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SMB - Computer-generated horror stories

SMB - Computer-generated horror stories

Work without pay, flaming iPods, spammers in Hell

Not so friendly skies

There are few things in life more frustrating than delayed plane flights. But what's truly horrific to discover is that a computer is responsible for a night spent sleeping in an airport lounge.

Such was the case in May, when hundreds of domestic flights in Japan were cancelled or delayed as a result of a glitch in All Nippon Airways (ANA)'s computer system.

The problem hit data flowing between the airline's main reservations host computer and intermediate computers that handled downstream connections to terminals in airports, according to an ANA spokesman. Information flow between the intermediate computers and host computer was slowed by the glitch leading to a backlog of data that eventually clogged the system. The slowdown eventually caused 130 cancellations and delays of more than an hour for 306 flights. Around 69,300 passengers were affected.

ANA isn't the only airline with a recent computer horror story. Those self-serve kiosks that airlines have moved to expedite check-in backfired on US Airways in March, with glitches that caused long lines and delayed flights.

The glitches were tied to the integration of reservation systems with America West Airlines, which US Airways acquired in 2005. When 7 million reservations were transferred from one system to the other, 1.5 million of them didn't sync correctly and had to be hand-processed, which bogged down the system, explained a US Airways official.

In June, United Air Lines was forced to cancel 24 domestic flights when the computers it uses to dispatch flights failed. The outage caused about 268 domestic and international flights to be delayed, United said, with an average delay time of an hour and a half. The airline at the time said it didn't know what caused the outage.

Also in June, one of the two systems used by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to manage flight plans failed, causing flight delays and cancellations across the country.

Calling Jack Bauer

And then there's torture. In what could easily have been a story line straight out of "24," one of our editors in September spent endless tortured hours at the Gateway to Hell when he attempted to get a little something called tech support for the Gateway desktop PC he purchased.

No horror story would be complete without mention of data breaches. The mummy of them all, TJX, has become the symbol of data breach, much like the jack-o'-lantern is for Halloween.

Other notable data leaks of late include those that occurred at Monster.com, ExxonMobile and dozens more.

Almost as frightening as the breaches themselves are the companies' attempts to apologize to the people whose data was lost.


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