Yesterday, I received mail from Hans Bonfigt. Hans is much appreciated by me for being an excellent software and IT man. He is quite famous for his stubbornness and drastic language. This morning, he wrote to me:
Dear Roland, I hope you are fine!
A short time ago, I wanted to reply to your recent forum comment on the VW affair and your assumption that it is probably a novelty for software being used to manipulate. During a longish train trip, I took down a few – unstructured, brainstorm-like – observances on my blackberry. The final result gave even me pause.
Even if I probably do some damage to myself and although it is still a little early for a life confession at 55: here is a guest article for your IF blog.
I, the Software Cheat.
The relevant part of my life can easily be summarized in one sentence: quite often, I successfully combined basic insights from scientists like Newton, Gauß, Boltzmann, Steiner, Euler and Shannon with the technological knowledge of my customers in order to generate programs that were supposed to help the experts towards working more efficiently.
This is how, with exactly said paradigm as a mental concept, I started developing software in 1980 – for calculating electronic motors, parable springs or lifting ranks, or for controlling temperature, passage, pressure and location.
As far as I was concerned, things might have continued endlessly in that way…
As early as in the 1970ies, my old man had made fun of the “academic proletariat” by pointing towards an FAZ cartoon: loser type wearing doctoral cap is holding the door open for decadent opera goers and the title is, “Dr. rer. pol. Rolf Wüllweber, dissertational thesis supervised by professor Steiner, ‘The socio-cultural meaning of the Loden coat with special focus on the late Weimar Republic seen in the light of modern insights on socio anistrophy and abstraction analysis‘. Maybe he should have listened to his professor Steiner when he said: “Wüllweber, all you can do with this dissertational thesis is become a doorman.“.
All of a sudden, everybody studied something and nobody had any use for those affected pseudo theorists. Those empty nuts could not be used for doing a good day’s work, consequently they made their clandestine ways through the companies in the departments documentation, “communication”, internal regulations (note by the lector: product planning) …
At Siemens, this species allegedly even invented a “greeting order”, telling people who had to greet whom first where, when and following which protocol determined by rank (next note by lector: I definitely knew the regulation about which rank was entitled to having curtains in their office …).
But then, something happened that was called “QM”: Quality Management.
Nobody wanted it and all enterprises I know willingly conclude that the quality of their products definitely got worse after they introduced quality management. Well. There are at least two ways for dealing with this kind of news:
For instance the Russians and Italians simply took their DIN/ISO badges and glued them onto their products – and that was it. The same happened to the UL and CE badges. In Germany, this is something you cannot do. Hundreds of thousands of morons who had never worked in their lives, were “trained” to become ‘quality managers‘. During the time that followed, they came up with the most abstruse of regulations, none of which had anything at all to do with what the final product was actually supposed to do. Yet all these regulations made the production more and more expensive, thus driving another nail into the coffin of the already existing location disadvantage Germany was suffering from.
No enterprise can suffer a technocrat without fantasy for more than five years (let us leave VW and Carl H. Hahn out of the equation for the time being). Consequently, the hot air merchants, following the principle ‘promoveatur ut amoveatur‘, moved on to become managing directors and – even worse – to sit in all sorts of norming committees as lobby-affine lackeys. This is how works like the “DIN EN 1570″ were generated. I personally had to spend quite some time professionally with this regulation. It is a lot too specific when it comes to details and far too wishy-washy when it comes to important criteria.
And this is where my personal sin originated:
Since the norm annoyed me enormously, I started to misinterpret it intentionally and make use of all the many gaps therein. Because both the European and world-wide competition could not have cared less about this great new Euro norm – yet the products of my customer were controlled following it. Before that time, I had been proud to have produced algorithms that actually were a model of reality – now I manipulated the model by using definition gaps.
And as I am writing this, it suddenly dawns on me that, in fact, creating a wishful image, rather than modelling reality, was something I started a lot earlier than I thought.
For instance, there was the carrier who was notoriously victimized by the police and the authorities: they kept sending control brigades who took a really close look at the trip recorder discs that had to follow strict archiving regulations. Any violation was detrimental both for the carrier firm and the driver – and the grapevine said: “if you want to keep your driver’s licence, you do not want to work for W.”.
Well, what can I say? My connections to KIENZLE were quite good, so I got myself a tachograph, modified it in such a way that it got a V.24 interface and designed a computer program that expected the time, driven kilometres, starting and destination points and then “faked” a disc that was in accordance with the StVO regulations.
We also developed other devices that significantly increased transport safety for the same industry: I am sure you, too, know someone who, at least once, almost or actually hit the car in front when the driver of said car abruptly hit the brakes on seeing a radar trap? Using our active RadarJammer, you could continue driving at the same speed as before, because it interfered with the then used “Multanova 6F“ and “Traffipax“ through phase interference.
When all those impossible “intrastate” messages became compulsory for many enterprises, we were the ones who wrote a module for the then used analysis software “CBS/IRIS“. It provided the statistics experts with pure random numbers. We were especially proud to have managed printing with laser printers on forms that had to be ordered – if I remember correctly – from Saarlouis. It had been desired to concentrate on following product groups, but that was not a must. Consequently, many of our customers sent us entire boxes full of forms addressed to the statistics authorities. However, no OCR system in the world would have been able to read all these different fonts and – naturally – the dark-grid background.
We also offer solutions for the “Elektronischer Gelangensnachweis“ and for the “reverse charging“ – turnover tax procedure, but since these are currently still used, I cannot write about them. So now, having reached the last third of my professional career, I have to accept to my own horror that one third of my “work” was directed at evading bureaucracy – to say it politely.
Of course, I have a motivation for all this cheating: for instance, if the UE finance ministers go on about those “criminal turnover tax carousels”, then why don’t you abolish the entire turnover tax? You could considerably reduce the burden of the enterprises and put taxation on those who in actual fact are exclusively the ones paying it: the famous “men on the street”. So what happens instead? The already complicated and complex turnover tax regulations, incidentally without legal foundation, are added to by more harassment, which again has a detrimental effect on the competitiveness of German enterprises.
This is where civil disobedience becomes our first duty as citizens!
But there is also an opposite side of the coin. I want to illustrate it with a real-life example: it is next to impossible to build a certain type of spring with a tolerance of less than 15% – the inner friction is too high and even as you assemble it, the radius and thereby the springing rate will change. I cannot give you the type of spring I mean, because knowing it you would be able to conclude who it has been built for. Everybody knows that the norm is idiotic, the required precision is unnecessary and the assumed weight is totally unrealistic. Consequently, the quality control person of the customer will visit regularly for acceptance tests, criticise the part of the springs that are beyond the tolerance scope, take the bribe and disappear.
As I see it, the worst about it is that the bribe is ridiculously low, since it typically consists of one crate of the least expensive spirits available. I saw the crate myself but refrained from trying. Because: this acceptance lackey will also betray himself and his job for truly safety-relevant car components the characteristics of which really should be within the tolerance range in order to avoid serious accidents.
Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur — there is really no other way to explain the VW “scandal”. Well, VW always cheated, and I mean in a very blunt way. I never dirtied my hands by doing anything for their products, because VW actually is an insult to the intelligence of all mature persons.
Let us remember the mid 1980ies. While BMW and Mercedes used reasonable exhaust gas treatment systems for their vehicles, for instance an air-mass controlled BOSCH Motronik with lambda regulation that produced a stoichiometric mixture in all active states, VW kept using the mechanic primitive injection with pressure plate and flow divider. The concern proudly announced: “We drive without a catalytic converter because that is what we believe in”. And for those customers who were obstinate enough to still want one, they had a full load enrichment switch everybody could see clearly on the control slot guide of the throttle valve.
As soon as the driver really asked his “Power-Through-Joy-Car” to show what it can do, the gas/air mixture was overly lubricated through full-load enrichment in order to prevent the primitive proletarian vehicles cost-optimized at the lowest possible embarrassment borderline from collapse due to overheating. Now, unburned fuel would end up in the catalytic converter, which has the effective surface of a soccer field. Now, as soon as the VW driver goes back to part-load, the oxygen can flow back to the catalytic converter which is now full of fuel. Due to its small specific heat, the ceramic substrate was not capable of discharging the energy of the strongly exothermic reaction, which means that the platinum layer evaporated.
After a few thousand kilometres, the VW catalytic converter was totally damaged – and everybody knew it! But that is only half of the story. Through targeted lobbying, not just by VW, they managed to abolish exhaust examinations for cars with catalytic converters – un unimaginable farce, but nobody noticed.
I could not believe my eyes when, in 1988, I saw a Volkswagen with a decent fuel-injection system in California. When I asked one of the VW employees, he told me: “Yes, of course, we know that our fuel injection is crap. Consequently, we reduce the power of our US models and take an injection system that actually works. Because in California, the cars have to undergo regular checks and if a catalytic converter is defunct, we have to replace it at our own cost “.
And now do not tell me you could not have known any of this, because almost everything I have been writing here was published in the daily newspapers. At the time, Lutz “Luigi“ Colani got carried away and was heard with the bonmot: “VW is a dungheap on top of which [Carl H.] Hahn is sitting“. Any intelligent person who wanted to know it knew: VW is the automobile pendant of Microsoft. For people without culture, brains, taste and the capacity to judge.
Basically, compared to the cheating I just wrote about, the current affair is ridiculous, isn’t it? They come up with a regulation that is far from practical and VW complies by doing something that is far from practical in their tests. That means they passed the tests, didn’t they? So what?
You can see the sad state of affairs when remembering that, nowadays, Audi is building “sound design” into their cars near the exhaust pipe. Besides taking up space and weighing something, they have no use whatsoever except to create a “full sound”. Because the typical AUD-iot will be satisfied with dummies.
Cheating on such idiots – well, I would have no scruples — mundus vult decipi. Secretly, I am still hoping that my manipulation would not have been discovered.
This article has been published verbatim for and in the name of Hans Bonfigt. And many thanks to Hans! – RMD
(Translated by EG)