Systematic Turtles, All the Way Down

I work in information technology (IT), which is just a way of saying that if it might have a computer in it, or in someway involved with it, the people I work with expect me to fix it. As such, I am no stranger to systems within systems. I live and die by systematic diagnosis. For example, for the last two days I have been trying to figure out why two of the systems I use to manage all the other systems at work were performing so slowly. (Okay, by slowly I mean almost unusable.) These two systems handle trouble tickets (how user report problems to me) and the software that lets me take remote control of everyone’s desktop PC. The fix ended up being simple. I swapped out the database engine (MySQL for MariaDB), that is within a container (Docker for those in the know), on a virtualized server (Ubuntu), running in a Hyper-V environment. Four systems deep, a simple fix, but two days of trying to figure out what the problem even was. In the end, I was just tuning parts of systems off and measuring the performance of the overall system to narrow it down I can fully understand why we cannot get accurate weather forecasts; Weather systems are beyond my level of comprehension (and all humans, I think), and are so interconnected it is amazing.

So what does any of that have to do with the class? Systems thinking. The required reading was Thinking in Systems by Meadows. I work in a world where in trouble-shooting A, B definitely effects the outcome of A. Meadows talks about Stocks and Flows, and while I have never pictured that way, it makes sense to me. I just worry about drive-space and bandwidth.

For a second topic of discussion, I want to expand on the idea of regenerative use of resources, specifically water. Here in Southern California, as someone who pays a water bill, I keenly feel the pain of a water shortage. But I do not appreciate it purely from that perspective. I spent a combat tour in Iraq, for the first part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This was in the very beginning, before the green zones, and during the period of “Declared Hostilities”. The war had just begun, and every military campaign lived or dies by its logistics. We needed water to survive. Combat operations in a desert is thirsty work, and water is heavy. For a period of several weeks, we had so little drinkable water, we went without bathing. It got so bad, I could tell which foot belonged to which sock, since they molded themselves to my feet. When we finally got showers, it was a relief, right up until I was clean, and could smell again, and realized how rank everyone else was. (Ask me sometime about my “Second Worst Job in the Marine Corps” some time.) Back here in the US, running water is so common, we treat it as a given, when in fact it is nothing short of a modern marvel. Because of this, we treat it as a use once and discard item. When you wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash your car, the water becomes WASTE water. And we always expect there to be more. The video we watched in class showing the expanded water cycle was no surprise to me, but it does make you think: when does it end? Sure, we can make more water clean, but at a huge cost of energy, when adds more pollution, which makes it cost more to clear, etc. We need to rethink how we consume water, and how we recapture water. The way we design typical homes leaves them no way to efficiently recapture water for reuse. You could even say its a systematic problem…

Closing thoughts: while no closer to an answer of how an agrarian society conducts a space program, it is clear to me that massive, low-level changes need to happen for there to even be a hope for sustainable culture. I hope I can see it in my lifetime, but I am not confident that the majority of people are willing to commit to changes that make life less easy. I hope advances in technologies like 3D printing, nano materials, and meta materials make sustainability at least a cheaper goal.

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One thought on “Systematic Turtles, All the Way Down

  1. I am curious about your worst second job in the marine corps ! I think I am guilty of always expecting there to be more water. The water cycle is an endless cycle that we can not even predict when it will end. Instead we think of alternative ways to supply more and more water to our growing population. I thought you post was great. I liked how you tied water into your own experience and I could not imagine what you went through. But thank you for sharing your experience !

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