Exploding Pintos and Physics Gone Wrong
If you have some gray hairs like me, you remember a time when cars barely made 30,000 miles before requiring extensive and expensive repairs and maintenance. Not only that, many cars came off the production line with all kinds of major defects, some more explosive than others. In college, a friend of mine painted a bull-eye on the back of his Pinto, equipped with white-letter Firestone 500 tires. Google it and you’ll get the sarcasm. And then there was the rust… No wonder car manufacturers did major styling upgrades almost every year; if we bought newer cars faster we’d have less of a chance dealing with all the defects in last year’s model.
Nowadays, air bags and ignition switches notwithstanding, most cars routinely last for 100,000 miles or more with little to no rust-through and only minor maintenance costs. “Ford” no longer stands for “Found on road – dead.” or “Fix or repair daily.” and that’s true for most car brands. Cars today hold their value well too, so even when involved in an accident it often pays to fix the car rather than to junk it.
Alas, it seems technology these days bears more resemblance to exploding Ford Pintos of the late ’70s than the smoothly reliable cars of today.
For example, outside our office building the local bank has a big display which alternates between showing the temperature in Fahrenheit and Centigrade. Today it alternated between 32 degrees Fahrenheit, then flashed to -1 degrees Celsius, then back to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and so forth. Wait.. what? I thought in school I learned that 32 degrees Fahrenheit was 0 degrees Celsius, right? I was waiting for the traffic light to change anyway so I could cross the street, so I just watched the display for a minute, giving at least one of the temperatures erroneously, continuously. I hope the temperature sensor logic inside the Nest devices work better than this…
Even Apple Is Starting To Look More Like a 1977 Pinto These Days
Yesterday my iPhone 6 Plus stopped getting emails and text messages. I found that out when my wife called me “asking” why I was ignoring her urgent text messages. (For those unmarried readers, let me explain that when your wife “asks” you a question like that, well, it’s really not a question at all…) A hard power cycle of the phone and I was back in business but this is about the third time this has happened. Ctrl-Alt-Del has come to iOS8 it seems. Mavericks isn’t much better. It has all kinds of annoying screen rendering glitches; my mouse icon frequently goes invisible and when networking goes wonky a power cycle seems to be the only thing that fixes it.
Even industrial-grade equipment seems stuck in the ’70s for quality. We replaced our home boiler three years ago; the smart fuel-saving control module relies on an outside temperature sensor for managing how hot the boiler gets (you need hotter water in winter and cooler water for heating in Spring and Fall). I noticed the pumps seemed to be running more often and one especially chilly night this Fall I went downstairs to find the boiler temperature was fairly low. The boiler thought the outside air temperature was 72 degrees Fahrenheit when in fact it was more like 42 degrees outside. Once the outside temperature sensor was replaced, all was good.
So here we are where technology is becoming even more ubiquitous and where we are coming to depend on technology even more, and yet I get the feeling sometimes that my iPhone and other often critical devices are simply not up to the job. It’s one thing to have the temperature setting in my Internet-connected refrigerator be off by a degree or two (accuracy vs. precision), but it’s quite another if the temperature sensors controlling the HVAC in a Cloud data center are as equally flimsy as the allegedly industrial-grade one controlling my boiler.
And don’t get me started on things like wirelessly programmable heart pacemakers, programmable portable drug infusion devices, etc. which if off by even a little bit can cause real harm.
Software Developers Trade Reliability For Features Few of Us Use
Microsoft Exchange 5.5 was awesome. If you deployed it correctly, on good quality server hardware, it ran forever. No vinyl roof, no chrome trim, just a great basic robust email server. Exchange 2013 is very, very good and has a remarkable, rich feature set, but it took suffering through several intermediate versions of Exchange to get to where we are today.
Apple and others seem to be throwing bucketloads of new capabilities at us, seemingly sacrificing reliability often just to meet Holiday shopping/production deadlines.
And now we are told at places like CES that all sorts of devices should be connected together into the Internet of Things when reliability is frequently suspect and when security is too often a low priority?
I’ll wait for Service Pack 1 thank you very much. I want the technology to mature, like Exchange 2013 and our 100,000-mile cars before I jump on that bandwagon.
If you need help achieving reliable computing in a less-than-reliable world, call us and we can show you some options. It’s not all Pintos and Firestone 500s out there! (207) 772-5678.
L. Mark Stone
General Manager, Managed and Private/Hybrid Cloud Services
A Division of OTT Communications
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