Mean Time Between Failures

How mildly insane we all are.

If someone were to suggest that most of us are outright gamblers, we would likely take issue to such an accusation. Yet all of us directly or indirectly place critically important elements of our lives in the care of devices comprised of transistors, LCD displays, motorized spinning discs and assorted plastic parts, which hold the inbound and outbound data that is central to our 20th century existence.

 For the moment let’s disregard the software component and address the plainly stated criteria that should keep us constantly aware of our vulnerability. The industry itself warns us on a continual basis. As a measurement of quality construction and exacting standards, it rates its peripherals in terms of “Mean Time Between Failures” (MTBF) And we, the public enable the continuance of this standard of inexcellence by purchasing these products having been informed of the fact that failure is considered an inevitability, with a shrug of the shoulders and a look the other way from the spec sheet. It all brings to mind the kind of benign acceptance exemplified in the colloquialism, “Halitosis is better than no breath at all.”

 “But Wait!” you say. “They give us guarantees. “Guaranteed for three years.” and the like. Certainly that sounds reassuring at the point of purchase. For the next three years, if something happens, they will take care of me. Well, some of this feeling of protection is a myth aided by our eager willingness to suspend disbelief in the same manner that we suspend it when watching a James Bond movie.

 Three weeks ago I returned from a quick trip downstairs to get the mail to be greeted by a white screen with glen plaid criss crossing black and red lines. Under other circumstances, this might have been aesthetically pleasing but not when I was expecting to seen my icon stuffed Windows desktop. Of course my heart skipped a beat. WCS (Worst Case Scenario) thinking kicked in. “Oh My God. Is My Data OK? Is My Computer Dead?” After a few seconds rational thinking began to return. On the floor under my desk sat two disconnected external hard drives. One had a complete backup of the whole computer plus my data to the end of 2008. Next to it sat a second 1 terabyte drive containing all my data up to May 2009. Lastly I had backed up everything to a third connected external drive just four days before. Whew, it could only get so bad.

 A few minutes later, connecting a little 17 inch monitor that I had around for displays at art shows, the truth came out. My trusty Acer 22inch monitor was kaput. I trudged over to Micro Center, shopped around. Of course newer models were sharper and the specs were improved. That’s the nature of technology. What was hot three years ago was subsequently discontinued nine months later. Actually was about to plunk down considerable dough for an upscale replacement (150 more that what I paid for the Acer) when a really helpful sales person (thank you Serge) looked up my purchase record in their system and noted that I had a few months left on the original three year warrantee and suggested I give Acer a try. I did call and in all fairness, the help I got was very good. Send it to them and they would turn around a repair within 7 to 10 days of receipt. Here is the rub though. When I went to the Fedex Store to ship the monitor to Texas, where the repair facility is, I was told that the slowest (7 days to get there) pack and ship option available was about 50 bucks. (The fastest was about 150.) Fifty Bucks was more than ¼ of what I paid for the monitor and certainly in excess of its depreciated value today. What choice made economic and qualitative good sense? Spend 50 to get a repair on three year old technology while waiting for about three weeks, 270 to get a new “gee whiz” monitor immediately or even around 170 for a new Acer which while not possessing a lot of “gee whiz” factor, it would be new and have another 3 year warrantee?

 For me, money was a factor and I also thought that since I had the warrantee I should use it. These companies bank on the fact that more than 85% of their warrantees will never be used even if the product breaks. Americans are impatient and being without their computer for a few weeks or trundling by on a spare monitor (if they have one) just doesn’t cut the mustard. For the majority, the national anthem of “Newer, Better, Faster, and Now” starts playing in their heads and out comes the Visa Card. I decided to make sure that someone was taking a nibble out of Acer’s margin: namely me.

Meanwhile providence, friendship, Karma and circumstance paid a visit. An old friend dropped by with a new 20 inch HP monitor which he had an extra of. This was a 2 inch smaller version of the gee whiz” monitor I was gonna buy. Quickly connected, I am in good operating condition right now. Acer has emailed saying they’ve “fixed” the monitor that was on warrantee and it’s on the way back to me by mule train or something equally slow. The HP is so good I might not even hook up the Acer when it comes back. Or I could opt to have a two monitor desktop which is really a hot setup for image editing. I’ve put the little 17incher back in its box until I have a show somewhere and need to put up a small slide show or display. I’m lucky that I’m OK. For someone for whom providence didn’t shine, a spare monitor wasn’t available and funds were limited, I bet they wouldn’t  consider the Mean Time as Between Failures but rather the Mean Time is During Failures.

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July 2009

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All Photographic Images ©Arni Cheatham, Segami Images and Eyes and Ears, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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