It's all in how (and when) you say it

Flashback to the late 1970s, when this pilot fish is a contractor at a military base, working on some very cool fire-control systems for tanks.

"On a particular round of testing -- blasting 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood from two kilometers away -- I was operating a video recording system that viewed the gunner sight and the gun bore camera," says fish.

"It was obvious that a coding error in the fire-control software for the day had inverted the correction for gun elevation. Instead of raising the gun above the gunner's sight to compensate for range, it was depressing it."

And with the software moving the gun barrel in the wrong direction, the test ammunition is going to fall short every time.

Over the radio, fish brings this situation to the attention of the range commander -- who dismisses the observation, since it's coming from a mere grunt.

Thus, when the first round is fired, it's far short of the target and in the dirt. So is the second round, and the the third.

Back on the squawk box, fish voices his observation again -- and it's again dismissed by the range commander.

But it's not ignored by fish's supervisor, who climbs into the van where fish is working and asks to see the video. Then the supervisor instructs fish to start calling "in the dirt" over the squawk box before each shot is fired.

"Of course I obliged," fish says. "And with rounds four, five and six called 'in the dirt,' Mr. Range Commander halted live firing and instructed the fire-control software engineers to investigate the issue.

"A few hours later the error was corrected and we were again back to blasting plywood."

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