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2021-01-16 | Subject | Little House of Information Technology

Consider what we expect as present day consumers in an urban area on a coast state of the United States. We have a complicated array of food and other consumer items that we feel we need to purchase, items and variety that we likely couldn't afford the time or money to purchase in the 1970s. What started off as a simple logistics problem for many, like, "How do I get the latest technical book on Sendmail now that the best technical book store has shut down?" turned into "How can I get face masks, the kind of nut bar with chocolate I like, a cabin air filter for my YupSportFour, and KorKor Chicken dinner kit for my tiny pressure cooker... by tomorrow?"

When I was a kid in elementary school, one of the most popular books in the library was Little House on the Prairie™. We all dreamed about those days, as did many of the adults. In the television series version of the books, Pa and one of his girls would take the wagon into town to get supplies, usually stopping by Oleson’s Mercantile to pick up sugar, flour, and other goods. Whatever my personal ideal might be, or my past experience, at this point in my life I act much the same way. Pragmatically, purchasing the array of items we demand requires Bigsite. I am susceptible to indulging in a bit of hypocritical romanticism when I criticize Bigsite and other related aspects of current industrial civilization.

This came up at work when I was considering the predicament of managing on-prem compute, storage, and networking. It is quite difficult to handle the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to proceed forward with proper requirements and design. Much of my current focus assumes that it is possible to iteratively evaluate situations and improve reactions utilizing semantic triples. I had a flash of insight, though, that centered on Pa and his wagon. Everything has become exponentially more complicated, whether it is our consumer desires or work in information technology. Everything is backed by an intensely complicated supply chain. True, I know this, and I often write about it, but I keep falling back into the romanticism of Pa's time without weighing how reasonable it is for most of those I know to join me in my fantasy.

It isn't like Pa was an ascetic. He was just doing regular things that a father might do in that time and place. Imagine if Pa had to consider modern life, with the large array of consumer options, and even the logistics involved in operating a house. I don't see that he would be much different of a character than, say, Chevy Chase's character Clark in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or Tom Hank's character Ray in The 'Burbs (which both came out the same year). I suppose I could go back to a time where I would just wash my clothes at a laundromat, or back to Pa's time and use a washboard, but I really don't feel I have the time to take that on, not when Sean and I are working full-time and Bobo is living with us. Pa of today would go to Bulkbox and shop at Bigsite, particularly if he lived on a coast state near an urban center.

The example of the washing machine is even more interesting for me, as I was on the bench and not working many hours that week, so spent the time repairing it by replacing the spider arm.

It took a solid work day to do. I expected to be able to go to Bigsite and purchase the part, and I could. I have an array of tools, as well as experience, to fix the machine. I could go online and find examples of others who had did the same thing, posting videos, so some people did have the time and capability, but I suspect that my experience is in the minority. I doubt I could have found the part in stock anywhere I could reasonably drive to. The supply chain doesn't work that way, and there are way too many options. I was able to get the part I needed next day, including shipping, for $100.

Most people would either have to call a repair shop or purchase a new washing machine. My guess is that it would take a repair shop at least three hours (vs. my eight) to tear down and replace the spider arm. Plus, they likely wouldn't take the shortcuts I did, like simply oiling the dampeners, so the parts would likely total $300, putting the cost of repairing the washer at such a high number, that the wiser choice would be to purchase new. In the middle of my repair job, my dad told me he had a friend that was knowledgeable about appliances and said they are only designed to last five years, so, he concluded you might as well replace them if they weren't under warranty. As insane as disposable washing machines seem from some perspectives, in the present, in my current life, it makes the most sense.

It isn't just the situation with the washing machine. I desire a particular kind of keyboard, I type so much. I desire a vertical mouse, or my thumb hurts. I purchase LED bulbs, and need particular kinds for different lamps. My faucets occasionally need new valves because the inside is made of plastic and they just wear out. My idealistic side might say, "Well, just simplify. Just purchase staples like Pa did," but that doesn't really work in any kind of realistic scenario. Even for staples, because of the strange, skewed supply chain due to c~19, I can't find whole wheat flour in the store, and buy it from Bigsite or Boxbrick.

At work, the problems are similar. I am dealing with people who are barely able to manage their on-prem infrastructure, let alone handle analysis. I go back so far in IT, that I may be as old as Pa, relatively, so my satisfaction just purchasing sugar and other staples should be considered in the same relation. Those of this time don't have that many options. It is an understanding, a form of compassion, that I need to remember. Modern consumer behavior aside, we are so far down the road of industrial civilization, that our world views are tilted, and there are no answers, not at this stage.

I am still interested in the small apartment in Do Easy and Stranger than Paradise, or a simpler life living in Betty on a mesa somewhere. Perhaps I'll move back to my mud hut in Redmond and kick out my renter. I am still trying to collapse the extent of my world and personal concerns as I can, packing stuff up for Bobo, and getting rid of what I don't need. It just isn't necessarily the same collapse of knowledge as I may have thought. People are dealing with the world as they can.

Sunn said something similar to me last month, that I didn't understand at the time. He said that perhaps what I called collapse was simply change. If Pa could go to Bulkbox and order from Bigsite, if I could imagine that, then it does back up Sunn's point a bit. OTOH, part of me also thinks that Pa and Mr. Edwards would throw their hands up in the air and shout OMFG when they realize what we have done as a civilization. It's complicated.

The straw dress callously sweeping
Spent livers from beneath the stones.
And, Moore he rambles on and on
With exponential moans.
Mustard seed brand poultice,
Encased by skin around bones
And the sign becomes another verse in Desolation Row

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