A baud-y tale

Impatience is its own reward?

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Pilot fish with a great memory takes us back, if not to the Stone Age, then pretty close: the time of 300-baud modems and floppy disks that were truly floppy and measured a whopping 8 inches. He’s working for a company that troubleshoots clients’ computer problems, and one mid-afternoon a customer from the other side of the state calls. Send me the data so I can investigate, fish tells them, but at 300 baud, copying it over takes most of what remains of the workday. Fish expects to be working late on this problem. 

But the new office manager wants it solved same-day, and then proceeds to pretty well sabotage her own desires. First, she interrupts every couple of minutes for updates. Fish patiently explains that the only way to expose the data and find the bug is to insert “Print” statements into the code, recompile it, and then run it to see the results. The compile process takes many minutes, as does the test run. Each full test cycle takes about 15-20 minutes — pretty much an eternity in the office manager’s eyes. 

Pacing back and forth behind fish’s chair, she’s the picture of impatience — with sound:  

Office manager: “It’s almost quitting time and they don’t want to stay late. We need to send them something now.” 

Fish: “There’s nothing to send yet. I’m still debugging the program.” 

OM: “But you’re just sitting there.” 

Fish: “I’m waiting for it to finish compiling.” 

About that time, she sees the compile-end message come up on fish’s monitor, reaches over his shoulder, pops the disk out of the computer and runs down the hall to the only computer that has a modem.  

A few minutes later, she’s back, clearly unhappy. “It didn’t work,” she says. “They said the program printed a bunch of random numbers all over the screen, and the bug was still there.” 

To which fish responds, “Those random numbers would be my debugging statements. I did say I’m still debugging the program. And by the way, I couldn’t do anything while you were gone because this minicomputer doesn’t have a hard drive and you stole my floppy.” 

It takes only one more debugging cycle to find the problem, but this time fish keeps his hand over the floppy drive while the program compiles.

But the office manager is right about the client: They’re as impatient as she is. By the time she transmits the bug-free program, they have all gone home, and the next day they cancel their contract.

And the office manager? A few months later she resigns for a better-paying job with a bigger company. 

“At least she didn’t go with the customer who had ditched us,” sighs fish.

Sharky will accept your floppies, but better yet, send your true tales of IT life to me at sharky@computerworld.com. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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