on the edge

computers & technology, books & writing, civilisation & society, cars & stuff

Greg Black

gjb at gbch dot net
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If you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.

FQE30 at Qld Raceway 25 May 2003


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Worthy organisations

Amnesty International Australia — global defenders of human rights

global defenders of human rights

Médecins Sans Frontières — help us save lives around the world

Médecins Sans Frontières - help us save lives around the world

Electronic Frontiers Australia — protecting and promoting on-line civil liberties in Australia

Electronic Frontiers Australia


(Coming soon…)


(Coming soon…)


(Coming soon…)

Software resources

GNU Emacs


The FreeBSD Project

Wed, 21 Jul 2004

Newer technology is not necessarily better

That title is probably self-evident to most people most of the time, but there seems to be a widespread habit of forging ahead with the latest great idea without taking account of the costs. My recent problem with being locked out of my car got me thinking about this again today.

My old BMW also has central locking with electric-powered locks on the doors. But the key can be placed in the door lock and used to mechanically open a single door, regardless of the availability of power. That makes sense. The problem car, however, has locks that only work if there’s power. Possession of the key is useless if the battery is flat.

Surely it would have been easy enough to provide a workable solution from the following list of possibilities:

  • fit a door lock that works mechanically;
  • provide a key-operated release catch for the bonnet to allow connection of another battery in parallel;
  • provide an electrical connection in the boot (which can be opened with a key) to which a fresh battery can be connected.

There are probably as many other ideas that would have worked; the thing is, nobody in the design team bothered to provide a solution. Maybe they did think about it and decided that the cost of doing any of these things was greater than that of replacing the occasional window when they had to smash their way into a disabled car. I prefer to think they just didn’t think it through, but I have no evidence either way.

There’s a lot of other useless stuff on modern cars that makes them more vulnerable to problems and less easy to manage. Power steering is a great example. No car on earth needs it. No car that has it is drivable when the pump belt fails. Automatic transmissions are another case. They are reliable, up to a point—although I’ve had at least five experiences with cars that had an oil line to the radiator fail and disable the car. But, on the inevitable occasion when you go to start the car and the battery is not up to the task, you can’t give it a push and get going; you need help. This is silly. I could go on. But this seems like a good place to stop.