screwing the pooch

Since there has to be some sort of title here, I started off thinking of throwing up a title of Mozilla screws the pooch. It’s not just about Mozilla.

The programs in question don’t need introduction, of course. You might be reading this page loaded into Firefox right now. If so, you probably already know all about the strange saga of both Firefox and Thunderbird. I have not been keeping track of the details, but I started noticing something quite a while ago. It’s probably been at least a couple of years now, that the puzzling saga of malfunction has been unfolding.

One odd aspect of the course of events with the Mozilla software has been the way the version numbering changed. That might seem trivial, but it’s very strange. Instead of whole-number version incrementing as major design changes have come along, with number extensions for assorted tweaks and fixes to problems (e.g., v1.0, then v1.1, etc.), it has turned into a series of whole number jumps, so that over a couple of years, both Firefox and Thunderbird are now up to comically high version numbers, zinging along even when you can barely find anything that reveals that changes were made.

What’s much more important, though, is that each of these once great and wonderful programs have turned, steadily, into massively bloated software that devours CPU time and system memory, and constantly misbehaves and just turns into a ridiculous and disruptive constant episode of freezing and twitching spasms.

At the rate this is going, I figure that in another year, both programs will be up to around version 100, and nothing will work at all.

I write this with the understanding that this can’t be much of a revelation to quite a few people, who must be very aware of it from dealing with the very same thing, and wondering what the hell happened to the Mozilla group to make such a royal mess of this. The Mozilla malfunction is just one manifestation of a kind of problem that’s becoming more and more common.

Anybody in the United States who has not been avoiding the news completely is very aware of another gigantic episode of technical malfunction, that, of course, being the shiny new website set up for the health insurance exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act, AKA “Obamacare”.

It’s a side note, but worth mentioning as being part of the general confusion about everything, that what people are calling “Obamacare”, complete with nonsensical yapping about being “Obama’s socialist takeover of healthcare”, is actually a recycling of the product of the “conservative think tank” Heritage Foundation, and some Republican party politicians.

Aside from that, the new “exchange” website is turning out to be a massive dysfunctional clusterfuck. Among all the news reports, which include much more political rambling idiocy than actual information, we hear that 55 different contractors were involved in this project, one main player being a Canadian company, an interesting item for a project for the US government. One TV news report showed a video clip of a parade of what looked like 20 or 30 people heading into the White House in suits and carrying loads of cases and folders, with the narrative saying that this was for a meeting that was supposed to be aboiut fixing this. This seems to suggest that solving the problem is viewed by people thinking that the problems of malfunction are due to needing many more people involved as managers and consultants. Add in a comment from the president about a “tech surge” to solve the problem rounds out the absurdity.

That whole circus is really something, and if you want, you can even spend hours of your life you’ll never get back by turning on a television receiving C-Span, and watch congressional hearings featuring endless pointless droning between House representatives and assorted business upper management characters until you begin to feel yourself losing the will to live.

Moving on from there, there happens to be another bonus item from my personal experience, just today, that slides right into the theme here. I had to get on the telephone, to the telephone company (hi, AT&T!), after getting this month’s phone bill, and finding that I was being charged more money than was supposed to be there, because a change I had made over a month ago had, in fact, not been changed, according to this. So I had to go through the same farce again, including the struggle to even get a live human on the line talking with me. Both calls, a month apart, featured the extra bonus aggravation, that being that I was having a hell of a time understanding what was being said, all through both calls, by the person charged with the task of helping at the other end. Combined, the two calls consumed approximated 40 minutes total of my time, to make one simple change (and, also, remove a charge that was never supposed to be charged, because I changed things, or so I thought, a month ago).

Readers could finish perusing all of that and ask, well, what’s the overall point here? Is this about technical problems? Is it about more general problems of complex systems? Is it about broad matters of human confusion, or incompetence and neglect, or both? I suggest that all of these things are a problem, a very big problem, with an extra layer of all of these things combining and interacting.







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