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Eroding Society ~ Let Me Count the Ways   Apr 2 2010

Filed under Editorial by The Cigar

There are two sayings amonst engineers and technologists that summarize pragmatism gained at great pain from inventive trial and error.

The first most people have heard:"Don’t reinvent the wheel" – which needs no explanation, but also  translates:  "Do not waste your time making something that you can buy for a dollar" or simply "don’t do things the hard way."

The second saying, however, while intially sounding like mere common sense, most everyone would find it hard to explain by example, or even put the saying in context. "If it isn’t broken, don’t try and fix it" – you’ve heard it, haven’t you?

Every scientist, engineer, mechanic and technician will endorse those words, which are an article of faith, and a perverse corollary to Murphy’s law: "If anything can go wrong, it will (and usually at the most inoportune time)."

And what is the meaning of "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it"?

Typically it means leave a machine – or process, or system – alone and do NOT fiddle with it if it is doing what it was designed to do (and, presumably, doing it well enough). If you see a conflict in the assertion, the answer lies in WHEN to fiddle. Fiddle with a duplicate in the laboratroy if you seek to improve upon a process (or machine). Do NOT fiddle with a working original!

Sadly our trusty flesh-pressing, self-aggrandizing baby-huggers, our pension-wise, pound-foolish politicos believe they know better and consistently damage, break or destroy entire systems that run our nations – and do so at our peril (not, of course, theirs). And for the most stupid and fickle stated reasons, like "cost efficiencies" -  creative accounting’s greatest oxymoron – whereby social services are deemed "costs" when they are, in the BIG picture, truly cost-saving.

The real reason, inevitably, is to repay a donor. Or worse, to satisfy an ideology.

Having revealed who I am slagging off (yet again!) might I briefly return to enlightening you about that saying?

Most (perhaps all) machines and technology (mechanical or electronic) function DESPITE the best attempts of the designer. Hence those frequent flippant remarks in films when, in a bad moment of dramatic effect, the hard-pressed mechanic or engineer will unnerve both crew (of stricken vessel) and audience (of stricken movie) by remarking "no-one really knows how it works!"  Or, invoking a distant relative of design srendipity, the film’s hero knowingly, offhandedly, violenty thumps a specific structural locale to induce function resumption.

Designers, no matter how cleverly they apply laws of physics to predict functionality, often ‘discover’ that functionality by savvy trial and error rather than literally inventing it.

In other words, they fluke it.

Secondly, upon fluking it they must replicate the miraculous physicality in a factory and sell it real quick before word spreads that it’s a lemon – and get out of town before the warranty claims roll in.

That’s industry!

Similarly ’twas how this great egalitarian society of Australia was built.

We fluked it – and it’s a beauty!

And today while we, the mug punters, engage in a feeding frenzy of domestic electronics the pollies are slowly fiddling with our society, our infrastructure, our lives, allegedly in the name of "cost effeciency" – but we all know that’s code for "lobbyist pressure."

They claim to be fixin’ it – but it weren’t broke!






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