Friday, June 08, 2007

Low Tech

252 Low Tech

You’ve heard it before. You’ll probably hear it again. But low tech has fallen by the wayside, and that’s a problem. It’s a problem because you need it to make high tech works.

High tech we get. Low tech we don’t.

You know about the “big” examples: They send up a spaceship with all these modern engines and electronic tracking and navigating devices and then, the thing crashes to earth and kills people because of a bad “o ring” or bad glue on the high tech ceramic tiles that are supposed to keep the thing from burning up on re-entry.

The “Challenger” and the “Columbia” became flying death wagons because of faulty materials that have been successfully used elsewhere (and for next to no money) for a century. Glue and rubber.

Our 1971 Pontiac Grandville had a huge, powerful and (for its time) modern engine that functioned perfectly. It had an air conditioner and heater that was 30 or 40 years ahead of its time.

But the power seat failed in the first week, because a 59 cent rubber gizmo that held the pieces of the seat motor in place failed. You had to remove the seat (welding, nuts, bolts, tracks, upholstery, headrests) to get at the 59 cent rubber gizmo. It stayed broken for the next 100,000 miles.

Now, in the computer age, things are the same.

The electronic stuff works like a wonder. Sometimes a slow wonder, but a wonder, nevertheless. You can write. You can send and receive e-mail. You have access to most of the world’s accumulated knowledge on your desk and at your fingertips.

The operating systems have gotten to the point where the average guy or gal can fix them when the get stuck.

But not the power switch. It’s a low tech piece of junk, and when it gives way it can’t be fixed. And when it can’t be fixed, you can’t turn the machine on. And when you can’t turn the machine on, you might as well not have it.

A power switch. Under a quarter’s worth of low tech hardware. Similar “devices” have been in use since – when? – maybe the late 1920s. Basically unchanged since its invention.

A simple little thing with some metal contacts and a spring. A push button.

We took the computer to Big Buy’s Nerd Squad, which can fix anything to do with computers, or so they say.

Guess what? 25 cent power switches are not “…to do with computers.” It’s not that the kid didn’t try. He actually DID make it work, after a fashion. Of course, now instead of pushing a button, you have to stick your hand through a hole in the cabinet to turn the thing on or off.

Maybe we should be looking for a pull chain, like they have on bare bulb light fixtures.

They’ve been making THOSE for 90 years. Right there in a big cinderblock factory aside the tracks in the Sunnyside Rail Yard.

They never broke when they were accessible. Why would they break now?

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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