Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Gimli Flight: Whose Negligence Was It?

In the historic Gimli flight, an Air Canada plane ran out of fuel mid-flight and made an emergency landing. Faulty software failed to report that the plane was running out of fuel. This is a simple case of negligently designed software putting lives at risk, right?

Perhaps there's more to the story. The second paragraph of Wade H. Nelson's article indicates that the software's malfunction resulted in conjunction with several mistakes by technicians and flight crew, including a poorly soldered sensor. The designer of the FQIS fuel-monitoring software was responsible to test the software rigorously, but it is impossible to test every combination of circumstances that could happen in the field.

But if software purports to fill a vital purpose, shouldn't it take financial responsibility if it fails to do so? Of course! Now, does responsibility for the Gimli crash rest fully upon the software failure? Let's investigate.'s article, paragraphs 1-3, explains that the ground crew and pilots knew that the plane's FQIS software didn't work, and that they deployed the plane anyway, relying on old fuel-gauging techniques. While using old techniques, they made an error in the conversion between pounds and kilograms. The pilots and flight crew chose to ignore the software and take the matter of measuring fuel into their own hands. It was because of their negligence that the plane ran out of fuel in midair.

If the crew had reported the malfunctions of FQIS when they first manifested, the software designer would have owed Air Canada the cost of the inconvenience of having one plane out of commission during the repair time. Accountability for these costs would have rested squarely on the designer of FQIS, and no emergency landing at Gimli would have occurred. As such, the designer of FQIS should not pay for the entire cost of the Gimli crash, but only the hypothetical repair time cost.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sourcing Out, In, and All Over

Near the end of the 20th century, the United States began to tap India's new resource: vast numbers of educated people. With their sheer numbers, they finished programming projects faster than U.S. labor could have. (To learn about how outsourcing to India has changed the world, read Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat, pp. 126-136.) First India lent coding gruntwork to bail America out of the Y2K problem. Then India stepped up her sophistication and offered consulting. Recently, India is doing some delegation of her own, outsourcing to other countries or even back to the United States.

The CNET news article "Outsourcing works so well, India is exporting jobs" describes this new turn in the tale of outsourcing. India's technical minds gain autonomy with each new tactic they learn; their learning to outsource is a natural next step. We started to outsource to them because they had the quality and economy of brainpower that our projects need. This is the same principle by which India, in turn, is spreading the work all around the world.

India's decision to outsource to places such as Mexico and the United States all fits with finding the best technical labor for its price. For example, since Mexico has large numbers of people looking for work who understand Spanish language and culture, India can organize a team in Mexico to meet the growing demand for IT services to the Hispanic people. Outsourcing from the States to the States through India makes sense under these considerations: the U.S. has many technically educated people in low-cost areas such as the Midwest, the States know their own language and culture best, and India knows outsourcing best.

Far from being a zero-sum battle, working with programmers globally allows us to specialize and complete larger software development projects more quickly than before. India has taken her economic boost and paid it forward around the globe and right back to us. I imagine that the complaints of many U.S. programmers fall silent now that India opens tech jobs in our own United States.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Building the Kingdom with

The Church uses the Internet to advance the work of the gospel on various fronts. In particular, I've recently looked at Its layout is simple and effective. I first noticed the video clips, each with a convert to the Church relating how his or her questions about life found answers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now I click on the Basic Beliefs link; as the categories appear, I recognize the lessons and principles in the Preach My Gospel manual from which missionaries teach. This well-organized set of lessons would be excellent for anyone who browses the site to learn about the church, and even better for investigators who wish to review these same lessons the missionaries have taught them.

The Church webmasters have gone beyond simply publishing information about the Church to the Web. They have selected features that give the Internet an advantage over other publishing forms. A video clip accompanies each principle. Visitors can customize and send gospel-themed e-cards. They can type in a specific question and find an answer, or find the time and place of the nearest Sacrament meeting, complete with a MapQuest map.

It especially caught my attention that site visitors can chat with a member of the Church live. Church magazine articles warn that too often the anonymity of online chat hides predators or inappropriately lifts inhibitions. I am glad to see make careful use of online chat for a good cause. Because of the Internet's anonymity, people who are not yet ready to announce their interest in the Church can learn more, and learning prepares them to take further steps.

Overall, I see a website that has been attentively shaped and polished to assist in the Lord's work of proclaiming the gospel. Kudos to the minds behind for the wise steps they have taken in building the kingdom.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Age of the Everyman Publisher

What Gutenberg's printing press did for reading, today's Internet has done for publishing. Twenty years ago, sharing one's words with the masses required arrangements with a printing press or a radio station. The Internet has changed that. Now a penniless college student can post to a blog, and instantly anyone in the world can read it. What, then, are the ramifications of such great ease of publishing?

The Web's convenience for writers, combined with its ability to instantly bridge any distance, means that we have access to more than we can possibly read. Before us spreads a spectrum of opinions and data, some more reliable than others, many completely useless. How does the typical Internet user narrow this vast river of information to a stream small enough to understand? Human nature has already provided the answer, which the poet Emily Dickinson describes in the following stanza:

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

A person in a metropolis of a million inhabitants finds a few close friends; likewise, an Internet user frequents a few favorite sites.

Now more than ever, we choose what we will learn and how we will influence society. We can spend hours surfing the Web and remain just as ignorant as we were before. Or we can focus on the best and most informative sources, finding them more quickly on the Internet than through other means. We can clutter the Web with meaningless babble, or we can use it make our mark in the world, whatever mark that may be. The Internet, like other technological advances before it, is a tool whose impact depends on the actions of the wielder.