IT failures roundup: software bugs everywhere

Software permeates even the most seemingly low-tech areas of our lives. Here's a small sampling of recent software glitches from around the world.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor
Weevil on computer code printout

Software permeates even the most seemingly low-tech aspects of our lives. As we know, wherever software is deployed, bugs are sure to follow. Here's a small sampling of recent software glitches from around the world.

Although none of these failures is earth-shattering, they all inconvenienced "victims." I find the breadth and variety of these glitches absolutely amazing.

Seattle parking meters. Seatlepi.com reports that even parking meters can suffer software failures:

Rick Sheridan, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said the agency received a handful of complaints about problems with the meters Friday morning. When technicians went to investigate, they found a software problem with some of the machines.

Motorists who tried to buy the maximum number of hours, which is 10 hours at the affected stations, were being charged for twice that much time. Others had the incorrect date stamped on their receipts.

Dutch gas pumps. If parking meters are susceptible to software bugs, then why not gas pumps. Associated Press offers this strange tale:

An unmanned gas station began offering customers gas for 1 euro cent per liter (five US cents a gallon) — a discount of more than 99 percent — due to a glitch that occurred around midnight.

As word of the deal spread, business boomed at the station, 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Amsterdam.

Tacoma set-top cable television boxes. Cable subscribers in Tacoma, WA were out of luck as their boxes succumbed to software issues.  From the local newspaper, News Tribune:

Technicians believe that it’s a software-related problem, [spokeswoman Diane Lachel] said. The outage isn’t related to the upcoming transition to all-digital TV, Lachel said.

The outage didn’t affect sets with direct connections to the cable, only those with receiver boxes, she said. Most of Click!’s 25,000 customers have at least one receiver in their home.

South Korean "manless gates." Perhaps not the most important problem, military personnel housing site, Hannam Village, nonetheless discovered that even pedestrian access gates are subject to the vagaries of software. From Stars and Stripes:

[A] "software glitch" on a manless gate installed elsewhere forced the garrison to stop using it. When the glitch is worked out, Hannam will likely get one, though [U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan commander Col. Dave] Hall said he didn’t know when that will happen.

Mars Rover flash memory. A bit farther from home, the Mars Rover seems to have suffered from a memory bug. The New York Times has that story:

The best guess for what happened is that Spirit somehow slipped into what NASA engineers call the “cripple mode,” in which the rover avoids using flash memory and instead writes to so-called random access memory. The data may have disappeared when the rover went back to sleep after trying to execute the instructions.

This cripple mode proved invaluable during Spirit’s early days on Mars, when a software glitch caused the flash memory to overflow and Spirit was caught in a cycle of continually rebooting itself. By avoiding flash memory, engineers were able to troubleshoot the problem and send a software fix to the rover.

[Image via iStockphoto.]

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