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January 13, 2014

A Variety of “Failure Modes”

Steven R. Berryman

“Failure mode” is an electronics-based term used to describe a solid-state set of affairs in which a particular device does not work, is disabled, or otherwise operating outside of its design parameters. Over the past weeks and months, we have had many sets of events in other fields where the term can also be fairly applied.


The latent engineer spirit in me sees traffic studies in New Jersey as failing even at the common sense level; Gov. Chris Christie’s handpicked inner-circle, up to the chief of staff level saw fit to influence a traffic study – scientifically of course – to determine the impact of closing out a traffic lane arbitrarily on a busy bridge to see what would happen.


This, of course is tantamount to closing off part of an artery to see if we can get a major organ to fail. A wide body of evidence is already there to guarantee a deleterious effect on the body organ as well as the George Washington Bridge. The good guv should stick to politics and leave the traffic engineering to the Port Authority.


Failure to capture a presidential bid could be linked to a failure to believe that knowledge of this fatal political dirty trick was known at the head of the serpent.


Back to the digital domain, big box retailer Target was in the news recently for losing the coded credit card transactions – including credit card numbers – of several tens of millions of customers at the store level. It seems that hackers from Eastern Europe (where else) were able to introduce hacking software at the store unit level to get into customers accounts.


Fallout from that is the disadvantaged consumer now has a forced maximum usage of their own cards of $100 per day until safeguards are put back into place – even on debit cards containing thousands of dollars of cash!


The above should not shock too many as we have already learned that even the Obamacare software to run the Affordable Care Act “markets” was developed without security features intertwined. (This after you spent hundreds of millions on it!) Your medical records of surgeries, psychoanalyses records, medications prescribed, breakdowns, addictions and permanent conditions can and will become public domain knowledge at some point, just as looking up public records of criminal transactions is now.


Think not? The National Security Agency just announced a new program for a super-super-duper-duper new computer based encryption foiling machine (also digital) known as a “quantum” computer, and it will be exponentially faster/better than any predecessors.


It can crack anything, up to, through, and including the “DaVinci Code.”


Certainly the next generation of Edward Snowdens will leak the plans and everyone will have a quantum computer (maybe even a laptop version?) because the moral judgment will be that “it’s only fair that everyone has one, to keep the level playing field.” This justification is what kept the nuclear thieves so active.


We also see a failure of modern media outlets – over a broad spectrum – that fully shocks me. Even on what was left over after Andrew Breitbart was murdered (“The Drudge Report,”), there was nary a single linkable headline yesterday to the new “tell all” book by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Although he was shocked at the lack of resolve noted by his Commander-in-Chief (as well of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), President Barack Obama to win with a surge in Afghanistan, headlines have been muted and/or crowded out by the much less serious Chris Christie story.


The admission that we threw away the lives of servicemen and women for a political cause should have trumped the stupid backed-up bridge in New Jersey. It didn’t.


That’s abject failure.


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