Oh Lord Who Art Wise in x86 Assembler

Paul Marks takes what he thinks is a diversion away from a discussion about rational ignorance and into the power of individuals:

In 2012 any competent computer person would have told Mr Romney that you do NOT use a new voter finding system on election day.

It will crash – and even if it does not your people will not know how to use it.

You use a system that your people have been working with for months – as the Obama people did.

As the election was so close (in terms of percentage of the vote) that this may have made the difference.

A single computer person (having the guts to actually talk to Mr Romney at some social event – some weeks before election day) might have made all the difference.

IBM PowerPC601

IBM PowerPC 601

Paul is wrong to apologise for the diversion. I think this neatly illustrates a point about Rational Ignorance. Indeed, nobody in IT (at least, outside of sales) would have said “sure, of course it will work first time”. Experienced IT professionals become most suspicious exactly when it does work first time, it’s more likely your test has a problem than the system under test is bug free on the first run, and then there is the question of doing the wrong thing perfectly correctly.

It seems that Mr McCain Romney was ignorant, of what software development is really like. Perhaps he felt it was rational to allow himself to be ignorant of such things and have faith in his people. Most computer programmers, and I am aware a great many visitors to this site can code, would find such an idea ridiculous. What surprises me is why so many IT people have faith in the Government while happily ridiculing a politician for having faith in their own profession. If faith is regrettably but realistically unjustifiable in the realm of correct software craftsmanship, why trust would you trust the professionals in social engineering?


Convinced? Well, there is a deliberate mistake in this blog post. Did you spot it? Did you have faith?… Interesting.


  1. It was not Mr McCain who made the mistake (that was 2008 – 2012). I could have understand that – John McCain was born in 1936 and spent his youth being tortured in a Communist camp (in the 2008 the Obama campaign and the media sneered that Senator McCain could not even use a keyboard – they left out the reason, i.e. that his hands were smashed up).

    The person who made the mistake (or appointed the people who did) was “Mitt” Romney – a man who spent a lifetime in business as a manager, and was Governor of Massachusetts for four years), I still find the whole incident baffling.



  2. Teacher, Teacher — I spotted it too, Teacher! LOL

    I had forgotten that business about Sen. McCain’s smashed hands, Paul. Thanks for mentioning that — it’s important.



  3. One of the interesting things about being human is nicely illustrated by the experience that I have had in the last 30 – 60 seconds, as I’ve been re-reading this. Simon mentions “faith,” thank goodness outside the area of religion for a truly wonderful change, and my mind does what it often does and leaps from “faith” to “trust.” Which reminds me of Pres. Reagan’s often-quoted “Trust, but verify,” which has never made sense to me. If you really do trust, why would you bother to verify?

    I once got up the nerve to display my stupidity to the public, and asked the question on some board. A couple of people explained it to me, and I thought I understood, but thinking about it later I realized that no, it still made no sense to me.

    But I read this posting, and suddenly all is clear! The lightning has struck, the sun has come out from behind the clouds! The point is, make it a habit to verify everything just on principle. Don’t let the fact that you have complete trust in X stop you from checking X. In fact I do this myself, I double-check everything, and the one time in 200 when I’m SO sure that I don’t check, it turns out I’m wrong. (Of course, even when I quadruple-check it often turns out I’m wrong. Very discouraging.)

    What I find endlessly fascinating is the fact that you (or anyway I) can ponder a question for years and years and suddenly something causes you to see it from a slightly different angle … and the answer is obvious! I mean, what was your problem!

    So thank you, Mr. Gibbs, for the moment of revelation. It’s most gratifying. :>)



  4. Oh. Well … I see one comma splice (but you Brits do that all the time, and I’ve gotten into the habit of doing it myself as a matter of style) and one comma that shouldn’t be there at all. Oh, and the period should be inside the quotation marks. But that’s about it, I’m afraid. Probably shorted out my last remaining brain cell with that lightning-bolt of understanding. :>(

    All right. Re-reading the thing for the fifth time, I see you’ve actually got “trust” in there, and not just once but twice. The first one should have been taken out (it looks as if you missed doing that in an edit). Is that what you mean? I think by now most of us are so used to garbled sentences that we roll right over them. (People are notoriously bad at proofreading their own stuff, and the so-called spell- and grammar-checkers are even worse.)

    It’s also true that skip-reading is a problem. The other side of the coin.



  5. I didn’t think I remembered any apology from Paul about any “diversion.” You are a bad man, Mr. Gibbs. You misled us on purpose, you did. Just to make a perfectly good point that you could have made plainly in under 1200 words.

    Not quite a lie, but definitely sharp practice. We are not amused. (I’m lying.)

    Well done. ;>)



    1. It’s much simpler than that. The Power PC 601 did not run x86 code. The 615 did. Obvious really since x86 is old school CISC and PPC 601 was an early RISC implementation.

      Hah, got you all.. 🙂



  6. Politics, faith, code – Simon is tackling some important topics in this piece. It interests me that some professions give regular feedback to the practitioner in a way that makes intentional ignorance impossible. Code poorly and the system crashes; give the wrong drug dose and someone dies; calculate the design for a bridge incorrectly and a train is lost etc. Politicians however receive feedback so rarely and are incentivised to blame mistakes on another tribe so that they never confront their decisions.
    Hence crypto solutions to money, finance, identity, law and verification – I would trust a few hundred narky coders over the same number of smooth talking politicians.



    1. Fashionable software craftsmanship lore is to value feedback very highly indeed. You get people putting up very simple websites, for example, just to get feedback on an idea. There is huge cross over between the kind of thinking going on in software development practice and libertarian politics. The buzzword “Agile” and the term “Hayekian” are nearly the same thing, just at different scales. Libertarianism is basically Agile Politics.



      1. Indeed, my own political journey in recent years is inspired by software that can to take over roles previously ‘needing’ central state control. Applying both crypto and market ideas to political decision making systems is my goal, such that agile political systems can be developed that benefit all, whilst resisting incentives to those who might co-opt the system for their own looting.


      2. I’m not talking about automating a function within a process, it’s about the processes of discovery and learning within the minds of people on software teams and entrepreneurs within an economy. Those processes are, perhaps unremarkably, very similar. The psychological observations are the same, an open economy in which people are free to experiment and adapt evolves more quickly toward optimal resource exploitation / rate of software delivery as best practice is discovered and spread.

        Just as a software team should be free to use a different bug tracker or code repository, or to experiment with a different branching strategy, communities and companies in the economy should be free to try different options for the delivery of public goods, and there is a huge one-time bonus available the first time significant public goods move from public to private delivery.


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