Obsolescence

Consider this an old man’s rant. Well, more of a grumble. We do that a lot. That’s something you’ll discover for yourself when you get there. Trust me, you will! Well, I hope you’ll get there and, and when you do, grumbling will be a favored daily activity. That, and attention to “regularity.” (If you don’t know the term, don’t worry. It will make itself known in time.)

Windows XP didn’t suddenly stop working. It didn’t fall apart, blow up, or freeze. And somehow it survived its many upgrades, patches, frailties, and attacks. It kept right on working, doing the job on millions of computers worldwide. It’s basic fault? It stopped making money; enough money to satisfy the corporate profit machinery. So they killed it. And forced millions of customers to pay for new licenses for new, improved versions of the same old, same old.

Except it wasn’t the same old. It was worse, far worse, but that’s a different grumble.

I’m typing this on an object twelve inches wide by ten inches deep by two and one-quarter inches thick. It weighs eight and two-tenths pounds. I’m looking at a bright LCD screen that’s seven and one-quarter inches tall by nine and three-quarters inches wide. (That’s twelve inches diagonal by industry measure).

The brick’s lid containing the screen opens out to lay flat (if you wish) and the body has a handle designed to hang from a vehicle’s steering wheel, or simply for lugging the brick around. In a pinch, this brick with its handle could double as an assault weapon, laying attackers about in unconscious heaps. Once safe from my attackers, I can open my brick, use the attached stylus to sketch the crime scene on the touch-sensitive screen, and type up a witness report. Nothing, literally nothing short of a .50 caliber direct hit, can keep my brick from working (or a dead battery, but nothing’s perfect!)

It cost $4,500 new twelve years ago (without options.) Offered for sale in 2004, it was discontinued three years later. By 2013 the extraordinary company that built this brick was dead.

The basic fault? Neither the brick nor the company acquired as a subsidiary of a huge defense industry conglomerate, could generate enough money to satisfy the corporate profit machinery.

I see two distinct but interrelated issues here: when is a tool truly obsolete and where is the point where money is no longer enough money.

The company, Itronix, originated in Spokane, WA. By 2003 it had grown to over 500 employees generating a $25 million payroll, making rugged products for field use. How rugged? Try repeatedly dropping your laptop from a ten-foot ladder onto a concrete floor and then type up the testing report using that laptop. That’s how rugged.

General Dynamics bought out Itronix in 2005. In 2009 GD closed the Spokane plant, laid off its workforce–leaving a huge hole in the Spokane economy–and relocated to Florida. Over 500 highly-skilled, high-wage, high-tech workers of the type that America claims to need more of, were left scrambling for new jobs in the midst of the “Great Recession.”

The May 2, 2013 issue of the daily Spokesman-Review newspaper announced the “death” of GD-Itronix. The company was shut down. The headline read, “Itronix era ends not with a bang, but a whimper.”

Former engineers and managers left behind in Spokane explained that a huge mega-corporation did not understand the development cycle involved in designing and producing an exceptional product, nor did the mega-corporate “culture” understand the closely-knit team integration and spirit of collaboration to produce such products.

“Once General Dynamics took it over,” a former Itronix engineer said, “company managers focused on extracting steady profits quarter after quarter.”

My question: how is it that a small, energetic company–a team “family” of skilled, motivated employees–can innovate, produce, and prosper in a small market (which Spokane surely is), and a huge corporation cannot? GD’s purchase of Itronix was a quick kiss of death.

Back to my brick: for its day the specs were great.

  • Type: Rugged notebook
  • Processor: Intel Pentium M 745
  • OS: Windows XP Professional
  • Memory: 512MB expandable to 2GB
  • Display: 12.1″ XGA (1024 x 768) “ColorVue” TFT
  • Digitizer/Pens: Touchscreen/1
  • Keyboard: 87-key full-scale with glow-in-the-dark NiteVue
  • Storage: 40 to 80 GB hard disk w/ optional disk heater
  • Size: 12.0″ x 9.8″ x 2.36″
  • Weight: 8.2 pounds incl. battery pack
  • Power: 65 WHr Lithium-Ion (“over 5 hours”)
  • Communication: 10/100base-T, 56K V.90 Modem, internal 802.11b/g wireless LAN radio Interface
  • USB 2.0, audio/mic, PS/2, IEEE1394, RJ-11, RJ-45, VGA, serial, dock, 2 PC Card Type II, CRMA for wireless
  • Price: starting at US$4,495 Is this brick obsolete? Yes and No. Would I pay US$4,500 for it today? No. But that’s irrelevant. No computer is worth that much to me, not even a Rhodium-plated Apple Macintosh iLust.

Like Windows XP, this IX-260+ does the job, and does it in a way that no other ordinary laptop can do, regardless of vintage. It survives any use, any environment, any abuse I’m likely to give it. It has survived several years of on-board salt-water service, and runs like new. I still get three hours battery service, and the screen is bright, almost bright for use in sunlight. Try that with your Chinese special!

The only real change I’ve made is to install Linux side-by-side with the WinXP OS. Linux goes online; XP, not so much. MS stopped fixing XP’s bugs & holes when they killed XP, instead using the club of FUD to enforce paid upgrades.

So my grumble?

I am damned sick and tired of being told by American Corporate dictate that my tools must be tossed in the trash, and replaced at great expense with costly new ones. New ones that aren’t as fit for purpose as my old ones were. New ones that will be old ones next year, and obsolete the year after that. All because the old tools don’t generate enough profit, quarter after quarter.

I have a message for America’s mega-corps. I’ve jumped off the treadmill. My old bones hurt, my wallet has shrunk, and what I’ve got will last long enough to outlast me.

So. Corporate America? Kiss my gnarly ol’ ass. I’m quit with ye.


Obsolescence © Graybyrd 2015