The physics of IT

IT dynamics explained

Science is how we try to explain the universe and what the guys who do science (usually called "scientists" but you can call them anything you like because most of them are pretty nerdy) really want is a TOE. No, not those things that stop your feet from fraying; what they want is a Theory of Everything, a theory that allows them to start from first principles and deduce (if I might quote Douglas Adams) the existence of rice pudding and income tax.

Now, as I understand it scientists worldwide are struggling with their TOEs. String theory has been one of the big favourites amongst physicists with a taste for the bizarre, but contrary to popular opinion it has nothing to do with explaining why string can't be pushed.

As a leading scientist myself I would like to contribute to the noble goal of furthering science by illuminating an important and neglected aspect of the universe: IT Physics.

Now IT Physics is a deep, complex subject and today's lecture is, of course, purely introductory (although you can buy the entire lecture series for only three easy payments of $US19.95 and, if you call in the next four hours, we'll throw in a set of steak knives).

The best place to begin is Gibbs' Three Laws of IT Dynamics. The first of these is the Law of IT Politics, which can be summed up as follows: Every IT project being developed tends to remain in development unless an external force is applied to it. While that force could be a nuclear blast, bankruptcy or mass insanity it is, in fact, usually politics.

Going hand in hand with the Law of Politics is Gibbs' Law of Abandonment, which is based on what we scientists call a "fact" (that means something we have no intention of discussing because we have better things to do). In this case the fact is that it is impossible to actually complete any kind of IT project.

Here's the theory: Let's say your project is scheduled to run 180 days. By the time you are halfway through the project you have an equal amount of time left: 90 more days. When you are halfway through that (you math wizards will have worked this out already) you have 45 more days to go. Halfway through that there's still 22.5 days to go and ... you get the picture.

From this it follows that you will always have half the remaining time left and therefore the project can never be finished which means, ipso facto, that all IT projects are actually abandoned, otherwise they would create black holes that would consume the earth.

Of course the Law of IT Relativity states that the time allocated to the project is dependent on the viewer's frame of reference, so if you are in IT the project has as much time as you please while viewers on the outside think it will be finished by March 5th. Physics can be cruel.

You can see from the Law of Abandonment and the Law of IT Politics how politics is, in fact, one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Politics in IT stops projects from endless progression and thereby saves you from being sucked into project black holes.

The second law of IT Dynamics is called The Second Law (for heaven's sake, I'm a serious scientist so I don't have time for finding stupid names for laws). Simply stated it says that an applied political force on an IT project is equal to the difference in seniority of the executives involved. If the CEO is pounding on the CIO's head with a hockey stick then the CEO wins and is allowed to violate the Law of Relativity. The same thing doesn't work for line managers squaring up with the CIO.

The third and final law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This phenomenon is well understood by IT physicists: Cut the budget and the project ends, increase the budget and the project takes longer.

Next week we'll explain the weird physics of Windows and how to build a liner accelerator out of old 486s.

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Mark Gibbs

Network World

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