The devil is not China, it's closed source.

Everywhere, not just in that one school.

The devil is not China, it's closed source. /img/lights-always-on.jpg

Much of the consumer-oriented “Internet of Things” around these days consists of stupid, stupidly designed gadgets. We already knew that.

But it’s important to see who and where the stupidity or, as they said in this case, the “devil” REALLY is.

Here’s the story: For nearly a year and a half, a Massachusetts high school has been lit up around the clock because nobody can turn off its 7,000 lights, costing taxpayers a small fortune. Besides wasting money, teachers couldn’t dim the lights to show videos and movies on whiteboard, unless they unscrewed the light bulbs.

Why? Easy. (NOT) “Smart” lighting.

That article says that the lights have been on for 18 months because on Aug. 24, 2021, the software that runs the lighting system, installed more than a decade earlier, “failed”: for whatever reason, that day the system froze in the “default” state, which means “all lights on”. Then,

  1. software-only solutions, that is patching the software in order to override the default settings turned out to be “unworkable”
  2. the company that installed the system had changed hands several times
  3. when they finally found it, it took the current owner several weeks to just “find somebody familiar with the high school’s lighting system”
  4. but due to the pandemic, that contractor could not start working until the following summer,
  5. eventually, the school had to order several hardware components to fix the problem…
  6. but the pandemic had also shut down the Chinese factories that produce those components, leading the company owner to declare that:

“I have been doing this for 42 years and I have never seen this kind of supply chain disruption… We made a deal with the devil by moving the factories to China”


“Moving the factories to China” is a “strategy” that has caused many problems, no questions about that. But it’s another issue.

Read that list again. The first, if not main culprit of this specific waste of money, and surely countless similar ones, is right there at the beginning. It’s the reason spelled out in an earlier report:

“Gaining access to the software that runs the lights is one of the main reasons why the lights can’t be adjusted correctly."

If the software of that system had been Free/Open Source Software, that is software whose source code had been fully released with the product, with a license allowing everybody to study and fix it, the lights would have not been on for 18 months. That is the problem, not China.

Systems paid with taxpayers money should never include, or depend on software that is secret and can be legally patched only by the original author, or with its permission. That’s the problem, which would be a serious problem even if “China”, that is globalization, did not exist.