Mr Deka’s Nightmare – Part 1


Anirban was still putting the panels back on as Deb rebooted the computer and Deb it was who saw it first. And with Mr Deka standing at Deb’s shoulder the game was afoot. I was elsewhere in the same city, dealing with problems with my own set of installations.

But let me start at the beginning, for I fear that you may be wondering who these people are, where they were, what they were doing and what Deb saw. Indeed you may even be wondering who Mr Deka is.

Well, let me begin by introducing you to a river. The mighty Brahmaputra starts in Tibet and descends rapidly through parts of the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam before heading into Bangladesh and emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Melting snow at the head coupled with the high levels of rainfall in Assam make a deadly combination with the turgid waters causing massive flooding every monsoon season.

Brahmaputra by SPOT Satellite

The scientists at the Brahmaputra River Valley Board were charged with modeling the effect on the river banks and drainage area in an effort to predict flooding and reduce loss of life and property. To this end they had just taken delivery of a massive computer. It was the finest, most powerful computer that the company I worked for had ever delivered. An impressive array of peripherals surrounded the huge computer room with the pale blue soft spongy laminate flooring. There were not one but two (yes, two!) graphic VDUs and two 600 lines per minute band printers that shrieked so loudly as they printed that conversation in the room was impossible. The main unit itself housed an 80MB removable hard drive, a pair of 160 MB fixed drives, a numeric processor for fast floating point arithmetic and it boasted a staggering 2MB of RAM, more than double the previously most powerful computer the company had delivered! And indeed the operating system had been modified to be be able to address that massive amount of memory, a fact the significance of which no one realized at the time.

Mr Deka was the chief scientist responsible for the computer and the department that was to run it.

It was this beast that Anirban, the hardware engineer, had just finished checking out. Deb, the software engineer responsible for installing and configuring all the software, decided that he would start the morning’s testing with a very simple program using Fortran.  His program looked like this:

A = 3.0

B = 2.0

PRINT A+B

The decimal points above signaled the system that it should use the numeric co-processor and compute the results using all the decimal precision offered by the processor. The expected result, as I am sure you have already worked out by now, should have been a display on the screen of the value “5.0”.

Now what Deb saw and what caused Mr Deka behind him to gasp out loud was the result the computer displayed.

4.995.

<to be continued>

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5 thoughts on “Mr Deka’s Nightmare – Part 1

  1. to me Mr. Deb is someone who needs to be feared for his quick and probing question. He is always thr when ur program is in trouble . Debda would be entrusted to set that right and for that he has to be ruthless at times. Good to know that he was also at one point faced the same thing which we all hv gone through…enjoying every bit of it.

    Like

    1. Deb was tough but always fair, that included letting you know clearly when you were having a stupid moment !!
      I remember my interview with him clearly – it was fun and invigorating to meet up with someone who could call my bluff….. glad you enjoyed the story.
      Thanks for your feedback – feel free to read the rest of the blog.

      Like

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