Monday, 16 November 2015

16th November 2015 - A Window on the World

Thought for the day:"It's not whether you win or lose - it is whether you leave any identifiable DNA"

I spent thirty years in the police, and though only a few of them were in the ground-breaking area of computerisation, the label never really left me despite moving on to many different spheres of activity.  I recall the early days of computers in Dyfed-Powys Police, when the Computer Department consisted of myself, an untrained self-taught inspector, and a colleague whose main experience was in telephony with BT. Later, we employed a physics teacher to take over the department, but in those early days we sourced, connected, programmed, and supported a multitude of systems. I was responsible for implementing a mini-computer system rather than a main-frame and I am sure we saved the force millions by that decision. We had a distributed, modular system working for a large part in the new 4G database languages - I think 4 G stood for 4th Generation - it was well before telephony reached such terminology.

But in those days, I was responsible for the support and development of up to 23 systems. My colleague concentrated on PC based solutions and the new PSION organiser which we developed into an Orwellian statistic cruncher for activity analysis of police duties - a country leader.

It is with some sympathy therefore that I read today of the three people who are capable of supporting and developing (though it does not sound as though much development has been done) the air control system in Orly airport .....

I learned in time that no-one is indispensable.. Everyone is replaceable - but I still recall the time when all the knowledge resided in two people requiring 24 hour support..  I sympathise for those who are caught in the same trap..

Now, I wrestle with the prospect of upgrading to Windows 10 and whether Outlook 2003 will still work when I do ... I have no expertise left ...  only hope ...

Read on...

Last Saturday, the Orly airport in Paris was forced to ground all flights due to a computer glitch and not just any glitch, but one caused by a system running Windows 3.1 – Yes, the early 1990s operation system.

This glitch was brought to light by French satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné, which reported that the error that cause the shutdown was traced back to a system called DECOR. DECOR is used to communicate Runway Visual Range to pilots during takeoff and landings, which during adverse weather conditions such as the fog at the time, is almost invaluable. Unfortunately, this critical system runs on the once popular Windows operating system from 1992.

The use of a 20-year-old system to run a critical system is just the tip of the iceberg, which was revealed by Alexandre Fiacre, the secretary general of France’s UNSA-IESSA air traffic controller union. “The tools used by Aéroports de Paris controllers run on four different operating systems, that are all between 10 and 20 years old,” he said “Some of ADP’s machines run on UNIX [an operating system favoured by universities and start-ups in the ’80s], but also Windows XP”. 

 Frighteningly, ADP is the company responsible for running two of France’s busiest airports: Orly and Charles de Gaulle.

His further statements only serve to make me think flying to France may not be the safest prospect, stating that the dated systems are ill maintained, a lack of staff qualified to maintain them and that they are forced to resort to scouring eBay for the parts they need to keep the systems running. And even the promises made by France’s transport minister that the systems would be replaced by 2017 are doubted by Fiacre, believing 2019 would be the earliest it could be done.

The airport actually runs on a variety of old systems, including Windows XP and UNIX. Maintenance is a problem. There are only three people in Paris that work on DECOR issues, and one of them is retiring soon. Hardware is also an issue. "Sometimes we have to go rummaging on eBay to replace certain parts," said Fiacre. "In any case, these machines were not designed to keep working for more than 20 years."

Found my spectrum 48K the other day... And I still recall the statement that a Nintendo 64 contained more computing power than that held by NASA to put a man on the moon ...

I will drink to that...


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