Get the Powers to Act from Fresh Ideas

June 13, 2013

Writing Clearly - Crashing into Mars

I want to write a lot about software and software business. And I have to restrain myself to stick to my target audience, you : young students and  your parents. This post is about software but you will find it easy to understand and useful to your study.

Writing clearly is very important. How important? Not doing so can crash expensive space crafts, like the crash of Mars Climate Orbiter in September 1999. That just cost NASA US$ 125 million.

I got this example from Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making. It's a wonderful book, full of inspiring examples for young scientists, students and entrepreneurs.

What the Crash Had to do with Clear Writing?

Mars Climate Orbiter's software mixed up between English units and metric units, between feet and meters.

Kindergarten mistakes?

Not so fast.

The authors of that software borrowed some pieces from the software of a previous mission called Mars Global Surveyor. The part that caused the problem is called "the thruster equation", which does conversion between feet and meters. That must be a very simple, clear, short piece. What so special about conversion between feet and meters after all?

Pieces of software are just like paragraphs in a long story.

If you write clearly, they read like paragraphs in a good story. You know what each means, which parts of the story are where and so on.

If you are careless, undisciplined or irresponsible, any reader will trip, slip and fall among your lines and paragraphs.

And your software may down a plane, shut down a bank and a hospital, or even crash some space missions.

So, why not start a good habit now. Let's write a bit more clearly starting from today!

Mars Global Surveyor with s a bit messy software.

Mars Climate Orbiter that crashed into mars.


  1. AnonymousJune 26, 2013 <--- GOOD <-- GOOD

  2. AnonymousJune 26, 2013

  3. AnonymousJune 28, 2013

    I'm not joking about luck. Even on my death bed, even at the instant I die, luck will accompany me. I have proofs

    (1) Read any psycho book on curiosity's impact on amygdala ( fear/anger center of brain) and on cortex. Curious George, the monkey!

    (2) A scripture story : An ascetic practiced very hard throughout his life. When he was dying he saw signs that he was going to hell. He realized his theories and practices had been wrong. He died and went to somewhere above the 6 layers of deva/s and to some upper layers of the 16 layers of the Bhrama's etc.