Lum: Computer failures
December 4, 2013
I started my computer life with a Kaypro, which I bought, at hideous expense, in the mid '80s. This was back in the stone age when the discs really flopped and the printer screeched and squawked as the print mechanism traveled back and forth, cutting off the bottoms of the g's and p's.
Nick DeWolfe read my column about the horrible demise of the Kaypro — a HALesque experience wherein, taking on a life of its own, the Kaypro went mad and began typing gibberish while I, equally undone, whacked it with a rolled up newspaper screaming, "You will!" while the Kaypro would have none of it: "I won't."
Nick took me under his wing, built me a computer out of his own spare parts and set me smack into the middle of the Internet highway.
My PCs have served me well over the years, but the computer systems at The Aspen Times were another story. First we were all on Apples — then called Macintoshes — which were constantly crashing. They were bulbous machines in bright colors, and when they crashed you had to bend a paper clip and stick one end into a tiny hole in the back of the machine to get it going again. High tech.
Then we tried to use PCs for editorial and Apples for ads (or vice versa), but the two systems were unable to consummate their marriage; an expensive divorce quickly followed.
It must have been the early '90s when we attempted to adapt the computer system to generate the bills. The first time we tried it, it billed each of our customers $100,000 for the month, and to this day it is so common for glitches and bugs to cause snags and delays in the bills that it's looked upon as standard operating procedure.
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The most colossal billing upheaval occurred when Swift, our mother company, introduced (in high season, needless to say) a system whereby all of the billing for all of their papers was processed by one central mega-computer in Carson City, Nev. Chaos would not begin to describe it.
A few years ago, the post office got a new computer system and the postal clerks were on the verge of hysterics, banging the keys to no avail.
This all being common knowledge and so common an event, I'm puzzled that anyone was surprised when the Obamacare health program was unfurled on the Internet and ended up crashing dramatically and was found to be crawling — nay, swarming — with bugs, gremlins, viruses, maggots and nightcrawlers.
Why did anyone expect a national program covering 50 states, written in hundreds of language choices, to sail into the Internet waters without severely listing, if not outright sinking? That never happens. I forgive President Obama for many things, but he should have known that this would never go off without a hitch. My dachshund Freddie could have told him that.
He failed to follow the maxim, "under-promise and over-deliver," drum-rolling it out with great fanfare and the urgency of signing up before the deadline. The Republicans waited, licking their chops, tasting disaster.
With a computer program this enormous, you have to sneak it in, in increments. Test it out, expect the worst. Whether it's war or a big real estate deal or a ponderous new computer program, never declare victory in advance.
Su Lum is a longtime local who is glad she's old enough to be on Medicare which, after significant opposition and hurdles, works well. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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