Wed. May 15, 2019 – convenience vs. resilience

66F and saturated.  Sunny though.  Nice day so far.

As I look at my gutted dishwasher, I’m contemplating an idea that may be more important than I first thought.  The idea is that we’ve been trading resilience for convenience.

As far as I can determine, a power surge/overvoltage/etc damaged the control board in my dishwasher during the storm of a few days ago.  A dishwashing robot is an incredible convenience.  Load it up, press start, and an hour later you have clean and sanitary dishes.  The price for that is a microchip that can be damaged easily and will stop the whole machine from working.  A few cents for the part, but without it, nothing.  The design engineer went with a micro because he could put logic in software, rather than discrete hardware.  They potted the board because it reduces failures but it also reduces resiliency in that it can’t easily be fixed.

I see the same sorts of decisions everywhere in the modern world.  New heat pump water heaters have a computer on them.  Old ones used a simple thermocouple which was cheap and robust, easy to stock a spare, and easy to replace.   Furnaces have gone the same way.

Cars have a huge number of convenience features that can all break.  I wonder if the ‘lane assist’ will let you operate the vehicle if the system is broken (not off, but actually broken.)

Society is falling into the same trap.  No cash because you can always use cards fails completely when the comm links are down.  Then you get no food.  Just in time inventory is also convenient for the stores, but absolutely not resilient.

We’ve been cutting “slack” and “excess capacity” out of systems for 40 years and there is little left to cut.  We are always running on the very edge of every use case, one small failure away from a big one.

Think about adding resilience BACK into the systems and devices you use daily.  That is sort of the essence of prepping anyway…

 

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