Monday, September 12, 2005

My Day Job

I had this impassioned, overtly political post in re: conservatism as a doctrine and the resulting effect on humanity and then posing a hypothetical that what if it really isn't the government's job to help those whom the market doesn't favor, and even granting that maybe it really isn't good for the long term greater good to organize a welfare state, and maybe people really will just take advantage of it and never attempt to lift themselves out of poverty or need. Then I asked, can you, as a doctrinally conservative human being, really stomach the results? Because New Orleans is what the results of this philosophy look like. But then a bunch of other people wrote the same thing. And the point has pretty dramatically been made here this past week. So I decided to let it go. Almost.

Instead I thought I'd write about what I do for a living when I'm not studying acupuncture or musing about philosophical meta-modeling. A month or so ago I took a job in a different department of the unnamed E-commerce giant for whom I work. I kind of work in the abstract these days: I don't sell anything, buy anything, or process anything, I don't sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed (I'm not linking that one. You either recognize the quote or I don't want to know you). What I do is write code for a platform called "Web Services," which, they tell me, is on the cutting edge of the future of software and computing.

If you're not familiar with...well, the cutting edge of software and computing, it might be hard to grok what exactly it is I do. And I'm not going to try really to explain it, instead I'm going to make a comparison. Computing is like just about every other discipline in the world: it goes in cycles surrounding the creation of platforms and the building of things upon those platforms. In the 20th century, for instance, Albert Einstein and Max Planck kicked off a revolution with a new platform in which energy came in tiny packets instead of continuous quantities, and one frame of reference was equivalent and just as valid as any other, unless of course you were accelerating. Then a bunch of other physicists, using that platform, developed a whole bunch of new science, creating television, computers, and the atomic bomb. In the 70's. some government researchers created the ARPANET, and a decade and a half later a bunch of people realized they had an entirely new platform upon which to build...things: games, retail stores, meeting locations, news media, and so on. Web Services is (yet another) attempt to build a platform upon which things will be created and discoveries will be made.

Jos once wrote about a brief moment where he was sitting in a meeting at work and had a transcendent glimpse of the future. I was sitting in our quarterly department meeting a couple of weeks ago and the same thing happened to me. Again, it's kind of hard to explain the way that Web Services is abstracting the internet (because probably the internet already seems pretty abstract to you). But I'm here to tell you the following: the speed and age of the machine sitting on your desk or your lap is going to cease to matter in the relatively near future. Mechanical storage (CDROM, hard drives, flash drives, whatever) is going to cease to matter in the relatively near future (not that it hasn't already). Software applications are going to cease to be a thing that you go and buy, or even download. Whether you're aware of it or not, you already do an alarming amount of computing on computers that are sitting in a warehouse in Virginia, or downtown Singapore. So if you've been paying attention, you've noticed that this is happening already, and in five or ten years all that's going to matter is how much data you can get across a wire from your desk to that computer that's sitting in Virginia. Well, that, and how good an encryption algorithm you're using. You might want to try and get a good one.

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