November 17, 2004

In an Admin's perfect world

Author: Preston St. Pierre

I'm an admin by trade. If you're an admin, you read geek news sites, which are
rich in controversy and debate. Also, admins are often times pessimists,
conspiracy theorists, "realists," and are quicker to point out what's wrong
with something before what's right with something. Sometimes, they don't even
offer solutions to things they see as problems in the non-technical world,
presumably because they feel it would never be implemented anyway, due to some
conspiracy theory that was aforementioned. There are reasons for this
pessimism. Further, there are many conspiracy theories in the technical world
that have been proven correct. Though the things admins scoff at appear many and
varied, they pretty much all boil down to a few things which, if they existed,
would pretty much do away with all the debate. Here's my top ten things that
would exist or happen in the perfect world of the admin:
  1. Operating systems wouldn't matter. I could run whatever OS I wanted
    to, without worrying about hardware or software vendor support, network stack
    implementation, or the OS vendor's take on "standards." Of course, this would
    also leave most of the vocal geek community bored to tears. If you think hard
    about all of the ramblings on sites like, you'll see that a great many
    of them would magically disappear if operating systems didn't matter.
  2. File formats wouldn't matter. I could create a document with any word
    processor, and open it in any other application. OpenOffice would work with MSOffice
    would work with Corel would work with Abiword... etc. This goes for audio file
    formats as well; AAC, OGG, MP3, FLAC, etc., wouldn't really matter from the
    standpoint of the application or device that was using it.
  3. End users would be forced to have some rudimentary knowledge about being good
    netizens, and whatever technology they're using. I'm not talking about
    understanding Linux ACLs. I'm not talking about understanding how programs are
    turned into ones and zeros for consumption by the CPU. I'm not even talking
    about understanding that programs are compiled at all. I'm just talking about
    simple things like that storing something on disk means it'll be there when you
    reboot. Storing in memory means it won't. Spam that looks like it came from
    your buddy doesn't mean it did. Viruses don't only hurt you. Problems with are not fixable by your local sysadmin. If end users had the
    slightest clue in the world about how what they do affects the outside world,
    the world would be a very different place. Of course, the same could be said
    for driving. Most people are just as oblivious behind the wheel as they are
    behind a keyboard.
  4. Monopolies would not be allowed to make political contributions. I don't know
    that there are no laws regarding this, but I'm assuming they don't since
    Microsoft/Gates&Co. has reportedly contributed heavily to the campaigns
    of both political parties. This seems like a conflict of interest that wouldn't
    exist if laws were in place. After all, what's the easiest way for a monopoly
    to remain a monopoly? Well, one way is to make a product that, given the
    alternatives, everyone actually chooses to use. But the other way is to make
    sure nobody gets in your way. Buy them. If monopolies weren't allowed to make
    political contributions, its less likely they'd use direct money contributions
    as a means of avoiding accountability for their actions.
  5. Marketing departments would be more strictly regulated. You simply should NOT
    be allowed to market a product unless it actually exists. The practice of
    marketing "vaporware" can have a chilling effect on innovation and production
    of competing products. Also, marketing departments would have to make available
    from their websites documentation backing up anything they're passing off as
  6. Companies that produce research reports for money would be forbidden from
    receiving funds from companies whose products are involved in the research, or
    their competitors. For example, neither Microsoft nor IBM should be allowed to
    commission research from one of these companies regarding anything surrounding
    Windows vs. Linux. The idea here is to have the monies that pay for the
    research coming from the end users of the technology, not the marketers. If
    BigMajor Bank wants a performance comparison of Apache/Linux vs. IIS/Windows,
    they should commission the research themselves, or form an independent
    committee made up of like-minded technology users. For example, they could pool
    funds with others in their vertical market to commission the research.
  7. There would be the equivalent of a technology UN. The regular UN is not
    addressing growing issues which have a profound affect on internet security. In
    many breaches, the IP address that the attack appears to have come from is not
    the real source of the attack. Oh no -- that would be way too simple; look up
    the ISP record for the IP address, go get the info from the ISP, bango --
    arrest the user. Unfortunately, what generally happens is that an attacker in
    Russia takes over a machine in China, then another in Ecuador, then another in
    France, then another in Germany, then another in Nigeria, then another in the
    US, and then attacks a network in the UK. The British firm that's attacked has
    damages upwards of a million dollars, and no good way to trace back the path of
    the packets because the attacker crossed all kinds of political barriers on
    his way to the UK. Getting all of the government enforcement agencies all over
    the world to cooperate and spend their money to work toward recovering money
    for someone in another country simply doesn't happen. By the way, this is part
    of the reason it's extremely difficult to track down spammers as well.
  8. Legislators would have a clue about technology. They currently don't. I don't
    care how you attempt to convince me, you simply cannot convince me that our
    legislature has any clue about technical issues. Meanwhile, they make
    legislative decisions that have a dramatic impact on technology and its use. A
    lack of technology understanding leaves them little upon which to base a decision. See item number 4.
  9. Programmers and system administrators would be licensed or take some form of
    oath or be held to answer to some minimum standard set forth by programmers,
    administrators and those who benefit from and understand their work. This would
    give those workers the right to refuse to do really amazingly stupid things
    because someone who has absolutely no business demanding such things "said so."
    I don't think anyone really cares if there's an oath/license or not, but we
    should have the right to refuse stuff that's just plain stupid without it
    costing us our jobs.
  10. PDAs would be useful. I threw this one in for kicks. Due to IP woes swirling
    around e-books and digital music, progress in application development in this
    area is limited. Due to storage limitations, you can't get many of these things
    onto a pda anyway. Due to the screen size, the web browsers are quite close to
    useless. Due to the form factor of the pda, along with those of devices you'd
    want to plug into a pda, it can currently only support so many things at once.
    Due to the doggedly slow advances in battery technology, they also become less
    useful, and things like wireless networking and watching video, etc., become
    something of a moot point on pdas because the processing power needed for these
    apps is power-intensive. There are thousands of other problems with PDAs that
    have more to do with other technologies. I just lumped them all under this
    heading because the PDA is the one device that could benefit dramatically and
    directly from improvements in seemingly all other facets of technology.

So, now that I'm finished with my wish list for a society that's so dependent on technology, what's your list?

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