IT risks, wariness and planned obsolescence

In last week’s Gearhead I wrote about some pyrotechnic chemistry and said that, luckily in IT the worst thing that can happen is an occasional electrical shock or stubbed toe. I then invited you to share your stories if you had experienced anything worse.

Reader Fred Loucks-Schultz agreed that getting electric shocks and stubbed toes are routine, then followed with a grizzly example: “I once ran a 110 punchdown tool into the middle finger of my left hand, which is still technically my worst directly work-related injury.” Not bad and definitely cringe worthy, but there has to be an example with more drama.

Reader Tom Rice recalled that “in the early mainframe days, disk drives had huge platters and the units were as big as a couple refrigerators. They actually used hydraulics as part of the mechanism. One day one of the engineers came out of the computer room with his suit jacket soaked in oil. A hydraulic line had broken and doused him.” Amusing, but no cigar. Hasn’t anyone been crushed by a fully populated 19-inch rack or barely escaped being gassed by a Halon system? Let me know.

In last week’s Backspin I discussed trust and reader Pico Nazzaro wrote that he has learned to be wary of “people who use my name in a sentence when they are talking directly to me (usually a sales person, which right away is a reason to be suspicious)” and “people who say ‘trust me’ when I have no good reason to do so.” Pico’s last wariness is one I share.

You know what else I am wary of? High-tech devices with batteries that can’t be changed.

Like many people, I first became aware of this deficiency when the battery in my first iPod started to hold less and less of a charge (being at 30,000 feet without your own groove is bad news).

Sure, I could have opened it up and done a Heath Robinson installation of a new battery, but the device was quite obviously not designed to make this an easy exercise.

Since then, I’ve watched the market fill with other devices that seem to be designed with planned obsolescence in mind. In no particular order (because I’m on a roll here), there are all of the subsequent iPods, the iPhone, the iPod Touch, the Zune and all of the other spendy digital music devices. And while Apple is just the most visible of the sinners in this particular ring of technology hell — the iPad is next up — let’s be clear, it isn’t the only one.

What got me thinking about this was the Bluetooth headset market. Hardly any of these products have batteries that can be changed! My friend Tony has a first-generation Aliph Jawbone which he loves, but it is getting on (I reviewed this device when it first came out), and Tony’s annoyed that if the battery dies something that works perfectly well will become useless.

I have since reviewed subsequent models of the Jawbone and they are all outstanding except for that one thing: If the battery fails and you’re out of warranty (which is one year), you are SOL.

Similar warranty terms apply to products from Apple, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Sony, Motorola, Plantronics … it’s a long list. Buy high-tech devices from any of these manufacturers and within days of your warranty expiring you could have landfill on your hands (or in your ear).

What do you think about this? Is this kind of planned obsolescence justifiable? Is it reasonable? Is it ethical?

Gibbs ponders these things in Ventura, Calif. Your thoughts to backspin@gibbs.com.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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