High tech's missionaries of sloppiness

By Cheryll Aimie Barron

By Letters to the Editor

Published December 7, 2000 8:00AM (EST)

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I have been at the leading edge of the computing industry, implementing corporate Internet and financial systems all over the world for U.S. and foreign corporations, so I think I have sufficient computing knowledge to comment on this article.

You get what you pay for.

This applies to software, I.T. staff, help desks, developers, hardware components, service agreements and vendors. Methodologies decrease the cost and failure rate by making it possible for people of lower intelligence to fumble their way through a job they have no experience in. They work in a production line approach to software engineering, but to apply a methodology across the I.T. industry in the U.S. would kill the innovation that is currently the driving force.

-- Robert Geier

Cheryll Aimée Barron provides numerous examples of hardware failures (buggy modems, printers and laptops) and then illogically goes on to blame such problems on hastily developed software. The real problem is low margins and unrealistic demands on portability. Laptops fail because they are caught between competing design demands for high performance, lightness and durability. As a whole there is little incentive to deliver high-quality consumer hardware because it will be superseded by better technology in a few years. Unfortunately, if the mean point of failure is two years away, plenty of people are going to be seeing troubles much earlier. The shortness of product life cycles means that consumer-level reliability testing is almost an impossibility. If Consumer Reports issued a report on the "repair records" of printers produced three years ago, would anyone care?

-- Charlie Evett

Cheryll Aimée Barron's article on the low quality of high technology hit so many nails on the head that I cannot possibly address them all (although I now feel better about the three months it took a large computer retail chain to supply me with a working printer after I had purchased a damaged unit from it). One topic worth addressing is that the health and safety of consumers are already being hurt by the "fix now, diagnose later" mentality of both vendors and manufacturers.

I am an anesthesiologist at a medium-sized teaching hospital, and we rely on a computerized record-keeping system to make a record of the patient's vital signs and other information during an anesthetic. The recognized benefits of such a system include vital signs that are recorded directly from the monitors, legibly printed records and the ability to quickly retrieve computerized records for review.

The deficiencies of our system are too numerous to detail here, but suffice it to say that our department pays two full-time employees to manage the system and deal with problems as they arise. This is for a system that cost well into the six-figure range to begin with. This expensive computer network sold as promoting efficiency and patient safety has at times hurt both due to the defect-ridden nature of its hardware and/or software. So much for computers making healthcare more efficient.

-- Ted Weatherred

I can think of no more apt example of the very sloppiness so eloquently detailed in this article than that while reading it my Netscape browser crashed. If you drove a car that died for no apparent reason two or three times a day, whose headlights needed to be unplugged and plugged back in on a periodic basis, whose windshield wouldn't deflect all the wind, whose seats would occasionally change position of their own accord and that wouldn't run on this year's gasoline without a new fuel injector, wouldn't you leave it at the shop until the bastards fixed it?

-- Jeff Crook

Now maybe people will understand why Macintosh. As a longtime Mac user and Mac consultant, I am amazed on a daily basis by the horror stories that PC owners have to tell. Mac users don't have the reliability, virus, Trojan horse, crashing, operating system and software upgrade, setup and configuring, and nonintuitive interface problems that PC users have, and I can quote figures from PC magazines themselves that attest to this. Yet for some lemminglike reason, people think that this is all part of owning PCs, and they continue to buy them. Astounding.

-- Rick Ledbetter

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