Thursday, October 14, 2010

Technology failure

Olga and I went to a dinner party last night and the topic of how we have become slaves to computers came up. When I was a child, the science books promised that technology and automation would make our lives easier so we would work less hours and have more time for leisure. What a joke that seems now. We all work longer hours and the impact of computing and modern communications technology is that people now expect answers instantly instead of when you can get around to it. When I mentioned another promise of the computer age, the paperless office, the entire table fell about laughing.

Kelly, K4UPG writes that he had just spent six hours running updates, fixing the problems the updates created and figuring out how to install the updates that wouldn't install automatically. His verdict: Computers Do Not Save Time.

The last couple of mornings Acronis Non-stop Backup has displayed a message that it was not running. Kelly's post made me wonder if this was caused by a recent Windows update. I decided to do a System Restore back to last Monday, before most of the updates occurred, and lo and behold Non-Stop Backup is running again. I don't have the inclination to spend six hours installing updates individually to find which one caused the problem, nor to ferret through forums searching for a solution, so automatic updates have been switched off for the time being. Having a working backup is more important than receiving fixes to problems I haven't experienced and probably never will.

The trouble with computers is you have to spend too much time being your own support technician, time you should be spending working, playing radio or whatever the computer is supposed to be helping you with. Once upon a time computers were simple, reliable and never needed updating. What was the name of the operating system they ran? Ah yes, MS-DOS.


ke9v said...

I think that it's too easy to forget that roughly half of the people on this planet spend twelve hours a day in search of food and clean water. How many hours a day do you spend in that pursuit? I'd say that technology has afforded the more fortunate half of us plenty of "spare" time.

And whoever long ago said that computers would be "time savers" was simply wrong. But only because they couldn't see how we have wrapped our lives around the computer and do so much more with it than they ever imagined - mostly using it as a communication appliance.

Now I will tell you this, I haven't had a wrestling match or a problem with a computer in a long, long time. Years really. But then, I long ago gave up trying to do ham radio things with my computers. It's amazing how robust they are when not asked to interact with amateur radio technology! HI!

73, Jeff KE9V

Sivan said...

The question of my people believed offices will go paperless and why it did not happen was actually investigated by a couple of researchers who wrote a book on this, The Myth of the Paperless Office.

Theodore said...

It's all a matter of entropy.

Computers are both complex systems and generate order - that is reduce entropy (roughly chaos or randomness).
However in any closed system, if you decrease the entropy in one part of the system, it comes at a cost in the other parts of the system.
Every time you sort your excel spreadsheet you are increasing the order in your small part of the universe.
This requires energy and comes in the form of both fossil fuels (stored solar energy over millions of years) and chemical energy in the form of human metabolic processes.
Whether we like it or not - if we want civilisation at a complex level, we must continually move energy into the system to keep entropy at bay.
Hence the reason cities are a black hole for both energy and food production, being complex systems seeking to keep entropy low.
This is easy to prove, as if the energy or food inputs are stopped to a city, entropy will rapidly increase and chaos will result.
The Mayans found this out when a drought caused the food input to drop dramatically, resulting in the civilisations collapse.

So the decision for civilisation is clear - keep the energy inputs coming into the cities or give up civilisation.
Each one of us who live in a complex society also have a part to play in keeping order and entropy low, hence the constant updates, computer control and computer maintenance.
Paper is actually a very low energy media for communication, which is why it has been used for thousands of years.
In addition, it is capable of being a low cost, effective archive method - probably the only type of popular archive which would survive a technology collapse, and be able to be read by a primitive future generation.
Paper after all, is solar powered, as it comes from cellulose which is generated by plants using sunlight as its energy input!
So pray we never go paperless, or we would have to re-discover all the science and medicine we have accumulated, if things turn sour.

henry said...

THANK YOU for emphasizing the value of a good backup.

Fenris said...

The reason that old computers running MS-DOS were reliable and didn't need updating is because you couldn't do that much with them, and they were not networked.

Now we have planet-spanning networks, many more opportunities for network-based attacks to occur, and more value in the information that passes from place to place on the network.

I for one don't want to go back to MS-DOS, it did nothing useful for me.

Anonymous said...

Julian, please give Mac a try! I'm so recognize these irritations you write about. I used to lose many many many hours recovering my Windows (95, 98, NT, 2000) PC from crash after crash and other problems.
One day I changed to Apple with there MacOSX. I regret one thing about it: that I didn't made that change much earlier...
Of course, Mac isn't perfect either but at least it's transparent and stable. I hardly spent ever over 15 minutes per month on problem searching or waiting for system recovery's.
Especially because you can write your own programs, you'll love Xcode and the community around it.
I'm not a shareholder but I remember your frustration so well. Maybe you'll give Mac a try some day and enjoy the trouble free environment too :-)

73, Jim