My grandfather was a wise man. He should be - he travelled widely, spoke a couple of languages, played the violin, was a master craftsman, a plumber and a wonderful story-teller. I have no idea what he would have made of computers, the Internet, World Wide Web, mobile phones and so on...

Actually, I do. He would have said, as I have oft thought since, that they go wrong with monotonous regularity, usually when we least want them to. This is, of course, in harmony with the famous Murphy's Law and its various corollaries.

He had a simple philosophy. Machines, he said, should be straightforward. The simpler they are, the less there is to go wrong. His favourite workshop machine was his grinder, a bench-mounted beast, hand-cranked, with a nice big flywheel. It made a comforting noise, did the job he needed it to do, and above all, never went wrong. His chisels and knives were always sharp and ready as a result.

"When eating", he said, "I need something which will never let me down. A knife and fork are simple enough to do what I need them to do - cut up my food and allow me to get it into my mouth. I never trust any machine more complex than a knife and fork".

(Of course, Robert Heinlein said something similar. He put a similar expression into the mouth of Jubal Harshaw of Stranger in a Strange Land, who said "never trust machinery more complicated than a knife and fork")

As a small child (this is many, many years ago) I recognised the simple truth of this philosophy and still find myself uttering the phrase, sometimes sotto voce, oft fortissimo. After all, in this day and age we have come to expect a system or machine should do as we ask it to do; efficiently, quickly, without complaint and above all, now. Most of the things we use from day to day have reached a level of complexity which makes them almost incomprehensible. Anyone who has attempted to program a VCR will nod in agreement, I'm certain.

So, I will go on my way, and doubtless find myself at some point, cursing at some overly-complex machine or system. Bring back reliable and easy-to-comprehend systems. Please, before some machine malfunctions and tries to kill us.

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