Unintended Consequences

I had a project manager awhile back that was upset because two different chunks of carefully designed and carefully tested software interacted poorly together. In other words chunk A broke chunk B. These chunks had been in operation and used inside the company for a number of years. They just had not been used together at the same time. He asked, in an irate tone, "How can two perfectly working and tested systems that are supposed to be able to talk to each other be so broken?"

This reminds me of a drive across central Wyoming. I had to stop at a rest area for a number two. There was a bright orange road service truck in the lot with the engine running but nobody inside. My situation was urgent so I parked beside the truck and hopped out. I don't think that I even took the time to lock the doors on my car. We are talking about central Wyoming after all.

Fortunately when I went in the bathroom there was an open toilet stall. I could see some dirty boots under the door of the other stall. That explained the road service truck driver. His situation apparently was also urgent.

It was a beautiful Wyoming summer afternoon. The sky was filled with little puff ball clouds and the wind was blowing. The state motto of Wyoming is, "Forever West", but I often think that it should be "Windy Wyoming." The wind never seems to stop. This drove the afternoon puff balls across the sky at truly breakneck speed. The clouds never seem to mind. I am always amazed at how the shadows move across the wide open planes.

I pulled my pants down and sat on the toilet. This was a remote rest area but to save water and help keep the place clean it used automatic flush toilets. By turning off when not in use automatic sink faucets also help to save on water. To help save on electricity this rest area had bathrooms that used passive solar heating and lots of sky lights. The florescent lights would only turn on after sunset in the bathrooms. The rest stop is a marvel of modern environmentally friendly engineering. A combination of good design and deep government pockets!

The beautiful puff ball that was shading the rest area now proceeded to make its never ending march with the wind on to its eventual destination. In other words the bathroom suddenly lighted up. I was feeling much relieved and started to roll out some toilet paper when the automatic toilet flushed. "Dam", I thought. I was still sitting on it!

Not only did my toilet flush but the one in the other stall (Where the maintenance guy was) also flushed. You could hear through the wall where the four toilets in the women's restroom also flushed. Not to be outdone two urinals in this restroom joined the party.

Apparently all of the plumbing led right under the toilet that I was sitting on. This had the unpleasant effect, no doubt due to all eight flushing at once, of causing it to back up to nearly overflowing. The problem was that my bare ass was a little lower than the top of the bowl! Also being a guy I had some equipment that I had carefully pushed down past the toilet seat that was now experiencing just how cold the water was first hand.

This experience was augmented by the water not being at all clean. Not only had I added a large volume to it but the water in the bowl was swirling around some other rather unpleasant items.

That is when the guy in the other stall, the maintenance man for this section of road broke his silence. I don't know about you but I prefer to not talk when in a public restroom. I just don't find that it makes the process any easier. Apparently he was not the silent type. Thus, "Hey man. Did it get ya? Every time a cloud goes over all the electric toilets and sinks kick on all at the same time! Since the state had us put in the auto-flushers the water use has gone through the roof and I have had to call the septic pump out five times!"

I just didn't know what to respond! Obviously the electric auto-flushers depend on the light level. When it gets brighter they flush. The assumption is that the lighting level is constant. Now put them into a bathroom with a skylight and a bunch of puff ball clouds and they flush every couple of minutes! Now, put me on the toilet when this happens and I get soaked in toilet water! Utterly disgusting. My misery was now compounded by the maintenance man.

"Hey man. I can pass in a roll of paper towels if you need it. That last toilet almost overflows every time. Every single time a cloud goes over. Can you believe that!"

It isn't just software systems that have hidden assumptions. Clearly the assumptions of the auto-flushers were that they would be in a bathroom with florescent lights that did not vary. Clearly the assumptions of the bureaucrats were that they could put them into the bathrooms and save water and money. Clearly my ass was wet and dirty and I was not happy. So I just relented and said, "Yea man - I could use the paper towels."

Think about this: we can't even figure out how to flush a toilet properly when there is a skylight in the room? Now think about Obamacare. 10,535 pages of legal gobbledygook. How many unintended consequences are buried in that? Do you think that they spent time testing it?

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Summary: # of Words: 1104
Author: Philip Schlump
Published On: 2013-08-12


Before You Go....

Have you read "Unintend Consinsequences"?

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