Back when my job as Salon managing editor involved overseeing our daily production, I noticed that, every spring and fall, almost without fail, our publishing system would experience a glitch of some kind on the weekend that the clocks got moved forward or back — nothing serious, mind you, but enough to throw a wrench in the works of our site updates. It wasn’t a single bug, but some sequence of related bugs, so we’d fix one and then six months later something else would happen. Eventually we got in the habit of just making sure that one of the developers kept a close eye on things when that weekend rolled around. It was prudent.
I thought of that as I read these accounts that are filtering out about the F-22 Raptors that, the speculation is, lost their bearings when they crossed the International Date Line. (Further speculation is that this was somehow connected to a software patch/upgrade related to the coming change in the date of Daylight Savings Time onset, but that’s harder to source.) The planes, en route to Japan, limped back to Hawaii instead
The F-22 costs $125 million or so and its operating system is written in 1.5 million lines of Ada code. It appears that, for all its “stealth” prowess and advanced weaponry, its soft underbelly may lie in the realm of the abstract.
It seems that this is one of the unexpected consequences of living in a world operated by software: new danger zones lie where human abstractions — borders, measurements, languages — change or conflict or fail to behave as expected. Clocks and calendars and maps are no longer just assists for human understanding; they are symbols at the heart of systems upon whose performance lives depend. I suppose this started with the first railway schedule, but with the dateline-addled F-22 it has entered a whole new realm of disconcert.
[tags]f-22, bugs, software[/tags]
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