Top five technical difficulties of modern history

By Matt Raab and Ben Schick

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The 49ers, the Ravens and fans all over the country were in despair  during this year’s Superbowl as they watched their favorite players try to stay loose while they awaited the return of the lights.

The short-lived turmoil and vast media coverage of the lighting mishap at Super Bowl XLVII got Matt and Ben thinking about how much people rely on technology today.  We decided to compile a list of the most infamous technical difficulties that Americans have experienced since Thomas Edison created the first light bulb.

 

1. The Original

 

In 1947, post-World War II America found itself in a significantly different technological situation than 10 or even five years before. Years of worldwide conflict had resulted in an escalating race to develop technology more effective than those of the other side.

One of these developments was the computer. Harvard University researchers worked with funding from the U.S. Navy during the war to develop massive calculating computers, weighing five tons and filling entire rooms. The computers were used to make ballistic calculations that were relayed to ships. On Sept. 9, 1947, one of these computers, the Harvard Mark II, was experiencing technical difficulties.

In a time before software, when computers were run by hole-punched paper, a virus was not a possibility. So the inner workings of the computer were investigated.  A moth was found trapped in the circuitry. After the moth was removed, the computer returned to functionality. The dead moth was taped to a logbook, where it was noted the “bug” had been found. The terms “computer bug” and “debugging” would soon be popularized in regards to solving issues with computers, and have remained associated with the technology ever since.

 

2. The No-Show

 

Though most CHS students do not remember the turn of the millennium, excitement was in the air when 1999 came to a close and we welcomed the year 2000.  There was much anticipation for the new millennium, but there was also a great deal of fear. This fear surrounded the possibility of one of the largest and most disastrous computer crashes the world has ever seen, called Y2K..

At its most basic level, the Y2K problem was anticipated due to programming errors. Many programs only recorded years with two numbers (80 for 1980), and it was predicted that computers could try to reset to 1900 or try to move to 19100.  While that may seem like a minor problem, governments and businesses,including the stock market ,that rely on computer programs to function properly, could have been severely harmed by the inconsistency of the dates, causing worldwide failures. In the end, world governments and the UN established agencies in the late ‘90s with the goal of fixing the problems before they happened. The agencies averted most of the problems and avoided any major issues.  For that, Y2K will always be remembered as the greatest technical difficulty that never happened.

 

3. The New York City Blackout

 

In the late summer of 2003, the citizens of Northeastern United States and the great Canadian province of Ontario were going about their daily lives.  But on August 13, software in an Ohio power control room malfunctioned, and alarms were tripped.  Unfortunately, John McClane was not there to save the day, and the resulting chain of events plunged much of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and other surrounding states into darkness.

For two of the hottest days of the summer, some of the most populated areas in the country were almost completely without power.  While the outage was outside Pepco’s area of service, it is suspected that the general incompetence of the company somehow spread to neighboring states and caused the disaster.

 

4. Two Face Takes over the 2012 Inauguration

 

At the grand spectacle that was the 2012 Presidential Inauguration, President Obama, “Way-to-Go Joe” and Beyoncé were present to give speeches, sing songs and inspire a nation.  However, the supporters who came to the event but found themselves forced all the way back to the Washington Monument (like we were) only got muffled sound and a broken jumbo-tron screen.  For the duration of the inauguration, the broken screen had half of one person’s face and half of someone else’s face on it.  Have you ever seen Beyoncé with a middle aged white man’s mouth?  You don’t want to.

 

5. Super Bowl XLVII

 

Super Bowl XLVII was one that was destined to go down in the history books from the very beginning.  With Jim and John Harbaugh coaching against each other for the world title of the sport they both love, fans from all corners were excited to tune into a rivalry that all started in a shared bedroom years ago.  When fans tuned in, however, they had no idea that the game would be remembered for something completely different.

During the second half of the game, half of the lights at the Super Dome in New Orleans went out.  For about 20 minutes, fans, players—over half of America—waited in anticipation as the lights refused to turn on.  The players tried to stay loose and fans stuffed their faces with more Doritos as nerves ran high.   When the lights finally turned back on, the ailing 49ers turned the game around and made a surging comeback, only to come up short to the inspired Ravens.  Despite the game’s exciting story and finish, it will forever be remembered as the game when the lights went out.