back to article Ever wondered why tech products fail so frequently? No, me neither

It's not working. Sorry, this has never happened to me before. Actually it has, frequently, but let that pass. Can we try again in a few minutes? Foolishly, I agreed to help an ex-colleague with some user acceptability testing this week. It's a chore I swore I'd never do again, such that for my own digital publishing projects …

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You're really lucky!

When you are unlucky, things break down one day or two after the warranty expires :doh!:

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Re: You're really lucky!

Agreed, as a kid with a Commodore 64, the Cheetah Mac II joysticks very reliably failed within the guarantee for years on end - take back to store, return with new one, good for another 11 months.

That, of course was the mid eighties, manufacture has come a long way to fine tune both materials and manufacturing to ensure products fail more often outside of the guarantee.

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Re: C64 Joysticks

Was the phase of joystick failure related in any way to the release of Daley Thompson's Decathlon?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You're really lucky!

"When you are unlucky, things break down one day or two after the warranty expires"

That's called "quality design". There was an old joke that any component on a cart - that didn't fail one day after the warranty expired - had obviously been over-engineered.

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Re: C64 Joysticks

Was the phase of joystick failure related in any way to the release of Daley Thompson's Decathlon?

No, I did once break the chair I was sitting on playing Combat School the choice of forward-backward rhythm rather than the more common left-right for the assault course was seriously malicious.

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Childcatcher

False economy

Everything is shit for a reason. Unfortunately that reason is completely bogus.

It started with the Industrial Revolution, the pretext for which was, in essence, better living through mass production, both in terms of better employment opportunities and more diverse, cheaper yet better goods. In reality, the motive was warfare - the need to mass produce arms faster than the "competition".

This was the birth of the War Economy, and subsequently Consumerism. It also marked the end of self-sufficiency, or what is retrospectively defined as the "Cottage Industry", and with it the art of craftsmanship.

The end result is goods and services that are certainly "cheap" in quality, but not in price; diversity that is not really as diverse as we like to pretend, due to both corporate monopolisation and product normalisation; and jobs that are increasingly minimum wage, zero-hour contracts that are barely enough to survive on.

In modern parlance, it's a race to the bottom, and sadly that race is now over.

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Re: C64 Joysticks

Daley Thompson's Decathlon cost me two Sinclair Interface Two's, two edge connector repairs and no-end of joysticks.

Damn game.

And only because it was the closest I ever got to playing Hyper Sports, which I used to coo over because it looked so fun (hint: still is, but the weightlifting event is just RIDICULOUSLY difficult).

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Re: You're really lucky!

My two best (?) lucks - I had a transmission replaced at 35K miles under the 36K mile warranty, and a refrigerator compressor replaced at 4 years 11 months under the 5 year warranty. Of course, better luck would have been no repairs needed at all.

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Re: You're really lucky!

Slightly off-topic, but have you noticed in local news stories about really unlucky people who manage to suffer bizarre & unlikely combinations of being impaled/burned/blown up/run over etc, that they always say the same thing from their hospital beds?

"I'm the luckiest man alive."

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Unhappy

" There was an old joke that any component on a cart - that didn't fail one day after the"

It's actually called the "One horse Shay" design, after a short poem about such a cart.

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Re: False economy

Indeed, the main reason why the British army in the Napoleonic wars was as effective in a firefight with ranks two deep rather than the European three deep configuration was because the brown bess musket was produced in an early form of standardised mass production and every soldier had one*, with musket balls of the right calibre.

Your European squaddie on the other hand could be equipped with a number of different arms, not necessarily the one they were trained on with not necessarily the right calibre ammunition.

Which meant as many muskets fired effectively in a British 2 rank front than an average European three rank front.

Sure the British troops were also heavily trained but the standardised, reliable equipment played a big part.

*other than those in the rifle sections of course.

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Boffin

Re: " There was an old joke that any component on a cart"

"It's actually called the "One horse Shay" design, after a short poem about such a cart."

No.

It's a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes and it tells a completely different story. It begins "Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay, that was built in such a logical way it ran a hundred years to a day?"

The Deacons Masterpiece

It's the exact opposite. The wonderful one-hoss shay is made from the perfect materials for every single part. As a result it lasts for an entire century and then every single part wears out at the same time.

It's worth reading, especially if you like working in wood.

Extract:

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,

There is always somewhere a weakest spot, —

In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,

In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,

In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace, — lurking still,

Find it somewhere you must and will, —

Above or below, or within or without, —

And that’s the reason, beyond a doubt,

A chaise breaks down, but doesn’t wear out.

(It doesn't mention iPhone batteries.)

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Re: False economy

"It started with the Industrial Revolution, the pretext for which was, in essence, better living through mass production, both in terms of better employment opportunities and more diverse, cheaper yet better goods. In reality, the motive was warfare"

A large part of the industrial revolution was in the textile industry. I suppose they could have been mass producing cushions to smother the enemy.

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Re: You're really lucky!

My best luck was having my car totalled with 3 months left on the replacement warranty.

Car had just gone over the 100k kms manufacturer's warranty, needed a clutch, wheel bearings, ball joints and timing belt, all of which I had just scheduled to have done.

Lucky for me the replacement warranty was time based and not mileage based.

Saved myself a good couple of thousand dollars, and got a brand new car at no charge.

Even better? The accident was undeniably the other driver's fault as he ran a red light and hit me.

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Re: You're really lucky!

how much did you pay him?

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MrT

Re: Daley Thompson's Decathlon

Wasn't the best trick on DTD to hit the 'Z' & 'X' keys (or whatever was mapped to left and right steps) simultaneously? Max speed every time - just have a supplier of replacement ZX Spectrum keyboard membranes on friendly terms...

I had a joystick for my QL that used microswitches - at least they could be repaired. Problem was, they were so loud that it was never used enough to break - self-preservation through induced tinnitus...

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404
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Re: You're really lucky!

Replacement warranty? On a car? Wut? - Confused colonial...

Really, not kidding.

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Boffin

Re: You're really lucky!

The Commodore 64 joysticks were so bad I eventually built myself a replacement using an industrial microswitch joystick. I still have it.

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Re: You're really lucky!

When I financed my new 2004 Kia Rio I was given the option to pay a one time fee of $1200 for a replacement value warranty (or maybe they called it replacement value insurance?).

This warranty was time based (5 years), and would provide me with a brand new Kia Rio of the same trim level (or cash in the amount of my original purchase price on the car) in the event of theft or total loss due to accident.

For most people it would be a total waste of money, but it was a very good investment in my case.

Similar coverage can be gotten from your insurer, but it does increase your monthly premium.

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TRT
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Re: Joysticks

TAC2 for me. All metal turned shaft that sat in a lump of neoprene the size of a docker's dump and which simply pressed against one or two of a number of thick metal plates to make the contact.

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Re: False economy

I suppose they could have been mass producing cushions to smother the enemy.

Nah. Everyone knows soft cushions are a weapon of the Spanish Inquisition.

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Re: False economy

"Nah. Everyone knows soft cushions are a weapon of the Spanish Inquisition."

It's actually unexpected.

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Re: "the wonderful one-hoss shay"

I have a queue of millennials here asking for an Amazon link to this product, and whether it accepts a standard USB charger.

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Software testing?

Isn't that what users are for?

(To stop things breaking on first use or earlier, don't purchase crap. Seriously, I'd rather spend $100 on a good (if minimal) socket set, than $19.95 on a "197 piece chromed vanadium tool set with fitted case" ... You gets what you pays for. Except iThingies, of course.)

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Re: Software testing?

You gets what you pays for

Ah, the Vimes boot thing.

I'd suggest you get what you pay alot for upfront (or possibly on the hire purchase).

I'm almost inclined to think they don't believe you really need it or deserve it, if you are not prepared to go into hock for it orginally.

Paying quadruple over a number of years for a series of substandard versions not considered.

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Re: Software testing?

What, pray tell, is "the Vimes boot thing"?

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Re: Software testing?

I presume he means the Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice:

https://wiki.lspace.org/mediawiki/Sam_Vimes_Theory_of_Economic_Injustice

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Re: Software testing?

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

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DJO
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Re: Software testing?

I'd rather spend $100 on a good (if minimal) socket set, than $19.95 on a "197 piece chromed vanadium tool set with fitted case

Actually for socket sets buying the cheapest crappiest one makes sense if when a socket you actually use gets knackered you replace that part with a really good quality one so after a while you have a socket set where the ones you need are of high quality and the ones you never use are crap.

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Re: Jake

They know about you. The manufacturer of that $19.95 197 piece fragile tool set puts the reject parts in smaller boxes and sells them for $99.99.

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Re: Software testing?

The problem is perfectly outlined here:

"Evidently, they are my fault for not testing within the narrow confines of the script and can therefore be safely ignored."

QA tends to know how some functionality is supposed to be used, so they won't typically try to open a lock with a screwdriver. But apply the screwdriver to the lock and it will immediately bust apart.

At one point I'd take on a task of destructive testing some new code functionality I call it "Hammer & Smash" now most wouldn't use a negative, or zero tolerance but does the software accept one, and what happens afterwards? In other cases you'd apply the code to some situation that it was not designed for and watch it drive a 15000 rpm spindle into a ton of metal.

Not a realistic example come the cry. Perhaps, but given enough time I could produce a realistic example that invokes the same bug. There are situations that aren't being handled. Fecking fix em.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Software testing?

"This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness."

I have started to question my boot buying policy. I previously have bought good quality leather boots for a few hundred pounds from our specialist outdoor supplies shop - one pair each for summer/winter. The winter ones need to be bigger for the extra sock thickness.

Tramping the city streets the heels wear down in six months. So on the seasonal change they are sent off to the specialist repairer for re-soling with the same official Vibram soles. This costs about GBP80 a time.

I do wonder if spending less than £80 in a cheaper shop for new pair would be a better option.

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Re: Software testing?

"You gets what you pays for"

If you live by that motto then you are consigning yourself to never getting a bargain , and most likely not being able to afford things.

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Re: Software testing?

Ye gads I'd consider spending £80 on boots "going all out for long term boots"

How much trampoing do you do? on city streets?

Perhaps you should buy your own specialist repair gear.

I'd suggest your several hundred pound boots that dont last 6 months are over priced.

Also an £80 repair that only lasts six months is overpriced ...

I dont know where to start ... how about you just get a taxi everywhere, see how that pans out.

FYI "cheap" footwear is between 10 and 20 pounds , or 0 to £10 if you wait for the sales. Look in the toy section at Lidl aor Aldi for instance.

I suggest you buy cheapest shit you can find, and im sure itll last 6 months.

thereby inproving your fottwera value-for -money ration by "several Hundred" to 10

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Isn't that what users are for?

Absolutely going by every game I've seen released on PC in the past couple of years. Ironically the indy games seem to have better support and fewer game breaking bugs than the big studio guff.

Long live Rimworld (Google it, I'm not being rude, much.)

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Unhappy

Re: Software testing?

Let us assume that cheap equals crap, and this if for the most part true. Then it doesn't follow that expensive equals quality. Actually on scale from one to five where one is the cheapest the highest average quality often can be around two. Where a large part of the fives are the same junk as ones, but with better branding. The caveat here is of course that this is only true for the average within each price range. The highest quality products you will still find hidden among the fives. My problem is that I am happy to pay 200£ for a pair of boots, but actually getting a good pair that last at a minimum ten years of regular use is unlikely.

I blame the stupidity of consumers. We accept buying products without specifications.

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Re: Software testing?

Fuzzing is quite popular these days as a test method

Simplistically, chucking any old stuff at an API etc and see how well it copes (or not!).

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Re: Software testing?

I do wonder if spending less than £80 in a cheaper shop for new pair would be a better option.

I would recommend starting with a different brand of expensive boot.

My experience is that until the last time I changed shoes/boots, the durability of my footwear was more or less independent of the price I paid. It seriously didn't seem to matter what brand I bought or how much I paid. In six to nine months they would be knackered in one way or another.

Then the local centre commercial (it's not an indoor shopping centre, nor a shopping mall, because it's in France, sorry) had a temporary Timberland stand just before Christmas 2015. I needed to replace the latest footwear disaster, so I dropped 220 euros on a pair of "plain" Timberland boots.

More than two years later, they are still going strong. The water-resist is a bit the worse for wear, and I will soon need to replace the (original) laces, but after two years of walking a bit more than seven kilometres a day(1), five days a week, I have not had to do *anything* even vaguely related to maintenance on them.

(1) That figure is based on the results of carrying a Wii Fit U "Fit Meter" pedometer, and comparative measurements by GPS suggest that the true figure is closer to 9km per day.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Software testing?

Boot theory is interesting. Not that I've been keeping track or anything.

I walk 2 miles a day on pavement [Commute] and a further ~3 miles at work [~1300 miles per year] and go through shoes very fast.

In 2017 my shoe cost varied from £20 to £100. I spent £300 over the year over all. I've tried sticking to known brands:

I call a shoe dead when the sole is worn through as opposed to the footbed or lining. Resoling would only become economical at ~ £200.00 + Per pair.

So with a bit of spreadsheeting from 2016 -2018:

£10 Shoes are £86.00 per year [But are horrible]

£20 shoes are £173 per year

£60 Shoes are £260 per year

£100 shoes are £260 per year

£120 shoes [estimated] are £180 per year

So either buy as cheap as possible or go straight to the expensive end of the market.

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Re: Software testing?

Steel toe cap leather boots that can pass as shoes if required. Screwfix £20 polish up nice as well. They lasted longer than the pair I bought for a funeral.. £15 reduced from £80 apparently, lasted the night until the heel fell off in the taxi home.

As for sockets, Snap-on for the useful stuff that I wear out / break / screwdrivers, knuckle bars etc it's worth paying 4x the price for a lifetime guarantee and have never been refused a replacement :)

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Re: Software testing?

"What, pray tell, is "the Vimes boot thing"?"

Jake, fortunately you never claim to be an expert on economics, so you don't get your Internet Economist card revoked.

If they don't teach the Vimes Boot at Harvard Business School, that will be because they attribute it to a US author.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Software testing?

"I'd suggest your several hundred pound boots that dont last 6 months are over priced."

The boots themselves last forever. I've just consigned the 1990 pair to gardening duties as a lace lug is starting to fail. The newer two pairs were only bought in the shop's annual sale when they reduced them by a significant amount.

Vibram rubber soles seem to be an industry standard for upmarket walking boots. There is something that literally puts a spring in your step with a recoil action in the heel. Makes the weight of the boots less onerous. To be truthful I have always worn out my shoes at the heels. Must be something about the way I walk. I do tend to walk rather fast - so the heel probably comes down at an angle.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Software testing? [Boot buying Policy subclause] :)

Answer to your question is NO !!!

This is not because the sole on the cheap pair would not last (Accidental pun) but that the rest of the boot would not.

I have proven this after trying the 'Cheap boot' idea myself, and found that the soles tend to be very similar in wear rate BUT the cheap boot structure tends to fall apart.

The material that makes up the upper part of the boot will be too thin and crease with use that then leads to cracks/holes/leaks.

I have thrown away multiple boots that had years of wear left in the soles but cracking and leaking uppers.

Buy good leather boots that can take the wear and that have quality leather that does not crease/crack.

Regularly treat the boots to a good clean and an intensive re-wax/re-proof.

Use Saddle soap to clean the leather (that you can buy quite cheaply in large tubs).

Do not fast dry the boots near radiators or fires as this will encourage cracking.

Most specialist proofing materials are not much better than the use of a good old fashioned Wax or Dubbin.

Just remember to use plenty of Wax/Dubbin, the more the merrier, until the leather has been fully saturated.

Old trick is to use the back of a heated spoon to apply or the modern version is to use a Hairdryer to melt the Wax/Dubbin into the leather. Care needs to be taken to NOT overheat/dry-out the leather when doing this. You will see the heated leather 'soak up' the liquid Wax/Dubbin.

Fully saturated leather should shrug off external running water and NOT suffer from water staining if you have been standing in water for some time. Obviously, the application of Wax/Dubbin will change the colour of the leather, which should not be a surprise.

All learnt the hard way over 20 years walking dogs through everything from Grass/mud to Sand & Salt-Water. Always favoured Synthetic boots for lightness and supposed material durability BUT discovered that old fashioned Leather & Wax wins in the real world. !!!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Software testing?

In 2017 my shoe cost varied from £20 to £100. I spent £300 over the year over all.

My most enduring footwear are a pair of Hi-tec (brand) walking boots. They cost about £35 some twenty years old, still solid, still got the original laces, and they've seen service from the Russian winter to the top of Mount Sinai, and a whole load in between. Admittedly they don't get worn most weekends, but SOMETIMES you do get a bargain. And they're comfortable, too.

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Windows

Re: "cheap footwear"

The only shoes I can wear for extended periods, without experiencing excruciating pain, is memory foam loafers.

The first example of such a shoe that I ever tried was "Skechers Go Walk Pro 3" at around £60. They lasted about 3 months of constant use as indoor workwear, before falling apart.

Meanwhile, a functionally identical pair of shoes from shoezone cost just £10, and lasted exactly the same length of time.

There are two important points to note here:

First, the "more expensive shoe that lasts longer", in this instance, simply doesn't exist. It's not that people are making bad choices, or even that they can't afford good choices, it's simply that better choices are not available, because today's market comprises goods that are universally shit, regardless of price.

Second, given the universal shittiness of all things in today's disposable culture, spending more to get better quality actually doesn't make any sense, because "better quality" now amounts to nothing more than marketing drivel, devoid of any real substance.

In the case of the above example, both the £60 branded and £10 unbranded shoes were probably made by the same children, in the same Indian sweatshop, for the same total production cost of less than $1. The price differential is purely aesthetic, just a marketing ploy, or in free market economic terms "as much as the market will bear", and has no correlation to the actual production cost or quality whatsoever.

The same is true of pretty much everything else in the market, until you get into the upper echelons of esoteric goods - Ferraris and so forth - a market that services a tiny fraction of 1% of the world's population.

That is the "gift" that first industrialism, then subsequently capitalism, has given to the world.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Software testing?

I've gotten sick of spending too much on winter boots that either didn't last or weren't as warm or waterproof as they should be and living on the east coast of Canada that can be important. So, I bought a pair of Canadian Armed Forces boots at the local Army surplus store and they've been very comfortable. A little Kiwi polish and all good. They range in price from about 14 to about 40 or 50 Canadian. Mine were 14, a small tear in the interior lining was all that I could see and they've been great thus far this winter. Granted I don't work outside, but I'd bet they'd be fine for that.

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Re: FailCEO

THIS! "Screwfix £20 polish up nice as well."

Bought a pair of own-brand steel toecap 'Chelsea' style boots from Screwfix for £40. Would have expected to pay 2-3 times that at a 'shoe shop' selling brands. Workwear can often be very economically viable.

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Re: Software testing?

Indeed. This plays into the utterly bizarre truth that it's very, very expensive to be poor.

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Re: Software testing?

"QA tends to know how some functionality is supposed to be used, so they won't typically try to open a lock with a screwdriver."

QA that does this is seriously incompetent QA. A good QA person is actively looking for ways to make the product malfunction, not just doing "happy path" testing.

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