Re: "analog computer" = useless hypothesis?

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Tue Apr 03 2001 - 19:19:22 MDT

Harvey Newstrom wrote:
> --
> Harvey Newstrom <> <>
> Jim Fehlinger wrote on Monday, April 02, 2001 7:48 pm,
> >
> > _Going Inside..._ by John McCrone.
> > From Chapter 3 "Ugly Questions About Chaos" (pp. 50-73):
> >
> > "[T]he success of the digital computer is founded on precisely its ability
> > to squeeze out any uncertainty in its behaviour...
> I always disagree when people claim that computers are predictable. They
> are not....
> When writing to disk, the file may or may not exist.... [etc., etc.]
> I think you see my point.

I see your point, but you are overstating the case to an almost ludicrous
degree. I'm responsible for debugging and maintaining one corner
of an enormously complex ERP system with thousands of users. I've seen all the
situations you mention (though I've never seen anything that was ultimately blamed on
sunspots!), and all that stuff has to be sorted through and ruled out
systematically when there's a problem. That's what programmers and system
administrators and database administrators and network administrators and
hardware techs get paid the big bucks for. Generally, one **doesn't** get
away with claiming a bug is not reproducible (unless it's a very minor
bug indeed!) -- all that means, from management's point of view, is that you
haven't done enough work yet. One sine qua non of doing computer programming
for a living (never mind being a brilliant one -- just being able to do the
job at all!) is to absolutely (and I mean to the marrow of your bones)
get out of the habit of blaming ghosts in the machine. You have to get a
really, really firm grip on the probabilities -- and the probability that
something was caused by sunspots, or some random, unreproducible glitch
is always next to nothing (you just **have** to believe that, or you
wouldn't be able to keep your job -- and it **always** turns out to be true
in the end).

You betcher bank account balance computers are predictable!

Jim F.

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