RE: Ariane 5

Subject: RE: Ariane 5
From: Jonathan Edwards (
Date: Sun Feb 24 2002 - 11:50:43 EST

A friend of mine was involved in another famous bug. It is often cited
as an example of software risks, but as far as I know no one has gotten
the details right in print. The primary type of the database was indexed
by a 16-bit integer. It overflowed without detection, causing data to be

The real disaster occurred when instead of just patching the database up
they decided to fix the bug in the code. Their source was off-site and
stale, and it took them days to get the system completely working again.

I have personally had several bugs that could have made the headlines,
but I have always been able to rescue the system in time.

       From the Wall Street Journal, Monday 25 November 1985
                     [quoted without permission]

       A Computer Snafu Snarls the Handling of Treasury Issues
               by Phillip L. Zweig and Allanna Sullivan
              Staff reporters of the Wall Street Journal

   NEW YORK- A computer malfunction at Bank of New York brought the
Treasury bond market's deliveries and payments systems to a near-
standstill for almost 28 hours Thursday and Friday.
   Although bond prices weren't affected, metal traders bid up the
price of platinum futures Friday in the belief that a financial crisis
had struck the Treasury bond market. However, Bank of New York's
problems appeared to be more electronic than financial.
   The foul-up temporarily prevented the bank, the nation's largest
clearer of government securities, from delivering securities to buyers
and making payments to sellers - a service it performs for scores of
securities dealers and other banks.
   The malfunction was cleared up at 12:30 p.m. EST Friday, and an
hour later the bank resumed delivery of securities.
   But Thursday the bank, a unit of Bank of New York Co., had to
borrow a record $20 billion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
so it could pay for securities received. The borrowing is said to be
the largest discount window borrowing ever from the Federal Reserve
System. Bank of New York repaid the loan Friday, Martha Dinnerstein, a
senior vice president, said.
   Although Bank of New York incurred an estimated $4 million interest
expense on the borrowing, the bank said any impact on its net income
"will not be material." For the first nine months this year, earnings
totaled $96.7 million. Bank of New York stock closed Friday at
$45.125, off 25 cents from the Thursday, as 16,500 shares changed
hands in composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
   Bank of New York said that it had paid for the cost of carrying the
securities so its customers wouldn't lose any interest.
   Bank of New York's inability to accept payments temporarily left
other banks with $20 billion on their hands. This diminished the need
of many banks to borrow from others in the federal funds market. Banks
use the market for federal funds, which are reserves that banks lend
each other, for short-term funding of certain operations. The cash
glut caused the federal funds rate to plummet to 5.5% from 8.375%
early Thursday.
   The electronic snafu is by far the largest of computer problems
that periodically have bedeviled the capital markets.
   Almost all goverment securities transactions are settled
electronically through the New York Federal Reserve Bank. In this
system, computers of clearing banks are linked to one another through
a central computer, to enable banks to settle purchases and sales of
securities by customers.
   According to Wall Street sources, the malfunction occurred at 10
a.m. Thursday as Bank of New York was preparing to change software in
a computer system and begin the days operations. Until Friday
afternoon, Bank of New York received billions of dollars in securities
that it couldn't deliver to buyers. The Fed settlement system, which
officially closes at 2:30 p.m., remained open until 1:30 a.m. Friday
in the expectation that technicians would be able to solve the
   Rumors about bank problems often send commodity traders scurrying
to buy precious metals. In the platinum pit at the New York Mercantile
Exchange, the price for January delivery surged $12.40 an ounce to
$351.20 Friday on volume of 11,929 contracts, a 29-year record.
   Reports that the Fed was investigating transfer problems at Bank of
New York prompted the platinum buying.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Philippe Meunier []
> Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2002 11:47 AM
> To:
> Subject: Ariane 5
> The complete report:
> It's pretty big and pretty long (about 60 pages), but a good two
> thirds of the report is just slides. Sections 2.1 and 2.2 explain in
> detail what happened.
> There's an extra-short explanation here:
> And a quicktime movie of the explosion (you lucky people):
> Philippe

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