Monday, September 29, 2008

Technology that eliminates error

I am always on the look out for the claims of technology that eliminate the chance of error. What they all seem to overlook is that, just because one type of error may be eliminated a new type is usually introduced that may actually be worse. I'd say in most cases the chances of recovering an error is usually greatly reduced. These downsides of technology have been known about for many years, but still seem to be overlooked. Also, I very much doubt many of the bold claims are ever properly checked with actual experience.

Here are a couple I have found recently.

Air Products Uses Masternaut Satellite Tracking 18 September 2008. Peter Birdsall, UK Transport Manager, sees this product as "eradicating any chance of human error." I presume he means the satellite tracking combined with customer order information means that delivery drivers cannot turn up at the wrong location. However, what about the programmer error? If the wrong information is entered into the system I would say it would be very unlikely that anyone would notice.

Kelsius wireless monitoring 15 September 2008. Apparently this "monitoring to internet solution removes human error." It seems to rely on wireless sensors being placed in fridges which send information to a centralised database. The information can be used to prove compliance and will alarm if there is a problem with the fridge. However, how do you know the sensor is in the right place or that the alarm points are set correctly? Will this stop the visual checks?

Hospitals purchase blood tracking system 13 September 2008. Use of bar codes on blood used for transfusion is seen as "eliminating the sources of human error." But you still need to make sure the right bar codes are attached and the correct information stored as with this system I am pretty sure most visual checks of data will stop, or become far less effective.

Andy Brazier

Full Disk Encryption should be a legal requirement

Article by PR Artistry at Source Wire on 9 September 2008

If relates to the many recent stories of sensitive data going missing. This would not be such a problem if it had been encrypted.

Marc Hocking, Chief Technology Officer of BeCrypt is quoted as saying "If security is too cumbersome people will find a workaround." In other words, it is no good saying to people they musty encrypt data or even providing a technical solution that takes time and effort.

Hocking goes on to say "encryption technology is now available that is easy to roll out to all computers and data storage devices within an organisation, it can be centrally managed and it is transparent to the end user, so it does not affect their ability to do their job."

Andy Brazier

Formula sickens New Zealand babies

Article by Catherine Woulfe in the Sunday Star Times on 21 September 2008

Heinz changed the supplier of their branded formula baby milk, which consequently meant its ingredients were different. A sudden change to diet of a baby can make them unwell, and this happened in quite a number of cases.

Heinz published an unreserved apology explaining and stated that "human error had let the 400 cans of changed formula slip onto shelves with no warning." But Heinz's idea of a warning was a leaflet under the can lid. But when someone is buying a brand they have been buying for sometime, if the packaging remains the same (as it did in this case) would anyone have actually read any of the leaflets? Pretty poor management of change, especially given the sensitivity of the product.

Andy Brazier

"Worst ever decision"

Widely reported, including by Tom Cary in the Telegraph on 22 Sep 2008

Watford were awarded a goal in their match against Reading on 20 September. Unfortunately everyone, except the referee and his assistant could see it was several meters wide. It seems the result will stand and there will be no replay.

Andy Brazier

The economics of ergonomics

Article by Mike Kind published at on September 26, 2008.

Article states that "over half of employees who use computers for at least 15 hours per week reported musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) issues in the first year of a new job?" It represents
* 50 percent of all lost work days
* Costs U.S. companies over $61 billion per year in lost productivity.
* Results in pay outs of approximately $20 billion annually in benefits for these issues
* At an average cost of a work-related MSD of $27,700.

MSDs are injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, nerves, blood vessels and intervetebral discs of the spine. They vary from simply being annoying to to crippling and disabling.

The five may ergonomic risk factors are:

* High rate of movement repetition
* High forces
* Poor, deviated work postures
* High contact stress
* High vibration of part of the body, especially in cold conditions

Andy Brazier