The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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Still a Few Bugs in the System (articles that blame problems or catastrophes on computers)
Students Stuff the Contest Box (California Institute of Technology students use computer printouts to win McDonalds sweepstakes)

graphic of page


Still a Few Bugs
in the System

It bugs us here at Creative Computing when the mass
media blame various problems on the computer. Even
people in government, business, and schools find the
computer a convenient scapegoat for problems actually
caused by a programmer, keypuncher, faulty data collection 
techniques or other non-computer facets.

In this continuing column, we'll reprint articles or
quotes which blame various catastrophies or problems on
the computer. It's up to you, the reader, to decide whether
the computer is actually to blame. Also, if you spot an
appropriate item for the "Bugs" column, please send it in.

A COMPUTERIZED bill had this notice on the bottom:

"Failure to receive this bill is no excuse for non-payment of
the amount shown below."

Chicago Tribune

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - Gas rates have gone up like
everything else. Just ask Ruth Brister. Her bill went from
around $14 last month to $42,474.58.

"I flipped completely," she said.

"The computer went haywire and some of those bills got
out," a customer representative at Arkla Gas Co. explained.

Toledo Blade, 3/30/75

In Swansea, Wales, Barry Carr was quite happy when
he passed his driving test soon after his 17th birthday, the
earliest age at which Britons are permitted to drive a car.

But when his license arrived, it bore 12 endorsements for a
whole array of driving OFFENSES, plus a 28-day driving
suspension. Police proved sympathetic when it was found a
computer at the license office had run wild. "The system
has not been operating for long," said an official.

Road & Track.

Fred Finn Mazanek, a one-year-old guppy, died,
recently, leaving an estate of $5,000.

Stan Mazanek, twenty-four, a student at the University
of Arizona, had filled out an insurance form he received in
his mail box marked "0ccupant," entering the fish as the
insured party. No fraud was involved in the policy. The
guppy's age was listed as six months, his weight as thirty
centigrams, and his height as three centimeters.

The Globe Life and Accident Insurance Co. apparently
issued Policy No. 3261057 in Fred Finn's name through a
computer error. When Mazanek filed a claim following the
guppy's demise, they sent a sales representative to see him
to find out if he was the sort of person who would take
advantage of a clerical error.

He was. The company settled out of court for $650.

South Bend Tribune.

Students Stuff the Contest Box
by Robert Meyers

PASADENA, Calif. - It was enough to
crack the golden arches.

Twenty-six science and math, students at
California institute of Technology here, looking 
for something to do while studying for
final exams in March, stuffed more than 1.1
million computer-printed entries into a giveaway 
contest sponsored by the McDonald's
hamburger company.

When the drawings were held about two
weeks ago, the students had won 20 per cent
of the total prizes, including a $7,000 car and
$3,000 in cash. McDonald's promised to
change its rules.

"It's amazing how much free time you can
find during final exams week when,you're
really looking for it," said Steve Klein, 21, a
junior information sciences major.

Klein and Dave Novikoff, 21, Barry Megdal, 
19 and Becky Hartsfield, 18, all students
at the science-oriented school here, were in
trigued by the give-away contest being sponsored
by the McDonald's Operators Association 
of California. The rules called only for an
entry to be printed on a 3x5 inch card, by a
person who was over 18 with a valid driver's
license. "Enter as often as you wish," the
rules invited.

The students did. In late March the 26, all
members of Page House, a residential and
dining facility, spent $350 to buy about 20
hours' printing time on an IBM 370/158 computer. 
They produced 52 boxes of paper, each
box of which contained 2,700 pages, and each
page of which contained eight valid McDonald's entries.

"There were 1.2 million entries at first,"

Megdal, a sophomore electrical engineering
student says, "but by the time we got through
cutting the paper up into individual entries,
there were only 1.1 million."

Each of the 26 students involved in the
tension-breaking project thus found that the
computer had printed his name 40,000 times.

Dividing up into eight groups, the students
took their ballots to 98 of the 190 participating 
McDonald's stores in Southern California.

When the management of the fast-food
chain learned of the prank, its reaction was
hot enough to sizzle a french fry.

"...The students acted in complete contradiction 
to the American standards of fair
play and sportsmanship," boomed a press release. 
"Their actions had the effect of depriving 
individuals and families of improved
odds of winning the prizes."

The company reported getting letters from
outraged citizens. Newspapers and television
stations sent reporters to sniff out the story.

Burger King , a fast-food competitor of McDonald's 
gleefully gave Caltech a $3,000
scholarship in honor of the stunt.

McDonald's, however, spent a great deal of
time trying to figure out what action to take
with regard to the computer-printed entry
forms. The company finally decided to honor
them all, but to give duplicate prizes to the
general public for every Caltech entry that
was drawn.

That action cost the participating dealers
an extra $10,000 on top of the $50,000
already allotted.

The prizes were presented last Tuesday,
May, 20. Becky Hartsfield, a freshman physics
major, was given the keys to a new Datsun
710 station wagon, which she immediately
turned over to a chapter of the United Way.

The top prize - a more expensive car and
a year's supply of groceries - went to a

The students say they will keep the check
for $3,000, and use it to pay for the taxes
and license on the station wagon, to improve
their living quarters, to buy micro-wave ovens
for the house, and to pay off the cost of
buying time on the computer to print the
entries in the first place. "No one will make a
profit on this," Novikoff said.

At the awards presentation on Tuesday,
Novikoff invited Ronald McDonald, the clown
character who represents the hamburger chain,
to have dinner that night at Page House.

Ronald, however, ate elsewhere.

Washington Post 5/21/75. Thanks to Nelson 
Griggs, Boyds, MD for sending us the

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