Agile Environmental Management


I'm not much into wearing daft T-shirts, or T-shirts with logos that proclaim my technical proclivities (such as being a Windows user, or knowing how to configure a DNS server), though one of my favorites is a T-shirt with a big picture of an organ donor card. It carries the slogan "DONER CARD" with the tagline "I want somebody to eat my kebab when I die". However, one of my other daft T-shirt logos came to mind the other day as my wife was trying to adjust from the relative warmth of a week away in Madeira to the distinct chill of an English December.

The T-shirt in question explains that there are 10 kinds of people in this world - those who understand binary and those who don't. Now, I've rambled on many times over the years about our digital generation (see Derbyshire Does Digital and I Hear Voices - From The Planet Rock for examples), but I'm not sure I grasp all of the consequences. And it certainly seems increasingly clear that many other people just don't get that some things are resolutely digital in nature. Such as central heating systems.

You see, my wife (and I'm sure many other people like her) seem able to judge the outside temperature by touching one of the central heating radiators in our house. I'll accept that she is an amazing woman with all of the talents that those of her gender tend to exhibit. As well as the ability to discuss three different subjects at once while preparing a five course meal and sending a text message on her phone, she remembers everyone's birthday and knows where I put the car keys.

So how is it that, no matter how often I try to explain how central heating systems (and similar technological marvels) work, she still has this analog approach to things? She'll tell me that it must be cold outside "...because the radiator in the hallway is really hot". Or, it must be warmer than usual for the time of year "...because the bedroom radiator is only lukewarm". How do I explain that radiators are either on or off? They're digital. They go from cold to hot when the thermostat detects that the temperature in the hallway is below some preset level, and it turns the pump on. They go from hot to cold when the thermostat reaches the other extreme of its hysteresis loop and it turns the pump off again.

Likewise, when we're watching TV at night and it's a bit chilly, she'll tell me to turn the thermostat knob up to full on the grounds that "...it will get warm quicker", and then turn it down to nothing when my chocolate biscuits start to melt. I've noticed the same in my car, in airplanes, and in most other places. Some people seem to insist on turning the knob all the way in the expectation that it will do stuff faster (or slower) than if they just set it to the required level in the first place, or delicately adjust it to meet changing requirements.

Ah, but maybe this is "agile environmental management". Let's face it, agile is the big thing these days. Maybe this is how agile is supposed to work. You take a wild stab at what you might need to design and build, and throw it together as fast as possible (the programming equivalent of turning the knob to "full"). Then, when it performs like a goldfish in custard, you strip all of the gunk out of the code until it goes quick enough, like turning the knob to zero. Finally, you stabilize it by gradually adding and removing bits until it does what you need, and still tends to run fast enough to prevent users from falling asleep.

Mind you, talking of falling asleep, I still can't figure why the digital controls for the lights in the p&p offices work like they do. If you stop moving for a while (such as drifting off to sleep) the lights go out. Surely they ought to work in a reverse hysteresis way. Come on really bright and beep a few times to keep you awake...?

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