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The perils of recalls of electronic products

Product recalls have been around for a while. You get a notice in the mail. You either go into a dealer at some point, any point, for service, or you swap the product via the mail. Nicer recalls mail you a new product first and then you send in the old one, or sign a form saying you destroyed it. All well and good. Some recalls are done as “hidden warranties.” They are never announced, but if you go into the dealer with a problem they just fix it for free, long after the regular warranty, or fix it while working on something else. These usually are for items that don’t involve safety or high liability.

Today I had my first run-in with a recall of a connected electronic product. I purchased an “EyeFi” card for my sweetie for valentines day. This is an SD memory card with an wifi transmitter in it. You take pictures, and it stores them until it encounters a wifi network it knows. It then uploads the photos to your computer or to photo sharing sites. All sounds very nice.

When she put in the card and tried to initialize it, up popped a screen. “This card has a defect. Please give us your address and we’ll mail you a new one, and you can mail back the old one, and we’ll give you a credit in our store for your trouble.” All fine, but the product refused to let her register and use the product. We can’t even use the product for a few days to try it out (knowing it may lose photos.) What if I wanted to try it out to see if I was going to return it to the store. No luck. I could return it to the store as-is, but that’s work and may just get another one on the recall list.

This shows us the new dimension of the electronic recall. The product was remotely disabled to avoid liability for the company. We had no option to say, “Let us use the card until the new one arrives, we agree that it might fail or lose pictures.” For people who already had the card, I don’t know if it shut them down (possibly leaving them with no card) or let them continue with it. You have to agree on the form that you will not use the card any more.

This can really put a damper on a gift, when it refuses to even let you do a test the day you get it.

With electronic recall, all instances of a product can be shut down. This is similar to problems that people have had with automatic “upgrades” that actually remove features (like adding more DRM) or which fix you jailbreaking your iPhone. You don’t own the product any more. Companies are very worried about liability. They will “do the safe thing” which is shut their product down rather than let you take a risk. With other recalls, things happened on your schedule. You were even able to just decide not to do the recall. The company showed it had tried its best to convince you to do it, and could feel satisfied for having tried.

This is one of the risks I list in my essays on robocars. If a software flaw is found in a robocar (or any other product with physical risk) there will be pressure to “recall” the software and shut down people’s cars. Perhaps in extreme cases while they are driving on the street! The liability of being able to shut down the cars and not doing so once you are aware of a risk could result in huge punitive damages under the current legal system. So you play it safe.

But if people find their car shutting down because of some very slight risk, they will start wondering if they even want a car that can do that. Or even a memory card. Only with public pressure will we get the right to say, “I will take my own responsibility. You’ve informed me, I will decide when to take the product offline to get it fixed.”

Galactic geometry and sublight travel

Lots to think about based on No Exit, but let’s start by looking at one of the minor, but scientifically important revelations. The Final Five went from the 13th colony to the 12 colonies in a sublight, relativistic (meaning near the speed of light) spacecraft, first retracing their steps to Kobol, and it took about 2,000 years.

This explains their absence from the scene for so long, but it raises a lot of questions.

Anders says the 13th colony never had FTL ships. These may have been invented on Kobol after losing contact with the 13th colony.

We now know that the path of 13th Colony -> Algae Planet -> Kobol -> Colonies is under 2,000 light years.

Since Starbuck was able to take a Cylon raider and jump Kobol -> Colonies in one jump, and this is 10 times the maximum 30 light year “red line” of the colonial FTL, this distance is in the range of 300 light years.

But we also know that there was a round trip from Kobol -> 13th Colony, since the story of the landing and early days of the 13th Colony made it into the sacred scrolls the tribes took with them from Kobol 2,000 years ago. And the 13th tribe left the Algae planet 3,000 years ago. That’s a problem as it states that Algae Planet -> 13th Colony -> Kobol, at sublight speed, is well under 1,000 years, making that at most a 500 light year trip. Probably much less.

So of course this doesn’t add up, unless the Final Five sublight ship is not very relativistic, and they just lived on it for many centuries. Which they can do, as they are machines. Or perhaps they just had really bad luck on the trip, and took a lot of wrong turns, so that a trip of a few hundred light years as the space crow flies took 2,000 years.

But then we add the Ionian Nebula. That’s 13,000 light years from the Algae Planet. Completely impossible to visit it with sublight ships. So very odd that it is the “signpost” on the way from the Algae Planet to the 13th colony, which are only a few hundred ly apart. Very odd as a choice for a location that the Final Five will wake up. Very odd place to do the strange fleet vs. Cylons confrontation including power loss, visions and return of Starbuck.

This now requires that this “signpost” is a 13,000 ly detour, both ways! It means the fleet spent 3 months trekking out to this nebula, and then another 2 months trekking back with the Demetrius on a parallel course, also trekking back 13,000 light years. Hard to imagine this is even in the range of the Demetrius without a fuel ship.

Worse, at the end of this 13,000 ly trek back, they set a rendezvous point that happens to be near real-Earth. That’s OK, Starbuck got compulsions and visions about that zone, they could pick it.

Yet they set this rendezvous point so precisely that after the 13,000 ly journey — 430 colonial jumps — the Demetrius and base star end up right in the middle of the fleet. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The lack of FTL does help explain how the 13th colony could have forgotten the way back to Kobol, and Kobol could have forgotten the way to the colony. It also explains how Kobol could have forgotten the location of real Earth.

If the 12 tribes didn’t have FTL, they would have taken a few hundred years for their trip. I guess that’s workable. We aren’t told what they know of this. If so, it makes the 12 tribes a lot smarter than we thought, developing FTL when the others could not do so.

One interesting thought: Perhaps Kobol developed FTL right around the time of the exodus and the war at the 13th colony. That could suggest the 13th colony was destroyed by an FTL fleet from Kobol with a grudge, who now had an easy way to get whatever revenge they wanted without needing to take a multi-century trip. (However in this case the Final Five would not want to rush off to Kobol to warn the 12 tribes of the dangers of keeping AIs as slaves. Since they lived on an all-Cylon planet, where does this lesson suddenly come from?)

Where is “The Colony”

Cavil refers to the fact that the others “don’t know about the colony” where Ellen has “all her equipment.” Where is that? We suspect it has this beach that young boy John played on, so that’s not the 13th colony, though this could refer to one of the 12 colonies. But they would not have left their equipment back on the 13th colony, they had to take it with them to cut their deal with the centurions.

Most likely it’s just a nearby planet.

Others suggest it’s the real Earth, now deserted, and this is how they will be led there. This makes sense, but since Cavil knows where this is he would not have risked using it as his ambush site. He doesn’t want to tell them about it. And that’s still pretty far away, about 6 Cylon jumps.