Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dug in and Not Budging

For some reason a bit of junk mail history has popped into my mind. It's not very interesting except in that it illustrates how people can get out on a limb with an obviously bogus position and cling to it for dear life.

At a company I worked for in Virginia in the 1990's, a client had sent us a master file of records on magnetic tape. The records comprised a history of donors to political organizations and had been copied from a disk file elsewhere.

The record format included dates and amounts of the most recent ten donations, with a YYMMDD format for the date and a seven digit field for donations, cents implied. Perhaps the last 25 or 30 records on the tape consisted of (presumably) genuine names and addresses, but each date was 222222 and each amount was 2222222. In addition, there were twos in the fields for identifying the political organizations that received the money and in the two-digit codes associated with the donations.

We'd had the file a couple of days, had run a conversion on it and examined the results, corrected a few things after looking at the output, and run a second conversion, when the owner of the client company called for me.

Client: "How's the conversion going?"

World's Greatest Programmer: "The conversion is complete. It all looks pretty good except that we had to drop a few records at the end that contained garbage data."

Client: "WHAT? Those represent money. You can't drop any records."

WGP: "Well, once you get by the name and address on the input, the rest of each record is filled with twos."

Client: "That's money! You can't drop records! I can't believe you dropped those records!"

WGP, losing patience and counting to one: "Ohhhh, I'll bet you'll believe that before you'll believe that on the 22nd day of the 22nd month of 1922 each of those people made ten donations of $22,222.22."

Silence, followed by

Client: "Let me speak to Walter."

Walter was my boss and the owner of the company. I put the client on hold, walked over to Walter's office, and explained the situation. Walter picked up the phone and I hung around just long enough to learn that he was going to have exactly the same conversation with the client that I had just had. Well, with a little more tact on our end, perhaps.

We had our wicked way in the end, of course. Garbage is garbage and there's not much to be done with it. For you mainframe techies, the twos came from unused index records on the disk originally containing the file.

Once in a while it can be productive to get out on a limb about something, and sometimes it can be fun, even if the limb gets sawed off behind you. Stubbornness for the sake of sheer stubbornness is something else. I can't imagine what the client thought about the origin of donations made in the 22nd month of a year six decades before the existence of his company.


Just Another Wannabe said...

Funny story! Even funnier is that, of all the people in the world whose blog I could have stumbled into, I fell right in the lap of yours. I'll be stalking ... er, I mean ... following you. You always make me laugh, and your insight is amazing. Oh, and BTW - COBOL rules!

BrokenDownProgrammer said...



Your comments certainly imply that we know each other. Who are you? Ah ha ha ha ha ha.

In any case, you're very kind, especially for a COBOL programmer.

Just Another Wannabe said...



What I really found amazing is, as I was reading your blog, I kept saying to myself, "I know this writing style. I know this person from some other place."

And, even before I read your profile to confirm my suspicions, I was pretty sure I'd guessed your identity.

Are you still waiting for someone to buy you a liquor store?

All kidding aside, you really do write well; I've always thought so. I found your blog in the process of starting my own. It really is a small world. I'm still learning how to use this site, but I'll get there.

LOL on the COBOL programmer comment! I still use it, always will.

Keep writing - I'll keep reading. You're never boring.

BrokenDownProgrammer said...


By an unholy coincidence I know a woman in Pennsylvania who has been an office manager and a tech writer - not sure about programmer - and has other traits in common with you, such as the music, movies, and books.

Now I'm thinking we might know each other from the BB.

I'd like to say once again that you're very kind, but I may have to retract the first such statement if you're not gonna tell me who you are. That's a little *too* coy.

There are *many* stories on this blog, and you'll probably get more fun out of them by starting at the beginning. I'm pretty close to finished with it although I might add the odd post once in a while.

I'm working on an ebook which incorporates some of the material here and am adding most of the newer stories to that, rather than to the blog.

Just Another Wannabe said...

When I read your programming story and figured out who you are, I went back and started reading your blog from the beginning. I was especially interested in Amazon pulling the pedophile book, and was glad to see someone other than myself take a stand against it. It infuriated me, and still does to know that the book is still available through less than savory websites, according to a watchdog friend of mine. But at least it was pulled from the biggest distributor of books thanks to you and people like you who protested with a roar rather than a whimper.

I’m diving headfirst into something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time – writing, hopefully for publication someday. Not tech writing, though. I have to do that every other day at work. Tech writing is cut-and-dried, as you well know. As a programmer, I’m sure you’ve written your share of instruction manuals. B-O-R-I-N-G.

Funny you should mention eBooks. I’m seeing a trend that seems to be leading to the end of books as we know them. I love books. I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. At one time, I was such a book snob I wouldn’t consider a paperback a “real” book. It had to be hardcover. Of course, I’ve changed my mind since then, especially in light of the price of books these days. Gosh – should this be an eBook thread? Anyway – I’ve been researching the possibility of self publishing eBooks. It seems to me, if done correctly, one might make a decent return on an investment and it might be a risk worth taking.

Yes, we know each other from the BB. I haven’t posted or read the BB for a number of years for two reasons. A very fine person who I corresponded with on a regular basis got a little too close to tearing down the brick walls I’d built up around me, and I reacted in panic by being a bit unkind to him, an action I’ve always regretted. Sadly, I never bothered to explain why. But that’s all water under the bridge (to use a very, VERY overused expression).

So, right here, in front of the entire blog world, I’m telling you I’m sorry. Not for any other reason, than that I should because you deserve it. And I don’t care who sees it.

I’ll be reading you. And please do let me know when you’ve completed your eBook. I’ll be the first in line to purchase it.

Best of everything to you … yup – that woman in Pennsylvania. I hope the coincidence wasn’t too unholy.

Oh – the second reason I have no more time for the BB? I became a Pogo addict to escape the stress of the everyday workplace. Uh huh, it works.

BrokenDownProgrammer said...

Wow. Fancy meeting you here. Ah ha ha ha ha ha.

And given the name I first knew you by, how funny that I should refer to an "unholy" coincidence. But all I meant was that the similarities were enough to lead me in the wrong direction regarding who the commenter was.

I thank you but no apology was necessary. I was *not* offended.

A year or so ago I dropped off the BB. Its population is predominantly cats now, both male and female.

Good luck with your blog. I'll be checking it from time to time.

For myself, I've found writing to be a combination of hard work and fun. My best advice is that if on a given day you don't feel like writing, then don't. You can develop feelings of hostility toward it.

And good luck with Pogo. Ah ha ha ha ha ha.

Just Another Wannabe said...

Thank you! That's more generosity than I deserve.

I will definitely take your writing advice to heart. You've been doing it a lot longer than I have, and I'm happy to be the beneficiary of the things you've discovered that do and do not work.

I'll take your word for the state of the BB. I have no desire to go back to see what's going on. I do miss one thing, though - your condensed version of the BB. It always made me laugh out loud - literally!

Hey - give Pogo a try. It really is amusing, and some of the conversations that take place in the chat boxes make good fodder for short stories. You might like it … or not!

Catch you some other time in eSpace!