Monday, July 16, 2012

Fireworks fail

Perhaps you saw the video of the July 4th fireworks failure in San Diego, where all 15 or 20 minutes of fireworks went off at once? If not, here's a video:
Garden State Fireworks has provided an explanation of the mistake; the Los Angeles Times links to it here. Essentially, what they are saying is that a backup code that was intended to allow technicians at five sites to set off fireworks in case the coordinating code did not work overwrote the coordinating code. As the report puts it,
The primary sequence then consisted of a sequence that would fire the entire display
simultaneously and then proceed to fire the display in the proper sequence.
Atlantic.com columnist Edward Tenner argued in a column last week that the episode displays the "complexity risk" we are running by moving so many of our data to the cloud - including dependence on other people's systems to store backups - and power them. There seem to me to be a lot of assumptions in that statement, including that the cause was a network, not a software, failure. Also, while the failure was spectacular in terms of display, it was not catastrophic: no one was hurt, nothing was damaged. One of the commenters, somewhat sarcastically, brings up the distinction between normal and catastrophic failure. But I think he has a point, and this was a normal failure. Do you agree?

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