Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stories from my life

A guy with whom I'm playing an online computer game commented to me: "As a programmer you already know, there is no such thing as a "random" glitch".

There may be a cause, but things can look pretty random. I had to fly down to North Carolina once because a system we had written for a large company (controlling vending machines that took credit cards) started randomly charging customers $0 for some of the purchases (which were NOT $0).

I remember the flight well, because I had a cold and the cabin was unpressurized, and I arrived weak and pale with blood trickling out of my ears after some of the worst pain I've ever experienced. The guy in charge of the computer that was running my program whom I was rushing to see was unable to see me at first because an Ebay auction on some collectible was in the end stages, but finally I got to see the system.

After hours of comparing my input logs to the output we were generating, and trying to figure out HOW my program could possibly produce such nonsense - and running the program in a test mode with the same input to try to reproduce the problem - I was ready to tear my hair out.

I wrote a quick test program that did simple arithmetic and logged the output. It worked fine. I went to my hotel room in despair and left it running.

The next day, I checked the output log of the test program and found that for several minute-long periods the computer would add 1 and 1 and arrive at 0.

The computer they were using to run my program was really a collection of a large set of processing units, and processes could be run by any one of these - when my process was run on a defective unit, it produced defective results.

When I asked them how this could possibly have been going on undetected, they explained that the system ran diagnostics continuously, but the results were sent to a display that was itself no longer working, so they hadn't checked in months. Probably higher priority Ebay auctions.

Our president explained to me that it would be bad for company relations if I killed anybody. In retrospect, it might have been worth it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

One of the downsides of not having gay marriage....

...that I've heard described has been that married couples get fewer restrictions when visiting each other in a health care situation. But I never quite thought that a couple that was not married would be separated like THIS.

"According to the suit, when Harold, Greene’s partner of 20 years, fell ill, the county refused to let Greene visit him in the hospital, despite the couple’s meticulous efforts to name one another in their wills, powers of attorney, and medical directive documents."

One wonders whether even if there HAD been a marriage whether things would have gone any better...but in any case, it is shocking that this sort of thing could be going on even nowadays.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A soul is a terrible thing to waste....

....but to promise it in exchange for a computer game is pretty reasonable.

The April Fool's joke made the point that nobody actually reads those online agreements. Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

Quote of the day

Blonde chick to friend: So I ran into that guy and confronted him. I was like, "why didn't you say hi to me last Friday? I know you saw me, but you didn't say anything. Listen, if you're going to sleep with me Thursday night, you can't just not say hi to me on Friday. I know it's common for a lot of businessmen to sleep with prostitutes and then ignore them the next day when they see them on the street, but they pay them. If you're going to ignore me, fine... but I expect a check in the mail."
- Overheard in New York

How happy is happy enough?

Well, if you're not there yet, Badakesuyo tweets how to move in the right direction.

How gay is gay enough?

In a bizarre development, 3 athletes ruled insufficiently gay are suing to have the determination overturned, as well as reinstatement of their standing and money damages.
At one point during the proceedings, the lawsuit alleges, one of the plaintiffs was told: "This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Learning Icelandic is like getting a tattoo on your arse: it’s time consuming, painful, and you rarely get a chance to show it off."
- via Language Log