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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.

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.

My raw, unedited notes about VMworld 2014

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Below are my raw, unedited notes for VMworld 2014 San Francisco.  These are published mostly as background for the article I wrote on vSphere 6.0 on The Register, which can be found here.

These notes then are mostly of historical interest and serve mostly to contrast what I noted at this event against what people are noting about VMware today.  The notes raw and unedited:

In truth, VMworld 2014 felt like an exercise in hyping the status quo, from all sides. Partners were terrified to talk about anything for fear that – and I quote – “they would get Nutanixed.” (I think I have at least two different CEOs saying that on film, if I dug through the GoPro.) If I wanted to get any information out of people about what was upcoming, I had to sign a half dozen NDAs in blood and agree to talk to them off-site because “they couldn’t risk VMware getting wind of their ideas.”

This probably accounts for the functional lack of any interesting announcements from partners at the event. What was announced was all minor evolutionary stuff. Everything beyond that occurred in closed quarters, and most folks would only talk to me if it was me alone. “We’ll talk to you, Trevor, but we have to ask these other folks to stay outside because we don’t know them or anything about them.” There was absolutely not that level of paranoia last year.

And, to be frank, VMware’s announcements were pretty limp too.

1) EVO was a huge disappointment. Maybe it will evolve with time, but I just felt sad as that unfolded.
2) vSphere failed to show up to the ball. I’d like to think it’s because VMware is actually listening to the community and rethinking its stance on “Web Client Only” for 6.0, but I’m too cynical to really believe that. Still, whatever the reason, VMware felt 6.0 wasn’t ready for prime time and they delayed it. Even knowing that it would get bad press. That’s gutsy and I have a lot of respect for it. (Even if the reasons aren’t likely to be the reasons I want to be the case.)
3) VVOLs are still a pipe dream. Sads.
4) Pointless rebranding exercises designed to make us even more confused, and the incremental evolution of some products (like VCAC, SRM, vCloud Suite, NSX, PowerCLI) to a new subversion number. So far so boring.
5) vRealize was announced which may or may not just be a layer of ease-of-use lipstick on existing technologies. The buzzword bingo was so thick I couldn’t tell and I still haven’t had a chance to sit down and cut through it.
6) Expansion of various public cloud offerings into the PaaS and SaaS arenas, all targeting USians (and mostly US.gov). Pass.
7) Some handwaving about Docker. I still haven’t seen the ability to vMotion something from a Docker container on one system to a Docker container on another, so I’ll yawn until someone can explain to me why I should care. Docker seems great if you want to rearchitect your programs…but if I was going to do that, why wouldn’t I just rearchitect for AWS?
8) New certifications. Yay?
9) Some endpoint stuff; Workspace Suite/Airwatch/Horizon that looked interesting. Vague promises that virtualising GPUs might suck less in the future. When it arrives, I’ll be pumped.
10) VMware bought cloudvolumes and which is nice, but then I started looking at pricing out the full endpoint solutions and went back to Citrix.
11) VMware announced Project Meteor, but I had stopped paying attention because it was in the future and I was pricing out Citrix.
12) “The Web Client will be faster, oh please, oh please stop hating it”. No mention of if all the other issues with the web client will be addressed. Everyone still hates it.
13) VMware vCloud connector now does layer 2 extensibility  I cheered.
14) VMware ROBO licensing announced, but I set up a meeting with Pistoncloud to discuss their offering after I realised the pricing was about 2x what I could sell it to my clients for, and even then would leave no margin for me.
15) vSphere 5.5 U2 comes with a C# client that talks to some of the new features!  I cheered, then almost died from the shock.

So, unless I missed something the only items that I took away from the event were:
A) Why was vSphere 6 delayed
B) If I ever get bored, assign time to figure out what the hell vRealize is supposed to be
C) Find out from someone when VMware will launch their version of Horizon that can compete with Citrix on GPUs. Will it be remotely price competitive?
D) vCloud connector has grown up into something awesome! Figure out how to use this with a Canadian VMware cloud provider that has zero legal US attack surface. Sell to clients.
E) New C# client that postpones need to move to Openstack for another year. Sacrifice goat to $deity in thanks.

There were a handful of partner discussions that were interesting, but I’m not allowed to talk about 95% of them, rendering those somewhat moot.

You know me as being the guy who never pulls punches, so let me be blunt: I am not remotely the only person who feels that VMworld 2014 was a bust. The most popular in-joke is “VMware threw a VMworld and forgot the VMworld”…though I prefer my more pitch #StorageWorld2014.

Storage, storage, storage, as far as the eye can see. What can any of you demonstrate that will differentiate your products for me?

If VMworld 2013 was the year I realised how important Hyper-V and Openstack support were to the ecosystem partners in the virtualisation industry, 2014 was the year I heard systems administrators and CIOs openly discussing adoption of alternative hypervisors. Where 2013 was the year where people looked at you funny if you said you were trailing Openstack, or using Hyper-V in production, 2014 was the year where those who only used one hypervisor vendor were practically ostracised to the edges of the gathering.

VMworld 2013 was about the vendors on the floor seeing demand for heterogenous environments, something that was provably uptaken in by VMworld 2014.

VMworld 2014 was about the vendors living in fear of telling VMware what they were up to, for fear their ideas would be stolen and cloned before they had a chance to build a market presence. It was also a year of some very open – and very bitter – griping by dozens of vendors about the politics – and the cost – of being a VMware partner. What will that mean for VMworld 2015?

Based on that, I have a lot of questions about VMworld 2015. I am talking to about 100 different vendors on their views and thoughts, but I am increasingly getting the feeling that VMworld is about to abruptly cease to be “the conference in the IT industry where the future is revealed and the backroom deals are made.” The real question is; what will be? Where will companies go to instead? Will the 2015 east-side startup ghetto be deserted? Will the 2015 west-side vFavellas choose instead to go to BUILD? Will “FossetCon” minicons expand dramatically?

These are questions I don’t have answers to, but am working on finding out as vendors de-stress and do their VMworld 2015 postmortems.

What is clear to me is that there is a brewing crisis of faith amongst the VMware ecosystem partners. Given that VMware’s greatest strength is its ecosystem – and when combined with the ever increasing reports of VMware’s internal politics being “a thermonuclear wasteland” – I am curious how this will play out and what it means for VMware as a whole.

VMware is clearly a powerful and capable technology company. They were able to birth EVO:RAIL in record time, and have managed to create many of the world’s most notable best-of-breed products over the years. They’re enormous, rich, have all the most important companies as their clients and they are still growing their customers and partners every year.

VMware isn’t going to fall. It isn’t going to collapse or evaporate or suffer some major financial cataclysm. That said, VMware may be on the cusp of stagnation. It has been bleeding its top talent for years, has alienated customers and partners alike (vTax, PEX, Web client, “getting Nutanixed”, difficulty/cost/timeframe for being a partner, time to get drivers certified, etc,) and shows no sign of dropping its prices deal with the reality of very capable competition from both Hyper-V and Openstack.

Something has to give. What will change, and who will profit from that change? Secrecy, fear and stagnation were the currents underneath VMworld 2014. Will they drive the flow of the industry through 2015? Only time will tell.

On Intellectual Property

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Copyright is about providing a temporary monopoly over intellectual works in order to extract economic value from those efforts in the hopes of spurring the creation of additional creative works. It must also inherently recognise the need for works to pass into the public domain (while they are still culturally relevant!) and it must contain rational fair use exceptions.

Copyright infringement is wrong, and society needs protections against it. Putting aside the loaded word “deserved,” there is a strictly pragmatic reason for us to compensate creators: if we don’t, both the volume and quantity of new works being created will decrease dramatically. These people have to make a living too; with 7 (soon 10) billion of us, the competitive pressure for resources is so high that we simply cannot support a renaissance-era category of creators who “simply create in their spare time.”

Nobody has spare time; to avoid destitution you either inherit enough wealth to get a great start to life, or you work 12-16 hours a day. Given the economic context; copyright infringement is unjustifiable; it directly deprives society of the talents of creators by creating an environment in which there is no realistic way for them to be able to devote adequate time to creation.

But copyright maximalism is equally ethically bankrupt. It attempts to shift the balance the other way; making creators into a special category of individuals whose labours are valued more highly than those of systems administrators, doctors, lawyers or teachers.

If I help build a road, I am paid for my labours per hour…but that road belongs to society. We all get to use it. Other roadworkers may come along and build on top of my work, learn from my technique or destroy it in order to lay pipes/repair faults/what-have-you.

If I fix a server, I am paid for my labours, but that server is then used by other users who benefit from my efforts. Other systems administrators may check the logs to see how I fixed things, alter my settings, or combine my efforts with theirs to create something new.

Neither the road worker nor the systems administrator gets to tithe their work beyond the initial payment for their labour. The roadworker does not get a toll for every person who passes over the patch he laid, nor the sysadmin a % of the ad revenue generated by each view.

Creative works are built upon those works that went before. Nothing is created in a vacuum. The whole of human experience is built upon the tropes and memes of our antecededents, whether through genetic memory or learned behaviour.

To suddenly claim that the labours and efforts of one category of people – intellectual property creators – is so important – that these intellectual property creators must simply be so privileged – that we must immediately reverse the whole of the human learning, experience (and yes, the creative process itself!) to protect their “moral economic rights” is beyond lunacy. It is arrogance. Arrogance born of nothing more interesting than greed.

Creators need to see economic benefit from their creations. Most people on this planet will agree with this. But this does not translate to the either notion that for creators to see economic benefit they must have complete unrestricted control over all use cases of their works nor that they should retain this control indefinitely (and by extension that this control should be infinitely heritable.)

Balance is required. The needs of the individual weighed against the needs of society at large. The people will no more tolerate autocratic control over knowledge and experience than we will accept that same level of protectionism or exceptionalism for any other special interest group.

You may stone me for saying so; but the writer is no greater than the road worker. The singer no more deserving than the sysadmin.

And if I am a filthy freetard for saying so – and for espousing the beliefs above, which appear to be both the original basis for copyright and increasingly the stance taken by post-aughties copyright legislation – then I accept the label with pride.

Windows 8

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My beef with Windows 8 goes beyond just the limitations imposed by Metro.  I am very unhappy with how Microsoft has handled criticism.  They have played the “it’s just a beta” card several times.  When that didn’t work, they moved on to it’s for our own good, followed by if you don’t like Metro there’s always the classic desktop.

Yes, the desktop is still available in Windows 8, but for how long?  Out one side of its mouth, Microsoft tells us that the desktop will be a first class citizen, and out the other Microsoft limits its entry-level development tools to Metro-only.

Metro is clearly the favored child; and with good reason.  Metro provides a unified interface across all devices, something Microsoft has made very clear is critical to their strategy.

In the face of this, I believe that it will not be long before critical applications start appearing in Metro-only versions.  This statement triggers an instant attack by any fanboy: this is speculation and thus invalid.  Arguments must be restricted to what exists today and what has been said in official statements by Microsoft.

Sorry, but no.  The real world doesn’t work like that.  I am a systems administrator, and a significant portion of my job is planning the infrastructure of today in the face of a plethora of information about the future.  What I buy today impacts what I will end up using tomorrow.

At this point, everything boils down to trust.  Microsoft fanboys the internet over are quick to point out that we are not forced to use Windows 8.  Windows 7 will be around for a long time; should we dislike Windows 8, we can just exercise downgrade rights and stay with 7.

Try as I might, I cannot see the logic in this argument.  “Staying with Windows 7” implies continuing to purchase Windows 7 licenses to meet future needs.  But to what end?  Microsoft has given no indication that they care about my concerns regarding their desktop interface.  I see zero reason to have blind faith that it will somehow be addressed come Windows 9.

For me to continue to buy Windows 7, continue to develop new applications for the Windows platform and continue to invest in applications that run exclusively on Windows I need to have a great deal of trust that Microsoft will continue to produce a product that meets my needs well into the future.

Operating systems may refresh every few years.  But accounting packages, industry specific software, custom middleware and so forth can last decades.  I am no longer prepared to bet my business on Microsoft’s magnanimity, especially when their attitude towards legitimate criticism from their user base is at best dismissive and arrogant.

When the accounting package gets creaky and we start looking for a replacement, “requires Microsoft Windows” will be a deal breaker.  Instead of investing in the next generation of Windows, it makes a lot more sense to spend the same money moving the last few Windows-only applications I have to something standards-based and cross platform.

Anything else just seems like gambling.

NFS Client in Windows 7 Pro

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I realise this is a little late to the game, but I find Microsoft’s attitude towards end users offensive.  Take for example the statement “NFS Client isn’t something we usually support here” because the “Microsoft Answers website since Answers is directed towards consumers” is offensive.  Consumers are increasingly operating in heterogeneous environments thanks in no small part to Microsoft’s steadfast insistence on not actually listening to its customer base.  For better or worse, Mac desktops and notebooks are seeing a dramatic rise, especially within the North America.  Microsoft knows this.

This has a direct effect on the topic at hand in that consumer level devices are now increasingly being shipped not only supporting NFS, but with NFS as the default protocol.  NFS (and similar heterogeneous cohabitation technologies) quite simply are consumer-level technologies today.  Attempting to proclaim it otherwise because it doesn’t meet with the party line on the topic does nothing but further alienate the customer base.

Not that the arbitrary stratification of versioning that leaves those of us with “Windows 7 Professional” operating systems out in the cold hasn’t done that already.

That rant over and done with, let’s get around to actually helping people here!  Some NFS client information of relevance to real people, in the real world:

1) A Google Code project that brings NFS v2/3 support to Windows/ NFS 4.1 support is under active development, but not yet supported: nekodrive.  Quite frankly, this isn’t quite ready for prime time, unless you are willing to be a little nerdy about it.  It is okay for one-off work, but doesn’t operate nearly as seamlessly as a proper client.

2) The University of Michigan NFS v 4.1 client. This is the exact same client for NFS 4.1 that Microsoft included in Windows 8.  (Indeed, Microsoft funded its development.)  It is located here.  However, it does take a little bit of knowledge to install.  I have found it easily scriptable for installs on a mass scale, and certainly not a problem for installs on my home machine.

The project maintains a code regular code drop, and the binaries can be accessed here.  Alongside the install instructions above, any novice computing enthusiast who has actually typed “start, run, CMD” before will be perfectly able to get a top notch NFS 4.1 client up and running on Windows 7 Professional.

I can’t recommend the this 4.1 client enough.  If you have NAS devices supporting NFS 4 (for example, a Synology with the latest DSM), this client is great a bridging the gap between Windows and Mac.

3) There was a company called Labtam that once made a relevant product.  The website is still up, however all indications are that they ceased to exist towards he end of 2009.  It may be worth further investigation to see if they have sold the tech on to someone, as the internets claims it was reasonably reliable for NFS v3.  At $40, it’s significantly cheaper than an “anytime upgrade,” and has the additional bonus of neither condoning nor encouraging Microsoft’s arbitrary product segregation.

Will Windows 8 – presuming you can stomach Metro – be more of the same?  Or will the reduced edition count lead to an unprecedented breakout of sanity?  Somehow, I doubt it.

So…Egypt, eh?

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There seems to be a lot of fuss in the United States right now over Egypt.  In case you have been living under a rock, Egypt has been busy tearing itself apart as the citizens (millions of them) have taken to the streets in an costly effort to oust a dictatorship that has clung to power for 30 years.

Egypt’s current dictator is a major US ally.  The largest organised opposition to him at the moment is the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that would frankly be exceptionally bad news for anyone who doesn’t believe the same things they do.  While I understand the conundrum from a strategic and military standpoint, I simply cannot grasp at all how there is the remotest hint of a question who “we” (the nations of the western world) should be supporting.

The answer is as obvious as the nose on our collective face: “we” should be supporting the Egyptian people.  Yes, they may vote in a hostile government.  They may even vote in a government that is worse to the Egyptian people than the dictator they currently have.  That is not the point.  It is all irrelevant.  Democracy is a fundamental human right.  The Egyptian people have a right to choose their own destiny; a right to make mistakes – or not – as they themselves see fit.

We should not be fiddling while Egypt burns, making grand proclamations and televised overtures.  We should in fact be sending government representatives into the throng of protesters gathered in Tahrir square with only one question on their lips:  “how can we help?”  We need to be prepared to accept that if the answer is “stay the hell out of our way,” then it is our moral and ethical duty to do exactly that.

From a selfish standpoint, I would prefer it if Egypt didn’t vote in a government that wants to see me either converted or killed…but I would still defend to the death their human right to do so, if this is what they choose.   It is what being Canadian means.  It is supposed to be what being a citizen of any country that supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is about.  This isn’t about me, or you, or anyone put the people fighting for their freedom.  Freedom that isn’t merely what they “deserve”…it’s theirs by right.

Anyone who wouldn’t stand up to defend that right – even knowing the end result holds the possibility of not being in “our” favour – does not know what either freedom nor democracy mean.  Countries and persons do not deserve democracy only when the make the “right” decisions, or when the outcome is favourable to the western world.  Countries and persons deserve democracy and freedom because it is their right.  Inalienable.  Unassailable.  Who they vote for is simply none of our damned business.

Egypt, if we can help…let us know how.  In the meantime; good luck.

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