Thursday, June 25, 2020

But the Car Can't Do That | Lessons From a Mercedes A220 UI Glitch

Shira starts up the car and drives away. A few minutes into her drive she looks down to see this:

That's a Mercedes A220 dashboard minus all the gauges. She wasn't stopped for speeding, but had she been the answer would have been: no officer, I have no idea how fast I was going. That's because she had no speedometer on her display.

The A220's fully digital dashboard is sweet. You can switch up themes to change the look and feel. But alas, because it's software, it can also be buggy. And apparently Shira tripped over just such a bug. On 495. Going 60'ish miles per hour.

At a stop light she cut the engine and started up the vehicle again. There was no change. After leaving the car parked for a few hours, it went back to normal.

I recently had a similar, though far less dramatic experience. My ASUS C302 Chromebook wouldn't charge. There were only three explanations I could imagine: the outlet was bad, the cable was bad or the computer was bad. I tried another outlet and found it wasn't at fault. I ordered a new cable from Amazon and found it wasn't at fault. That meant that the charging port on the computer was busted. Or was it?

The first hit of a Google Search turned up an alternative explanation:

Hello all, I got an Asus chromebook flip about a month ago and today I plugged it in to charge and I got no response from the computer or the little indicator on the side.
This happened to me even though I was using the stable channel. I found another post on here about holding Refresh while hitting the Power button to perform an EC Reset (Reset charging controller).

Sure enough, holding down refresh and the hitting the power button fixed the problem. Apparently the software handles charging the device ran into an issue.

So is software an awful replacement for hardware and we're all doomed? Uh, no. As a programmer I'm hardly ready to give up on the terrific power and flexibility that software introduces into a system. But also as a programmer, I think it's important to stay humble.

When topics like electronic voting come up it's worth remembering examples like the above. "It'll be foolproof" they tell us. At which point I'll kindly chime in with "let me tell you about the time my wife found herself speeding down the highway without a clue as to her speed."

It boils down to this: Software is awesome. Proceed with caution.

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