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Tuesday, 09 February
Getting With The Program
Today at work I had a meeting. It was three and a half hours long. Now, let us stipulate that there is nothing remotely interesting about turgid blog posts about turgid work meetings. They are universally dull and wrist-slitting.
This is a blog post about my interminable work meeting. Enjoy!
It actually wasn't the worst thing I've endured. After all, I've seen "Ace of Cakes." But it was a PowerPoint presentation titled "Back to Basics," which gave me brief hope that it was going to be still shots from a little-known sex comedy from 1980 with Bill Murray pulling faces and faceless women taking their shirts off. It emphatically was not. It was, as advertised, a PowerPoint presentation, with multiple images spinning their way into view in various whimsical ways, occasionally with sound effects like screeching tires, Yakety Sax, and my silent mental screams.
At one point, a demo of an updated piece of software was given. Seriously, you can stop reading any time. Anyway, this piece of home-rolled software is titled GUP. That stands for "General Update." It was created back in 1999 in-house to replace a profoundly primitive but similar piece of software called MUP. That stood for "Manual Update," and it looked exactly like Zork. ("You are in a maze of green text . . . ") MUP, apart from its tendency to inspire me to chant "MUP MUP MUP!" in my office, was a truly horrid program whose interface was akin to performing delicate ear surgery with a two-by-four. GUP, on the other hand, was a slightly slicker replacement bit of software that was extraordinarily ugly, but less Zork-esque in that one did not actually fear for being eaten by grues.
On the third hand, GUP was not without its problems. Its main deficiency was the fact that if one had to alter multiple rows in multiple tables, GUP required you to enter the patient chart information every single time. For each change, you had to enter three different identifier fields. This was not unlike visiting a supermarket where, when purchasing several items, you had to buy one thing at a time and then go to the back of the line for every separate item.
Now, it's probably useful to realize that, again, these programs were created in-house in 1999. It's also helpful to realize that I'm a total moron who topped out with BASIC and then promptly forgot even that. It's ALSO perhaps amusing--or something--to know that the guy who hammered out most of the code behind this misbegotten app, a legendary maniac named Owen who was famous for being tasked for these awful assignments, would disappear into his office for weeks at a time and then, after long hours of cramming walnuts up his ass or painting surrealistic depictions of fanciful giraffes, would eventually emerge from his office with a wholly-formed program ready to be deployed. I talked with the other programmers at the time (many of whom were utterly cracked themselves, including one avowed Libertarian who enjoyed sending emails in Latin), who described his methods as either "brilliant" or "utterly insane." Or, often, both.
The original GUP program was intended as a very temporary fix, as even our AppDev folks recognized its annoying aspects, namely its outrageously inefficient access mechanisms, its hideous interface, and the inescapable fact that once Owen left shortly after its creation, nobody had the faintest idea how or why he had created it in the way he did. Owen became our lost Dr. Frankenstein, a mad genius who had foisted a shambling, mad creature into our world, realized he had no earthly way of explaining it or controlling it, and then just threw his hands up and split, off to some other Pythagorean world where there were always orchards of walnut trees laden with nuts to cram up his ass.
GUP is the temporary fix we've been living with for over ten years. Today, at our deathless meeting, the new version was demoed for us. It looked great, to be honest, and solved nearly all of the gripes we've been croaking out for the last decade. Sure, there were a couple problems--pretty minor--but what do you expect with a new software rollout? When the meeting left off and we all applied our age creams, we all scampered back to our offices to play with our new toy.
I double-clicked the program icon. And it informed me that there was a grievous problem, and it would not load up. Would I like to send an error report to Microsoft?
I mentioned that this is a completely in-house program, right?
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