There is a constant in this world that the only constant is change. I can’t deny that, as I’ve changed jobs. Still a geek, still fixing other peoples’ network woes when their desires exceed their abilities and still working with the technology that is beyond the leading edge.
For those of us who live out there, we call it the Bleeding Edge as occasionally the technology turns around the cuts you a spare orifice just for giggles. Invariably there is no documentation, no troubleshooting guidelines and very few people to call on to help you when the technology goes off into its’ own dark corner and behaves badly. That’s the nature of what I do for a living.
When a few of us get together we swap war stories and show off our fresh scars then the talk turns to testing. Testing, be it software, technology, or even simple things like, water, food, or sharpened sticks, is a critical step in developing something. Testing helps keep crap products off the shelves, but so many manufacturers consider testing to be a needless expense that gets in the way of a good press release and a snappy PowerPoint presentation.
Which explains why there are so few really good products out there. Invention of a whole new "thing" is difficult. As an intellectual exercise, think about what we consider ‘new’ inventions in the last five generations.
The microprocessor? Nope, it’s just miniaturization of tube and switch technology, gone solid-state and excruciatingly small. You can make a computer out of tubes, switches and wires: The original ENIAC was precisely that and it took a whole room of gear to add two numbers together. Your computer is a direct descendant of ENIAC, except it is very small, and blindingly fast, but still relies on switches as logic gates.
Programming is a direct descendant of Babbage’s Difference Engine. The mental manipulations of Lady Ada Lovelace created the symbology for the very first programs for a mechanical calculation machine that only existed in Charles Babbage’s head.
Television? Not at all. TV is simply a method to show moving pictures to a lot of people at once, a refinement of Marconi for transmission combined with the moving picture. Moving pictures go back to Eadweard Muybridge and his zoopraxiscope.
Supersonic Jets? An evolution of daVinci, Bleiriot and the Wright Brothers original work. DaVinci even postulated a rudimentary turbine, which is the heart of a jet engine. There were significant changes during WWII, as wars tend to accelerate innovation, but it all goes back to the originators.
Pharma? For thousands of years the village shaman or apothecary knew that a tea of foxglove would help those with ‘weak hearts’. Foxglove contains digitalis: The inventor of ‘medicines’ is lost unto time. We’ve refined it and gone all scientific.
Genetically Modified Organisms? Not by a long shot. We’ve been cross-breeding plants, animals and humans for several thousand generations. The Macintosh Apple does not actually exist in nature: It is a hybrid, a cross-breed like the Labrador Retriever, or a green eyed Persian cat: GMO’s are just more precise about things.
Nuclear power? Sort of. Nuclear power is, at its essence, using fission to make heat to boil water to make steam which spins a turbine attached to a generator to make electricity. Weaponizing nuclear energy is nothing more than an evolution of black powder; a very small quantity of something that goes high-order quickly creating a Very Big Bang.
Electricity we knew about as far back as the Baghdad Battery, which was a primitive wet cell. Westinghouse, Tesla, Edison and the rest improved and commercialized electricity.
X-Rays go back to the Curies, Roentgen and the original discovery of pitchblende as some kind of weird dang stuff that nobody really understood. X-Rays needed film to prove their existence, which was Nicephore Niepce’s area of expertise, reproducing a drawing onto a pewter plate coated with bitumen of Judea, circa 1765.
Cars? Gottlieb Daimler and the gasoline engine, but that was the size and fuel: Watt and others created a locomotion device using steam, but the use of a piston, pressure differentials and mechanical linkages to do work goes back so far that nobody can put a tag on it. Archimedes perhaps?
Which, in summation, means there really haven’t been any amazing inventions in the past several hundred years. We’ve refined things, polished the apple to a glossy shine and even found unique ways to utterly destroy ourselves, but we haven’t invented anything truly ‘new’ for a long time.
The point of this posting is that we don’t test things anymore. Nobody takes a few days to look over a ‘new’ invention and see if it is as wise and good as the PowerPoint says it is. Usually the first draft isn’t.
I have a new mobile phone now. A nice one, from an international, well-known company in Waterloo, Ontario. There is a problem with it. The keys are just that tiny little bit of a millimetre too small to be used effectively by humans with normal sized fingers. I have fingers that might even be considered small for a male of the species, so it isn’t as if I am trying to punch the keys with the blunt end of a sausage.
Someone, somewhere in the chain of design and testing didn’t hand off a prototype to another person to see if it really does work, as intended, by a wide range of folks with normal sized fingers.
Which is a damn shame, as I really want to like this technology. Now, I merely accept it as vaguely useful.