I’ve been thinking about redundancy these last few days. The power supply on my workstation computer crapped out. It was (is)a major inconvenience. For instance, all the images of the HVAC system I’d show you were on the virtual desktop, and they’ll be unavailable for a week while I wait for the replacement part to arrive. I’m sure you’ll all enjoy having someone describe a heating system, instead of seeing one. Playboy in braille has nothing on me, man.
But the computer and the heating system are similar in some respects. They’re both relying on the Department of Redundancy Department to keep on keeping on. I’ll explain.
The heating system in our house, isn’t. I heat the house, but it’s not a system.
A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole, especially.
OK, maybe it is a system, just not in the way people usually think of a system. It’s not a flow chart. It’s a Venn Diagram. There are disparate elements, and they can be interrelated, or interdependent as necessary, but ultimately they don’t have a lot to do with one another. In some aspects they compete with each other. In others, they work together as required. It’s an ad hoc kind of system.
The heat pump isn’t big enough to heat the house when it’s twenty below. So what? If I put in a unitary system that could handle it, it would cost too much and work poorly as an air conditioning unit in the summer (too big). When it was eighteen below zero last winter, we ran the pellet stove and the heat pump at the same time, and didn’t notice anything but the bill.
If you plan for a worst-case scenario, and then use that as a baseline, you’re overprepared most of the time. And while hoarding, disguised as prepping, is in vogue, it doesn’t work in a world where the apocalypse never comes. It really doesn’t work even if the apocalypse does come, because cataclysms have a tendency to be unpredictable. What exactly do you hoard? Everything? It’s not possible.
Well, you certainly can’t hoard heat. Keep firewood too long, and it rots. Pellets get moldy in the summer from the humidity. Storing electricity for later isn’t such a great idea, either. As the joke goes, electric cars are more reliable than gas-powered cars. Up to 95% of all the electric cars ever made are still on the road. The other 5% made it home.
So making huge, unitary systems and then defending them and backing them up is difficult stuff. I didn’t have a power supply hanging around that could replace the one in my ancient computer. I could have put one on the shelf ten years ago. But how would I know what to hoard? Maybe the mother board would quit. The hard drive. The fans. The RAM. Pretty soon you’re not hoarding parts, you’re hoarding a whole ‘nother unitary system in case the original goes on the blink. But then again, how do you know a stored computer will still work when you dust it off after years in storage. Better get two spares, huh?
People who live where the weather is more than an inconvenience understand the Department of Redundancy Department. Usually because they learned the hard way, like I did. You don’t want duplicates. You want alternatives. If the heat pump goes on the blink, you still have the pellet stove. If the pellet stove doesn’t work, you still have baseboard electric heat. If there’s no electricity, you can’t run the baseboard heat, or the heat pump, but you can run a generator and run the pellet stove. If the generator quits, you hook up an inverter to the car battery and run the engine with an extension cord into the house to run the pellet stove. If that quits, you can swap the extension cord over to backup backup backup backup scheme and burn wood in the wood furnace. If it’s cold enough, you run damn near everything. I’ve done all those things. You would, too, if it was twenty below.
You know everything works because you use it every once in a while. Nothing has to do everything — or else. You end up with less stuff hanging around in the long run, because while you might have two of everything, you don’t have three of anything.
So the computer didn’t work. There were standalone backup drives on the desk. The Department of Redundancy Department strikes again. There are backups held offsite, too, of course, but if you trust an internet company to be reliable forever, I have some CMGI stock to sell you. And a bridge.
The computer that quit a few days ago was the backup. I’d replaced it with something better, that wasn’t, and had to resurrect the old beast from the shelf. So the interruption was more of a nuisance than might have usually been the case. I fished through all sorts of hardware I had hanging around, trying to cobble together a bridge to a Fedex delivery. I got sort of stymied left and right. Dongle A didn’t mesh with Jack B or fit in Case C, etc. After more than a few hours of messing about in firewalls and pressing the backup backup backup backup laptop back into service, trying to make autofill behave, and get Google to stop freaking out because I was logging in to Google things sitting three inches to the left of the usual spot, I remembered the ultimate time-saving, aggravation-avoiding backup plan of all time. I went and got a stored, eight-page printed paper backup of every login and password I needed, and dutifully typed each one into the browser as needed.
It’s easy to be impressed by companies the size of Microsoft, Apple, Google, Cisco, etc., but they still can’t compete with Johannes Gutenberg yet. Not even close. I’ll raise my hand if they manage to pass a Ticonderoga #2 on the way.