.  I’m not even going to really debate that.  I am certain there are piles of academic papers, horrible stories of personal trauma and reams of complicated logical flowcharts that explain why I should use the language as others dictate.  I am a horrible, very bad, awful person in their eyes for using the bad word “whore”, and I accept that.  Let’s move on.

Now, I don’t equate “whore” with prostitution.  Why?  Because I don’t accept that the negative connotations of the word should apply to prostitutes, in large part because I don’t actually have any problem with prostitutes.  (Yet another thing some segment of the population can hate me for.)

If men, women, transgendered individuals and whatever other wild and wonderful combinations our species have to offer wish to engage in companionship (sexual or not) for money, I support them in their choice.  I’m not in a position to judge them or their choices, and I don’t have the bizarre religious baggage that so many folks so about the subject.  Whatever consenting adults choose to do is their business.  Have fun, folks.

To me, a “whore” is something else entirely.  A whore is someone who compromises their ethics for money.  For a lot of people, prostitution would be a pretty major compromise of their personal ethics, and so I find that the two concepts (and thus the usage of the term) have become very wrapped up and intertwined with time.

This is made doubly true by the fact that a huge percentage of our population views prostitution as offensive, even degenerate.  There are lots of people who are unable or unwilling to understand that many people choose of their own free will to engage in prostitution and that doing so isn’t a compromise of their personal ethics, because their personal ethics are simply different from the person busy casting aspersions.

If you pay me to perform an act that I feel compromises my ethics, and I do it, I’m a whore.  Whether or not the act in question is sexual in nature isn’t particularly relevant to how I use the term, and my usage of the term is not arbitrary.  It has evolved with this level of nuance as a reflection of how society at large treats the subjects under discussion, and yes, because of the emotions the term evokes.

Social media whores

The tweet read ” Do you work for $vendor? Do you tweet? You’re a tech whore. Cope. Stop getting all shocked when others call you biased, or when they are”.  I want to expand on this.

Twitter’s 140 characters don’t really allow much depth.  The first thing to get out of the way is that this isn’t aimed at “everyone who tweets”, but specifically at “those people who follow me on Twitter.”  Almost exclusively, people who follow me on twitter are involved in the technology industry, and they are all pretty active on social media.

This tweet was inspired by yet another public social media pissing contest between representatives of powerful vendors in the technology space.  Two very senior individuals in these companies (who really ought to know better) were slinging mud and otherwise engaging in tearing down the competition.

These individuals are not bad people.  They are not overly hostile people and how they will behave when not talking about their employer (or competitors to their employer) is completely and totally different to how they behave when shots are fired in marketing anger.

These individuals generally hold everyone else to a high standard of Wheaton’s Law, and usually prefer to see people on Twitter talking about what makes their products great, not trashing the competition.  Yet when it comes to the products they work on, and the company that pays them, they compromise their ethics.

This is very, very common in IT.  So much so that those technologists who are moderate to heavy Twitter users and don’t compromise their ethics surrounding discussions about their employer/product/competition are notable for their rarity.  (Or because they don’t seem to have any standards in this regard at all; either for themselves or that they hold others to.)

Is my making a blanket statement that encompasses all my followers into this “you compromise your ethics for money” statement an overreaching overgeneralisation?  Probably; I have a bad habit of that.  There’s yet another reason I’m a horrible human being.

Bias

The other element of us technoweenies all being whores on social media is bias.  We’re all biased.  Even if only because we are exposed disproportionately to information.

If you have two products from two vendors, and you spend 8 hours a day learning why Product A from Vendor Y is awesome, but only a few hours a week on the benefits of Product B from vendor Z, you are going to end up biased.  Even if you try very, very hard not to be.

The truth is, human memory – and human cognition in general – is really quite fallible.  We are prone to all sorts of weird logical errors.  Our memory does weird things that makes eyewitness testimony horribly unreliable.   We suffer from decision fatigue and ego depletion that make us prone to bad decisions when under stress or when tired, and it makes the whole faulty memory thing worse.

We make emotional judgements, even when we like to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings.  We associate products, brands and – most especially – our employers into our sense of self.  Our sense of self-worth is associated with how well the brands to which we have become loyal perform.

In other words: not compromising ourselves on behalf of those who pay us (or those who make our lives easier in other ways) is really, really hard.  We do it subconsciously, and most of us never stop to think about any of this, even for a second…let alone actively work to correct our perceptions, actions and reactions to compensate for the above.

Are we really all whores?

You might think it unfair of me to use the term “whore” in the tweet in question, even if we accept my own personal definition.  I stated that my definition of “whore” was “someone who compromises their ethics for money”.  Is the usage of the term justified if what’s being discussed is a subconscious compromise of ethics rather than a conscious one?

That is the debate I hoped to elicit.

The truth is, I don’t really have an answer to that.  Even within my own definition of the term, and within the framework of my personal ethics, I’m working that one out.

On the one hand, the information about the fallibility of our own minds is out there.  It’s not exactly news; much of this research is decades old.  I certainly expect educated professionals to have heard of it…and perhaps expecting that is unfair.

Or perhaps not.  Most of those who are following me on twitter are individuals who use social media to magnify their personal and professional footprints within the technology industry.  Knowing the sorts of things I discussed above about how our brains work would seem to me to be a pretty fundamental bit of information for accomplishing the task at hand.  The task at hand, to be perfectly clear, is “influencing others.”

Do bear in mind that a huge chunk of my followers describe themselves as “influencers”, hold professional titles like “evangelist” and join professional groups whose stated aim is the maximization of influence and/or participating in evangelism.  These are people who seek to wield social media as a weapon, and there is no small part of me that feels they need to be properly trained before being let loose on the field in full colours.

Some of these people are perfectly conscious of the fact that they make compromises for their paycheque.  And some of them admit it openly, even with good humour.  Others are deeply offended by the concept.

So are they whores?  That is up to everyone who reads this to decide.  That anyone is taking the time to contemplate the question at all was the whole point of the tweet itself.  (Yes, you can offend people into thinking.  It is a thing.)

And for those of you who want to vilify me for using an emotionally and politically charged term to accomplish my ends, I accept your scorn.  I am a bad person, and I say mean things.

But to be fair, I warned everyone about that in my Twitter bio.

*For the record, I count myself amongst the social media “whores”.  While I own my own company – and thus the ability to be slave to it is rather minimal – I am absolutely slave to products and vendors that make my life easier.  Out of respect for the companies to which I have a sense of brand tribalism, I’m not going to list them here, because they don’t need to be SEOed with a blog post using the word “whore” umpteen times.  Suffice it to say that I am aware of my own bias, and I do put real effort into countering it, many times refusing to take on a client or discuss a given vendor because I know I cannot be objective.  I don’t always succeed, but I do at least try.

On the relevance of Social Media.

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This post is in response to comments made on The Register regarding one of my recent articles.  I’ve had to post it here as the character limit on The Register is 2000.

While yes, the opinions expressed in my Sysadmin Blog on The Register are my own, I would be willing to make the statement that on the topic in question (the rise of Social Media) they are indeed quite informed.

First: let’s admit that there does not exist primary science that conclusively and definitively pegs the exact % of our population for whom $social_media_site has become “the lens through which they view all content on the internet.”  I would go so far as to say that this is A) an impossibility and B) functionally irrelevant.  The % will be under constant flux as the habits of individuals (and groups) change.

But there are a number of studies that have been conducted so far that hint at this, and the reality of it is considered “common knowledge” amongst a certain brand of IPM nerd. The proof will out when the science is done, but studies to really refine the error bars around the exact % of users for whom this is true are only now getting underway.

One person you could talk to about this is Scott Galloway, professor at NYU School of Business. He is considered one of the more notable “digital strategy” experts. Consider also the numerous studies being done showing how little email is being used by “da yoof,” with Facebook rapidly slotting into the role that email once filled. (Many argue that Twitter is slotting into the role that Google once filled.)

Dr. Michael Fenichel – amongst many, many others – has done a great deal of hard, primary research into Facebook/Social Media/Internet usage.  Indeed, their research has convinced them that Facebook/Internet Addiction Disorder is a very real phenomenon, and should be added to the DSM V.

Beyond that, there are numerous industry studies that have noted – and then explored in depth – the reality of “$social_media_site has become the internet for X segment of the population.”  These are studies performed not by organisations who would benefit from Facbook/Twitter/etc. becoming a vehicle for advertising, but rather by organisations who have a driving need to know exactly how people shop, how they do product research and what influences their decisions.

Starting in 2007 we have a report from private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson and PQ Media.  They note that for the first time in decades, 2007 saw people spend less time on traditional media and more time on the internet.  The study also noted a huge uptick in advertiser spending online as well as consumer online purchasing.  They predicted that by 2011, the Internet would be the largest advertising medium.

They were right.

In the intervening years, hundreds of studies have been run on the topic.  In 2009, we have a study from the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association (via BIGresearch).  They concluded – amongst other things – that moms (women with children younger than 18) spend way more time on social media than anyone else.  They also use social media for product research, trusting peer opinion above all other review methodologies.

Pew research in 2010 concluded that 58% of all Americans have done research for products online, numbers that start to get a lot larger as you adjust to look at the critical 18-32 age bracket.  While there was no social media component to this study, the thing that got everyone’s attention was the fact that internet users in higher-income brackets do significantly more online research than those in lower income brackets.

In September 2011, Nielsen released a report saying that social media (in which they include blogs) account for nearly 25% of all time spent online.  That’s more than double the amount of time spent in online games.  3/4 of all internet users participate in social media.

Critically, 60% of people with “three or more digital means of research for product purchases” discovered retailers or brands from a social networking site.  According to the same study, Americans spend significantly more time on Facebook – 53.5% – than any other site.

Again, these are merelly sample studies I am discussing.  There are hundreds of studies – and a lot of primary science – that cover this area of discussion.  These should give you some starting points.  An idea of how modern marketing folk got to the belief that social media is in fact an important outlet for brand recognition and advertising in today’s world.

Suffice it to say that the most critical demographic – 18 to 32 year olds – are strongly influenced by social media.  So much so that they skew the statistics for “all internet users” towards the realm of “depressing amounts of time spent on Facebook.”

That “the internet” is for some – indeed for an increasing number – Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or so forth is not merely “my opinion.” It is the considered opinion of several experts in the area; I have merely taken notice. More importantly; this trend is increasing.

These social media websites are now the lens through which an ever increasing % of our population absorb their daily dose of internets.

Tweetwipe

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I have had the opportunity to play around with Tweetwipe.  It’s an interesting webapp with a sole purpose: to delete all the tweets in your Twitter account.  It – more or less – does what it says on the tin.  There are a few caveats; some by design, some beyond the control of the tool’s developer.

The first caveat is that Tweetwipe does not delete any of your retweets.  Personally, I think that’s a decent feature, but not everyone will agree.  A tickbox for “nuke the retweets too” would be useful.

The other caveat is that it simply is not going to work all in one go.  If you have more than a handful of tweets, the Twitter API will blow up somewhere.  Refreshing the page and restarting the process does work.

This second caveat is interesting.  It allows for a weird method to map out the load demands placed upon twitter.  Some passes would delete 150+ tweets after leaving the tool open for an hour, some passes would delete less than 4.

A bizarre item that I discovered is that Tweetwipe will delete far more tweets/hour if you occasionally refresh Twitlan’s delete tool.  The only explanation I can come up with is that since the Twitlan delete tool creates a list of as many tweets as you specify, it must cause twitter to cache all your tweets.  This makes them available to Tweetwipe within whatever bizarre timeout limits are hindering its use of the Twitter API.

Overall, it took me about 48 hours to delete ~2000 tweets.  That is onerous, and I find the entire concept interesting.  What of those who – today – are in their early teens?  Making public fools of themselves for potentially years, and then later reaching an age where they would like to erase their past digital transgressions as they prepare for the job market.

Already, there have been numerous instances of people being fired – or even sued – because of what they have posted on social media.  That it should be so difficult to “unpost” things in bulk – for whatever reason – has interesting long term social implications.

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