Whether a finger-slip on the keyboard or just a misspelling, typos happen.
Sometimes, they go unnoticed. Other times, they alter the course of history forever — especially in finicky areas like computer programming.
Read about five instances where a single typographical error affected almost everyone.
1. We could be typing “Googol.com” everyday.
In 1997, Larry Page and Sean Anderson sat around a table at Stanford University brainstorming names for a massive data-index website with some other graduate students. Anderson suggested “googolplex,” one of the largest describable numbers. Page shortened the word to “googol.”
Anderson immediately went to check the availability of the domain, but when he typed the name online, he made a few mistakes. Anderson typed “google” instead. Fond of the name, Page immediately registered the site for himself and Sergey Brin. The rest is history.
2. We might not be so obsessed with Spinach.
In 1870, a German chemist named Erich von Wolf accidentally printed the decimal point in Spinach’s iron content one spot too far to the right. Mathematicians know what that means: he arbitrarily increased the vegetable’s iron level to 10 times the actual amount — 3.5 grams of iron suddenly became 35 grams.
Even though another group of German researchers recognised the fumble in 1937, the myth stuck. People started to tout the idea that spinach contained just as much iron as red meat. For example, Popeye’s creator made the sailor man obsessed with the the leafy green. Even today, doctors tell their anemic patients to bulk-up on spinach.
3. We might know more about Venus.
In 1962, NASA’s Mariner 1 mission intended to fly by our closest neighbour in the solar system, Venus, and gather information. But control had to abort (read: blow up) the spacecraft nearly 5 minutes after liftoff.
In testimony before Congress, Richard Morrison, NASA’s launch vehicles director, said a single typographical error in a computer equation caused the spacecraft to veer off course. The culprit? An omitted overbar — which sort of looks like a hyphen above a letter or number.
Arthur C. Clarke called the mission “wrecked by the most expensive hyphen in history.” The mishap cost the government about $US80 million dollars.
4. Gregorio Iniguez might still be running Chile’s mint.
In 2010, then-director of Chile’s minting department, Gregorio Iniguez, okayed production on 1.5 million 50-peso coins that spelled the country’s name incorrectly.
The coins read “C-H-I-I-E” right next to a serious silhouette of a Chilean national hero. Iniguez was fired after the issue, according to Reuters. Who knows what catastrophic error he could have made next.
5. 12 million people would have been able to make phones calls in 1991.
In late June and early July 1991, 12 million people across the country (mostly Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) lost phone service.
A study by DSC Communications Corporation and Bell Communications Research shows that a typographical error occurred in the software that controls signals regulating telephone traffic. One (known but anonymous) employee typed a “6” instead of a “D.” The phone companies essentially lost all control of their networks.
We’ll never know what could have happened if those 12 million people talked to each other.
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