Big Companies Suck

2019-10-25

This past week I’ve been struggling, physically and morally, with the products of a few big tech companies.

Apple

This past week I upgraded my 2014 Mac Mini to Catalina. It took a whole day of updating and rebooting. At one point it stopped with the message “Estimating time remaining” … for hours. I rebooted it manually at that point, but that probably just meant it had to start over from the beginning.

Some of the other fallout:

UUUUUUGH! (source)

Compare this to my Linux Mint laptop, which simply updates piecemeal, as I go. The software is a few versions behind the official stable releases; Debian apparently has an even slower “approval” process than Mac Ports. If I wanted to install the latest from source, – e.g. Ruby interpreters through rbenv – and putting it wherever I wanted, I wouldn’t have to find the right application to let me or OK some damn fool popups. The big downside of Linux letting you take responsibility for your own security is having to take responsibility for your own security.

Mac OS X used to occupy a nice middle ground between permitting anything and forbidding everything. That’s changing. According to one source I found, Apple wants to “deprecate” script interpreters like Python and Ruby because they’re not secure enough. One of the major draws of Mac OS X (or, now, macosx, I guess) was that it was Unix under the hood. Now it seems they want to banish those of us who like to poke around under the hood. In the future, it seems, they’ll only allow Apple-approved Apps do Apple-approved operations on a locked-down Apple-monitored operating system. (Didn’t Microsoft try that with Windows 7? Didn’t it fail miserably?) Meanwhile Microsoft is pivoting toward Linux, allegedly.

So yeah, I’m climbing out of the walled garden. I’ll move most of my files onto a NAS, and I’m looking at cheap alternatives for a Subversion host and for future programming projects I might actually complete. I’ll probably keep the Mac Mini around for iTunes Apple TV, Music, and Podcasts, although I’m looking for non-Apple solutions for the latter two. (Which may mean re-buying some of my music as CDs. Stupid convenient iTunes.)

Facebook and Amazon and Google, Oh My!

Recently I deleted my Facebook account. It was a long time coming: I barely used the thing, pro-Trump relatives made me not want to use the thing, and news about the company and its practices have become increasintly dire. The whole Cambridge Analytica fiasco may have harmed the futures of two countries, but its earlier role in Myanmar’s persecution of Rohingya Muslims had and continues to have the highest human cost. Over a year ago I announced I was going to delete it “real soon now” in favor of this blog. AOC’s grilling of Zukerberg just gave me the final push.

For a while now, I’ve avoided Amazon. (In favor of Barnes & Noble – which isn’t much better – or shopping local.) Several news outlets have documented the literally back-breaking labor its warehouse employees must perform, for minimal wages and negligible health benefits. And yet … I give ComiXology.com boatloads of my cash, even though it’s an Amazon company. “At least nobody’s running around a warehouse,” I tell myself. But Bezos doesn’t need the cash; he’ll just spend it on rockets.

And now I learned Google hired a former DHS staffer. This after all its other anti-competitive and not Not Evil practices. Just recently I moved most of my online accounts from my ACM email address to my Google address, on the grounds that I might quit the ACM soon. ($100 a year adds up.) Now should I move all those to yet another address? Which one? Yahoo? Apple? The e-mail address of this site … hosted in China?

Was the Internet a mistake?

Companies – and governments – with the wealth and reach to make our lives easier also make questionable or just plain immoral decisions. Some of them impact us directly, like Apple’s move to lock down its devices. (That’s what computers are now … devices, like a phone or watch.) Others only affect people far away, but in ways that make us profoundly uneasy. We can’t boycott them all, unfortunately. Not without living in the middle of nowhere, running on solar power2 if any, either wholly disconnected or dependent on some shady Internet provider. I’m too old and out of shape to cut my own wood and harvest my own food, I’ll tell you that.

So we make choices. But the choices aren’t easy. Greta Thunburg has the time and support to sail to New York. The rest of us must make do with gas guzzling cars, and simply try to use them less. Likewise, in the Internet age, we wired people must decide which soulless evil billionaire we can cut off in highly inconvenient but largely symbolic gesture. Facebook was easy, Apple is harder but not unexpected, and one I’ve been contemplating since my MacBook Pro died three years ago. Amazon is harder still and a work in progress. Google may be a bridge too far, at least for now. One day, though.


  1. Ironically I don’t write Mac or iOS applications at all. I use it mainly – you guessed it – for the command-line compiler and other Unix tools. ↩︎

  2. And do you know what those panels are made of? ↩︎