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Winging it at Twitter

I’ve been hanging out at Twitter occasionally since Elon took over. It hasn’t been pretty. I’m not just referring to platform instability. That was more noticeable on Friday but seems to have stabilized, at least temporarily. (I’ll touch on what I think is going on with that in a sec)

It’s not reinstating Trump that’s so awful, though I wouldn’t have done it, for obvious reasons. You can always block his account but you can’t always block the retweets of his feces flinging that show up in your timeline by people you follow. The endless retweets aren’t happening yet, maybe because people are leaving or because people got smart. The more obnoxious tweets are from Elon himself now.

No, the worst thing about being on Twitter right now is finding out how many guys think what Elon has done to Twitter is genius and we are watching it unfold. These guys (and they are always men) think they are witnessing some new Musk Magic that is going to turn Twitter into some unforeseen new invention and part of how Musk is going go do that is by removing the deadweight that is comprised of the vast majority of employees that work at Twitter. They really are obnoxious about it. Twitter is the new Tesla and as soon as Elon “ranks and yanks”all the slackers, that $44 Billion is going to look like the best investment ever.

Let me clear the smoke and mirrors and show you what complete nonsense this is.

Let’s imagine you have just bought a house that has been pretty well maintained. The owner spent some money on the upkeep but didn’t do any major renovations. It’s a bit dated, needs some new landscaping and could use a bigger kitchen. You’ve gotten a big mortgage because it’s in a great location.

Now, imagine that your neighbors are outside watching you when you rent some piece of heavy machinery and start tearing up the foundation. Your neighbors don’t know what you’re planning to build but there are always guys who are fascinated by heavy machinery. But within the first 15 minutes, you hit some crucial bit of plumbing inside the house and you spring a leak. But you don’t call a plumber because you don’t like paying plumbers. Plumbers look like lazy dudes with Dunlap disease and they show their coin slots every time they get under the sink and that’s not classy. It’s working class. And they cost too damn much. Why do working class dudes think they have any business charging $300 just to come out and look at your pipes? It’s outrageous.

Meanwhile, the basement is filling with water and the damage to the pipes is pretty significant. The damage to the foundation is getting worse by the minute. Only the guys who like heavy machinery are still outside waiting for the hat trick.

This is essentially what Elon did last week. Elon fired his plumbers.

I get paid for dabbling in the IT world (never mind where. I don’t speak for my employer). But what I’ve witnessed applies to any enterprise level IT system. There are many parts to the system that most people aren’t aware of. The average person who isn’t an IT geek may think that programmers, who we call developers these days, are the most important part of the operation. They’re probably thinking of the developers who work on the user experience part of the application. That is, the people who write code for the website or the features that make the app functional.

But an IT system is more like an iceberg. What you see on the surface is supported by a big thing underneath consisting of servers, databases and something called DevOps. DevOps is the part of the system that keeps track of changes to the rest of the system. There are also testers that check every change to the code to make sure there aren’t any serious defects that would cause the system to break or expose all the customers’ personal information. And there are security groups that make sure no one gets in without permission. There are other groups that check the system for vulnerabilities. That is, flaws in the 3rd party operating systems that would leave your application open to malware or defects.

If you are on one of the teams that keeps that part of the iceberg stable, your job might not seem very glamorous or useful. But the institutional knowledge and technical expertise needed to keep the system going is critical. Unfortunately, you don’t usually know how valuable these people are until there is a failure. There could be an earthquake that causes a fire in your server facility that automatically triggers a failover event. That’s a set of instructions and changes that transfers the operations of the iceberg to another set of servers. It’s then when you’ll know whether those engineers have set up your system correctly, maintained it and can follow a sequence of events to stabilize the system so that the user is barely aware of the problem.

What Elon did last week is he came into Twitter with the attitude that the employees who worked there weren’t really working. Or they weren’t productive. Or they were working remotely and that meant that management couldn’t make sure they were doing their jobs. Plus, they’re getting paid too damn much. And sure, there are always a few people who think they can get away with gaming all day and wait until the very last minute to do their assignments. I have s pretty good sense of who these people are. They’re in every department. They may be getting away with it because they are not mature in their work habits yet, or they have some physical or emotional issue or maybe they really are gaming all day and going fishing.

But my sense is they’re not as many as Elon and his bro community of investors think. What is really happening is most people who are working remotely have adjusted to a new work style where they get other life stuff done because they don’t have to commute and stress over moving their kids around during the day, etc. They’re still doing work. But they may schedule themselves a little differently because they are available when it’s most convenient to them. They can take a couple of hours off during the day to watch their kid’s track meet because they know that they don’t have to drive to the office later. Their offices are in spare bedrooms and they can pop in and knock off some code outside of core hours. Or they may be in one of those departments where there’s a lot of plugging the leaks and nothing exciting happens on a day to day basis. It only looks unnecessary because the system is stable.

But when you come in with the attitude that the peasants aren’t pulling their weight because you’ve borrowed too much money and you’ve got to make cuts and those coders are not sleeping in their offices at the corporate headquarters, it may actually be just an excuse to get rid of as much drag on the bottom line as possible. So, remote slacking as an excuse has a certain appeal to the investors and geewizz crowd that love to think they work harder than the rank and file because somehow people with gobs of money are just more virtuous people full of good ideas and the people in the iceberg are just pairs of hands who do what the king is ideating. Seriously. Twitter is full of these Musketeers who think Elon has all the ideas and these entities that require calories and shelter and do things in exchange for money are not very bright and are too many.

It’s the method of most narcissistic people. You must first destroy your targets’ reputations before you can get what you want from them.

Surely they aren’t worth the salaries Twitter pays them.

In the wake of Elon’s first round of layoffs, there were sometimes only 3 engineers left out of a group of 85. Each one of those laid off engineers knew what the system’s quirks were and knew who to contact when things started to go pear shaped. But Elon needed to make these people into overpaid villains so he got rid of them to the point where there were only 2 or 3 people in some of these groups spending all the hours of the day trying to keep the lights on with duct tape and no sleep. So when Elon gave them an ultimatum late last week to agree to come in and start living at their benches (very few IT people actually have dedicated offices or cubicles at the office buildings they used to commute to) or take a three month severance package, many took the package.

They took it because it became clear to them that Elon was going to expect the remaining staff to do the heavy lifting for hundreds of missing colleagues and to learn what some of those laid off colleagues did in record time and without mistakes. Not only that but the implication was that NOW they were going to do real work. They were just a bunch of lazy bums before but if they stayed at Twitter and signed their lives away to Elon, he would turn Twitter into a lean, mean, tweeting machine.

And what was his plan for making Twitter transcend its already vital role as a public forum? Elon never said. But there were hints and allegations that adult content would become a feature and that World Cup games would be offered live, as if there aren’t many other ways to get all the football you can eat. Oh, and free speech, baby! Everyone can say anything as long as Elon approved. So, all those pesky journalists and subject matter experts and first hand accounts and foreign news sources could just f{}% off as far as he was concerned if they said anything “negative”.

What Elon didn’t expect is that Twitter the system would start to unravel without all the maintenance people who took care of the servers and databases and DevOps. Those drags on the bottom line turned out to be useful after all. They weren’t overpaid automatons. They were actually smart, experienced people who could either find work elsewhere or could get a job with Kara Swisher’s friends building nextgen Twitter. In other words, they don’t need Elon nearly as much as he needs them.

So last Friday, he was already begging some of them to come back. He realized he needed the plumbers to fix the leak he created with the backhoe he had never used before.

I have no actual knowledge of what happened at that Friday meeting but Twitter seems to have stabilized a bit over the weekend. So I’m assuming that he got just enough plumbers and electricians to come back to work (maybe even remotely) to save his bacon.

And if I were one of those engineers, I would have only come back as a consultant at double my original salary in order to handle Elon’s self inflicted emergency.

I don’t know who gave Elon the money to buy Twitter. Maybe they hated Twitter and were sick of useful information escaping their control. Could be. Or maybe it was the financier/investment class bro boys who think Elon’s some kind of genius who is going to build a killer app, as if it wasn’t already a killer app.

Or maybe it was just someone who couldn’t stand Elon and knew how his mind worked and lent him the money for him to get in over his head.

Whoever it was probably didn’t expect that the plumbers would end up making more money than they started with. And that makes me wonder how many other enterprises they’re f{#%ing up.

It feels very 2008.

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22 Responses

  1. Testing code is SOOO last century, those people are not necessary at all anymore. </snark>

  2. If this had happened one year ago, I would suspect Vladimir E. Coyote, Super Genius of bankrolling Elon E. Coyote, Super Genius in his new endeavor, but now Putin needs all his money to try to maintain his war of choice against a country which did neither him nor Russia any wrong.

  3. Elon, alas, did not even realize his folly as soon as his apparent role model did. 🤣

  4. One of the many horrible things the Bolsheviks did to the world was their inadvertent creation of Crazy Aunt Ayn Rand.
    Techno-bro culture is very much Randroid culture.

    • I still think Rand was a deep-cover Soviet agent. What better way to discredit capitalism!

  5. I cheerfully admit that I do not understand computer technology at all, whether because I am a luddite, or because I just am not technologically proficient. My intuitive thought is that some of the people who intend to run the world, including the Saudis, the Russian oligarchs, the American fascists, encouraged Musk, who by nature is one of them, to buy Twitter, and Musk’s ego could not resist, he believes that he is a genius.

    The oligarchs and fascists want Musk to control the social platform to dispense their ideology. Musk told everyone to vote for Republicans. He attacks “the Left” at every turn. He concocts a “poll” that says to let Trump back on. Even if Twitter collapses, the oligarchs and fascists figure that they win, because they have eliminated what was in some ways a populist platform, and thus they can further control information, which is their ultimate goal. Musk plays the role of a stupid and arrogant dupe in this. The minute he announced that the was considering buying Twitter, the Far Right world celebrated. They knew what they were getting. They have control of most of the news media, and this was another step toward creating an iron curtain.

    • I wrote a post in April titled “Elon Musk is Imposing His World on Everybody,” which I think sums him up rather well, and predicted what is happening now, not that it was all that difficult to do.

      • I went back to read your April 26th post. You may not be knowledgeable about computers but you understand Musk very well!

        I’m glad I was never on Twitter. That means I don’t have to go through Twitter withdrawal now. Apparently some people are finding it quite painful.

      • He’s not imposing it on me. I’ve been on the Internet since before it was called the “Internet” (back in the CSnet/NSFnet days). I understand computer technology really, really well. I don’t Twit. I don’t Faceborg. I don’t Instagram, TikTok, or any of that other crap. I don’t care what happens to Twitter. It’s wholly irrelevant to me.

        • Yeah, well, I don’t faceborg, find instagram really good for architecture and design professionals and think TikTok has some juicy nuggets of good material buried in a sea of unnecessary video pollution.
          But Twitter was different. It enhanced the news if you got the hang of diversifying who you followed and could find where all of those sources converged.
          That’s why I think it had to be neutralized. Truth has a strong liberal, and democratic, bias.
          Making it useless and ineffective is what WE dream should happen to Fox News. The difference is that Fox is still around with a unified drumbeat of undiluted undemocratic propaganda, while the most useful resources on Twitter are being atomized until they can find a new home.
          Which they will.
          They have the technology and the more clever people.

          As for Elon, I think starlink is going to be an even greater threat. It should have been a NASA and FCC priority with minimal private ownership. Having a network of satellites covering the planet and able to deliver content and information of national security importance is invaluable to the US. Putting all that power in the hands of Elon Musk was a Trumpian level fiasco.

          • You see, I don’t buy this BS about Twitter being “the new public square”. There’s too much wrong with it:

            1) It’s privately owned. Having a single, privately owned entity control a large part (well, 20% at any rate) of public discourse is just a really bad idea.We’re beginning to see just how bad an idea it is.

            2) It’s supported by advertising. If you don’t think that influences the way it works you’re just wrong.

            3) It gathers way too much data on its users and sells it. “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product,” as the man said.

            4) The format limitations encourage snarky comments (the more outrageous and off the wall the better) rather than thoughtful engagement. I like the occasional bit of snark as much as the next guy, but if your deepest and most profound thoughts can be expressed in 280 characters or less you should probably do yourself and the rest of the world a favor and just STFU. Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to tweet and remove all doubt. This is particularly true if you’re, say, the President of the United Stated.

            Before the mass privatization of the net we had a better solution, USENET. Since it was completely distributed and not owned by anybody, the compute and storage resources necessary to run it were provided by those sites that elected to join it. Since every site that joined it provided additional resources, it scaled without limit. The software that operated it was open source and maintained by volunteers (still is, actually). Although it was text only (fixing it to use HTML is not really a major technical issue, although it would require amending RFC 1036 which defines the nntp protocol), there were effectively no format limitations (although excessive verbosity was actively discouraged). No censorship, although moderated newsgroups could be created (I was a moderator of a couple of these).

            We’d all be better off if Twitter was consumed by the fires of Hell and something more akin to USENET arose in its place. USENET still exists, but it has become a backwater because nobody’s been able to cash in on it. Apparently nobody has made any money off of Twitter, either.

  6. “LEEEEEEEAVE EEEEEELON ALOOOOOOONE!”
    — Techno-Douchebro Chorus 😈😁

    • What was it John Oliver said about Elon Musk being Willy Wonka if he’d benefited from apartheid?

      • I don’t know, but if Veruca Salt had been a boy, he’d have grown up to be Donald Trump.

  7. Off topic: ‘Tis the season. 🙃

  8. 😈😈😈😈😈😈😈😈

  9. I’d welcome the complete collapse of Twitter – especially if it coincided with a resurrected USENET.

  10. The funniest example of Elon’s technical cluelessness is his locking out of employees, lest they commit “sabotage”. Really? They still have access to the code. They still have access to the servers. If they were going to do something, they’d have done it back when the takeover was first proposed and made it all but undetectable.

    Why wreck some furniture when you can do millions of damage with some code?

  11. Were people always this fascinated with billionaires? It is just so bizarre to me. I guess I don’t understand all the fuss. Elon seems like a petulant child to me. Recent history has shown me not to underestimate petulant children. What happens when he endorses Trump in 2024? I’m pretty sure it’s heading that way just as it was pretty obvious he would reinstate Trumps account … Will it have an affect?

    • While I am not old enough to have personally witnessed the Gilded Age, my impression is that there was a great deal of interest in and adulation of the very wealthy then. I don’t understand it, myself. Dr. Dr. Mrs. Propertius likes to refer to the current state of soi disant “civilization ” as “End Stage Capitalism”. Maybe she’s right (she usually is).

      There’s something about the nexus of tech and finance that seems to favor spoiled man-children.

  12. I speak here of the whole Internet, not only the Turd Bird App:

    I wonder if our society–or ANY society–can survive a technology that allows every hateful authoritarian on the planet to communicate instantaneously with every other hateful authoritarian on the planet.

    If the Internet had existed when the Founders wrote the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment would either not exist, or would be very different.

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