Bad System Designs

'Oops' Just Isn't Enough. It's Important to Sweat the Small Stuff

By Joe Feeley

Remember the story this past summer about subatomic particles (neutrinos) that showed up about 60 ns faster than light, when the CERN labs shot them from Geneva to Italy? Faster than light? Time travel? Vacation home on Kepler-22b?

Well, you'd better unload the investment you made in that transporter startup company owned by those three guys named Jim, Scotty and Spock. The journal Science reported in February that the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva admitted that a loose fiberoptic cable connection between a GPS unit and a computer might have caused the measurements that showed neutrinos out-sprinting the speed of light.

"There is a screw and you have to turn it, but we're not sure if it was well-calibrated," said Arnaud Marsollier, a spokesman for CERN. "It would be embarrassing if a nasty cable is the reason."

Let that sink in for a moment.

This isn't an unfortunate loose screw-terminal connection in the control panel that delays a machine commissioning for a few hours. This is gazillion dollar physics aimed at finding answers to the nature of the universe.

Imagine how you explain that one to the boss.

Trying to maintain a level of quiet dignity, the lab announced that the experiment probably will be repeated in May.

Item 2: Some of the findings in our annual Product Research and Buying Habits Study nicely define the complicated love/hate relationship most of us have with using the Internet, particularly global search engines. It's like the yin and yang of that relationship. It's Cain and Abel; it's Abbott and Costello; it's Illinois politics and corruption. You don't get one without the other.

We found that 88% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I've gotten better at search strategies and techniques, and that has helped get better results."

Sounds positive. Life is good. But then we learn that 77% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "It's a pain to sift through the results, but at this point there's no better web-based research tool for me."

So, while many of us have improved our abilities to obtain better search engine results, we're still not at all happy that there's nothing better out there.

This helps explain the disdain that many readers still have for Internet-based research. They adamantly stick with their local distributor when they need product information. I've heard more than once how they firmly believe it's faster and more reliable, even while conceding that this can limit the brand scope of possible solutions.

As we learned from this study last year, respondent age doesn't seem to make a big difference about this, either.