back to article Just because you failed doesn't mean you weren't right

We take a break from busted backups in today's Who, Me? in favor of laser-guided missiles and a reminder to check every element in your test plan. Our story takes us back many decades, when laser-guided ordnance was new and our hero, who we will call "Herman", was working with both a well-known military organization and an …

  1. John Doe 12

    Wow!!

    In certain countries those "calibration" officers would be walked around the corner and summarily shot - including the country they were in had it been 1945 or earlier!! So they should think themselves lucky to be in modern day Germany where you just get shouted at.

    1. WonkoTheSane
      Holmes

      Re: Wow!!

      The calibration officers (and the bombing range) were both in Italy, according to the story.

      1. seven of five

        Re: Wow!!

        Which used to be Germany until ca 43... SCNR - Not that the Duce's lakeys were any better than the Totekopfs...

        1. khjohansen

          Re: Wow!!

          Others would say that Italy became MORE Germany after ca. july 1943 - well an ever shrinking part of Italy (it's complicated!)

      2. John Doe 12

        Re: Wow!!

        I realised that I made a location error after the editing window closed. However the sentiment still stands :-D

      3. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Wow!!

        "The calibration officers (and the bombing range) were both in Italy, according to the story."

        Well, in that case, up until 1944 rather than up until 1945??

    2. seven of five

      Re: Wow!!

      Given the option, getting shot might have been better/less painfull. (disclaimer: German wife, and therefore german MIL)

      1. John Doe 12

        Re: Wow!!

        Brilliant!!! This comment brightened up my Monday morning a LOT :-D

      2. Sweeper

        Re: Wow!!

        Ich auch. But I am also now German, so that counters it.

    3. LDS Silver badge
      Facepalm

      " including the country they were in had it been 1945 or earlier!!"

      Really? How do you believe you won the war in Italy? <G>

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: " including the country they were in had it been 1945 or earlier!!"

        Because they were able to leave?

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: " including the country they were in had it been 1945 or earlier!!"

          Because the Italian Army was not well equipped, not very good at combat overall, and often not even much willingly to combat? Landing in Sicily was a little easier than landing in Normandy, wasn't it?

          Mussolini may have dreamed about being a Roman general - but he no longer had the combat capabilities of the Roman Legions... when your highest-ranking general is someone called Badoglio, it's quite clear your Army is not going to be made of the brightest and most dedicated ones...

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: " including the country they were in had it been 1945 or earlier!!"

            The Italian Equivalent of the SAS's motto is "Who Cares Who Wins!".

  2. etudiant

    A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

    Just because the Italians had a make shift test rig does not mean the German system actually worked.

    My guess is that a nail on a broomstick could be quite adequate to tell whether a bomb hit its target or not.

    1. Trollslayer
      Mushroom

      Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

      You can have pass/fail OR how close the bomb was because the shock wave could do quite a bit of damage.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

        You can have pass/fail OR how close the bomb was because the shock wave could do quite a bit of damage.

        Old saying applies and I've heard in the military and in engineering.... "Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear warheads". So may close would have been good.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        "because the shock wave could do quite a bit of damage."

        Dummies don't have the full explosive load... sometimes none.

      3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

        When the NAZIs were busy building the concrete fortresses on their norther coast, the Allies let them finish and then bombed them with Barnes Wallis's 10-tonne bombs. The idea Wallis had was that a near miss would allow the bomb to undermine the foundations and wreck the entire building, whereas a direct hit would do far less damage.

        One bomb achieved the 'very near miss' and the 'fortress' was abandoned.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

          That is not right in quite a few ways, and the true story is fascinating :)

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

    2. Potty Professor Bronze badge
      Boffin

      Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

      During the War (don't mention the war!), my father was an His Majesty's Inspector at a large armaments company based on the north side of Clapham Common. Their Research Department was tasked with developing a sighting mechanism that would enable Barnes Wallis's Bouncing Bomb to be dropped accurately over the German dams. It ended up as three pieces of plywood and a length of broomstick, with four nails driven into the plywood to indicate the correct drop point when used to sight on the towers on the dams. In retaliation, Gerry came over and bombed the shit out of Clapham, so production was moved to a satellite factory near Barnet.

      1. GlenP Silver badge

        Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

        According to one of the crew members they didn't actually use it anyway, some tape on the glass worked better.

        1. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch

          Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

          Tape on the window (and a brilliant computer) was how Apollo LMs landed on the moon, too.

      2. Tim99 Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

        My father who was a WW2 RAF Bombing Leader had a photograph of a refined version. A triangular piece of plywood with a metal plate with a slit as an eyepiece near the apex, and two painted pins near each end of the base. The photo was marked SECRET. He showed it to me when I was working in a similar area of MoD in the 1970s. He was asked to stay on in 1946, but decided his skills were redundant because of the development of nuclear weapons.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

          Well, true. Being a couple of hundred metres off with a nuke probably doesn't make that much difference, unless you are trying to lob it down an exhaust vent...

          1. arachnoid2

            lob it down an exhaust vent

            One does not need a sighting aparatus, one uses the force Padwan.........

            1. LDS Silver badge

              Re: lob it down an exhaust vent

              Yes, to have anything launched by an high-speed vehicle change direction making a 90° angle suddenly you really need a lot of Force....

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

        I didn’t know they made satellites in Barnet.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

          That's because they were manufactured by Lucas :)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

      What you do is, right, you nail the broomstick to the target. If you can still find the broomstick after the bomb's been dropped, then it missed."

      "Yes thank you Mr. Dibbler. I can't help but feel that it's about as useful as your dragon detector. Which it appears to closely resemble, too."

    4. Korev Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: A miss is pretty obvious, no matter the apparatus

      Well, the system certainly bombed…

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Basic QC

    As someone who spent most of my career in quality assurance (mostly in more traditional engineering, not IT, I hasten to add), the first step after a failed inspection is to verify the calibration status of the test equipment. That’s when, of course, you hadn’t checked calibration status *before* the inspection (which should have been the default).

    Most times, when called in to investigate an unexpected inspection fail (i.e. something that all previous checks indicated no problems and, for me to be called in, something that was going to be expensive to fix), my checks on the test gear found the culprit. I won’t say that heads rolled, but expensive lessons were learned :)

    1. Sam not the Viking Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Basic QC

      I used to test machinery using a variety of transducers etc and 'precision' instruments. Whenever a machine failed to achieve the design performance, the first assumption from the affronted designer was always "instrument error". Re-calibrating the appropriate instruments or using a different set never improved the measured performance.

      1. John Robson Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Basic QC

        If you own the machine - then it's the machine's fault,

        If, however, you own the test equipment, then it's the test equipment's fault.

    2. KA1AXY

      Re: Basic QC

      I was once at a well known testing lab, and our product failed their mains leakage current testing (which it shouldn't have). We asked them for the data on the test equipment used, and they produced the manufacturer and model number. I found one on eBay cheap, and purchased it.

      Using it (as received, i.e.: uncalibrated) to test our gear, I came up with the same numbers the testing lab had. After scratching my head a bit, I went back to the IEC spec and read the paragraph on the test, which helpfully provides a test method using a simple test circuit and a meter. When tested using the recommended setup, we easily passed.

      Moral of the story is, of course, "don't trust it just because it has an LED readout and a computer inside"

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Basic QC

        Add to the moral.... RTFM.

      2. Sam not the Viking Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Basic QC

        Another little gem to note: when testing/inspecting always verify the 'zeros' on instruments/readouts before the test starts. As customer, I have experienced the testing/witnessing having to be abandoned when I noted a 'calibrated' instrument displaying a negative or impossible value before starting.

        As supplier, I made sure the customer was happy with the instrumentation before the test began. On a good day, the customer would take the readings/observations!

        And on computerised systems, the data being processed should be the figures you are witnessing!

        1. Richard Pennington 1

          Re: Basic QC

          That reminds me of the driver who got off a speeding charge when his lawyer pointed the speed gun at the wall of the back of the courtroom. The wall that was doing 35mph in a built-up area.

      3. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Basic QC

        My last foray into EMC testing was fun. EMC testing facility was basically a small wooden building in the middle of a field - with a rather long electrical supply cable.

        Server had three ~1200W (I think) PSUs, and because it was "just testing" we had them all plugged into a single four way extension.

        About to do all the zappy stuff to the box, which had been put in the back of my car the previous day, and so we plugged in the four bank. The inrush from those PSUs turned all the lights out for about half a second.

        Fortunately the chassis and PSUs were already certified, so we just decided to ignore that...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Basic QC

      I've been on both ends of this. Standard practice is to verify the test equipment before any important test, and again afterwards just to make sure. Occasionally this kept us from running a test with bad equipment, or discovering it had drifted out of tolerance at the wrong time.

      On the other hand when product would call saying their readings were wrong and the instrument needed calibrating, 98%+ of the time the instrument was accurate!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Basic QC

        Used to be fun when quartz oscillators needed to be temperature controlled. You needed to power up the kit and leave it to half hour or so to allow the thing to stabilise.

        We have just one customer with a setup that required one of these testers and as they were just a few minutes walk away we lugged the tester round to their place and they had it on 'loan' so that it was always powered up and ready if we needed to visit.

        This kit was from the early/mid 70s and I think it was because the cost of the chips needed to build the clock divider chain meant that the oscillator ran at 100s of kHz, which meant the crystal was relatively large and susceptible to changes in temp, where the digital watches of just a few years later ran at MHz and needed smaller crystals that were less affected

  4. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Catastrophe

    a large and empty Italian test range, a tower housing the German team and their laser projector (aimed precisely into the middle of the test range),

    Let me guess, a clowder of cats, that suddenly came out of nowhere, tried to attack the target the laser was pointing at and at the same time as the test pilot fired the missiles.

    The fur was displaced at around 1 mile radius and locals started talking about the "cat-astrophe" (from Greek astro-(stro)phe, the act of turning to the stars)

    And hence why the word Catastrophe was born.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Catastrophe

      Surely, a catastrophe is a prize given to the cat with the nicest ass?

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Catastrophe

        Is that why they spend so much time licking them?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Catastrophe

          They are just preparing for when their owner gets home.

  5. My-Handle Silver badge

    Same with coding as well.

    I've had trainees who were told to produce a bit of code and then test it to make sure it worked. Cue a few hours spent with the trainee running their test, it failing, and them going back to the code to tweak it and try again. Eventually they asked for help, and it turned out that their initial code was fine. All the tweaks they'd added to it had changed how it worked, but not affected the (correct) outcome. They'd just omitted something critical in their test and hadn't thought to check that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When you are chasing your tail trying to solve a bug - remember that Occam's Razor is only a probability. What you then find are two (or more) unconnected root causes that produce the same symptom.

      It is not unusual to have fixed a bug - but unintentionally introduced another similar error in the process.

      1. swm Silver badge

        We once had a hard failure in a mainframe with parity errors on the console typewriter. The field engineer swapped a likely board with another parity board but this didn't solve the problem. Six hours later he discovered that the parity errors were no longer word position sensitive. Turns out that the board he swapped the suspect board with was also in the data path.

        Sometimes it is best to forget all you have learned during trouble shooting and start at the beginning again.

  6. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Spelling error

    s/missed/Mist/g

    1. KarMann
      Trollface

      Re: Spelling error

      German Mist or English mist?

      1. LogicGate

        Re: Spelling error

        Dutch mist

      2. TimMaher Silver badge
        Happy

        Rolls Royce

        They were going to call one of their models “Silver Mist” until someone pointed out that they would have a large German market.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Spelling error

        Sierra.

  7. ColinPa Silver badge

    Understanding the instructions.

    My father used to teach in the Royal Navy. He would get a classroom full of people from the Commonwealth Navies and teach them. At the end of the first class, he asked if everyone understood. Most people nodded, and a few shook their heads. The people who nodded were allowed to go.

    My father did the whole lesson again - much slower. At the end, he said "do you understand" and the class shook their heads.

    Ever patient, my father prepared to do the course again, when one person said "We understand perfectly, when you ask use we all said yes".

    In their country nodding means no - and shaking the head means yes!

    As well as this little confusion they did not like to say no. The answer to a question "are you on target and ready to fire" was always yes. They did a lot of damage by hitting things outside of the target area.

    Another problem was caused someone not using his right eye to line up the back sight and the fore sight, but using his left eye and only the fore sight, and shutting his right eye! This makes a big difference over a couple of miles.

  8. Terry 6 Silver badge

    I don't understand.

    There was a specific target location with dummy shells that didn't go Boom!

    So wouldn't there be a large pile of debris on the target site?

    Or is this meant to be cm precision?

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: I don't understand.

      Personally I would've put a cardboard box (or similar) out on the range - pretty obvious whether it was hit or not.

      But the (dummy) munitions could still skid/bounce/shatter which can mask the point that they actually hit.

      1. LogicGate
        Mushroom

        Re: I don't understand.

        in "Flying Freestyle: An RAF Fast Jet Pilot's Story" by Jerry Pook, there is a wonderful chapter on how the US Marines wanted to demonstrate laser targeting of smart bombs.

        What the Marine designated to sit in a slit trench and illuminate the target did not understand was that the actual infrared laser beam was eminating from the targeting device located a little below the scope. Hence, while the scope was aimed perfectly on the target, the laser beam was illuminating the sandbags just in front of the trench he was sitting in.

        If I recall correctly, the author was impressed with the speed that even older high ranking marines could achieve when properly motivated...

        1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

          Re: I don't understand.

          Incoming fire has the right of way!

  9. TDog

    Never forget the military antipathy between the Italians and the Germans

    Nuff said.

    1. oiseau Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Never forget the military antipathy between the Italians and the Germans

      Never forget the military antipathy ...

      Quite so.

      Took the words right out of my mouth.

      The whole tale read absolutely bogus to me and was about to post as I read yours.

      O.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Never forget the military antipathy between the Italians and the Germans

      I quite liked the way the Italians neatly skewered the typically German obsession with precision, detail, and procedure by quickly hiding the theodolite in a cupboard ("Milano", hah) and pretending to use a broomstick. And having a pile of comics on the table as well was just pure class.

      .

      :-)

  10. Barry Rueger

    Failure analysis: Step One

    Is always: is it plugged in?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Failure analysis: Step One

      HF PA circuits could exhibit a problem of unwanted parasitic oscillations. The cure was to wrap a few turns of enamelled wire round a resistor and make that the anode series connection. On the other hand if there was already such a "parasitic stopper" - then the cure was to remove it.

      To detect if you had such parasitic oscillations you held a small neon bulb near the valve anode. The RF field would make the neon bulb glow red - but if there was a violet tinge then you had the problem.

      1. TWB

        Re: Failure analysis: Step One

        We once had a lecturer describing adding ferrite cores to cables to stop ringing and similar. He said the best method came from a far eastern* "Dr Suckitan", who had three methods A, B and C.

        Apparently the Suckitan C method was best - well done to those of you ahead of the wave.....

        *Somewhere far away and foreign and not the UK where they have more interesting sounding names. Maybe Smith, Clark, Brown, Longbottom etc are all hilarious in some other languages.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Failure analysis: Step One

          A friend was working in Tucson, USA in the 1970s. When trying a software solution her usual expression was "Let's suck it and see". One day a colleague took her to one side and explained that in their culture this was not an expression to be used by a lady.

          1. Yes Me Silver badge
            Paris Hilton

            Re: Failure analysis: Step One

            Excuse me, but I think that would apply in the upper layers of UK society too. Arizona is not a social desert, in any case.

            Paris because, well, I'm sure she'd never say that.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Failure analysis: Step One

          A neighbour's German girlfriend was admiring some flowers in my garden. She couldn't understand why people started to giggle. The reason was that English has bowdlerised the pronunciation of "Fuchsia" - whereas the Germans recognise it was named after the 16th-century German botanist Leonhart Fuchs.

  11. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Alien

    Weather Satellites

    The world is warming, as we know. However, we (i.e. meteorologists) now have satellites to measure temperatures across the globe. But some satellites were recording temperatures which denied global warming. (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2014/nov/07/new-study-disputes-satellite-temperature-estimates).

    It turned out that the satellites had been lofted into orbits which were subject to atmospheric braking, so although they were meaning the temperatures at ground level on the same spots on Earth, they were measuring it through more of the atmosphere, and therefore getting incorrect measurements. They simply had not bothered to calibrate the results with ground based observations using mercury thermometers.

    1. tip pc Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Weather Satellites

      You’d expect those satellites measuring temperature to also be able to measure how far from the ground they are, also space telemetry and radar would show how far up in the atmosphere it is.

      Satellites don’t stay in exactly the same spot, they drift in an imagined 3d box with the drift controlled by the onboard thrusters.

      The data returned must be constantly calibrated against things like distance etc, else the error margin will be larger than needed.

    2. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

      Re: Weather Satellites

      I wonder if they bothered to check if those satellites that were produced “correct” results too?

    3. Oh Matron!

      Re: Weather Satellites

      I think your down vote was from Dominic Raaaaaaaaaaaaaab who doesn't believe in such things as climate change.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Weather Satellites

        Maybe, but I seem to have a 'Register Stalker' who downvotes even my factual posts without explanation, and happens to have read (and downvoted) my previous post on this thread as well.

        One should not be too upset at such minor issues when there is armed conflict in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Covid-19 is still a major pandemic, global warming, plastics pollution of the seas and loads of other things. I shall as a true brit, 'keep a stiff upper lip and carry on regardless'.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: Weather Satellites

          Take your denier nonsense and shove it up your fundament. There are evidently a few people round here who have seen the far right rants you post on a regular basis and want nothing to do with you. A few downvotes are entirely unsurprising.

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Re: Weather Satellites

            @ Dave314159ggggdffsdds,

            Well, umm, thanks for the honesty of your post, and your integrity in not going Anonymous Coward either. (So I shall not been downvoting it or reporting it for abuse for suggesting I shove something up an inappropriate place on my anatomy.)

            It is the first time I recall any of my posts being described as 'far right rants', and I'm not sure what 'denier nonsense' of mine you refer to. Maybe the next time you come across either you could post a reply explaining why you think what I've posted is 'far right' or 'denier nonsense' please.

    4. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

      Re: Weather Satellites

      Curious. I just read both the Guardian article you link to, and the Weng etal paper it cites, and cannot see any particular reason to reach the conclusions you state in your second paragraph. Weng et al did seem quite interested in the effect of clouds, however, which I suppose matches "more of the atmosphere". Also, any remarks about calibration would seem to be more along the lines of which approach was best, rather than a claim no calibration was done in some case.

      Further, the Guardian article ends with "So, the verdict is still out ..."; which also seems to suggest your second paragraph was perhaps over confidently stated.

      Still, perhaps I missed something. Can you point out specifically the part of the Weng et al paper which I should look at most closely?

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Weather Satellites

        Apologies, the article I linked to was an example. I should have stated clearly in my post that the deduction that the scientists had not used ground based observations of land temperature to calibrate their readings was my own, and not in the paper.

        My mistake. Sorry for the confusion.

  12. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Having worked

    for our MOD here on various projects

    I can quite believe this tale.

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