08 January 2007

Paging Mr. Murphy

    Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong
      Murphy's Law

Let me first point out that I have configured and enabled the Microsoft Routing and Remote Access service multiple times. Each time the configuration worked perfectly, on the first try, with no adverse effects to the system or network. Why was I so successful? It had nothing to do with skill or knowledge, I assure you. There was only one reason: I was standing right in front of the server when I did it.

The most recent time I configured the Microsoft Routing and Remote Access service, the system I was working on was not right in front of me. It was not in a nearby room, not in the same building, not even the same state. It was, in fact, at a hosting provider in St. Louis, Missouri. It was also 8:30 PM on a Sunday night. Oh yeah, did I mention that this was on the database server behind our production web servers.

Three hours later everthing was fixed, but I'm left pondering the often quoted, more often ignored Murphy's Law. I decided to check out its origins at (where else?) the Murphy's Law Wiki Page. It turns out Murphy's Law is named after Maj. Edward A. Murphy, Jr., an aerospace engineer who worked on experimental rocket sleds in the 1950s. He is rumored to have uttered the adage after a subordinate miswired a bunch of sensors resulting in useless test results.

There are actually conflicting accounts around this event. Some stories suggest it was really Murphy's fault for poor planning, and that term was a less-than-subtle dig at Murphy. Others suggest that it was just a quip of Murphy's that became the team's way expressing the pragmatic doctrine of always expecting the worst. That is certainly what the expression became as it was popularized by Murphy's friend and next-door neighbor John Paul Stapp.

Stapp was known as the "fastest man on earth" for his runs on the rocket sled. He was also a collector of expressions and adages, writing them down in a notebook he kept. At a press conference he was asked how such a dangerous program as the rocket sled experiments could have so few injuries. Stapp replied that they always considered Murphy's Law and explained what that meant.

Which is why I can blame Murphy now, instead of my own carelessness.