Oops! Technician’s error wipes out data for state fund

Oops! Technician’s error wipes out data for state fund

Back to some of the principles that Don Norman writes about in “The Design of Everyday Things”: “I was among a group of social and behavioral scientists who were called in to determine why the control-room operators had made such terrible mistakes [at Three Mile Island]. To my surprise, we concluded that they were not to blame: the fault lay in the design of the control room. Indeed, the control panels of many power plants looked as if they were deliberately designed to cause errors.”

Obviously these aren’t completely analogous situations. But a computer technician accidentally reformats disks containing data pertaining to $38 billion in oil dividends for Alaskans? How does that happen?

Who’s fault is this? The poor schmuck who accidentally toasts off $38 billion of data on both primary and backup disks? Or the software system that let him do it?!

Norman identifies a rule of thumb for door design — if you have to label it “push” or “pull” you designed it wrong. Here’s another rule of thumb — if you have to warn people not to push that one big red switch… maybe the switch shouldn’t be out in the open.

I’d love to know more about just what happened to allow a single computer technician to innocently wreak such devastating havok. I appreciate the fact that they weren’t holding the technician responsible, or conducting a witch hunt. But you’d think that someone (software designers? software architects?) should be responsible, and probably at the design level.

3 thoughts on “Oops! Technician’s error wipes out data for state fund

  1. Your getting closer to the specific question many of us in the technical support field: “Since when did ‘reformatting a disk drive’ become ‘routine maintenance work’?”

    Any operating system (and I might be able to guess which operating system required this) that causes technicians to believe they need to format a disk drive occasionally to improve performance is clearly a poorly designed filesystem and operating system. Let it be known that there are lots of strange black magic and superstition that people employ to maintain hardware and software system, because they have to (the shit is broken) and it works.

    I suppose I should back this up with an anecdote, but I’ll leave it to an exercise.

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