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Phred (5358)

Phred
  fredNO@SPAMtaperfriendlymusic.org
http://www.redhotpenguin.com/

Fred is a Perl and PostgreSQL geek. He has made some very small contributions to a few cpan modules and mod_perl.

Journal of Phred (5358)

Monday January 31, 2005
10:01 PM

Kotex and Fallout Shelters

[ #22960 ]
The U2 spy plane was developed in the middle of the 20th century, and was instrumental in maintaining the balance of power between the US and the USSR. The middle of the 20th century was a time when families across America had built fallout shelters under their homes. Literature from the time suggest that neighbors often competed against each other about who had the more perfect fallout shelter, akin to whose lawn was better. We're all lucky those shelters never got put to use.

Now the U2 was built by the Lockheed Skunk Works, an elite group of engineers who prided themselves on there work. But still the U2 was not a perfect aircraft. At times the wings would flap like a giant bird, giving pilots something to think about. Another of it's problems was that oil from the engine would spray out onto the windshield. They looked at many different ways of solving the problem, and as most of us look to write elegant code, I'm sure they sought an elegant solution. What they ended up doing however, was to use Kotex to absorb the oil spray before it hit the windshield. A hack, a cheat, and an imperfect solution, but one that kept those pride of the neighborhood fallout shelters from ever seeing any real use.

I got the chance today to talk to a colleague who works at a company I founded five years ago. I left that company two years ago on my own recognizance. He told me that after five years, the company had no product, and that I had fraaked up and tried to get me to admit that I had done wrong. He said some really nasty things. Now during those hectic years when myself and one other engineer worked our tails off and turned on a dime to make deliveries to clients, we used our fair share of Kotex. But at one point the VC who had funded the company told us that it was the best software he had ever seen. And a decision maker in a large organization that we had pitched to told me a few months ago that we had shown him a great product a couple years ago when we had pitched him.

After talking with the guy who currently works there, I became depressed and started to beat myself up. I second guessed the decisions I had made years ago, and silently criticized those I had worked with, those who I walked through fire with me. Did I do everything right? Probably not. There's case studies out there however of companies that did do everything technically right, and they're not around today.

Looking back I wonder if I should have chosen the fallout shelter over the Kotex. I could have taken my time, made sure everything was nice and clean on the inside, and then when stuff started exploding I could have run inside it and known that I wouldn't have to worry about what was going on outside. But if I had done that my colleague probably wouldn't be around today to give me an earful about my use of Kotex ;)

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  • In fact, not only is this a great story, it's good storytelling.

    You did a superb job setting up your subject with a little informative exposition at the beginning, which not too many people (myself included) always remember to do.

    This merits some applause. :o)