It’s the people, stupid !

The boost community has recently been shaken by an announcement of the steering committee to move from its current build infrastructure (based on an in-house tool) to CMake. Discussions about such a change have been going on for years, and the SC, noticing that these discussions didn’t go anywhere, decided that it would be in the best interest of everyone to impose a dicision.
Now the “only” remaining question is how to get there, by asking volunteers to implement the change. This has expectedly resulted in a lot of heat, including the departure of a key member of the team developing and maintaining the existing build tool, leaving the whole project in a disarray.

I’m myself maintainer of two Boost libraries, and thus have strong opinions about the best way forward. But what I’d like to note here is a more general pattern I have been observing in many different places. And it’s about how people conceive of “software”, even within the industry, people who should really know better.

Software is considered to be a thing, something that can be changed (broken, fixed, improved, etc.) by applying a “patch”. So it’s natural to think of “resources” and “jobs” as entities needed to move from state A to state B.
Others think they have done everything possible to make their software “optimal” (not to say “perfect”) to solve a given problem, so there is no possible reason for wanting to change it, as that would by definition make the software “less good”.

Now consider software as a reflection of our understanding of a given problem, a manifestation of processes and practices – short, a cultural artefact. There can be many reasons to change. The problem we are trying to solve may have changed, or our understanding of it may have evolved. In either case, it doesn’t make sense to think of change as merely a patch to be applied to software. It’s first and foremost a procedural change, a change that needs to be agreed on and embraced by the very people who work on and with the software, before it can be embodied into software.

Software is a means, not an end. And software engineering really is applied epistemology.


Der Mensch ist gut

Der Mensch ist gut! Da gibt es nichts zu lachen!
In Lesebüchern schmeckt das wie Kompott.
Der Mensch ist gut! Da kann man gar nichts machen.
Er hat das, wie man hört, vom lieben Gott.

Einschränkungshalber spricht man zwar von Kriegen.
Wohl weil der letzte Krieg erst neulich war…
Doch: Ließ man denn die Krüppel draußen liegen?
Die Witwen kriegten sogar Honorar!

Der Mensch ist gut! Wenn er noch besser wäre,
wär er zu gut für die bescheidne Welt.
Auch die Moral hat ihr Gesetz der Schwere:
Der schlechte Kerl kommt hoch – der Gute fällt.

Das ist so, wie es ist, geschickt gemacht.
Gott will es so. Not lehrt bekanntlich beten.
Er hat sich das nicht übel ausgedacht
und läßt uns um des Himmels willen treten.

Der Mensch ist gut. Und darum geht´s ihm schlecht.
Denn wenn´s ihm besser ginge, wär er böse.
Drum betet: Herr Direktor, quäl uns recht!
Gott will es so. Und sein System hat Größe.

Drum seid so gut: und seid so schlecht, wie´s geht!
Drückt Löhne! Zelebriert die Leipziger Messe!
Der Himmel hat für sowas immer Interesse. –
Der Mensch bleibt gut, weil er den Kram versteht.

— Erich Kästner


The Intimacies of Four Continents

Social relations in the colonized Americas, Asia, and Africa were the condition of possibility for Western liberalism to think the universality of human freedom, however much freedoms for slaves, colonized, and indigenous peoples were precisely exempted by that philosophy. Modern history and social science pronounce the universality of liberal categories of development yet omit the global relations on which they depended. Indeed, it is the pronounced asymmetry of the colonial divisions of humanity that is the signature feature of liberal modes of distinction that privilege particular subjects and societies as rational, civilized, and human, and treat others as the laboring, replaceable, or disposable contexts that constitute that humanity. What some have represented as a linear temporal progression from colonial abjection to liberal freedom actually elides what might be more properly conceived as a spatial dynamic, in which forms of both liberal subject and society in the imperial center are possible only in relation to laboring lives in the colonized geographies or “zones of exception” with which they coexist, however disavowed.

 — Lisa Lowe

KM 21


Ein Rabe saß auf einem Meilenstein
und rief Ka-em-zwei-ein, Ka-em-zwei-ein…

Der Werhund lief vorbei, im Maul ein Bein,
Der Rabe rief Ka-em-zwei-ein, zwei-ein.

Vorüber zottelte das Zapfenschwein,
der Rabe rief und rief Ka-em-zwei-ein.

»Er ist besessen!« – kam man überein.
»Man führe ihn hinweg von diesem Stein!«

Zwei Hasen brachten ihn zum Kräuterdachs.
Sein Hirn war ganz verstört und weich wie Wachs.

Noch sterbend rief er (denn er starb dort) sein
Ka-em-zwei-ein, Ka-em-Ka-em-zwei-ein …

Christian Morgenstern (1871 – 1914)