by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
My coffee maker has a sensor that detects whether the coffee holder is in place, the lid for the coffee holder is in place, the water reservoir filled and all the flaps and hatches closed. If it determines any one of these items is not in place, it refuses to automatically turn on in the morning to make the coffee before my alarm clock goes off.
The one thing this modern marvel won’t detect is whether I have remembered to put the coffeepot on the warmer, where it can catch the brewed coffee. That, of course, is the step I forget. And somehow the first sip of the day is not as special if it has been wrung out of a paper towel after being fried on the coffee warmer and spilled all over the kitchen counter.
Despite this glaring flaw, this is probably the best coffeepot I have ever owned, so I thought I would let the company that makes it know about this one problem. But like most everything we purchase today, the company that makes the coffeepot also produces a million other products. The only phone number connects me with a foreign call center and an operator who can only deal with issues on the list of scripted responses that come up on his computer screen. So it looks as if I will continue to accept imperfection when it comes to my early-morning coffee experiences.
Overall, manufacturers have done a good job of training us consumers to expect and accept imperfections in the products we purchase. When it comes to computer software, the problem is even worse. Software users are willing to put up with a lot of imperfections in the daily operation of their computers — from lost data and “blue screens of death” to printers that will only print after being reset between print jobs. I can only imagine the hundreds of hours of productive work time lost each year to various software bugs.
We have all come to expect software to not function perfectly and believe flawless software is impossible. But is that really so? When it comes to software that we will not tolerate flaws in — such as the software that runs our cell phones — software companies seem to get it right.
Computer journalist Mark Minasi said the average simple cell phone has more than 5 million lines of code and an average of only four or five bugs in the software. Compare that to Microsoft’s Word 97 program, which also had 5 million lines of code. However, it had more than 214…