Standards_Humbug

A business value fantasy
- by Jim "the dickens" Isaak

(Or cut to chase: how can this affect my bottom line by a few $ Billion?)

Scrooge entered the lobby of the Marley Arms Hotel, though a door held by a bellman in medieval costume. Scrooge hated these "castle" style hotels, but this was the hotel closest to his customer visit the next day. If Scrooge understood one thing, it was that customers were the folks that paid the bills.

His disgust heightened when he saw the sign "Today's Meetings", with a list of standards committee's taking up every conference room from "The COBOL Dungeon", to the "Internet Fitness Club"; strange names for conference rooms. "Standards, Humbug," Scrooge muttered, and not for the last time.

He got his room key, and started back across the lobby, to head up a flight of stairs that would take him to the "Tower Elevator", in response to his request for a room as far from "this standards fa-fural as possible". Room 2Q8A, strange room numbering system. As he walked back, he started tabulating the litany of flaws in the standards process, as in the background little groups of standards nerds argued the number of angels that either "should" or "shall" dance on the head of a pin. Scrooge was not sure which; but he also overheard magical incantations, and strange acronyms as he started his mental list. "POSIX", "OSI", "X11", "IPv6", "NCITS", "ALGOL", "Ethernet", "PICS", the murmurs went on.

    No one uses standards - that's the first item for my list thought Scrooge. He reached the stairs and discovered to his frustration that each riser was a different height, forcing him to concentrate on each step, least he fall.

    They offer market no differentiation, how can I sell a standard? Scrooge stubbed his toe as it banged into a step a bit higher than he expected.

    Standards inhibit innovation, I know we can do better than the compromises of some committee. What is it they say about a camel, a horse designed by committee?

    Standards take forever, for Gods sake they are still working on FORTRAN.

    The industry is moving too fast; how can anyone possibly have time to develop a standard, by the time they are done, that whole area will be history. Scrooge discovered, with frustration that the next set of steps were only a few inches high, but 3 feet wide.

    This stuff they want to standardize is immature, we aren't really sure the bugs are out yet and already the standards vultures are at the door.

    My customers certainly don't care, when was the last time they actually required a standard? Suddenly, Scrooge dropped six inches as he discovered the next step went down, not up. Damn, who designed this stairway anyway?

    The applications software folks certainly don't seem to need them, they do just fine writing for Intel based PCs with Microsoft operating systems. Of course I wish I could get those applications on my Mac. Damn!, at least when everything was IBM I knew I could get someone to fix it; expensive devils of course.

    These meetings take up too much of my folks time; it's just a travel club where they come to nice locations, eat good meals, drink and party --- all on my expense account!

    These committees never say "no", they don't know when to stop. They are like the Energizer Bunny, they just keep going, and going, and going. The next step was more like a short wall, traversed by sitting on it, and then standing up.

    At least with consortia we can focus on the work at hand, pay some folks to get it done quickly; to promote it, and be done! Of course I notice that the staff folks we hire seem to have an in-ordinate concern for what the next project will be; and boy can they get far afield. Gads, the AlmostOpen group is still alive, and I think we are still members, speaking of expensive devils; of course they are now the SortOfOpen group, since they changed focus. Got to give it to those guys though, they can market the hell out of things; that was obvious when the BigEquipment Corp. folks begged to join, observing that "they couldn't sell in Europe, just because they weren't members", I suppose it's not a surprise we are still members, but I'll bet the customers tomorrow won't know or care.

    The government used to care; but OSI made em look like damn fools. And of course they've abandoned mil-spec to use "commercial off the shelf stuff", so they could share the volume benefits with the rest of us using WinTel stuff. I hope they get "general protection fault" when they are running my tax return though, Scrooge smirked.

    The Europeans, now there is a pushy group. They want everything to work together, standard this, standard that; they can't even agree on a common currency, much less a common information infrastructure. It's the French that will kill it, they want everything in French; and of course the Brits, they "know" they have already won, so they just won't bother to play. No doubt it's some of the arrogance of empires; "Gates" now that's a British name if I ever heard one. At this point, the stairs narrowed to a very thin bridge, with no railings, leaving Scrooge suspended, with some hesitation, over a gaping chasm.

    Of course the Europeans don't hesitate to mandate the standards they want, fortunately they are on a de-regulation kick, having finally realized that competitiveness and full employment may be mutually exclusive. At least the U.S. doesn't have the FCC and folks like that second-guessing technology at every turn and telling us what we can, and can't do. Industry can handle these things, the free market, that's what its all about, and if we need to sit down and solve a problem, well, that's what these tom-fool standards groups are all about.

    What difference does it make? That's the real question, how does it affect my bottom line? Where's the market projection that shows I will get more revenue with standards. Hell, I know I can't get more profit, standards make a commodity market, and there won't be any margin.

Scrooge reached the top of the stairs, and looked back down, then, with a bit of a fright, looked again. All of the people in the room below, just for a minute there, seemed to have his face. Gad, if Standards meetings are purgatory, hell is going to a meeting where everyone is just like me!, he thought. The elevator "dinged" behind him, and he turned to move on to it. "Standards, humbug," he spit out as he made a dash for the closing doors.

Scrooge realized that this hotel was a bit different, but the descending portico on the elevator door was not what he expected. A quick duck was all that saved him from a nasty bash of the head, and the damn thing just kept coming down, spikes and all. Where were the safety switches, the electric eyes, hell, where were the elevator inspectors?

The array of buttons on the walls of the elevator was amazing. Amazing until Scrooge realized that he would need to push one that might take him closer to room 2Q8A. Damn, was that on floor 2, 2A, Q, A, there were a whole selection of buttons. He hadn't needed a bell man to carry his overnight bag, but no doubt one was required to find the room -- that was blackmail, he'd find it in spite of them! He boldly pushed the "Q" button. An array of red lights, located for some strange reason on the ceiling of the box, stated "General Protection Fault", and the elevator dropped in freefall towards God knows where.

"No standards," said the character next to him on this desperate ride, "we try to please our guests, but I suppose that replacing the ANSI Standard cable and brake system with dental floss may be going a bit far."

Scrooge forced his stomach back down his throat, and looked at the odd man who had not been there when he got into the elevator. The disconcerting descent, which had gone on well past aborted execution in the basement without even a hint of slowing down, was bad enough. But this musty old fellow next to him, dusty, smelly, and with all sorts of chains (gold neck chain, phi-beta-kappa key chain, watch chain, wine steward chain about the neck, and even chain letters in his pocket), had just appeared! "Who the hell are you!" exclaimed Scrooge.

"Good guess," joked the other occupant. "Actually, I'm your host, Martin Marley, and owner of this unique hotel , hmm, ... chain." Marley closed with an odd smile.

"Where in hell is my room? When I get there I'm going to email my secretary and make sure I never get booked into any of your hotels again! Uneven stairs, dropping elevator doors, dropping elevators, room numbers that don't make sense and buttons that are equally bad.This isn't a hotel, it is a fun house, and it isn't even fun! I'm calling the public safety commission and reporting this death trap."

"Hm, lets see if I can help you with each of these items," responded Marley, as the elevator came to an unsettling, but not disastrous stop. "Here is your room, and I can't promise it's in hell, but after all, hell is what you make it. Your email may be a bit of a problem. First, you may expect a standard telephone jack in your room, but, we share your abhorrence for standards, and have decided to innovate. Here you will find the latest in quarter rate Boolean transmission systems, we call it quarter rate because only one quarter of the bits get though. I happen to have a connecting wire and card in PmCmia form for a laptop. Of course, your laptop doesn't have PmCmia, it has PCMCIA; that's old and arcane now, and since PmCmia is immature, we have not tried to formalize it. The nice thing is that your 6 month old laptop is already out of date, so you can buy one from our gift shop. You will find the prices as competitive as you might suspect in a market where there is no competition, and nothing is a commodity. Well, there is competition, you can go to the Haggard House down the street, they use MPCIA cards with 16th note scatter technology, their laptops are about the same price as ours, none run your current applications anyway. We find we can employ many more applications software folks writing unique software for unique systems, in computer languages that you never heard of like Bliss, bcpl, and Algol5. We have differentiation, that is not a problem. Ah, but I digress from your immediate concerns."

"Now for your call to the public safety commission," continued Marley, "He is a guest in the room next door. Of course, as you asked, there are no regulatory bodies, and the free market reigns, so you may find him a most pleasant dinner companion, but we don't even find it worth bribing him, he has no power. There are no standards, no regulations, and not even a slight prohibition against our raising our room rates at midnight, which we do every midnight. It seems to irritate guests a bit to find the morning is more expensive than the rate of the night before, but, as we say, when we've got them in our halls, their hearts and minds will follow."

"To help with your meetings tomorrow, we will send up three business assistants before morning. The first will brief you on Standards Past, the second on Current Standards, and the last on Standards of the Future."

"The hell you will!" exclaimed Scrooge; "I'm getting out of this place now." Only to find he was talking to empty air, in a room that smelled much like a typical Holiday Inn, with a touch of Ramada; modestly appointed. He made for the door, only to find it lead to a small bathroom. Attached to the ceiling, in a most disturbing way, was an upside down toilet, with Delft-blue letters surrounding the seat "American Non-Standard". There was no other door, no phone, a strange 13 pin "D" connector on the wall with a label above it "1/4 rate Boolean, it is truly the only way to go".

Scrooge sat down on the bed, angered, frustrated, mad as hell to be exact; gathering about him his wits, dismissing thoughts about the fire safety code, and unwillingly drifted into a confused sleep.Standards Past