Malaysian commercial billboards feature a photograph of some unknown person — one with striking resemblance to an elderly, unsalaried journalist. The promotional images were released through advertising firm Digital Brand Resource (DBR) and other media, and it looks like they want to raise awareness on the company’s new products.

However, the dubious likeness is not a coincidence. It’s the result of an error that DBR’s self-service sign box system doesn’t identify — a single error that will baffle experts looking to discover how this picture of a journalist made its way into the wild.

Researchers at Rutgers University discovered this miscalculation when they analysed thousands of temporary sign card machines — another DBR sign box system that is used to display advertisements.

When used on temporary display machines, these kiosks display the latest news articles, financial advertisements, and Twitter posts. However, when they’re running through test models controlled by DBR, they fail to recognise any print advertising.

The error only seemed glaring when researchers examined the numbers themselves. When 830 of the 10,600 kiosks they tested saw ads, they were properly greeted with the look of outrage. The result? If you’d been reviewing them, the error of the program would have been a complete surprise.

Here’s why: printing those faulty numbers, as often is the case when signage attempts to fool researchers, spreads the message that the machines are in beta-testing mode, rather than being fully operational.

Putting the spelling error in proper place is essential, as DBR may not have got it. The team recommends investigating the machine and replacing the numbers that display errors before you delete them. They report in the study:

All of this demonstrates that temporary signboxes should identify their equipment in a format that non-technical users understand, without regard to their exact passmark.

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