Prepaid Credit Won’t Keep You Out Of Debt

Some 13,000 people using prepaid Visa cards suddenly found themselves supposedly owing more than the entire world’s GDP – $23,148,855,308,184,500.00 in extra charges! Over 23 quintillion by common nomenclature – even President Bush never ran up that much debt!

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It put me in mind of a scene early in Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress in which Mike, the computer who “woke up” to become a sentient being with a prankish sense of humor, adds ten trillion dollars to a janitor’s paycheck. (The janitor realizes he can’t cash it and sells it to a collector.)

The culprit was of course a computer in this case too, but its sentience is still doubtful. It actually looks like a pretty straightforward programming error.

If you convert the number of cents (2,314,885,530,818,450,000) to hexadecimal, the overcharged amount comes to “20 20 20 20 20 20 12 50”, or six ASCII space characters and then 12 and 50 (ASCII for “2 p” – possibly an indicator to put the decimal point in at two places to make the amount in dollars).

To paraphrase Mannie’s worries in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, someone better straighten that computer out before someone gets overcharged a mere $21,018.40 or so!

(20 12 50) 😉

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~ by B.T. Murtagh on July 15, 2009.

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