The Elusive Red-Gold Herring

Opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of MRD.

Have you ever heard the expression "Red Herring"? If not, it's described as an informal fallacy, meaning an argument's stated premises fails to adequately support its proposed conclusion. Or more colloquially, you're barking up the wrong tree mate.

It's often used by technologists when investigating bugs, problems, system outages, etc. Due to the complexity of technology, which only technologists can appreciate, one is often swimming in a sea of potential red herrings. The more experienced one is with the technology investigated... well theoretically, the fewer red herrings with which one should need to contend.

Let me now introduce the Red-Gold Herring; and yes, I just made this up myself. None the less, bear with me a little and hopefully there will be something to take away for you.

I build my own PCs, manually install Linux, configure, and custom compile everything in in both kernel and user space. Recently when installing particular hardware for the first time, it seemed not to work and I suspected the issue had to do with the system security technology (i.e. PaX, seccomp, SELinux) I use. Well, that wasn't the issue, just a red herring. Actually I had the hardware working and just didn't initially recognize the fact due to some misleading results.

Fast forward a couple months, and there I was again on another PC build, installing similar, but not exactly the same, hardware. Compilation of the driver for which, was definitely not working this time. I couldn't help but recall what I had seen and thought before, and wouldn't you know it - the issue was that darn red herring from before (i.e. the security technology). Except it had now become red-gold and immediately led me to understanding and resolution of the current problem much more quickly than I would have otherwise.

The moral of the story is not to discard those red herrings completely because they may be red-gold someday soon enough, and should always contribute to one's experience anyway. Sure they're not pure gold, having a bit of copper, but gold and glitter enough in a restatement of the logical premises to the current problem and providing a solution to it.