Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
The prevalence of the computer - Ed's journal
The prevalence of the computer
absintheskiss asked the question:
"We invented computers to serve us. They were meant to be our slaves. When did it become the other way round??"

That got me thinking. Professionally, I'm a 'computer person'. The best analogy for this I can give, is a medical doctor. If everything goes OK, I'm doing 'health checks'. I watch processor statistics, and network throughput. I analyse disk activity, and data access.

I look for ways to improve my system. There's always ways to do this. Altering network topology, replacing backbone components, finding and moving bottlenecks of performance and throughput.

All too often though, things don't work perfectly. We've a 450 server, 4000 desktop system. A total data storage of around 50Tb, all of which needs backing up. Several hundred network switches, scattered around the site and the UK. Each of these are made up of a very large number of hardware components, that have a finite failure rate. But even more, we have software, that's scaled up from the small, single host, single user, up to a very large multiplex.

And we do often have 'emergent behaviour'. Where strange things happen, for a not readily identifiable reason. Because a small change by someone, thinking it'll be limited in scope, has a potential to affect all of these other systems.

So when these strange things happen, one might even analogize them as illnesses, I get to perform triage on their severity, start investigating the cause, and figuring out a cure.

But anyway, back to the original question. The problem is, that like it or not, computer technology has revolutionized our world. There's actually very few things that a computer can do that a person cannot. The difference is, for simple tasks, a computer can do a lot of them very fast.

It's just not feasible to mathematically model a million element matrix by hand. It just takes too long, to do a million sums, ten thousand times to simulate what happens when water flows over a turbine blade.

It's _possible_. Indeed, being able to do so, and understand how and why is how programs are developed. But a single person cannot do this in the same amount of time as a computer could.

Even things a simple as getting photos to another continent. Digital camera, upload, email, download, print.

Or sending a personalized letter to each of your 5000 customers.

Collaboratively working on some documentation with someone based in manchester.

All these things possible.
And all of them so much more efficient when supported by the ubiquitous computer.

The truth is, like the heroine addict, we cannot cope for long without computers. The world is just too much harder to face. In the main, because businesses have adjusted to the new power computers have granted. Companies could cope, but in order to be able to keep up they'd need to increase staffing levels drastically, and start retraining those who've not known a office world without a computer.

So the truth is, I'm the one, like many others, who keep this world running. Like your neighbourhood GP, you hope to never have the need, and in an ideal world, you never need to interact with them. But when things do go wrong, that is why I'm here. I do what I can in terms of preventative measures, and mostly that does well enough. Subject of course to co-operation by those who I'm trying to help (e.g. funding infrastructure upgrades and improvements).

But by their nature, whilst people are convergent in their 'state' - they'll recover over time on their own mostly. Computers, unfortunately, won't. They need manual intervention to recover their state.

And when it goes wrong, I'm here. As keyed up and informed as I can be as to what's going on at each level, hopefully to understand what is going wrong, and put it right. Not so much a slave to the computer, as the one of the few that can put things right, so day to day life can continue.


5 comments or Leave a comment
jorune From: jorune Date: June 15th, 2005 10:26 am (UTC) (Link)
For me the question highlights the importance of good design. Good design lifts the spirit and inspires the user, it is a blessing and benefit to life. Bad design does the opposite. Any device that turns another being into a slave is abhorrent.

A working knowledge of design is important nay vital, it should be part of the school curriculum.

The human body is a dynamically healing fault tolerant system that can survive stunning amounts of abuse. Networks/computers should move towards this model, moving away from the triage model aka screaming helpless child to self healing, auto reconfiguring, dynamically resolving themselves.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: June 15th, 2005 10:45 am (UTC) (Link)
"Any device that turns another being into a slave is abhorrent."
Well, I guess that'd depend on whatever kinks you've got, doesn't it?


Anyway, moving swiftly onwards, we're gradually getting to a point where systems are resilient and able to deal with minor problems. Simple things like automated cleanups, log rotation and notification when there is a problem gradually gets there.

Design is very important, as is consideration of _what_ you're designing for. And yeah, it's often something that's skipped over. But I think that's mostly a pain-feedback thing. You do a bodge job once, and then you gradually realise that it's the real pain of it, that you have to deal with for the next 4 years, and next time, you spend a little more time getting it right... :)
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: June 15th, 2005 10:51 am (UTC) (Link)
All hail, Ed, the new messiah! ;)
sobrique From: sobrique Date: June 15th, 2005 10:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Hey, I'm the Emperor, don'tcha know :)
the_wood_gnome From: the_wood_gnome Date: June 15th, 2005 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
yes, we all know you won that one...
5 comments or Leave a comment