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Posts Tagged ‘reliability’

I decided to have one of my recent photographs printed on canvas. My wife liked it, and we thought we could put it up in our newly decorated hallway. It seemed an easy thing to do, online, and there was an introductory offer on, otherwise large canvases can be quite expensive. You load your file to the printer’s website, they run it off and post it to you. Simple.

That was a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been getting daily emails from the courier to say they’ve got the parcel, it’s on the road, it’s coming at such and such a time. So I wait with bated breath, looking forward to seeing my picture, but nothing comes. Then I check the mail, and the courier’s sent a message to say I wasn’t in, and here’s the proof. And the proof is a blacked out photograph.

So I feel a bit let down, not so much because my stuff hasn’t arrived, but because the machine lied to me, and eroded a little more of my trust in it, and by association my faith in the future that’s coming, because the future is all about the machines. And the machines will lie, and we’ll know they lie, but we’ll rely on them so much we’ll have to live with their lies. And they’ll lie because we’ve set them up to do it, because we’re essentially irrational beings, trying to run the world along rational lines.

But back to my picture. The system could not say: “Sorry, we didn’t make it today, like we promised. We had too many deliveries to make.” And it couldn’t say it because of the way the drivers are measured. The drivers have to say the customer wasn’t in, otherwise he gets it in the neck, even though the machine has given him far too many parcels to deliver. So, I don’t blame the driver. He’s trying to survive as part of the machinery, and the machine pays him, so he has to lie. The machine makes him do it, and treats him appallingly into the bargain.

This has happened every day now for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t in, so they couldn’t deliver. But I was in. I was waiting for my picture. I messaged the courier to ask if there was a problem, if they had the right address. But there was no means of doing so, other than by engaging with what I can only surmise was a circularly inclined chat-bot.

The function of the machinery is simple. It requires a combination of technology and human skill. The printer prints the picture, the logistics are plotted, stickers are run off and attached, and the delivery driver brings it to my home. But on top of that is a layer of “scientific” managerialism, that demands performance measures, feedback and other arcane stats, so it can show an ever expanding business model, weed out inefficiencies in the machinery, maximise profits, etc,..

But such scientific management is reliable only until it meets people, and then it doesn’t work, for the simple reason, people are not machines. Treat us like machines, we treat the machine or machine-like people with contempt, and the collective bio-mechanical machine lies.

After messaging the seller, the picture eventually arrived, unannounced, in the small hours of the morning. It was left propped by the front door, in the middle of a rainstorm. But no harm was done. The picture was safe and snug inside its battered parcel, and I’m very pleased with it. I was hoping the courier would email me a link to a quiz, asking me to “rate my experience”, but they didn’t. I would not have complained. I would have responded irrationally, and said:

Regarding my feedback. Sorry I missed you. You weren’t in, and there was no safe place to leave it.

Thanks for listening

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screenshotMy computer is dead! The last update of Windows Ten killed it. I don’t like Windows Ten. It updates my computer every Friday night whether I want it to or not. Then I come to it on a Saturday, thinking to jot down a fragment of a poem, or maybe tickle through an essay, and it says: “Oh, hang on, I’m doing something much more important, you’ll have to wait.”

So you make coffee and sometimes when you come back it says it’s ready for you, but then you find it’s not working right. Sometimes you have to wait all day to find out it’s not working right, or sometimes it doesn’t work at all. The computer grinds to a halt, as if the update poured treacle into the works; the mouse becomes sticky, or sometimes you can’t get past the login screen. Sometimes you have to wait a week for the next update to fix things, sometimes you have to wait two or three. It’s a good job I’m not up against any deadlines.

This time, I’m getting what they call a 100% disk usage error. From reading the self-help forums, I’ve learned it’s a common problem for which the solutions are legion, but I must have tried them all, and none of them work. Basically, the machine enters a state of infinite effort while actually doing nothing at all, the result being a condition of stubborn unresponsiveness verging on the catatonic. I even tried resetting my computer to a state as fresh as the day that it was born – thinking I was being very clever in working that one out – but it won’t let me do it. It’s beginning to sound like Arthur C Clarke’s HAL: “I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t let you do that.”

I’ve forgotten what that poem fragment was now. I woke up with it running through my head, but its leaked away. I should have written it down. After all, Wordsworth never had this trouble did he? He wrote stuff on bits of paper with a quill pen, then sent it all off with a penny stamp, ink blobs and all, and hey-presto, he made poet laureate. Eventually. But no, I had to start fiddling, clicking this, pressing that, and all to no avail. Also, have you noticed, there’s nothing like a sick computer for spoiling your day, for making you realise how much you’ve come to rely on it, and perhaps despising yourself a little on account of that?

So how did I manage to post this then? Ah well, I have this other dead computer. The Internet killed that one too, long ago, but I managed to resurrect it with an obsolete operating system I bought of Ebay for a fiver. It’s now the fastest, most responsive and silky smooth machine in the house, but only because it can no longer connect to the Internet. I’m it’s master now, you see? So I wrote this on it, transferred it by memory card to my Android phone and posted it online that way. It’s hardly convenient, but where there’s a will there’s a way.

It’s also useful to be reminded that it doesn’t entirely serves us, this vast invisible thing we have wrapped the world in. It’s a marvellous invention of course. The simple fact of email was a step change in communications. But then most of the emails we get are junk, sent out by dumb robots, and we have to spend time sorting through them for the ones that aren’t junk and sent out by humans. And we all know our emails are scanned and parsed by the Internet anyway, looking for juicy clues about our likely buying habits. And we know too we’re being groomed and manipulated by its algorithms every day, that the non living, non self-aware intelligence of the machine is becoming far more important as an end in itself than anything we’re allowed to do when we’re connected to it.

So my poem has gone and, okay, it wasn’t going to change the world so there’s no sense getting too upset about that, but the point is the machine robbed me of a moment of human expression, which does not make it my friend. It has something far more important to do now than serve our often admittedly trivial needs, and we need to think very carefully about what kind of unthinking, unfeeling world the machine is leading us into while under the impression it’s serving us, when in fact we’re all in service to it.

Wait a minute,… I remember how that poem went now:

My computer once made me see red,
When it locked up and tried to play dead,
So I cursed it quite rough, cos I’d quite had enough,
Then I smashed it to bits with my head.

 

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grumpy at grasmereJuly turns uncompromisingly hot, and the humidity creeps up. These are the days when even modest tasks outdoors raise an uncomfortable sweat. It was after 11:00 pm last night before the air thinned to a pleasant coolness, but it was back up to twenty two degrees by 8:00 am this morning, already thick and heavy with the humidity once more – another scorcher in the making.

I was driving to work, shirt sleeves rolled up, and with the windows down, something I normally only do on the return in the evening, when the car’s had all day to bake out on the softening Tarmac of the work’s car park. I should have taken the Mazda, topless, except she’s not for the commute, unless the commute is on a Friday and the weather’s fine. Then she can kick the weekend off, and I can drive her home by way of Rivington for lunch, like I plan on doing tomorrow. To risk a chauvinistic metaphor, and a black eye from the Lady Graeme, Mazzy is my mistress; I don’t waste her ironing my shirts.

Instead I took the Vauxhall, old Grumpy. I’m afraid he’s not wearing very well. At only seven years old his door bottoms are starting to rot out like cars used to do in the bad old days. He exceeded his six year anti perforation warranty by a year, which is either good design, or bad, depending on whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

With sound bodywork and regular servicing you can keep a modern car going indefinitely, and you rarely see a rotten car these days, even cars of twelve or fifteen years old will polish up like new, but grumpy’s cards  are definitely marked. I’ll get another few years out of him, but by then the doors will have well and truly rotted through, and he’ll most likely be bubbling up all tired and ugly in other places too. I can almost hear the dealer tut-tutting when I offer him for trade in – unlike the dealer who was all smiles and reassurance when I bought him.

It’s a pity. He’s had his moments, his occasional, spectacular mechanical failure, and he’s managed to ruin most of the holidays we’ve ever had in him. Sure, I’ve cursed him, but I’ve also grown to like him. If I want to get somewhere far away in comfort and in quiet, he’s your guy, that 1.8 litre engine pulling like a thoroughbred, and the automatic box to smooth away the miles – usually, anyway; he just doesn’t like going on holiday. He was raised as a commuter mule, and that’s all he seems to want to do.

The aircon failed a couple of years ago. No one I took it to could fathom the problem, except to say it would probably cost about £500 to fix. It’s a nice thing to have, aircon, but for the few weeks a year we get when you really need it, like we’re enjoying now, I’m happy to wind the window down instead. That £500 fixed Mazzy’s brakes, which was money better spent, I think.

It touched twenty seven degrees by tea time yesterday. Grumpy was rattling on the way home, pre ignition pinking. I could hear it with the windows down, the sound coming back at me, reflected off tall buildings and walls. I plugged him in and ran a diagnostic on the ‘Droid, but no fault codes came up. He just runs very hot, so nothing to worry about, I think – not yet anyway. But I won’t be taking him on holiday next week, just in case. We’ll take the Lady Graeme’s car, which is newer, and her aircon still works!

He sits out on the drive now, covered in the dust of ten thousand miles – I mean since I last washed him. Then there’s that thin, greasy traffic film and a low sun picking out the smeary streaks across the inside of the windscreen. His doors bear the scars of other doors banged into him in parking bays. He’s hung with cobwebs that trail the fluffy bobs of blown seeds, and there’s a green lichen growing on the undersurfaces of the mirror housings, where dew lingers.

I’ll give him a wash tomorrow, perhaps a bit of a polish up as well, taking care not to burst the paint where he’s bubbling through. It won’t make him last any longer, but he might feel a little better, and look a little less hot, and tired, and grumpy.

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