Saturday, May 02, 2015

Windows 95 still flies today

Remember the days of Windows 95?  After 49.7 days of continued operation, the system would crash.  That was before the Y2K bug, when nobody knew or even expected that a counter would overflow.  We should have learned our lesson by now: even seriously defective software can hang around for a very long time.

Unfortunately, we can't quite start feeling warm and fuzzy yet.  Recently, it was discovered that a Boeing 787's electrical system will shut down after 248 days of continued operation.  The result?  Among other things, the cockpit controls no longer work.  And with fly by wire, that means pilots can become irrelevant at any time.

In other words, please make sure you periodically reboot the 787 until that software bug is fixed.  If the problem is ever fixed.

At least this is a bit of technology we all understand.  That is, rebooting makes flaky programs appear to work for a bit longer.  The underlying assumption is deeply problematic.  The message is that this is the extent to which we are supposed to participate in our technological adventure.  You yearn of concerning yourself with whether the maintenance crew hit ctrl-alt-del before take off, don't you?  Wait, why isn't the expert doing that in the first place?  Or even better: how is it that a simple counter overflow can completely disable a modern airplane?  How are these machines being designed such that these failure modes are even possible?

But forget wondering what other 787 bugs could exist when that kind of defect went undetected.  What's next?  Cars that drive themselves (except when they don't)?  Smart electric meters, traffic lights, and gasoline pumps connected to the internet securely (except when security isn't --- really --- there)?  Everything will be just fine, right?

Seriously, these are not toys or apps.  Please demand reliable software.

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