Summary: This is another one of those “What’s new in verification land” posts. It talks about the verification aspects of the recent Oscars fiasco.
I was on vacation, and thus (mostly) missed this earth-shaking event. Luckily my spies are everywhere, and my friend Elliot Cohen sent me the following email with all the gory details:
This event should be very interesting to people interested in your field, especially people who don’t understand how the concept of a bug can be 100% technology independent. The bug report is simple:
Almost four hours into the event, the time had come for the final Oscar to be presented – Best Picture. Presenting Actor was handed an envelope. He opened the envelope, hesitated a bit, looked confused and announced “… Best Picture..” and handed it to Presenting Actress, who simply read the name written on the card which the winner of a previously announced award.
Only after the wrong winners came up and made three acceptance speeches was the workaround released and the correct Best Picture winner named.
Root cause was like others you have mentioned – a combination of highly unlikely events. But when a process is repeated for ~90 years “Expect the unexpected”. Root causes:
- Turns out that the presenters enter the stage from two directions. On each side there is an accountant (!) with the results. Each one has the full set of envelopes – so the envelope handed to the presenters was of an award that had already been given
- The coloring of the envelope / text was changed this year and difficult to read under the stage lighting.
- The accountant was busy tweeting about the movie stars – possibly to his colleagues stuck in the office auditing multi-national widget manufacturers.
- The text on the cards was at the bottom and tiny and the text was huge.
- The presenters were ~80 years old and may have been confused. Turns out they don’t really get along with each other and were not able to break out of their acting personas. Their confusion and hesitation was mistaken for fake suspense and humor. A decent verification engineer would have stopped right here and called for help. But then, a QA engineer would never be nominated for Best Actor.
- The bug was discovered immediately – even before the “winners” reached the stage. And the people who knew that were right there. There was no mechanism to elegantly correct the error. Fast.
Anyway, as a result the accounting firm may have a hard time finding anyone who wants to even do a simple tax form with them, the accountant will be fired, the actor and actress will now be remembered for this snafu, instead of their amazing ~50 year careers. And no one will blame the system.
Count on next year seeing the same yellow font on red envelopes.
On a positive note – experts in every field (not just verification) can now toot their horns, from typography experts, lawyers, conspiracy theorists, political pundits, comedians and so even wedding planners.
And a recursive thought – perhaps this will spawn a movie about the whole incident. And perhaps that movie will be nominated for an Academy Award …..
Elliot’s email reminded me that the world is full of human-process / human-communication bugs. Most occur in areas not deemed worthy of “real” verification. Others have pretty serious consequences. For instance, consider the Avianca flight 52 story, which I mentioned here:
The bug was in the plane-crew-to-air-traffic-controller human procedure: There were long delays for landing at JFK, the pilot had little English, the co-pilot did not challenge the authority of the air-traffic controller (and also said “priority” rather than “emergency”), and eventually the airplane ran out of fuel and crashed.
I’d like to thank Kerstin Eder, Amiram Yehudai, Yaron Kashai, Gil Amid, Benjamin Maytal and Sandeep Desai for commenting on a previous version of this post (which was originally part of another post).