Thursday, 30 May 2013

It doesn't take much

I have invented an excuse for my ongoing dry spell, creatively speaking. My job currently requires me to do very creative things.

Last week, I was working on statistics (so, you know, obviously no lateral thinking required to make that the way I wanted it to be) and this week I'm doing some php development. I'm editing someone else's code to make it do what I want it to do.

For those of you with no coding experience: reading code is like reading a book written in a foreign language. Also, it isn't in the right order - chapters aren't sequential, for instance, although you're always told what the next bit of text you should look for is (not where it is, just what it says) - so you have to jump back and forth to understand what is really going on.

Now imagine you've got the complete version of Lord of the Rings and you want that bit where someone says something like "What's the Elvish word for friend?"

All the speech has been separated out to the back of the book, but it's ordered by character, so as long as you can remember who said it, you're in with a fighting chance of finding it quite quickly. But of course, you don't remember. All you remember is who went into the Mines of Moria, so you have to look through all their speech to see if you can find it.

You can take shortcuts by figuring out where in the book the particular speech you're looking at is - if it comes before or after, for instance, you can jump a few lines. Remember, none of this is in English, so you have to stop to translate *everything*. You can make it quicker by being certain of which words you're looking for, but you can't be sure that is the exact sentence.

So, the easiest thing to do is find all the places where it says Moria in the front of the book. Then look for the conversation related to that. You'll know within a few lines if it's the right conversation. But that isn't enough, you still need to find the specific line.

Eventually, after hours of wondering what idiot thought this was a good layout you find the line (this also frequently happens when you are the idiot that wrote the original code).

And why was this one line so important? Because someone failed to punctuate it properly and the publisher sent it back to you to fix it.

This is why programmers are always going to be be some of the most creative and angry people you will know. But at the end of a working day, don't be surprised if they've used up all their creative juice.


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