Friday, 27 July 2012

The Curious Contingency of Human Happiness

What a difference a day makes.

On Tuesday, I was working on a piece of code for a client, a piece of code that should have been easy.

Should have been.

Thing was: no matter what I did with it, the darn thing Just. Would. Not. Run. 

I eyeballed it line by line, I printed it out and scrutinised it line by line (for some reason, printouts seem easier to read than screens) but, for the life of me,  I could not see where the problem was.

Now, this kind of thing really bugs me.  Being able to cut code is one of the things that I feel proud of and it’s kind of central to my image of myself as a competent techie (OK, I acknowledge the fact that most people wouldn’t WANT that to be part of their core belief about themselves, but there it is).  Like it or not, it's a key part of my self-worth.

This, of course, fuelled my mule-stubborn refusal to admit defeat.  It was after-hours, so bugging someone else with the problem wasn’t really an option either.  I was getting increasingly angry with myself for not being able to fix this stupid bit of code.

After a while, the insistent sound of my own fool head knocking against a brick wall finally woke me up to the fact that I was getting nowhere and, after a long day (getting longer with each resounding thud) the likelihood of a breakthrough was becoming increasingly remote.

So, with a heavy heart, I logged out and went home. 

It was not the search for the Higgs Boson.

It was not the search for the cure for cancer

It was just a stupid bit of code to allow some people in a stupid call centre to see potentially challenging cases coming up. 

Big Whoop.

But it had beaten me and I felt rubbish. 

The people in my head smelt blood in the water: my inner child threw itself on the ground and unleashed an epic tantrum while my inner critic got out his Big Book of Everything that’s Crap About You and began to read it in his foghorn of a voice.

The bad feelings pervaded the the evening at home like a kind of vile octopus ink; sometimes seemingly gone, only to swirl in and darken the water unpredictably the next moment.  It was nearly bedtime before the passing of time (assisted by a good session on the ukulele) diluted it.

I know I was ascribing way more importance to the incident than it deserved. 

I know there are millions starving and homeless in the world. 

I know I should be grateful for the good life that I have (and am, actually, very).

All good reasons to stop whingeing and get on with my life.

But reason doesn’t enter into it.

Next day, as you might guess, the problem could not have been more obvious if it had been waving a red flag whilst riding a white elephant at the head of parade featuring the massed marching bands of the Royal Marines.

And the sun was shining.

Maybe it was because of that, or maybe my inner child and inner critic had simply taken the day off to go to the beach or something, but either way, I felt good all of a sudden.


  1. It's amazing how messing up at work can affect your whole outlook on life. If I have a bad day I really AM rubbish - and my life is horrible - & nobody loves me. It's hard to get back on track until I have some kind of success at work.

    I'm glad you solved the problem. Although I think you're pretty swell regardless :)

  2. Hi Silver, I can imagine how frustrating it was for you; been there, and almost got the tee-shirt. My problem was trying to solve something that a COBOL module at work was giving me a wrong result. Yes, it WAS way back in the middle ages when VAT was new! Such a laborious system in those days, no disks, all tapes and even punch cards for trials. I still shudder at the thought of those days.
    Glad you solved the problem; simplicity itself, of course, but NOT when you have nobody with you to 'walk thru' your code - which usually sorts it out swiftly.
    I'll keep a closer eye on your posts. Oh, and I enjoyed your thumb, clone, professor, lost comb etc, story.
    Cheers, Phil

  3. Funny how things can be totally baffling, and then suddenly the lightbulb turns on!

  4. If you get off on code, have you seen the Lego Turing Machine?

    Thanks for the offer to sort out my midi files. I almost took you up on it - but I've spent so long on the project, I'm going to move on, start practising the cello part and get thing thing performed! Thanks again.

  5. Bug - Thanks! I'll try and remember your words next time I'm struggling.

    Philip - So wonderful to hear from you! I do hope all is well. I remember the COBOL days myself, although at CEGB, where I cut my teeth, punch-cards were just being phased out. Happy days!

    Eva - I wish the lighbulb could have come on sooner!

    Dominic - I hadn't seen the Lego Turing machine before. I do like things like that, though. Can't wait to hear the live version of your piece now

  6. This is a great posting I have read. I like your article. Thank you

  7. sometimes walking away from a problem and leaving it awhile can be all that you need. It made me think of Sheldon in BBT where he takes a different job to free up his brain for a while

    this is particularly resonant with me at the moment due to my ongoing Saxophone Situation. Maybe its time to just face the problem again


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