Want Some Meatballs With That System of Yours?

Asparagus isn’t my favorite vegetable, but I like the analogy Rene Penning de Vries, CTO of NXP makes in an interview with my colleague David Manners in which he describes how systems design has a desperate need to become more simplified: “Systems have become very complex. In terms of the architectural challenge it is phenomenal”, says Rene Penning de Vries, CTO of NXP, “there’s a tendency, from the old days, to have solutions that are spaghetti-like – where everything is working with each other. We need more to go to solutions that are more asparagus-like — from absolutely inter-tangled, to weakly-cobbled systems.”

The interview underscores the hellishly difficult challenge inherent in systems design -- something that led to the demise of an ambitious program in the US to develop a new generation of spy satellites, recently chronicled in the excellent 11/07 NYT article -- Death of a Spy Satellite Program, which points the finger squarely on the precipitous demise of systems engineering expertise in the US: "Another factor was a decline of American expertise in systems engineering, the science and art of managing complex engineering to weigh risks, gauge feasibility, test components and ensure that the pieces come together smoothly..


One comment

  1. Keep it Simple. Words long forgotten by systems engineers and creators of bloatware.
    Time to go back to basic principles, look a the problem and how to solve it from basic principles instead of seeking technology that might solve it.
    Remove from marketing those sales people who get a buz from saying “our system is leading egde, top of the range, at the shrp edge of technology” Where there are sharp edges fingers get cut.
    Bring back the old timers who solved problems by lateral thinking and basic principles.
    Engineers cut the Simplon tunnel through the Swiss Alps starting from each end to meet in the middle. They used candles and bits of wood with holes in them to navigate through the rock and were only a few inches out when they did meet.
    If candles and hole in wood worked then why do recent tunnels with all the complicated stuff seem to be less accurate in their navigation.
    Expensive laser beam theodolites do not work through walls. A length of flexible transparent pipe with coloured water provides a fool proof method of setting levels either side of a wall or any other obstruction.
    And above all the simple methods can be understood by the people using them, understood and therefore trusted.

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