|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).
|For novel ideas about building embedded systems (both hardware and firmware), join the 35,000 engineers who subscribe to The Embedded Muse, a free biweekly newsletter. The Muse has no hype and no vendor PR. Click here to subscribe.
Tech and Us
June 5, 2019
"… perhaps because the spate of events with which we attempt to cope and which we strive to control have far exceeded, in this modern age, the old bounds, that they have been swollen up to giant proportions, which, all the time, the stature and intellect of man remains unchanged." From Winston Churchill's eulogy for Lord Lloyd, 1941
We are really good at building human-sized systems. That enormous truck that can only operate in a quarry still has controls not unsimilar to that of the family station wagon. That station wagon travels reasonably safely at the posted speed limit of 60 MPH or so; a 200 MPH limit is simply beyond the abilities of most of us. A 72 meter-long A380 is flown by a cockpit crew of two manipulating controls that fit their hands.
But I worry that our technology may now be outstripping our human frailties. The canonical example, for me, is cell use and texting while driving. Consider these facts from here:
- · The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.
- · Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.
- · 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
- · Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.
Then there's this stunning factoid:
- According to a AAA poll, 94 percent of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway.
We all know how dangerous this is. Yet too many of us do it anyway. (And, yes, teenagers are idiots, but we see plenty of so-called grownups tapping away on their phones at highway speeds.)
One could cite excessive speed or tailgating as examples of driving foolishness. I would. But there are many who would dispute this as they feel gifted with supernatural skills.
But does anyone dispute that texting behind the wheel is not only foolish, but downright dangerous? And what is the upside? Given that texting is so incredibly fraught, one would think texting at speed would be reserved only for life and death messages - how many text messages are in any way important?
In the last decade or so the new, incredible technology of smart phones has appeared, and almost overnight most of us bought one (or more). In that tiny sliver of historical humanness so many have become so addicted they put their lives (and those of others) at risk to text some triviality.
Then there's the partial autopilots available in some cars. Again, everyone knows it's important to constantly supervise these systems. But some of us don't.
We know bad things will result if we do X. So we do X.
I think our tech is running afoul of our limited capabilities. We have limited human brains that can manage only so much at once. Ignore those limitations at our peril.
The addictive nature of cell phones is like Fentanyl: it's more than many can resist. Even more insidious: it's claimed that at least some social networking platforms are designed to suck us in. Those involved in creating these are working hard to seduce our worst impulses. How ethical is that?
There may be technological solutions to some of these problems, but the profit motive dominates business decision making.
I fully expect these problems to get worse as designers (in my opinion, unethically) create even cleverer algorithms to target consumers.
I'm an old guy who grew up when it was illegal in the USA to own a phone. If my parents weren't frail and in their 90s I'd leave the cell home most of the time. And even if it rang heralding some awful message, I won't answer till stopped. After all, though the message might be important, there's nothing I can do from the car that can't wait a few minutes.
It wasn't till I was in my 40s that most of us owned a computer. But I worry for youngsters whose entire life experience is that of being surrounded by the beeping tech that demands constant attention.
What is the answer? I sure don't know.
Feel free to email me with comments.
Back to Jack's blog index page.
If you'd like to post a comment without logging in, click in the "Name" box under "Or sign up with Disqus" and click on "I'd rather post as a guest."
Recent blog postings:
- My GP-8E Computer - About my first (working!) computer
- Humility - On The Death of Expertise and what this means for engineering
- On Checklists - Relying on memory is a fool's errand. Effective people use checklists.
- Why Does Software Cost So Much? - An exploration of this nagging question.
- Is the Future All Linux and Raspberry Pi? - Will we stop slinging bits and diddling registers?
- Will Coronavirus Spell the End of Open Offices - How can we continue to work in these sorts of conditions?
- Problems in Ramping Up Ventilator Production - It's not as easy as some think.
- Lessons from a Failure - what we can learn when a car wash goes wrong.
- Life in the Time of Coronavirus - how are you faring?
- Superintelligence - A review of Nick Bostrom's book on AI.
- A Lack of Forethought - Y2K redux
- How Projects Get Out of Control - Think requirements churn is only for software?
- 2019's Most Important Lesson. The 737 Max disasters should teach us one lesson.
- On Retiring - It's not quite that time, but slowing down makes sense. For me.
- 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.