The message from Mike Williams (RISKS-3.22) reminded me of two stories that have been passed down through the oral tradition. I have no direct evidence concerning either. Perhaps some readers of Risks have evidence that could help set the record straight? - A numerical analyst once explained to me why all modern airliner windows have rounded corners: Anyone concerned with solving partial differential equations knows that square corners lead to singularities. He said that the Comet crashes were traced to metal fatigue at the (square) corners of its windows. (He concluded that airplane designers should study Numerical Analysis.) Does anyone know whether computers were used in the design of the Comet? - I also heard that the structural defect in the Electra I wing design had not been caught by the stress analysis program because of an undetected overflow on a critical run. Can anyone provide documentation for this? (I think this story was on the grapevine at the NATO Software Engineering Conferences in 68-69.) These pieces of our mythology are worth documenting or debunking. There may be valuable lessons to be learned from them, and we ought not to insist on learning them the hard way. Jim H.
Excerpted from the Washington Post, Saturday, 9 July 1986, page D1. [Omissions... (bridges) and [comments] as shown.] More Than 100,000 Getting Months-Late (telephone) Bills By Nell Henderson, Washington Post Staff Writer More than 100,000 Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. customers might think they've had a summer vacation from telephone bills. But yesterday the company said the vacation is over: The bills are on the way after a two-month delay. The customers... have not received bills for local or long-distance service or both - since a computer tape failure in mid-May. The high-tech roots of the problem were "flaws" in computer tapes that were programmed for preparing the bills, (a spokesman said). "The problem erases itself," he added. The low-tech solution was to use people to put the billing information into the system, using separate records of the calls, he said. The result was that many of the customers did not receive phone bills for several months.... (A) customer... was told to call... if he has any trouble paying the entire bill at once. "We would be lenient on payment, and would be glad to speak to customers on an individual basis . . . We're sorry for any inconvenience,"... The problem also affected an unknown number of bills for long-distance service provided by MCI Communications Service...
"Programming" encompasses much more than the use of the traditional languages (Basic, Ada, or whatever.) Entering formulas in a spreadsheet or specifying record and report structures in a database are also programming - in higher-level, albeit specialized, languages. Thus JAN Lee *is* teaching his students to program, and in the most appropriate and productive manner. They can learn something quite important and useful in this part of the class. It is the other faculty/administrative objectors (the ones who want to have 4 weeks of traditional language put in) who are asking for something both unproductive (most of the students will neither learn new concepts nor something useful) and risky. There is an implicit understanding about a terminal course - that you've been carried along far enough so that you can use what you've been taught. A student who finishes one semester of a CSC sequence knows that he/she is not through learning, and should not presume (one hopes) to take on responsibilty for a critical application program. However, a student who is taught that programming is 4 weeks of a survey course in computing might not be so timid! (I assume that these students will not usually take any more programming - if they generally did then there wouldn't have been the pressure to push programming into JAN Lee's course.) Our university (NCSU) has recognized that the details of the type of "programming" needed are dependent on the discipline, and can variously include spreadsheets, statistical packages (I can argue that one can "program" in SAS), etc., and also the more traditional languages. --henry schaffer n c state univ ...mcnc!ecsvax!hes (uucp) firstname.lastname@example.org
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