Excerpts from Stephen Pile's "The Book of Heroic Failures":
     The Greatest Mathematical Error
     The Mariner 1 space probe was launched from Cape Canaveral on 28 July 
     1962 towards Venus. After 13 minutes' flight a booster engine would 
     give acceleration up to 41 544 kmh; after 44 minutes 9 800 solar cells 
     would unfold; after 80 days a computer would calculate the final 
     course corrections and after 100 days the craft would circle the 
     unknown planet, scanning the mysterious cloud in which it is bathed.
     However, with an efficiency that is truly heartening, Mariner 1 
     plunged into the Atlantic Ocean after only 4 minutes after take off.
     Inquiries later revealed that a minus sign had been omitted from the 
     instructions fed into the computer. "It was human error", a launch 
     spokesman said.
     This minus sign cost $8 560 000.
     The Worst Computer
     It is widely suggested that computers improve efficiency. Lovers of 
     vintage chaos might remember the computer installed by Avon County 
     Council to pay staff wages.
     The computer's spree started off in a small way, paying a school 
     caretaker $150 an hour instead of $1.50. Then it got ambitious and did 
     not pay a canteen worker at all for seven weeks.
     Before long it got positively confident and paid a janitor $5 200 for 
     a week's work. He sent the cheque back and received another for the 
     same amount by return of post.
     There was now no stopping it. A deputy headmistress received her 
     year's annual salary once a month; heads of department earned less 
     than their assistants, and some people had more tax deducted in a week 
     than they earned all year.
     In February 1975 two hundred and eighty employees on the Council 
     payroll attended a protest meeting. Of these, only eight had been paid 

Home    Contact the correct salary. They all went on strike.