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moderately geeky  moderately geeky

Case 217

The Chimera's Egg

After seven straight days of bone-chilling rains, soggy rice cakes and dripping tents, master Suku’s three apprentices could no longer remember what it felt like to be dry or warm. So one can scarcely imagine their joy when Suku negotiated lodgings at the house of a great livestock merchant. The merchant’s fire pits were kept burning at all hours, his larder was stocked with roasted meat and game, and he had no objections to the four travellers staying through the winter if they desired.

“My only fee,” said the merchant, “is that you assess the hermitage that maintains my site. Every feature I request takes longer than I expect, and the site is riddled with bugs.”

“First Apprentice!” said the master to the eldest of her three companions. “Investigate those monks.”

“Where is this hermitage?” asked the First Apprentice.

The livestock merchant pointed out into the rain, to a cluster of buildings atop a distant hill.

- - -

Soaked from head to toe again, Suku’s First Apprentice came at last to the hermitage. He was welcomed by the head monk with a cup of hot wine and the WiFi password.

“Here is one problem,” sniffled the First Apprentice as he browsed their repository. “Your ‘Find Animals’ page is astonishingly complex. Depending on the inputs given, it might query for animals available for purchase, animals the user has already purchased, animals in the wish-lists of the user’s friends, and so on. In each case, the validations done, the tables queried, the columns returned, and the information displayed are completely different. The result is an incoherent mess.”

“Indeed,” agreed the head monk. “The code has grown so convoluted that none of us will touch it sober, and so fragile that we dare not even add trailing whitespace to a comment.

“Then why not implement several simple screens, instead of one unfathomable one?” demanded the apprentice.

“You will have to ask the interface designer,” said the head monk. “For we were told to follow her mockups exactly.”

“Where may this designer be found?” asked the First Apprentice.

The head monk pointed out into the rain, to a small hut atop a distant crag.

- - -

Sodden from head to toe once more, Suku’s First Apprentice came to the interface designer’s hut. There he was given clean robes made from recycled conference tote bags, while his muddy clothing was washed and dyed a more trendy shade of crimson.

“At first the ‘Find Animals’ page was simple,” said the designer. “It was used for exactly one type of search, with one type of result to display. Yet whenever a need arose which involved searching for animals, I was ordered to shove the capability into the ‘Find Animals’ page.”

“Ordered by whom?” asked the First Apprentice, punctuating his question with a sneeze.

The interface designer pointed out into the rain, to the distant valley where the merchant’s house lay.

- - -

Sneezing violently and leaving a trail of crimson dye (which had not had adequate time to set), Suku’s First Apprentice staggered through the gates of the merchant’s house and collapsed in front of fire pit where his fellows were playing mājan with their host.

Weakly, the First Apprentice asked the merchant if he had truly insisted that all searching for animals be done through exactly one screen.

“Indeed,” said the merchant with a proud nod. “I did so to make things easier on the developers. For obviously one screen is simpler to implement than several.”