Friday, August 3, 2007

I'm a luddite

When it comes to putting computational devices in certain things, I'm really a bit of a luddite. This is surprising to a lot of folks that know me and its always an interesting discussion when it comes up. But it goes further than just jamming computers into every day things - its about excessive electronics and engineering that increase complexity and in the process decrease uptime.

In planes that I fly, I'm all for GPS and other gizmos in the panel in front of me. What drives me nuts are the crappy user interfaces that are inherent in these devices. They are a real pain to use, not intuitive and quite honestly I believe that they keep the pilot's eyes glued to the panel instead of looking up and out from the aircraft. On the tarmac, I run across planes all the time that are "down" because of a failure in these expensive and complex flight displays that either keep the plane from operating or drop the plane to VFR flight only. When I see these sexy new planes come off the assembly line without standard analog instruments as a backup to the pretty displays in the cockpits I wonder what the pilot is going to do when (not if, but WHEN) the panel fails. The worst product I saw was a few years back that used Microsoft's Windows as its operating system ... you wouldn't catch me DEAD in a plane with that in the panel. It brings a whole new meaning to the 'blue screen of DEATH'. For all you avionics companies out there - go hire a decent interface design company. Better yet, hire the one that Apple uses.

In my world, having a single point of failure is a bad thing. (kinda like 'crossing the streams' in Ghostbusters.... it would be bad) Plane avionics need to be redundant and not cripple the vehicle in the event of a failure. I applaud Burt Rutan and the folks at Scaled in their cockpit design for SpaceShipOne. It was simple and reliable. They increased their safety by decreasing the complexity in the aircraft. There's a good design philosophy and lesson there.

For my sailboat, I've got a plan to essentially rip out all the problem causing issues (read : electronics) in the boat (starting with the BMW marine diesel) and in the process make the boat more reliable and get more sailing time out of it. The very fact that my SAILING time has been reduced because of an ENGINE problem is simply not acceptable for a sailboat. It makes me laugh when I see guys in their fishing boats with all these gadgets for catching fish. Can they catch fish without all that crap? (plus, its just a fish dude! How much technology do you need to catch a fish??)

In the house I just moved into, the realtor kept going on and on about the cool appliances that the seller had installed in the kitchen. It was the "best money could buy" and it was "really cool" and "right up my alley" since I'm in the tech industry, blah blah blah. Let me tell you, this KitchenAid microwave might have cost a small fortune, but its a total load of crap. It has a jog dial as its primary control. Sure that works for an iPod, but for a microwave?!! And I really don't get the "bookmark" function that it has. For popular things that I warm up, do I really need to bookmark the time I want to enter? I've tested it and it takes as many clicks and jogs of the wheel to access a bookmark as it does just to manually enter in the time to cook.(!) I'd like to find the engineers that made that device and shoot 'em. Honestly, I can't even do it justice describing it in the blog. Its THAT annoying. (perhaps I'll shoot some video of it in operation and post it later) I love to cook, and now I come up with any excuse imaginable to avoid using that appliance I detest it so.

If anyone wants a "super cool" microwave cheap, email me. ;-)

1 comment:

Neil Mix said...

David, I don't think this means you're a luddite. I think it means that you're able to see the true potential of technology, along with the miserable ways in which companies fail to capitalize on that potential. ;) If anything, it's the engineers who devalue UI elegance who are luddites -- they can't see a world beyond the one they live in!