Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Because we can - the curse of modern software - Pt 2

(Part 1 was published in February - read it here)
I was thrilled recently when I discovered our new microwave had one hundred "power levels" - exactly ten times as many as its predecessor - which cooked quite well until it quit cooking. Then I discovered a scary fact: that amount of power was what you would expect from the radiation leak of a medium sized nuclear reactor - a scary thought indeed. Upon further research I discovered that power level 100 (new) is exactly the same as power level 10 (old). Just one of many problems we can blame on Ada Lovelace  (1815-1852) better known as "the first programmer" - yes the first programmer was a woman!

A few decades back when you designed something - a car or a toaster for example - every feature you added required metal or plastic pieces and usually some wiring. read the rest of the story here.
Once the product was created, modifying it was very difficult and usually accomplished by the kid next door souping up a hot rod in a month's long undertaking. For better, but often for worse, things are different today due to the curse of software.

Now a new feature or a modification - like increasing the power levels on a microwave - can be done by assembling a series of ones and zeros (called programming) and these can be injected into your stereo or carburetor with the click of an "upgrade now" button. This has lead to the "Because We Can" syndrome. Programmers are known for their dedication to their task, creativity and long hours. And of course the marketing department adds to the problem by dreaming up new "features" in day long brain storming sessions. These powerful forces combine to crank out millions of zeros and ones (called features) every month.

Is it any wonder most of us can't figure out most things we own that run on electricity. It started with our inability to program a VCR so we couldn't even use it to tell time let alone schedule recordings.
I've previously used the example of "feature bloat" in Microsoft Word which grew by their own admission from 150 to 1,500 commands. Why? Two reasons. Something had to change to sell upgrades over the years and software is incredibly easy to modify.

Now - years after we gave up trying to program our VCRs - we face the challenge of programming our microwaves, refrigerators, smoke detectors, auto dashboards and thermostats and - even more exciting - we will be able to do it from any place in the world. Due to this great advance in technology - willy nilly adding more digits - you can now know precisely to the one hundredth of an ounce how much weight you gained over the holidays!

No comments:

Post a Comment