Locklin on science

How hackers ruin everything with computers

Posted in Design, Progress by Scott Locklin on January 18, 2011

I make no secret of the fact that I think real technological progress has slowed in many fields, possibly even reversing itself. There are probably a variety of reasons this is so, most of them fairly depressing to contemplate. In the interests of not causing despair, I’ll try to keep focused on one obvious symptom of the disease: computers.

Of course, computers are good in that they give me a job, and they and their networks allow me to broadcast my curmudgeonry through the whole of the civilized world for free. But computers also ruin a lot of things, such as technological development.

For example: cars. I used to work on cars. Cars are cool machines: they work via hydraulics, gears and fire, more or less. Modern cars unquestionably have many advantages over cars made when I was born; they’re safer, faster and cleaner. They’re also impossible to repair, have more stuff which breaks, and generally embody planned obsolescence. Does anyone believe a modern Benz will be able to drive for 1,000,000 miles the way old ones regularly would? I don’t. Is this an improvement? Well, what I’d really like is a simple old style car with an air bag and slightly better fuel injectors. It’s not impossible to do. Will anyone do this? I doubt it. There is more money to be made using the razorblade model and so, people will continue paying for overpriced garbage with … “technology” in it. Meanwhile, people still drive W-123 cars with 3/4 of a million miles on ‘em: made in an era when people still believed in old fashioned engineering, and didn’t put so much faith in computer doodads.

Cellular telephones are another example. When they came out, they worked via analog electronics. Digital was a distinct improvement in reliability. Unfortunately it was also an improvement in capability. Really, all you want your cell phone to do in principle is get phone calls while you’re not at home -which is, in itself, kind of a niche thing -how many people really need to be that available for telephone calls? But, no, engineers need something to do, so they added …. digital features; SMS, 3G, 4G. This is understandable. I used to carry around this giant calculator thing called the HP100LX. Pretty cool thing: it ran Dos-5 (which wasn’t real far behind the state of the art 18 years ago). You could use it to check your email: I often did, because I was too cheap to buy an actual computer. You could even run Lynx on it and get WWW. It even ran emacs (slowly) and allowed me to work on Fortran code while away from my desk.

Now, with fancy pants new telephones, we can do all the stuff I could do with my 20 year old calculator, and we can make phone calls with it without jacking into a phone plug. I loved my little calculator, but I mostly used it as a calendar and calculator. The other stuff was more or less a silly parlour trick. Now I see lots of people buying telephones based, more or less, on these parlour tricks. Amusingly, they don’t work very well as telephones, but people do love them as status symbols and nerd dildos. Can’t stand the things, myself: I think they’ve ruined polite conversation.

I don’t think I need to complain about the use of computer “animation” and “special effects” ruining the cinematic experience. If you never noticed how much this trend sucks, there are plenty of talented commentators on this sad state of affairs.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: I think computers have ruined the design process. I have already pointed out the catastrophic time lags it takes to develop a modern aircraft in the West. Revolutionary jets like the SR-71 or the 747 took months to design. Regular evolutionary developments like the F-35 or 787 seem to take decades. Why do you suppose this is? I think it’s because people are screwing around in CAD and finite element analysis programs far too much, and not, you know, designing stuff. I’ve seen this at work in my days at LBNL. The “correct way” to get parts made for experimental apparatus is to get a CAD engineer to design it in SolidDesigner over the course of several days. Then the CAD goes to a CAM machinist, who will eventually send it back to the CAD engineer pointing out the 11 ways in which making this object is impossible without resorting to EDM. If you’re lucky and bother everyone on a regular basis, you’ll get your part in a few months. Then it won’t fit because the designer didn’t bother to come look at the machinery it’s supposed to bolt to. Why should he? He has the “engineering drawings” for the rest of the thing! Of course, electrical “drawings” on a computer are not solid objects, so the damn thing often won’t fit. The other way to do it is to grab some blue collar Navy dude with a greying moustache, tell him what you want; he comes and looks at everything with a tape measure and have him deliver it to you, freshly machined from aluminum and 304 steel in a couple of days time. Sure, it will be uglier, chunkier and bigger, but it will work, generally the first time. If it doesn’t, he’ll scratch his moustache, go away and make it work the second time ’round by filing something away or drilling a new hole in the thing.

Russian aircraft designers have a saying; на коленки -to work with paper on one’s knee. This is real design philosophy. One which has mostly been abandoned in the West. Western engineers prefer doltish computer masturbation to cleverness, pencils and graph paper. Sure, the computer makes a lot of stuff possible which was previously impossible, but it’s also made a lot of stuff difficult or impossible which used to be easy.

I would imagine only a few people reading this have anything to do with designing physical objects any more, but for the dozen of you still involved in making things which exist in the world, do consider на коленки when you’re making things. Consider whether that computer doodad you’re adding to your project is necessary or useful. And for the love of all that is holy, put your stupid nerd dildo away when you’re talking to people.

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116 Responses

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  1. Maggette said, on January 18, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Good job again….and I agree a 100 percent.

    I once met a dude who worked for a large construction company that placed power poles in an harsh enviroment (mountains of former yugoslavia).

    They used quite modern western helicopters (forgot teh name, sorry) to place the poles, and had nothing but trouble with them. Especially electronics as well as major problems in cold weather cndition.

    Than the project manager replaced them by old KA 25 from some former soviet union nation….build in the 60s. They could start the engines cold even though it was – 30 degree Celsius and never had one single problem that couldn’t be solved by the crew in the field.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 18, 2011 at 10:22 pm

      Russian helicopter, “like Russian woman: beautiful, but reliable and strong like tractor.”

      The American way would be to fiddle around with the electronics, do budget overruns, make the ‘lectronics EMP proof, and still fail to produce a reliable machine. I have a Takimag article coming about the F-35, which has turned out, as I predicted years ago, to have become a costly boondoggle.

      • Evgheni said, on January 20, 2011 at 2:12 pm

        Really, what is it with you people and these references to Russians? I was quite surprised to see “homebrew” in cyrillics. Had to check if maybe this post was somehow translated by google translate. And then there’s the KAs, and another reference. I’m not complaining, just curious.

        “The American way would be to fiddle around with the electronics, do budget overruns, make the ‘lectronics EMP proof, and still fail to produce a reliable machine.” – This isn’t the American way though. It’s the real world way. When you have an unlimited budget and no obligations to deliver you can experiment for the sake of it. However, when you do have a limited budget and a deadline, you try to come up with the simplest solution possible. And when some time later, you realize how limited that solution was, you can’t do anything about it, because now you either have to spend lots of money to change the underlying architecture, or you need to sacrifice backwards compatibility and risk losing your customer base. And to a business it just isn’t worth it.

      • Andreas Yankopolus said, on January 20, 2011 at 7:33 pm

        You can likely do a search and replace of “F-35″ with “Future Combat Systems” to quickly write a follow-up article.

        • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:29 pm

          I’m going to have to hit you up for dirt on that one. I know a little about the F-35 from my earlier SBIR biddings, and from general appreciation for cool airplanes. I think I said something back in ’06 about it…

    • Andrew said, on January 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm

      At first, I was humored by this blog because I tend to like steam punk, and well, ludites live in that world. I was laughing because seeing the post that Locklin runs a consulting company and hates modern technology told me a lot. He consults on old Fortran programs or “legacy” equipment. Nothing new, which is what drives most businesses.

      Having worked with all stations in an aerospace machine shop… buddy, you have to use the right tool for the job. Whether that is a classic file on an aluminum block or a 6-way three dimensional CNC machine, you have to use the right tool. I’ve worked with the engineers in CAD/CAM applications, coded sheet metal lasers, wrote web applications, designed advanced graph traversal algorithms, and have patents in my name. Let me tell you, when I’m home in my garage, with an awesome idea I am limited to my drill press, router, table saw, etc and wish wish WISH I could have 30 minutes on that laser since I can draw the part in CAD in 20 min and have it cut in 10. Otherwise I’m spending hours or days with jigs, clamps, slow saws, and yes, pencils.

      I love prototyping. I’d rather spend a few dollars doing rapid prototyping than build a working version just to realize some bolt holes won’t line up, but in a 3D model I would have seen it right away. When I build the final version, its pretty much the first version.

      With rapid prototyping, digital transfer of information with computer networks, and automated tooling systems, we see an EXPLOSION of new products every year, that just work, and seem like magic. I’m reminded of old black and white blooper reels of air planes that had 6 wings that collapsed on themselves when they came out of the hanger. Someone built the whole damn thing, and injured someone.

      The guy sitting next to me, has a mustache, is 60 years of age, and learned machining in Detroit. He just asked an engineer to render his broken gear to his 1969 GTO in 3D. Yes, he’s hand restoring the transmission on a great old car that has 72,000 miles on it, and has all the skill required to do it.

      And he’s picking modern techniques to mill that gear. How many people can restore a transmission? Versus the number that can now do CAD? I’m thinking the number has shifted to computers favor. This guy is rare. Like an old Mercedes that is still running…

      • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 7:57 pm

        I only wish I could consult on Fortran: Fortran was what I was doing 15 years ago on my calculator to run on a Cray which probably was about as fast as my netbook.

        • Andrew said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:10 pm

          So much has changed in 15 years. I love the style and design of old equipment. It just “feels” nice. But I can’t say computers and new technique have stalled innovation and “progress”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceShipOne Burt Rutan developed the first ever privately funded manned space rocket in three years time. He used computer simulations and composite materials to do something NASA had spent billions of dollars and thousands of man years to do in the 50’s and 60’s. Yes, he stood on the backs of giants. But he did it for $25 million dollars. What would the equivalent 1950 dollar value be?

          • Scott Locklin said, on January 21, 2011 at 8:00 pm

            Rutan is a great counterexample. Of course, he’s also not really been to space yet. LEO, or it didn’t happen!

  2. Petro said, on January 19, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Yer at least 1/2 full of shit.

    “Does anyone believe a modern Benz will be able to drive for 1,000,000 miles the way old ones regularly would?”

    I suspect that a modern, high end (meaning you probably can’t buy them in the US) Mercedes will. Why do I suspect that?

    At one point while I was still living in the Bay Area I bought a beat up old Subaru. Had about 420k on the clock. Yeah, close to 1/2 a million miles. This was a 1991. It had NOT been babied, and it was a POS. However I needed something to drive that didn’t piss off my shoulder the way my motorcycle was at the time, so it worked out fine. It died soon after (I didn’t pay a lot for it, so it was ok) and I bought another one. However a ~21k (today) car that will go 400-500k with good maintenance v.s. one that costs 120k and goes a million miles?

    You don’t have to be a quant to get that.

    Seriously, BITD when your Mercedes was putting 1M on the clock, most folks could afford a Ford, which was considered used up by 100k and almost none made it to the 200k mark–especially without a major overhaul.

    Fuck, that 1991 Subaru? the DRIVERS SEAT was still firm, and the electric windows still worked. Well, until the end :)

    Cellphones. Cellphones had to go digital for at least 2 (real) reasons–cell size and battery life. Now, I really like SMS as well–I don’t HAVE To have a 5 minute conversation with someone to tell her I’m running late/on my way home/at the entrance waiting. A 30 character txt solves it. THAT is making my life better.

    As to design of cutting edge aircraft, in the 50s and 60s we were willing to lose a few pilots to work the bugs out (ask the Marines about the Harrier and the Osprey, and those were basically 80s and 90s. Took them a few years to design and build the first one, then about a decade and a pile of pilots to make them “combat safe”) (BTW, I was at New River Air Station in IIRC 89 when they flew the osprey prototype in. It was fucking cool then, and it’s fucking cool how, but…)

    We’re a lot more risk averse today than we were 50 years ago. So we model instead of fly.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm

      I don’t think it is “risk aversion” why the 747 took a few years and the 787 took a few decades; I think its because people are fucking retards.

      Newer cars are certainly better: I admit as much. However, I’d much rather an old Benz with a few simpler doodads than a new one -new Benzes are definitely worse than the old ones. They have one of the worst repair records of modern vehicles; mostly because of the doodads. W123’s are used by African taxi cab drivers; I think they only cost too much in the US. And, you can work on the old ones without buying a bunch of computer equipment, or dealing with lots of under hood spaghetti.

      SMS is annoying, and takes longer than a one or two word phone call.

      • Maynard Handley said, on January 19, 2011 at 11:10 pm

        ” However, I’d much rather an old Benz with a few simpler doodads than a new one -new Benzes are definitely worse than the old ones. They have one of the worst repair records of modern vehicles; mostly because of the doodads.”

        But this is a DIFFERENT complaint from what you are making.
        You claim that modern cars are less reliable than those of the past, that they can’t be driven for as many miles. But you do nothing to back up this claim. Simply saying that “well you still see VW vans with 3/4 million miles on them” is not proof because of survivorship bias — it’s like claiming that construction in 1200 was so superior to construction today because all you see is the cathedral from 1200 that is still standing, not all the hovels and minor buildings from 1200 that fell down years ago.

        So I see no evidence of you central claim, that modern cars cannot (with the same probability distribution) be driven as far as older cars. Along the way, sure, the seat motors and sunroof may die — but you said you don’t care about those, so you’re no worse off when they die. Meanwhile, strange as it may be to imagine, it turns out that lots of people DO like those things. I’ve been in cheap (but I imagine reliable by your lights) cars in poor countries like South Africa or Burma, and they damn well suck. If one has the money, it makes sense to improve ones car with things like AC, or electric seats, or a working instrument panel.

        Likewise for your curmudgeonly (and downright ignorant) take on cell phones. The problems with cell phone reliability, such as they are, are problems of over-utilization of the existing infrastructure. They would not be solved by going back to an analog system that is grossly less efficient with bandwidth. Sure, it’s nice to claim a problem is solved by fiat rationing — “in the ideal world I and my friends get to use the limited bandwidth for our phones, and screw all the peasants who don’t deserve such devices” — but in the real world, the problem is solved by building more cell towers, and coming up with ever smarter methods of utilizing bandwidth — which is all done in the digital domain, not in the analog domain.
        And complaining that your phone does more than just phone! WTF, man, are you really so out of touch with reality? Look, I understand that some uses of a phone don’t appeal to you. I don’t see the appeal of Twitter or Facebook myself.
        But are you really so ignorant (or so dead in your soul) that you have never experience the joy of exploring a foreign city using the maps on your phone (which gives you the confidence and freedom to explore as you like, without fear of being lost)?
        Have you never once found it convenient to be able to check email, or to use a text because voice was inappropriate?
        Never once used an app like TripIt to track the various flights and such like of a complicated trip?
        Never once scanned blogs while you are stuck somewhere for five minutes? Or used a service like Instapaper, so that (even without connectivity) you have a large stash of reading material on your phone for if you happen to be caught somewhere without a book?
        Never once felt that you just want to hear a song you were suddenly reminded of?

        In all reasonableness, and without wanting to start an OS fight, have you considered the possibility that your particular phone is crap, given that vast numbers of technologically unsophisticated people have found smart phones that they love, use constantly (for non-phone tasks) and consider indispensable?

        It is a reasonable thing to claim that “I don’t like new cars or new phones”. It is quite another to claim this sentiment for the whole, or even the bulk, of humanity.

        • Scott Locklin said, on January 19, 2011 at 11:35 pm

          I use a $10 throw away phone designed for illegal immigrants. Incidentally: I run a consulting business through this telephone, and have never had need for any other fancy pants $140 a month in service fees self esteem booster. I occasionally have to hand it to my iphone wielding pals whose phone don’t work. I’m sure some iphone or android applications are fun and useful, but I see them as creeping featurism, and I think they are making people behave horribly, mostly for the sake of selling new phones to them. By your lights, for example, drugs and porn are an unalloyed social good because people like them. Mmmm, sorry: I disagree. I also disagree with featureful telephones the way they presently are because they’re bad engineering. You’re wrong about infrastructure: the iphone antenna problem I linked to is an *engineering* problem. The service providers are fine.

          You’re not listening to me with respect to cars. I maintain that older designs, like, say, the W123 are *more reliable* and *easier to maintain* due to lower complexity and better engineering. Throwing a lot of electrical spaghetti or CAD design at something doesn’t make it better. It makes it easier for auto manufacturers to make their money back via maintenance contracts and, well, selling maintenance. Most of my pals drive new cars (Petro’s 20 odd year old Subaru hardly qualifies as new, though I guess it is newish); I laugh at what they have to go through. Several thou a year in maintenance and repairs is not unheard of in a modern German car. You won’t spot many of those in Africa, because Africa lacks the infrastructure to maintain them.

          Sometimes simple is better. I like simple. I don’t like lots of deely boppers and preposterous gadgetry, nor do I much care for nerd dildos. If you like yours, well, have fun jerking off with it. My phone works, and my map works too when the batteries run out. When I really need a computer, rather than a tiny little nerd dildo, I go and use a computer.

          • Petro said, on January 20, 2011 at 11:11 am

            First off note that I only asserted you were 1/2 full of shit. Keep that in mind.

            It’s REALLY hard to find high mileage “new” cars as it takes a dedicated individual to drive a new car off the lot and put 100k a year on it. My father did that once (or there abouts) in the 60’s or 70s–he was a traveling salesman and air travel was hella expensive and didn’t get you to the places where his clients (hospitals and surgeons) were. Incidentally he sold that car when it hit about 140k.

            So no, my former Subaru doesn’t really count as a “new” car. However we (still) have a 1997 toyota that is sitting in my MoL’s front street waiting for some lucky craigslister to give us money for it. It’s a *very* simple car, has close to 180k on the odometer, and runs just fine. Will it make it to 1 million? Doubtful, it’s in the Midwest now and that means snow and (some) road salt and crap. Which killed a LOT of those Mercedes by the way. There’s a reason you see a lot of 240Ds being converted to Biofuel in Berkeley and not in Columbia Mo.

            Rust. Which modern cars handle a LOT better, BTW.

            Now, if you merely want to argue that more parts==more failures, well to quote that 1990s philosopher Homer Simpson “Duh”.

            But that 1997 Toyota? Electric windows and AC. No repairs for the first 165k. Then something with one of hte heads went wrong and it was solved cheaply by the garage across the street.

            My 2004 Subaru (that replaced the older one) has had 1 major repair to the emission system (which I suspect a competent mechanic could have more permanently fixed) and had a seat motor seize up. Oh, and it’s got almost 80k on it.

            I bought a rental car here (Oz)–a 2008 Mitsubishi Outlander. The only flaw I can find in it is that there is a small cigarette burn in the rear seat. It’s got about 60k miles (roughly 98k k right now) on it of mostly desert driving. It goes out of warranty in about 2000 kilometers. It’s a little under powered IMO, but we got it for about 3k under redbook.

            Hell, my Triumph Tiger (motorcycle) has almost 50k on it.

            Modern cars *do* last longer, have longer service intervals, and have a greater percentage of their subsystems live longer than they used to. This is the result of design, often computer driven.

            I can’t speak authoritatively to the design of the 787, except that we are a LOT more risk averse than we were in the 70s. Today I saw (admittedly on an Australian base) a sign on a OUTDOOR chemical spill that said “Soap Sud Spill, MSDS”. Yeah, someone spilled some soap on a concrete sidewalk, so they put up a big sign and posted the Material Safety Data Sheet.

            And you think this sort of mindset has no bearing on the time it takes to design and build a bigger, faster better more airplane? Hell, between the sexual harassment classes, the EEOC training, the annual workplace safety and fire extinguisher training, the 6 weeks of vacation, the 8 weeks of baby leave, etc. etc. and the constant round trips to the product marketing division (what color RAM do you want in the control system? Mauve is the fastest) I’m surprised it’s making any forward progress.

            Now, I’ll grant you that a lot of the problem with new aircraft is the level of computer integration–good software engineers are hard to find, and many of them would rather chase “easy money” and an interesting social life in the Bay Area rather than piss tests and fairly rigid methodologies at Boeing.

            As to cellphones, SMS is asynchronous. I send when I want, I answer when I want. Voice calls demand I answer now. Fuck that, send me email.

          • Lew said, on January 21, 2011 at 11:25 pm

            The car thing I can relate to. The cost of repairing modern Europeans is crazy. I moved from those to a 1990’s Toyota Landcruiser Diesel (Overseas). And that was bomber. I’ll never know how long it would have lasted but it sure could take a beating. But that car is an exception.

            I had Scott’s brand of phone until this year. Got my iphone and I agree with all the distractions of tech except….I always have a camera to film my kids, and I don’t miss appointments. I did curse it repeatedly, driving from Bretton Woods to Boston. So I dont need an iphone but I use some features

            Listening to this book The Quants …mentions Thorp working on the roulette wheel in the garage. I can’t imagine having an evening free in my garage…that sucks….

          • Meetzcha Peetick said, on January 23, 2011 at 5:34 pm

            You are not actually wrong, but you are not actually right,
            First of all, you are right about cars (and not only) being less reliable these days, mostly because in the pursuit for faster production and cheap cars, engineers and manufacturers alike are cutting from budgets and pushing production to the limits. To the other point, about designers taking a whole lot of time prototyping let me point out two important factors: standards and innovation. Today, in order to validate a design so it can start testing you need to comply with a lot of standards and security regulations. It makes your work understandable by others, and by following guidelines it avoids common mistakes from occurring in the prototype. These standards, quality specs and security regulations gets more strict and harder to conform to as time goes. The same applies for innovation: given the obvious and almost obvious problem solved, newer problems gets a lot harder to solve. This is why engineers love CAD software, it takes a lot of already solved problems out of the way and gives insight in problems at hand.

            You may be right that sometimes simpler is better, but this complexity that arises in products these days aren’t about geeky dildos as are about providing support and reducing unnecessary tasks. These phones came out in the desire to provide tools with which to evolve, rather than losing time. You may as well tell me that a library is more efficient than the Internet. It may be a lot more useful sometimes (no distraction, better information), but by no means more efficient.

            Thank you for your nice post, though :)

      • Aaron said, on March 2, 2011 at 12:14 am

        i tend to agree about the car thing. too complicated when you open the hood, although. my 7 year old ford hasn’t had one problem, compared to my 20 year old ford at 7 years of age. fuel infection isn’t always bad, now traction control on a motorcycle—-that sucks

    • Br.Bill said, on January 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm

      One more reason cell phones went digital: encryption. Having anyone be able to intercept your communications is undesirable. Of course, most jackasses are blathering loudly into their cell phones in restaurants and other public places anyway.

      I like progress, but some days, I just jack out. I made it to the age of 38 without ever owning a cell phone. I don’t need to be accessible every moment of every day. It’s an unreasonable expectation.

  3. matthew said, on January 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    “They’re also impossible to repair, have more stuff which breaks, and generally embody planned obsolescence. Does anyone believe a modern Benz will be able to drive for 1,000,000 miles the way old ones regularly would? ”

    There seems to be something of a trend, at least in UK, towards offering lifetime or long warranties on new cars… which suggests the manufacturers believe they’re more reliable.

    I suppose there is the possibility of nefarious business models (x,y,z also need replacing and sorry but they’re not covered by warranty), or posturing (our previously rubbish cars are now OK). Indeed, looking this up has started to sap my confidence in the hypothesis.

  4. Mark Plus said, on January 19, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    I think you miss cell phones’ real advantage: They give you the ability to call for help, especially in medical emergencies when you can’t get to a land line. Unfortunately people, especially women, tend to use cell phones in frivolous ways.

    Your rant about how hackers have mucked up the efficient functioning of many technologies just to impress others reminds me of how people tend to focus on the Richie Rich aspects of wealth, namely, the ability to buy status goods, services and experiences that ordinary people can’t afford, including a trip to the International Space Station if you know the right people. This misses the real advantages of wealth, namely:

    1. The ability to have more control over the use of your time, and the people you associate with. Financially independent people don’t have to go to a job they hate every day; instead they could go to Fight Club every night if they choose.

    2. Related to #!, the ability to live more in line with your natural cycles. With financial independence, you can take a nap at home when you feel like it, instead of buying and guzzling those dubious “energy drinks” advertised on TV as office efficiency products because your boss requires that you stay awake in the cubicle.

    3. Freedom from worrying about affording health care or nursing care for you and your family.

    4. And not the least importantly, the ability to get you and your family out of harm’s way. If you want to see the complete absence of that ability, ponder what happened in New Orleans a years ago.

    No, instead of doing sensible things like the above with wealth, many people act stupidly when they come into more money than they know what to do with. We see this happen to a lot of celebrities and sport figures, for example.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      Cell phones are fine for calling for help … if you live in a place where help is forthcoming and useful …. but I’m not as enthusiastic about people sending emails and playing donkey kong on them, or using them to look for a restaurant. That’s just … junk.
      Funny story illustrating this: I went to a nerdy quant meetup recently. The bar which was selected, nobody had actually been to, and it was too small for our 15 odd people. So out came the iphones to find a nearby bar. The iphones didn’t help. We ran around to a few places suggested by Yelp, and they all sucked too. Finally, we went some place one of us had already gone: this kind of strategy works better than fucking with yelp on your iphone.

      • John Flanagan said, on January 20, 2011 at 4:05 pm

        I have an iPhone because work gave it to me. I’m a late adopter when it comes to consumer electronics, particularly ones whose purpose is to communicate with other people, because I HATE other people.

        But it was incredibly handy to have the iPhone when I was in Stockholm for a month. The map feature particularly.

        An interesting question is whether, in 30 years, we will consider a current-day car to be easy to work on (because it’s using “simple” 30 year old technology) or impossible to work on (because records of how to use it have been lost, and the necessary parts tools can’t be gotten).

        Witness the various recent articles about the 6502 chip. When the 6502 was state of the art, there was only a tiny cadre of people with the skills necessary to work with it. But now, any scrub can play around with one, because the tools and technology have advanced to make it easier.

        • Meetzcha Peetick said, on January 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

          I’m also a late adopter, in the sense that a product’s features may look necessary to me, but are only useful after enough testing and peer popularization.
          I bet in the future, people will forget hou to change gears. Some people may dream that way about refueling.

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  6. Ivan said, on January 19, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    It is “на коленке” not “на коленки” ).

    So why is there no demand for these “blue collar Navy dudes” anymore, if they are so efficient?

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 19, 2011 at 7:29 pm

      The girl who told me the spelling was Belarus; maybe they spell different?

      There is huge personal demand for the Navy dudes at LBNL, but there is no bureaucratic demand for them. If you have 10 post docs or engineers working for you, you are a man of great importance! If you have 10 former squids working for you, you are a working class scumbag of no importance. The squids know this, as they are generally treated abominably, as are their bosses.

      • Meetzcha Peetick said, on January 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm

        Well don’t underestimate the usefulness of a well trained engineer who also thinks structured and solves the problem. Industry doesn’t need Navy dudes when their product needs documentation, maintenance and scalability. It’s not about solving one problem it’s about making the result useful for ulterior products. Your view is about the socialist mistake in putting at the base of the society the worker, rather than the specialist. Workers once accustomed with a way of doing things will just do that, and experience will become their main value. But specialists(in lack of a better term, since I’m not a native English speaker) will not only produce, but understand what they are doing. Doing so this helps them coordinate coworkers into solving the problem, gives modularity and clarity to the product and leaves it in the hands of less trained workers in order for him to continue solving problems, rather than maintaining the product. Also, a specialist may also be useful in training coworkers, usually by providing previous solutions and current approaches in development and production.

    • Petro said, on January 20, 2011 at 11:16 am

      Also there is a shortage of blue collar navy dudes as fewer are being made these days.

      The Navy was downsized at the end of the cold war, and these days it makes more political sense to outsource a lot of what the navy once did in-house. I can’t complain too much about the military outsourcing certain functions, since it paid me a lot of money a couple years ago, and might in the future.

      Additionally the navy is like the rest of the world, moving to replacing rather than repairing parts in the field, and using cheaper disposable stuff.

      That said, I’ve worked closely with all branches, and while the Air Force may have the highest over-all educational levels the Navy Officers I’ve worked with were (mostly) the most knowledgeable in their technical areas.

  7. mnwcsult said, on January 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    I kind of agree, however the poster who pointed out that the west does not like killing pilots to shake the flaws out of aircraft offers a very valid counterpoint. I don’t know about the east but the america does not really teach people how to make things by hand. Up through the 60’s schools had shop classes that taught how to make things. Costs and safety concerns put a stop to those. On the otherhand science fairs are still big and with the right teachers you see many future DIY’ers. Yes there are many do it yourselfers around. You won’t find that many old navy guys around for precisely that same point “old”. My 1996 VW has 200,000 miles on it. But I took it upon myself to learn how to maintain it and make use of it’s computer to diagnosis it. Digital electronics simply allow for more phone calls then the analog networks did. Whether you need or use all the features is a debate point. There is a seemlying over reliance on computers and it will take time to learn how to really best use time.

  8. Siderite said, on January 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    You are assuming a lot of things that are plain wrong. “real technological progress has slowed in many fields, possibly even reversing itself” ? Are you kidding me? And then you want a muscle car that can be built cheaply and would last forever. Instead you get something that looks rich, consumes less, pollutes less, breaks in 10 years so you must buy another. Everybody’s happy: consumers can flaunt their new car, producers keep their job. What did you expect? Do you have any idea how many things can be made safe, strong and completely useful and how they are not made. This is not the fault of computers, but of market forces.

  9. Steve Naidamast said, on January 20, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I completely agree with this article.

    As a senior software engineer for many more years than I care to count, I have found the majority of corporate systems to be poorly designed and implemented. Practically all had to do with the simple acceptance of mediocrity and the constant requirements for features that were rarely of ever used.

    Sociologically, computers have done irreparable damage to western societies since so many view them as extensions of their own lives instead of just the tools they were meant to be. Cell phones are a classic example of technologies supplanting more substantive modes of conversation. I keep mine off and only use it in emergencies…

  10. Rick said, on January 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    And all this is laid at the feet of hackers how? You put this in the title, but never mention them again.

    Hackers work to improve the state of computer technology for *free*, on their own time, because it is not what it could be. They do it to satisfy curiosity, true, but the way they do it displays an admirable social conscience.

    Hackers do not code in obsolescence, they code it out. They fight DRM, *anti-features*, and the high cost of proprietary software. They release open source code in the true scientific method that lets others build on what has gone before.

    I think you owe a few hundred thousand people an apology.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:02 pm

      Bring me the head of Richard Stallman and I’ll consider it.

      I wonder at the self righteousness of ding dongs who … have a job dealing with computers … and see themselves as some kind of holy warriors because they might give some code away. You know what, buddy? I give code away: it doesn’t make me a better person.

  11. Will Rubin said, on January 20, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    You make some good points but clearly miss many of the details. First, I don’t think it matters if we masturbate to real life objects, “pen and paper” drawings, or high tech mental stimulus. The underlying masturbation part is still the same and hasn’t changed in tens of thousands of years. I really don’t think the mental stimulus at all. Am I wrong?

    But regarding dildos I have to agree. They’ve been generally phallic shaped simple objects for as long as history has mentioned them … and likely much longer. But in the last few years we see “dildos” shaped like a deck of cards with electronics and vibrators that can be custom programmed in a thousand different ways. Rectangular! That’s absurd. And all the programming and vibrating both separates people from each other and ruins any expectations of real life experiences. We need to take a step back towards good old fashioned craftsmanship here for sure.

  12. Jeff said, on January 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Yes, I agree. IMO computers have ruined music, movies, photography, amateur radio and television to name a few. Take a look at the current “photography” magazines. They’re computer magazines. Try and watch a b&w movie on TV where the gray scale is hacked into a contour map.

  13. Developer Guy. said, on January 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Nice Article. I have to agree with much of what you have said. I especially like your thoughts on cars. KISS.

  14. Drew Rankin said, on January 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Scott,

    I for one think you have hit the nail on the head, especially with cars. I spent part of my life as a mechanic and auto parts salesman. I have seen very few cars with over 200k (miles) on the odo. Those were Volvo 1xx and 2xx series and Benzes. Most “modern” cars die after 160k and are destined for the scrap heap. My preference in vehicles has recently turned ancient with one modern modification, a very beefy diesel power plant. I am currently driving a 1979 bodied Dodge truck with a diesel power plant with over 360k miles on odo. I hope to transplant a nice diesel power plant in something of older vintage, say 1940’s Power Wagon, I digress. I also have a fondness for 1940’s vintage Harley Davidson motorcycles which are barely more sophisticated than a lawn mower engine.

    I remember when Prince Al “invented” the internet as I was in university at the time. The first big name website out there was Playboy. Way to go American ingenuity! All that said, I do like my nerd toys, but I have not been able to justify buying the fancy feature smart phone along with the monthly data fee cost when I have several home improvement projects staring me in the face that would benefit me much more than another nerd dildo.

    I especially laughed about “The “correct way” to get parts made for experimental apparatus is to get a CAD engineer to design it in SolidDesigner over the course of several days. Then the CAD goes to a CAM machinist, who will eventually send it back to the CAD engineer pointing out the 11 ways in which making this object is impossible without resorting to EDM. If you’re lucky and bother everyone on a regular basis, you’ll get your part in a few months.” I have personally experienced this endless circle of fail. On the other side of the coin, I worked with a now retired, old school mechanical engineer from Czech who used to design and build cranes. Everybody thought he was crazy with his designs on paper, but a lot of those crazy designs worked very well and were SIMPLE to make.

    I agree that Western engineering has de-evolved to the point where all we can make are fancy pants nerd dildos and over priced, ill-designed anything else.

    Cheers!!

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:10 pm

      Funny that: I worked in a garage before I went to college -maybe it takes the actual working class hands on perspective to recognize the fact that computer doodads are not all snowflakes and unicorns. I’m a big fan of diesel as well. I’ve been trying to figure out if I can make a diesel engine which will power my laptop. Needless to say, I’m not using SolidDesigner.

      • Drew Rankin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:14 pm

        Find an old single piston generator from a fishing boat. They’ll run on diesel or grease for a very long time and gin up all the power you need. Alas, they are not very portable.

        • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm

          Well, that’s a little bit overkill. I’m more hoping to build something small enough to reside inside the laptop -at least in principle. The thing is, the energy density of diesel fuel or even everclear is way higher than that of laptop batteries. I’m not the first one to think of this, but for some reason, the yoyos who have tried all insist on using silicon rather than something sensible, like steel. At the end of the day, it probably wouldn’t look anything like a regular diesel engine, but it’s fun to screw around with ideas.

          • Drew Rankin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm

            Ah. Yes. I see now. The limiting factor is the conversion from fuel to electricity, even DC, is horribly inefficient. Some kind of TE effect using Seebeck’s principle might provide some current; however, some way of directly generating power via a very small DC motor/generator with a micro turbine engine might do the trick if you can manage the heat.

            • Chris said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm

              You might have issues getting enough oxygen into the reaction to keep from generating CO. And the water vapor might have some negative effects. And if your fuel has some sulphur in it, that could be very corrosive…

            • Scott Locklin said, on January 21, 2011 at 12:57 am

              I was more thinking of just building a little engine, like the kind that powers model airplanes, and making it well enough that you could consider running a laptop with it. I’m not the first to think of this, “power MEMS” is an actual field where they try to do this with silicon etching. I figure it’s better done with steel or some other kind of metal. Even if it’s fairly inefficient, the energy density of hydrocarbons is very high.

              • John Flanagan said, on January 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm

                Apart from the MEMS approach, this looks like the state of the art:

                http://www.ultracellpower.com/sp.php?rugged

                I don’t know if you can really be so cavalier about inefficiency of power conversion. If, say, you’re only 20% efficient, that means your power generation is going to be putting out 4 times as much heat as the laptop is, which is going to make things pretty toasty.

                • Scott Locklin said, on January 21, 2011 at 8:14 pm

                  Fans are cheap. If you compare the energy density of gasoline to that of lithium ion batteries, you’ll see why this is desirable. It’s a way to get very long lived laptops without resorting to imaginary bugbears like “quantum nano capacitors.” You can store about 450,000 joules in a KG of the very best lithium-ion junk. It’s about 100x that in a KG of diesel (this is approximately the ultimate energy density you can store using chemicals). Imagine a laptop “battery” that lasts for a week of continuous use. Better yet; imagine an ipod that runs on vodka and lasts for a week of continuous use. Of course, there are all kinds of thermodynamic problems with little engines. This is all just for yarks, but very serious people work on this sort of thing for good reasons: it’s not a bad way to make progress in small electrical power sources.

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density

                  • John Flanagan said, on January 21, 2011 at 8:52 pm

                    Oh, I understand the benefits of energy density. But waste heat is not always something you can just handwave away.

                    Also keep in mind that the energy budget of devices is more or less predicated on the level of nuisance involved with recharging. So what we’d wind up with in the long run is an ipod that runs on vodka like it’s got a drinking problem. But that’s just dovetailing into your other point of inefficient, overly complex consumer crap. :)

          • Andreas Yankopolus said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm

            Sounds like you want a fuel cell.

  15. nickels said, on January 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Not to mention mathematics. Look at the stuff people like Euler, Newton, Lagrange, etc.. came up with without a computer.
    We can run some amazing simulations and explore some fascinating results with computers, but that kernel of genius suffers when we focus so blatantly on the ‘brute force’ computer method.
    Right there with you on this article!

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:11 pm

      I don’t know what happened to mathematics …. but it has certainly become decoupled from interesting questions in physics, which Euler et al were not. Funny, physics has become decoupled from interesting questions in physics: what the world really needs is progress in complex systems theory: not noodles.

      • Andrew said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

        So out of billions of humans throught history, 100 or so mathematicians stand out over time, and you expect it to be different today? Or that it would be different if people didn’t use computers?

        (Poor Stephen Hawking. He’d sure be in trouble.)

        • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:33 pm

          Hawking is not a particularly good mathematician. He is a celebrity, though.

          I wish it were not different today. Where is our Hilbert, Klein, Laplace or Cardano?

          • Chris said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm

            I don’t know. What are the odds that if you were alive in the time of Laplace that you would have heard of him? My guess is that your exposure to Laplace was in school. I would venture a guess that 10 or 15 years from now, textbooks will be discussing advances in number theory made by current day mathematicians. And 15 years from now we will be lamenting ‘the good old days’ of mathematics…

            • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm

              OK; who was the Laplace of the previous generation? Grothendieck? We do have very great mathematicians even today, Pereleman and Wiles for example, but they don’t work on *physical* stuff. Erdos kind of did, I guess. There is this nobelist in physics, Anderson, who moans most convincingly about how we’ve been running away from interesting problems for decades.

              • Chris said, on January 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm

                So, is the problem that we don’t have good mathematicians or that the ones we have don’t find your problems interesting?

                The fact that I don’t know who the previous generations good mathematicians are means only that that is a subject I don’t follow. I don’t know who won the last Pulitzer for fiction. I know that Steinbeck won one many many years ago. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have any good authors.

                I’m starting to get it… This particular post is just irony, right?

                • Scott Locklin said, on January 21, 2011 at 7:44 pm

                  Human talent is more or less as it has always been, but the human propensity to work on navel gazing bullshit has grown measurably. String theory, for example. Ed Witten is a genius; some people think he can even bilocate like Padre de Pio. But he works on the sheerest crap.
                  Charles Murray said of modern literature: can you think of a single work of literature of the last 50 years which will be read in 50 years time? Maybe Cormac McCarthy, though it’s pretty stylized.

          • Andrew said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:46 pm

            My point was, he has garnered at least SOME respect, has written books that appealed to many and inspired many, and did it with one of the most emotionally appealing handicaps I can think of. He is still listed in many top 100 most influential mathematicians, and yes, that is subjective and debated. Never-the-less, he could NOT have done what he has done without the help of machines and computers and software, some created or “hacked” by him.

  16. Rich said, on January 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    I agree with your conclusions to some degree, mainly that computers add complexity to modern systems, often unnecessarily, and designers should think wisely before adding them. However, I find a large number of logical fallacies with your arguments that almost cause me to reject the posting as trolling for an argument.

    Ad Hominem:
    Calling smart phone “nerd dildos” is an attack against those who own and like such phones. The attack was repeated in at least one of your responses to Scott Locklin. Many people find real value from smart phones and dismissing those people’s opinions in this way is little more than an attack and not a convincing argument.

    Fallacy of Composition:
    Some smart phone users are rude therefore smart phones make people rude. The first problem is that not all smart phone users are rude. Many know how to behave in company. The other problem is that no evidence is presented to show that the smart phones are the cause. In my experience, some people are just rude and will find a way to annoy you whether or not they have a cell phone.

    A couple of older style cars could be driven for a million miles therefore the older way of designing cars is the only way to make a car that can drive for that many miles (i.e. modern cars are too complex and therefore cannot last that long).

    Post hoc fallacy:
    The SR-71 and 747 took months to design. Computers are now used to design the 787. The 787 is taking years longer to design. The introduction of computers is making the design process slower. There are dozens of other equally likely explanations for why the 787 takes longer to design including: the a fore mentioned risk aversion, concerns with manufactuability, the 787 is actually much more complex than we realize, etc.

    In regard to cars, cars are so complex that they can no longer be repaired by typical owners, therefore the introduction of computers and “doodads” is planned obsolescence. In truth, in order for modern cars to meet the contradictory safety, emissions, and efficiency standards required by law, modern cars would still face the same issues even if alternatives to digital embedded computers were found to achieve the same results (i.e. a light car that is safe and clean). It takes a whole lot more than “an air bag and slightly better fuel injectors” to meet modern standards in the US.

    Hasty Generalization:
    Some iPhone users failed to find a better place to meet, therefore all smart phones are worthless status symbols. I myself have encountered situations where the opposite occurred.

    The biggest take away I have from the posting is a reaffirmation of a lesson that I’ve been forced to learn over the years. My view of the world is not the only valid one. You like your devices to be simple, single purpose, and well designed. That is an admirable goal. Not everyone in the world will agree and that is OK too.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:15 pm

      I think you’re projecting, Rich. Anyway, you like complicated doodads with design creep that don’t fulfill their functions properly or work reliably: I like simple designs that work properly. It takes differing opinions to make a market, so we’ll just call it capitalism at work.

  17. Way said, on January 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    For the most part I agree that cars have suffered “feature creep” as the game of one-up continues among the auto makers. I drive a couple of “non-computered relics” one is a W109 with a mere 133K on it. The engineering in that vehicle is amazing and demonstrates Scott’s assertion that back in that era they engineered for longevity and reliability, at least Benz did at that time (70’s). Our illustrious US auto makers chose the razor-blade model. Luckily, the truck divisions of the US makers didn’t follow that path right away, they transitioned to disposable in the next decade.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:17 pm

      I strongly suspect a lot of these “I bring myself into the future” types who are disagreeing have never designed a solid object, or used a well designed object. If you were born in the late 80s or so, and work with computers all day, it would be possible to have gone thought life in this sad state.

  18. arrgh_jimlad said, on January 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Personally I find that targetting the ‘real hardware’ from within a modern OS to be too much trouble to be bothered with.

    So I’ve dusted off my 80s micros to enjoy experimenting without requiring the expensive software tools (DDKs etc) and vast documentation. BAH! No thanks.

  19. Chris Saari said, on January 20, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    “I think it’s because people are screwing around in CAD and finite element analysis programs far too much, and not, you know, designing stuff.”

    Or as you said, there is a conflict of interest in designing stuff to last and be easily serviceable.

    If you don’t how to design and are expecting the tools to do it for you, sure. But they’re supposed to be used as a workflow improvement (especially across distant teams) and a verification of the initial design. If you put garbage in that isn’t representative of the real device (your it doesn’t fit example) then you get garbage out, that’s completely equivalent to the Navy dude making a measurement mistake that he’d have to go back and fix.

    I’d love to see a constraint set feed into a system and have it hill climb and Monte Carlo it’s way to a solution… The only example I’ve seen of that was at a modern art show where the system was generating structures to spec that could be 3D printed. Beautiful organic forms came out, big surprise. Light, strong, complicated, totally not what a human designer would come up with.

    Cell phones; Just yesterday I took a wrong turn and my phone map turned me around. There are some very valid non-donkey kong reasons why people get the pocket computer phones.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      You know, that happened to me the other day too: you know me -I get lost in a phonebooth. I didn’t need a phone to figure out where I was going. Sure, it’s a nice feature. Sure, I’ve used it when in a car with one of those talkey GPS things: it’s nice and allows you to not pay attention to what you’re doing. Somehow, though, we did without those things in the past, and everything worked just fine.

      • Chris said, on January 21, 2011 at 6:14 am

        We live near a large city. Used to go there on mental power just fine. Then the relatives got a GPS navigator and, literally, within days they were suggesting that we weren’t capable of going into the city without it. WTF?

  20. Hernan Monserrat said, on January 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    so, please, don’t use your computer anymore, lets you do blog posts! return to the oldest machines, and run a DOS spreadsheet.

    jajajaja, cheers, :)

  21. Chris said, on January 20, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Well, I’ll say you’re full of shit. You give arguments about why design is bad and your reasoning is that they are designing things that you don’t want. I’d say that arrogance in years past has nothing on arrogance today, which also comes wrapped with a dose of self-righteous smugness. You give the iPhone antenna as an example of how design is so crappy. Did you even read the article you linked to? It states several times how the design was chosen by executives, not engineers. And executives ignored the advice of engineers who pointed out the problems… As you should be familiar with, this is not a problem with design, but a problem with arrogance and ignorance. The engineers did their jobs, the executives just crapped on them. Are you going to say that this is a new situation, due to the proliferation of computers? Back in the “good old days”, business executives always did the right thing and followed the advice of their design engineers, right?

    Look, if you enjoy being a Luddite and prefer your folding map thats likely out of date before it leaves the printer to the one that is on my phone, good for you. Don’t confuse your personal preferences with absolute truth. You want to argue how automobile design is worse now than it used to be, give me a fact based argument. How has the number of deaths per thousand miles driven due to automobile ‘failure’ changed over the last 20 years? Is that number normalized for things like road conditions, speed limits, etc? I’ve read some of your other blogs and you normally seem like an intelligent, reasoning person. What happened with this one?

  22. Jim Demers said, on January 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Yes, new jet fighters are a lot more complicated, more expensive, harder to build, and harder to maintain than the stuff from the good old days. But I doubt today’s pilots would care to go to war in the nice, reliable equivalent of an F-4 Phantom. Against those newfangled complicated contraptions that the other guys are flying, it would be nothing but a manned clay pigeon.
    Jetliners get shot at less often … their biggest enemy is the cost of fuel. (Translation: weight.) Designers have pretty much hit the wall with aluminum construction, and taking it to the next level calls for composites. We don’t have 70 years’ experience with these materials, so it’s going to take a while to work out the kinks. As with the F4, you’d have a hard time selling anything less sophisticated than a 747 today.
    Similar objections to the ’70s Mercedes: built like a tank, with mileage and performance to match. You’d have a hard time selling one as a family sedan today, even if it met regulatory standards.

  23. Mark V said, on January 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I think you’re full of S* and nostalgia. Obviously you have no idea how much accuracy and material refinement is needed for today’s “evolutionary” models. If it were for people like you to rule the world we’d still be in the dark ages, “cuz everything’s fine the way it is”.

    S*

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      Back in the day, it would have been real hard to make an F-35. Of course, back in the day, nobody would have been stupid enough to attempt to design such a thing.

  24. That Dude said, on January 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    “Back in my day, we did things proper! Why we would walk 10 miles up hill both ways in the snow! We didn’t worry about things like fuel efficiency or safety” Unqualified drivel. I bet your father said the same thing. “Back in my day, farming was simple. We plowed the fields by hand blah blah blah”.

  25. Pascal said, on January 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Interesting, I definately agree with Scott Locklin on his thoughts! Im gonna think about this thread for a while.

  26. myself said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Capitalism and love of money has ruined the web just like they did with TV…

  27. joeyi said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Why don’t you label Bad programmers Cackers and good programmers Hackers. Doesnt
    anybody have some common sense!!!

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm

      The point is: programming, good or bad, is not always the right solution to a problem!

  28. Nick Maroulis said, on January 20, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    If a problem has already been solved, there is no real need, other than commercial to solve it again.

    Older products were made to be maintained and repaired, not with planned obsolescence in mind. Baby boomers fixed toasters themselves or had them professionally repaired. Now it is more economic to throw out the toaster and buy a cheapie.

    The iPhone phenomena was best described to me by a model. “I wanted to get the new one but it looked the same as the old one”.

  29. Chris said, on January 21, 2011 at 6:35 am

    I think you were on stronger ground with this line of thought when it was directed at innovation rather than design. Part of the innovation/design-technology problem is related to social forces similar to the academic pyramid scheme. But there are other social forces at work, too. For example, in a world of design by teams and committees rather than individual innovators, team membership requires mastering the team language, ie technology of design, selecting for certain personality types. Hence you end up with less proliferation in categories of product and more proliferation in competing brands with more complexity of design.

    BTW, I one-upped you. I have no phone nor TV, and am slowly replacing all digital objects with analog and computerized gizmos with purely mechanical ones. (Soon only the laptop will be left, but that I will keep until married.) Also plastic with wood and metal and fleece/nylon with wool/cotton, etc. Life is actually much more enjoyable this way. I think consumer products are like modern sex–ruled by lust and addiction-like behavior rather than quality experiences. People fail to plan ahead so they can need their map-phones the same way they put themselves in compromising situations and find fault so they can fall into adultery.

    You need a more complete post on the whole Singapore thing somewhere. My guess is that it works because it is something of a geopolitical free rider, but I am open to changing my mind.

    • Chris said, on January 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm

      This seems a bit odd to me… What is it about plastic that makes wood or steel preferable? Do you really think that tubes are preferable to transistors for some reason? Scott refers to masturbation, but this is the same thing with a slight twist. These sorts of new-agey philosophies based on nothing but how you feel at any given moment are all good, but the thought that somehow they are superior to the rest of us who are perfectly happy with plastic forks is just nuts. You are suffering from one of two things (possibly both); placebo affect or confirmation bias.

      If you think that failing to plan ahead is somehow ‘new’, you are mistaken. The good old days really weren’t any better than the current days. You were just younger and you probably had fewer responsibilities and you were having more fun. My new underarmour t-shirt really is better than the old cotton one that I used to wear. And my wooden chair does just fine. This sort of arbitrary distinction between good and bad materials/experiences/whatever is goofy and doesn’t really make you look any more wise. It just makes you you. However, confusing your individuality with wisdom actually makes you look silly. Why do you feel that these inanimate objects have such power over you? What is it about your past that makes you less able to accept them for what they are and not let them affect your life in a negative way? Figuring that out would make you much happier and still let you have an iPhone so you could mark where your car is parked when traveling in a strange city.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 21, 2011 at 7:59 pm

      Har, you’re tempting me to replace my $5 Walmart phone with an old rotary and a reel to reel answering machine. I’m already surrounded by vacuum tube AM radios.

      Singapore may owe some of its wealth to “free riding” on other free trader nations, but that’s just Singapore acting in her own self interest: they’ve definitely payed their own geopolitical way: their Army and Navy rivals that of much larger Malaysia. They’re simply brilliantly managed. If LKY was in charge of Taiwan or China, we’d probably have all learned Chinese 20 years ago.

  30. Martin Ingham said, on January 21, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Scott, I thought America’s cost of living was cheaper than Britain’s. I drive a 5 year old BMW 5 Series, came with a service pack so service is prepaid, tyres are approx 400 per year. I upgraded my phone to an HTC Desire HD Android smart phone, cost me 30 quid plus 35 per month contract. Seems a lot lower than your quoted prices.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 21, 2011 at 8:22 pm

      Don’t work that way here, man. BMW’s in particular use the razor blade model: all kinds of mandatory scheduled maintenances which cost quite a bit. At least the last time a friend of mine was shopping for one.
      Iphones here are $200-500, and the monthly bills are $120 or so. My phone, again, cost me $10. I refill it once or twice a year with $100 worth of minutes.
      Gasoline is cheaper though.

      • Chris said, on January 21, 2011 at 8:36 pm

        Where do you guys shop for phones… Right now AT&T has iPhones for $50. I have an Andriod phone with unlimited data and SMS and 450 anytime minutes, unlimited nights and weekends and WITH taxes I pay $70/month. I know *A LOT* of people with smartphones and except for a few who work in sales, no one pays for more than 450 minutes. My phone works just great, including in the closet in the basement (I checked). I’m also able to do a significant amount of work on my phone while on the train. I also have free long distance and I don’t need to pay for a landline in my home. And, I bought my phone for $25 at Best Buy. You guys really need to get off the ‘smartphones are bad’ thing and just do 30 seconds of research. Really, it isn’t that tough.

        I know, in the ‘old days’ people used to plan ahead and they didn’t need phones. They also used to lay in a winters worth of preserves in the basement and walk outside to go to bathroom and haul hot water from the kitchen to the tub. My wife and I were at dinner and decided to check out a late movie. She searched for theaters in the neighborhood while I was paying for parking and 20 minutes later we had a tub of popcorn. Did we *NEED* the convenience of that? Am I an idiot for paying a couple bucks a month for that convenience? No. Are you looking a little goofy for decrying that as the end of civilization? Yes.

        • Scott Locklin said, on January 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm

          It’s entirely possible my information is out of date, but I kind of doubt it. Anyway: have fun with your nerd dildo. I don’t want one.

          • Chris said, on January 25, 2011 at 11:48 pm

            I’m not sure why you would doubt it. Facts are fairly easy to prove/disprove if you can hold your nose long enough to use this new thing called ‘The Internet’. There is this cool thing there called ‘The Google’ and you can ask it questions and it will tell you the answer to all of your cell phone questions. Don’t you think that intentional ignorance is the worst kind?

            BTW, what kind of dildo do you prefer, then?

  31. Heywood Floyd said, on January 22, 2011 at 1:55 am

    I’d like to propose another, yet unmentioned, reason for why airplanes take so long to design today: corporate staffing, or rather the lack thereof. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, technology organizations had layers of support personnel in addition to the core engineering functions. There were secretaries to handle paperwork, clerks who were responsible for filing and organizational coordination, draftsmen to put the details on the drawings, etc. Now, companies like Boeing and Lockheed and UTC (from whom I was just laid off, thank you very much) have engineers. Period. We’re expected to perform all of the aforementioned functions in addition to the core design tasks for which were were educated. Over the past few decades, the armies of MBA’s running these companies have determined that all of these peripheral functions were superfluous, so the positions were slowly eliminated. All in the name of efficiency, mind you.

    It’s not computers that are killing American industry; it’s the bean counters.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 22, 2011 at 10:42 pm

      Makes sense to me. Though the computer design aspect sucks too.

  32. 3tw3 y3d3 said, on January 22, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Probably too late for an input but I have been thinking over this for a couple of days. My 2 cents here ‘tho'; theres isn’t much of a deviation in the article from the value judgement put forth by opponents of the shift from chariots to cars.

    You can express your exact, same sentiment without emotion, by saying writing a balanced inquisition, and leaving judgment to readers in which case even the advocates might agree with you.

  33. Theraot said, on January 23, 2011 at 10:14 am

    How is it going?

    If that CAD guy where me, I would probably go with a notebook (a paper notebook, like when a notebook is a actually book), pencil, metric tape [I want a laser meter] and of course my nerd dildo… I mean cell phone. Get some pictures with the dildo… cell phone, cell phone… take all the measures I’ll need write them on the notebook along with my functional requirements, reference them to the pictures with a fast sketch where needed. And I’ll be off. Then to design the whole thing on the computer taking into account my functional requirements, project requirements (resources) and technical requirements (how will it be build, the actual materials…), show the model to the client and verify if it’s what he needs. Iterate a couple of times. And then give it to the person who is in charge of manufacture the actual thing, it may be CAM but in may case usually it’s not. Some times it’s needed to iterate here too, I’ll accept it. The process may take about two weeks, but it will be stylish, prettier and will work, generally the first time, and the client did participate of the process.

    For curiosity sake… My family does custom furnitures (locally only – Colombia here), carpentry mostly. It’s my family tradition. I’m software developer but I help that business too.

    The problem is that CAD guys forgive about materials and their imperfections, about how things will be assembled at the end and that kind of things, they also forgive about imperfection of human communication and memory. But with experience you acquire the knowledge to do not fall to the perfection illusion of a computer model and adapt to the real thing. Are you telling me that that mustache guy didn’t need to acquire experience?

    About the dildo… ejem… cell phone… I think like this: If it will get you sick of Cancer, then it got to do a whole lot of good things. Still I would like to be able to program on it, but if I buy one on which I can, then the risk of getting it stolen and the difference of price with a portable computer makes it not worth.

  34. Craig Kelly said, on January 25, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Dude! How old are you? Pretty old I’m guessing if you saying things like “-how many people really need to be that available for telephone calls?” and “Can’t stand the things, myself: I think they’ve ruined polite conversation.” and “but I’m not as enthusiastic about people sending emails and playing donkey kong on them, or using them to look for a restaurant. That’s just … junk.” Really guy? If anything is slowing down technology its old fogies like you! And what does the title of this blog post have to do with the content?

    • Andreas Yankopolus said, on January 25, 2011 at 11:54 am

      I’m in my late 30s and am 100% with Scott on this one. I don’t own a mobile phone and don’t see how one would improve my life, except perhaps if I traveled extensively for work. I see the current generation as being extremely externally orientated: afraid to be alone with their own thoughts, always craving external stimulation, unable to made independent decisions, and incapable of planning ahead. And it’s impossible to have a polite conversation when the other person is continually having to context switch to service interrupts.

      I like the web and email precisely because I can access them at my own time. Mobile phones carry the expectation of availability, and I don’t want to be that available.

      Now get off my lawn, kid!

      • Rick said, on January 25, 2011 at 1:59 pm

        I agree with both of you. Hackers have nothing to do with the content of the story, and email is my preferred mode of communication.

        I have a phone in my pocket. I’d rather you didn’t contact me that way, and if you do, a text will suffice. Rates are too high. It’s not that I’m poor, I just don’t like getting ripped off.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      What Andreas said:

      Hackers have nothing to do with this? Who do you think writes the code for the phones? Elves?

      • Rick said, on January 25, 2011 at 10:00 pm

        Neither Elves or hackers. Well, maybe Elves, aren’t they from Norway or thereabouts?

        You refer to all programmers as hackers? Android is open, sort of, but the majority of phone code is proprietary (including much of the low level phone bits of Android) NOT written by hackers. You mention engineers in your prose, that is more correct. Still no excuse for the title.

        You also mention cars, more closed source code, no hacking there.

        I’m a hacker I suppose, and I have a CnC, so I make things too. I also get paid to design and build Air Traffic Control systems. KISS technology is always my goal.

        Hackers, in general, work with open source code.

        • Scott Locklin said, on January 25, 2011 at 10:10 pm

          Are you shitting me? THis isn’t the first time I’ve heard the ridiculous trope that “hacker” is some kind of noble beast, who only works on open source code and only does good in life. A hacker is a ding dong who works on computers. So it has always been, long before “open source” existed, so it will forever be, no matter that you and Stallman say.

          • Rick said, on January 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm

            In order to have a discussion, a common language is required.

            If you insist on redefining terms, you’re on your own.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker

            No, I’m not shitting you.

            • Scott Locklin said, on January 25, 2011 at 10:41 pm

              And now you’re linking me to an irrelevant Wakipedia entry which talks about how hackers are criminals?

              http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hacker

              Hacker: 1: one that hacks
              3: an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer
              4: a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system

              Nothing about open source there, Charlie. Now get off my lawn!

  35. Chris said, on January 25, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    I think the main thing to remember about this post is that it must be irony. When I see a comment that asks what literature written in the last 50 years will still be read 50 years from now, I’m reminded of this: http://www.amazon.com/dp/039332009X/rateyourmusic-20/ref=nosim/

    To quote a few gems: Mr. Prokofiev’s pieces have been contributions not to the art of music, but to national pathology and pharmacopoeia
    or, about Debussy: Debussy’s music is the dreariest kind of rubbish. Does anybody for a moment doubt that Debussy would not write such chaotic, meaningless, cacophonous, ungrammatical stuff, if he could invent a melody?

    The beauty of nostalgia is that people frequently think that they invented it. The world changing in such a way that it doesn’t want to produce what you are interested in, causes some to decide that the world, not they, are irrelevant. I’m reminded of a scene from “Choke” by Palahniuk, where the protaganist discovers masturbation… As he looks into his hand, he thinks to himself “I’m going to be rich”.

    Whats old is new again! These will soon be the good old days and angry, confused men will still be angry and confused. Thoreau would wonder about someone thinking that ‘going analog’ is a means to get back to basics…

  36. asdf said, on January 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    Man, you are getting old.

  37. Mark Travis said, on January 28, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    I finally broke down and got a CrackBerry about a year ago–I have very poor sense of direction, and bad short-term memory. I don’t know if it’s the result of all the drugs or really not giving a shit about where I am at any given time. Anyway, much of my life when trying to find a location had been spent driving around in a sort of process of elimination. If I didn’t find my destination by ruling out all possibilities, then I would eventually break down and call somebody, or ask for directions. I learned that strategy from Mr. Spock, I believe: in order to find where something is, first find all of the places where they are not.

    Over time, I realized that there was likely a better way for me to get around to places that I don’t visit very frequently. So I began to write down address and phone numbers of destinations, as well as how to get there from where I’d expect to be, such as home, the office, or, if out of town, wherever I’d expect to be staying. I would use some Internet maps program, of course, to get my directions. This method has saved me lots of time and has allowed me to get around much more efficiently. I have to stop and ask for directions much less frequently, and the likelihood of reaching my intended destinations has improved very nicely. It requires planning ahead, and this planning ahead has certainly paid off.

    Consequently, with this newer approach to navigation, I would end up with all sorts of paper notes all over the place. It occurred to me some time in 2009 I believe that a PDA/SmartPhone might be able to help me. So I got my wife’s hand-me-down CrackBerry after she got an iPhone. It (the CrackBerry) was already paid for. Turns out there’s a “memo pad” application, seemingly as part of the base package. It lets me create little notes for directions to new places (new is a place I haven’t visited for a couple of months). I don’t ever have to delete them, seemingly, though at some point there will be some limit to the number and size of the memos I create. I don’t have to keep a piece of paper and pen with me all the time now. I just need my phone, which I normally have anyway.

    Call reception on the CrackBerry seems to be as good as any mobile phone–unshitty enough to carry on a conversation. In summary, there are features of these things that may make your life easier in some ways, but the gee-whiz factor just isn’t there for me with these things.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 29, 2011 at 12:58 am

      I still use a stack of google maps printouts for that sort of thing.

      • Andreas Yankopolus said, on January 29, 2011 at 1:18 am

        Likewise. Give me a a map and a compass and I’m there.

        Hannibal crossed the Alps with a shaggy barbarian horde and a bunch of elephants without the aid of cell phones or GPS. He didn’t even have the benefit of street signs. I find the fact that modern humans can’t find a restaurant on the other side of town without relying on space age technology pathetic in the extreme. Cowboy up or at least have the decency to kill yourself cleanly to save face in the memory of your ancestors.

        • Chris said, on January 31, 2011 at 7:39 pm

          You have any idea how many people Hannibal killed while forcing them to march over the alps? And, you know he got lost while doing it?

          Your comment reminds me of my two nephews arguing about who killed the monster on their video game using the fewest number of ‘power ups’… Do the rest of us a favor and just buy a GPS so you don’t accidentally kill some poor pedestrian while you are driving around with a map in one hand and a compass in the other, steering with your knee and looking at street numbers with your peripheral vision. We promise to respect your superior navigational skills and ignore the fact that you are using a fairly common technology for convenience sake. If you are going to argue that you don’t need the convenience, then at least be honest enough to admit that you are a hypocrite or go all the way and move out to the country and abandon all modern conveniences (instead of just the ones that allow you to act like a smug bastard). You do know that you’ll spend the majority of your waking time doing nothing but cutting wood to keep from freezing to death in the winter, right?

          • Andreas Yankopolus said, on January 31, 2011 at 8:54 pm

            Do you also have an iPhone app that picks out matching clothes from your wardrobe and provides step-by-step instructions on tying your shoes?

            • Chris said, on January 31, 2011 at 9:10 pm

              No. I don’t have an iPhone. I have an Andriod phone. I am also able to recognize a handy convenience when one is placed in front of me. I also know that no one actually confuses fear of change with intelligence or competence. I cannot start a fire with sticks or a piece of flint and a stone. I say that without fear that modern society will ridicule me. I know that the ability to start a fire with a flint and stone would make me a curiosity, nothing more. Certainly not someone to admire… Feel free to give out the appropriate chest bumps when you make it to your destination using only a stopwatch and your knowledge of where the tree moss grows. I’ll just plug in my GPS and probably get there before you do. If the GPS breaks, I’ll pick up a map and read it. It isn’t actually that difficult, despite what an amazing accomplishment you make it seem to be.

      • Chris said, on January 31, 2011 at 6:47 pm

        Anyone else have an irony meter explode on this one? Google maps? Don’t you know that Rand McNally sends out their army of cartographers, armed with shiny new sextants and a compass every 7 years to chart unknown lands? You mean to tell us you download a map using a computer? A computer? What kind of wuss are you?

  38. maggette said, on February 4, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    “Anyone else have an irony meter explode on this one?”

    Irony meter? What’s that? An I-phone app?:)

    • Chris said, on February 4, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      No, I checked “The Tough Guy Handbook” (I don’t actually own a copy. The store scanned me and detected that I own a smartphone and use a remote control to turn on my tv, so I don’t qualify) and it indicated that if I built it using tubes, duct tape and peat moss, it would be acceptable. I didn’t need to, but I got some sheet metal and chewed out a top and bottom panel. I could have used tin snips, but I wasn’t sure if some geek with a computer had had a hand in designing them…

    • Chris said, on February 4, 2011 at 5:35 pm

      Also, I noticed that on a another post, Scott referred to someone as a ‘self righteous retard’. My irony detector maker exploded at that one…

      • Rick said, on February 4, 2011 at 5:44 pm

        That would be me.

        The retard.

        He seems to have stripped the post, and the wry comment that brought it on.

        Too bad, I thought it was pretty funny.

        ~Retard.

  39. Mike said, on February 16, 2011 at 8:09 am

    Considering how absent minded most people on the planet are, it amazes me that with all this automation we don’t yet have:

    -car headliights that switch themselves off shortly after you take the keys out of the car

    -cell phones that switch themselves off after 6 hours or so, so you don’t run down the battery when you forget to switch them off at night.

    • Chris said, on March 1, 2011 at 3:42 am

      My car will turn the headlights on when I start the car and off when I take the keys out. That isn’t terribly new. I personally don’t want my cell phone to turn itself off. I regularly go 6 hours without receiving a call and still want my phone on so that I can receive an inbound call. My guess is that phones don’t do this because very few people are interested in them doing this. I plug my phone in next to my bed and use it as my alarm. A significant number of people do not have landlines, so they just leave their cell phones on all the time, including charging time at night.

  40. CtZ said, on August 23, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Thanks for this. I’ve been reading through your past posts and I find I agree a lot with your point of view on design and engineering in contemporary times.

    One of the things that made me realize what I missed out on was reading “Kelly” by Kelly Johnson, and how quickly he was able to design and built things back in the day before CAD. It still blows my mind that the fastest airplane ever built, with materials that weren’t fully understood (like titanium) was developed so quickly. As you said, when you contrast that with the time to develop and fly the F-22, F-35, etc. it is very depressing.

    Where I work, I have seen people running FEA/CFD models, sometimes the same models, for years trying to improve the results, and trying to get the results to converge to a certain value. What’s the point? Only very rarely do I run into a geometry or loading that will keep me from being able to just do a hand calculation for stress or what I need. The only time the computers are truly that useful are when we need custom software to simulate a dynamic system that is difficult or impossible to analyze by hand within the time constraints.

    That, and engineers are often separated, through several different layers, from the hands-on. The techs get the interesting hands-on work, some engineers do get to oversee/help them, others very rarely deal with techs and all, and some true outcasts get stuck driving FEA/CFD for their entire career. I hate that.

    • Scott Locklin said, on August 23, 2011 at 7:29 pm

      I don’t know what to say other than, “I’m sorry modern engineering sucks.” You seem like an insightful guy: maybe you should start a company that doesn’t suck. I’ve had a little success rolling on my own; I’m not shaking the world here, but at least the fuckups I make ain’t pointy headed manager fuckups (and when they are, which occasionally happens with pig-headed clients, at least THEY are paying for it), and it would be tough to trade in the freedom.

      You really pressing 110 single handed? That’s some crazy strength, mister. Inspiration to try some specialization in that exercise.

  41. Ragerslikeyoufail said, on August 22, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Useless rager, you deserve to suffer.

    • Scott Locklin said, on August 22, 2012 at 9:20 pm

      I didn’t think any of my ex girlfriends hail from Auburn Hills Michigan, so I’ll assume you’re someone who gets paid to do things on computers which ruin humanity.

  42. Bill said, on September 19, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    You’re only partly right about cars. I started working on cars in the ’70s and except for some garbage they made in the ’80s, cares are MUCH better off with electronics. and no, they’re not “impossible to repair”… you’re just behind the times.

    What IS wrong with cars is the half-assed engineering these days, in that they tend to use too many plastics and whatever materials they use they’re stretching them to the very limits of their failure point.

    As far as electronic engine controls, anti-lock brakes, etc… you just need to be able to understand and interpolate (yes, it’s a word) the English language and have a real understanding of how machines work.

    Most people aren’t really qualified, or even suited to work on cars. that includes probably 60% of the people that are actually doing it. (and I’m being generous).

    Sure, auto technicians today need to be more skillful in a variety of disciplines then they were in the ’60s, but a lot of that old-time knowledge still applies. engines and most mechanical parts still work basically the same and it’s just the control mechanisms that are “smart”.

    BTW, to make you car last a long time you still need to do the same things, keep oil and water in it and do the preventive maintenance more or less on schedule…. same as it ever was.

    One thing I will say about electronics (and really, I’m talking about “electrical” items, not stuff that has semiconductors here) is that these guys have gotten to where they’ll put a motor in places where they used to use a cable (like in rear-view mirror adjusters) I’m still dubious about the cost/benefit/failure merits of that sort of thinking but little electric motors are cheap these days. IMO the main cause of failure on windows and mirror adjustors are crappy switches, though.

    • Scott Locklin said, on September 20, 2013 at 2:49 am

      Here’s an example of “impossible to fix.” Granted, yes, it is not technically impossible to fix; just extremely inconvenient, and a fairly stupid idea in the first place, illustrating how people ruin things with computers:

      I was recently contemplating a CLK320, as it is a nice car which is at a good spot in the used car value curve. I didn’t buy it, because they have crankshaft sensors which commonly, without warning, fail. It’s an expensive and needlessly complex repair, but that’s not the worst thing about it. The worst thing about it is when the car randomly fails to function, you will have no idea why, and you’ll be stuck wherever the car failed. I bought an older (80s, in fact) car with no computer, no crankshaft sensor, and no reason to tell a computer where the crankshaft is at any given millisecond, because it doesn’t have sparkplugs. Cars without such useless baubles do not fail to function without ample warning that something is going wrong with the car. If MBZ made crankshaft sensors which never failed, or at least warn you that they are about to fail, I wouldn’t care about this issue, but it is a real important issue that some $10 widget can get me stranded in buttfuck egypt because the car designers are chodes who are over-impressed with the shortcuts computers offer to their designs. There are numerous other examples like this. Apparently the VW new beetle’s preposterously complex ignition start switch module fails every couple of years (again, without warning, stranding you wherever it decided to stop working), necessitating a several thousand dollar surgery on the steering column. What problem does this several thousand dollar piece of complexity solve? None, as far as I can tell, other than providing a steady revenue stream for VW dealers. Keeping the engine in tune and providing safety features like airbags and ABS: ja, jawol. The rest: nein!

      I am in abundant agreement with you that designers are taking obnoxious short cuts by sticking (often unreliable) motors everywhere where a cable or lever would do. I’m pretty sure this is done on purpose: most car dealerships make the big bucks fixing dumb things like the sideview mirror adjustment motors. I hate this.

      FWIIW, I worked on cars in the early 90s. I came to the conclusion mostly via a subsequent engineering career, and the fact that nobody makes cars I would even vaguely consider buying any more.


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