TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Dec 99 Bookshelf

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Programmer's Bookshelf

Computer Snafus

by by Paul E. Sevinç, Switzerland

It's Christmas

Nevertheless was I looking forward to tear this month's book to pieces when I first saw its cover. I thought to have some kind of "tabloid's digest" in my hand, after all. - But I erred.

Computer What?

Written by Herman McDaniel and published by Chicora Publishing, Computer Snafus: Crashes, Errors, Failures, Foul-Ups, Goofs, Glitches, and other malfunctions that cause computers to go awry [McDaniel 1998] is an anthology of computer incidents in the widest sense.

I hadn't heard the word "snafus" before. For the benefit of those readers who haven't either, let me cite the book's introduction: "The American military contributed to our vocabulary the word «snafu» (defined in dictionaries as «situation normal, all fouled-up»). For the record, the «f» in «snafu» initially did not stand for «fouled»!"

14 Questions

The title of each of the book's 14 chapters is a question; "Can Bankers Bank on Computer Technology?", for instance, or "Do Computers Really Kill People?". The chapters are five to thirty pages long and contain incidents that sometimes need several pages and sometimes only need a couple of lines.

A few of the incidents McDaniel reports on didn't really involve a computer, they just happened to happen around one. Take the last paragraph of the third chapter, for example: "According to The Times, the branch manager and an assistant had accidentally locked themselves inside the ATM safe. Ms. Burnett heard the manager, pleading to be let out. He managed to pass the appropriate keys through the ATM to Burnett who then opened the door to free the embarrassed couple."

Many incidents weren't caused by faulty software or hardware, but by people accidentally cutting fiber cables, by heavy storms damaging computer centers, or by other non-technical reasons. I liked that McDaniel takes the time to tell how engineers and managers coped with these situations.

Alas, many incidents were caused by faulty software or hardware. Again, McDaniel doesn't confine himself to reporting on the consequences only. If the cause of the errors was disclosed, the reader learns it as well.

In some cases, the hardware or the software itself was "the incident". Namely when the development didn't meet the schedule, cost more than anticipated, or wasn't completed at all!

Incentive to Developers

Among all readers, Computer Snafus should make us developers think most. Did people really have to pay with their lives because of a hardware bug? Was it necessary to spend millions of tax dollars before realizing that a software project was doomed to fail? - In defense of those engineers who were involved: I'm sure they all worked to the best of their knowledge and belief. And the developer community in general has learned form their mistakes. As a matter of fact, most major foul-ups covered in the book happened before the nineties. (They still happen, though: at the time of this writing, the Mars Climate Orbiter loss [see [URL]] is the latest example.)

Conclusion

Despite McDaniel's factual writing (which, in my opinion, is a good thing), Computer Snafus is rather entertaining. Sometimes I wondered whether Dogbert had a finger (sorry, a paw) in the pie... The only thing I can reproach the book with is that the layout doesn't make clear where the coverage of one incident stops and the next starts; not every reader will want to read about every single one of them.

Computer Snafus is not a must-have: if you have to choose between this book and one about software reliability (or the like), choose the latter. However, I tend to consider these two to be complementary; Computer Snafus provides the motivation, the textbook the actual tools and techniques for writing bug-free software. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?!)

Anyway, let's end this review with an excerpt from the last chapter: "«Computer Glitch 'Kills' Constitution», proclaimed a Washington Post headline on Sunday, June 30, 1991. The article, by Douglas Farah, reported that Colombia's new constitution might not be approved because «...a computer apparently ate the text.»" Merry Christmas!

References

[McDaniel 1998] MCDANIEL, Herman. - Computer Snafus: Crashes, Errors, Failures, Foul-Ups, Goofs, Glitches, and other malfunctions that cause computers to go awry, Chicora Publishing, 1998.

URL

<http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msp98/orbiter/>

Paul is an EE student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) who is currently working on his buzzword-enabled M.S. thesis at the CS department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). If you happen to look for a software engineer, check out his résumé at http://www.stud.ee.ethz.ch/~psevinc/CV/.

 
AAPL
$100.11
Apple Inc.
+0.00
MSFT
$46.44
Microsoft Corpora
+0.00
GOOG
$576.36
Google Inc.
+0.00

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

QuickBooks 2015 16.0.0.1352 R1 - Financi...
QuickBooks 2015 helps you manage your business easily and efficiently. Organize your finances all in one place, track money going in and out of your business, and spot areas where you can save.... Read more
Mac DVDRipper Pro 5.0.1 - Copy, backup,...
Mac DVDRipper Pro is the DVD backup solution that lets you protect your DVDs from scratches, save your batteries by reading your movies from your hard disk, manage your collection with just a few... Read more
SyncTwoFolders 2.0.5 - Syncs two user-sp...
SyncTwoFolders simply synchronizes two folders. It supports synchronization across mounted network drives and it is a possibility to run a simulation showing in a log what will be done. Please visit... Read more
FinderPop 2.5.7 - Classic Mac utility, n...
FinderPop is a Universal preference pane that extends OS X's contextual menus using a FinderPop Items folder much as the Apple Menu Items folder used to do for the Apple menu. It has other features... Read more
VueScan 9.4.45 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.2.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
calibre 2.4 - Complete e-library managem...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital... Read more
Default Folder X 4.6.9b1 - Enhances Open...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click... Read more
Beamer 2.0.4 - Stream any movie file fro...
Beamer streams to your Apple TV.... Plays any movie file - Just like the popular desktop movie players, Beamer accepts all common formats, codecs and resolutions. AVI, MKV, MOV, MP4, WMV, FLV. To... Read more
Adobe Premiere Elements 13.0 - Consumer...
Adobe Premiere Elements just got better. Now you can create quick movies from favorite parts of your clips or tell big life stories in full-on productions. Add motion inside movie titles, punch up... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

iPollute Review
iPollute Review By Nadia Oxford on September 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: iPOLLUTE, uPOLLUTEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad iPollute is a delightful-looking pollution simulator, though it’s a bit light on “game” content... | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: September 22-26, 2...
Your Source For The Latest App Reviews   | Read more »
Kill Shot Review
Kill Shot Review By Jennifer Allen on September 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: OCCASIONAL MISFIRESUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Kill Shot is often satisfying, but its more than pushy in-app purchases will leave you... | Read more »
It Came From Canada: Vainglory
I’m going to be straight you with folks. I don’t know much about MOBAs, and I’m certainly no professional. That means I don’t know how well Vainglory, the upcoming multiplayer online battle arena showcased in the most recent Apple keynote, compares... | Read more »
The Tunnel – An Endless Fall Review
The Tunnel – An Endless Fall Review By Nadia Oxford on September 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FREE FALLIN' Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The Tunnel – An Endless Fall is a bit harder to get the hang of than most “endless... | Read more »
Ubisoft Launches Just Dance Now in the A...
Ubisoft Launches Just Dance Now in the App Store Worldwide Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
For Better, or for Worse? How the New Ap...
With the release of iOS 8 (finally), Apple has made some noticeable changes on the App Store – bundles, videos, and Testflight integration, to name a few. Many of these additions will make things friendlier for App Store shoppers, but how has it... | Read more »
Asphalt Overdrive Review
Asphalt Overdrive Review By Jennifer Allen on September 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SHORT LIVED ADRENALINEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Asphalt Overdrive is a fairly simple auto-running racing game, but one that’s... | Read more »
Kritika: Wrath of the Pirate King Update...
Kritika: Wrath of the Pirate King Update Introduces New Class: Shadow Mage. Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Vampire Tribunals Review
Vampire Tribunals Review By Campbell Bird on September 29th, 2014 Our Rating: iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Hunt other vampires in the “real world” in this location-based multiplayer game.   | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP, start...
Best Buy has the new 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Prices valid for online orders only, in-... Read more
Apple Releases OS X Mavericks bash Update 1.0...
Apple has released a patch update for OS X Mavericks users to address the recently-detected “Shellshock” security bug in BSD UNIX’s bash shell. Apple says only a few Mac users who had manually... Read more
Pivotal Payments Ready for Apple Pay – FlexPo...
Pivotal Payments, a provider of merchant services and global payment processing solutions, has announced its proprietary FlexPoint platform will support credit and debit transactions through Apple’s... Read more
iStabilizer Announces Tabarm — First Friction...
iStabilizer, a specialist in universal lightweight compact tripods, steady cams, dollies, mounts, and remotes for smartphones, tablets, and cameras, announced today the iStabilizer tabArm, the first... Read more
IStabilizer Flex Smartphone Tripod Wins Usa T...
iStabilizer, a specialist in universal lightweight compact tripods, steady cams, and other products for smartphones, tablets, and cameras, has announced today that its iStabilizer Flex smartphone... Read more
13-inch 2.8GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has the new 2014 13″ 2.8GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1699.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. They’ll also include free copies of Parallels Desktop and LoJack for... Read more
15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has the new 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. They’ll also include free copies of Parallels Desktop... Read more
Get Down to Business On Your iPad With Free N...
Utah based Poem LLC has introduced Nexticy 1.0, a full-featured, affordable (Free) forms application for iPad. Nexticy makes it ‘way easy’ to create, store, retrieve and analyze paper-like forms of... Read more
13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $100...
Best Buy has 13-inch 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $100 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Prices are for online orders only, in-... Read more
Reports Outline Claimed 12-Inch Macbook Air D...
Blogger Jack March says that according to information he’s received from an anonymous “source familiar with Apple’s plans,” the next-generation MacBook Air will launch in mid-2015 and be available... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.