Happy Birthday sir. You’re under arrest!

Police car emergency lighting fixtures switche...

Police car emergency lighting fixtures switched on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My wages didn’t quite cover my outgoings at the time, so part-time work was the order of the day. I liked working behind a bar because it gave me the social contact I craved as a young guy. It earned me money and whilst I did it, I couldn’t spend any either. A triple whammy. The Kings Arms in Berkhamsted, an old medieval coaching inn in the high street had an eclectic clientele and the money was good. The only drawback was the adjoining nightclub which I found strangely magnetic at the end of a weekend shift, not conducive to saving money.

During one of my shifts, some of the regulars got wind of the fact that it was my birthday and bought me a drink. Drinking behind the bar was tolerated providing you followed the rules; only halves allowed and not too many at that. I enjoyed a few halves before I had to decline the rest because I had to drive home. Later in the shift, my brother turned up. He worked at the hospital at the time. He came in with two nurses and a crate of beer. I finished my shift as quickly as possible and we set off towards his flat.

As we drove home, I noticed some dazzling lights in my rear view mirror. After a while, they became really annoying. I tried taking a different route, they followed. I decided, with all the foolishness granted by youth, that putting my foot down was the best thing to do. The headlights still followed. As we came into the outskirts of town where the streetlights illuminated my pursuer, I suddenly realised it was a police car.

I slowed right down and straight away, the car raced around me with lights flashing and pulled me over. I won’t say they manhandled me, but I nearly fell over as they pulled me from the car. They demanded my name, which I gave. Once I did, they seemed to relax. I had a nice car at the time. Too nice for someone my age and one of the reasons I was permanently penniless. As they chased me, they obviously thought the car might be stolen.

They asked if I’d been drinking. I nodded. They produced a box and told me to blow into it. The lights on the box indicated alcohol on my breath so they arrested me.

Down at the station, there was a queue for the calibrated breathalyser machine. The man in front of me was plastered. He could hardly stand up but loudly protested to his arresting officers that he’d only had one pint. As he queued up, he was obviously mentally totting them up in his head.

“I might have had two… Or maybe it was three.” By the time he got to the machine, he’d owned up to drinking five.

In the intervening period, I started to chat to my arresting officers. I joked about not having a great birthday and explained about working at the pub. I think they warmed to me because I overheard one of them speaking to the stony faced desk sergeant and asking if I could be treated leniently. The Sargent waved him away and said that I would be treated according to the result from the machine.

As the desk sergeant booked me in, he asked me my date of birth, which I supplied.

“It’s his birthday” said the arresting officer who’d appealed for clemency on my behalf.

The stony faced desk sergeant looked up at the clock which now showed a couple of minutes past midnight. “Not any more it’s not!”

My breathalyser test revealed that I was well below the legal limit and they let me go. My legs felt like jelly as we walked back to my brother’s flat, but I enjoyed the sympathy from the nurses.

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How temporary is your temporary solution?

English: A roll of silver, Scotch brand duct tape.

English: A roll of silver, Scotch brand duct tape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To say that ending up with wet feet was a surprise is a bit of an understatement. On the first day in our new place, I did the washing up. When I emptied the bowl down the plughole, I expected the water to disappear, not to suddenly reappear at ankle level. A quick check under the sink revealed the issue. The previous owners had a dishwasher (which they took with them). The drainage from the dishwasher connected to the down pipe.

Now it wasn’t there, a gaping hole stood where the join was. To remedy the situation, we either needed a dishwasher, the right sort of plumbing doohickey to cap the pipe or a plastic bag and a hairband. Guess which of the three we had? The temporary repair did a sterling job of keeping my feet dry and was still there 4 years later when we finally bought a dishwasher.

When I joined BP, there was a carbuncle on the side of the office at ground level. It was one of those temporary portacabin type affairs. I asked someone how long it had been there. 10 years! A whole decade. My school had 2 temporary classrooms when I left 27 years ago. They have 4 now. IBM moved into Hursley in 1958 as a temporary measure. They are still there today.

A temporary solution or workaround can be a Godsend. When you’re about to go live with a big system and horror of horrors, you find a problem. You don’t want to accept the risk of taking a new release where new problems might be lurking. But temporary solutions have a nasty habit of becoming permanent. When you come up with a temporary solution, it’s important to understand the inherent drawbacks of not doing it properly. It’s also good to think about when (or if) it might be replaced. If the permanent solution is not under construction or at least in the planning stages right now, the chances are that workaround could last for a very long time.

If that’s the case, it might well be worth putting in a little extra effort to do a good job. Maybe go the whole hog and fix it properly.

Sometimes permanence is a good thing. The Eiffel Tower was originally built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle but caused such a stir they decided to keep it. Sometimes it’s not. Never believe a politician when they tell you a tax is temporary. As Craig Bruce once said; Temporary solutions often become permanent problems.

An Englishman’s home is his castle

Bart Simpson

Bart Simpson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t stamp my feet or hold my breath, but the petulance was unmistakable. In a way I could understand my partner’s exasperation but the terms of the accord were set earlier in the day. We could plod around estate agents until exactly 3PM when the England game started.

It was Euro ’96 and against all the odds, it looked good for the national team. Of course it all ended in tears but I wasn’t to know that at the time.

I never appreciated how many estate agents there were in Hemel Hempstead. All morning and early afternoon, we traipsed from one to the other looking at the house summaries and booking appointments for the following day. Only one remained. But we had an agreement and I was adamant I wouldn’t miss the kickoff. It was a good game. A lot of drama (as you would expect in an England game) but the boys did well and we won. I saw it as an omen.

The next day, we had just enough time to visit the sole remaining estate agent before our first appointment. We were in luck. A repossession came in as we stood in the branch. It was the right price, in the right area with the right amount of room. As it was just around the corner, we went there first.

We didn’t have a huge budget. We were not perhaps as fiscally solvent as we made out to the bank manager. The deposit consisted of a combination of a short-term loan from work coupled with a small amount of savings. The balance was made up by not paying a couple of bills that month. We certainly couldn’t afford stamp duty which kicked in at a certain threshold.

The repossession was comfortably below our ceiling but as it was the first house we saw, we were ultra critical. It was only later in the day when we plodded around some of the other horrors on our list that we realised how good that first house was. Nothing else was as big nor were they in such a good location. All of them cost a lot more money. I still have nightmares about the house with the bright green kitchen and the 10 foot Bart Simpson painted on the wall.

As we looked around at one more place that could have been the home of the Adams Family, we looked at each other and after a very short exchange we both agreed. We would rush down and put in an offer on the first house. The estate agent explained the special situation regarding repossessions in this country. Our offer had to be published in the local paper and everyone else had a week to put in a higher offer. It was a very stressful week. Luckily, the newspaper had a printing error which made it look like our offer was bigger than it really was.

And we’re still here. The wisest purchase we ever made. And if I hadn’t dug my heels in on that fateful Saturday, who knows where we would have ended up!

Are you sure?

Cover of the 1972 Sphere Books English transla...

Cover of the 1972 Sphere Books English translation of the novella and Matryona’s Place (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“How do you get rid of a database table?” said the disembodied voice of my colleague from beyond the partition.

“DROP TABLE <tablename>” I replied.

“What about if you want to get rid of a whole database?” came the response.

“DROP DATABASE <databasename>” I replied.

After a short pause, my colleague said “Just supposing you’d dropped the wrong database – how do you get it back?”

“You can’t – unless you have a backup.”

“Oh!” he said. “It’s very easy to do isn’t it?”

The thing is, he probably saw a dialog box pop up instantly after he entered the command with those three little words; “Are you sure?” The trouble is, it only takes a heartbeat to read those words and in that brief instant, you are totally sure. After all, you just typed the command. It takes a full 5-6 seconds before you get that “Oh my God!”, heart stopping, toe-curling moment where you realise the size of your monumental cock-up. And by that time, the dialog box is long gone and the machine is busy munching its way through your hard drive.

I don’t know how many dialog boxes we see during a typical working day, but it must be a lot. 99.9% of these dialog boxes will be for something whimsical. Only so often are we doing something of such magnitude that we should pay attention to those three little words. But the trouble is, the dialog looks the same regardless of the consequences.

About to nuke your hard disk with everything on it – “Are you sure?” Of course I’m sure, do it already… Oh shit!

Also – you never get those dialog boxes when you really need them, like when you are about to send a career defining email to far too many people or when you are about to spend a load of money on a present for your wife that she’s going to hate. Or you’re about to wash some white stuff and a sneaky brightly coloured sock has sneaked in.

It would help if these dialog boxes were different in some way. Maybe they could be colour coded to indicate the scale of the consequences. Deleting a single file – no problem, you get a green dialog box. If you are about to recursively delete everything in the root directory, you get a flashing red and yellow dialog accompanied by a suitable sound – like  a klaxon.

Or maybe we could vary the text on the dialog box. We could use lines from famous films. “Go ahead punk, do you feel lucky?” or “I’ll put that down to shock, but only once. Only once can or will I let you get away with that.”

We’d probably still make the same cock-ups, but at least it would be more interesting.