In the recent past, I have had a couple more experiences with one downside of innovation—the decrease of standardization among products. The first was yet another talk that I gave despite failures in my slides, due to first a recalcitrant projector, secondly an uncooperative sound system, and finally, a stuck computer (although I realize this was not due to lack of standardization). Both were cured, and I was stimulated to throw in a few words about reliability, predictability, and standardization. For much of my career, graphics were delivered in talks by means of overhead and Carousel projectors. This equipment was bulky, and also had its own faults (the more mature of you will remember the thrills of a stack of slippery transparencies escaping their bounds, or of slides spewing out of a carousel tray when the retainer ring came loose.) But such accidents were much rarer than computer—projector screw ups. Part of the problem is that often one does not bring their own and familiar computer (one does not always want to haul a computer, even a super portable one, on a long and complicated trip in India). Certainly the hardware and software will improve, but it will also change, thus preventing the broad knowledge base that accompanied the long use of overhead and Carousel projectors.
The second just occurred because we switched our home TV service to Google, which we are able to do because the Stanford Campus has been a beta site, first for Google fiber and now the TV. We are delighted with the service, both in terms of programming, and the outstanding people that seem to install to it and take care of us. I was also delighted with the set top boxes, because they offered an HDMI connection, a component TV, connection, a standard and optical audio connection, and a USB connection.
My problem, like that of many people, is that although I realize the superiority of HDMI connections, I have a large supply of old, and high quality components that do not have consistent connections. In fact it seems that my house, basement, and shop are overflowing with old but operable equipment of mine as well as cast-offs from four kids who have gone on to better (?) things. I would love to have HDML connections on everything I own, so I could just plug them together, but guess what—the AV in the Adams house is terrific, I am not going to replace all of my old equipment, and I don’t want to spend money on a bucket of converters. So I have just spent more time than I wanted to juggling HDMI, component, optical, composite, and coaxial wires, occasionally realizing I have run a signal through a TV and lost surround sound, etc. Actually, I don’t completely mind not having everything on HDMI plugs, because if I did, something better would come along, and I would be worse off.
Of course, if change doesn’t happen, a price is paid. A good example is the refusal of the U.S. to switch to the metric system. The only other two countries in the world not on the metric system are Myanmar and Liberia. The cost to us is huge. Products built for export must be built to the metric system, and products imported usually are. Since I work on cars for fun and saving money, I have to have a complete set of metric and U.S. wrenches, drills, taps, and measuring tools and have access to machine tools that can cut the proper threads, etc. And I have to keep two types of fasteners in stock. And, of course, there is the inconvenience of travelling outside the U.S. and having to constantly convert to the metric system. There was a series of books produced by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1968 based on a large study of the cost of not committing to the metric system entitled A Metric America, Its Time Has Come. It was compelling reading, and the government tried to get us to do so, but we ignored them. Actually, the metric system has been increasingly used in the U.S. for many years. In particular science is base on it. But despite several attempts, we do not seem to be willing to accept what is now the world standard, and by our actions we end up needing to follow both it and our rather hilarious system, built on things such as the length of some dead European king’s end thumb joint and foot length. And even if we were officially on the metric system, I would be annoyed by the number of different “standardized” types of screws, nuts and bolts (see Wikipedia).
But too much change also incurs a price. Going back to digital slide projectors. The standard plug to connect to a computer is the VGA plug. It ia a rather large plug, but easy to use. But there are no standard plugs on the computer side. I use Apple products, and they have changed the projector outlet at least three times, going to ever smaller and more difficult to use plugs. Undoubtedly there will be a continuing flurry of this as digital devices continue to shrink, become wearable, and attempt to retain product individuality. I notice that occasionally, when I do take it traveling overseas, my portable computer requires an equivalent weight of adapters (to electric outlets as well as projectors), chargers, extension, USB, and Ethernet cords, mice (when I become annoyed at the track pad), and other doo-dads to ensure it will function when and where needed. I am sure that I would do better if I were more sophisticated with digital hardware and software, but I DON’T WANT TO BECAME MORE SOPHISTICATED! I am already ahead of the average bear. How about more standardization, innovators?