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Embedded Systems September 2000 Vol13_10

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e BREAK POINTS toll-free call, and the replacement wid- get arrives on our doorstep before 10:30 a.m. the next day. We' re so accus- tomed to this sort of service that much of American business is planned around quick deliveries. Too often, we substitute FedEx for planning ahead. Need something on Thursday? Wai t ti ll Wednesday to start thinking about it. He re in Staniel Cay there's no FedEx; no UPS; no postal system. The mail boat arrives once every two weeks, more or less, if the weather is good. Occasionally it sinks. Eve rything comes on the boat. Food, fuel, out- board motors, and mail. Need some- thing before the boat arrives? You ' ll do without, learn to wait, and live with eve n mo re d isappointment since seven times out of 10 the thing you orde• · won' t be on it anyway. "Sorry mon, it be here real soon now." 1 met a fellow stuck in the Cay for two months while he waited on a part fo r his engine. ("Stuck" is perhaps the wrong word for being forced to spend time in paradise.) He finally went islander and cobbled up a fix using duct tape and bailing wire. Bate lco uffe rs along with the locals. When par ts of the phone sys- tem go down, as they must in th is dif- ficult tropical e nvironment, th ey either fix things here or wait, and wait, and wait, for spare parts. Though indi- vidual outages may be annoying, when the e ntire sys tem goes down the island becomes telephonically isolated . One come• · of the the tower's equip- ment room is stacked with spare boards. Another has a much higher pile of defec- tive boards. The engineer uses a rather comprehensive set of built-in diagno tics to isolate failures to a board, and then swaps in a replacement card. The micro- processors make diagnostics a critically necessary part of the system, and unlike too many self-test routines, which seem more aimed at fi lling a niche on the datasheet ("includes ful l diagnostics!"), these actually work. He then calls Batelco headquarters in Nassau and orders a replacement board, ideal ly keeping at least one Embedded Syst ems Programming SEPTEMBER 2000 221 The perversity of nature ensures the next failure will be on the same type of board, for which there's no longer a spare immediately at hand. The engineer earns his pay by cobbling up a solution. good spare on hand at all times. Unfortunately the system collapses in typical Bahamas fashion at this point. Headquarters accepts the order and promises a new part, but weeks go by before the mail boat comes, and al l too often months pass while paper- work creeps from desk to desk. The perversity of nature ensures the next failure will be on the same type of board, for which there's no longer a spare immediately at hand. The engineer earns his pay by cobbling up a solution. As an Amer ican con umer, I'm always struck by the behavior of is land economies. Here, as in so many other places, everything is imported. Trash is expensive. Where do old, used-up, things go? mall island have little room for d isposal, so tossing out defective gear is problematic. So cars have long lives. No one replace alter- nators or starter motors; they' re always rebuil t. hops weld and repair par ts that in America we'd just replace. Trash piles are plundered for bi ts of treasure, that small metall ic th ing that can fix the car, the generator, or what- ever. When the decrepit conch-fishing boat sin ks at anchor, salvagers raise the rotten wreck, rebuild the engine, and squeeze ever more li fe out of it. It might sink a couple of times a year, but

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