back to article Guess who came thiiis close to signing off a €102k annual budget? Austria. Someone omitted 'figures in millions'

Austria's parliament came within moments of slashing its annual spending limit to peanuts after someone omitted the key words "figures in millions" from its national budget bill. Government spending in the mid-European nation came close to being capped at just €102,389.24 (£91,684.44 or $114,106.15 at current rates) until a …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    They came this close . .

    to defining a law to enable them to change a budget after having voted it.

    Come now, this was a clerical error and, had they voted the thing as is, they would have just voted a change. It makes for a great article, but honestly it would not have condemned an entire government to a budget of a Mercedes or two.

    1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

      Re: They came this close . .

      True, but it's a good (humorous and harmless) example of why legislation really does need to be properly scrutinised.

      Imagine if the error had given them too much money.

      Or if it was a law that set penalties that allowed for imprisonment for a set period of time.

  2. jonha
    Headmaster

    the key words "figures in billions"

    I assume the actual wording never mentioned "billions" as our billions are their "Milliarden" and their "Billionen" are our trillions. :-)

    1. Oh Matron! Silver badge

      Re: the key words "figures in billions"

      Well that's befuddled my head for the afternoon. Time for a lie down.

    2. katrinab Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: the key words "figures in billions"

      Milliarden is German for Billion

      Bilionen is German for Trillion.

      British English was changed in 1974 to be the same as US English in this respect.

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: the key words "figures in billions"

        British English was changed in 1974 to be the same as US English in this respect.

        Ok... seriously? What's next, changing the gallon to be a mere 3.8 litres?

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: the key words "figures in billions"

          "What's next, changing the gallon to be a mere 3.8 litres?"

          You mean changing it back to 3.8l? English measures changed over time. US ones were crystallized at a point in time, using the Queen Anne 1706 gallon of 231 cubic inches. In the 19th century Britain redefined the gallon to be more capacious (but complicated, roughly 277.274 cubic inches, and based on distilled water at specific air pressure and temperature), and then only in 1976 was it standardized as 277.4194 cubic inches.

      2. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: the key words "figures in billions"

        "British English was changed in 1974"

        That's weirdly specific. Since there is no Academie Francaise for British English, in what sense was it changed, and who changed it? I agree that one billion is now a thousand million, but even when I was a child (and I was born after 1974) there was confusion over what a billion meant.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: the key words "figures in billions"

          An announcement by the then Prime Minster Harold Wilson on 20th December 1974

          https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/written-answers/1974/dec/20/billion-definition#S5CV0883P0_19741220_CWA_439

          1. DavCrav Silver badge

            Re: the key words "figures in billions"

            So he asked his colleagues to not use it to mean million million, not that it was 'officially' changed. Right.

            On the other hand, I remember Gordon Brown using 'thousand million' in a Budget, although I can only find one example of his doing so online, in 2010.

            1996 Fowler says that old billion was still commonly used, and 1965 Fowler argued for the new billion.

    3. aks Bronze badge

      Re: the key words "figures in billions"

      Billions don't come into it. As the article says, the missing wards are "figures in millions".

      You seem to be off on a tangent, interesting though that is.

  3. quartzz

    saw a program, about building planes...one of the new Airbus? (have not currently googled the details)...France's software ran in one unit (inches or cm), Germany's software ran in the other. it went right thro to the end, meant miles of cabling around the aircraft was the wrong size/didn't fit. cost so much to rectify & rebuild, the commercial version of the aircraft had to be ditched (pun not intended).

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      It becomes even more confusing when a unit of measurement has two different meanings. Such as an Imperial gallon and a US gallon.

      Or, for that matter, a megabyte being either 1000000 bytes or 1048576 bytes depending on what sounds better to marketing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > Such as an Imperial gallon and a US gallon.

        Would that be the US liquid gallon, or dry gallon?

        1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
          Holmes

          Linear gallon

        2. Ken Shabby Bronze badge
          Holmes

          0.1 Stetsons.

          1. Glen 1 Silver badge

            Cubic Smoots

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or, for that matter, a megabyte being either 1000000 bytes or 1048576 bytes depending on what sounds better to marketing.

        A megabyte is 1,000,000 bytes, a mebibyte is 1,048,576 bytes (as of 2008 - ISO/IEC 8000).

        It's not really about marketing (well OK, maybe a little bit.) Hard disk capacity used base 10 units once the average disk size got a little too big for conveniently using base 2 units, as they are a linear/serial storage medium which means a disk platter's capacity can be any number of bytes you like.

        Volatile memory capacity uses base 2 units as it is a random access storage medium using matrix addressing, meaning you can only address 1, 2, 4, 8, 16...1024 etc. bytes in a memory array (hence the original meaning of kilobyte, megabyte etc. as multiples of 1024.)

        1. really_adf

          It's not really about marketing (well OK, maybe a little bit.) Hard disk capacity used base 10 units once the average disk size got a little too big for conveniently using base 2 units, as they are a linear/serial storage medium which means a disk platter's capacity can be any number of bytes you like.

          At the read/write head, hard drives are basically serial, but (for a long time) from the outside, they are random access devices addressed by sector. The capacity is actually any number of sectors you like. Sectors have a power-of-two size, as a natural consequence of the fact they are buffered in RAM. This may explain 1MB = 1,024,000 bytes being used for a while; this is the definition applicable to a "1.44MB" floppy disk.

          Binary prefixes are a natural convention for memory chip sizes: they simplify expressing exact values because the chips have both a power-of-two addresses (a number of address lines) and a power-of-two data lines. Decimal prefixes are a natural convention for line rates: they simplify expressing exact values when, as is typical, a factor in the rate is a clock frequency defined with a decimal prefix.

          The rationale for a convention is less clear-cut and often varies in other cases, such as hard drive sizes. This, I assume, led to kibibyte etc to disambiguate.

      3. aks Bronze badge

        You need to use the IEC standard binary prefixes for such numbers.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binary_prefix

        Filezilla allows you to select the notation.

        A one terabyte drive will be 1,000,000,00 bytes.

    2. jonha
      Pint

      Mixing up units?

      I'd think that scientists and engineers in both countries use(d) SI notation as that has been the default long before I even started to study chemistry (and that was about 2500 years ago, I think).

      Rather, my suspicion is that there was perhaps too much wine (on the French side) or beer (on the German side) sloshing around. Or both, of course.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Mixing up units?

        > I'd think that scientists and engineers in both countries use(d) SI notation

        Indeed, there can't be any unit confusion between French and Germans, they've been both using exclusively SI units for a long time (since SI units have been invented?).

        UK is (AFAIK) the only European country having kept its quaint baroque medieval units alive, so it's pointless to try to accuse somebody else for this mix-up...

        1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C

          Re: Mixing up units?

          Both countries use metric, but there's still room for error.

          SI is metres & millimetres. CGS uses centimetres. IIRC, the French preferred CGS. The OP mentioned cm, anybody expecting mm will be out by a factor of 10.

          Now add in conversion between cad vendors. Transferring data between AutoCad & non AutoDesk products can often involve a metric to imperial conversion (1:25.4 or 1:0.03937). Add in a scale of 1:250 and you're looking at the difference between 1:25.4 and 1:25. Which is enough over the length of a wiring loom for it to be two firkins big or two firkins small.

          And don't even get me started on bending tolerances...

          1. Cuddles Silver badge

            Re: Mixing up units?

            "SI is metres & millimetres. CGS uses centimetres. IIRC, the French preferred CGS. The OP mentioned cm, anybody expecting mm will be out by a factor of 10."

            Which is further complicated by the fact that CGS isn't actually a standard set of units, but several different sets which have the basic centimetre, gram and second part in common but are completely different for other units, mostly once you start involving electromagnetism. It's always fun reading older physics textbooks and trying to figure out what unit set is actually being used by trying to find which physical constants have been set to 1, because of course the author never actually bothers to tell anyone.

          2. EnviableOne Silver badge

            Re: Mixing up units?

            So that would be a kilderkin either way .....

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      There have been a few cockups of epic proportions due to different units. Seems one of the space craft to Mars (if I remember right) had that problem and reduced itself to component parts on landing/impact.

      1. John Halewood

        That was Lockheed Martin IIRC. They were working in Imperial measurements and everyone else had moved to metric.

        1. jmch Silver badge

          Ironic, incidentally, that the one country retaining Imperial units is the one that fought so hard for, and is so proud of their independence from said empire

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            There is empire and empire. Those are US Imperial units (belonging to the USA empire).

            /s

            1. aks Bronze badge

              Wikipedia says different. United States customary units

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_customary_units

              They are same as Imperial measurements for length but different for some other units such as volume.

      2. JanMeijer

        That was the Mars Climate Orbiter which in a fit of identity crisis caused by competing measurement units decided to become a Lander

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Land is a tad optimistic. Plummeter perhaps?

          1. David 132 Silver badge

            “Splatter”

    4. DavCrav Silver badge

      "saw a program, about building planes...one of the new Airbus? (have not currently googled the details)...France's software ran in one unit (inches or cm), Germany's software ran in the other."

      I'd be highly surprised if it were, both countries having used the metric system for over a century. That seems like more of a US thing. So my guess would be Boeing. You know, because they haven't cocked up enough recently.

      Edit: I've looked for a few minutes. Either my Google-fu is lacking or this didn't happen.

      1. Mox17

        airbus wiring

        The Airbus wiring issue was due to different versions of the CAD software used by French and German teams respectively, calculating bending radius for wiring looms differently.

        http://calleam.com/WTPF/?p=4700

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: airbus wiring

          That's both interesting and terrifying. There is no 'different way' to calculate bending radius, surely? I mean, it either gets the right answer for that loom or not.

          1. DavCrav Silver badge

            Re: airbus wiring

            "I mean, it either gets the right answer for that loom or not."

            I thought about this a little more this morning when I was telling something else. I can imagine the bug fix report. It's one of:

            "Fixed bug in version 6.2, where wires were bent too much and broke."

            "Fixed bug in version 6.2. It turns out we weren't bending wires nearly enough."

  4. entfe001
    FAIL

    Here in Spain laws are so pathetically written that it is not rare that a few days or even weeks after there is a "Corrección de errores" (errors correction) fixing blunders like referencing the wrong article or even the wrong law.

    Just yesterday there was one example of such. 12 pages of corrections.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > it is not rare that a few days or even weeks after there is a "Corrección de errores"

      I disagree. It *is* rare that they bother at all to publish errata. It must interfere with their siesta or something.

      I had the displeasure of living in that joke of a country for a while, every day spent there was two days too many.

  5. skeptical i
    Devil

    austerity budget?

    I suppose ~$114K (USD) for an entire country's budget is a bit extreme for an exercise in setting an example in austerity, huh. Wouldn't mind seeing our Merkin Congresscritters' campaign budgets limited to that much, but that's a whole 'nother discussion.

  6. MooseMonkey

    My take from this article, politicians aroud the world act like little children. "Hoots of laughter", stupid tweets about the missing zeros. They all seem to be from a breed so far detached from the real world, its no wonder that everyone thinks that they are arrogant idiots. In the business world someone would have mentioned it, had a little laugh "with" the person who made the error and moved on. Childish aresoles all of them, for some reason I would have hoped for better from the Austrians.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      FAIL

      Agreed, particularly the NEOS party leader jeering the finance minister for missing a detail that she herself had also missed.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Devil

        > missing a detail that she herself had also missed

        Devil's advocate there - The difference here is that it wasn't her job to check those figures and make sure they were correct. Her job as opposition is to make the Finance minister's life miserable...

        1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

          Interesting viewpoint. My view is that an opposition party's job is to get the party in power to implement the policies of the opposition party (by amending, extending or blocking legislation, cajoling, appealing to public opinion etc). They shouldn't be sitting there going "you're shit"..."you're shit" ... "you're shit" until the next election.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge
            Devil

            > Interesting viewpoint. My view is

            Of course, in a perfect world the task of an opposition would be to rein in and improve the decisions of the ruling party, by providing some fresh perspective and outside control.

            But do we really live in a perfect world? Unfortunately, in the reality we're living in, the one and only task of an opposition is to be against everything the current government does, even if it's world peace and the cure for cancer. And when, after the next elections, the roles are inverted, the former ruling party will gladly take vengeance by obstructing as much as they can in their turn. An eye for an eye, and it doesn't matter if the world ends up blind...

    2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re expectations, Hitler was Austrian and there are some right dodgy characters there nowadays. So having them see the funny side is good news. It suggests an outbreak of common sense has occurred.

      1. cbars Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Do I need to point out what is wrong with this reference...?

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Well, you can't really have a sense of humour without having common sense. But I do see various other possible objections to what I wrote. I leave it to others actually to object, er, them.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The press didn't label them …

    … "the frugals" for nothing.

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