Saturday, April 22, 2006

Life @ speed of thought... WHIRRRR.... CRASH!

Tools and Technology are what separates us humans from the "lower" animals. I'm not entirely discarding the opposable thumb and language but even some greater apes and chimps have that. As do some humans who fall a shade shy of the intelligence of these anthropods, but that's a separate story.

It is our inventions (be it oral or written language, guns, pacemakers, mechanical ploughs, electricity, ipods or cars to name just a few) that enable us to enjoy the pleasures of a relatively secure modern life. Want to open a can, there's a can opener for that. If you're really rich or lazy or both, Walmart will even sell you an electric variant so that all you have to do is eat and become lazier. Or, if you do feel guilty and want to beef up or slim down, hit the machines in the gym.

But the biggest, brightest advancement of all is definitely the computer. It is now easier than ever to communicate with friends and family across the globe. Distance has virtually no impact; photos, videos and emotions flow freely, building bridges and connecting people; documents, information, finances are a breeze: a click here, a type there and viola the microseconds of modern magic, enough to marvel millions from a more mundane time for millenia, accomplish our tasks miraculously.

That is, untill your PC's hard-disk crashes.

Einstein once said, "Technological progress is like an ax in the hands of a pathological criminal."

[Image obtained from]

It is mind-boggling how dependent we have become on technology. It took a laptop crash to really bring it in to perspective. I lost all my cherished mp3s and pictures and tons of data. My addressbook was wiped out. I had some backups, but not all. It's taken me a good week to get back up and running at 90% of what I was earlier.

But let's look at the bigger picture for a moment. Most if not all critical systems today are computer controlled these days: power supply networks, air-craft landing and guidance systems, industry / corporate financial data, terrestrial traffic lights, phone switching networks, the markets, the Internet, communication / positioning satellites. All technologically advanced than just a generation ago and all intimately dependent on a critical, susceptible technology. SHUDDER.

And it isn't just the developed nations that are susceptible to this. No, not any more. The developed world might still have the most lose (can't imagine famine ravaged African countries to suffer an immediate loss just because one GPS satellite can't talk to a base station), but sooner or later everyone will be affected. And not likely in a good way.

I'm not hinting at an insane individual or a group intent on causing havoc. No, i don't think they are the biggest threat because ironically, they too need all this to function and survive now. And they possibly can't get totally around the distributed safe-guards and back-ups already in place. I'm thinking more of indiscriminate, potent natural events which probably offer no warning and no discrimination: e.g. solar flares and magnetic storms. Only nature can produce grand catastrophes of gargantuan scale. And despite our amazing advancements, I fear we are no where close to being ready for an eventuality like that.

Oh well, I'm just going to back up my data and hope for the best. CTRL + S.


kage said...

check out this
on yahoo finance that talks about a bank's ATMSs suffereing because of a hard-disk crash on its server!

Kalingaa... said...


u can link this anytime on your blog
just keep my name "kalingaa.." on it

kage said...

$39 Billion backup oops

kage said...

A high-school in Hollidaysburg, PA lost all grades when an online grading system (and its backup) crashed. read about it here

kage said...

a crash of a flight planning computer system delays flights on the East Coast. Interestingly, when they rerouted the functionality to a Utah server, that caused an overload as well! read it here

kage said...

all six computers (including backups) on international space station crash on the Russian side. Read about it at Forbes

kage said...

i keep getting more stories of this almost each day! United Airlines had to cancel 24 flights due to system wide failure of a computer system that measures flight weights. Read it at Reuters

kage said...

Amazon's S3 system ("cloud" based storage system) fails. NYTimes article

Anonymous said...

the day Gmail went down. Read about it at Internet News

"Since about 2 p.m. Pacific Time today, many Gmail users have been unable to access their email. We are very sorry for this interruption in service. The issue is being caused by a temporary outage in the contacts system used by Gmail, which is preventing Gmail from loading properly. We are starting to roll out a fix now and hope to have the problem resolved as quickly as possible. Even though you may not be able to get to your inbox right now, your mail is safe, including new incoming messages."

Anonymous said...

Die gmail icht der down! Reuters

kage said...

FAA glitch causes widespread US air travel delays

NOTE: emphasis added

Air travelers nationwide scrambled to revise their plans Thursday after an FAA computer glitch caused widespread cancellations and delays for the second time in 15 months.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the problem, which lasted about four hours, was fixed around 9 a.m., but it was unclear how long flights would be affected.

It started when a single circuit board in a piece of networking equipment at a computer center in Salt Lake City failed around 5 a.m., the FAA said in a statement.

That failure prevented air traffic control computers in different parts of the country from talking to each other. Air traffic controllers were forced to type in complicated flight plans themselves because they could not be transferred automatically from computers in one region of the country to computers in another, slowing down the whole system.