Programming buns in Bamberg
If a bank can misread a check by fifty cents, and then be unable to find the fifty cents in the computer, it bodes no tranquillity for a computerized future. Someday that train will not stop at the platform. Someday the powerhouse will vaporize in infinite finality. Some day Sears, Roebuck will send every last customer the same bill for a dozen personalized rubber doormats. And to prove it , hear what happened in Bamberg.
I remember Bamberg. Bavarian, a sizable city upstream from the Main, on the Regnitz, and there was a Konditorei where I found a delectable sweet-bit topped with whipped cream and raspberries. The Konditorei (I suspect a Scandinavian origin) is a sort of lunchroom where the adjacent baker serves his own fresh wares. I was dabbling with my little goodie in the detached and unhurried manner of the Konditoreister, reading the Bamberger Anzeiger off a stick, and inhaling for free the magnificent flavor of the bakeshop.
At that moment the baker was unloading his morning hatch of Brotchen - the endemic German bun with a case-hardened Krupp crust of Portland cement and its edible interior. It is the basis of breakfast, but other items may be had with it if one knows how to ask for them. By strength and persistency a foreigner can open one, whereupon crumbs and shards fly all over the place. After being subdued, dispatched, and dressed out, it is delicious. But I was having my sweet-bit.
The Anzeiger, or whatever its name, was a Kopfblatt, which means it was liberally subsidized by the Occupation, and its editor was accordingly in hearty and logical German agreement with whatever it was he was supposed to be in agreement with. His lead article that morning stressed the need for universal concord and uprightness of political integrity, particularly in the Western world. I smiled, as I read, to think that the simultaneous readers in Hof, Bayreuth, Koburg, Schweinfurt, etc., were just as soothed as the Bambergers with this bland fare, since by the time I was there (1953), German readers were accustomed to the many-editioned ''local'' papers, where the logohead was changed and the first page was replated for each town on the list.
I did look up from time to time to see the Bambergers passing, going and coming, intent and purposeful. Things in Bamberg were certainly well in hand. One would believe that nothing could happen in Bamberg to upset the even flow of affairs. I would never have suspected, as I sat there dawdling with my cake that salubrious morning, that the day would come when Bamberg would be the improbable and unwitting victim of the world's first significant computer fallout. I have just been reading about it from the Frankfurter Rundschau.
I learn that an advertising agency was employed to institute a sales campaign for a new and ''better'' product, and as a starter seventy Bamberger housewives were chosen, without their knowledge, for a test survey. For ten days each would receive a mailing and their overall response would be a guide for the campaign. Moving into Bamberg for this purpose, the advertising agency made arrangements to use the computer of a Bamberg firm that operates a morning delivery service known as the ''breakfast route.'' As a consequence, each of the seventy housewives selected for the survey found, each morning for ten days running, two dozen freshly baked buns on her doorstep - just in time for breakfast.
And the seventy housewives who had ordered buns received printed messages in the mail.
The newspaper says the ladies who received the buns were mostly delighted, and were reluctant to make any public announcements about their good fortune. But the ladies who got no buns, and should have, spoke to their bakers about it, and the bakers consulted the delivery service. Before the truck driver got called in to tell what he knew about this, however, one of the bakers suspected foul play and notified a public prosecutor in Hof, who came to investigate a possible trade violation. Then the truck driver, an artist moonlighting, who did his delivering before sunup, was fetched in and a look at his list offered a solution.
Now, this sort of thing is going to go on and on, and as computer goofs settle upon humanity as accepted facts, we need a name for them. Why not take it from here, and agree to call the electronic faux pas the Bamberger Bungle?