Linkages

by rthieme on July 2, 1998

My friend, Sue Ashton Davies, wrote a story for The Australian about a test performed by one of Australia’s largest manufacturers. They reset the clock of their computer system to January 7, 2000, and ran a routine batch job involving 800 custom-built programs. The team had sifted through millions of lines of code to fix the Y2K problem, so they were surprised when 750 programs crashed within minutes. One program that ran, she reports,  produced invoices for the 43rd day of the 14th month.

“The culprit,” she wrote, “was a non-Y2K compliant link editor on a PL1 program that last ran in 1987.” (A link editor puts the modules of a program in the right place at the right time.)

That experience links to the insight of cryptographer Matt Blaze, who said that “the weakest link in a system is potentially anything in the critical security path, including the definition of the problem. The definition of the problem as seen by the programmers and the real definition of the problem are often not the same.”

How you define the problem determines how you solve it.

That links to yesterday’s collection of quotes about UFOs. Several readers responded as if I had written about “abduction experiences” when in fact I hadn’t.  I meant by “UFO phenomena” the nuts-and-bolts encounters by pilots, military intelligence, and plain rural folk that I have explored first hand. The links that made some readers think “abduction” were provided by their minds, by a pre-cast form, not by the words they read.

Different links organize data differently. A new organizing principle can recontextualize data so we see everything in a new light. The links that connect the parts are as valuable as the parts themselves. When we think we are missing data, we are often simply missing links.

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