Deep background

When I asked you if you had changed anything — oh, never mind!

Computerworld  |  Shark Tank
Computerworld / IDG

It’s a long time ago, and this pilot fish’s job is to develop all the software to run a shareware business using Foxpro 2.6 for Windows. (We said it was a long time ago.) The software takes care of inventory and stocking of stores, printing labels for the disks and doing all other necessary tasks.

The owner of the business (we’ll call him Fred) is a reasonably astute businessman, but his acumen doesn’t extend to using computers — he once tried to sell fish’s software to another business without telling fish, but he ran afoul of fish’s built-in copy protection.

One day Fred calls fish and says that all the data is gone. Fish heads to the boss’s house wondering what on earth he could have done that would have deleted all the data. Once there, Fred claims he did nothing, but fish knows that data doesn’t just disappear all by itself, so he sits down at the computer and brings up his software.

True enough, all the data fields are blank. Oddly, though, the program isn't throwing any errors. After poking around the interfaces for a while and seeing no data, fish takes a look at the databases themselves. Surprise! All the data is there.

Fish shows this to Fred and again I ask if he had made any changes to the system. Again, he denies it. Fish is dubious. Fish brings the software up again and goes to some screens designed for his own use, and lo and behold, one of them has a selection list that’s grayed out but shows the proper data. So fish places the cursor in a text field that seems to be empty and selects all — making the data visible.

Now fish knows the right question to ask. “Fred, did you change anything to do with colors recently?”

“Oh, yes,” says Fred.

“What did you do?” fish asks.

”I changed everything to white text on a dark background,” says Fred.

For fish, this is another lesson in the need to user-proof your code. He goes home and changes every data field in the code to enforce black text on a white background.

Says fish, “Learning how to code correctly happens in school. Learning how to code well happens in real life.”

Sharky will take your true tales of IT life in whatever colors you prefer. Send them to me at You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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