Big Machines

Twenty years ago, at the dawning of the commercialization of the Internet, someone described the POTS (the Plain Ol’ Telephone System) as the biggest machine ever made. It spanned the globe. It reached into virtually every home and business in the developed world. And it was all one — it was all connected into a single huge thing.

This was before widespread use of mobile phones. Once those little fellas were added on top of the POTS, both a physical layer and a non-physical/wave-connected layer combined into an even bigger machine — the NSPOTS (the Not-So-Plain-Ol’ Telephone System).

And mixed in with all of that came the tubes that were the Internet, coming together to form an even more marvelous machine — the NSPOTSWIT! (the Not-So-Plain-Ol’ Telephone System with the Internet on Top!).

So today you have people using mobile phones to do billions of dollars’ worth of secure commercial transactions via the NSPOTSWIT!, including, it’s important to note, transactions that are hooked in, quite directly, to all the money in all the banks and in all the financial institutions in the world.

Having worked at one of those institutions, I can vouch for the fact that there is a layer built into the connection between the institution and the NSPOTSWIT! that is very, very serious, where the very, very best engineers do their very, very best work, to make sure that no one breaks in and takes all the money (or, in some ways, the even worse scenario of scrambling all the data indicating who owns all the money . . . aaarrrrghhhh!).

So, today, we have the plain ol’ telephone system, brought into the Twenty-Teens as the not-so-plain-ol’ telephone system with the Internet on top!, handling some mission critical (to put it mildly and to say the least) functions of our world.

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Speaking of which, have you seen how well our vote-taking and vote-tallying system is performing?

Lines in Florida for voting

Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic

Oops. That picture is from 2008. How ’bout this one?

Long lines in 2004 in Columbus, OH

Ooooops again. That one’s from 2004. How ’bout this one?


Yup: that’s today.

Time will tell how much time it will take the unfortunate few to vote today. Yesterday, though, we had reports of some people in FLA having to wait in line for eight hours to exercise the franchise.

The whole voting process works just fine in Ess Eff CA, as it does in most places, which is not surprising because this is a task at which we have the ability to be perfect or near-perfect, as in Three-9s and the like. But then some places — specific places — do a bigtime fail on this stuff. BigBigTime, ladies and gentlemen, BigBigTime.

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This is the holiest of holies, this voting stuff, yet in some places it’s being dragged through the mud.

We drag it through the mud.

We’ve had great calculating machines in our lives for — depending on how you count — at least 30 years. And the iTubes have been bulked up and fortified for at least ten. This shouldn’t be all that difficult compared to, say, putting the NSPOTSWIT! together in the first place. After all, we’re good at building Big Machines, right? Some might even go all patriotic on this point, and say that, when it comes to building big, excellent machines, like the POTS and all that came after it, We’re Number 1! So let’s build it, shall we?

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As we get older and wiser, we hopefully experience feelings of embarrassment less and less, because we get better at knowing what will embarrass us, and we get better at not doing those things that will embarrass us. It takes both time and awareness . . .

Today the whole world is watching. If yesterday is any indication of what today will be like, today will be a day of embarrassment for all of us.

Blushing, we look downward and, ten-year-old like, we avert all others’ glances.

So shame on anyone who acted on even the slightest hint of a desire to hinder anyone from voting — shame, plus some criminal fines plus some loss of freedom plus some being-made-an-example-of.

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Let’s hope that the embarrassment we feel today about our rickety ol’ vote-taking and vote-tallying machinery is overshadowed by an otherwise wonderful day.

And then let’s improve the machine, shall we? Let’s build it.

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I don’t often mention people in these pieces, or make dedications. But today I do.

This piece is for my lovely spouse, love of my life, who is a far gentler, far kinder person than I am, and much less prone to anger, but who happens to get very, very angry about this stuff. This one’s for you, babe; let’s hope that four years from now we’re looking at lots of good news on the long-voting-line front and you won’t have to get angry about it!

774 words (about an eight minute read sans links)


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