We start off this week’s review of IT-related “ooftas” with what will likely be a very big story next week: glitches related to voting in Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election. In fact, why wait? Already, thousands of absentee-ballot requests have been erroneously rejected across Ohio because of a “data-sharing” glitch, as reported in the Columbus Dispatch last week. Apparently, a “software glitch” at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles “caused about 100 000 change-of-address notifications made on the bureau’s website not to be sent to the secretary of state’s office,” which is then supposed to send the updated registered voter address information to local boards of election. Thus when local boards checked the address of those voters requesting absentee-ballots, the addresses did not match, causing the ballot requests to be rejected.
The Columbus Dispatch states that as many as “4500 registered voters will not receive absentee ballots they requested” and as many as “6000 provisional ballots cast by registered voters could [also] go uncounted.”
Ohio’s 20 electoral college votes are critical for both parties, and although in 2008 263 000 votes separated the two major candidates, this year the polls show the two presidential candidates in a virtual tie there.
As well, already, there have been news reports from several states claiming that electronic voting machines used in early voting showed the wrong candidate as the one the voter selected. E-voting accuracy is likely to be a big news issue next week as well.
This week’s hiccups aren’t limited to voting, nor to the United States.
As I mentioned last week, a promotional computer glitch at the UK retailer Tesco changed the price of twin-packs of 350g Cathedral City Mature Cheddars from £6.55 to £1, which led to a run on cheese. This week, another Tesco software promotional pricing glitch has allowed “six bottles of wine normally costing £59.94 [to] be bought for £9.01, less than the usual cost of one bottle,” the London Telegraph reports. You can guess what happened once word hit the social media sites.
Interestingly, in the cheese incident, Tesco refused to admit to the glitch, and just let its stocks of cheese be bought out at the mistaken price. However, Tesco moved immediately in the case of the wine to fix the error.
No doubt lots of folks in the U.K. are scouring Tesco’s promotions for other glitches. Presumably they’ll first check the cracker prices.
This week Consumer Reports listed Ford virtually at the bottom of its 2012 vehicle reliability ratings, reports the Detroit Free Press. Only three years ago, Consumer Reports had listed Ford as having “world class reliability.” Why the change? Continuing problems being reported by drivers to Consumer Reports with their Ford’s MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch infotainment systems and the hand-free Sync communication system. Earlier this year, Ford sent out major software upgrades to owners of these systems in attempt to overcome known bugs and interface issues. It looks, however, as though the upgrade hasn’t made much of a difference. Some 16 percent of Ford Explorer owners are still reporting issues with their vehicle’s sync system.
A Ford spokesperson said that the Consumer Reports finding “lines up with what our data is showing. We're well aware they are the areas we need to improve.” That statement also lines up with what Ford said last year and the year before as well. I wonder if Ford is aware of that, too.
There was also news this week that French troops, many serving in Afghanistan, will finally get the 30 million euros in back wages owed to them since September last year when a new military pay system was went live. Over 75 different pay errors were discovered, including one where repayments for advances were deducted three times and pay stoppages were also put into placed all on the same wage slip, RFI reported. Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is said to be furious over the pay system’s software problems, is insisting that all soldier pay issues be resolved before Christmas. He further ordered that the use of the pay system by the Air Force and Gendarmerie in March 2013 and September 2013 respectively be postponed until the system is thoroughly tested. RFI reported that the pay system was rushed into service without being fully vetted.
Finally, an unknown “computer glitch” is being blamed for a number of tsunami warning sirens failing to go off in Hilo, Hawaii last Saturday night in the wake of the magnitude 7.7 earthquake that struck British Columbia, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. Fortunately, there was time to manually activate the silent sirens, and even more fortunately, the resulting tsunamis were small enough to do no damage to the Hawaiian Islands.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.