Technology eats itself
One of the most frightening examples (from a corporate standpoint) was the recent discovery that the most common bike lock, made by Kryptonite, could be picked in about ten seconds with a Bic ballpoint pen. The idea is that the circular opening of the barrel lock was identical in size to the barrel of the most common Bic pen, and that the plastic would moosh enough to push the pins down and sideways in such a way that the pins would find their seats automatically. A video of this feat was released, and within a few days it was common knowledge in bike circles that your lock was useless. During the course of a few days, a technology that had been robust enough to thwart the most experienced bike thieves on the planet could be bypassed by a kid with a pen.
What's interesting is that Kryptonite had been working for years to build a lock that could stand up to be "incompatible" with hacksaws, prybars, car jacks, and anything else short of liquid nitrogen or an acetylene torch. Yet a product was discovered in an entirely unrelated field that had a disastrous compatability with the locks.
The more products that are released into this world, the more chance that product Q will unexpectedly have a problem with product X. There are some parallels in the natural world, such as the huge numbers of chemicals that plants create to defend themselves from the huge number of chemicals that other plants create, et cetera. Speaking of chemicals, don't ever mix ammonia products with bleach - it'll create a toxic gas that's way worse than either of the two original products. Yet another unexpected breakdown in our technology.
Back in the mechanical world, another disastrous interface has yet to be overcome is the height of SUV bumpers. Most bumpers (this is changing slowly) on SUVs are higher than the side rail of a passenger car or minivan. When the smaller car is hit in the side by the SUV, the SUV rides over the internal structure of the car and into the passenger area, increasing the chance that the passengers will be killed. I got a graphic demonstration if this when a car I was riding in was hit on the driver's side by a Ford Explorer (circa 1995). The driver was injured much worse than if the two vehicles were of equal height. Looking at the wreck later it was apparent that the SUV had avoided the bottom rail of the car altogether, and crushed the left-side occupants over a foot and a half. A lower bumper would probably have lessened the injuries. Maybe.
We're not going to get into issues of negligence or fault here, but some of these examples illustrate that even when a product is perfect within the scope of its application, there's a whole world of objects out there that can make things go wrong.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team