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Strange Coding Tales

by mojotoad (Monsignor)
on Oct 21, 2002 at 21:31 UTC ( #206929=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

A recent monestary poll, "I mainly write Perl at...", got me to thinking about situations where I've found myself coding in unexpected places.

In that discussion, gryphon related an interesting programming tale about capturing a coding idea on a piece of driftwood on a beach when no other materials were on hand for the task. I responded with a couple of anecdotes from my recent travels. Once I sketched out an abstraction layer in my travel log while staying in a remote village in Flores, Indonesia; another time I had to patch one of my modules while riding out a rainstorm on the coast of Vietnam.

So this got me to thinking...surely there's a ton of tales out there about strange coding locales; if not a place or situation, how about bizarre circumstances?

Come forth and regale your fellow Brethren with rarefied coding tales of intrigue!

Matt

Comment on Strange Coding Tales
Re: Strange Coding Locations
by sch (Pilgrim) on Oct 21, 2002 at 21:41 UTC

    Strange Coding Locations ... hmmm
    Not really coding as such but I once had to spend about an hour talking someone through configuring disk arrays while stood on top of a mountain during a skiing trip. Some slightly strange looks from the other people around :)

    But today you took me walking, Through a land that we have lost,
    While our children sit at websites, With no access to the cost

      What impresses me is that you remembered enough to be helpful, even though you couldn't see what was happening. I do that with my family all the time, though not at that level: usually "OK, go into the Control Panel and find Printers, open that, find the one you want to print to, right-click, and select 'Set as Default'."

      At least your battery lasted. :)

        I wish I had a penny for every time I've ended up doing that :)

        I think the worst time was when my sister's boss found out somehow that I worked in support - he used to get her to phone me saying she had problems with her home PC. It started off with simple stuff like setting up printers, installing sw etc but it ended up with trying to get me to talk them through setting up Access db's and similar stuff, always with her on speakerphone and this guy rabbiting away in the background - in the end I got her to put him on the phone and told him my hourly rate - strangely enough I never got another call from him :) and I could go back to not dreading my sister's calls

        But today you took me walking, Through a land that we have lost,
        While our children sit at websites, With no access to the cost

Re: Strange Coding Tales
by nothingmuch (Priest) on Oct 21, 2002 at 21:56 UTC
    Just several weeks ago my family went circling around the US of A's midwest... I learned that usually where there are flush toilets, there might be electricity. I also learned that you can use sunlight instead of the LCD's flourecent light to see the display. I worked on a ram disk, to a ram disk, with programs running from a ram disk, and thus longated the battery life (of a pretty old battery) to around 5-6 hours...

    Retrospectively i still don't think i was lacking of tact. My family, however, mocks me till this day.

    BTW, I did enjoy the scenery, and I do like camping... It was the car rides I had to kill... So don't you guys get started aswell, mmkay?

    -nuffin
    zz zZ Z Z #!perl
Re: Strange Coding Tales
by bprew (Monk) on Oct 21, 2002 at 23:33 UTC

    I find myself coding when I should be sleeping.

    Quite literally, I've been on this kick where my best solutions come while I'm trying to sleep. Occasionaly, I can fight the urges off, but many times I'll end up getting <6 hours of sleep, which normally means extra coffee in the morning.
    --
    Ben

      Six hours? Count yourself lucky. ;-) Coffee wakes you? Count yourself lucky. *g* Oh well..

      Makeshifts last the longest.

      Once, I actually found myself coding in my sleep. I'm not kidding. I was thinking about a project I was really interested in, designing it in my head. I went to bed, and dreamed about coding it, though I hadn't written a single character of it yet. I woke up, remembered the dream, and set down the code.

      It worked.
      --

      Love justice; desire mercy.
        You think that's bad? My first summer of college I had two jobs, one was data entry at a warehouse. I only worked 5 hours 2nd shift at the data entry job, but the first few weeks (and I kid you not) I went to bed and dreamt of data entry.

        Yeah, that's right. Sitting at a desk entering alphanumeric data. Fun stuff, huh?
Re: Strange Coding Tales
by rozallin (Curate) on Oct 22, 2002 at 03:21 UTC
    While I was working through the exercises in the Llama, I used to try and think of ways and tricks to improve my answers in the spirit of TIMTOWTDI, And I seemed to get inspiration and insight in places where I was nowhere near my computer, as you can see below:
    • An attempt at Exercise 5 of Chapter 7 was sketched out on notepad and paper while I was leaning against the tallest stone of the Callanish Standing Stones, while my parents were showing some tourists around.
    • I managed to get my head around hashes while on a 12 hour bus journey, travelling down the M1 at the time.
    • I've played solo Perl Golf on the Northern and Central lines of the London Underground too; I had to wait until I got the near 900 miles back to my computer at home to see if they actually worked though :-)
    • I've also coded on paper by candlelight when I've had a powercut due to bad weather, so that when my computer rebooted I could type in my code and check to see if I managed to get it right.
    Surely a case of have Llama will travel? :-)

    -- rozallin j. thompson
    The Webmistress who doesn't hesitate to use strict;

      The mountain that I mention in Re: Strange Coding Locations was Cairngorm in the Highlands of Scotland - some would argue that trying to sysadmin was more productive than skiing there :)

      For anyone unfamiliar with it, Scottish skiing often consists of trying to ski downhill on solid ice, rather than snow, against a gale that's blowing you back up the hill, in fog with visibility of about 10 feet and all the time being pelted with marble sized hailstones - can't wait to get back though, when you get the good days it's fantastic :)

      But today you took me walking, Through a land that we have lost,
      While our children sit at websites, With no access to the cost

Re: Strange Coding Tales
by schumi (Hermit) on Oct 22, 2002 at 07:30 UTC
    I don't suppose the office counts as a strange place, now, does it..?

    And after reading the other posts in this thread, writing code on a napkin in a bar doens't seem really strange, either.

    How about sitting at the shore of Lough Belfast, trying to think of a solution to my problem that was better than the solution I already had, scribbling code into the sand? The good things about that is, your most stupid mistakes get washed away by the waves. The bad thing is, your most brilliant code as well...

    --cs

    There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls. - George Carlin

Re: Strange Coding Tales
by penguinfuz (Pilgrim) on Oct 22, 2002 at 12:59 UTC
    The strangest place I have found myself coding Perl has to be in the bathtub using one of those portable whiteboards. I'm sure many will attest that the bathtub is a great place to relax and think, so whenever I find myself stumped on a particular, off I go!

    Originally I did not view my bathtub coding sessions as a productive supplement to keyboard coding, rather it was an idea imposed by my girlfriend since it seemed that I was always stuck on something at the wrong times... When she was ready to go out! She knew that without at least getting me into the "get ready to go" mode, our adventure would be delayed by a few hours at least!

    Bathtub coding is great and the whiteboard is definately not a replacement for my keyboard, but the atmosphere (and even the process) offers me inspiration in abundance -- Mostly to see things from other perspectives. I'm not sure bathtub coding would work the same for me if I used a laptop. ;)

    mojotoad++ for a great topic!
      Bathtub coding is great and the whiteboard is definately not a replacement for my keyboard, but the atmosphere (and even the process) offers me inspiration in abundance -- Mostly to see things from other perspectives. I'm not sure bathtub coding would work the same for me if I used a laptop. ;)

      No, I've done bathtub IRC and it works if your careful, I don't see why bathtub coding with laptop would be any different.

      jjdraco
      learning Perl one statement at a time.
        I've done bathtub IRC and it works if your careful, I don't see why bathtub coding with laptop would be different.

        It's not so much an issue of being careful as it is a departure from the *normal* routine. I will usually retire to the bathtub when I'm stumped and in need of new perspective. Maybe I'm a little weird, but to change my perspective (not only in regards to Perl stuff), I try to get as far away as possible from my normal thoughts and routine.
Re: Strange Coding Tales (on the beach)
by grinder (Bishop) on Oct 22, 2002 at 13:36 UTC

    I need to revise my classics.1

    Many years ago I read a book on software design, but I can't for the life of me remember the author. The person was discussing the art of creating a good design, and that the main problem was ensuring that the design doesn't "solidify" too quickly. The problem is especially prevalent when using computer-aided design programs. Once a design is set down it becomes difficult to start over (people are reluctant to trash something they've spent hours over, fiddling with arrow alignments), thus the first cut at design has an annoying tendency to be the last, even if it's sub-optimal.

    He went on to discuss one of the best design sessions ever was on a beach. He and a couple of other programmers went for a walk discussing a big system they had to design. They carried no paper or pens and just talked about the problem. From time to time they would sketch a diagram in the sand to help the others understand a particular point. The sketch would last only until the next wave rolled in from the ocean and smoothed it out.

    By the time they had finished they had a good grasp of the issues and tradeoffs that had to be made and so when they landed the design on paper they were pretty sure they had the best design possible.

    Me: "Boss, I need to go to a deserted tropical island for a couple of weeks."
    Boss: "You do?"
    Me: "Yes, for the design of the new project."
    Boss: "Su-u-u-u-ure..."

    Oh well, bonus points if you can remember who the author is.


    1. I also need to revise my Perl Monks. I posted this, then tried to spank katgirl in the CB, thus erasing this post before I got round to submitting it.


    print@_{sort keys %_},$/if%_=split//,'= & *a?b:e\f/h^h!j+n,o@o;r$s-t%t#u'
Re: Strange Coding Tales
by mojobozo (Monk) on Oct 22, 2002 at 13:56 UTC
    I don't really have any stories about coding in strange places (although some of my better ideas come to me in the shower...) but I must say that I enjoyed reading about Merlyn writing some of his books at the good ole McMenamins pub.
    I miss Portland... Drink one (cold MicroBrew, that is) for me Merlyn!!
    _____________________________________________________
    mojobozo
    word (wrd)
    interj. Slang. Used to express approval or an affirmative response to
    something. Sometimes used with up. Source
      Was that posted online? If so, can you provide a link?

      Makeshifts last the longest.

Re: Strange Coding Tales
by ignatz (Vicar) on Oct 22, 2002 at 13:56 UTC
    I tend to work best in places that sell beer.

    At one startup I worked at they didn't have an office at first so I worked at a place called The Pub on Solano Ave in Albany, CA. That worked good until the regulars figured out that I knew about computers and it turned into live tech-support.

    Later on we moved to Sacramento. I commuted to SF on Amtrak. As long as nothing or no one decided to jump in front of the train, my commute would last about six hours a day. I loved working there. Nice people, great view, peace and quiet... get into town, have a meeting, lunch, another meeting... get on the train home, buy a beer, back to work.

    Those were the days.

    ()-()
     \"/
      `
    
      *sigh*... I miss Albany as well...
      _____________________________________________________
      mojobozo
      word (wrd)
      interj. Slang. Used to express approval or an affirmative response to
      something. Sometimes used with up. Source
Re: Strange Coding Tales
by l2kashe (Deacon) on Oct 22, 2002 at 15:06 UTC
    First off I have to say a quick thanks to my wife, for marrying me and the computer at the same time....

    My favorite medium aside from keyboard is definately bar napkins and sharpies..

    When I get stuck on a piece of code though I walk away, take a breather and try again later, or grab a nap. Kim tells me I talk perl to her in my sleep, and a thought has been voiced a couple of time to have a tape recorder by the bed to capture it... Apparently I correct m logic to boot, but anywho

    The reason for this post is I've had some of my best breakthroughs, aside from sleeping, while making love to my wife. Its gotta be one of the best, most satisfying feelings post sex making a great breakthrough in your code and glowing with pride as it works...

    I hope this doesn't offend, but I just had to share.

    /* And the Creator, against his better judgement, wrote man.c */
      You're a lucky guy, I envy you your relationship with your wife.

      jjdraco
      learning Perl one statement at a time.
      The reason for this post is I've had some of my best breakthroughs, aside from sleeping, while making love to my wife. Its gotta be one of the best, most satisfying feelings post sex making a great breakthrough in your code and glowing with pride as it works...

      I have to say, if I were thinking of coding in the midst of sex, it would only be in an effort to delay the inevitable (akin to reciting baseball statistics). :)

      Not to mention, what if in the heat of the moment you lose that valuable train of thought?

      There's nothing worse than codus interuptus...

      (dodging tomatoes)
      Matt

Re: Strange Coding Tales
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Oct 23, 2002 at 11:34 UTC

    The strangest place I ever coded, was sitting in the bottom of an air-conditioned, rack-mount cabinet located in the warehouse section of a retail store in East London. I had to wear two each of jeans, socks, jumpers and the heaviest overcoat I could find. Also a pair of wooly gloves with the fingertips cut-off (generously provided by the store manager), to keep from freezing to death.

    I was attempting to trace a spurious bug to do with RS232 communications between a AT-class pc and a hand-held terminal cradle. We had installed a data sniffer in the cabinet and had succeeded in capturing the event, but no amount of analysis could reveal the cause. In a final act of desperation, I had moved all the racks in the cabinet up to the top in order to free enough space at the bottom that I could sit inside with the door closed. Dust contamination was more of a concern that heat, but with the door closed the 8 AT-class machines in the cab generated enough heat for the airco to be necessary. I sat there for 4 1/2 hours (starting a 5 am, as that's when most occurances seem to happen) monitoring the data sniffer before I actually saw the glitch occur on the data sniffer.

    What caused it? I couldn't tell. None of the other monitoring or tracing I had set up showed anything. At the point where the glitch occured, the warehouse was essentially deserted. Which ruled out one suspicion, that the electric forktruck used to offload trucks was somehow responsible.

    Another thing that had been suspected was that as the CB radio craze has recently hit the UK along with batches of illegally high-powered sets from the far east. We had thought that maybe one of the regular delivery trucks had such a set and despite using double coaxial-shielded twisted pairs for the connection, that radio-frequency interference might be the source of the problem, but there where no trucks in the warehouse when it happened! The last one had left a few minutes before.

    To cut an even longer story long, the problem turned out to be caused by the dry goods store next door. The other side of the wall against which the rack-cab was mounted turned out to be a frieght-lift. And the reason the problem only occurred in the am, was that is when they took delivery of their nuts. That is to say, once or twice a month, but always on a Monday, they had a delivery of peanuts, cashews, almonds, pestacho's etc. The problem was that because these goods are so heavy, it was possible to overload the lift which in turn caused arcing in the lift motors when they started. The associated radio frequency IR simply swamped the RS232 lines for a period of several seconds which in turn defeated all attempts in the communications protocol to detect and recover such anomolies.

    I'll tell you, after four hours sitting on top of a pile of newspapers and some scrap of bubble wrap, hunched over a data sniffer, a 13 inch B&W monitor and a keyboard it was a long time before I complained about office chairs again.


    Cor! Like yer ring! ... HALO dammit! ... 'Ave it yer way! Hal-lo, Mister la-de-da. ... Like yer ring!
      Excellent story!

      With a setup like that, I half expected you to wrap it up something like this:

      ...and ever since then, whevever we would have network glitches we would look at one another and exclaim "uh oh, the network has gone nuts again!" I dunno, from there, the phrase just sort of caught on...

      Heh.
      Matt

        Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Cracking the problem"! :^)


        Cor! Like yer ring! ... HALO dammit! ... 'Ave it yer way! Hal-lo, Mister la-de-da. ... Like yer ring!

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