September 30, 2006

Perhaps They Should Have Tested More - Pearson School Systems

Wrong grades sent out

By Lindsay Melvin
September 30, 2006

A Shelby County Schools computer glitch that miscalculated hundreds of interim report cards has staff working overtime and -- for a time -- had college-bound students biting their nails.
PowerSchool, the $800,000 Web-based student information system designed by Apple, was installed systemwide in August. It grabbed attention after nearly 400 inaccurate interim reports were sent home.
At Germantown Middle School, students flunked homeroom. Typically, they're not graded in homeroom, so you can imagine their surprise, said principal Russell Joy.
Across the county, teachers saving data from classroom laptops are facing slow systems that often save grades and attendance incorrectly.
Fortunately, "nothing has been lost," said Supt. Bobby Webb, who guaranteed there are backup copies of everything.
Operated by California-based Pearson School Systems, PowerSchool is intended to help track attendance, grades and about 40 other student categories, along with allowing parents to view their child's progress online.
Pearson president Mary McCaffrey will appear before the school board at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Dealing with the brunt of the problem are the educators, said board member Ron Lollar.
"My concern is the frustration of the teachers," Lollar said.
PowerSchool is supposed to help gather information required by the state under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines.
Shelby County's technology department, as well as engineers from Pearson School Systems, are trying to smooth out problems. Specialists suspect it was a bug in the program and a new version has been installed. According to officials there has been some improvement but PowerSchool is still not up to speed.
If the software is not fixed by report card time next month, teachers will hand-correct any errors and those incorrect grades will not go on record, Webb said.
In some schools, they are days behind on attendance. Data entry clerks and teachers have been wrestling with the slow system, sometimes taking hours to enter just five students.
As teachers use their laptops to input 46,000 students each morning, the system jams.
Educators are left recording information on the school's old system or in attendance books.
According to the superintendent, the district's attendance-based state funding will not be affected by the delay.
The new software had high school seniors frustrated as they tried to get transcripts.
At the beginning of each school year transcripts are updated and printed, but nearly seven weeks into the school year students were not able to obtain them.
Some students seeking early college admission were given rough versions of their transcript. But several school counselors said the documents were an embarrassment. In some situations universities would not accept the rough versions.
The foul up left students like Jessie Andrews of Bartlett on edge: "I'm a senior and I'm looking at colleges and we need that stuff," said Andrews.
Without the transcript she hadn't been able to apply for scholarships, she said.
Christopher McGhee, also a Bartlett senior, was worried as well as he tried to get an ROTC scholarship and early admission to a Navy college program.
As of Thursday, school officials reported transcripts were updated and being printed off the district's old program.
Before PowerSchool was put into effect, it got a three-year test run at the elementary, middle and high school level. It worked great and was the top choice when compared to Chancery Software, which is now, but not at the time, owned by Pearson.

Webb says he plans to make some temporary hires to handle the heavy volume. Webb said he expects Pearson to pay any additional costs.

September 22, 2006

Perhaps They Should Have Tested More - Vancouver Airport

Software glitch triggered Vancouver airport scare

Updated Thu. Sep. 21 2006 9:34 PM ET News Staff

CTV News Vancouver has learned that a massive shutdown at the airport on Sunday morning was due to a security software glitch, and not an apparent security breach.

At the time, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) said there had been an alleged security breach -- involving an image in a piece of carry-on baggage.

After numerous calls, a CATSA representative told CTV News that an image of an explosive device, which turned up on a pre-boarding security X-ray, was actually a projection of a training image used to keep guards on their toes.

The training image had been erroneously activated in the software program, and CATSA still isn't sure how this happened.

Vancouver airport security guards saw a ghost image of an explosive device on their screens, but didn't realize it was part of the training system.

When they couldn't find a real bag associated with the image, they believed a passenger with a dangerous device might be headed for a plane, and ordered a complete shutdown of the airport.

"It was thought to be an explosive device," Renee Fairweather. "That's why the action had to be taken."

Airport traffic was halted for about two hours, and the cost of Sunday's delays is estimated to be in the $1 million range.

CATSA still isn't sure how the ghost image became activated on the Vancouver equipment. The national agency has been using this software program for three years.

"As a result of what happened Sunday, every piece of equipment that has that feature on it has had that feature deactivated... across the country," Fairweather said.

With a report by CTV Vancouver's Kate Corcoran

September 17, 2006

Perhaps They Should Have Tested More - Segway

Segway recalls all its scooters  Software problem caused rider injuries 

The Associated Press

September 15, 2006 8:00AM

The injuries that caused Segway Inc. to recall its scooters yesterday were not numerous, but they sure sound painful: Broken teeth, a broken wrist and some banged-up faces, including one that needed surgery to repair.

There were only six reported incidents in total, including one from a child, but the company believes they all stem from a glitch in the self-balancing, two-wheeled vehicle's software that - in rare instances - causes its wheels to reverse direction in a sudden, unexpected motion that can jerk riders off their feet.

Despite the bruised faces, Segway Inc. Chief Executive Jim Norrod does not believe the company's reputation will be left with a black eye.

"We don't see that it will have a negative impact on business at all,"Norrod said. Segway's network of distributors seems pleased with the way it has handled the recall, Norrod said, pointing out that the company figured out the problem on its own, without the prodding of regulators.

"Any injury is too much to us,"said Norrod. "This company has built its reputation upon its commitment to safety. From day one, that was and has been our goal."

The recall involves all 23,500 of the Segway Personal Transporters that the company has shipped to date. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, with whom Segway is cooperating on the voluntary recall, said consumers should stop using the vehicles immediately. The scooters were previously known as the Human Transporter.

Segway is offering its customers, which include more than 150 police departments around the world, a free software upgrade that will fix the problem. The upgrades will be done at Segway's more than 100 dealerships and service centers across the world, according to company spokeswoman Carla Vallone, and the Bedford-based company will pay to ship the devices to the appropriate center if need be.

It is the second time the scooters, which sell for about $4,000 to $5,500, have been recalled since they first went on sale in 2002. The 2003 recall was for the first 6,000 of the devices sold, and involved a problem that could cause riders to fall off the device when its battery ran out of juice.

Segway Chief Technology Officer Doug Field, who has been involved with the development of the device with inventor Dean Kamen since its earliest days, said the problem that sparked the latest recall was found while the company was testing its new model. He said a very unusual and specific set of conditions can cause the problem.

The scooter's speed is determined by how far forward users lean, and if the riders lean too far forward, a "speed limiter" pushes them back to keep the device at its maximum speed of 12.5 mph. The problem happens after the speed limiter tilts back, then the rider steps off the device and gets back on it quickly.

Field said the actions that cause the problem are of "very low probability, but possible, which then made us go pull every reported accident in the company's history." After the company found the six incidents believed to be related to the problem, it notified the CPSC and got the ball rolling on the recall, Field said.

Company officials would not comment on whether the problem has sparked lawsuits and would not give any details about the severity of the injuries sustained.

According to CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson, the injuries included broken teeth, a broken wrist and facial injuries - including one that needed surgical repair.

Segway's dealers have received the software updates and owners can schedule an appointment through the company's website to have the update installed.

The company last month launched a new generation of the Segway that users can steer simply by leaning in the direction they want to go, rather than using a small wheel on the handlebar. All new shipments will have the corrected software.

Norrod, who was brought in as CEO last year by the company's principal investors, Credit Suisse Group and the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has made grooming Segway for an initial public offering or sale of the company a top priority.

The privately held company has been secretive about its financial health, but the total number of vehicles recalled yesterday implies it has tallied up sales in the neighborhood of $100 million or more since the Segway's launch, about as much as the device reportedly cost to develop, not including operational costs since it hit the market. The company also sells modified versions of the Segway for use in robotics projects, and that has likely contributed a small amount to revenue. Those products are not subject to the recall.

The most famous tumble from a Segway came in 2003, when President Bush tried one out at his family's estate in Maine. The device went down on his first attempt to ride it, but Bush stayed on his feet with an awkward hop over the scooter. However, that incident had a different cause: Bush had not turned on the Segway.

06/13/08 - a followup.

Now, a lawsuit related to the defective Segways:

September 11, 2006

Perhaps They Should Have Tested More - Nuon Energy

Power surge fries appliances in Friesland

11 September 2006

AMSTERDAM — A 300-volt power surge in the electricity net has caused considerable damage in the north of Friesland Province.

A software glitch resulted in 11,000 homes in the town of Het Bildt receiving a much higher voltage than normal for 20 minutes on Friday.

By Monday there were dozens of reports from residents and businesses of broken televisions, microwaves, central heating boilers, modems and other electric devices.

Residents have inundated the local branch of electronics shop Expert with requests to fix or replace appliances. "We've had to say 'no' a lot," Expert's Janny de Vos said.

A spokesperson for energy company Nuon said on Monday that its subsidiary, network manager Continuon, will pay compensation.
Nuon will be deal with damage claims in a accommodating fashion, he said, but it may take weeks before the full extent of the damage is known.