Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

I have this little speech that I like to give to business types anytime they need convincing that building (expensive) software to do what (cheap) humans are currently doing is a good idea. They’re usually older, the business types, and wary of computers either out of unfamiliarity or because they were burned on previous projects. They know that you can call a temp agency and get people trucked in to do various jobs, and that seems both simpler and more comfortable than buying all that hardware and paying mole-people to make it work. Given an infinite number of monkeys with Excel, you can produce the client reporting.

(And for those of you who live in 2007 where the idea of having human beings actually touching data is out of the misty past, I bring news from the rest of the world: It’s cold out here, cold as death. The vast majority of business in this country is done in the exact same way your forward-thinking uncle did his taxes in 1986. “That machine? Oh, that machine has the client billing Access database. Don’t touch it.”)

The speech goes like this:

“The primary benefit of computers in most business situations is two-fold: mechanization and standardization. The computer can automatically produce regular results. They not only scale, producing more, but don’t fumble-finger, producing more consistently.

“Here’s an example: Eli Whitney.

“He invented the cotton gin, a tool for mechanization. Human labor — literally, slaves — used to have to pick seeds from out of the cotton by hand, a painfully slow process. The cotton gin was an automatic apparatus to do the same thing — it could be run faster, longer and more reliably than human labor, producing exactly the same result. Mechanization is about speed and scalability.

“He also promoted the idea of interchangeable musket parts, essentially pushing for standardization. Rather than requiring a craftsmen to build an entire musket from scratch — with potential variations in quality — standardized parts let anybody pull pieces out of a bag and snap them together into a gun that was just as good as the next. Standardization is about consistency and repeatability.

“Together, mechanization and standardization set the stage for the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history!

“And we can do the same for the company!”

I didn’t say it was a good speech.

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic and Buzz Clock), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is greg@eod.com. I'd love to hear from you!

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