Monday, September 20, 2010

Infrastructure

Making Monday

Makers have a sense of and a fascination for infrastructure.

If you're not familiar with the term, here's how I described it in a novel I wrote several years ago:
“When politicians talk about the national infrastructure they mean the highway, railroad, telephone, and power systems—stuff that we depend on but hardly ever notice. You know, Disneyland* has almost as many structures underground—to move power, people, and waste around—as it has above. The visitors only see half of the park.”

“It’s what makes things work but nobody sees it?”
Makers see the infrastructure because they care about how things work. Users, on the other hand, ignore the infrastructure because they fell entitled to the benefits it provides.

Heat pipe tunnel in Copenhagen (Wikimedia)
I once heard a comedian describe a flight in which an experimental air-to-ground Internet connection was available for part of the flight. When the service failed, his seatmate complained. He told the audience, "I wanted to shake the guy and say, 'Don't you realize how amazing this is? We're sitting in a metal tube 30,000 feet in the air and you're upset because you can't check your email?'"

Put another way, the more you know about computers, the more you realize its a miracle that they run at all. From the chips, to the firmware, to the BIOS, to the operating system, to your applications, the number of things that depend on each other starting in the right order to work properly is staggering. And yet we waltz in, flick the switch and expect it all to happen perfectly every time.

Stop, some time, and study what it takes to make the things you take for granted work. It's an eye-opening experience.


* I confess I'd like to go to Disneyland, but only if I can tour the part the visitors don't see. The desire comes, I suppose, from being an engineer and needing to know how things work.

 Image: Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net