Hardware

Peter Cochrane's Blog: A crash-free life?

It's almost time to tempt Murphy's Law...

Written during a quiet and peaceful period in my office at home over Easter weekend. Despatched to silicon.com over my open wi-fi hotspot.

I just hope I'm not speaking out of turn and I don't want to tempt fate - or Murphy's Law, for that matter - but I have just completed an OS update on my laptop without my system crashing. And I just realised that I have now actually completed tens of such OS and app upgrades over the past two years without a single system crash. Yep, not a single crash for more than two years.

Almost without realising, I have transitioned from holding my breath in anticipation of something going wrong on software updates and upgrades to not even thinking about it. Could it be that my laptop is no longer technology? Could it be that we have actually hit a similar plateau of maturity to the automobile, where we just turn the key and it all works? If we haven't, I think we are getting very close.

Not so long ago I can remember when everything you did to the OS and apps involved a very definite and very visible risk. How many times have I had to reinstall things to get back to a stable machine? Over the years I have lost count but I still remember the pain and inconvenience for sure, not to mention that sinking feeling when it is all going so badly wrong and out of control.

I just don't ever want to go back to those times! And funnily enough, I never want to own or drive an old car. They were truly bad; no fun at all.

In order to make sure I achieve high levels of reliability on the road, I never buy the latest anything. I always operate one step behind the 'bleeding edge'. So my laptop only has 80MB of memory instead of 100MB or 120MB, the clock is only 1.6GHz instead of 2GHz or more. Similarly, my mobile phone, camera, pocket hard-drive and memory stick are all conservatively rated to give a little extra safety and operating margin.

This all parallels the automobile and many other industries where reliability has been achieved through a combination of really good design and engineering, plus refinements in component supply and manufacture but also sensible operating margins that sacrifice a small amount of overall performance.

Just recently I emptied my car of a huge number of tools and a support kit that I had become accustomed to carrying over my past 43 years of motoring. I can't remember the last time I used any of this stuff and it had become a bit of a comfort blanket!

So, soon I think I will be contemplating the removal of back-up OS and apps discs, portable hard drive, cables, connectors and so on from my travel bag. I just don't seem to have to use them now. So why carry them? But... I think I'll give it another six months to a year - just to let Murphy take his eye off the ball!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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