Computing Calamities

Lessons Learned from Products, Projects, and Companies that Failed

Robert L. Glass

Publisher: Prentice Hall, 1999, 302 pages

ISBN: 0-13-082862-9

Keywords: Biography, Information Systems

Last modified: July 29, 2021, 9:30 a.m.

Super bloopers from the world of high technology!

The current buzz about the Millennium Bug is just the latest in a long line of "gotchas" that have plagued the computer industry since its beginning. Many great advances in technology have resulted from risky experimentation, but it's critical to remember and study the spectacular failures that also resulted from some of those risks.

Failures can be mundane, like the typical complaints of software projects that are behind schedule and over budget, while others can be much more extravagant. In Computing Calamities, Robert L. Glass has collected war stories from around the industry, including:

  • The brilliant engineers whose software allowed viewers to play along with TV game shows, if only they could find a cable system that would support the bandwidth
  • Supercomputing budgets that collapsed along with the Soviet Union, as Cold War funding dried up
  • A French company that stole an American company's product design, then sued the American company for copying them
  • The management team that put a former clothing manufacturer in charge of the inventors of Pong, nearly bankrupting a company that had held 80% of its market
  • The "improved" HMO database that could reject 1,000 claims if one Social Security number was entered in the wrong field

Laugh at these mistakes, and learn from them. Someone else's failure could be the foundation of your success.

  1. Introduction: What's So Great About Failure?
  2. Overview: The Many Faces of Failure
    1. When Failure Means Success
      • The Sweet Smell of Failure
    2. The Role of the White Knight
      • Miracle Men
    3. How to Avoid Stepping in Something
      • When Bad Things Happen to Good Projects
  3. Keep Your Eyes on the Enterprise: Stories of Corporate Failure
    1. Big Vision, Small Result
      • The Lost Company
      • The Hole in Nets Inc.
      • Were Jim Manzi's Big Idea Too Big?
      • Scrambled Signal: Innovative Startup Flops, and a Lawsuit Against TCI Follows
      • Ambitions of Startup Fall Short: Lofty Goals of terry Software Thwarted by Mistakes, Conflict
    2. Together We Fail
      • Novell Nouveau: Software Firm Fights to Remake Business After Ill-Fated Merger
      • Disconnected Line: Why AT&T Takeover of NCR Hasn't Been a Real Bell Ringer
    3. Not-So-Supercomputing
      • Missing the Boat: Yachtsman Bill Koch Lost His Golden Touch with Kendall Square
      • Cray Computer Files Under Chapter 11 Ending Quest to Build Supercomputer
      • CDC Bids ETA Farewell
      • Federal Experts Lament Loss of CDC's ETA
      • Parallel Computing: Glory and Collapse
      • Supercomputers Ain't So Super
      • Supercomputing:_ Same Name, Different Game
    4. Crooks and Spies and Other Guys
      • Why 'Dr. Fix-It' of High tech Firms Failed to Save MiniScribe
      • Computer Chief Will Face Trial
      • A Chip Comes in from the Cold: Tales of High-Tech Spying
      • Partnership Peril: Chip-Making Pioneer in U.S. Found Grief in Seiko Joint Venture
      • How Promises Turned Bitter for Reluctant CASE Superstar
      • Blowup: The Saga of a Partnership Gone Bad
    5. Grasping Failure from the Jaws of Success
      • What Went Wrong at Wang
      • Wang Wilts
      • The Rise and Fall of Commodore: Amiga Came, Saw, But Failed to Conquer
      • What Went Wrong at Atari?
  4. Mission Impossible's Dirty Little Secrets: Stories of Project and Product Failure
    1. The Eyes — Stomach: Tradeoff
      • Anatomy of a Failure: The Insider Story of a Fatally Flawed Data Warehouse Project
      • No Management Medals
      • How New Technology Was Oxford's Nemesis
    2. Hitting the Wrong Bullseye
      • Anatomy of a Technological Failure: Why Home Banking Did Not Succeed
    3. The Operation Was a Success, but the Patient Died
      • Pulling the Plug: Software Management and the Problem of Project Escalation
    4. It Just Wasn't meant to Be
      • Citicorp's Folly? How a Terrible Idea for Grocery Marketing Missed the Targets
  5. The Taming of the Shrewd: Stories of Failures of the Best and Brightest
    1. The Successful Research Center that Failed
      • The 7 Years of MCC's Innovative Software Technology Program
    2. The Failed Research Project that Some Called a Success
      • Sigma: Public Success, Private Failure
    3. Blight Comes to the Ivy-Covered Walls
      • New SE Programs Plan to Avoid Wang Institute's Mistakes
  6. Summary: Now Remind Me — What's So Great About Failure?


Computing Calamities

Reviewed by Roland Buresund

Very Good ******** (8 out of 10)

Last modified: May 21, 2007, 2:57 a.m.

Good examples on how the IT industry functions (or rather, not functions).

Maybe you must be an insider to appreciate the book.


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