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Transportation Windows Bug

New Jaguar XJ Suffers Blue Screen of Death 301

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-meant-to-do-that dept.
An anonymous reader writes "CNET UK is reporting that it crashed a £90,000 Jaguar XJ Super Sport — one of the most technologically advanced cars on the planet today. It's not the sort of crash you'd imagine, however — An unforseen glitch somewhere within the car's dozens of separate onboard computers, hundreds of millions of lines of code, or its internal vehicular network, led to the dramatic BSOD, which had to be resolved with the use of a web-connected laptop."
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New Jaguar XJ Suffers Blue Screen of Death

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  • Not a BSOD (Score:5, Informative)

    by localman57 (1340533) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @09:38AM (#33250566)
    If you RTFA, there' no mention of Windows. The Car just wouldn't start. They disconnected the battery, and reconnected it.
    • Re:Not a BSOD (Score:5, Informative)

      by davmoo (63521) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @09:41AM (#33250588)

      Not only is there no mention of Windows, there was apparently no actual "blue screen". The car simply didn't spring to life and the displays were blank.

      Somebody obviously needed to sensationalize by using "blue screen of death" even where it wasn't.

      • Re:Not a BSOD (Score:5, Insightful)

        by localman57 (1340533) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @09:53AM (#33250648)
        Exactly. A less sensational headline could have been "XJ Power button kinda flakey". This kinda stuff is what drives technical support people nuts. The technically ignorant public comandeers a technical term, such as BSOD, with a very specific meaning, then generalizes it until it's no more useful than the word "Crash". Less useful, actually, since it makes people familliar with the original meaning infer information that the ludide doesn't mean to imply. For people of this level of technical sophisticaiton (Toughbooks, OBD2 interfaces, etc) to do this is shameful.

        While I'm on this rant, can we please, please, stop using the word "Literally" as an intensity modifier for metaphorical descriptions? I swear, the next person who tells me they're "Literally on fire" gets sprayed with a fire-extinguisher as an object lesson. Power or CO2, I haven't decided yet. We'll just see what feels right at the time.
        • Re:Not a BSOD (Score:5, Insightful)

          by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:06AM (#33250720)

          calling a 'power button' problem is a bit surface-level, wouldn't you say?

          we all can be pretty sure it was NOT the button but the cpu systems and networks behind it.

          if you are going to be pedantic, get it right, at least. literally.

          • regardless of the complexity it encapsulates, since the only visible piece is the button, it constitutes the sole point of contact for the entire power train..

            THAT is why use cases are pointless. :-)

            • all we know is that the system was not responding to the press of a UI element (the button). something gets an interrupt when the button is pressed or some polling routine scans it periodically. and then that info goes to something else and something else further down until it leaves the computer domain and enters real-world (some relay or solenoid or some phys-level thing).

              SOMEWHERE along that chain, something didn't work. but to say 'the power button' is just surface-level, like I said. its most likel

              • ... software is often designed from Use Cases?

                They are the most singularly unhelpful and woefully incomplete design documents ever created.

                They should be generated from the design, not the other way around.

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by vux984 (928602)

                  They are the most singularly unhelpful and woefully incomplete design documents ever created.

                  They should be generated from the design, not the other way around.

                  Wow. No. Use cases are the single most important design document in a system. They outline a task that the user wants to accomplish, and software that isn't designed around them is always a PITA to use.

                  Here's an real world example I'm dealing with right now, anonymized somewhat.

                  We manufacture widgets to client specifications. The specifications inclu

              • by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @03:21PM (#33252432) Journal

                My guess would be a separate power management controller somewhere that was wedged with everything in a powered down state. They couldn't talk to the main computer (ECU, maybe?) to reset it, which probably means that the main computer itself wasn't getting properly powered up by the power button. You wouldn't typically leave a computer system running off the car battery (even with the displays powered down) while the car is shut off. It would consume too much power.

                Either way, I agree that it probably can't have been the button itself, or else the power cycle wouldn't have fixed it. Well, I suppose it could be a self-resetting fuse somewhere, or (maybe) a stuck latching relay, but odds are, it's a power management controller or similar.

                In the grand scheme of things, this probably calls for the addition of a power management reset feature, e.g. two extra sets of switch contacts and a 555 timer IC wired up as a pulse delay circuit so that if you hold the power button down for ten seconds, the chip's power gets momentarily interrupted by a depletion-mode MOSFET. You know, something so simple that it is almost guaranteed not to fail in the lifetime of the vehicle.

        • Re:Not a BSOD (Score:4, Informative)

          by richie2000 (159732) <rickard.olsson@gmail.com> on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:08AM (#33250742) Homepage Journal

          I swear, the next person who tells me they're "Literally on fire" gets sprayed with a fire-extinguisher as an object lesson. Power or CO2, I haven't decided yet. We'll just see what feels right at the time.

          Much too lenient. Halon gas.

          • by Inda (580031)
            I, myself, would literally use petrol.
        • by Trip6 (1184883)

          Mod parent up, if only for the "literally" reference. I'm frustrated by this too!

          • Re:Not a BSOD (Score:5, Informative)

            by md65536 (670240) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:56AM (#33250984)

            Unfortunately, "literally" can literally mean "metaphorically." It's in the dictionary.

            I believe this is a little trick linguists have snuck in, almost as if to say "Language is not mathematics (and this will really piss off the slashdot crowd, who like both and will go nuts trying to reconcile the two!)"

            "Literal" meaning "metaphorical" is also a literal irony, which is another thing that excites linguists. I think once you get the joke, it won't be so bothersome.

            • by Trip6 (1184883)

              Below is from Dictionary.com. Only because so many get it wrong is it now accepted.

              —Usage note
              Since the early 20th century, literally has been widely used as an intensifier meaning “in effect, virtually,” a sense that contradicts the earlier meaning “actually, without exaggeration”: The senator was literally buried alive in the Iowa primaries. The parties were literally trading horses in an effort to reach a compromise. The use is often criticized; nevertheless, it appears i

              • by Nethead (1563)

                I still think it's a syntax error, or at the least, an out-of-bounds statement.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Exactly. A less sensational headline could have been "XJ Power button kinda flakey". This kinda stuff is what drives technical support people nuts. The technically ignorant public comandeers a technical term, such as BSOD, with a very specific meaning, then generalizes it until it's no more useful than the word "Crash". Less useful, actually, since it makes people familliar with the original meaning infer information that the ludide doesn't mean to imply. For people of this level of technical sophisticaiton (Toughbooks, OBD2 interfaces, etc) to do this is shameful.

          Yeah. They should have said that they bricked the car instead.

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          The one that has been throwing me lately is the new use of the term "drop" for a product. Just a short while ago, when a company said they were going to "drop a product", it meant that they were no longer going to sell or support it. It has been dropped from their inventory. Recently, I have been seeing new articles, press releases and as of last thursday, billboards that use the term drop to mean release. I suspect that the term started getting used this new way because someone heard that a product was
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Or perhaps it's dropped as in:

            I just dropped a deuce. You may not want to go in there for a while

            That would fit a lot of products that come out these days. Insert your favorite Iphone4/PopularVideoGame/TechnologyProduct reference here...

          • by arth1 (260657)

            The word drop has had several meanings before that. There was a time that the only way to "drop" a product was by letting gravity take hold. And long before then, the product would also have had to be a liquid.

            But I see too many words and phrases that the public has picked up and use them in very contrasting ways to what those who actually understand the phrase use them. A drift in meaning is one thing, but to change the meaning completely is just plain wrong. In most of these cases, once the misconcept

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by AK Marc (707885)
              Terrific: causes excitement through fear became causes excitement. That's not that big of a change.
              Push the envelope: I don't know of any meaning other than the performance envelope of a plane being a technical term and pushing the envelope meaning operating at maximum physical limits (or finding ways to extend them). And that's the only meaning I've ever heard for its use, someone who thinks what they are doing is at or stretching the limits. Do you hear it used in any other meaning? Or are you arguing
          • by cgenman (325138)

            I thought that came from deliverables. For some time you made code drops, art drops, or other drops to clients... I.E. you uploaded things to their FTP server and hoped they noticed. That probably came from drop points in drug dealing and other covert operations.

            That's just a guess, though.

        • by cgenman (325138)

          1: So... you would like to see tech journals write less sensational headlines?
          2: And either Slashdot or CNET should lead this revolution of non-sensationalism and technical accuracy?
          3: And this sounds plausible?

        • Re:Not a BSOD (Score:4, Interesting)

          by paeanblack (191171) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @12:56PM (#33251754)

          Exactly. A less sensational headline could have been "XJ Power button kinda flakey". This kinda stuff is what drives technical support people nuts.

          I stopped at "hundreds of millions of lines of code"

          # find /usr/src/linux/ -name "*.[ch]" -exec cat {} \;|wc -l
          11561604

          A car OS beats that by twentyfold?

        • by Smauler (915644)

          What gets me is that BSOD used to be basically an insult hurled at Windows... I've run Windows most of my life, and not seen many (a couple were spectacular software failures, the others were hardware issues). I literally spent years cleaning up those systems. Wait, what?

          Personally with the option of power or co2, I'd go for power... Power wins every time.

        • Re:Not a BSOD (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Barny (103770) <bakadamage-slashdot@yahoo.com> on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:41PM (#33254766) Homepage Journal

          From TFA

          Over the minutes that followed, the software analysed every one of the car's digital systems in search of a problem. The culprit could have been any number of things -- the Bosch-supplied, Linux-based infotainment system, the Visteon-supplied virtual instrument display, a heat-ravaged processor, an errant mouse somewhere in one of the car's hundreds of miles of wiring, or the dodgy contents of a CNET UK memory key in one of the XJ's two USB ports.

          I know its just sensationalism on their part, but if putting a badly formatted USB stick into the in-dash USB port is enough to kill the car, there is something seriously fucking wrong with it.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        /. suffers tacky tabloid spread of hype.

      • by bsDaemon (87307)

        z0mg they zero-day bricked their Jaguar!

    • Well, I *assume* the power windows did not respond to user input.

  • by blankinthefill (665181) <blachanc@gmail.STRAWcom minus berry> on Saturday August 14, 2010 @09:38AM (#33250576) Journal

    FTFA: "Over the minutes that followed, the software analysed every one of the car's digital systems in search of a problem. The culprit could have been any number of things -- the Bosch-supplied, Linux-based infotainment system, the Visteon-supplied virtual instrument display, a heat-ravaged processor, an errant mouse somewhere in one of the car's hundreds of miles of wiring, or the dodgy contents of a CNET UK memory key in one of the XJ's two USB ports."

    Lots of systems running together, in a very rugged environment (for a computer, anyways)... I don't think it's terribly surprising that this could happen. In fact, the only surprising fact here is that it doesn't happen MORE often than it does.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rotide (1015173)
      What _is_ surprising to me is that a linux based infotainment system would _ever_ hamper any system outside itself. Why would my audio system glitching cause my car to not start? Ok, if it somehow drains the battery, I get that, but otherwise it should be an offering on the "LAN" and simply not used if not accessible. I mean, are these systems so horridly setup that one specific glitch in the DVD playback software can do _anything_ to the basic functions of the car (brakes, engine, etc)? Or was that jus
      • by localman57 (1340533) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:01AM (#33250682)
        Nobody said it was the Linux system. It could have been whatever ECM monitored the Power Button. Normally, you hit the button, and it sends out a message across a bus, typically CAN (or FlexRay in the most modern systems) which tells the other systems to "wake up", and typically also energizes the ignition wire for non-connected systems. If that one ECM was locked up, the car is pretty much hosed until you can reset it. Could well have been a $5 microcontroller imbedded in the dash, and running a fore-ground/background loop, and no real OS.
      • by TJamieson (218336) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:05AM (#33250706)

        Three words -- Body Control Module. I don't know a damned thing about Jaguars, but with GM vehicles in general they all have a Body Control Module installed. Anything that isn't directly related to the powertrain is controlled by the BCM (incidentally, the powertrain is controlled by the Powertrain Control Module). In many GM vehicles, the BCM can be communicated with via the radio; this is to set certain user options like how long the headlamps will remain illuminated after exiting the vehicle. In the event that something goes wrong with the BCM, the radio will lock because it gets put into an anti-theft state, and typically the car will not start. All because a single capacitor on a shitty little Motorola board got cooked, for example.

        Then, even if you get a used BCM with the same option codes as the one you're replacing, the radio will remain in an anti-theft state because the thinking of the designers (I guess) was that people would start swapping BCMs just to steal radios -- dumb.

        GM, of course, has a tool to reprogram BCMs, but even they say there's a 50/50 shot their programming will render the BCM unusable. From my limited research of the boards they use, it seems there is little if any CRC done in any shape or form, so it sounds like the board will happily write bad or invalid data to the PROM.

        Again, I don't know how a Jaguar design works, but there are vehicles where the radio does indeed affect other parts of the vehicle, much to the dismay of owners and dealers alike.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by zwede (1478355)

          You can't use a used BCM as that is exactly what GM was trying to prevent (for anti-theft reasons). What you do is you get a brand new, never powered up BCM (they are not especially expensive). The first time it is powered up, it will accept the ignition key and unlock everything. That first key is then permanently stored in the BCM.

          Again, it's supposed to work this way and it really did help drastically reduce theft of both radios and entire cars. For instance, before GM had the Passkey system the Camaro w

          • by Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @11:26AM (#33251184) Homepage
            For instance, before GM had the Passkey system the Camaro was the most stolen car year after year. Once Passkey was introduced it completely dropped off the list.
            GM also stopped making the Camaro from 2002-2010, that will help reduce the number stolen.
            • by Lennie (16154)

              Also, criminals will go for the easiest targets (within the same pricerange/how easy it is to sell).

              So these things only help. if you stay ahead of the curve.

          • by Mashiki (184564)

            Except you can easily bypass BCM's and the passkey system without even tryin. It's not exactly difficult, and this goes with all of the automakers because they all have some version of a BCM and key-code specific keys. Personally computerization of cars is one of my biggest pet peeves. By adding so much that can cause a car to go wrong is insane.

            A fine example: My car is running like shit(random stalls, high/low idle swings, etc), having an idea on how to do my own diagnostics I can track this problem d

            • by TJamieson (218336)

              Geez, that UET is particularly nasty in its side-effects.

              We have emissions to thank for a lot of the computerization of cars. Everything you described, as you know, comes down to the computer retarding the engine timing. This is done solely to keep the vehicle from spewing emissions, or at least the computer is programmed to *think* that's what the car is about to do and it reacts accordingly. I notice you'll get similar behavior with a bad mass airflow sensor, sometimes inefficient cat but that ties into O

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                NO NO NO. Lets not got back to pure mechanical. Lets instead remove the arduous emissions regulators, and instead of the silly emissions grading system we use now, use only real world driving data for emissions testing and control.

                The problem isn't the electronics themselves. It's the silly ass way that emissions are tested. Causing car makers to profit by making convoluted systems which retard emissions under certain circumstances (cold start, etc etc). Interestingly, while emissions would be sligh
          • by TJamieson (218336)

            While it is true that you cannot just drop in a used BCM plug-n-play style, (with the same feature/option codes) you can typically use a 30-minute procedure to reset the ignition and other systems. The sucky thing is the procedure can vary depending on the age of the BCM, but it's still workable.

            That will at least get a matching-option-code BCM to work in a different vehicle, except the radio. As far as I know, GM is the only party able to unlock a locked radio. Part of me wonders if, with reverse engineeri

      • Perhaps it could've been DOSing the other, more critical systems.

      • I'm betting on sensationalism. Then again, on the 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee I once owned, when I installed an aftermarket stereo I had to short the now unused CAN-BUS connector to get the car to start. That blew my mind.

    • by shaitand (626655)

      The thing just came out and this happened pretty much the first time someone tested one. How much is often enough?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 14, 2010 @09:45AM (#33250610)

    I heard you like car analogies, so we put a computer in your car so you can crash when you crash.

    Wait, that's not actually an analogy.

  • I recognize the advances electronic components have created in vehicles but there has to be a sweet spot between efficiency/safety and reliability. I wonder how computer system on cars fair against those on planes.

  • by wowbagger (69688) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @09:52AM (#33250646) Homepage Journal

    In fairness, the title is misleading: Blue Screen of Death implies Microsoft Windows, and there is no Microsoft Windows involved in this story (at least, not in the car). Indeed, the only OS mentioned in the story is Linux.

    I despise Microsoft and Windows, but I do so for REAL reasons, which this story IS NOT. The summary should be fixed to note this wasn't a BSOD, that Windows was not at fault, etc., just to be fair and consistent.

    As it stands, the summary is just prejudiced and misleading.

    (oh, sorry. forgot where I was for a moment.)

  • Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pentium100 (1240090) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @09:53AM (#33250654)

    I still don't get it - why cars need so much software? Older cars worked quite well with just mechanical controls, so why there are so many computers in new cars?

    Non-essential systems do not count - if the radio/usb player fails, I'll be annoyed (and I can replace the player with a simpler tape deck if I want to), if the steering or brakes fail, I'll be injured or dead.

    So, why the millions of lines of code? Are they really necessary for the system to do the job what simpler (and more reliable) mechanical linkages did in the past (steering, brakes, throttle, clutch, gear selector)? Mechanical devices fail, but they usually give "notice" before doing so - you can see the rusty rod or the cracked link before it fails. Oh, and you still need the mechanical device (the wheels somehow have to turn in the direction that the user turned the steering wheel). Also, people seem to be able to design mechanical devices that work as intended, while software is almost always buggy.

    My 28 year old car somehow seems to be able to work and get me from point A to point B even though the tape deck has more complex electronics (well, it has a RDS decoder, Dolby B and C NR, logic controls, LCD display, ability to control CD and MD changers etc) and the electronics of the car itself consist of a few relays.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Diagnostics is the first reason. The amount of information you can get on any car the past 10-15 years is absolutely amazing. Acceleration levels, fuel usage levels, break levels, even tire pressure levels, and logs of many of these functions. It dramatically reduces the cost and time to check a car for problems and unusual behaviour when you have very small very simple computers monitoring all the essential systems on your car. The software also usually permits altering a lot of parameters - useful when fi
      • by shaitand (626655)

        "Acceleration levels, fuel usage levels, break levels, even tire pressure levels, and logs of many of these functions. It dramatically reduces the cost and time to check a car for problems and unusual behaviour when you have very small very simple computers monitoring all the essential systems on your car."

        BS What it does is provide the manufacturer more data they can use to prove you voided you warranty.

      • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by RoFLKOPTr (1294290) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @11:05AM (#33251044)

        It dramatically reduces the cost and time to check a car for problems and unusual behaviour when you have very small very simple computers monitoring all the essential systems on your car.

        And yet repair shops still charge you $85 to plug a machine into the OBD port and tell you that you can pay them to fix it.... hmmmm.....

    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by KwKSilver (857599) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:07AM (#33250738)

      I still don't get it - why cars need so much software?

      To drive up the price and profit margins. Silly goose.

      • I'm still trying to wrap my head around the reason why people think that companies need an excuse to drive up their prices. Why would they over-engineer their cars at their personal expense, when they can just write a new number on the price sticker?

        • by David_W (35680)

          I'm still trying to wrap my head around the reason why people think that companies need an excuse to drive up their prices. Why would they over-engineer their cars at their personal expense, when they can just write a new number on the price sticker?

          Because, unless they collude to uniformly raise the price, people will expect there to be some visible reason why the car costs more, and if not, will go buy that cheaper car over there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by morari (1080535)

      I wonder this as well. Of course, I drive a 1972 VW Super Beetle everyday. The most complex electronics in it is my aftermarket stereo! :P

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by demonlapin (527802) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:09AM (#33250752) Homepage Journal
      A 2010 Toyota Camry gets 268 hp from a V6 engine while still getting 20 mpg around town. Let's see a 1982 model do that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by KarmaMB84 (743001)
        A 1982 model could move itself with just 70 hp and many could get 50 mpg on the highway compared to the Camry's 29. Sounds like we're advancing in the wrong direction to me.
        • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by winwar (114053) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @04:33PM (#33252828)

          "A 1982 model could move itself with just 70 hp and many could get 50 mpg on the highway compared to the Camry's 29. Sounds like we're advancing in the wrong direction to me."

          And the 1982 model would not be legal for sale today. In any case, you can buy an entry level Toyota which will get very good mileage and be superior in pretty much every way to that 1982 car (safety, emissions, reliability, performance). Or buy a Prius.

          What's your point again?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Amouth (879122)
            why would it not be legal for sale again???

            crash tests?? hey if people can still legaly ride motor cycles then i don't see the problem with not having air bags in my car.

            sorry i drive a 70's MG .. i get 35mpg around town... it has all of 4 fuses and no computing power at all..

            and if your excuse is emissions - well i pass that too (well did until 2 years ago when they got rid of doing sniffer testing)

            I honestly haven't seen any real gains from what they are doing - they say that this and that giv
    • I'm with you. I remember when Honda went from a fully mechanical four-wheel-steering system on the 3rd gen Prelude to an electronically controlled system later in the generation. The electronic system was prone to failure, but the fully mechanical system was rock-solid.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:20AM (#33250812)

      Engine management is a lot more sophisticated than a mechanical carburettor can ever hope to be. Between environmental regulations (cleaner air), diagnostics (cutting down on repair time) and performance (getting more from a smaller, lighter engine without compromising reliability) it's gotten quite complicated. Then there's the chassis, with ABS, ESP and other electronic driver aids. Miles of wiring have been replaced by a lighter, more reliable bus system for all electric functions in the car.
      Some of this is down to ever-tighter regulation (emissions, safety). Others are due to the competitive nature of car sales: ever more features get tacked on.
      Thanks to electronics, cars have gotten a lot more reliable over time. The last few years, car companies have overstepped, though, offering new features before they were ready, and not doing enough testing for proper integration.

    • I still don't get it - why cars need so much software? Older cars worked quite well with just mechanical controls, so why there are so many computers in new cars?

      From SAE's "Automotive Engineering International:"

      Consumer radios and military communication devices were the mainstay of electronics usage prior to the late 1950s. When diodes, transistors, analog integrated circuits, and digital integrated circuits gained a vehicle applications foothold in the 1960s and 1970s, the initial development phase of au

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Fishead (658061)

      After years of driving a 1990 Nissan Pathfinder powered by a 3.0L V6 outputting around 140HP we upgraded to a 2005 Nissan Xterra with a 4.0L V6 that has around 270 HP and consumes less fuel. What changed? Variable Valve Timing. The engine now has the ability to change the CAM on the fly. When I want power I get power. If I'm cruising on the highway and want efficiency I get efficiency. Sure it's immensely more complex then my '77 Chevy truck with the most high tech component being the AM radio, but

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Feature bloat gives buyers the idea they are getting more for their money.

      Modern vehicle systems are well beyond the technical comprehension of most buyers, who merely want techno-bling bragging rights so they can "wave a penis they don't understand". Anyone who buys a Jag has infinite money to fix it, so reliability isn't much concern.

      There is nothing like working at a used car lot to teach how car buyers really work. You will never go broke catering to their lust for what most mechanics consider to be Stu

    • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @12:19PM (#33251536)

      Why aren't thermostats the round Honeywell mechanical jobs anymore? They worked.
      Why are egg timers in your kitchen all electronic now? Mechanical timers worked.
      Why does your washing machine have electronic controls now instead of the big mechanical dial with 4 modes on it?
      Why is your electricity meter an electronic counter now instead of the mechanical spinning thing with 5 dials?
      Why does the tape deck in your car have an electronic tuner instead of a dial, variable capacitor and a string loop with a needle on it to indicate the station?
      Why are watches electronic (quartz) now instead of complex movements?

      The answer is the same in all cases. It's because software and electronics are cheaper and do the job better than the old mechanical device did. Your washing machine can have more flexible modes, like the ability to extend the rinse cycle in increments, or even add a 3rd rinse. Your thermostat can have a setback mode to save energy when you aren't there. Your egg timer can be set to beep 5 minutes before the timer expires. Your electricity meter can count daytime electricity different than nighttime electricity. Your tape deck's tuner can select stations more accurately, have simpler preset stations (ever see how the 5 preset buttons on a radio with a tuner know worked? very complex) and is much smaller. Quartz watches keep time more accurately than mechanical watches, last longer and can have chronographs and other functions without adding a lot of cost.

      And in the end, it's really the flexibility of software that wins out. Software can be programmed to do a lot more complex things and can be reprogrammed to do it slightly differently very cheaply, no need to change tooling as you would to change mechanical parts.

      Remember what mechanical adding machines and cash registers looked like? What they worked like? A mechanical cash register had to have far more buttons (10 for each digit) and was limited in what it could do. Want to put in 5 identical items? You had to pull the lever or push sum 5 times. Meanwhile electronic cash registers don't just add. Sure they can calculate different tax rates on different items, that's just the beginning! You don't just put prices of items into the cash register, you put it items. And the cash register knows the price of the item, knows whether it has a special tax rate (like groceries sometimes do) and knows if you get a discount for buying 5 of them. And it also does inventory control, it sends info back to the central computer at the store to indicate they've sold 10 widgets. At the end of the day, the system figures out you've sold over 80% of the widgets in stock and the system suggests you order more widgets from your supplier.

      That kind of "behind the scenes" stuff also takes place in cars. A modern car like this Jaguar emits fewer trace emissions in a year than your car does in a day and this is due to the tight engine control possible with a sensor package and control software.

      A modern car knows if you're in the car. It unlocks the door if you're outside and pull the handle, it just senses your key (which is more of a fob) in your pocket. It auto locks when you get out. When you're inside, all you have to do to start it is touch a button, since it knows the key is inside, you don't have to insert it into a lock (and mechanical locks wear out, as I'm sure you with a 30 year old car can attest). When you touch the button, it cranks the car until it starts, no less, no more. No need to hold down the button until the engine catches. And if the car is already running it doesn't try to start the car and make a screeching sound. While its running, if your turn on the A/C and it puts more idle load on the engine, it applies more idle throttle to the engine so that it doesn't stall. If you let out the clutch a little too fast, it applies throttle to prevent a stall there too. If you put the clutch in and the gas at the same time, it will cut the engine off at 4,000 rpm to prevent over rev damage. You have an electronic parking brak

      • by Lennie (16154)

        that's all nice when it works, but when it fails it makes it hard to fix without going to the dealer. And the car dealer likes that, they can ask you for money each time.

  • by drerwk (695572) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:00AM (#33250676) Homepage
    Lucas went defunct in 1996. The lord of darkness went dark. But the spirit lives on. The story reminded me of a TR-6 I had in college. You never knew what would happen when you turned the key. Nine out of ten it would start.
    • There was an (apocryphal?) story that Lucas's ignition systems only worked at all because Joe Lucas had a pact with the Devil, and every time Joe wondered if he'd made a mistake, an ignition system failed somewhere.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kimvette (919543)

      "Lucas went defunct in 1996."

      So recent Jags no longer have the "off-dim-flicker" settings on the headlight switch, but due to Ford's influence there is just an increased risk of catching on fire?

  • by Reservoir Penguin (611789) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:10AM (#33250772)
    Whatever problem they are left stranded waiting for a certified Jaguar technician. On the other hand I can fix my 1985 Jimny with a hammer and a screwdriver and will survive an EMP blast! (I think the stereo is only thing that contains digital components)
    • by Fishead (658061)

      *High-five for heavy metal w00t!*

      My project is a '77 Chevy truck. I love working on that compared to any of the newer stuff. I'm pretty sure my stock AM radio could survive an EM blast, and if not, I can fix it with said hammer and screwdriver... and maybe a few twist ties.

  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:24AM (#33250826)

    What?!

    "hundreds of millions of lines of code"

    I don't believe that number

    Just a bogoword from an illiterate.

    .

  • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:25AM (#33250834)

    I was going to read the article, until I reached this line:
    "Our first instinct was that we'd exhausted the car's battery by watching too much Eminem on its integrated DVD player"

    Then I figured out their problem. The car simply could not take take it anymore and once it realized they were going to load an 8 mile DVD, committed suicide.

  • and to think... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WiglyWorm (1139035) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:39AM (#33250898) Homepage
    I got called crazy when I brought up this site's anti-MS pro-linux slant yesterday. The thing was running Linux and it's stillbeing blamed on Microsoft!
  • by LikwidCirkel (1542097) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @10:41AM (#33250908)
    It's a Bosch dash running Linux for the infotainment. I much prefer Harman dashes that run QNX like Audi, BMW, and a number of other car makers use... totally more reliable IMO. I've actually worked hands-on with some of this stuff, and I must admit, I trust QNX much more for mission-critical applications, like automobiles.
    • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @11:01AM (#33251024)

      That is pretty much the realm of QNX, a real-time embedded mission critical operating system. I once met a guy who wrote software for QNX used on communications satellites. So yea its pretty damn reliable. They used to offer a free desktop OS (Neutrino RTOS) around the same time Be Inc released BeOS R5 PE. I still have a download kicking around too. Before that (1999 ish) they offered a single floppy image that booted your PC and even provided a few small and simple demo programs and even a game. Its amazing feature was a web browser and Ethernet card drivers. Pretty amazing stuff for its time.

  • really, this is not all that shocking to me.

    I few years back when the Land rover LR3 (when Jag and LR were still with Ford) we took a brand new LR3 out into the desert with the LR team as part of a LR program that was offered.
    Anyhow, at one particularly tricky bit (and I am an experienced off roader) the LR3's computer totally crashed to include engine management and suspension management.

    What you may now know, is that the LR3 has a special off rood mode which raises the vehicle by several inches for better

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday August 14, 2010 @11:33AM (#33251228) Homepage

    Many years ago, I was at Ford Aerospace, where we had some slight involvement with the Ford EEC IV engine control module [auto-diagnostics.info]. The designers of that were paranoid about a failure of the module making the car immobile. So they did the following:

    • The device was designed for a 30 year life span. (Many 1980s Fords are still running with EEC IV modules, so they did it.)
    • The program for the device was etched into the silicon of the CPU. There is no way to change it without replacing the entire module. Huge amounts of effort were put into getting this small program right, including some proof of correctness work. It was successful; there's never been a recall.
    • There is a removable module with a ROM that has engine parameters. (The format is known; people have made their own for racing purposes.) It's just tables, no code. It's a bulky metal-cased plug-in module, hard to damage.
    • The device starts from a clean ground state at power-up. There is no persistent state that can prevent startup.
    • There's a dumb backup mode in the program. If the complex engine control algorithm fails, it reverts to a simple backup mode. Performance isn't very good.
    • There's a second hardware backup mode in the ignition controller. This was referred to internally as "limp-home mode". If a timer in the ignition controller detects that the EEC isn't responding, it drops into a mode where the spark fires each time a pulse from the crankshaft position sensor comes in. In this mode, there's no spark advance, no smart fuel injection, no active emissions control, no engine/transmission coordination, and top speed is about 25MPH. You can still drive the car.

    Designers today are not being sufficiently paranoid. They're assuming that the entire system stays up and that tow trucks are easily available.

  • I hope that the braking systems does not crash like this as doing a hard power off reset is not easy to do at speed.

  • From TFA: ...watching too much Eminem on its integrated DVD player.

    Well, there's your problem.

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