6 Itty-Bitty Screw-Ups That Cost Millions To Fix
To err is human, which is a fancy way of saying "Humans be way dumb." Each day we make hundreds of little mistakes that no one will ever notice, but which we'll stay up all night thinking about anyway. It's probably a good thing we dwell on them, though. Because sometimes, even the smallest of actions can have the biggest, most expensive consequences. Here are some tiny fuck-ups that eventually graduated to epic disasters.
A Man Throws Millions Of Dollars In Bitcoin Straight In The Trash
Like a lot of people who will never, ever shut up about it, James Howells decided to mine some Bitcoin one day. The difference is that Howells did it in early 2009, when one Bitcoin equaled about $0, and thousands of them equaled ... $0. Howells mined 7,500 BTC before moving on to other time-wasting activities of the era, like browsing cat memes or using Facebook (ask your grandpa what that is).
At some point, Howells spilled a drink on his laptop and sold the working parts on eBay, keeping the hard drive in a drawer in case all those Bitcoins were ever worth some real money (like, enough to buy a new laptop, for instance). In 2013, Howell read about a guy in Norway who put a few bucks into Bitcoin back in 2009 and was now a millionaire. That's when he remembered the hard drive with the 7,500 BTC ... and realized that 1) he'd recently thrown it away while cleaning up his home, and 2) he was a dope.
As of this writing, those 7,500 BTC are worth $73 million (editor's note: $62 million) (editor's note 2: wait, no, $68 million), and it's impossible to access them without the private keys on that hard drive. The good news is that Howells knows exactly where the drive is: in a landfill where old electronic equipment gets buried, in accordance with environmental regulations. The bad news is that the city won't allow him to look for it, because digging through 50,000 tons of broken phones and stuff is apparently kind of dangerous. So let's pour one out for Mr. Howells and his lost fortune (as far away from any computers as possible).
A Gender Reveal Party Causes An $8 Million Fire
Gender reveal parties are shaping up to be a greater threat to mankind than climate change or nuclear weapons. Case in point: In 2017, Border Patrol agent Dennis Dickey wanted his upcoming kid's genital configuration to be revealed with a bang, so he filled a target with an explosive substance called Tannerite (which is sold in colors like pink or blue for these very occasions). Dickey gathered his family in an Arizona field, shot his rifle at the target, and the baby's gender turned out to be ... fire?
The explosion caused a wildfire that quickly spread to Coronado National Forest, eventually damaging 45,000 acres of land and causing $8.2 million in damages. Most gender reveal parties sort of fizzle out when the hosts run out of little genital-shaped cookies, but in this case it took 800 firefighters a full week to extinguish it completely.
Dickey had to fork up $100,000, and will have to pay $500 a month for 20 years before future restitution can be assessed, on top of being sentenced to five years' probation. We did the math, and that's definitely more expensive than buying a colored cake or, you know, just saying "It's a boy/girl." Anyway, it was a boy! Congrats. Try not to resent him for the next two decades.
An Oregon Teen Causes $37 Million Worth Of Damage With A Single Firecracker
It's been well established that teenagers are jackasses and should never have access to ... anything. But especially not things that go boom. A good example is the time a 15-year-old decided to hurl a firecracker into a dry ravine at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area during a statewide burn ban. But hey, it was just a 2-inch firecracker. How much damage could it do? Here's a time-lapse of the answer:
The resulting fire engulfed over 121 square miles of forest and caused $37 million in damages, which the teen might be able to make a decent dent in if he mowed 121 square miles of lawns for the next 100 years. It also threatened hundreds of lives and stranded 153 hikers for a day. The boy (whose name was withheld, so we'll call him "Huge Idiot") was reportedly extremely sorry for his dumbass actions, and wrote apology letters to 150 of the people affected by the fire. Which was nice, but it's hard to write a nice letter to the forest (it resents the very paper it's printed on).
During the trial, the judge sentenced Huge Idiot to five years' probation and ordered him to complete 1,920 hours of community service with the U.S. Forest Service. As for his $37 million debt to the state of Oregon, the judge allowed the kid to set up a payment plan that could be suspended after 10 years if he makes steady payments, doesn't violate his probation, and refrains from burning down any more forests. Or commit any other crimes, but come on, that's the one we're all worried about.
An Oxford Comma Costs A Dairy Company $5 Million In Overtime Pay
Leaving out the last comma while listing three or more things can lead to disaster, which is why the internet's smartest, classiest, and most irresistibly sexy websites always include it. But this mistake isn't just a crime against grammar; it can also be a crime, period. For instance, in 2014, three delivery truck drivers for Oakhurst Dairy took a close look at Maine's overtime laws and realized they were being stiffed by their employer ... technically speaking. The letter (and comma) of the law stated that their bosses didn't have to pay them any overtime for the following activities:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.
"Packing for shipment" and "distribution" were meant to be two separate activities, but the lack of an Oxford comma between them left that ambiguous. And since they're drivers, not packers-and-drivers, they argued that they were owed some serious overtime pay. Unleashing the full power of pedantry, they also argued that "distribution" clearly wasn't part of the list because all other activities were listed as gerunds ending in "-ing." We know a thing or two about lists and pedantry, and we have to agree.
Oakhurst initially won the case, but the drivers kept at it and won their appeal in 2018, to the tune of $5 million. The expensive grammar lesson did pay off ... sort of. In an impressively stubborn move, Maine fixed the issue while still refusing to use an Oxford comma in that section ... or any commas. The clause now reads:
An Excel Copy-Pasting Error Cost JPMorgan Billions
When you suddenly find yourself short $6 billion, as JPMorgan did in 2012, it's only natural to want to look back and understand why. Basically, traders at the company had been making overly risky transactions that didn't pay off, like when you take a chance on the suspicious burrito in the back of your fridge and live to regret it. The causes behind such behavior are complex, but one can be summed with two simple words: motherfucking Excel.
It all started when JPMorgan's Chief Investment Office found itself in need of a new value-at-risk model -- something that calculates how much money a firm or portfolio may lose. This task was outsourced and assigned to a "quantitative whiz" who happened to no longer work at a company that makes such models. He devised a model that worked "through a series of Excel spreadsheets, which had to be completed manually, by a process of copying and pasting data from one spreadsheet to another." Traders got carpal tunnel syndrome just by looking at it.
The employees who reviewed this Frankenstein of a model approved it, but recommended automating the process. The so-called whiz did no such thing. So when someone down the line made a mistake (dividing some figures by their sum instead of their average), this was amplified by the copy-pasting chain, making it look like some operations were less risky than they actually were. The end result? $6 billion in losses and an additional billion in fines. In the future, please only use Excel for its intended purpose: making it look like you're working when you're in fact reading Cracked.com.
Related: Cracked Round-Up: Poison Ivy Edition
Spain Nearly Sinks A Billion-Dollar Sub Due To A Decimal Point ... Then Makes It Too Big To Dock
In 2013, Spain announced that there was a tiny problem with the fancy new submarine they'd been building for about a decade: It was too heavy to come up to the surface, which you might recognize as one of the two main features of a sub. (To be fair, they got the "sinking" part right.) So what happened? Did they use the wrong material? Are Spain's naval officers overdoing it with the tapas? Nope, according to a former official, it all came down to a freaking decimal point.
While designing the submarine, some engineer used the right number, but put the decimal in the wrong place. No one noticed the error until construction was already well underway, and the sub turned out 100 tons heavier than it was supposed to. But Spain persevered. In a very literal example of sunk cost fallacy, they continued the project, but simply made the submarine 32 feet longer (at a cost of around $2.5 million per foot) in order to increase its buoyancy. Problem solved!
After the Spanish government spent years building the longer submarine, they came to realize it was too long. It no longer fits in its intended dock in Cartagena. Now the port will have to be enlarged too, while the total cost of the project grows to $1.2 billion -- almost double its original budget. If this trend continues, Portugal and France better watch their backs. They're about to be swallowed by the rapidly expanding Spanish Navy. And all because of a decimal point.
For more, check out Why The Number 1 Fact Of Military History Is A Lie - Hilarious Helmet History:
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