Oops 糟糕

A car hit the wall
Image caption Some miscalculations can have disastrous consequences

Vocabulary: mistakes 詞匯: 錯誤、失誤

There are times when saying sorry is not enough to spare you from embarrassment. A few weeks ago I baked a cake and sent it to my friend's mother. My friend told me it was a nice gesture but… I might have added salt to the recipe rather than sugar...

When I find myself regretting little mistakes in daily life, I spare a thought for those who face the music for very public blunders. Last May, a company which operates trains in France realised that 2,000 new trains it bought for $20.5bn wouldn't fit on many regional platforms. It's because they were too wide! They had to change the platforms to accommodate the trains. Red faces all around!

But this is not the worst fiasco I've heard about. I have great respect and even reverence for those engineers who build probes and send them into space. These guys are really brainy. So imagine how horrified I was when I read on the news that the Mars Orbiter was lost in 1999 because Nasa and its contractor used different systems: the US space agency team used metric while the contractor used imperial units. The probe, which cost no less than $125m, came closer to Mars than it was supposed to and… well, scientists believe it was destroyed when manoeuvring.

Some miscalculations end up costing a lot of money but others can cost lives. British explorer Robert Falcon Scott made a very unfortunate mistake when he calculated how much food to take on his expedition to the South Pole in the early 1900s. He ended up working out daily rations for himself and his team which were insufficient. Our bodies spend lots of energy just keeping warm in the polar environment. It's believed Scott died of starvation.

But every day people pay for errors of judgement and maybe we shouldn't be so hard on ourselves. There're those who are quick to pass the buck, though. I wonder what happened to the managers behind the train blunder. And what about the guy who should've checked if all those involved with the Mars Orbiter were on the same page?

For me, it was just a cake. But I shouldn』t leave my somewhat weak baking abilities to chance. Next time I'll treat my friend's mother – a very nice lady, by the way – to a high-class bakery. Sugar? Salt? I'm sure they』ll get it right!