Communications Breakdown

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.”

–Cool Hand Luke

In my many years of work in software development and IT, I have worked with companies that manufacture cruise ships, gas and oil drilling platforms, automobiles, and turbines. One key capability I have often been called upon to develop and deploy are redundant control systems–groups of computers that interact to insure that a single hardware failure cannot trigger a loss of control.disney-magic

The typical mechanism used in redundant systems involves failover. In server redundancy, for example, there is an active primary computer and one or more secondary computers monitoring it. When the primary computer fails, the secondary computer begins doing the job of the primary system.

The difficulty in designing software for redundant servers isn’t the case where failover to the secondary system occurs, or even the case where control is returned back to the primary system. The real difficulty occurs when both systems remain online, but communications between the two servers is lost. In that scenario, the secondary server may try to take over while the primary still has control, possibly leading to overall loss of control or even equipment damage.

Miscommunication between the characters in your story can be used to cause a similar loss of control for your protagonist. ┬áThe problem isn’t her failure, or the failure of her partner–its the fact that their parallel attempts to assert control may interact with each other in unexpected ways. For a control system, this is bad. For a writer in the middle of a story, it’s ideal.

How are you taking advantage of miscommunication to add complexity to your stories?