Planet Linux Australia

Syndicate content
Planet Linux Australia - http://planet.linux.org.au
Updated: 18 min 18 sec ago

Andrew Ruthven: MythTV Lightning Talks

Fri, 2014-07-11 08:09
For the MythTV Mini-conference at LCA 2009 we're going to have some lightning talks, and have a few spare slots.



If you'd like to tell people how great your setup is; your current pet project; or almost anything else, then please let me know.

Andrew Ruthven: MythTV Mini-conference Schedule

Fri, 2014-07-11 08:09
The MythTV Mini-conference schedule has now been published here. If you want to attend the mini-conference you have to be registered for linux.conf.au! The talks are:
MythNetTV
by Michael Still
Transcoding in MythTV
by Paul Wayper
MythTV Internals
by Nigel Pearson
Debugging DTV
by Steven Ellis
MythTV Development from '04 to Now
by Nigel Pearson
Lightning Talks
Presence Awareness
by Jonathan Oxer
Panel
It is an awesome line-up and I'm certainly looking forward to hearing all about them!

Andrew Ruthven: MythTV Mini-conference

Fri, 2014-07-11 08:09
I just realised that I hadn't blogged about this at all. I'm hosting the MythTV mini-conference at linux.conf.au 2009 in Hobart, Australia in January. How could I have forgotten about blogging this?! The little blurb about the mini-conference is: MythTV is a personal video recorder (PVR) for Linux which allows you to decide what you want to watch; when you want to watch it. MythTV has been increasing in popularity since Isaac Richards first started working on it in 2002. It is now very usable, and has several dedicated Linux distributions, as well as several books written about it. This mini-conference is intended to bring together both users and developers of MythTV to discuss topics of interest to both groups. The programme is looking really good, and it should be a rocking conference. I'll post another blog entry once the programme is officially released.

Andrew Ruthven: LCA2015 - Debian Miniconf submitted

Fri, 2014-07-11 08:09
Phew, I've submitted a proposal to run a Debian Miniconf at linux.conf.au 2015 here's hoping that it is accepted!



The Debian Miniconf was held in 2008 in Melbourne, so I feel it is well overdue to run it again.

Andrew Ruthven: LCA2010: On LinkedIn

Fri, 2014-07-11 08:09
Attending LCA2010? Use LinkedIn?



How about showing you're attending on the LCA2010 event on LinkedIn!

Andrew Ruthven: LCA2010 - Call for Miniconfs are now open!

Fri, 2014-07-11 08:09

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Monday 15th June 2009 - Linux.conf.au announced the opening of its Call for Miniconfs for LCA2010. Miniconfs provide the opportunity of hosting 1-day mini-conferences on a variety of topics that run for 2 out of the 5 days during linux.conf.au. The Call for Miniconfs will remain open until 17 July 2009, after which time successful Miniconf Proposals will be notified and the best twelve selected to be included on the programme for LCA2010.

"Miniconfs are an important part of Linux.conf.au each year, and provide a great opportunity to host an entire day of sessions specific to a topic", says Andrew Ruthven, LCA2010 Director. "We're proud of hosting LCA2010 in Wellington, New Zealand and hope to see a variety of Miniconf Proposals to showcase the technical expertise of world's leading experts in free and open source software. When you gather IT experts together like this, the collective energy can help shape the future direction of emerging projects and developing technologies. That's what LCA2010 is all about – people getting together and making a difference".

IT businesses, government and community groups from around the world will also have the opportunity to showcase their work through presentations, displays and demonstrations at the LCA2010 Open Day, which will be held on Saturday 23rd January 2010. The conference will open its doors to the general public and highlight the best of breed Free and Open Source technology.

LCA2010 is easily affordable for professionals and hobbyists alike, thanks to generous sponsorship by leading proponents of free and open source software, and because the conference - much like the software - is largely organised by volunteers. If your business or organisation would like to take this opportunity to support LCA2010, please visit http://www.lca2010.org.nz/sponsors/why_sponsor.

Registrations to LCA2010 will open to delegates in September 2009.

About linux.conf.au

Linux.conf.au is one of the world's best conferences for free and open source software! The coming Linux.conf.au, LCA2010, will be held at the Wellington Convention Centre in Wellington, New Zealand from Monday 18th January to Saturday 23rd January 2010. LCA2010 is fun, informal and seriously technical, bringing together Free and Open Source developers, users and community champions from around the world. LCA2010 is the second time linux.conf.au has been held in New Zealand, with the first being Dunedin in 2006.

For more information see: http://www.lca2010.org.nz/

About Linux Australia

Linux Australia (http://www.linux.org.au/) is the peak body for Linux User Groups (LUGs) around Australia, and as such represents approximately 5000 Australian Linux users and developers. Linux Australia facilitates the organisation of this international Free Software conference in a different Australasian city each year.

For more information see: http://www.linux.org.au/

Emperor Penguin Sponsors

LCA2010 is proud to acknowledge the support of our Emperor Penguin Sponsor, InternetNZ.

For more information see: http://www.internetnz.org.nz/

Media Enquiries

LCA2010 Organisers

Email: media@lca2010.org.nz

Phone/Fax: +64 (4) 802 0422

Russell Coker: A Linux Conference as a Ritual

Thu, 2014-07-10 20:26

Sociological Images has an interesting post by Jay Livingston PhD about a tennis final as a ritual [1]. The main point is that you can get a much better view of the match on your TV at home with more comfort and less inconvenience, so what you get for the price of the ticket (and all the effort of getting there) is participating in the event as a spectator.

It seems to me that the same idea applies to community Linux conferences (such as LCA) and some Linux users group meetings. In terms of watching a lecture there are real benefits to downloading it after the conference so that you can pause it and study related web sites or repeat sections that you didn’t understand. Also wherever you might sit at home to watch a video of a conference lecture you will be a lot more comfortable than a university lecture hall. Some people don’t attend conferences and users’ group meetings because they would rather watch a video at home.

Benefits of Attending (Apart from a Ritual)

One of the benefits of attending a lecture is the ability to ask questions. But that seems to mostly apply to the high status people who ask most questions. I’ve previously written about speaking stacks and my observations about who asks questions vs the number that can reasonably be asked [2].

I expect that most delegates ask no questions for the entire conference. I created a SurveyMonkey survey to discover how many questions people ask [3]. I count LCA as a 3 day conference because I am only counting the days where there are presentations that have been directly approved by the papers committee, approving a mini-conf (and thus delegating the ability to approve speeches) is different.

Another benefit of attending is the so-called “hallway track” where people talk to random other people. But that seems to be of most benefit to people who have some combination of high status in the community and good social skills. In the past I’ve attended the “Professional Delegates Networking Session” which is an event for speakers and people who pay the “Professional” registration fee. Sometimes at such events there has seemed to be a great divide between speakers (who mostly knew each other before the conference) and “Professional Delegates” which diminishes the value of the event to anyone who couldn’t achieve similar benefits without it.

How to Optimise a Conference as a Ritual

To get involvement of people who have the ritualistic approach one could emphasise the issue of being part of the event. For example to get people to attend the morning keynote speeches (which are sometimes poorly attended due to partying the night before) one could emphasise that anyone who doesn’t attend the keynote isn’t really attending the conference.

Conference shirts seem to be strongly correlated with the ritual aspect of conferences, the more “corporate” conferences don’t seem to offer branded clothing to delegates. If an item of branded schwag was given out before each keynote then that would increase the attendance by everyone who follows the ritual aspect (as well as everyone who just likes free stuff).

Note that I’m not suggesting that organisers of LCA or other conferences go to the effort of giving everyone schwag before the morning keynote, that would be a lot of work. Just telling people that anyone who misses the keynote isn’t really attending the conference would probably do.

I’ve always wondered why conference organisers want people to attend the keynotes and award prizes to random delegates who attend them. Is a keynote lecture a ritual that is incomplete if the attendance isn’t good enough?

Related posts:

  1. Length of Conference Questions After LCA last year I wrote about “speaking stacks” and...
  2. meeting people at Linux conferences One thing that has always surprised me is how few...
  3. Creating a Micro Conference The TEDxVolcano The TED conference franchise has been extended to...

linux.conf.au News: CFP closes in ONE week!

Thu, 2014-07-10 15:28

We have only 1 week of the CFP left, and although we're getting some brilliant proposals we need a great deal more in order to build the wonderful conference that we want it to be. The linux.conf.au 2015 papers committee is looking for a broad range of proposals, and will consider submissions on anything from programming and software, to desktop, mobile, gaming, userspace, community, government, space, and education. There is only one rule:

Your proposal must be related to open source.

This year the papers committee is going to be focused on open source in education as well as our usual focus on deep technical content. We will also welcome presentations on:

  • Clouds, datacenters and scalability.
  • Community challenges; legal threats; education and outreach.
  • Documentation for open source projects.
  • HTML5; multimedia codecs.
  • Kernel developments; new architectures.
  • Open hardware; embedded systems; wearable computing.
  • Security; privacy; anonymity.
  • Networking; Software defined networking; bufferbloat; network function virtualization.
  • Software development; programming languages.
  • Sysadmin and automation.
  • ...
So...

What would you like to present at LCA 2015 in Auckland?

Yes? Then to submit your proposal, create an account, and select Submit a Proposal from the menu on the left hand side.

Pia Waugh: Essays: Improving the Public Policy Cycle Model

Thu, 2014-07-10 15:27

I don’t have nearly enough time to blog these days, but I am doing a bunch of writing for university. I decided I would publish a selection of the (hopefully) more interesting essays that people might find interesting Please note, my academic writing is pretty awful, but hopefully some of the ideas, research and references are useful. 

For this essay, I had the most fun in developing my own alternative public policy model at the end of the essay. Would love to hear your thoughts. Enjoy and comments welcome!

Question: Critically assess the accuracy of and relevance to Australian public policy of the Bridgman and Davis policy cycle model.

The public policy cycle developed by Peter Bridgman and Glyn Davis is both relevant to Australian public policy and simultaneously not an accurate representation of developing policy in practice. This essay outlines some of the ways the policy cycle model both assists and distracts from quality policy development in Australia and provides an alternative model as a thought experiment based on the authors policy experience and reflecting on the research conducted around the applicability of Bridgman and Davis’ policy cycle model.

Background

In 1998 Peter Bridgman and Glyn Davis released the first edition of The Australian Policy Handbook, a guide developed to assist public servants to understand and develop sound public policy. The book includes a policy cycle model, developed by Bridgman and Davis, which portrays a number of cyclic logical steps for developing and iteratively improving public policy. This policy model has attracted much analysis, scrutiny, criticism and debate since it was first developed, and it continues to be taught as a useful tool in the kit of any public servant. The fifth edition of the Handbook was the most recent, being released in 2012 which includes Catherine Althaus who joined Bridgman and Davis on the fourth edition in 2007.

The policy cycle model

The policy cycle model presented in the Handbook is below:

The model consists of eight steps in a circle that is meant to encourage an ongoing, cyclic and iterative approach to developing and improving policy over time with the benefit of cumulative inputs and experience. The eight steps of the policy cycle are:

  1. Issue identification – a new issue emerges through some mechanism.

  2. Policy analysis – research and analysis of the policy problem to establish sufficient information to make decisions about the policy.

  3. Policy instrument development – the identification of which instruments of government are appropriate to implement the policy. Could include legislation, programs, regulation, etc.

  4. Consultation (which permeates the entire process) – garnering of external and independent expertise and information to inform the policy development.

  5. Coordination – once a policy position is prepared it needs to be coordinated through the mechanisms and machinations of government. This could include engagement with the financial, Cabinet and parliamentary processes.

  6. Decision – a decision is made by the appropriate person or body, often a Minister or the Cabinet.

  7. Implementation – once approved the policy then needs to be implemented.

  8. Evaluation – an important process to measure, monitor and evaluate the policy implementation.

In the first instance is it worth reflecting on the stages of the model, which implies the entire policy process is centrally managed and coordinated by the policy makers which is rarely true, and thus gives very little indication of who is involved, where policies originate, external factors and pressures, how policies go from a concept to being acted upon. Even to just develop a position resources must be allocated and the development of a policy is thus prioritised above the development of some other policy competing for resourcing. Bridgman and Davis establish very little in helping the policy practitioner or entrepreneur to understand the broader picture which is vital in the development and successful implementation of a policy.

The policy cycle model is relevant to Australian public policy in two key ways: 1) that it both presents a useful reference model for identifying various potential parts of policy development; and 2) it is instructive for policy entrepreneurs to understand the expectations and approach taken by their peers in the public service, given that the Bridgman and Davis model has been taught to public servants for a number of years. In the first instance the model presents a basic framework that policy makers can use to go about the thinking of and planning for their policy development. In practise, some stages may be skipped, reversed or compressed depending upon the context, or a completely different approach altogether may be taken, but the model gives a starting point in the absence of anything formally imposed.

Bridgman and Davis themselves paint a picture of vast complexity in policy making whilst holding up their model as both an explanatory and prescriptive approach, albeit with some caveats. This is problematic because public policy development almost never follows a cleanly structured process. Many criticisms of the policy cycle model question its accuracy as a descriptive model given it doesn’t map to the experiences of policy makers. This draws into question the relevance of the model as a prescriptive approach as it is too linear and simplistic to represent even a basic policy development process. Dr Cosmo Howard conducted many interviews with senior public servants in Australia and found that the policy cycle model developed by Bridgman and Davis didn’t broadly match the experiences of policy makers. Although they did identify various aspects of the model that did play a part in their policy development work to varying degrees, the model was seen as too linear, too structured, and generally not reflective of the at times quite different approaches from policy to policy (Howard, 2005). The model was however seen as a good starting point to plan and think about individual policy development processes.

Howard also discovered that political engagement changed throughout the process and from policy to policy depending on government priorities, making a consistent approach to policy development quite difficult to articulate. The common need for policy makers to respond to political demands and tight timelines often leads to an inability to follow a structured policy development process resulting in rushed or pre-canned policies that lack due process or public consultation (Howard, 2005). In this way the policy cycle model as presented does not prepare policy-makers in any pragmatic way for the pressures to respond to the realities of policy making in the public service. Colebatch (2005) also criticised the model as having “not much concern to demonstrate that these prescriptions are derived from practice, or that following them will lead to better outcomes”. Fundamentally, Bridgman and Davis don’t present much evidence to support their policy cycle model or to support the notion that implementation of the model will bring about better policy outcomes.

Policy development is often heavily influenced by political players and agendas, which is not captured in the Bridgman and Davis’ policy cycle model. Some policies are effectively handed over to the public service to develop and implement, but often policies have strong political involvement with the outcomes of policy development ultimately given to the respective Minister for consideration, who may also take the policy to Cabinet for final ratification. This means even the most evidence based, logical, widely consulted and highly researched policy position can be overturned entirely at the behest of the government of the day (Howard, 2005) . The policy cycle model does not capture nor prepare public servants for how to manage this process. Arguably, the most important aspects to successful policy entrepreneurship lie outside the policy development cycle entirely, in the mapping and navigation of the treacherous waters of stakeholder and public management, myriad political and other agendas, and other policy areas competing for prioritisation and limited resources.

The changing role of the public in the 21st century is not captured by the policy cycle model. The proliferation of digital information and communications creates new challenges and opportunities for modern policy makers. They must now compete for influence and attention in an ever expanding and contestable market of experts, perspectives and potential policies (Howard, 2005), which is a real challenge for policy makers used to being the single trusted source of knowledge for decision makers. This has moved policy development and influence away from the traditional Machiavellian bureaucratic approach of an internal, specialised, tightly controlled monopoly on advice, towards a more transparent and inclusive though more complex approach to policy making. Although Bridgman and Davis go part of the way to reflecting this post-Machiavellian approach to policy by explicitly including consultation and the role of various external actors in policy making, they still maintain the Machiavellian role of the public servant at the centre of the policy making process.

The model does not clearly articulate the need for public buy-in and communication of the policy throughout the cycle, from development to implementation. There are a number of recent examples of policies that have been developed and implemented well by any traditional public service standards, but the general public have seen as complete failures due to a lack of or negative public narrative around the policies. Key examples include the Building the Education Revolution policy and the insulation scheme. In the case of both, the policy implementation largely met the policy goals and independent analysis showed the policies to be quite successful through quantitative and qualitative assessment. However, both policies were announced very publicly and politically prior to implementation and then had little to no public narrative throughout implementation leaving the the public narrative around both to be determined by media reporting on issues and the Government Opposition who were motivated to undermine the policies. The policy cycle model in focusing on consultation ignores the necessity of a public engagement and communication strategy throughout the entire process.

The Internet also presents significant opportunities for policy makers to get better policy outcomes through public and transparent policy development. The model down not reflect how to strengthen a policy position in an open environment of competing ideas and expertise (aka, the Internet), though it is arguably one of the greatest opportunities to establish evidence-based, peer reviewed policy positions with a broad range of expertise, experience and public buy-in from experts, stakeholders and those who might be affected by a policy. This establishes a public record for consideration by government. A Minister or the Cabinet has the right to deviate from these publicly developed policy recommendations as our democratically elected representatives, but it increases the accountability and transparency of the political decision making regarding policy development, thus improving the likelihood of an evidence-based rather than purely political outcome. History has shown that transparency in decision making tends to improve outcomes as it aligns the motivations of those involved to pursue what they can defend publicly. Currently the lack of transparency at the political end of policy decision making has led to a number of examples where policy makers are asked to rationalise policy decisions rather than investigate the best possible policy approach (Howard, 2005). Within the public service there is a joke about developing policy-based evidence rather than the generally desired public service approach of developing evidence-based policy.

Although there are clearly issues with any policy cycle model in practise due to the myriad factors involved and the at times quite complex landscape of influences, by constantly referencing throughout their book the importance of “good process” to “help create better policy” (Bridgman & Davis, 2012), they both imply their model is a “good process” and subtly encourage a check-box style, formally structured and iterative approach to policy development. The policy cycle in practice becomes impractical and inappropriate for much policy development (Everett, 2003). Essentially, it gives new and inexperienced policy makers a false sense of confidence in a model put forward as descriptive which is at best just a useful point of reference. In a book review of the 5th edition of the Handbook, Kevin Rozzoli supports this by criticising the policy cycle model as being too generic and academic rather than practical, and compares it to the relatively pragmatic policy guide by Eugene Bardach (2012).

Bridgman and Davis do concede that their policy cycle model is not an accurate portrayal of policy practice, calling it “an ideal type from which every reality must curve away” (Bridgman & Davis, 2012). However, they still teach it as a prescriptive and normative model from which policy developers can begin. This unfortunately provides policy developers with an imperfect model that can’t be implemented in practise and little guidance to tell when it is implemented well or how to successfully “curve away”. At best, the model establishes some useful ideas that policy makers should consider, but as a normative model, it rapidly loses traction as every implementation of the model inevitably will “curve away”.

The model also embeds in the minds of public servants some subtle assumptions about policy development that are questionable such as: the role of the public service as a source of policy; the idea that good policy will be naturally adopted; a simplistic view of implementation when that is arguably the most tricky aspect of policy-making; a top down approach to policy that doesn’t explicitly engage or value input from administrators, implementers or stakeholders throughout the entire process; and very little assistance including no framework in the model for the process of healthy termination or finalisation of policies. Bridgman and Davis effectively promote the virtues of a centralised policy approach whereby the public service controls the process, inputs and outputs of public policy development. However, this perspective is somewhat self serving according to Colebatch, as it supports a central agency agenda approach. The model reinforces a perspective that policy makers control the process and consult where necessary as opposed to being just part of a necessarily diverse ecosystem where they must engage with experts, implementers, the political agenda, the general public and more to create robust policy positions that might be adopted and successfully implemented. The model and handbook as a whole reinforce the somewhat dated and Machiavellian idea of policy making as a standalone profession, with policy makers the trusted source of policies. Although Bridgman and Davis emphasise that consultation should happen throughout the process, modern policy development requires ongoing input and indeed co-design from independent experts, policy implementers and those affected by the policy. This is implied but the model offers no pragmatic way to do policy engagement in this way. Without these three perspectives built into any policy proposal, the outcomes are unlikely to be informed, pragmatic, measurable, implementable or easily accepted by the target communities.

The final problem with the Bridgman and Davis public policy development model is that by focusing so completely on the policy development process and not looking at implementation nor in considering the engagement of policy implementers in the policy development process, the policy is unlikely to be pragmatic or take implementation opportunities and issues into account. Basically, the policy cycle model encourages policy makers to focus on a policy itself, iterative and cyclic though it may be, as an outcome rather than practical outcomes that support the policy goals. The means is mistaken for the ends. This approach artificially delineates policy development from implementation and the motivations of those involved in each are not necessarily aligned.

The context of the model in the handbook is also somewhat misleading which affects the accuracy and relevance of the model. The book over simplifies the roles of various actors in policy development, placing policy responsibility clearly in the domain of Cabinet, Ministers, the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet and senior departmental officers (Bridgman and Davis, 2012 Figure 2.1). Arguably, this conflicts with the supposed point of the book to support even quite junior or inexperienced public servants throughout a government administration to develop policy. It does not match reality in practise thus confusing students at best or establishing misplaced confidence in outcomes derived from policies developed according to the Handbook at worst.

An alternative model

Part of the reason the Bridgman and Davis policy cycle model has had such traction is because it was created in the absence of much in the way of pragmatic advice to policy makers and thus has been useful at filling a need, regardless as to how effective is has been in doing so. The authors have however, not significantly revisited the model since it was developed in 1998. This would be quite useful given new technologies have established both new mechanisms for public engagement and new public expectations to co-develop or at least have a say about the policies that shape their lives.

From my own experience, policy entrepreneurship in modern Australia requires a highly pragmatic approach that takes into account the various new technologies, influences, motivations, agendas, competing interests, external factors and policy actors involved. This means researching in the first instance the landscape and then shaping the policy development process accordingly to maximise the quality and potential adoptability of the policy position developed. As a bit of a thought experiment, below is my attempt at a more usefully descriptive and thus potentially more useful prescriptive policy model. I have included the main aspects involved in policy development, but have included a number of additional factors that might be useful to policy makers and policy entrepreneurs looking to successfully develop and implement new and iterative policies.

It is also important to identify the inherent motivations of the various actors involved in the pursuit, development of and implementation of a policy. In this way it is possible to align motivations with policy goals or vice versa to get the best and most sustainable policy outcomes. Where these motivations conflict or leave gaps in achieving the policy goals, it is unlikely a policy will be successfully implemented or sustainable in the medium to long term. This process of proactively identifying motivations and effectively dealing with them is missing from the policy cycle model.

Conclusion

The Bridgman and Davis policy cycle model is demonstrably inaccurate and yet is held up by its authors as a reasonable descriptive and prescriptive normative approach to policy development. Evidence is lacking for both the model accuracy and any tangible benefits in applying the model to a policy development process and research into policy development across the public service continually deviates from and often directly contradicts the model. Although Bridgman and Davis concede policy development in practise will deviate from their model, there is very little useful guidance as to how to implement or deviate from the model effectively. The model is also inaccurate in that is overly simplifies policy development, leaving policy practitioners to learn for themselves about external factors, the various policy actors involved throughout the process, the changing nature of public and political expectations and myriad other realities that affect modern policy development and implementation in the Australian public service.

Regardless of the policy cycle model inaccuracy, it has existed and been taught for nearly sixteen years. It has shaped the perspectives and processes of countless public servants and thus is relevant in the Australian public service in so far as it has been used as a normative model or starting point for countless policy developments and provides a common understanding and lexicon for engaging with these policy makers.

The model is therefore both inaccurate and relevant to policy entrepreneurs in the Australian public service today. I believe a review and rewrite of the model would greatly improve the advice and guidance available for policy makers and policy entrepreneurs within the Australian public service and beyond.

References

(Please note, as is the usual case with academic references, most of these are not publicly freely available at all. Sorry. It is an ongoing bug bear of mine and many others).

Althaus, C, Bridgman, P and Davis, G. 2012, The Australian Policy Handbook. Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 5th ed.

Bridgman, P and Davis, G. 2004, The Australian Policy Handbook. Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 3rd ed.

Bardach, E. 2012, A practical guide for policy analysis: the eightfold path to more effective problem solving, 4th Edition. New York. Chatham House Publishers.

Everett, S. 2003, The Policy Cycle: Democratic Process or Rational Paradigm Revisited?, The Australian Journal of Public Administration, 62(2) 65-70

Howard, C. 2005, The Policy Cycle: a Model of Post-Machiavellian Policy Making?, The Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 64, No. 3, pp3-13.

Rozzoli, K. 2013, Book Review of The Australian Policy Handbook: Fifth Edition., Australasian Parliamentary Review, Autumn 2013, Vol 28, No. 1.

Russell Coker: Taxing Inferior Products

Thu, 2014-07-10 15:26

I recently had a medical appointment cancelled due to a “computer crash”. Apparently the reception computer crashed and lost all bookings for a day and they just made new bookings for whoever called – and anyone who had a previous booking just missed out. I’ll probably never know whether they really had a computer problem or just used computer problems as an excuse when they made a mistake. But even if it wasn’t a real computer problem the fact that computers are so unreliable overall that “computer crash” is an acceptable excuse indicates a problem with the industry.

The problem of unreliable computers is a cost to everyone, it’s effectively a tax on all business and social interactions that involve computers. While I spent the extra money on a server with ECC RAM for my home file storage I have no control over the computers purchased by all the companies I deal with – which are mostly the cheapest available computers. I also have no option to buy a laptop with ECC RAM because companies like Lenovo have decided not to manufacture them.

It seems to me that the easiest way of increasing overall reliability of computers would be to use ECC RAM everywhere. In the early 90′s all IBM compatible PCs had parity RAM, that meant that for each byte there was one extra bit which would report 100% of single-bit errors and 50% of errors that involved random memory corruption. Then manufacturers decided to save a tiny amount of money on memory by using 8/9 the number of chips for desktop/laptop systems and probably make more money on selling servers with ECC RAM. If the government was to impose a 20% tax on computers that lack ECC RAM then manufacturers would immediately start using it everywhere and the end result would be no price increase overall as it’s cheaper to design desktop systems and servers with the same motherboards – apparently some desktop systems have motherboard support for ECC RAM but don’t ship with suitable RAM or advertise the support for such RAM.

This principle applies to many other products too. One obvious example is cars, a car manufacturer can sell cheap cars with few safety features and then when occupants of those cars and other road users are injured the government ends up paying for medical expenses and disability pensions. If there was a tax for every car that has a poor crash test rating and a tax for every car company that performs badly in real world use then it would give car companies some incentive to manufacture safer vehicles.

Now there are situations where design considerations preclude such features. For example implementing ECC RAM in mobile phones might involve technical difficulties (particularly for 32bit phones) and making some trucks and farm equipment safer might be difficult. But when a company produces multiple similar products that differ significantly in quality such as PCs with and without ECC RAM or cars with and without air-bags there would be no difficulty in making them all of them higher quality.

I don’t think that we will have a government that implements such ideas any time soon, it seems that our government is more interested in giving money to corporations than taxing them. But one thing that could be done is to adopt a policy of only giving money to companies if they produce high quality products. If a car company is to be given hundreds of millions of dollars for not closing a factory then that factory should produce cars with all possible safety features. If a computer company is going to be given significant tax breaks for doing R&D then they should be developing products that won’t crash.

No related posts.

Paul Wayper: Workplace Loyalty

Thu, 2014-07-10 15:26

Paul Wayper: The Day We Fight Back?

Thu, 2014-07-10 15:26

Paul Wayper: Ignorable compression

Thu, 2014-07-10 15:26

Paul Wayper: A Glut of Music?

Thu, 2014-07-10 15:26

Paul Wayper: Workplace Loyalty

Thu, 2014-07-10 15:26