Are you the victim of bad (embedded) software?

Ok, so I’m a hapless journalist for the Associated Press, trying to write a story on how the proliferation of software in cars, appliances, etc. is bringing bugs and complicated behavior normally associated with computers into the rest of everyday life.

Does anyone have a good first hand anecdote of fancy modern stoves, washing machines etc. acting up or going on the fritz?

Peter Svensson

This isn’t exactly what you asked for, but here is a good article on what programmers are doing to combat embedded system bugs.

I have a CD player that occasionally fails to recognize that it has a CD inside. The display looks like nonsense. I power it down, power it up, nothing helps. Once I tried to unplug it, and that reset everything and it started to work again. I don’t know for sure that it has embedded software but that behavior sure sounds like a reboot to me.

I do the same thing when I use an elliptical training machine at the gym. Sometimes I approach a free one and it has a message that says something like, “Slow down before adjusting stride length,” and it doesn’t respond to any controls. So I turn it off and back on to “reboot” it.

Hi Psvensson, welcome to the boards. Don’t want to be a junior moderator, but if you’re researching for a story, I think you should check the copyright advisory in the posting guidelines.

Anyway, my new mobile phone, a Nokia 7650, runs the Symbian operating system. It’s very feature-rich, more like a PDA with a phone, email, WAP browser, and digital camera. Unfortunately, the operating system crashes about once every few days, so badly that I can’t even power the thing off: I actually have to open the back and remove the batteries to get it to restart.

Hope this helps. By the way, I give you full permission to reprint this post in an article, should you wish.

Point taken. I was going to contact posters with appropriate anecdotes off-board for verification anyway. Should have added that I can only use your anecdote if you’re willing to be identified by name!

Your crashing phone is a cool example, but being a mostly a U.S. news service, we prefer U.S. examples.

I used to have Sony cell phone that once in a while would emit an electronic death-whine in my ear and show gobbledygook on the screen. Had to unplug it’s battery too.

Thanks! It relates a lot to what I’m writing about.

Thanks, that’s just what I’m looking for. I’ll e-mail you.

Bad embedded software you say? I use Micro$oft. I think they are the current definition of bad embedded software. I am specifically thinking of XP’s weakness with messenger where companies can send spam directly to your pc and force you to disable it but can’t actually get rid of it completely.


Embedded software refers to software used to control devices that are not primarily considered to be computers.
The computer software associated with cell phones, automobiles, exercise equipment, microwaves, physical security access control systems, cash registers, etc counts.
Anything loaded on a mainframe, supercomputer, server or personal computer doesn’t quite count.
There are “network appliance” applications that somewhat straddle the embedded device category’s boundaries, but that’s different thread.

Psvensson, do you have time to spend an hour or two drinking coffee at your local bookstore? If so, go check out Edward Tenner’s Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences. It’s directly on point to your article, and will have many examples of what you’re looking for, as well as a great deal of insight into the nature of the beast, so to speak.

But you’re looking for anecdotes from SDMB users, so here’s what I’ve got. This isn’t so much a case of microprocessors being used in new products, but rather computers being used in new contexts. For example, in the law school I attend, just about every student uses a laptop to take notes during class (sort of like Legally Blonde). Students also use the laptop to outline their notes, take exams, and etc. So if your computer crashes, your academic performance for the quarter is in jeopardy. Moreover, you can add computer beeps to the chorus of ringing cell phones as classroom distractions. Did I just say classroom distractions? Then this must be the time to talk about playing solitaire in class – a different time waster than the old pre-computer standby: newspaper crossword puzzles. Of course, you can also download crossword puzzles and do them on your computer, but you don’t have the option of doing them in pen so that the people around you know that you’re hardcore.

Seems like a good book, but it takes a broad view, and I’m trying to focus on embedded software, which I’m guessing is just a small subset of what he’s looking at.

Satellite TV receivers. I would wager most of DirecTVs service calls end with “unplug your receiver for 10 mins. then plug it back in”.
That seems to re-boot the unit’s software and clears up a good majority of problems with reception.

Since you plan on reprinting what you learn here, we require permission for a thread like this, if only so everyone understands the copyright issues. You should contact an administrator, such as TubaDiva. I’ll close this thread in the meantime. If permission is granted, I can reopen it and move it to the In My Humble Opinion forum.

moderator GQ