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The Big Technical Mistakes of History

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time dept.

Intel 244

An anonymous reader tips a PC Authority review of some of the biggest technical goofs of all time. "As any computer programmer will tell you, some of the most confusing and complex issues can stem from the simplest of errors. This article looking back at history's big technical mistakes includes some interesting trivia, such as NASA's failure to convert measurements to metric, resulting in the Mars Climate Orbiter being torn apart by the Martian atmosphere. Then there is the infamous Intel Pentium floating point fiasco, which cost the company $450m in direct costs, a battering on the world's stock exchanges, and a huge black mark on its reputation. Also on the list is Iridium, the global satellite phone network that promised to make phones work anywhere on the planet, but required 77 satellites to be launched into space."

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What no Windows Vista? (5, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996500)

Rim shot...!

Re:What no Windows Vista? (3, Funny)

Gabrill (556503) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996852)

You wound ME.

Re:What no Windows Vista? (2, Funny)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997098)

This isn't deserving of a Troll, I think. Windows ME edged out AN EXPLODING OIL PIPELINE.

Pentium 90 for sale (4, Funny)

suso (153703) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997352)

I still have one of the Pentium 90 chips with the math flaw. The bidding starts at $1.

Re:Pentium 90 for sale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997542)

and stays at 1$.

Re:Pentium 90 for sale (2, Funny)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997560)

I offer 1.25$, but you pay for shipping.

Re:Pentium 90 for sale (3, Funny)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997694)

I offfer 1.50000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001

Re:Pentium 90 for sale (5, Funny)

rossdee (243626) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998044)

I thought the bidding would start at $0.99999574

Re:Pentium 90 for sale (4, Funny)

KeithJM (1024071) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998316)

I thought the bidding would start at $0.99999574

Well, that would be a higher bid than $1. We need to work up to $0.99999574

Re:Pentium 90 for sale (2)

ByteSlicer (735276) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998362)

I still have a pentium 50 with the FDIV bug (with motherboard). Never bothered to exchange it, and never found myself in a situation where the bug surfaced (except while trying out some of the test calculations). It was the last main processor that I had that could operate with a simple heat sink (no fan). Great times...

Re:Pentium 90 for sale (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31998570)

I wager 1000 quatloos.

Re:What no Windows Vista? (2)

digitalaudiorock (1130835) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998224)

OEM versions of Windows ME ended up on countless PCs, essentially all of which needed to be upgraded to XP. No "mistake" there if you ask me. Frankly I think the Vista/Windows 7 upgrade path was no mistake either.

Microsoft... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31996506)

Bob. :)

Re:Microsoft... (2, Informative)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996846)

Bob. :)

Let's not forget Apple's "Lisa". I know the Apple III was in the list but the Lisa cost more to develop and probably sold less units. I know a lot of the Mac UI came from Lisa underpinnings but the "Epic Fail" tag is deserved.

Disclaimer: Apple user for 20 years.

Re:Microsoft... (4, Interesting)

arth1 (260657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997130)

Speaking of technical flaws and Lisa... You could plop the boot drive into the Dumpster, and it would format it. The tech savvy devs who designed the "drag-to-trash = format" function never imagined that users would be stupid enough to do something like that! Little did they know about how giving someone a mouse transforms them from someone who can use a line based editor to set up printer drivers and networking into the horror that is a modern user.

Re:Microsoft... (2, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997412)

Come on Node 3, refute this guy's anti-apple rhetoric!

The quirkiness of the 8086 affected all of us. (5, Insightful)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997752)

Intel's 8086 CPU, Intel's first 16-bit processor, was possibly much worse than any of those mentioned because it affected all of us. Intel chose to continue the quirkiness of the 8008 rather than abandon it.

Just before the time of the introduction of the 8086 I knew a chief of technology of a high-tech company who was waiting for the 8086 as though it were a combination of Christmas, his birthday, and the birth of his child. He would start every conversation by telling everyone Intel's release date for the 8086.

The day of its release, he was miserably unhappy. Intel chose to continue an architecture that made assembly language programming and debugging of high-level languages more difficult.

Wikipedia says about the 8086 [wikipedia.org] : "Marketed as source compatible, the 8086 was designed so that assembly language for the 8008, 8080, or 8085 could be automatically converted into equivalent (sub-optimal) 8086 source code, with little or no hand-editing. The programming model and instruction set was (loosely) based on the 8080 in order to make this possible. However, the 8086 design was expanded to support full 16-bit processing, instead of the fairly basic 16-bit capabilities of the 8080/8085."

The problem was that the quirkiness has been extended to the 32-bit processors of today. The Wikipedia article says, "The legacy of the 8086 is enduring in the basic instruction set of today's personal computers and servers..."

And, "Programming over 64 KB boundaries involved adjusting segment registers ... and was therefore fairly awkward (and remained so until the 80386)."

Everyone on the planet who used or were affected by computers then suffered because the debugging was much more complicated than if Intel had chosen to make the operation of the 8086 simpler.

"Such relatively simple and low-power 8086-compatible processors in CMOS are still used in embedded systems."

Re:The quirkiness of the 8086 affected all of us. (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998066)

Didn't Intel release manuals for the 8086 months before they shipped the part?

-jcr

Re:The quirkiness of the 8086 affected all of us. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31998148)

Who's the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?

There were lots of alternatives to the 8086. Everybody on this forum always talks about punishing bad marketing/technological/drm decisions by voting with your wallet. I'm just saying.

Iridium? (5, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996516)

There was no technical flaw in Iridium. It was stated what it would do. It did it. Someone screwed up the business plan, but there was no technical mistake. They knew it took 77 satellites for what they wanted. And they launched them all and they worked flawlessly. Now, if only they had sales to match the business plan, they'd be billionaires. But again, unrelated to any technical issue.

Re:Iridium? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31996660)

The technical issue was the handset. It was as big as a brick and it needed direct line of sight with satellite.

Re:Iridium? (3, Insightful)

virgilp (1774784) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996720)

Actually, the first cellular mobile phones were as big as a brick as well; I wouldn't say that this was a "technical error", again, it's a failure of marketing to recognize that they wouldn't sell.
And even the phone wasn't the biggest problem; the problem was the huge cost to make a phonecall... it was simply prohibitive. Had it been reasonably cheap, I'm sure there woulb've been plenty of uses (if only for enabling people in isolate places, adventurers, ship & oil platform crew etc. to communicate).

Re:Iridium? (4, Interesting)

koiransuklaa (1502579) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997004)

The really early cell phones were the size of briefcases, so heavy that you needed a separate handset part -- I guess calling them "mobile" would be a bit too much. See the (Nokia) Mobira Talkman 450 [about-nokia.com] in all its beauty...

I remember my dad buying one and us being pretty damn impressed when it actually worked at the summer cottage in the middle of the forest. We had to lug the damn thing to the roof to get a signal, but it did work.

Re:Iridium? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997064)

WHY the jesus TITTY fucking Christ does HE capitalise random WORDS as though HE IS typing with a BAD case OF Tourettes? It MAKES the page UTTERLY unreadable.

Re:Iridium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997074)

  SILVER RAIN

Re:Iridium? (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997416)

Chubby Rain.

Re:Iridium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997192)

Beneath a Steel Sky syndrome. It's an indicator for vocal stress in dialogue, he probably speaks like a maniac irl.

Re:Iridium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997458)

What's up with the bad uppercase words in that link?

One can say that the Lithium-ion battery IS the OF the digital revolution. They power cell phones, MP3 music players, digi cameras, laptops AND other gadgets.

Re:Iridium? (2, Funny)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998500)

But they were mobile.
By the definition, mobile is something with one carry handle, semi-mobile has got two handles.

Re:Iridium? (3, Funny)

Shin-LaC (1333529) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997584)

Had it been reasonably cheap, I'm sure there woulb've been plenty of uses (if only for enabling people in isolate places, adventurers, ship & oil platform crew etc. to communicate).

Most adventurers I know buy one sword once, and then get all of their equipment updates from loot and drops. I guess the people in isolate places would have to buy double to replace the phones adventurers took, though, so maybe it balances out.

Re:Iridium? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997764)

Though, given the same size, Iridium phone is destined to be worse than typical terrestrial cellular one; if the latter has the range (which in large part of the developed word, the area of the world that spends the most, is a given...I don't remember ever noticing "loss of range" in my 6 years of using mobile phones, except in a pretty serious "cellar", one of a castle)

With comparable size of the phone & battery, the satellite one will have very notably shorter talk time. And works only outside buildings, preferably with not too much vegetation around you.

Re:Iridium? (4, Insightful)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996854)

The sales problem was that in the interim between concept and completion, the world filled up with mobile phone towers. All of a sudden, their potential market got a lot smaller.

Re:Iridium? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31996926)

Now, if only they had sales to match the business plan, they'd be billionaires.

They had a great sales plan. Make your primary customer the US Military, build a massive satellite network, declare bankruptcy after it's built, reform Iridium LLC, and continue operations through today offering satellite phone service at a price comparable to US international roaming prices.

Satellite will always have limitations until we can get congress to raise the speed on light (stupid greenies worried about photon pollution), can get rid of the line-of-sight issue, and can build the very strong radios required into a normal-sized handset; but Iridium is still the best sat phone network out there and can hardly be called a failure.

BTW, they knew exactly how many satellites they'd need from day one - take a look at the atomic number of Iridium and figure out how many orbiting electrons it should have in a non-ionic form.

Re:Iridium? (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996940)

They knew it took 77 satellites for what they wanted.

Is that even a problem? There are 30 GPS satellites apparently, plans to upgrade it, and Europe wanted to launch its own alternative system too. I'm not sure if the better military GPS is using different sats currently. We've also invested in a ton of phone cell masts, satellite phones, etc. Taking an uninformed guess, might not Iridium have worked out cheaper, when the final bill was added up?

Re:Iridium? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997240)

I'm not sure if the better military GPS is using different sats currently

The "military GPS" uses the same satellites. aka P signals are transmitted with 10 times the resolution and on two frequencies. The civilian C/A is transmitted at 1/10 the resolution of the military and only one frequency.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Positioning_System#Navigation_signals [wikipedia.org]

Note that from an EE perspective, there is no design tradeoff between high accuracy, and encryption, that's just how the chips fell.

Re:Iridium? (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998330)

It may have been cheaper but you don't even want to know what the 3g data plans were going to cost!

Re:Iridium? (5, Insightful)

fpitech (1559147) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997520)

The article does seem to confuse strategic mistakes with technical mistakes. The history is full of well engineered products that failed because of strategic or marketing reasons.

Re:Iridium? (2, Informative)

swilver (617741) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997734)

Latency with satellite communication would make this an annoying way of having a phone conversation. I wouldn't like it.

Re:Iridium? (4, Informative)

Troed (102527) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997818)

You're probably having it quite often without even knowing it. Latency to low-earth isn't the same as geostationary.

Therac-25 (4, Informative)

alanw (1822) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996606)

Don't forget the Therac-25 [wikipedia.org]

Poor software design and development led to radiation overdoses for 6 patients being treated for cancer, with 3 dying as a direct result.

Sadly, mistakes still keep on happening [bbc.co.uk] .

Re:Therac-25 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997332)

M256?

The article is right about FDIV (1)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996628)

The article is right about FDIV. The chance of it happening was infinitesimal and it was really any worse than other bugs in contemporary CPUs of that time. A bug in Excel is a much bigger issue for most folks and I for one never bothered to have my P60 replaced.

Re:The article is right about FDIV (4, Insightful)

asdf7890 (1518587) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996984)

The problem Intel had with the FDIV bug was one of PR. The Pentium range was the first CPU family to be directly marketed to the general public in a big way.

While anyone with knowledge of the chip design and production processes understood that such bugs are not particularly uncommon (many much simpler chips have well documented errata and workarounds for unintentional behaviour, like the 286's "gate A20" bug that actually turned out to be useful) the general public and the popular press had no such understanding so were very surprised - they assumed that all CPUs were (or should be) completely 100% perfect and therefore taking issue with what they saw as being sold defective goods.

Before the first generation Pentium FDIV issue, such relatively minor problems were dealt with by the error, including any extra side-effects and possible workarounds, being documented, those errata being sent to the chip makers customers and relevant software developers, and things would get patched up without the general public ever being aware there was an issue in the first place aside perhaps from a small number of users who by shear chance were noticeably affected by the one-in-a-few-billion problem before their software was patched (those people would be given replacement chips and/or other recompense). A costly replacement program simply wouldn't have been needed in this case.

Re:The article is right about FDIV (3, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998100)

Though wasn't the issue in case of Pentium FDIV bug specifically that Intel didn't publish the errata or...any other information after Intel researchers discovered the error? It took one independent one, to whom Intel didn't even respond initially...

Pound has dimensions [M][L]/[T]2 and [M] ... (2, Insightful)

Umangme (1337019) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996692)

... and you still use it to do rocket science?

Human History has more than 10 years (5, Insightful)

seasunset (469481) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996742)

When I saw the title, I immediately imagined the Maginot line [wikipedia.org] . Thousands more examples could come to mind.

Could somebody please explain to the author of the articles that Technology is more than computers/gadjets and older than 10 years? It is an epic history that goes along with mankind.

Re:Human History has more than 10 years (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997354)

Nope - the Maginot Line did *exactly* what it said on the tin: persuaded the Germans to avoid a frontal assault on France & invade Belgium instead.

The problem was that the strategy didn't think through the next move, which is that the Germans would continue into France via Belgium.

Re:Human History has more than 10 years (3, Informative)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997874)

Way to have half a piece of information. The French had a plan - advance into Belgium and meet the Germans head-on. Who could have guessed that the Germans would pass through impassable terrain and precisely hit the single weak point between the strong Maginot Line and the first-string armies in Belgium?

Re:Human History has more than 10 years (2, Interesting)

brufleth (534234) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997386)

Reading that article it sounds like the technical mistake wasn't really a mistake but the reality of the Germans hitting the most well defended spot with a creative attack that effectively countered the defense design. That's more of a lack of guessing what the future would bring. The line was effective against what it was built for.

Re:Human History has more than 10 years (3, Insightful)

DoctorFuji (1331807) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998004)

Maginot was built to fight WWI technology and tactics. In the interim, mechanized infantry and tanks had advanced so that the blitzkrieg could actually be accomplished. In the history of warfare, haven't alot of changes in tactics been decided on the advances in technology that the loser did not forecast or plan for?

Re:Human History has more than 10 years (3, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998098)

Maginot was built to fight WWI technology and tactics. ...and today, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a navy which is ideally suited to win world war two. A carrier can be sunk with missiles that cost vastly less than even one of its fighter planes.

-jcr

IBM PS/2 (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996746)

I had some of those growing up and it wasn't really an engineering failure, it was a mentality failure. IBM didn't built PCs, they built tanks. Their keyboards are infamous and still equally usable today 20 years later as when they were new.

That was equally much the case with the rest of their PCs, using very high quality equipment operated under very less than ideal random home/office conditions and with very much consumer software of consumer quality, not server quality. In short, it made no sense.

The result was that IBM priced themselves way out of the market of cheaper clones. It was cheaper and better to buy a clone, throw it out if it failed and buy another. You just don't do that with big iron or servers, but with desktops hell yeah.

Like the article said, it wasn't more of a failure than that PS/2 ports become the dominating keyboard/mouse connector. If there was every a silly move by IBM there it was giving away the software market to Microsoft, but the average desktop market was doomed long before the PS/2.

Re:IBM PS/2 (2, Insightful)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996896)

Have to disagree to a point. The PS/2 range sold big time in the business/corporate and education worlds (at least in the UK until RM/Viglen got their toe in the door). Built like tanks, yes - but they were very reliable in my experience.

The biggest failing within the PS/2 world was the licencing arrangements for the MCA (microchannel architecture) bus which made it expensive for other manufacturers to use and so few did. MCA was technically great, but the way IBM brought it to market ended up with is getting the EISA bus and the goddam awful VESA Local Bus (VLB), whose cards were so long that they frequently popped out of their connectors if the motherboard was flexed or warped due to heat and poor mounting. I recall that one quick fix for VESA problems was to roll the empty tube of a plastic Bic pen under the back edge of a warping motherboard to stop it drooping too much.

Re:IBM PS/2 (1)

niks42 (768188) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997280)

PS/2 introduced VGA. That was one of the most persistent standards of desktop computing.

Micro Channel was not a bad architecture, but PS/2 was a bad implementation. RS6000 was a much better implementation. It's no coincidence that PCI borrowed the physical connector later ...

Attempts to control the market through licensing of key technologies, like the BIOS and Micro Channel were attempts at bolting stable doors far too late. I blame that on key developers being blinded by the dust of departing horses.

There were lots of good people in IBM Boca who could see that IBM attempts to keep 386 technology away from the AT bus were misguided, and a 386 super-AT would be much more successful. Indeed, it was in development, was built and worked - they code-named it Nova, if I recall.

And I still have my original 84-key AT keyboard, with the 10 function keys down the left hand side where &deity. meant them to be.

Re:IBM PS/2 (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998246)

VGA still is one of the most persistent standards of desktop computing. Many popular (read: cheap) LCDs still use it exclusivelly; however little sense, when it comes to price of manufacture (but not when it comes to artificial product segmentation) this has. Plus you can almost count on VGA in laptops; other connectors - hit & miss.

the ipad... (0, Flamebait)

jisou (1483699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996890)

outranks every one of these in its failure

Re:the ipad... (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997160)

As with the PS/2 mentioned by someone earlier, the failure will be mitigated heavily by those who will buy it based on the name of the company making it and nothing else.

Re:the ipad... (0, Flamebait)

jisou (1483699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997892)

i don't think you quite understand my stance. the issue i have with the i-pad is that it discourages the use of your own machine. its like saying "even though you payed for it and have to maintain it I OWN IT" this is a miserable step backward for the computing world. Anything that discourages control over your own machine can only lead to horrible consequences.

Re:the ipad... (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997962)

I understand it and agree with it for the most part. I also think that if the same device were released by any other company it would be a commercial failure as well.

Challenger included? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31996962)

Somehow the article got slashdotted, but I wonder: is the launch of the Challenger space shuttle included in the list? Or doesn't that count as a technical mistake because it was a human decision to launch at no-launch temperatures?

Hubble telescope, anyone? (4, Interesting)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996964)

The technical error here was that there was no test on the real thing. The company that made a part of the telescope had only a separate testbed that was made to specifications. Alas, these specifications were exactly one inch misunderstood, so the result was a part that was incredibly accurately one inch out of position.

Of all time?!? (5, Insightful)

Gabrill (556503) | more than 4 years ago | (#31996968)

Seriously, we have got to stop with the hyperbole before our children don't know the difference between a War on Drugs and a War in Iraq.

We we say of all time, I think of things like lead plumbing in Rome, or the suspension bridge that got tore apart by a mere breeze.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_poisoning#History [wikipedia.org]

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3932185696812733207# [google.com]

Re:Of all time?!? (3, Informative)

stjobe (78285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997780)

That's the Tacoma Narrows bridge [wikipedia.org] . And it wasn't a mere breeze, it was a 40 mph wind, i.e. a gale on the Beaufort scale [wikipedia.org] .

Apart from that, I agree.

Re:Of all time?!? (3, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998146)

People always like to attach more value to events in their times than is due...

Sofrware monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997040)

More commercial but still, how about giving almost whole pc-software industry under one private company's control 20 years ago?

I'm lost (4, Interesting)

WinstonWolfIT (1550079) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997188)

Where's Microsoft Bob? Novell Groupwise? Lotus Word Pro? Lantastic?

Digital watches. (3, Interesting)

dangitman (862676) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997334)

"Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea." - Douglas Adams.

There's that, and there's also the whole "the world is flat" and "disease is caused by imbalances in the four humours of the body" ideas. The article's examples seem pretty trivial in comparison.

Re:Digital watches. (2, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997622)

I have a great digital watch. The band is integral with the body of the watch so I can wear it in bed and it won't catch on anything. It has up and down timers, world clock and multiple alarms. It cost 30 bucks on line.

I wear it when travelling. I use the stopwatch to time my medication and the world clock to schedule calls home. It does things which no mechanical watch can do.

Re:Digital watches. (0)

dangitman (862676) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997642)

I have a great digital watch. The band is integral with the body of the watch so I can wear it in bed and it won't catch on anything. It has up and down timers, world clock and multiple alarms. It cost 30 bucks on line.

Congratulations.

Re:Digital watches. (3, Informative)

Shin-LaC (1333529) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997626)

That the world is round has been known since antiquity. "The world is flat" is sort of a meta-myth: a mythical belief that people used to believe a myth, when in fact they didn't.

Re:Digital watches. (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998556)

Yes they did, just not so long as is commonly assumed. Babylon, Ancient Egypt, Ancient (really ancient) Greece, India, China even untill quite modern times [wikipedia.org] ; large part of some of the greatest civilisations (and who knows how large part of people who formed tribal-type societies) thought the Earth is flat.

Re:Digital watches. (1)

David W. White (1241890) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998568)

[That the world is round has been known since antiquity. "The world is flat" is sort of a meta-myth: a mythical belief that people used to believe a myth, when in fact they didn't.] Yes, you're correct. This was written approx. 2163 years before Christopher Columbus was even born (c.712 BC)- Isaiah 40:22 states "KJV: Isaiah 40:22. It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:
" in my bible.

Re:Digital watches. (1)

Stenchwarrior (1335051) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997702)

I concur

There is no way NASA mixed the measurement systems (0, Flamebait)

master_p (608214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997338)

Not one in a million years would that happen to NASA. Using different measurement systems yields totally different results, and it should have been obvious right from step 1.

Something else happened, someone made an error too silly to let it out and they chosen the measurement units excuse to cover it up.

Re:There is no way NASA mixed the measurement syst (1, Insightful)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997640)

Maybe NASA wouldn't have made that mistake, but the sub-contractor could. OTOH, maybe the sub-contractor had a button to pass from Imperial to Metric units for its navigational controls, but maybe NASA didn't RTFM, and that may have caused the mistake.

One lesson though: Always use metric in science stuff. Understood NASA?

Re:There is no way NASA mixed the measurement syst (1)

White Yeti (927387) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998396)

Yeah, my reading is that the contractor reused an older routine (in English units) with a newer routine (in metric units) without double-checking the interface spec. It's (sort of) like the operators ordered a metric speedometer but received one marked in English. Since the unit wasn't marked, they assumed it was metric as per the specifications.

The MCO [wikipedia.org] Investigation Board report [nasa.gov] is a quick read and an interesting case study.

Re:There is no way NASA mixed the measurement syst (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997782)

Aliens, man.

Re:There is no way NASA mixed the measurement syst (1)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997876)

Ohhh yeah, that's it men. It's because of the big face on the surface of Mars that threw a tornado at the orbiter because it was sending a signal that was NOT human DNA. Now I remember the thing...

Re:There is no way NASA mixed the measurement syst (1)

Strider- (39683) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998342)

You've got this right on a number of levels. Most obviously because the probe was a JPL project, not NASA. Despite their close ties, they are separate entities.

Secondly, it was not a JPL mistake either. JPL is a pure metric shop. This pervades everything they do; if you walk in the front door and ask the receptionist where the toilet is, he'll tell you that it is "Thirty meters down the hall and to your left"

So what happened? How was this mistake made? Politics. When the mission was funded, some congressman saw that it was an opportunity to give some pork to his district and put in some language essentially requiring JPL to hire Rockwell (as I recall, though it might have been Boeing) as the prime contractor.

The trouble is this contractor would have normally failed JPL's requirements, as they did not operate metric internally, and being a good patriotic defense contractor, there was no way they were going to make an exception. As such, the contractor hired an intern who's job it was to interface the two cultures (meteric and imperial) and that intern screwed up. Had the contractor stuck to metric as normally required by JPL, we would still have another probe in orbit around the red planet.

Re:There is no way NASA mixed the measurement syst (1)

s0ckratees (524991) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998364)

Oh I dunno. I would be hard put to find something sillier than a inches/cms mixup on a mission of that importance.

Re:There is no way NASA mixed the measurement syst (1)

henrik.falk (912694) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998376)

The version I heard was that a subcontractor didn't know that NASA uses metric, so the parachute deployed at x feet instead of x meters.

OMG Internet BBS (4, Interesting)

arielCo (995647) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997346)

The virus is thought to have been developed in 1986 by two brothers in Pakistan named Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi, who were looking to protect some medical software they had written from disc copying. They had found some suitable code on an internet bulletin board site and adapted it so that if someone used the software then the malware would be installed.

I'm guessing "Iain Thomson" is not a day over 25, not very versed on the history of the Internet, and too busy to look up the meaning of "BBS". Am I right?

Re:OMG Internet BBS (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997716)

You certainly are!

I can mow it while I'm standing here, if you like.

Re:OMG Internet BBS (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997718)

I'm guessing "Iain Thomson" is not a day over 25, not very versed on the history of the Internet, and too busy to look up the meaning of "BBS". Am I right?

Like any self-respecting 25-year-old geek would have to look up "be back soon". Duh.

Re:OMG Internet BBS (2, Insightful)

arielCo (995647) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998064)

Sigh. Even if he's 16, if you're writing a piece on tech mistakes you oughta suspect that they couldn't possibly have used an "Internet Bulletin Board Site" in 1986, so maybe you got the acronym wrong.

Ob (4, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997418)

the infamous Intel Pentium floating point fiasco, which cost the company $450m in direct costs

When I tried to work it out it came out as $449.9999867' million.

Re:Ob (5, Funny)

henrik.falk (912694) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998426)

We Are Pentium. Division Is Futile. You Will Be Approximated.

Fuel Pressure Regulators? (2, Funny)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997478)

At one time I owned a Hyundai Elantra (2000), Honda Civic (2004) AND Nissan Versa (2009) ALL had bad FPRs...

endianness and types (1)

rexguo (555504) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997612)

We still live in a world of CPUs that are either little endian or big endian: affects binary compatibility and performance (from having to swizzle).

We still live with the primitive C/C++ type system with code like this in just about any SDK:

#ifndef _BOOL
typedef unsigned char bool;
#if !defined(true) && !defined(false)
#ifndef TRUE_AND_FALSE_DEFINED
#define TRUE_AND_FALSE_DEFINED
        enum {false,true};
#endif // TRUE_AND_FALSE_DEFINED
#endif // true and false

#endif // _BOOL

Dont forget Spam! (2, Insightful)

Chris453 (1092253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997700)

The lack of authentication before forwarding/sending mail has to be one of the biggest issues today. If only the original designers of the software would have thought ahead and verified the sender of the message was legit and that the mail came from the domain specified before blindly sending it along.

Tesla, Whittle, Turing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31997886)

some of our biggest mistakes have been the indignities surrounding some of our genuine revolutionary thinkers. The trials and tribulations they are/have/were put through...

what's that quote 'lions led by donkeys?'

Missed the biggest mistake of all... (0, Flamebait)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#31997906)

... not forcing AT&T to sell us the telegraph and telephone wires and make them a contractor for the publicly owned network. Because of that mistake we can never have true network neutrality.

Tank body castings. (3, Interesting)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998034)

A man I worked for many years ago, one of my engineering mentors, told me about a mistake made during World War Two, where a large number of very large castings were discarded because the specification called for a much smaller tolerance on the location of an exhaust port than was actually necessary. As I recall, the spec allowed it to be 1/4" away from its nominal location, but it actually was connected to a flexible hose and it could have been a couple inches off in any direction without causing any problem. This mistake wasn't discovered until several millions of dollars worth of tank bodies had been scrapped and melted down unnecessarily.

-jcr

I nominate... (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998138)

The two party political system? Admittedly a defacto standard, yet so very bad.

Re:I nominate... (2, Insightful)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31998346)

Close, but the real problem is the electoral college that pretty much ensures that any vote NOT for one of the two major-party candidates is a wasted vote.

We don't technically have a two-party system, we have an election system that is rigged such that only two of the parties count.

summary and article both wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31998358)

from the summary:"such as NASA's failure to convert measurements to metric, "
from the article:"It turned out that while most of the programming and mission planning had been done in units of measurement from the Imperial system used in the US, the software to control the orbiter's thrusters had been written with units of measurement from the metric system."

Wrong..
NASA's deep space nav and planning software has been metric for decades. I doubt it ever used customary units. The vendor (Lockheed Martin) provided data in U.S.Customary units (pounds) when the contract called for metric (Newtons). Screwup on LMA's side is providing the data in the wrong units (even though the interface control document said metric). Screwup on NASA's side is not checking.

And, a fine point, the spacecraft software doesn't know anything about navigation. It just says "turn on thruster at time X for Y seconds". The nav calculations are done on the ground

dare to fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31998408)

Only those who dare to fail can ever achieve greatly. This was the fundamental difference between the US and most of the rest of the world. Americans were independent "can-do" types who were willing to take what others would consider ridiculous risks. We are not doing our foam and bubble-wrapped children any favors. fiftydangerousthings.com

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