Wednesday, 20 August 2014

I hate computers

What if your car behaved like your computer?

You buy a new car. You had a test drive and it drove well: that's why you bought it. And for the first few weeks it is fine, just as the salesman said it would be. Then, things begin to change. Suddenly the car slows down, you push on the accelerator, but the car still slows down. Then all the dashboard displays dim out. Suddenly, miraculously, everything is OK again and you are on your way.

 No worries, just a glitch perhaps. Then it happens again and again. You take the car back to the garage, but the mechanics can't find anything wrong and snidely infer that there is something wrong with your driving.
You drive home sadly, and the slowing down starts again. You drive straight back to the garage where the mechanics greet you with a scowl - yet still they can find nothing wrong, even on a test drive.

You learn to live with the car's strange behaviour. What else can you do? Then something else develops. The car still behaves erratically, but also its top speed decreases as time goes by so that you are crawling along the road, overtaken by bicycles and joggers. The mechanics examine the car and accuse you of overloading it: too many passengers, too much shopping.

Finally, you buy a new car, what else can you do? Then the same cycle begins all over again.
Some years ago Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry stating, "If General Motors had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon."

GM responded with a long list of outcomes if Microsoft made cars, including:
1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.
2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.
3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue.

So much of this is still true today - and the worrying thing is that a computer now controls most of the functions of the car.

Actually, I do not hate computers. I have grown up with them. Indeed I programmed one that controlled a telephone exchange many years ago (it rarely crashed once we had removed most of the bugs). A computer is just a machine, it does what it is told and rarely goes wrong. Unfortunately, the software that tells it what to do does go wrong and it is that which, over time, causes the enraging slowness that plagues most PC's. Problems like these bring out the witch doctors of course, but the spells they cast are temporary and the problems recurrent. In the end you buy a new machine with new software and begin the whole cycle again.

As you might guess, I am nearing that point just now - probably for the fifth or sixth time.