Rendered Fat Content


Abraham Mignon: Still life with rotting fruit and nuts on a stone ledge (c. 1670)
"It demands patience precisely when frustration might be peaking."

Software engineers hold that a program, left alone and never touched, will eventually exhibit some evidence of failure. They refer to this common phenomenon as BitRot, an exceedingly handy term and concept, since it describes the otherwise inexplicable. It serves as a placeholder for understanding and also as a reminder that an explanation does not always prove necessary to fix an error. BitRot serves as acceptance that a problem exists without ascribing specific blame for its emergence. Sometimes, things just fall apart without a discernible cause. Blame entropy if you must, but accept the difficulty and fix it if you can.

HomeMaking encounters plenty of BitRot in its normal routine.
Much of HomeMaking involves pre-emptive maintenance so as to forestall BitRot. One might periodically wash a home's exterior siding to stave off BitRot paint. Periodically hosing down a sidewalk can prevent weeds from overtaking it and producing cracks. Nobody ever sees the BitRot avoided, and, indeed, avoidance strategies tend to become ritualistic, since they focus upon preventing an effect by co-opting a cause that hasn't happened yet. I occasionally restart my laptop in the probably misguided belief that this might realign everything and thereby prevent some serious failure. My belief might even be based upon some shred of fact, though it's likely a thin one.

BitRot tends to occur in under-appreciated critical components: the proverbial horseshoe nail, the sudden absence of which decides who loses a critical battle; a system I was unaware my entire existence relied upon until it failed. Nobody ever packs the wrench necessary to repair these sorts of system failures. Experience tends to be useless for resolving them. Even one's ability to diagnose that a problem exists might be limited by the absolute rarity of its occurrence. Who knows? Nobody knew, or, almost nobody. Seeking advice usually attracts the odd special topic expert and a troll of two, either of which might offer the least helpful suggestions, those which focus upon what should have been done in the past to avoid the reported failure. Post Hoc Wisdom helps nobody but its provider, and it only tends to inflate their already dangerously inflated ego. It might have been subtly intended to prove the seeker stupid. Anyone seeking BitRot advice should prepare for incoming insults seemingly intended to complicate their injury and the problem.

Resolution will require learning something, and something in a field the homemaker only rarely finds very interesting. When my blog software breaks, I experience a little entertainment when I'm describing the problem, written exclusively in allegory and inevitably describing in ways the help desk jockey or user forum reader will find offensive. I do not know the formal terms and so cannot make essential distinctions between, for instance, files and pages. Some troll will pounce on my inadvertent and inevitable error to chew a bite out of my ego, or try to. Even helpful advice can seem damned threatening. I'm wounded and bleeding out while my possible benefactors critique my grammar. BitRot makes for strange and unwanted bedfellows. Heaven help anyone reporting an interesting or unusual instance, for it might spark a passionate discussion filled with apparent irrelevance, largely intended to demonstrate how much smarter someone is.

Nothing falls apart simply because I'm stupid. I might well be stupid and have certainly shown how stupid I can be on a vast number of prior occasions, but my blog software did not fail due to my stupidity, and if it did, my acceptance of this fact will very likely not make it come back to operating normally. BitRot is first a mystery. It likely has no perpetrator. Its root cause is always entropy, a natural process which cannot be successfully avoided forever. It demands patience precisely when frustration might be peaking. It benefits from a light heart, even when the heart seems to be sinking. One day, the help desk might respond and shed some light on a possible resolution. Until then, my blog's dead in the water.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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