links for 2009-10-31


  • Computers might struggle to exhibit intelligent behaviour, but blindly performing arithmetic calculations is surely their forte. Or is it?
    The calculation of where to look for confirmation of an incoming missile requires knowledge of the system time, which is stored as the number of 0.1-second ticks since the system was started up. Unfortunately, 0.1 seconds cannot be expressed accurately as a binary number, so when it's shoehorned into a 24-bit register — as used in the Patriot system — it's out by a tiny amount. But all these tiny amounts add up. At the time of the missile attack, the system had been running for about 100 hours, or 3,600,000 ticks to be more specific. Multiplying this count by the tiny error led to a total error of 0.3433 seconds, during which time the Scud missile would cover 687m. The radar looked in the wrong place to receive a confirmation and saw no target. Accordingly no missile was launched to intercept the incoming Scud — and 28 people paid with their lives.
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