A million here, a million there

Back in the days of mainframe computing, I was working for a distributor of jewellery. These were the days when even the most junior of computer-oriented people were held in some degree of awe by the other workers, since you knew the incantations and spells to make that computer thing churn out reports. Once a year, inventory was counted, reconciled with the values in the computer and (hopefully) things were fairly close. As a junior member of the IT staff, my job was to run the reports, print them out, and then pass it on to the finance people.

This particular inventory count, things were not going well. On the first pass through we were more than six million dollars out. Repeated physical checks, validation of packing slips, and many reports were required. I had been in the office for just about thirty hours straight when I finally asked what “fairly close” meant. I was told that this meant that we were less than a million dollars out! By now we had gotten down to about a million and a half, after seven or eight rounds.

When the finance department went out for supper, I was asked to run the reports off, since this took about an hour, and they would start again on the next round of reconciliation. I performed the required task, and printed the four hundred page reports which were now showing a one and a quarter million dollar difference. I knew what I had to do. I carefully copied the entire final page (the one with the totals) into an editor, and then modified the numbers so that it had a better value. Total discrepancy now … $999,999.99. I put the complete reports on the vice-president’s desk in the finance department. Then I put the modified page on top of the reports. When they returned from supper, there was at first joy, and then bewilderment at how the number came to be that particular number. It took about fifteen minutes before they realized that the report had been tampered with.

Robert Forbes, Oshawa, Ont.