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COUNTY: The Power of Three

| July 25, 2021 1:00 AM

What rocket science can teach us about our county government.

The most complicated machine to ever fly was the Space Shuttle and it was impossible for humans to fly it without the aid of computers. NASA spent billions of dollars on the Shuttle developing hardware that was as efficient and reliable as possible. Reliability was essential because if the computer lost control for just one 10th of a second during launch, the vehicle and all those aboard could perish.

The key to reliability of the computers was redundancy so if one computer failed, another could take its place. But how do you tell if a computer has failed? If you have two computers and one has a failure that causes it to produce the wrong answer while the other has the right answer, how do you know which is the right answer?

NASA’s solution was to have three computers that would “vote” and the Shuttle would do whatever at least two of the computers told it to do. The computer that did not agree with the other two would be ignored and its hardware would be reset.

Now if three are better than two, wouldn’t five be better than three? What about seven or more? Wouldn’t more computers be even more reliable and safer?

The answer is counter-intuitive but simple. The key is realizing that every computer you add also increases the chance of a failure. More computers mean more hardware and more opportunities for a failure. Also, more hardware means more weight and cost. Three is the optimal number.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that three is the right number of County Commissioners. Having more than three will only increase to costs in both tax dollars and labor without improving quality.

BURT RUTAN

Coeur d’Alene