Microsoft

Poll: What level of blame would you assign to the infamous BSOD in the BP oil spill?

The TechRepublic Microsoft Windows Blog member poll: What level of blame would you assign to the infamous BSOD in the BP oil spill?

As I am writing this blog post, it appears that BP has been able to cap the leaking oil well responsible for one of the greatest man-made environmental disasters in recent history. If the static kill and relief well combination is successful in the next week or so, the oil well will be closed forever and the arduous cleanup process can start in earnest. But cleaning up the mess is not the only difficult process we will have to work through.

The final determination of what went wrong, of what caused this disaster, of what systems failed, and of whom to blame will go on for years to come. However, in the meantime we have some evidence to consider of particular interest to information technology professionals. It seems the infamous blue screen of death (BSOD) played a role in this particular disaster.

According to a news account from Computerworld and the New York Times, Michael Williams, the chief electronics technician aboard the Transocean-owned Deepwater Horizon, in testimony at a fderal hearing, said:

"... the rig's safety alarm had been habitually switched to a bypass mode to avoid waking up the crew with middle-of-the-night warnings. ... The machine had been locking up for months, producing what he and others on the crew called a 'blue screen of death.' 'It would just turn blue. You'd have no data coming through.'"

Obviously, habitually ignoring safety alarms and control systems that catastrophically crash to a BSOD is no way to run an oil rig. It sounds to me that the operation of the Deepwater Horizon was a disaster just waiting to happen. But can we really assess blame on the technology? Doesn't the ignoring of safety alarms and failing computer systems for months really fall into the human error category? I know the anti-Microsoft crowd would love to point at Windows and make wild generalizations that [insert alternative OS here] would have prevented this disaster because it never crashes blah, blah, blah, but we really don't know yet what operating system was even involved, so any finger-pointing at a specific OS is premature.

But what do you think? How much blame should we put on the information technology involved?

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

109 comments
TieWan
TieWan

A bigger issue is the build up of gases underneath the ocean floor... if it blows, it could easily wipe out at least 10 million people .. a minimum.

mr_m_sween
mr_m_sween

"Under scrutiny after the Texas City Refinery explosion, two BP-owned refineries in Texas City, Texas, and Toledo, Ohio, were responsible for 97 percent (829 of 851) of wilful safety violations by oil refiners between June 2007 and February 2010, as determined by inspections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labour at OSHA, said "The only thing you can conclude is that BP has a serious, systemic safety problem in their company." So what fault did this alleged system failure have? Next to none. It's just another symptom in a very long line of symptoms proclaiming the systemic safety problem. By the way, I seem to recall humans ignoring alarm messages resulted in Chernobyl as well.

dMbTiger
dMbTiger

Ultimately, humans are always involved somehow-humans built the system, humans built the equipment,electronics, computers, software. Humans failed to respond to problems, warnings,etc., etc. Humans. There wouldn't have been an oil rig in the first place if it weren't for humans. Dan

jkameleon
jkameleon

That BSOD was just a wee tiny bit of it.

jabid
jabid

They all expected the cutoff valve would work. If it doesn't, then, at that depth, what is the solution? What if there would have been damage to the bore-hole? No cap would have been possible. Only the still ongoing process of a relief well would be possible. Some technological fix should be invented. Perhaps a device that would fit over the whole valve assembly and bore itself into the sea-floor. There is not a solution that can be easily tested without the same conditions being present. BP may be responsible for the immediate problem, but the main problem is systemic. I am for such drilling, but come up with a contingency fix for the worst-case-scenario. Right now it looks like only a dual set of wells , ie. a built-in relief well should be used in the future. More expense, but, until a sure-fire fix is prepared beforehand, the only way to reassure us.

BdeJong
BdeJong

lets not make the alarm systems redundant that'll keep oil prices low I am sure!

Clandistine1
Clandistine1

If you remember computers only do what they are told. It cannot be their fault... Unless you are a Nuremberg trial fan...

seanferd
seanferd

That entire industry, and others, are disasters waiting to happen. (And don't forget BP also spewed oil from the Alaska Pipeline shortly after the DH "accident" due to 30+ years of mismanagement, no maintenance, and fudging records.) BP dismissed prior reports of problems from workers and engineers, and proceeded though they were having problems right up until the explosion. The oil and other resource industries spent more money and effort on corrupting the Department of the Interior so that what little regulation which has survived until today was not enforced at all. No freakin' way would I blame this on any "Blue Screen". All that says is that they did not bother to fix the damn thing, whatever it is. Par for the course. Edit: Windows, nor any other commercial OS, is appropriate for mission critical usage. Says so right on the box.

kermitsm
kermitsm

Let me see if I understand this. A one million dollar a day operation that has major fault in the equipment which could be hazardous to the environment and human life and it does not get fixed? Chief Electronics Technician:"Hey, our monitor for the BOP stack is not working correctly, I need time and parts to repair the problem permanently. Company Man: "No way, time is money and we have to move forward. We'll take our chances and fix it later... "BOOM"(this is where the sleeping crew wakes up!)

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

...certain parts of the US gummint in this. Where was OSHA? 'Minerals Management'? Apparently Transocean had a modus operandi regardless of which company/country for which they were drilling.

widd11e
widd11e

you can't blame technology over human stupidity, lack of caring, and ignorance when it comes to human life.

prcordes
prcordes

One BSOD is technology. Multiple BSOD over months is the failure of the crew to correct the problem. Would you disable your faulty fire alarm at night so that you did not wake up? I would fix it or get a new one on day one. Note that this was not a spill. A gusher or a flow but not a spill. A spill is a limited amount, this isn't.

ytcheng
ytcheng

nothing really, human greed is the main cause. The USA is the main consumer of Oil in the world, and the irony of it happening on their backyard is doubtless lost on the americans.

ofergal
ofergal

Blame technology? You guys lost it? If the rig keeps working with blue screen it is like I would drive with no sight of the road! If your instruments don't work, STOP! get better ones

Phasers
Phasers

It's plain and simple. GREED caused this disaster. I don't know why this kind of garbage comes out, you know...trying to pass the buck. As we all know, the Americans have very short memories(some with no memory and they are mostly the politicians)and if the media, in any format, continues to toss out this "What If?" crap, they'll get all confused over what really happened. The Oil Barons will stop at nothing to get the last drop of oil out of our planet, not caring about the damage they do to the wildlife and environment. And THAT folks, is the reality of it. No Robot, Computer, Software, or piece of hardware did this. Just wondering... Mark Kaelin. Are you getting a little something from BP for this ridiculous poll/question/blog.

8string
8string

The fact that systems fail is SOP in the IT world. ALL hardware and OS systems fail occasionally for a vast array of reasons. So humans decide what that means in terms of buying/building redundant systems, better software, better hardware, etc. To blame a BSOD without knowing whether it was caused by MS, the software vendor, failing hardware, etc. is misguided. It was up to IT on that well & elsewhere in BP's chain of command to determine what was wrong, whether it threatened the well, and what to do about it. It's really amazing that a tech magazine like yours targeted at pros like us would even float an idea like the BSOD is somehow responsible for the Gulf Spill...sheesh...

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

This is primarily a human errow. if settings were used to disable any disabling of alerts. This wouldn't of happened. If they corrected the BSDOD issue, this wouldn't happened. But it did. It could of happened to any system [well, at least the alerts being disabled]. THose who were involved in the disabling of alerts and failure to notify regarding the BSOD should be fired. If they can be prosecuted, then so be it.

Stovies
Stovies

BP hires in expert, in this case American companies like Transocean and Halliburton, to do their drilling & exploratory work. Transocean brochures do not tell the would be client that their rigs are out of date and poorly maintained do they. Yet from the very start of American involvement in the North Sea Americans have used the Gung-ho (stupid John Wayne or whatever) attitude to risk and safety. America is cursed with yet another President that is so lacking in common sense. This one has nothing better to do so he takes the opportunity to BASH THE BRITS, the only people stupid enough to want a relationship with the good old US of A. So if you want someone to blame for something blame the US Governments, over the last 100 years, the US Military and the US Weapons manufacturers because there are lots of far more dangers to humanity and wildlife posed by them every day. Add Global Warming too, because of the past nuclear bomb tests and the millions of explosions they cause every day that would heat up any atmosphere.

Economix
Economix

ZERO blame on IT/technology! The right people were aware of the risks yet they operated the equipment everyday against better judgement and good safety practices. Bottom line is, no one wanted to tell the big bosses that production would be down for X days or hours and cost X dollars to fix the problems.

je_wilson
je_wilson

The blow out was cause by forcing unsafe practices, on the workers, unrealistic schedules, broken equipment faulty equipment that should have been replaced and bullying buy BP management on the workers. These people are the spear head of what is wrong when share holders profits are put ahead of everything. I had work for a Seismic company and we had the opportunity to work for BP and I can say the company is run by liar criminals. You just can not imagine how BP treats there fields workers and contractors.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

blame somebody else while covering up the truth - greed!

jsaubert
jsaubert

You could have the most advanced sci-fi level supercomputer running but if people don't, won't or can't preform their job ... well this is the kind of catastrophic failure you get. It's a system of failure not a glitch. I remember hearing that computers are only as smart as the people that built them; I think that should have been amended to "only as smart as the people OPERATING them" a long time ago. [insert picture of Homer Simpson causing a meltdown here]

woftbo
woftbo

The operator is always at fault. Been there, done that. Dayshift managers always disagree with decisions made at the time required in the middle of the night. BSOD - were trouble reports followed up?

GaryGi
GaryGi

Typical human ignorance, blame someone or something else. People, period, ignored designed alarms and failed to address promptly!

john3347
john3347

If a process monitoring system does not say "GO", it automatically says "STOP". If there is anything in a process monitoring system that fails to say "GO" in an operation as potentially lethal and devastating as was the case with Deepwater Horizon, the responsibility (for the accident) falls to whoever ordered the process to continue without a monitoring system green light.

rwbyshe
rwbyshe

860 Critical Violations by BP vs 8 by all the other oil companies combined in one year says it all. It's akin to: the "cause of death" was a stroke, but the patient ignored all of the doctors other warnings. I assign about 95% of the responsibility to BP management and 5% to equipment/technology. The bottom line was the "mighty buck" that caused this tragedy as it could have all been prevented!!!

jimmeq
jimmeq

One big human error from start to "relief well".

madmalc567
madmalc567

At least 3 percent of those taking the test have no brain (Or were onboard the rig at the time and actually know what happened :-)

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

of the leak, the well or anything connected. Methane is present wherever there is oil. And if it "blew", it would burn locally--little risk to anyone but the crews on the ships around. Ten million people? Use common sense!

santeewelding
santeewelding

A Tunguska Event where you are (looks at watch) right about, now.

QAonCall
QAonCall

A little girl from NY suggested a great fix. Create a cap with an inner rubber fitting, so when cap, pressure can be added internally in order to 'seal' a leak. Innovative use of simple solutions? IDK, but apparently the real solution was invented/suggested by a plaumber from CA.

jabid
jabid

We have to know, for sure, for future drilling, that the relief well, by itself, without the Static Kill will work. The future of such drilling may depend on the answer. Otherwise the doubt may kill deep sea drilling. Are you getting it BP?

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

is not the aim of oil producers or anyone else in the industry. Low oil COST and high oil prices, now that's the aim!!! The cost of repairs to the rig would have had no bearing on the price of oil - just the bonuses to the management team would be seriously affected.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Come together on all this, they will cite [b]seanferd[/b]: "Says so right on the box."

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

If the efficiency and safety of my crew were put at risk for the simple lack of sleep, yes, I would disconnect the klaxons. If the are sounding false alarms, or even legit alarms that nag us over something we can't help, yes I would take a sledgehammer to the sounder. I would also demand the the problem, whatever it is, be fixed ASAP. Short me on that and I would send messages to the E&D division warning of impending major failure of the pressurized lines. I would point out that lives are on the line. I would be sure that the Legal Department is arare of what's going on. But what I wouldn't do in this economy is cut and run. And I wouldn't turn the alarms back on, I would have my crew to be aware of a very dangerous situation, and to keep an eye on every guage, every chart, every display which might be showing our operating status. I would BEG the Chief Engineer to shut down the rig until this can be rectified. Fire hoses would be charged, Medic on standby, Coast Guard notified, Lifeboats opened up. SOS's would be broadcast to the mainland. No secret of our plight would be kept. I also would be fired, and everything I had started would be undone.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I am not the one saying technology is to blame; I reporting what others have said and asking for the opinion of IT professionals. You are attributing this idea to the wrong person.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

The question, then should say "computer failure" instead of BSOD. To most operators (and that's who made the original report) BSOD simply means a computer crash. It's become a generic term, like "Coke" meaning any brand of soft drink. What level of IT guy do you expect to find out there, anyway? They're engineers, electricians, mechanics, ETs, et c. They needed, and apparently asked for, tech support from the mainland, and I'm betting they weren't getting it. Repairs mean shutdowns, and loss of profitability. Mid management wouldn't have that.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I am not floating the idea, I am reporting that the idea has been floated and I am asking IT Pros what they think of the idea. I purposely take a diplomatic role because I want the discussion to be about the topic and not about my take on the topic. But for the record - I'd say technology had little to do with it - human arrogance, greed, and folly are the real culprits - just as they always are.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

BP should've done all the work themselves, and kept us yanks out of the picture. But just because an unpopular liberal like Obama wants to defer blame by concentrating on BP doesn't mean you have to attack the good people of the US with your hyperbole. We love and respect the people of GB. You're just like us except for the funny accents. And as for the US weapons manufacturers, they are the same as those in the rest of the world-but don't make the AK-47. But this isn't the venue for this discussion, is it?

RebelFlag
RebelFlag

Right, we probably wouldn't have even had to be drilling there if we would have saved all of the oil we used up in Europe in the early 1940's, if you get my drift. Lets be a little more reasonable before we say the cause is the US military and US weapons manufacturers. Either that or learn to say it in German.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

but they aren't alone. Hundreds of Fortune 500 companies work just the same. Pushing the limits, pushing their luck, pushing employees to the breaking point and blaming them when things go wrong. That's GOT TO STOP someday. S**T that's a lost cause. But I'm a trained cynic.

F3R4L
F3R4L

You would have thought "the company" would have had at least one qualified technical person on that rig to be in charge of maintaining the critical computer systems. At the least, the person in charge on the rig would have brought this to the attention of the higher ups...

seanferd
seanferd

that this actually has anything to do with MS, Windows, or some other off-the-shelf OS, application, or vendor. If such is the case, the world can quote me to its heart's content. ;)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

And if the French hadn't supported us in the the 1770s and 1810s, we (the US) wouldn't have been around to waste that oil and you'd be kneeling to a British sovereign today.

neilb
neilb

with little or no knowledge of history and without the sense not to make it so obvious. US military casualties in the European theatre in WWII were 400,000. British military casualties in the European theatre in WWII were 400,000. Russian military casualties were 12,000,000. I don't really blame you for your attitude as I'm pretty certain that US history teaching is extremely skewed away from the truth as it would be almost impossible for the credit for the defeat of Hitler to be put where it belongs - the commies. I suppose you believe that the Pilgrim Fathers were persecuted for their religion, as well. :)

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

"If I went 'round sayin' I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away"

neilb
neilb

What, like the Aussies do? Or the Canadians and the Kiwis. Spend all their time bowing and scraping, they do. :D