This particular one is more of a hardware defect than a software defect but it’s a good story nonetheless.
I was working at a major company that had just gotten into the PC business. This was early in my career. We had been shipped a prototype of their new computer that was about to hit the market, so we were encouraged to “self-host” it by using it for daily tasks. Others had used it and had loved the experience, so I had sat in front of it in excitement, knowing that I was using a PC that wasn’t even available anywhere else yet.
I started typing, but most of what came out on the screen was gibberish. For example, if I had tried to type “hello world”, it came out as “je;;p wpr;d”. How bizarre. I tried to open Notepad to do some testing, but of course I hit “run…” and ended up typing “mpte[ad”. Hmm, time to find Notepad in the Start menu (which I never have had to do before!) Anyway, Notepad opened and I typed my usual touch-typing phrase:
Tje qiocl brpwm fpx ki,[ed pver tje ;azu dpg/
Whaaaa?! Was the computer possessed? I looked down at the keyboard and pressed each character deliberately. This came out:
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
I scratched my head. Why would my usual touch-typing fail but when I pressed each character slowly, it worked? Was there some electrical flaw with the keyboard? Maybe a device driver couldn’t keep up with fast keystrokes? I asked others who had used the PC, but they didn’t have my problem.
Frustrated, I looked down at the keyboard and then, with a sense of dread, I saw it. My heart froze and I got a chill over me. I had known that thousands of these PCs were being manufactured at that moment, so I ripped the keyboard out of its socket and ran to our VP’s office. I banged on the door and hurriedly explained the problem to our VP, who immediately called people higher up in the corporate food chain and got the manufacturing halted.
The issue? Every computer keyboard has a little plastic dimple over the “F” and the “J” keys. These dimples give a clue to your fingers where to rest your forefingers, so that touch typing is much faster. This particular PC had a defect; the keyboard dimples were over the “F” and the “K” key, not the “J” key. Naturally, when I touch-typed, every character on the right side of the keyboard came out wrong. But when I looked at the keyboard and hunted-and-pecked, the keystrokes came out right. The reason others hadn’t had my problem is that they were hunt-and-peckers!
The moral of this story? Don’t hesitate to blow a whistle and inform others of even the seemingly most innocuous flaw, no matter where you are in the corporate food chain. You could be saving the company millions of dollars. And for goodness sake, learn to touch-type!
Do you have a bug whose story you love to tell? Let me know!