Blue Tulips

By Mike / On / In Technology

I had the honor of being invited back to the stage for another Weekly Wednesday Lunchtime Lecture, and took the opportunity to introduce a bit of lexicon, submitted here for your approval.

Blue tulips are bugs or missing features that are immediately obvious to anyone using a product, but which remain unresolved due to hidden complexity.

Although perfectly applicable to software, the original blue tulips are quite literal. If you find yourself shopping for tulip bulbs, you will notice that they have every color and pattern imaginable—except for blue.

Were you to ever-so-casually mention that a tulip producer might consider making a blue one, you would hear through gritted teeth that it’s not that they never thought of making a blue tulip.

It’s just that generations of the world’s top geneticists have consistently failed to produce one. Orange carrots? So successful people forgot they were ever not orange. Blue tulips? Forget about it.

A blue tulip is a lot like a white whale, except in Moby Dick, Ahab wasn’t further burdened by everyone he met asking if hadn’t considered maybe going back for revenge?

It’s not a limit of effort or of interest, but of nature itself, which is bad enough to exist, but to come up again and again, so cavalierly every time, is a kind of repeated insult, emblematic of how hard making things really is.