The Work That Keeps This World
April 16, 2016 5:38 PM   Subscribe

"The most unappreciated and undervalued forms of technological labour are also the most ordinary: those who repair and maintain technologies that already exist, that were ‘innovated’ long ago....We can think of labour that goes into maintenance and repair as the work of the maintainers, those individuals whose work keeps ordinary existence going rather than introducing novel things." Innovation is overrated: "Hail the Maintainers," an essay by Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell.
posted by MonkeyToes (38 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
It's the tech version of "emotional labor" (and the only thing remotely related to emotional labor with more men than women).
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:27 PM on April 16, 2016 [11 favorites]

I work for a scale company, as in the kind of scales that weigh things, and as in the kind that are used in industry moreso than the one in your bathroom or grocery store. You'd be surprised how extensive the industry is, because scales are such reliable revealers of hidden truth.

It's been known since forever that scales and weights have to be calibrated, and it's in the US Constitution that regulating this is a function of the government. It has to be because there is no easier way to turn a higher profit than to make a lying scale. So we have an elaborate system of licensing and specifications which have to be observed to keep the wheels of commerce turning.

But in other areas, almost as important, it's not so much. There are now regulations about major appliances, particularly about their water and electricity usage, but those generally apply only at the point of purchase. Manufacturers are generally off the hook after 30 days should something go very wrong. And who ensures that things like the humidity sensors in a dryer or the water level sensor in a washing machine is working right after 5, 10, 20 years?

The scale industry has historically been very conservative. The Weigh-Tronix WI-110 weight indicator, designed and introduced in 1981, was produced into the late 1990's until Texas Instruments discontinued the microprocessor family it was based on. This isn't an unusual run for industrial machines. Toward the end of its life the WI-110 was horribly overpriced and underpowered, but the people running them could be sure of easy service and compatibile replacement part availability. When it was discontinued there was a wave of chaos as interfaces had to be refigured. In industry this is often much more important than innovation and being cutting-edge. But even manufacturers more tuned into industrial life cycles like Allen-Bradley are losing that focus and discontinuing products that seem a bit old and unsexy, even when they are in wide use.

I, like everyone else I know in industry, have critical programs I have to be able to use to do my job which will not run on 64-bit computers, which means they basically will not run on any new computer, at all. For the moment we all keep old machines online, or use emulation in virtual machines when that is workable. But the peripherals fail and the API's rot to work with new hardware, and so that's not a permanent solution. In the end we hope the shit in the field dies before our tools do.

When "the shit in the field" is your life's work over a couple of decades, though, that's a pretty depressing place to be.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:56 PM on April 16, 2016 [78 favorites]

The essay seems kind of bullshitty to me. Asserting that innovation is overrated needs better support, imo. I'm involved in an industry that routinely uses machinery over 50 years old. Keeping such devices working demands a good deal of skill and pays accordingly. Yet I don't think anyone in industry would write off innovation so cavalierly as in the essay. Why? Because innovation has leapfrogged so much of this older technology. and quite a few people have seen businesses get their lunch eaten by competitors with the hunger and sense to take advantage of innovation. It's precious to see these two guys poo-poo innovation, in the cause of raising the working man. Especially when the working man is no fool, and many have seen jobs and industries dry up because the competition had the good sense to innovate.

And the notion that "maintainers" are under appreciated varies depending on what exactly one categorizes as a "maintainer". I can think of several "maintainer" occupations that are apparently so unappreciated, they pay really quite well.

And yet, education systems in the US routinely play down the advantages of trades that fall into the "maintainer" category. Not only education systems, but persons who successfully navigated the system. When some high profile public figures dissed the value of philosophy as an intellectual pursuit, plenty of mefites valiantly defended the discipline, and despite it all, I still couldn't see a convincing argument about the actual value, though it was presented as being self evident. Yet many of these same people bemoan the lack of opportunity their financed academic pursuits offer.

Vinsel and Russell advocate for "maintainers" on their behalf, while putting innovation in its place. Where I'm sitting, innovation offers more opportunities for maintainers. And quite a few attractive opportunities I may add. IME, maintainers need and seek little defense. Though I guess it's sweet of Vinsel and Russell to offer their support.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:12 PM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

I figure my work on maintaining ancient (but still relevant and useful) FORTRAN and C++ programs would be a huge black mark on my resume if I ever wanted to enter software development. I mostly read/hear other people talk about FORTRAN in the context of something on punch cards that ran on a mainframe when their parents were in college.
posted by indubitable at 8:14 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

About a decade or so ago, I was taking photos of plants and things near an old, almost abandoned railroad line, and I noticed that the pieces of rail have a thick braided copper wire welded to the ends, and looped to connect the rails electrically... that took me on a journey of discovery about just how freaking much maintenance has to happen just for a stretch of railroad to remain in service. Did you know that the ballast (the rocks under the ties) has to be cleaned periodically? The ties have to get replaced when they rot, the rails have to be ground down (to remove possible surface cracks and work hardening) then get x-rayed for cracks, the bonding wires have to be replaced when they fail, etc....
Infrastructure is vastly under-rated in our society, which is how shit like the Flint water crisis happens. Congress will give (ok, redistribute) billions to build new stuff, but never a penny for maintenance, which is just plain wrong.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:19 PM on April 16, 2016 [29 favorites]

Infrastructure is vastly under-rated in our society, which is how shit like the Flint water crisis happens

well yeah that and the mendacity of certain politicians
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:54 PM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

There's one world: every profession that you can learn about in major media, learn about in college, and read about at the public library. Then there's the vast, vast world of jobs that don't get any press or have academic programs studying them. Hyper-specialized jobs designing, building, and maintaining everything in your entire life. This article sounds like someone just discovering that the second world exists.

But I don't think the maintainers are really under-valued -- if you really understand a specialized technical field very well, and it's in demand, you'll have a great-paying job for your entire career. These jobs just aren't part of the zeitgeist.
posted by miyabo at 9:28 PM on April 16, 2016 [13 favorites]

Elevator, escalator, sliding grocery store door, road (potholes), road (repaving), traffic light, sewer, water, electric...

These are all maintainers I have seen working in past recent memory. They keep our lives flowing.
posted by hippybear at 10:01 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Everyone has already said what I came in to say.
posted by infini at 10:58 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I asked a question recently about maintaining outdated technology -- in my case a marquee for a movie theater. I ended up managing to find a good version of the software I needed and buying a decent XP refurb, just delaying the inevitable. But the answers are a kind, thoughtful mix of people in our community saying "try to get your bosses to move to something modern; if you can't do that, here are some options and Godspeed to you." Lots of people saying, essentially, here's something that's worth a shot, which is the approximate zone of expertise I really like to be in when doing technology work.
posted by penduluum at 12:14 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

The problem with innovationism: every new product is basically marketed as bringing about a revolution. Although they're simply just old products with some new design. So there's this constant feeling of novelty in everything we consume. I love this one, for example: Revolutionize your gut with fermentation! Oh, how I'd love to revolutionize my gut! Though it might get exhausting when there's a revolution every morning.
posted by sapagan at 12:56 AM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm a massive fan of the Restart Project.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:08 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

One thing that I was hoping the article talked about more, but it missed, although some of you have talked about it more here, is the inherent conflict between our obsession with innovation and the work of the maintainers. For nearly 50 years, my grandfather ran a radio, and later, also television repair shop in a small town in the middle of Georgia. He could do that because, although new radios and televisions were being introduced, the technology was changing slowly and remained easily repairable. People invested in a radio or television, and then they kept the same one for decades, with his help. Modernly, innovation seems to mean that we dispose of a broken tv or stereo every 7 years or so, and nothing in them is repairable. I've tried--when our last tv died, we contacted Samsung, who referred us to an authorized repair person, who confirmed that the LCD panel was dead and replacing that was the same as buying a new tv

Grandpa retired in the early 1980s, and the store was destroyed in a fire shortly after that. His hope had been that my uncle would take over, but the loss in the fire seems just as well now, since that business model is over. Who knows, maybe they would have gone into computer repair, which is to some extent still a possible industry, even in a small town. But now, with more laptops that are designed to be lightweight, not maintainable, even that may be ending.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:16 AM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

Until just now I had not recognized the barely felt frisson of pleasure of seeing cobblers, and locksmiths, and leather workshops, and the subterranean sense of Santa's little elves and gnomes, all makering away. Jugendstil in Helsinki. The other half is vaguely eastern European Brutalist concrete blocks.

and, of course it would be far too much for me myself to introduce the concept of the the recycle, repair, repurpose, resell, reuse and refurbish - REculture - as an industry worth peeking into wherever in the so called developing world you go.
posted by infini at 5:10 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Spending is better than mending.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:42 AM on April 17, 2016

A stitch in time saves nine.
posted by sneebler at 6:45 AM on April 17, 2016

Spending is better than mending.

Ending is better than mending! O brave new world that has such people in't!
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:23 AM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

You don't know how hard it is to hire for maintainer skills until you try to hire someone to maintain a 120-year-old boiler for an old building, who must also know how to make (or custom-order) his own replacement parts from scratch, because the last guy is 75 and DONE, and the boiler is 120 and not-done but also nobody's made parts for it since 1963. Also the blacksmith who fabricates many of the parts is retiring next year, so you're going to have to find a hobby blacksmith capable of working to spec for industrial applications or order from way out of town. Steamfitters preferred.

I have a friend who's an art-glass glassblower, and he does a nice sideline with a local (gigantic) chemistry lab, which has some experiments they've been running continuously since 1930 using the same test tubes, using this old-but-reliable equipment, which gives them standardized results across all their tests for nearly 100 years, and they can no longer get the test tubes that fit the machine, and it's actually easier for them to hire him to hand-make them test tubes to fit than to change and update the process. Test tubes and corporate awards basically kept him in business during the recession when nobody was buying art glass.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:50 AM on April 17, 2016 [21 favorites]

Good article. A few reflections thereon.

First, it conflates two things which are related, but for the purpose of our discussion, should be untangled : the cultural fetishization of innovation, and the actual role of the maintainer.

As for our cultural lionization of "innovators" and "innovation", that was always obvious flimflam. I work in the industry, and even I never bought into it. That's just a bunch of crap invented to separate VCs from their money and programmers from their hours. It's also a useful talking point for politicians : instead of providing a social safety net or admitting that infinite growth isn't possible in a world with finite resources, they tell us we can "innovate" our way out of the problem. Because who doesn't like innovation?

As for the role of the maintainer, that's a bit more difficult. As a software engineer, I have sometimes unwittingly found my way into maintenance roles, and I always hated them. Who wants to maintain somebody else's crap? It's dispiriting and Sisyphean. It's always more fun to make something new or solve some new problem. As long as I have a choice in the matter, I'll always choose to make something new over maintaining "that old thing". Perhaps one day (maybe soon, given the rampant ageism in my industry), the only jobs I'll be able to get will be maintenance roles, in which case I suppose I'll be happy just to be able to draw a paycheck. But that doesn't mean I'm going to seek that out.

So what's the way out of this? I don't think you'll ever be able to get people whipped up over maintenance roles. Instead, I think we can at least make life a little easier on the maintainers of the future by making our technology more maintainable. For example, when I write code, I put a lot of effort into naming and unit testing. I don't claim to be the world's smartest engineer or write the world's best code, but anyone who ever has to work with my code will have no trouble being able to tell what it does just by looking at it, nor will they have a difficult time discerning if it still works after they do some kind of refactoring. A focus on testing also produces code that actually works, which is also nice from a maintenance perspective.

This is perhaps one of the hardest values to inculcate into younger developers. If they've never had to refactor some old shitpile or deal with code they wrote 5 years ago ("ugh, I can't believe I wrote this crap"), it's hard to impart the value of writing code that someone can come back to and work with later. It requires a heavy dose of humility, admitting that your new cool awesome widget will someday be "that old thing" that nobody wants to touch because they don't understand it and don't particularly care to. Some developers will attempt to "future-proof" their code by attempting to ensure it can deal with every conceivable eventuality ("what if we someday need it to operate an elevator?"); this effort often winds up costing more in the long run, in terms of producing code that is ultimately more complex than it needs to be and requiring more labor in the way of maintenance. See : speculative generality, YAGNI, path-dependence, etc.

Finally, one point that the article does not touch on (although maybe sort of hints at?) is the nature of infrastructure itself. A while back, I remember reading an argument (maybe on the Blue, maybe somewhere else) that technological booms are often predicated upon "tricking" some older, established entity into laying down infrastructure that ultimately doesn't benefit them. See : railroad and canal booms of the 18th century, all the "dark fiber" laid down in the 80s and 90s, etc. You can maaaaaaaybe even make the case that this applies to cloud computing : a race-to-the-bottom sector of the industry where margins are razor thin, but nonetheless provides essential infrastructure for much of the IT world. Do Amazon, Microsoft, et al even make any money off cloud infrastructure?

Again, these arguments only really relate to the software sector; the only industry I have any meaningful knowledge of. No idea if that relates to actual infrastructure (bridges, etc.) although who knows? Perhaps there's a way to produce more-maintainable bridges? Or maybe a political system that admits (with a healthy dose of humility) that our latest bridge, road, or light rail project will someday be thought of as "that old thing", and we need to have the funding and political infrastructure in place to keep these things maintained once they've passed into everyday use.
posted by panama joe at 8:04 AM on April 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Amazon's making so much money off AWS it's disrupting their corporate strategy of not turning a profit. They're looking at $16 billion in revenue in 2017.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:09 AM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Interesting. But I wonder how much of that is because of all the add-on services they offer?

I was under the impression that the actual selling of CPU hours was not an immensely profitable business.

For example, I'm sure that Salesforce makes a ton of money off cloud computing, but they offer a whole top-to-bottom platform that sells itself as an "end-all-be-all" kind of thing.
posted by panama joe at 8:12 AM on April 17, 2016

The more stitches, the less riches.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2016

So I think this article has some good points to make but that it gets caught up in a bunch of unrelated anti-tech industry orthodoxy which has little to no bearing on it's central thesis.

Words like "disruption" and "innovation" get abused a lot. But they have some fundamental meaning that is actually important. You app poo-poo "innovation" but would you rather drive a car from the 1950s or today? Those cars were death traps. Mileage is massively improved. Innovation has a real, meaningful impact in people's lives. The author probably doesn't like economists but they could use a little understanding of the field to reflect on what productivity improvement are and are not. And there is a legitimate argument to be made that you could very well apply modern innovations to the maintenance of infrastructure which would be a very good thing. But that doesn't seem to come together here.

Biotech companies seem to pump out dumb drugs like Viagra but at the same time you can't say the entire industry is junk, what are you going to do, not treat cancer? Yes, incentives are messed up in many industries but that doesn't mean we should dismiss the concept of innovation.

Now mostly discredited, Christensen’s work exerted tremendous influence, with its emphasis on ‘disruptive’ technologies that undermined whole industries to make fortunes.

What? Discredited where? Not to my knowledge. Look, the word "disruption" is hugely abused. But that particular book makes a very specific, limited point using the not-very-sexy backhoe industry among other examples. Christensen’s work remains a very solid academic work in the study of technology development but it's a non sequitur to attack this book because other people are sloppy with their language.

Michael Bierut, writing in Design Observer in 2005, lamented the ‘mania for innovation, or at least for endlessly repeating the word “innovation”’

Somehow we've gone from people abusing terminology to innovation being something that's actually bad. These are two different things.

without exposing them to the inconvenience of public transportation or to the vast populations of the poor and homeless who also call Silicon Valley their home.

Look, here's a perfect example for the author to make their point - that underinvestment and lack of maintenance in public infrastructure is bad. But it just ends up being a random classist potshot at Google busses. People don't ride private shuttle busses because the peninsula is a desperate hellhole. Heck, many of the shuttle riders live in The Mission or around the Tenderloin or other neighbourhoods that are markedly worse than the ones the shuttle drives past. And the Caltrain is hardly used by a "vast population of poor people" - it's full of people who work for companies that don't run their own shuttle busses and it's bursting at the seams. Again, the author is just taking potshots and doesn't seem to want to argue for their own thesis.

we can recognise the essential role of basic infrastructures. ‘Infrastructure’ is a most unglamorous term, the type of word that would have vanished from our lexicon long ago if it didn’t point to something of immense social importance.

Yes we can! it is unglamorous, yes. No, I don't think we'd lose word altogether. The author never sees a non sequitur they can pass up.

Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility. Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end?

Come on - yes, there is value in maintenance, but the author is willfully ignorant of the value of innovation here. Productivity gains are good. We no longer have 50% of the US population involved in agriculture. We no longer have legions of people manually adding up phone bills. Factories are no longer deathtrap hellholes, at least in the first world. And developing countries see the conditions in their factories improving just as the West's did a century ago.

So overall I think the author touches on good points but overall the essay is marred by overshooting and bringing in irrelevant trendy taking points that have no relation to the actual core concept at hand.
posted by GuyZero at 8:55 AM on April 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Amazon's making so much money off AWS it's disrupting their corporate strategy of not turning a profit. They're looking at $16 billion in revenue in 2017.

For the record: this is "regular" disruption not Christensen-type disruption.

Anyway, it's in their 10K - there's no need to quote BI or speculate.

AWS (in 2015) was about $8B of $107B overall net revenue which is 7.4% but it represents 40% of their operating income. So yes, it's a lot more profitable than selling stuff, but it's still a relatively small business for them. And yes, it's growing, but there's a lot of competitive price pressure so I expect to might well go to $16B revenue but profitability will likely decrease and net income will not double.
posted by GuyZero at 9:01 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

And - and - while there are lots of places where maintenance is the right thing and as others have pointed out it's often getting harder for no great reason, like a lack of people who know how. But at the same time old functional system are often replaced because new systems are indeed cheaper to run and work better. But how do we know when it's better to replace something versus complex, expensive maintenance? What's the right tradeoff? And how do we incent people to keep the skills to maintain systems? All good questions, sadly not touched on by the essay's author.
posted by GuyZero at 9:06 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Maintainers conference site offers the program, and links to the papers.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:13 AM on April 17, 2016

oh and I forgot this...

Feminist theorists have long argued that obsessions with technological novelty obscures all of the labour, including housework, that women, disproportionately, do to keep life on track. Domestic labour has huge financial ramifications but largely falls outside economic accounting, like Gross Domestic Product.

So the second sentence is certainly true. Now, ascribing that to an obsession with technological novelty is a stretch I think. The bias against counting domestic work has lots of possible roots, but I honestly don't think that's the top one. But it's a true point and I'm sure there are some overlaps with the study of maintenance. But then...

One of her more famous findings was that new housekeeping technologies, which promised to save labour, literally created more work for mother as cleanliness standards rose, leaving women perpetually unable to keep up.

So on first read I didn't realize the authors of this essay where actual university professors. Perhaps they should wander over the the economcis department and have a chat about what happen with a labour surplus after you introduce productivity gains - the labour tend to go somewhere else and you generally don't end up with a lot more leisure time (at least not in the US). And are the authors arguing against cleanliness? Regardless, it again seems like a total non sequitur toward the topic of maintenance.

The conference seems like a lovely small academic conference with papers on a variety of loosely connected topics - the only thing that doesn't fit is really the bulk of this essay which seems to be a cobbled-together mismash of random feminist and anti-capitalist internet-left talking points.
posted by GuyZero at 10:24 AM on April 17, 2016

Great stories on radiolab this week about the people who dig water tunnels hundreds of feet under cities.
posted by spbmp at 2:22 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a massive fan of the Restart Project.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:08 AM on April 17

Argh!!! Why is all the cool stuff like this always based in the UK? I can't be the only person in the US who would like to do things like that.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 2:48 PM on April 17, 2016

One of the things that amazed me the most about Kenya and Cote d'Ivoire was the _incredible_ ingenuity of mechanics working with a fairly limited set of technology to keep an impressive array of vehicles on the streets and functioning. We had the drive shaft of one of our two Hilux disconnect in the middle of West Turkana; we were somehow able to get it three hours through the desert to town (which had no electricity or running water). I can't even describe how the mechanic fixed it, but there was a blowtorch and a bunch of improvised tools, and there was a cadre of 8- to 15-year old boys doing various support tasks in order to learn the skills, and somehow they reattached the drive shaft and it lasted the rest of the summer. There's a whole economy based around skillfully maintaining and improving things.

(the mechanic asked me if I would be interested in marrying him - we spent a lot of time getting various pieces of our trucks fixed, so I hung out at his jua kali garage - and he was just so capable and also cute and I had such a terrible crush that it was really challenging to say no. I always wonder what would have happened if I said yes! But I hope he's doing well and has a group of younger guys to do the hard work)
posted by ChuraChura at 3:48 PM on April 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

Did you know that the ballast (the rocks under the ties) has to be cleaned periodically?

Yep, using various monster machines, ranging from crazy to absolutely insane (previously).
posted by effbot at 2:22 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can't be the only person in the US who would like to do things like that.

I'm pretty sure you don't have to be in the UK to post classist shit like "Thank god I'm not in a factory" on a blog.
posted by effbot at 2:33 AM on April 18, 2016

What I think about when I hear "innovation" in relation to infrastructure is the story of the Canadian railways. For example, Canadian National Railway was privatized in 1995 (I worked there in the 80s as a surveyor for one of those track rehab crews effbot links above), and this was followed by "rationalization" of the workforce and maintenance structures (and some arguably good changes around things like fuel efficiency). But at some level, you have large investment houses buying into a company and saying "look at all the fat we can extract", largely involving trimming maintenance and staff because hell, everything is fine and we don't need to do all that maintenance. Wikipedia's "Controversies" section is all about a series of accidents and poor outcomes that revolve around the lack of basic maintenance and the lack of properly-trained staff. Never mind all the local jobs that were lost along the way. Well, we just have to learn to accept a certain amount of carnage if these businesses are going to remain profitable. /sarc
posted by sneebler at 7:06 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

On railways... Re-coupling: Many railway lines in Britain that were closed in the 1960s are re-opening - here's an interesting case of usage and traffic patterns and technology all changing over time causing a big infrastructure asset (rail lines) to go from valueable to decrepit and back to valueable.

Well, we just have to learn to accept a certain amount of carnage if these businesses are going to remain profitable.

So there are investment firms that do basically profit from destroying things, which sucks, but the fact of the matter is a lot of businesses have their profitability change radically over time and the way they need to be run needs to change as well. Canadian Rail isn't the money maker it once was. You can't just keep managing it the same way. A refusal to change is what enables these slash-and-burn investment companies to exist by letting the company get to the point of completely falling apart before changing anything.
posted by GuyZero at 11:12 AM on April 18, 2016

The Restart Project sounds awesome!

Here in PDX we've got Repair Cafes, monthly events where you can go to get clothing, appliances, bikes, etc. fixed. They haven't got the skillshare aspect going yet, but I think it's under consideration. Repair Cafes are apparently becoming a thing worldwide.

There are also hackerspaces/makerspaces, Bike Collectives, computer repair/reuse organizations... Unfortunately, many of these operate on a non-profit/volunteer-dependent model because, as others have pointed out, maintenance and repair aren't necessarily profitable these days - at least not at prices that are affordable for the majority of the population.

I'm definitely disturbed by the bicycle industry's long-term trend toward ever-newer gadgets (recently, electronic shifting and 10/11-speed drivetrains). I work mostly with people using their bikes for daily transportation, and those who buy "top-of-the-line" bikes often end up with with cutting edge components that are more expensive, more failure-prone, and less repairable than their older counterparts. A few companies are making robust, reliable, repairable bikes, but they charge more because their customers won't be back in three years for a newer model. Getting a foothold in the market with that business model can be challenging.

In that way, I think the authors are spot-on: a lot of "innovations" are created by people who haven't spent much time in maintenance & repair because it isn't as exciting. The innovators design things that seem great when they roll out of the shop, but don't hold up well to years of use.

As for infrastructure... I know grant/government/donor funding in many fields favors new "capital improvements" over maintenance, as well. Donors would rather have their name on a shiny new building than be credited for a seismic refit or several decades of basic maintenance on an existing structure.
posted by sibilatorix at 1:06 PM on April 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

A refusal to change is what enables these slash-and-burn investment companies to exist...

I see what you're saying, but it's not some kind of universal law. There's a self-justifying financial mechanism that says, "oh well, if it's not profitable it can fall by the wayside", otherwise known as the race to the bottom. What's particularly stupid in this case is that Canada's railway infrastructure was supported/paid for by taxpayers, and the maintenance of that infrastructure is what's being sold down the river. My choice would have been to keep the railway as an arm's-length entity (crown corporation), but our governments are happy to buy all kinds of free market baloney in the service of their corporate cronies.
posted by sneebler at 5:45 PM on April 18, 2016

"I, like everyone else I know in industry, have critical programs I have to be able to use to do my job which will not run on 64-bit computers, which means they basically will not run on any new computer, at all."

Not true.

Assuming you're talking Windows, they won't run on a 64-bit version of Windows on 64-bit hardware. They *will* run on 32-bit Windows on 64-bit hardware.

In addition, the increasing use of containers (in a software sense) will make this less of an issue.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:44 AM on April 26, 2016

GallonOfAlan, all 64-bit computers ship with 64-bit Windows, and will not run 32-bit software. You cannot downgrade to 32-bit Windows unless you buy a new license from Microsoft, which nobody does. Virtualization is a possibility which is out of reach of most non-tech savvy people. For practical purposes, for nearly all users, it is impossible to buy a new computer that will run 32-bit-only legacy software.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:44 PM on April 26, 2016

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