Thursday, October 06, 2005


The Canal Horse
Way back when, boats and barges used to be towed through canals by teams of horses harnessed to the purpose. Those horses would trudge back and forth over the same route, many times each day. They knew nothing else. Indeed, if unharnessed and allowed to roam, they'd just keep walking back and forth in the grooves they'd worn into the banks of the canal. A lot of older engineers are like that. New techniques, improved algorithms, and advances in the state of the art are opaque to them. What they learned twenty or thirty years ago is all they know, and all they trust. Persuading them out of those grooves is a job for Superman -- and when your Curmudgeon last checked, that worthy was fully booked. The canal horse is easily known by his immediate resistance to any idea that's new to him. No matter what you propose, he'll have an infinity of reasons why he can't, shouldn't, or mustn't do it. It won't matter how old the technique is. Message queues? Opaque data sections? Communication via sockets? He'll find a way to characterize all of these, and anything else he's never done before, as a canker on the body politic. In the most extreme cases, if you lose patience with him and command him to make use of an unfamiliar technique or tool, he'll contrive to make it into the worst disaster since the Little Big Horn.
Fran's hit on a question any honest conservative must ask himself from time to time. We like to think of ourselves as cautious, pragmatic - prudent, even. Those are all good things and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that most of what passes for "new and improved" is simply old junk cooked up by people too young or ignorant to have seen it before. It is surely helpful to remember, however, that there really is a first time for everything and sometimes we do find new twists on old tricks. Sometimes. As long you refrain from asserting that you really have seen it all and it'll never work, you're probably still on the right side of the line. The liberal - progressive boo boo, of course, is something of a mirror image of the 'canal horse'. He'll dismiss what's been established with a wave of his hand and insist that he can build it - all of it - better, cheaper and faster. After all, everything that's been done to date is wrong and is exactly what's holding us back. If he can't see why it was done that way, then the problem obviously must be with the dead guy who's not here to defend himself. This guy likes to think he's enlightened and liberated, and those are not bad things. Beware contempt and arrogance, however.

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