Sign & Digital Graphics

October '19

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8 • October 2019 • S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S Artificial Unintelligence Rick Williams owns Rick's Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and documenting the sign business since 1986. Contact him at B Y R I C K W I L L I A M S In the Trenches I have been driving in silence a lot lately after my 2014 Dodge truck put a message on its sound system's digital screen telling me I needed to schedule a software update. It gave no option to decline, so I used the little date-and-time menu provided and scheduled it for that very night. But then a minute later it re-informed me that I needed to schedule a software update, and I have complied at least a dozen times by now, but I only get the now-memorized computer message and radio silence. In fact, no sounds at all will come from its system and with no time to go mess with a dealer somewhere it has stayed that way for a while. So, needless to say, computers are not always my best friends, though in our business, the commercial sign business, we could not function without them. But this ongoing rela- tionship between man and digitally driven machine can be a love-hate one on any given day. Why just last week I was glad to see my new desktop printer delivered, which had been special ordered to replace the great little printer that had taken me five or six years to wear out. Since I still had a good stock of ink for the old one, I had Heather order the same exact model and planned to start over. I read the instructions on how to set it up, then removed the external and internal packaging tape that allowed it to ship without damage, plugged it in and immediately got a flashing light error code saying I had failed to remove all the temporary shipping tape. But for love nor money could I find any more, and two other reasonably intelligent adults came to the same conclusion. But, each time I plugged it in, a small warning light flashed a Morse code like pattern, claiming it's got some more tape up its little… well up there somewhere. So, it seems I have a brand new but completely constipated printer, which is not a printer at all but merely a $200 paperweight! I guess a printer that connects to a computer or network would have to have its own on-board digital brain, but that doesn't mean it will always work. If you want something abso- lutely reliable, you probably don't want a computer to have anything to do with it. For if it has a computer, sooner or later will fail, and may fail in costly and unpleasant ways. That's why some things just should not have a computer involved at all. Things like stoves for example. A lot of new ones have computers, even though you only need to tell it how hot, or how much hotter, and perhaps place it on a timer. Those functions sure don't require a computer. But, recently my daughter-in-law bought a really high-dollar gas oven and range, and sure enough it had a computer. The first time their lights blinked off in a thunderstorm, the oven would not function at all, but would instead blink out an error code saying it was connected to the incorrect voltage. An electrician couldn't figure it out and neither could I, but I kid you not, after another thunder- storm rolled through and temporarily put them in the dark, when the power came back to life, the oven did too. And now they're cooking with gas… until the next storm anyway. And not long ago our expensive stainless-steel covered refrigerator became scrap metal and landfill material because the little on-board computer, which told the compressor when to kick on, got a hair ball and wouldn't talk. And we could find no one who knew how to fix it. It hadn't lasted nearly as long as my first sign shop refrigerator. That classic was 30 years old when I bought it, and it cooled all my drinks for another 10 years after that. It had a little dial that went from 1 to 5, and if your Coca-Colas became deliciously slushy when you popped the bottle cap, it was just right, and if it actually tried to freeze them, you just backed it off a notch. How can a computer improve on that? So, you can imagine, my personal history with computers makes me danged glad that none of the basic instruments, the engine, or any of the essential mechanical components in the small Piper airplane my son and I share have anything to do with computers. Yes sir, I'm awfully glad about that. But it's surely a shame that I'm going to have to buy a new truck just to get my radio back.

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