Odd numbers



  • For almost two years now I've worked for a branch of the state. We've been deploying and testing a huge system, as of yet unfinished, that will impact the way almost everybody in the organization (thousands of people) works, and the way they interact with the taxpayers (millions of people). So the stakes are high, but the project is in trouble for multiple reasons.

    Bureaucracy, for instance. The project has already eaten though something between 1 and 4 million dollars (I'm way too low on the chain to know exactly how much), and yet we keep hitting serious performance issues because we're not allowed to spend a couple hundred bucks in RAM for our servers. It's become so bad that some of us are seriously considering buying it ourselves in secret (which is not as altruistic as it might sound; an underperforming system reflects poorly in our work, so we'd be just covering our behinds... but we still shouldn't have to pay for this ourselves)

    The contractors are an even bigger problem. Though they were at some poing awarded several huge contracts like ours across North and South America, they somehow burned through all the money and ended up filling for bankrupcy, and are only now slowly recovering. There's a management WTF there somewhere (did you really need to spend all that money renting the priciest offices you could find, and did you not think that at some point the money would run out?) but that's beyond this site's scope, I guess. The actual system, while suffering from a decent amount of bugs and issues, is rather well designed, and I've met some of the developers who are as sharp and efficient as they come. The only reason the development doesn't go any faster is because, well, most of them had to quit the company after they weren't paid for months. Nowadays the last couple of developers sit alone in an enormous office full of empty desks and maintain a bunch of deployments of their software. Last time I was there I saw holes where the ACs used to be, and for some time they couldn't afford phone bills either, so we had to call them to their homes.

    Anyways, the applications themselves are fairly good, but as development isn't over there's quite some quirks that need yet to be solved. Part of what I do is act as a bridge of sorts between our users and the contractor's development team. When I get an user call, it could go either way; maybe I'll have to walk the user through an unfamiliar feature, or perhaps I'll have to fill a bug ticket, or maybe both.

    Today I wanted to share with you a little story about our users. Some of them (most, actually) are highly skilled and intelligent. Some... not so much. This isn't surprising, as a bunch of them are just a couple of years away from retirement and had never used a computer in their lifetime. When you force someone who has a foot out of the door already to do something he has no idea how to do and no will at all to learn how to do, things can get nasty. Or sad. I remember a particular user moving the mouse around two-handed, not at all unlike you would use an ouija board if you were into that.

    But the user in this particular call was one of the sharpest of the lot, and certainly the most enthusiast one, so when he described his problem I thought at first that it was an issue with the application. However, I couldn't reproduce it so I had him walk me through the process, which involved entering some taxpayer data. It went something like this:

    (Me): - So what's the address?

    (Him): - It's XXX St., 5100. (pause) Maybe the problem is that it needs to be in uppercase?

    (Me):- No, that's ok, it's not case-sensitive. It should find it no matter whether you enter the street with upper or lower case, or even a combination of both.

    (Him): - Yeah, but what about the number? Doesn't it have to be in uppercase too? Because I've been typing it in lowercase...

    And that's when it clicked. The guy thought that the lowercase 'o' letter doubled as a lowercase zero. I have no idea how he had been managing so far. So, holding back the laughter, I told him that no, the system required that all numbers be typed in uppercase, and when I hung the phone I filled an enhancement ticket requesting that they add a numerical mask to that particular entry field.



  • I can see the next forum post now... "I'm maintaining this application and I just got a request to add a check to a field because someone somewhere thinks the letter o doubles for zero. WTF!"

    Ah, clueless users... how I would love to strangle them all sometimes. Just today I got a phone call from one of our clients (a woman - I don't make the streotypes, I just see them) who needed instructions on how to copy a file from one computer to another over the network. One of our technicians had already shown her, yet she was moaning that we hadn't written it down for her.

    I wanted to ask... How is it possible that you have learned to type 100 words per minute on your mobile with just your thumb and without looking, but can't master a simple drag and drop?



  • I honestly can't imagine how he types a lower case 5 and 1 to match his lower case 0s.

    But it seems from your description that the issue was with a street number. So if you make this a purely numerical field how will you handle the inevitable '51A' style street numbers?



  • Oh, this guy sounds like he comes from the old school typewriters. I absolutely hated the cheapo typewriters that didn't have a '1' key, forcing you to use lowercase L to type 1 instead. Maybe some typewriters did the same for 0/O and this guy carried on with the bad practice into computers... ugh!



  • We had a customer do much the same thing one time.  One of our developers was telling a customer how to access a part of their application that required password security, and he indicated that the password (which for our purposes will be "PASS1PASS") needed to be typed all in uppercase.  The customer inquired whether or not the digit "1" needed to be uppercased as well.  The developer, a very, very, bright guy, couldn't figure out what the customer met, until it dawned on him that she thought that "!" was an uppercase "1."  He managed to keep from laughing long enough to tell her that it was okay if the "1" was lowercased.  Then he got off the phone as quickly as possible and commenced rolling on the floor. 

    The incident got filed on our internal wiki under "Top 10 Stupid Customer Comments."



  • @mrprogguy said:

    The customer inquired whether or not the digit "1" needed to be uppercased as well.

    Although I would have pissed myself laughing as well, I can see where the customer is coming from - its a clash between the conceptual and the physical implementation. Conceptually upper/lower case only applies to alphabetic symbols and not to numerical and punctuational symbols. However the physical implementation of pretty well all keyboards is that you use a shift key to access upper/lower case alphabetics, but you also use the shift key to access numerical/punctuational symbols on the top row of keys. So the shift key has dual functionality that is context dependent, and in the heat of the moment it could be easy to mix up contexts if you don't know what you are doing and are simply trying to follow instructions verbatim.



  • So did he switch to uppercase O?



  • @mangum44 said:

    The project has already eaten though something between 1 and 4 million dollars (I'm way too low on the chain to know exactly how much), and yet we keep hitting serious performance issues because we're not allowed to spend a couple hundred bucks in RAM for our servers.

    You should have requested a new blade system instead of more RAM. It's easier to get that through in that type of projects (cheap way = "No way $20 part could change anything. Rejected". Expensieve one = "Where do I put my signature?")



  • @OzPeter said:

    I honestly can't imagine how he types a lower case 5 and 1 to match his lower case 0s.

    But it seems from your description that the issue was with a street number. So if you make this a purely numerical field how will you handle the inevitable '51A' style street numbers?

     

    Street addresses in this system are broken down in pieces that are then stored separatedly, so in your example "51" and "A" would be in different fields, and the street itself ends up resolving to a separate table of streets (so the text search is actually just a filter on that table, which then has to be reduced to a single option). And there are also other ways to find taxpayers, filtering through other fields, all of them available on the same form.

    For the sakeness of fairness to my clueless user I should admit that this particular form is a bit complex (it's cool, I had nothing whatsoever to do with its design!). Not a whole lot, but it can be a bit overwhelming to inexperienced people. IIRC it has like 15+ fields that can be filled in different combinations which in turn allow for different actions. For instance, you can find taxpayers through their address but also through their names and other bits of info; depending on what are you trying to do, you need to fill out different fields that light up as you type. So, say, if you type in an street name you then need to type in a street number, but if you type in a name you might not need to type anything else... and if you type in a ticket number then you'll end up fetching a ticket rather than a taxpayer.

    If you know what you're doing you can navigate your way around the system just fine but, yes, it might befuddle first time users. However in my little story the user wasn't a first timer, nor does any of what I just say somehow justify "lowercase zero"!



  • We actually had to remove RAM from our test servers (which were supposed to be identical to the production ones) and put it in some of the production servers. So the test servers are slow as molasses and nearly useless, but at least some users get to work with semi-decent performances.



  • @NSCoder said:

    So did he switch to uppercase O?
     

    Obviously uppercase numbers get their own keys!



  • @OzPeter said:

    I honestly can't imagine how he types a lower case 5 and 1 to match his lower case 0s.

    Have you guys never even seen an Underwoord typewriter?

    s-o-l



  • @OzPeter said:

    I honestly can't imagine how he types a lower case 5 and 1 to match his lower case 0s.
    sioo?



  • Can't wait for DivisionByOmicronException



  • @OzPeter said:

    I honestly can't imagine how he types a lower case 5 and 1 to match his lower case 0s.

    Just switch your font to Georgia or to any other font that uses [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text_figures]Text figures[/url], and your lowercase o will match very well :)



  •  I'm betting 5100 is typed as:  sloo, or SLOO...  :-D

    As far as a unit field goes, that is fine, but hopefully there's also an option as to where the unit goes (as well as a subunit), otherwise mail doesn't make it.  My address is similar to 23F Paper Street.  The following wouldn't make it to me (I've gotten other's mail where this has been done):

    F - 23 Paper Street

    23 Paper Street - Unit F

    23 Paper Street,

    Unit F

     Because they interfere with the fact there can be a Unit 2, 23F Paper Street.  ie:

    2 - 23F Paper Street.

    Better yet, you can have 2 - 23 1/2 F Paper Street.

    sigh I hate mailing addresses.  A lot.  Especially now since some of the companies I get service from can't put the letter beside the number and I only randomly get their bills.  I don't blame the mailman for not sorting out these rejects, it's not his fault people can't write addresses correctly.


  • Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election

    You don't happen to live near the Paper Street Soap Company, do you?</movie-reference>



  •  L-zero-L!



  • @shepd said:

     Because they interfere with the fact there can be a Unit 2, 23F Paper Street.  ie:

    2 - 23F Paper Street.

    Better yet, you can have 2 - 23 1/2 F Paper Street.

    *sigh* I hate mailing addresses.  A lot.  Especially now since some of the companies I get service from can't put the letter beside the number and I only randomly get their bills.  I don't blame the mailman for not sorting out these rejects, it's not his fault people can't write addresses correctly.

    I've had a quite different problem. Thanks to the proliferation of apartment blocks, it is almost a given that people will have addresses like 103 Apt. D106 or 304 Apt. 404B. However, they somehow didn't take in mind that some places might actually place a number on the building, instead of a letter, resulting in addresses like:

    Av. Papel 102, 10-4.

    That is ... the "Av. Papel 102" is the street address, Building 10, Apt. 4. I had an address like that for some time, and my bank just didn't send any bank statements there. When I decided to check out what was happening, I found out that somehow their system barfed on the "10-4" interior number, and they just cut it out. Nice ... try searching the correct apartment when there are 100 of them.



  • Why are your addresses so doggone complex?

    Whatever happened to

    John Doe
    42 Streetlane
    2859XL, Citytown, State
    [Country]

    What's all this Apt 4, Unit 3, #6, Building 10, Street North, etc nonsense?

    That is ... the "Av. Papel 102" is the street address,

    For heaven's sake, why does your entire apartment building have a single street address? I live in a large complex, on a single very short and tiny street, but the numbering -- as per sanity -- is as though it's a long street: house numbers range from 1 to 250. Mail boxes are on the ground floor, numbered in the same linear way.



  • @dhromed said:

    For heaven's sake, why does your entire apartment building have a single street address? I live in a large complex, on a single very short and tiny street, but the numbering -- as per sanity -- is as though it's a long street: house numbers range from 1 to 250. Mail boxes are on the ground floor, numbered in the same linear way.
     

    Probably because when new apartment blocks are being built on old streets, renumbering the entire street would probably piss off a lot of residents who won't get their mail anymore.

     



  • @dhromed said:

    Why are your addresses so doggone complex?

    Whatever happened to

    John Doe
    42 Streetlane
    2859XL, Citytown, State
    [Country]

    What's all this Apt 4, Unit 3, #6, Building 10, Street North, etc nonsense?

    That is ... the "Av. Papel 102" is the street address,

    For heaven's sake, why does your entire apartment building have a single street address? I live in a large complex, on a single very short and tiny street, but the numbering -- as per sanity -- is as though it's a long street: house numbers range from 1 to 250. Mail boxes are on the ground floor, numbered in the same linear way.

    It does. Mexican street number writing is actually "street name, number" format so it would be like 102 Papel Ave. The problem is that some programs seem to be unable to manage two internal numbers.

    Say, it can manage "102 Baker St., Apt. 666" or "102 Baker St., Apt B666" but it will barf if I give it "102 Baker St., Apt 10-4". I do agree, however, on the "Building X Apt X" schemes, however my telco provider insists on using the damn scheme for my current address. So instead of

    WTF St. 123, Apt. C404

    I'm getting:

    WTF St. 123, Building C Apartment 404

    Nice.



  • @shepd said:

    My address is similar to 23F Paper Street.  The following wouldn't make it to me (I've gotten other's mail where this has been done):

    F - 23 Paper Street

    23 Paper Street - Unit F

    23 Paper Street,

    Unit F

     Because they interfere with the fact there can be a Unit 2, 23F Paper Street.  ie:

    2 - 23F Paper Street.

    Better yet, you can have 2 - 23 1/2 F Paper Street.

    Why can't your mailman figure this out? All of them direct him to 23 Paper Street. Then look for something labeled F (double check, name on the mailbox is shepd, deliver it). Sounds like he's just lazy. He's a human being, not a computer. Humans are much better at figuring out what the sender really wants here. And that's not even that confusing a case. We used to live in a house whose address changed 5 times, and the mailmen would deliver anything addressed to any of them.



  • Seeing all these issues regarding addresses reminded me a [url=http://articles.latimes.com/2007/nov/05/business/fi-crmail5]story that I saw last year[/url]. Think yourself lucky that you are not dealing with that mess.



  • @OzPeter said:

    Seeing all these issues regarding addresses reminded me a story that I saw last year. Think yourself lucky that you are not dealing with that mess.

    Some small towns over here have similar "address" systems. One time at Veracruz, I found an annex in the phonebook that had the phone numbers for small towns nearby. These "phone numbers" were 3, 2 and even 1-digit numbers... and most of these had addresses labeled as:

    Domicilio Conocido (known address)

    So basically, you're expected to go into town, and actually ask somebody where the house for Mr. X is!



  • l is lower case and O is upper case. 

    Doesn't anyone know how to use a typewriter? 



  • @danixdefcon5 said:

    Av. Papel 102, 10-4.

    But 10-4 = 6?  Banks are probably quite good at this arithmetic.


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