Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/06/22/la-times-accidentally-reports.html
Yesterday at 4:51pm The Los Angeles Times reported on a 6.8 earthquake in Santa Barbara. That’s a shaker size that nobody would miss, and yet nobody felt it – because the earthquake happened 82 years ago.
Usually human error is to blame on an erroneous news story, but in this case, the reporter was Quakebot, a robot that has been reporting on earthquakes since 2014. Quakebot almost always gets it right, but this time it accidentally reported on the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake that killed 13 people and caused $8-million in damages.
According to Gizmodo:
The newspaper’s algorithm, called Quakebot, scrapes data from the US Geological Survey’s website. A USGS staffer at Caltech mistakenly sent out the alert when updating historical earthquake data to make it more precise.
Seismologists have reportedly complained about some of the historical data being off by as much as 6 miles, and this staffer was simply updating the location of the old quake from 1925. But it shows how quickly misinformation can spread with just a few clicks.
Quake-Bot was simply repeating an official - and officially inaccurate! - earthquake alert from USGS. You can subscribe to USGS automated email alerts, which I do, and which Quake-Bot apparently does as well. Here it was:
USGS ENS firstname.lastname@example.org via amazonses.com
5:10 PM (19 hours ago)
== PRELIMINARY EARTHQUAKE REPORT ==
Region: SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL, CALIF.
Geographic coordinates: 34.300N, 119.800W
Depth: 10 km
Universal Time (UTC): 29 Jun 2025 14:42:16
Time near the Epicenter: 29 Jun 2025 07:42:16
Local standard time in your area: 29 Jun 2025 06:42:16
Location with respect to nearby cities:
14 km (9 miles) SSE (156 degrees) of Isla Vista, CA
16 km (10 miles) S (175 degrees) of Goleta, CA
16 km (10 miles) SW (214 degrees) of downtown Santa Barbara, CA
145 km (90 miles) W (281 degrees) of Los Angeles Civic Center, CA
ADDITIONAL EARTHQUAKE PARAMETERS
event ID : ci 37161284
This is a computer-generated message and has not yet been reviewed by a
For subsequent updates, maps, and technical information, see:
The alert was cancelled 53 minutes later. Please note that the USGS Earthquake Alert wasn’t for 1925; it’s for 2025.
Also: “because the earthquake happened 82 years ago.” No, it was 92 years ago. Somebody needs to learn how to use a calculator…
Which means that another subroutine should be added to the Quake-Bot code that performs a plausibility test for dates.
So it’s reporting a quake that has yet to happen? Well, plenty of time to put the china away for safekeeping…
Y2K Bug Strikes Again!
The original earthquake was in 1925, and I’m going to bet that when the records were computerized, the years were entered as two digits. Yesterday, somebody at USGS was apparently updating the old computer records to more accurately record the location, and the saved the change. But NOW, a 2-digit year will be interpreted as between 1930 and 2029, or perhaps as 1940-2039. IN either case, a 2-digit year of “25” will be translated as 2025, not 1925.
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