General Motors is selling a new line of cars now, ones aimed at introductory or first-time car buyers. They’re fairly easy to maintain, with things like the oil dipstick painted fluorescent orange so it’s easy to find, and the radiator cap bright blue, and so forth. They’re marketed as low-cost, low-maintenance vehicles for people who’ve never owned a new car before, or just want something simpler and less complicated.
They have all the same safety features as most new cars, including seat belts, anti-lock brakes and both passenger- and driver-side air bags. The bags are triggered by an impact anywhere from the front left quarter-panel around the front all the way to the front right quarter-panel. They’re the typical gas-bubble-type air bags you see in movies or commercials — nothing new or innovative, and in fact quite ordinary.
The odd thing about the air bags is, they’re actually disabled when you buy the car. You can activate them manually, if you see you’re going to be in an accident, by reaching across to the passenger’s side of the car, opening the glove box and holding down the “air bag enable” button inside there. Keep that button pressed throughout the crash, and the air bags will deploy as soon as the sensors in the frame are triggered.
Of course, you can hard-wire the air bags to an activated state too, although that’s a little bit advanced, and requires a little know-how.
It might strike you as odd that someone would have to manually enable the air bags. It’s a safety feature, true. But the car was designed by a team of engineers who have had experience driving, building and designing cars for decades. The original Model T, built by Henry Ford himself, didn’t have air bags, and the design team decided that while they’re a useful and interesting safety feature, the car really shouldn’t deviate from the plan set up by Ford decades ago. It’s a mix of tradition and function.
And since air bags only protect you in a crash that originates from the front end of the car, air bags aren’t going to save you in every situation. If you’re broadsided in an accident, you’ll probably still be killed, so the air bags didn’t do anything to help anyway. Disabling them just makes more sense. Or would you prefer the entire car was lined with air bags, to protect you from any impact, from any direction? Effectively insulating you from any possible bad thing that might happen? That’s impractical, and only shows how little you understand about car design.
And really, driving a car is a dangerous thing to be doing in the first place. You shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car unless you know exactly where you’re going, how to get there, traffic patterns, rules of the road, etc. So in general, you’d do better to leave driving to experts, like the design team, or perhaps just take the bus. Eventually you’ll be experienced enough to know good driving from bad driving, and then you won’t need to worry about crashing. None of the design team ever worries about crashing, unless it’s on purpose.
But overall — and this is the most important point — the design team feels if none of those options works, then perhaps motorized transportation isn’t really for you. You should really consider alternative ways of getting to work.
Ironically, or perhaps not ironically, a number of Japanese and Korean car manufacturers have matched the General Motors designs with cars of their own. They’re stylish, shiny and clean, a little more petite and a little less expensive, but with all the same features, bells and whistles as the GM versions. For all practical purposes, the two cars work the same and do the same thing. In fact, looking at one, you might not be able to tell it from its Detroit counterpart.
The foreign models, however, reverse the logic when it comes to air bags. The air bags are enabled for a crash through the same region — from quarter-panel to quarter-panel — and there’s a manual override on the dashboard. It’s two buttons this time: one you press to activate the air bag kill switch, and a second that confirms it. Holding both of those buttons down during a crash prevents the air bags from deploying.
The logic here is that, as a first-time car buyer, you’re probably more interested in safety and security than you are about traditional car design. Henry Ford’s original car is important, but not necessarily the only way to do business. Enabling that safety feature by default is a boon and a selling point to a first-time car buyer. But if you happen to be suicidal, or an adrenaline junkie, or just one of those people genetically predisposed toward risk-taking behavior, you can still override the air bags and end your life in complete control — one hand on the steering wheel, and two fingers on those buttons.
And the foreign car makers know that you’re the owner of the car, and you’re going to do with it whatever you will. Chances are you just want to commute in an orderly and slow fashion twice a day, then park your car in the garage and go back to your life. For most first-time car owners, it’s a tool and not so much a toy. So those air bags might never need to be deployed at all. But for the one or two times when something goes wrong, either through error or through someone else’s misbehavior, it’s good to have them.
The foreign car companies acknowledge that air bags won’t save you in every crash. They also acknowledge that there’s no point in going overboard and lining every square centimeter of the car with air bags, coating the door, the handles, the steering wheel and the windshield with bubble wrap so you don’t hit your head. But they do like the idea that, in a situation where you’re driving and someone collides with you (perhaps on purpose, like those risk-takers), you have that small added feature of protection.
So that’s where I am with the default behavior of rm. Reversing the Ubuntu default wouldn’t change the function at all. It wouldn’t prevent rm from doing its job, it doesn’t involve rewriting rm at all, nothing would change and there would still be ways circumvent it.
It might offend some UNIX purists, but preserve-root is already the default in a lot of other distros — including, as Luke mentioned, Solaris 10, Arch Linux and even the dead Lowarch distro — and there doesn’t seem to be any uproar over that.
The only thing it would do is insulate one random Ubuntu newcomer from deleting their entire system. It’s not perfect and there are lots of ways around it, but doesn’t one small safety feature enabled at the start make more sense?