|Jack Ganssle's Blog
This is Jack's outlet for thoughts about designing and programming embedded systems. It's a complement to my bi-weekly newsletter The Embedded Muse. Contact me at email@example.com. I'm an old-timer engineer who still finds the field endlessly fascinating (bio).
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Data Seems to Have No Value
August 14, 2019
Cost of a 2 TB hard drive: $59 from Best Buy.
Cost of years of work by 690 people: Millions of dollars.
Homework assignment: Evaluate the value of a routine backup strategy versus the cost of the tape.
Tough problem, right?
I'd think the answer would be obvious, but am routinely astonished at how many organizations get it wrong. According to http://www.stuff.co.nz/4260645a11.html a New Zealand Health Board lost all of the computer files created over the course of years by their staff of almost 700 people.
Whoever runs that datacenter should be held criminally responsible. Everyone knows the importance of backups. Everyone knows multiple copies must be kept. Everyone knows to keep them off-site.
Yet these sorts of data losses are common. An article in USA Today claims 70% of business people have lost data, yet only 57% bother to back up at all.
My brother lost all of his digital pictures in a hard disk crash – thousands, completely gone. You'd think an adult would learn from this experience, but he replaced the computer and continued to place his faith in a single rotating high-density disk that's doomed to fail. And sure enough, it failed again and he lost more pictures. He just can't be bothered to back up. I gave him a second hard drive and installed SecondCopy (http://secondcopy.com/), which copies new and changed files every night, but his kids disabled it for unknown reasons.
Apparently people, and businesses, can't learn from their own mistakes.
In recent years three companies contacted me when fires destroyed their engineering labs and backup servers. One didn't keep copies off-site. That company is now out of business, having found too late that the lost data was irreplaceable. 200 jobs lost for the want of a few tapes or disks.
Even for my home data I'm obsessive about backups. SecondCopy mirrors important files to an external hard drive every night, keeping copies of the last ten versions of changed files. That gets swapped with another kept off-site every Friday in case the house burns.
Cost of two drives: $120.
Value of decades of work: priceless.
We learned from Hurricane Katrina that "off-site" isn't enough. "Off-site" better mean someplace a thousand miles away. One event can take out an entire city.
Data has no value. We know that, because accounting doesn't count it as an asset on the company's balance sheet. They track inventory - every lousy resistor - and furniture. Till the CPAs wake up and realize that the data means much more than a collection of easily-replaceable desks and chairs, backups will remain a haphazard affair, and the so-ephemeral data that is the lifeblood of any technology company will remain at risk.
And that's truly criminal.
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Recent blog postings:
- On Discipline - The one thing I think many teams need...
- Data Seems to Have No Value - At least, that's the way people treat it.
- Apollo 11 and Navigation - In 1969 the astronauts used a sextant. Some of us still do.
- Definitions Part 2 - More fun definitions of embedded systems terms.
- Definitions - A list of (funny) definitions of embedded systems terms.
- On Meta-Politics - Where has thoughtful discourse gone?
- Millennials and Tools - It seems that many millennials are unable to fix anything.
- Crappy Tech Journalism - The trade press is suffering from so much cost-cutting that it does a poor job of educating engineers.
- Tech and Us - I worry that our technology is more than our human nature can manage.
- On Cataracts - Cataract surgery isn't as awful as it sounds.
- Can AI Replace Firmware - A thought: instead of writing code, is the future training AIs?
- Customer non-Support - How to tick off your customers in one easy lesson.
- Learn to Code in 3 Weeks! - Firmware is not simply about coding.
- We Shoot For The Moon - a new and interesting book about the Apollo moon program.
- On Expert Witness Work - Expert work is fascinating but can be quite the hassle.
- Married To The Team - Working in a team is a lot like marriage.
- Will We Ever Get Quantum Computers - Despite the hype, some feel quantum computing may never be practical.
- Apollo 11, The Movie - A review of a great new movie.
- Goto Considered Necessary - Edsger Dijkstra recants on his seminal paper
- GPS Will Fail - In April GPS will have its own Y2K problem. Unbelievable.
- LIDAR in Cars - Really? - Maybe there are better ideas.
- Why Did You Become an Engineer? - This is the best career ever.
- Software Process Improvement for Firmware - What goes on in an SPI audit?
- 50 Years of Ham Radio - 2019 marks 50 years of ham radio for me.
- Medical Device Lawsuits - They're on the rise, and firmware is part of the problem.
- A retrospective on 2018 - My marketing data for 2018, including web traffic and TEM information.
- Remembering Circuit Theory - Electronics is fun, and reviewing a textbook is pretty interesting.
- R vs D - Too many of us conflate research and development
- Engineer or Scientist? - Which are you? John Q. Public has a hard time telling the difference.
- A New, Low-Tech, Use for Computers - I never would have imagined this use for computers.
- NASA's Lost Software Engineering Lessons - Lessons learned, lessons lost.
- The Cost of Firmware - A Scary Story! - A hallowean story to terrify.
- A Review of First Man, the Movie - The book was great. The movie? Nope.
- A Review of The Overstory - One of the most remarkable novels I've read in a long time.
- What I Learned About Successful Consulting - Lessons learned about successful consulting.
- Low Power Mischief - Ultra-low power systems are trickier to design than most realize.
- Thoughts on Firmware Seminars - Better Firmware Faster resonates with a lot of people.
- On Evil - The Internet has brought the worst out in many.
- My Toothbrush has Modes - What! A lousy toothbrush has a UI?
- Review of SUNBURST and LUMINARY: An Apollo Memoir - A good book about the LM's code.
- Fun With Transmission Lines - Generating a step with no electronics.
- On N-Version Programming - Can we improve reliability through redundancy? Maybe not.
- On USB v. Bench Scopes - USB scopes are nice, but I'll stick with bench models.