A Night Of Trouble… Like Most

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Yes, that’s a blank weather map above. Why, in a moment.

I asked a friend who pilots 757s if he ever got into the cockpit to find everything working? You don’t want to know.

It’s got to be the same in the operating room. Are there medical devices that need a tap every once in-a-while to get going? Handwritten signs telling which settings to avoid?

There’s never a night when everything works perfectly here at TV factory outlet. In my 40+ years broadcasting I’ve yet to experience that day. Tonight it was weather maps.

Our maps for Nebraska are produced in Massachusetts, instantly shipped to my in-studio server, then synced with TriCasters here and in Nebraska. Pretty cool. It happens in an instant.

Anyway, the Massachusetts computer producing our maps decided to take the evening off. A bunch of satellite loops came in with the clock running but the clouds standing still. No new data. We got forecast maps like the one above.

I know the guy responsible for the box. I sent a text.

Most of you probably know this already, but the maps I show on TV are not the maps I use to forecast. Most days I don’t see these images until right before air. That’s what happened tonight.

Crashes like this are awful. The bad data passes through our satellite loops like a mouse passes through a snake! It’s glaringly there every step of the way. It can’t be hidden. It waits to be purged.

Tonight’s tsuris was typical of mature but maintained computer code. Over time it all turns to spaghetti. Features are added. New data types are enabled. Stuff no longer used should be pulled, but…

And so with time all software turns to a minefield. Everything’s cool if you step in the right spots.

Computers don’t crash randomly. They crashes specifically! We say it’s random because we usually can’t figure out what happened. On systems with an installed base in the hundreds or low thousands it’s too expensive to find every bug.

So, like my friend in the cockpit or anyone else who interacts with the real world, I worked around the problem and tried my best to hide it in the finished product.

Knowing how to work around problems is what experience is all about. It can’t be taught. It must be learned.

2 Responses to “A Night Of Trouble… Like Most”

  1. Chuck says:

    Good post. The last paragraph is the essence of construction engineering.

  2. Neil S says:

    Fortunately in the 757 and 767’s that I fly, there is a lot of redundancy…so just because a component may be inoperative, there is always some sort of back-up to make up for the fact that something is not working. Usually, the item or items that may be inoperative are inconsequential to the airworthiness of the aircraft, however there are certain components that simply cannot be deferred, and when those break, the airplane will be grounded until repaired. Those items that can’t be fixed easily or ground the airplane, are the ones that make most passengers very unhappy!! Like your studio equipment, airplanes are very very reliable, but when things don’t work or go as planned, it can really mess up your day. I feel your pain!!

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