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Wireless finds a way

Dec. 21, 2022
People can be as adaptable as network protocols—if they're open to it

The wireless beat is fun to cover because it’s full of surprises. Many years ago, I learned that wireless didn’t mean less wires because its transmitting and receiving devices employed more physical networking on either side to let them communicate through the air. I also ran across experts, who felt wireless was more reliable than hardwiring because its nodes routinely checked in, so if an interruption occurred, they could easily determine where it was.

Most recently, this issue’s “Invisible wireless” cover story (p. 20) showed my assumption that cheap Wi-Fi couldn’t be replaced by costly cellular was all wrong. When thousands of components need hundreds of access points, private cellular suddenly gets more cost-effective and attractive. Serves me right for thinking I know what’s going on, and could just sit back and lazily project future events and trends without checking and confirming as thoroughly as I should. This is why assumptions and betting are risky.

The flexibility of wireless and its adaptable operating profiles of its protocols demonstrate that site surveys and audits remain crucial for finding the best-suited wireless technology for each application and setting. And, just like users of most process control and networking technologies, wireless and its users just want to get jobs done in their own sphere. They don’t have time to bloviate on big-picture trends or speculate about which technology will prevail in larger markets.

Avoiding assumptions, being adaptable and focusing on essential tasks are good lessons for me and maybe others. They also demonstrated that, if one avenue of inquiry turns out to be a dead end, there may be side streets that are open or at least passable. Likewise, several system integrators and other sources have suggested that pursuing innovations in a parallel or related area may show how to break up obstacles on the initial line of inquiry. Their advice always makes me remember Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, saying, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”

The only true dead end is being closed off to new information, and not wanting to let it shine in, even if it’s in plain sight or easily accessible. Unfortunately, many individuals and organizations are so stuck in their ways that they can’t even consider new facts, let alone make any changes based on them. This is the really dark side of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Focus and determination are essential, but too much can quickly morph into calcifying stubbornness. Sadly, I think we all have some issues, situations and prejudices that paralyze us because we think we know best and can’t see beyond them.

I recall covering a suburban homeowner in the early 1990s, who had several feet of his backyard taken over by a railroad/utility right of way in the late 1950s, and had been fighting city hall ever since. I don’t think he was wrong, but it became apparent that this past dispute had taken over most of his consciousness, and was stopping him from having much of a life in the present.

Overcoming stiction in valves, actuators, positioners is one of the cornerstone of process control. Wouldn’t it be great of there was a partial stroke value test for our minds?

Luckily, just like any obstacle, even willful ignorance has a workaround. The side street in this case is that our human brains are restless, easily bored, and even more easily distracted. One of the initial goals of Zen and similar types of meditation is calming racing thoughts or at least letting them pass. I’m not sure this is possible for us hunter/gatherers because we mammals are forever on the lookout for threats. And, if we can’t find any in our comfy, modern lifestyles, we must make them up because our physiology demands it.

The good news is our biology gives us common ground. Whether we appear hopelessly stuck in prejudices or the past, or we believe we’re slightly more flexible and enlightened, everyone struggles for a greater share of understanding. We just have to pay attention and retain it when our restless brains shake off their rust and come across something new and useful. 

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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