I drive a two-year-old Renault. It's lovely to drive, very comfortable, and as an ex-demo model it (a) has every toy that's available; and (b) was a very good bargain. But something happened this week that's made me realise that technology has gone just a little too far.
I got in the car to drive back from a client's office to my hotel, and turned up the fan to blow away the slight mist on the inside of the windscreen. Oddly, the fan didn't come on. I fiddled with the controls, but nothing would make the fan blow. The little indicator worked fine - as I pressed the "faster" button the indicator bar got longer, and as I pressed "slower" it got shorter. But at no point did the fan actually blow.
I had an idea: stop the engine and start it up again. Probably wouldn't help, but what the heck? So I did ... and the fan came to life.
You've probably realised by now what I'm saying: I made the fan work by rebooting my car.
Perhaps if I have cause to call the service department at the dealership at any point, I'll be asked that immortal question: "Have you tried turning it off and back on again?".
After some thought, I figured out what was happening. Clearly there's a computer in there that sits in the gap between the switches and the fan. If, for whatever reason, it thinks there's no fan there, it'll let you do control inputs but won't actually send any current to the fan itself.
When I owned a 1975 Allegro, there was a knob on the control panel that turned a variable resistor, which altered the current flowing through the fan, which made it go slower and faster. Why, then, do I need a computer to control the current flowing through the fan of my '05 Laguna? I'm just glad the steering is controlled by a mechanical series of lumps of metal, and the braking system by some pipes and hydraulic fluid - just like the old days. It's simple, but it works: a philosophy I think I'll keep in mind for the systems I run.
Of course, on modern airliners everything's "fly-by-wire" - physically disconnected and controlled by computers. Thankfully, the average Airbus has been better put together than my car.