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Intel Inside and Bill Gates

Week of February 21, 2000

When Intel Inside and Bill Gates became household names, democracy and median IQ went out the window.

Picture this:

It's a long corridor lit with florescents. It's cold but not intimidating. The walls and ceiling are an unnoticeable mixture of light yellow and white. The floor is different, but you don't know why. As you walk up this endless corridor you begin to hear a hum.

Off ahead to the right there is an opening. Like a glen in a forest. As you approach you see curious men full of authority walking around in medical white coats, clipboards under their arms, reading flashing red readouts. You draw in your breath and hold it without even thinking and decide right now that if any of these people see you, you will immediately flush into the woodwork.

You are in the presence of a computing machine - the kind that 'was', back in the 'good old days'.

Compare that picture with the following:

A quiet waiting room. National Geographics about ten years old, greasy and dog eared to the last. There is a medical smell in the air, burns your nostrils, puts a sense of respect in you somehow. After a long while a nurse calls your name and you walk through a door, past a large desk with a man behind it. The man is dressed in a white medical coat and seems very intent on his writing. He does not look up, does not even seem to notice you, as you pass by into the adjoining examination room.

You are in the presence of a practitioner of the medical profession.

Step in HG's Time Machine and move forty years forward to the present.

And after walking down that long corridor again, and noting that the white coats have been replaced by Dorito munching pony tailed hippies with their feet up on desks and one hand on a mouse running a networked kill or be killed computer game, you return to your GP's office for your annual visit.

This time the scenario is as before, all of forty years ago - all that has changed is you. What your GP doesn't see as you take your place to begin your wait in his examination room is that this time you are armed with a heavy tome of some kind. And when the GP enters and puts on his stethoscope you tell him firmly that you find the stethoscope not particularly 'user friendly'. It's cold, you say, and it's metal too, and that feeling against your skin is not welcome. He rubs it a few times with the palm of his hand, listening to your comments about all the germs he will thereby pass on to you and then begins to listen.

When he tells you to say 'ah' and attempts to put that emory board or whatever it is on your tongue, you ask him where he got it from. He says from his pocket of course. You demand to know how clean his pocket is, and where the thing was before it landed back in his pocket again.

When he makes a move to look into your right ear you demand he look into your left ear first. When he asks innocently if there is any special reason, you ignore him.

The doctor is obviously flustered, wondering what has come over you, but you have hardly begun. Whipping out your medical book you begin to hysterically page through it to dozens of markers you've left in, and start leveling questions at the poor beleaguered MD. He hardly has the time to even consider one question before you've moved on to another, all the while reminding him that you expect him to make a mental note of all these inquiries and have a full explanation in the mails by tomorrow morning.

You tell your GP you need an operation. You do? he asks, but you are unstoppable. Using a mish-mosh of pseudo medical jargon and ultimate scientific confusion, you run through something that to an outsider without the requisite seven years of schooling might sound impressive but to anyone with will devastate with its profound stupidity. Your GP is so taken back he can't even say goodbye when you officiously dress and walk out his door, nose held high enough to qualify as a Norwegian ski slope.

Inflammatory?

Not quite. And it carries over to computer science. What we're experiencing in IT today is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat - just as ridiculous here as it was in the Eastern Bloc. Factory workers suddenly shouldering the responsibility of managing coast to coast continental economies. But of course the intelligentia must be there to help out. The working class lacks all prerequisites for doing this job on their own.

Take a photograph of the old Soviet Politburo, cut out the images of Lenin, Stalin, whoever is there, and paste in William H. Gates III, Steve Ballmer, Brad Silverberg, Joachim Kempin and the rest - and you have the reality for the new millennium.

Software engineers rarely, if ever, carry the weight of medical people around on their shoulders every day, but even if things progress at a lightning speed in medicine, they progress so much faster in computer science, where today's technology can be out the window by tomorrow. Equating apples and oranges can be folly, but if you were to roughly multiply responsibility with progress you'd come up with an equation where the software engineer was not that far behind.

But today computer science has become an Everyman's Language. It's a free for all, literally. Everyone has an opinion, everyone butts in. There are freebie junkies roaming the net who really believe they're entitled to free software if only because they are prepared to come with their own moronic opinion about it. They've been cultivated by Microsoft to do so.

There are other junkies who spend entire days connected, digging deep deep deep into software sites, looking for broken links, reporting them and then demanding free products for doing so. Not outrightly asking, mind you, but demanding.

There are people out there - millions of them - who have such a confused picture of what's going on, and they assume without question that they are in the driver's seat, that their word is law, that the end user is king. This has become such a revered issue that objecting to it is almost tantamount to uttering 'the N word'. End users may not be criticized. Their supposed role in the scheme of things cannot be called into question. Say a word and you're dirt - worse than a racist. Out of touch, out of time.

This is the doing of the Redmond spin doctors, and Redmond is reaping the profits because of it. If Bill Gates were in the medical publishing business there would be a heavy tome entitled 'Surgery for Dummies' on every night stand and MDs would be burning out and running for the woods at a lightning rate - and Bill Gates would be just as rich.

Trivializing a true profession that should be revered is something every conscientious software engineer should be incensed at. True, the stories proliferate, but they are not the cause of uncompromised laughter - they cause pain as well. Most engineers will simply wave their hands helplessly in the air and show their resignation and try to move on to more pleasant things. Where the solution lies no one can know today. All anyone can do is ascertain that the situation is bad, and the ridiculous chaos that epitomizes it has to go.

How can anyone, straight off the street, with a high school minor in The Dukes Of Hazzard, really be so pretentious as to comment on matters directly concerning LALR(1) compiler construction? But they can - and do.

Maybe they should all take a walk down that hallowed corridor.

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