by David Sisler
Our first family computer, circa 1988, was state of the art: 286 processor, 640K of RAM, two floppy drives (no hard drive), a monitor capable of processing 16 colors, and a 2400 baud modem.
I knew I was in trouble that Christmas Eve as I sat everything up. It took me 90 minutes to put the paper guide on the printer.
Two weeks later I was no smarter. It was 2 a.m., and since 9 p.m. I had been trying to coax a piece of software into performing as advertised. Admitting defeat, I woke my 12 year old son, and dragged him to the computer. Through sleepy eyes he took one look at the screen, and muttered, "Oh, Dad!" He punched three keys, hit enter and went back to bed, the computer happily doing what it would not do five hours earlier.
My ineptness was catching. Today the bride of my youth moves almost effortless between a Mac and a PC, but I remember a not-so-smooth incident just a few days after my late night escapade. Bonnie called me while I was at work. I had seen her furious before, but never quite so enraged as she sounded over the phone that day.
"How do you turn this rassen-fracken fricken-bricken computer on?" she demanded.
Ever the helpful husband, I said, "Bon, there are two buttons on the front of the computer. Push one of them."
She snapped, "I did and nothing happened!"
"Well, push the other one!"
Anyone who has ever set down at a computer keyboard knows that your own ineptness is not the only potential problem. There is a little phenomenon known as "bugs." If Murphy hadn't invented his famous law before computers were foisted on an unsuspecting public, it would have been mandatory after the fact. If anything can go wrong it will — and always just before you hit the "save" button.
You have to get a report to your cranky boss in ten minutes, you are just finishing an inspired proposal that will finally nail you that promotion and Windows crashes. Inexplicably. An hour of work is gone, inspired thought is gone, possibly your promotion is gone. You have just been bitten by a bug.
Bugs are born as soon as the programming begins. A company sees a business opportunity and starts building a product to take advantage of that. The marketing department fights to get the goods out the door before the deadline. The software engineers are pressured to add more features. Meanwhile, the quality-assurance division has to battle for sufficient bug-testing time.
Because most of the revenue is generated when software is initially released, the faster a new title comes out, the more money its originators make. Upgrades and fixes can come later, when people complain. Computer experts say the industry accepts defects.
There have been some notable bugs in computer history.
An unmanned Venus space probe had to be blown up shortly after it was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1962. The $80 million Mariner 1 had to be destroyed when it veered off course. A programmer dropped a hyphen from the guidance program.
Patriot missiles protected our troops during the Gulf War, but one battery, which had been in operation for over 100 hours made a one-third of a second mistake and 28 soldiers died. The system was designed to operate for only 14 consecutive hours.
In 1994, Intel spent $450 million to fix a bug in its new Pentium chip.
Now, in case you have nothing else to worry about, there is the Millennium Bug. Programmers saved memory space by using only two numeric fields for the year instead of four: 98 instead of 1998, for example. Uncorrected, when clocks strike midnight on January 1, 2000, millions of computers worldwide will think it is 1900.
Fortunately solutions are in the works, and despite the media hype, airplanes will not crash, ATMs will not fail, and your fancy electronic toaster will work on New Year's Day, 2000, the first day of the last year of the old millennium. Programmers are hard at work rewriting the old COBOL language commands and your toaster doesn't have a date chip anyway. Your Mac will work without further tampering until February 2040, and if you have a new model, until the year 29,940. Even old DOS based PCs will work if you simply go into the date command and tell the computer the date is 2000. If you upgrade to Windows 98, you won't have to worry at all.
Bugs exist outside of the world of computers. Humans are not perfect. Our lives are flawed by sin. We were not created that way, but we are bugged today because Adam and Eve, our first parents, chose to distrust and disobey God. There is a fix, a permanent one. There have never been any updates, nor will any ever be issued. It is the cross of God's Son, Jesus of Nazareth. The fix is free. Download it today.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 2/14/98
Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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