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Comment: The story of David Alexander. (Score 1) 327 327

Back in the mid 80s, I was fortunate enough to get my first programming job. I worked with an incredibly capable programmer, let's call him Dr. Bob. I learned a great deal about programming from kindly Dr. Bob - he was a whiz at PDP11 and VAX assembly coding, and a great mentor. One day we came back from lunch and he picked up his mail and messages from the department secretary on the way to his desk. He opened one of the envelopes he'd gotten, read the letter within briefly, then started cursing like a sailor and threw the letter in the trash. He stalked off in a rage. I retrieved the letter and saw it was a page from a phone book, with the name "David Alexander" circled. After a couple hours, when Dr. Bob had calmed down. I told him he had to tell me what was going on. It turns out that his very first assembly language programming gig had been at the local University. It involved managing the data for a planned 50 year long psychology experiment, tracking the names, addresses, and project info for all of the participants over time. Now this was the mid 70s, so there was no database, just a bunch of tape files and MACRO programs to do the updating and reporting. Dr. Bob really liked the work, and the folks in the Psych Dept were really friendly, it was a great atmosphere. One day, Bob made....the Big Mistake. Due to some typoes, he inadvertently replaced the name and address info in every record in the files with the data from the first record....David Alexander's. This was a tape database and it only went back a few tapes the time it got noticed it was too late - all the good data was gone. The long range experiment was totally destroyed since they couldn't track the participants. He had to quit in disgrace - he said what really upset him was the way the Psych Dept folks were so nice about it and didn't want to fire him. Anyway, that's bad enough...but when his "friends" caught wind of it, they started popping up David Alexander references everywhere they could - they'd leave him phone messages from David Alexander, they'd get mailings sent to his address to David Alexander, and so forth. By the time this event I saw occurred, it had been going on for years (for all I know it still is). Anyway, due to kindly Dr. Bob's David Alexander mistake, I always check my code just a leetle more carefully than I otherwise might be bothered to - I personally don't ever want to make my Big Mistake....

Comment: THe biggest tec mistake I ever saw... (Score 1) 327 327

Wasn't mine, but it's too good not to share. Back in the mid 80s, I was working at (let's call it) SuperBigCorp's IT department. There was a fellow there who maintained the programs that handled the savings elections for employee 401K funds. One day, while making some changes to the COBOL programs that sent which funds to what investment vehicles....he made a little mistake. He got confused in a conditional statement, and all the funds that should have gone to stable investment selections went to the highly speculative vehicles, and vice versa. Even more unfortunately, this area of activity was not supervised and audited half as well as it should have the time it was noticed, several months had gone by, and the stock market had suffered a bit of a setback. Millions of dollars were lost by SuperBigCorp getting it straightened out. They had to let the poor fellow go, in disgrace. The Chief of IT was reported to have said, that if the market had just moved the other way, the programmer would have been a hero...

Comment: It reminds me of this quote from slightly later (Score 2) 387 387

"And the Dark Lord made Orcs in mockery of Elves, and Trolls in mockery of Ents; and he made DOS in mockery of CP/M, and Windows in mockery of Macs, and NT in mockery of Netware; and he made Excel in mockery of VisiCalc, and Explorer in mockery of Navigator, and Word in mockery of WordPerfect; and he made MSNetwork in mockery of America Online; and on every side his foes fell reeling, defeated one by one as he crushed them by sheer weight of numbers, his hosts darkening the plain; and in the twilight years of the Second Millenium the Free Peoples of the West said, Lo, let us face this pestilence and destroy it, lest he turn all of Middle-Earth into a nest of foulness. And they forged the One OS, and they called it Copland; and they gathered their allies, the IBM Host and the Riders of Motorola, and they prepared for the final battle." Unfortunately, we lost the final battle, and the Darkness of Microsoft has swallowed up the land.

"Any excuse will serve a tyrant." -- Aesop