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Peter Pontificates: Computer Programming Has Ruined My Brain

Just a confirmation ladies and gentlemen: this is Alaska Airlines flight 15 non-stop to Seattle.  Please move down the aisle to your seats as quickly as possible, so we can be underway without delay.  Please remember that the primary storage location for your luggage is under the seat in front of you.  As this is a very fully flight…

I hadn’t really been paying attention to the background blather, but my mind just sort of locked-in on that last statement.  Did she say “a very full flight”?  Huh?  I turn to my seat mate, a skinny dude with glasses trying very hard to make sure everyone knows he is a medical doctor, because of his superior manner, the non-stop use of his cell phone to talk about his patients in a loud voice, and his constant waving of a copy of Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Me: Did she say “very full flight”?

Dr Boy: (looking over his Dolce and Gabbana glasses) Excuse me?

Me:  Very full.  Did the flight attendant just say it was a “very full flight”?  Because, well I don’t really understand how that can be, given that “full” is a boolean.  It means “filled to capacity.”  The flight can be FULL or NOT FULL.  It can’t be VERY FULL.

Dr Boy: Uh, uhm… I’m not sure (waves Oncology Journal)… Stewardess! (orders a scotch, while ostentatiously making another phone call)

I can’t stand stuff like this.  Stuff like people acting highly superior on planes (jet travel is soooo glamorous these days, don’t you think?) of course, but that’s not what I specifically mean in the context of this article.  I mean booleans being used as floating points.  If full is a boolean, it can only be TRUE or FALSE (or true or false if you’re with me on that C# thing from last year, but I digress).   It can’t have any other value.  So how could the plane be very full?

As I considered this, and noticed the stares I was still getting from Dr Boy out of the corner of his eye, I started to worry about my health just a bit.  After I thought about it for a while, I came to a realization: Computer programming has ruined my brain.

I suppose I knew this even before I had the above described revelation on the tarmac.  It was just the other day that I was looking for scheduled episodes of a particular TV show with my DVR that I was driven into a fit of pique.  I did “Search for shows” and then “By title.”  I entered “House” (the show title).  The search results display page had three columns that read as follows:

House 21 Jan 8:00PM USAHD
House 21 Jan 9:00PM USAHD
House 23 Jan 2:00AM HDNet
House 23 Jan 9:00PM USAHD
House 26 Jan 8:00PM FoxHD

As an aside, please note that this was not a TiVo.  TiVo is great. TiVo is the highest form of its art.  There’s nothing wrong with anything that TiVo does.  There is probably not even anything wrong with anything made in Alviso California, in fact.  I was using a different, low-rent, knock-off, ghetto, poseur TiVo wanna-be DVR.  Obviously.

What drove me nuts — insane, in fact — about the results display was that it showed the title of the show on each line… but failed to show the episode name.  I already knew the name of the damn show.  I was searching by title, right?  Showing the title was useless.  My wife was sitting with me:

Me: Arrgh.  Why are they showing me the Title field?

Karen: Huh? It’s the title of the show.

Me: I know that.  But why are they showing it to me?  On the search results page.  Why didn’t they show me the Episode name?  I mean, heck… we’ve seen “House’s Head” like three times… but we missed “Wilson’s Heart.”

Karen: Cuz that’s what they show.  So you’ll know the title.  So…

Me:  I searched by title.  I know the title.  I’ll tell you why they show it. It’s because the dev was too lazy to code a separate page for each search result type, that’s why.  If she had coded a search results page for “search by title” that showed the episode name, and a separate search results page for “search by actor” or whatever that showed the show title, that would have been more work.   Seriously, this is just a bunch of HTML and how much time would it have taken?  Probably less time than it will now take me to select each of the results from the search results page and see what the episode title is.

Karen: You just click on it..

Me: I know I just click on it.  But why was it written this way?  It’s freakin’ idiotic.  If one of the devs who works with me did that, they’d be fired.  It’s either lazy or it’s stupid…

Karen: I’m going to get a cup of tea.  Let me know when you’re done talking to the dog about how the TiVo works and there’s something for us to watch.

Me: Arrrgh… It’s not a TiVo, it’s a cheap-ass off-brand TiVo clone…

Karen: (from the kitchen now, with the teapot) uh huh, yeah, TiVo, yup.  Come here Toby!

She was familiar with this type of tirade.  It was similar to the one I loosed when I didn’t like the fact that her new car navigation system required you to go 7 menus deep in order to set what I figured should be a common parameter.  That tirade contained a long soliloquy starting with “Who writes software like this?” and ending with”…would be fired” and “… either lazy or stupid.”

If I didn’t know how to program, I don’t think these things would bother me.  I’d probably just accept “that’s the way that the DVR works” and probably be amazed that the damn thing knew when every episode of House was scheduled for the next two weeks.  I’d be blissful in my ignorance.  But, computer programming having ruined my brain, I couldn’t accept the bad design choices.  The really awful implementation decisions.  The just plain dumb code.

I wish that I could report that the spongiform that is computer programming had only affected my brain in the use of consumer electronics products.  Sadly, this is not the case.  It’s affected just about everything I do. Recently, my dog got sick. On one of my visits to the vet, I made him sit down and put the various treatment options into “if… then… else…” statements.  He thought I was, shall we say, rather unusual .  I thought he had a very disorganized way of thinking.  How does somebody work in an office that doesn’t even have a white board!  It’s ridiculous.  I wanted to find another vet — not really trusting anyone who doesn’t have an immediate grasp of C syntax or Expo markers — but Karen talked me out of it.

Anyhow, at least now I realized my malady.  And as I sat on the plane, getting ready to take off, I rolled the whole thing over in my mind.  Maybe it wasn’t so bad to be infected by computer programming.  At least it kept me from speaking loudly on my cell phone and waving an oncology journal at the flight attendant.  Hmmmm… I wonder who wrote the software that does the avionics displays?


Peter Pontificates is a regular opinion column by OSR consulting partner, Peter Viscarola. Peter doesn’t care if you agree or disagree, but you do have the opportunity to see your comments in a future issue. Send your own comments, rants, or distortions of fact to: