Wrong Fish Food, or, Communicating Frustration Non-technically

If you’re reading this site, you’ve probably already determined that I’m a geek. A hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool, walks-into-trees-because-he’s-thinking-about-computers kind of geek.

My wife and daughters, bless them, are not. Well, my daughters are somewhat nerdy, in a hip kind of way, meaning that they can quote large portions of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, but they can also put together an attractive ensemble to wear out on the weekends. They aren’t as hopeless as their father.

Some days when I come home and sit down to dinner, I want to tell the family about some really silly thing that happened to me at work, but I don’t want to have to explain the intricacies of programming to set up every story. Instead, on the drive home I’ll try to come up with an analogy. Here’s the story that I came up with for something that actually happened to me last week. See if you can figure out what the actual technical issue was.

The Story of the Wrong Fish Food

E-mail #1: “Paul, I just fed a batch of fish food to the fish, and the fish are dying. A chemical analysis showed that the batch contained hydrogenated frobulaxis. What’s wrong?”

Reply to e-mail #1: “Our fish are allergic to hydrogenated frobulaxis. Mix up a batch of food that doesn’t include that ingredient, and then the fish won’t die.”

E-mail #2: “Paul, I’m confused. Mix what up? I used a batch that I found in the supply cabinet. Why are the fish dying now?”

Reply to e-mail #2: “Either someone put the wrong batch in the cabinet, or someone used the wrong recipe to make the batch that’s supposed to be in the supply cabinet. See if you can track down the recipe that was used for those batches.”

E-mail #3: “Instead, I gave the fish some medicine that keeps them from dying when they consume hydrogenated frobulaxis. Easier.”

Reply to E-mail #3: “The problem is, that’s still wrong. There shouldn’t be any hydrogenated frobulaxis in the batches that are fed to the fish. If that’s being added to the production batches, that’s bad.”

Of course, I never got an e-mail #4. The fish were alive (barely), and nobody had to do the nasty work of mixing up a new batch of food, because that would be icky. All I could do was just pound my head on the desk.


2 thoughts on “Wrong Fish Food, or, Communicating Frustration Non-technically

  1. Sounds like a value that should have been impossible was seen in production. (I’d say a null pointer or floating-point NaN, but both are a bit trite.) Rather than figure out where the error is introduced, someone added a special case and prayed.

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