Orders wrong, resellers receiving wrong items? Must be a programming error and certainly not a rushing techie

Some of those punch cards may still be lying at the bottom of a lift shaft


Who, Me? Punch cards are the order of the day in a reader confession that takes us back to an unfortunate incident with a trolley. Welcome to Who, Me?

To be fair, punch cards were on the wane at the time of our story in the early 1980s, but our reader (Regomised as "Ivor") was gainfully employed at an international manufacturer still keen on the things.

After all, if a system wasn't broken, it didn't need fixing, right?

It was Ivor's first job, and he worked in the computer room as part of the team responsible for both producing punch cards and feeding them into an IBM mainframe running a stock management system.

The system itself was deceptively simple. A card was included with every product manufactured. A customer returned that card when the product was sold, which would then trigger the replenishment process.

If that all sounds a bit manual, that's because it was. "The cards arrived every evening to be read and the data fed into the stock replenishment system," explained Ivor. "Most of the week the cards returned in dribs and drabs but Sunday night was an early shift start to process anything up to 150,000 cards, all generating new orders."

Another punch card was used to identify the customer for each batch of product cards. It was tedious and terribly time-consuming. "The cards were returned by Securicor," said Ivor, "and had to be loaded onto a wheeled trolley and pushed to the computer room to be read before order processing could start.

"With that many cards and the vagaries of the IBM readers, the job would often take five to six hours."

Getting that many punch cards to the computer room was a challenge, requiring a trek with a trolley, a few corridors, and an elderly service elevator.

On the night in question, Ivor had been charged with trolley duties. Good news: Securicor was early, which meant the job could be finished earlier! Eagerly, he charged down to the security hut to collect the trays of cards ready for the night's activities.

The journey back, with the trolley's wheels protesting under the weight of all those cards, was a bit slower. However, there was more good news. As Ivor pushed the trolley down the corridor toward the service elevator he spied the doors were open. Somebody had just used it, and if he could get to it in time, he wouldn't have to wait for it to return. He picked up the pace, the trolley rattling along the floor.

"What I had forgotten," he said, "was the lift, at this end of the building, never quite lined up with the floor, leaving an inch step up.

"I hit the step at speed. The trolley stopped... the trays didn't."

The cards were scattered over the floor. A large number dropped down the gap between lift and shaft. And any semblance of order was gone as Ivor scrambled to collect what he could and stack them back in the trays.

What to do? Confess to the cockup or pretend nothing had happened?

A little flustered, he pitched up at the computer room and remarked that there were strangely fewer cards than normal. Funny, that. Still, at least everyone would finish processing earlier, right?

And finish early they did, with only Ivor possessed of the knowledge of what was going to hit the fan in the coming weeks.

As the days passed, dark mutterings began circulating: replenishment orders were wrong; some resellers had received the wrong items while others had received nothing at all. Thousands of stock items were affected. But who was to blame?

It was Ivor, of course. However, he remained silent. The finger of accusation moved on. "The stock replenishment system took the blame, obviously a programming error," he said.

"To this day, as far as I know, no one ever knew what had actually happened."

But now we do.

Have you ever let the programming team take the blame for your misdemeanours or were you one of the developers on the receiving end of unjustified blame? Confess all with an email to Who, Me? ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021