Grandpa, What's a 45-RPM Record?
Recently, we arose to see live images of social unrest in Egypt, which eventually led to Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. I thought about how this and similar events and wondered exactly how this sea change would ultimately affect us all. Some results are predictable (rising oil prices) and some are not (the eventual governments of these countries).
According to most reports, the revolt in Egypt was to a great degree planned and organized on the web using social networking. This news got me thinking about how our business has changed in the past several decades, due primarily to advances in technology. Equally astounding is the pace at which new advances have come to market. Kudos to Gordon Moore.
Like many of you, my morning routine includes checking e-mails on several accounts, printing those items requiring a deeper dive, making a great cup of designer coffee instantly in my coffee maker, scanning the major news sources on the web, and going for a walk with my iPod, which is loaded with thousands of songs neatly divided into specific genre playlists all the while continuing to communicate with associates and customers around the globe via my smart phone. I am never out of touch.
I marvel at how well I’ve adapted and how technologically literate I am until I see my 18-month-old granddaughter playing with a new educational toy that looks and acts like a laptop or when I visit her on Skype. Like this child, many industries were born with the latest technology being the norm while others have adapted and evolved to take advantage of the state of the art. Oh how the myriad of high-tech devices has improved the quality of our lives!
Like anything else however, technology has its down sides as well. One of the largest threats I believe is how much we depend on technology without giving thought to the pitfalls of its over use. During the early ’70s, I was a shift electrician in a plant that produced beer and soda cans. At that time most machine controls were electro-mechanical in nature and fairly simple. We were at the cusp of the transition to the brave new digital world. Guys like me bridged the prior generation, who considered this new technology a passing fad, and those to follow who would know only know the new technology.
Back then we were upgrading our machine controls from electro-mechanical to the new-fangled programmable logic controllers (PLCs). This involved converting the ladder logic control diagram to a rudimentary PLC program. The manufacturer of the particular unit we were using employed a very simple and intuitive process that required sequential assignment of Xs to inputs and Ys to outputs. Once this was done, we employed a very simple programming language that operated with a dedicated programming keyboard.
After completing the programming, we would install and test this new technology on a can label printer. We stripped out the old controls and mounted the new PLC hardware, connected the wiring and uploaded the program. After a few initial tweaks, we were off and running. Our first PLC modernization had gone extremely well, and we were very proud of ourselves.
A few weeks later, we were called to that printer at shift change. Seems there had been a problem during the previous shift and the electrician could not get the printer to run correctly. I grabbed my trusty “incorruptible master” file program copy (stored on cassette tape) and headed for the machine. I plugged in the cable and uploaded our incorruptible master. The red “load” light went out and the green “verify” light came on. I signaled to the operator to run the printer, but we experienced the same issue. Well, I did the logical thing and reloaded our “incorruptible master” file program a second time and again got the green light. The machine continued to malfunction.
Out of frustration, I retrieved the hard copy program and began to step through the program line by line, comparing the results displayed with the hard copy in the book. About half way through, I encountered a recurrent message “jump 0”. This meant there was nothing there as if it were erased. But how could this be? After all I saw the green light, and green is good right? I re-wrote the program manually, saved a copy, and then ran the machine successfully. Afterwards, I thought and thought about what had occurred. The more I thought, the more confused I became. Then it hit me, the green “verify” light meant that the information I uploaded was indeed retained in the PLC memory. Turns out that someone had set the cassette tape with the master incorruptible program atop a remaining control transformer that degaussed a good portion of the program.
What’s the message here? Clearly the technology we use has changed the way we think. As in this case, my assumption was incorrect even though I had the green light. How often do we assume that technology is a green light for positive progress? How often do we incorrectly assume the e-mail was intentionally meant to ruin our day? How often do we take incorrect action based our blind faith in technology?
We know that the hypothesis of Moore’s law remains accurate. And while Moore’s Law deals with a prediction that new technological developments would prompt the exponential growth of the number of devices on a single chip, it may also be an illustration of the effect of constant development of new technology in our jobs and our personal lives.
The data center of today is a true marvel. System intelligence tells us immediately anything we want or need to know about the systems and devices we employ. We no longer rely on human beings to recognize, diagnose, and correct problems before we experience a major failure. Today, we rely on other machines to let us know when they don’t feel well, and then we rely on a technician to use state-of-the-art tools to interrogate the ailing unit and recommend the solution, if the correct part is indeed immediately available or sitting in a warehouse. What if that part is not the solution?
Every once in a while it’s good to sit back and think about where we are and what we’re doing. The old adage “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” remains true. However, given the proliferation of technology in every aspect of our business and lives, how long before successive generations forget lessons learned and rely solely on the technology we’ve developed? Garbage in, garbage out.
Technology has made many aspects of our lives easier while complicating others. We dare not forget important lessons learned for blind reliance that technology is always good and the output is always right.
For those still wondering just what is a 45-rpm record, it is a relic of recorded music and at one time a cutting-edge technology.