Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Upgrade hell

If, like me, you cringe every time you get an upgrade nudge from your laptop or your phone, you are not alone. Yes, often, upgrading software and operating systems seems to break as much as it improves.

But we have the federal government's predicament as a horrible example of what happens when cost, inertia, and complex systems leave our technological infrastructure unimproved over time.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government is spending about three-fourths of its technology budget maintaining aging computer systems, including platforms more than 50 years old in vital areas from nuclear weapons to Social Security. One still uses floppy disks.

... The Defense Department's Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces. The system is running on a 1970s IBM computing platform, and still uses 8-inch floppy disks to store data. "Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete," GAO said. The Pentagon is initiating a full replacement and says the floppy disks should be gone by the end of next year. The entire upgrade will take longer.

... Social Security systems that are used to determine eligibility and estimate benefits, about 31 years old. Some use a programming language called COBOL, dating to the late 1950s and early 1960s. "Most of the employees who developed these systems are ready to retire and the agency will lose their collective knowledge," the report said. "Training new employees to maintain the older systems takes a lot of time." Social Security has no plans to replace the entire system, but is eliminating and upgrading older and costlier components. It is also rehiring retirees who know the technology.

There's much more at the link.

I'll try to remember this every time I resist a prompt to upgrade. I can learn to do things technological a new way -- yes, I can -- yes, I can... But don't ask me to be happy about it. My tech is a tool, not a life.


Michael Strickland said...

Instead of upgrades, I just wait to buy a new laptop since the darned things become obsolete so fast. Still, they're exponentially cheaper and more powerful than they were when we were first doing computer graphics on them in the early 1990s, so there is that.

Government is truly the stupidest when it comes to technological upgrades, spending tons of money on legacy systems and tech band-aids and employees stuck in ruts after too many years in the same place. Every time I take the Amtrak train through Vandenberg Air Force Base, gliding by the nuclear missiles, I always think, "I bet these things are on technology that dates from punch cards." Glad to hear that they've been modernized up to floppy disks.

When I worked for the Census Bureau in 2010, there was billions of dollars spent for an online system and scanning devices that would supposedly computerize the whole operation, but they didn't work. The mobile scanners would get within a mile of Sutro Tower, for instance, and would completely fritz out. So they did a quick compromise which was the infamous PBOCS system, which stands for the oxymoronic Paper-Based Operations Control System, combining the worst of paper-based accounting with the worst of badly designed computer programs. It was a frigging disaster and at the office we stressed its similarity to a dirty kitty litter with our pronunciation, PEE-BOX.

janinsanfran said...

Hi Mike: like the "just wait for next laptop" strategy. Don't know if I quite dare do it because I like to encounter large shifts in how my machines force me to work somewhat gradually. But it sure makes sense.

Related Posts with Thumbnails