Dummies – An Incoherent Rant

I was in PC World. Bad call? Well, maybe. I was looking for some books on Unix systems administration and I was getting paid for it, so maybe that redeems me. Anyway, I was in PC World and I was looking at the books…

About half the books fell into the “for Dummies” or “Idiots Guide To” series.


Now, I am not sneering at those less technically knowledgeable than myself. Introductory books are a perfectly fine thing. I learnt FORTRAN from “The FORTRAN Coloring Book”, but do these books really need to insult their intended audience on the front cover? OK, maybe the use of the words “dummies” and “idiots” is tongue in cheek, you know, fashionable self-irony, or something. More worryingly, there were titles (roughly) like:

  • Administering Windows NT Server for Dummies.
  • The Idiots Guide to Administering Enterprise Networks.
  • NIS+ Domain Administration for Blithering Incompetents (in 10 minutes).

OK, I made that last one up, but you see why I felt a bit wobbly? Are there really dummies administering NT servers? Are there really idiots administering enterprise networks? What networks? What enterprises? Companies who I buy things from? Companies who supply my electricity? My gas? My water? My ISP? My employer? My bank? Help! Help!

[13013] Paranoia overload. Core dumped.
root@brain:~ > cd /etc/rc2.d
root@brain:/etc/rc2.d > ./S98criticalfacilties start

OK, I feel better now.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Dummies. You see, Computing is not like other industries where one is expected to actually know what one is doing. It is perfectly acceptable to bluff your way through even the most mission critical projects. Failure is accepted as normal. Software crashes, nobody complains. Your email gets lost, nobody complains. Nothing has ever been delivered on time and on budget. The Government award IT contracts to companies with near 100% failure rates, nobody cares.

There was an old joke:

“If structural engineers built bridges like software engineers built software they would all be in prison for manslaughter.”

You don’t hear that joke much anymore. Its not that it isn’t still true. Its just that, now that computers underpin the whole world’s economy, it isn’t funny anymore.

Originally written: 10/06/2000

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July 10, 2000. Books, IT, Migrated, Silly.

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