Well? What’s it to be, punk!

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Esperanto: Patro Kristnasko kaj malgranda knabino Suomi: Joulupukki ja pieni tyttö (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As is traditional at this time of year, we took our nieces to see Santa Claus. The eldest enjoyed it and the youngest is just about over the trauma now. The elf at the front gate confessed to us that more children hated Santa than liked him. Thank Goodness we didn’t go to a Winter Wonderland attraction that recently had to shut down. The attraction sounded great in the promotional material. Reindeer, sleigh rides with real huskies and Santa’s grotto. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s as if the organisers had a checklist. Working to a tight immovable deadline (i.e. Christmas), they just about managed to tick everything off. But because they were running out of time, they had to cut corners. They only had two Reindeer and they managed to look suspiciously like cows with stuck on antlers. The sleigh rides had some real huskies (well 2 to be precise). For some reason, the Santas weren’t available until late in the day. Even when they did turn up, they were thin not fat and their outfits were the cheap see-through plastic kind you get from pound land. The ice rink had no ice. The magic tunnel of ice was a few fairy lights dangled among the trees.

A funny thing happens when you are running out of time and still try to squeeze everything in. Because there isn’t enough time, corners get cut and quality slowly starts its inexorable slide downhill. In this example, the collateral damage was mainly financial, but there will be many children out there for whom the magic of Christmas has been tainted somewhat. But when the same thing happens with software, it can be catastrophic.

When a software project starts to overrun, you have a number of choices. You can slip the deadline (i.e. just accept that delivery will take longer than originally thought). You can slip the budget by putting more people on the project but there is a point where this just makes things worse (read the mythical man month by Fred Brooks). You can slip function (by accepting that you won’t deliver as much). For those who think they can deliver despite the overrun by questioning every estimate and applying pressure, then you end up in Winter Wonderland with only one reindeer and an anorexic Santa.

The default option if you try not to slip anything is quality. And poor quality in software means bugs, glitches & crashes. It also means unhappy clients and unlike Winter Wonderland, most software is around for a very long time.

So what’s it to be?

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Snow, why does it have to be snow? I hate snow.

2013-01-19 11.16.03

There’s a bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark where our illustrious hero, Indiana Jones, peers down into the pit he’s about to enter. He spies a writhing mass of reptilian flesh before collapsing back, ashen faced. “Snakes, why does it have to be snakes?” That’s exactly how I feel about snow. The very sight of the stuff makes me feel bitterly cold to my core.

I explained my prejudices to Maisie, to which she responded “Yes Uncle Martin. Let’s go out and make snow babies!” So either she is already not listening to a word I say at the age of 3 or her aching, burning desire to have fun in the snow trumps my need to avoid frostbite. What exactly is a snow baby anyway? When I grew up, snow creatures only had one gender and they were always grown up.

She wouldn’t take no for an answer and before long we were playing in the snow. I started rolling a ball of snow in an attempt to make a snowman. The snow was far too powdery, and as soon as the ball reached any kind of respectable size, it collapsed in on itself. Maisie was not impressed. I tried to convince her of the inferior quality of the snow, but something in the look she gave me dispelled any notion that she might have believed me.

“Let’s go sledging” I said. In the absence of a purpose-built sledge, I reasoned that the lid of the recycling bin was roughly sledge shaped. Up the hill we trudged. When we got to the top, I gave Maisie a hearty shove. Her progress down the hill was much like that of a reluctant mule. The bin lid travelled slowly and stuttered to a stop with annoying regularity.

2013-01-19 14.45.02Drastic action was needed. A trip to the sledge shop was in order. The man at the shop mentally sized Maisie up before proposing a lime green plastic sledge with a lever on each side to control the brakes. Maisie’s face lit up. “My sledge has brakes!” In her mind, she already owned it. A short while later and we were back on the slopes.

This time, when we reached the top of the hill, a shove wasn’t needed. It was all we could do to hold the sledge in place. Once released, it flew down the hill like a rocket with Maisie squealing with delight. Did it soften my stance towards the cold stuff? No. But I might have secretly had a tiny bit of fun. Just don’t tell anyone.