On Convergence: Is this a good thing?

Convergence means a lot of things. I am thinking about that sort of convergence where everything is done “one way” or “with one standard input”. Bear with me, my examples will make this clearer.

First, let’s take the famous Southwest Airlines. There is a Wikipedia article here. If you skip down to their fleet description, you will notice that, for quite some time, they have used only versions of the Boeing 737.

I read elsewhere that planes with digital instruments are specified so the digital instruments look just like the analog ones.

The point here is, any pilot can fly any plane with no familiarization. The pilot already knows the plane, its cockpit, its flying characteristics, and its instrument panel in particular.

This is an example of convergence, and it is a successful one.

However, not all instances of convergence are as reassuring.

Whirlpool bought out a number of competitive brands over the years. My list includes Maytag, Kitchen-Aid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Brastemp (Brazil), Consul (Brazil and Argentina), Bauknecht, Gladiator. Crosley apparently should have been in this list too.

Whirlpool had a recall of a number of dishwashers. A pointer to a Wall Street Journal article is here.

Dishwashers involved had been sold between February 2006 and April 2010 with a price range of $250 to $900. (All this is in the referenced article). Dishwashers involved included the following list of brands: Maytag, Jenn-Air, Amana, Crosley. 1.7 million units were recalled.

There were a few kitchen fires, some apparently pretty scary.

I submit that this is a clear evidence of unsuccessful convergence. I am willing to bet that all these machines used “the same” heating element / forced air system, and thus all had the same potential weakness.

Suppose every battery powered item in your entire life used a single battery type. (This is ridiculous, size and power needs vary enormously.) But it would mean, a small collection of spares could solve any dead battery problem. This works unless that type of battery goes out of production.

Ridiculous, you say. Yes, but remember when a single factory fire in Taiwan put a big dent in the computer manufacturing business, because they were most of the source for a key chip? Convergence creates vulnerability.

If all those lovely 737s turn out to have a single weakness – can’t stay in the air during solar storms, for example – the result could be catastrophic.

Similarly, every appliance in my house plugs into the mains. If the hydro goes out, I’m in deep trouble. It’s even worse at the shack, where I depend on power to filter drinking water.

I recall an analysis of a network that showed that one consisting of identical nodes was much more vulnerable to a certain type of crash, than a mixed network. The weakness is due to a sort of “resonance”- if you can get each machine to react to a message from another machine by sending such a reactive message, you can fill the network and computing bandwidth.

So, is convergence a good thing? The fact that all life on earth (at least the obvious, fun examples) depend on decent air is a similar fact of convergence with its subsequent dependence.

That’s today’s observation, and dumb question.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *