A work request arrives into the Klueless Support team’s queue with an apologetic little ping. The boss reads the summary - and then re-reads it aloud for our benefit.
“User is requesting that the number 7 be removed from a report”
Does the user want us simply to open the report in MS Word and delete the offending figure?
We could do this, obviously, but that would kind of invalidate the report, wouldn’t it? Imagine if people were suddenly to start going around changing figures in reports that they just didn’t like the look of? Where would it all end? Whole wars might be started, for pity’s sake! Surely our user can’t be suggesting that we behave in such an anarchistic fashion?
It must be something else then.
Maybe the user wants us to alter the fundamental properties of the universe such that the number seven no longer exists? Technically, this is more of a challenge, obviously, and could have far-reaching effects. How many days would there be in a week? How many ages of man? How many ancient wonders of the world? How would we refer to the film we currently know as The Magnificent Seven? The Magnificent 6a just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
Turns out that all the user wants is for us to remove seven erroneous data records from the database so they don’t show up in the report. Boring, but makes a bit more sense and, more importantly, is within our power to accomplish (although I was willing to give the removal of sevenness a shot if there was some overtime in it).
Numbers are weird things, though, aren’t they? I myself was a total duffer at maths in school but always really really wanted to be good at it. Alas, the principles of mathematics slipped through my desperately grasping fingers like so many greased eels on Speed. I’ve always admired people who ‘get’ maths.
We were discussing this very topic recently in an idle moment at Throwback Towers. There had been a documentary on TV about the chap that finally solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. This fellow spent something like seven (or 6a, if you will) whole years closeted away with just a pencil and paper, working on this problem (no computers, note, which is probably why he was able to solve it – just sayin’). He shared his work with very few people and then only when he was finally getting ready to reveal it to the world. It was the crowning achievement of his life – by his own admission, he is never again likely to accomplish anything like as important as that piece of work.
You have to admire the dedication, the patience and sheer singlemindedness needed to work like that.
You have to feel sorry for a man who knows that he will never be able to equal that one shining moment in his career.
For him, that was as good as it gets.
After some discussion (and an umbrella-fight – don’t ask!), we agreed that the rivers of our lives would most likely flow on serenely, happily untroubled by having to come up with something to ‘top’ what we had already achieved.
This means one of two things:
a) We are a bunch of unprincipled slackers whose capacity to under-achieve is matched only by our dedication to the same.
b) We still have our crowning moment ahead of us somewhere.
I’d really like to think it was the latter.