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.