On the code again, just can't wait to get on the code again…

This morning I’ve decided to work a little on the ecommerce code for the store’s web site and once again the ability of the average user to break things astounds me. I’ve been reading some of the horror stories out there in regards to this and it’s pretty amazing.

Kind of reminds me of a few years ago when I was writing the code for the StickerStation, aka “The World’s Most Advanced Vending Machine” which you’ve probably seen as they are everywhere. We would bring in children to test the interface of the machine, making sure that it was easy enough to understand for children and robust enough to handle a 5 year old. Well we got it to the point that none of our test kids could do anything to the machine other than put in their money and get their pictures when the project manager came in stating, “I don’t know what I did, but it’s hung.”

You probably know this project manager and some of you have probably worked with him. He has many shapes and sizes, many first and last names, but he always manages to advance to his highest level of incompetence. He makes twice your income yet has half your knowledge and does a quarter of the work. He’s usually put there by the board of directors against the better judgment of the dev team… Yep, I knew you’ve worked with him.

Anyways the problem turned out to be static electricity. The leather soled $400 loafers, expensive silk shirts and slacks he wore in combination with the new carpet and his $1000 leather office chair imbued him with about a billion volts of electricity which would shut down the bill validator when he touched the machine. Of course this would only happen when it was unusually dry there in Alexandria Virginia so recreating the problem took about a month.

About six months later we discover that the board of directors put this guy in charge to prep the company for sale. His goal was to ensure that the Generation 3 machines never made it to market thereby violating shareholder agreements and opening the company for acquisition by a rival company in New Hampshire. To the team’s credit we not only got the prototypes done but we got about 100 of them out in the field here in the US and almost as many in Europe. The machine was featured on the 1999 MTV Tour and I have a picture of C3P0 standing next to one for the opening of 1999’s Episode 1 where the machine was a key piece for their marketing. We had acquired image contracts with Warner Brothers, Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Toys ‘R’ Us… It was a pretty amazing thing.

One of the Gen3 machines in England being set up for the Star Wars promotion.

I guess I should put the key team members here so years from now I’ll remember this and find out what they’re all up to:

William Miller: Design, Front End Programming, and Interface
Scott Ogden: Design, Systems Engineering, and Acquisitions
Ken McCleaft: Design, Systems Engineering, Back End Programming, Telemetry, and Blue Screen Algorithms
Ronnie Jones: Art, Art and More Art

There were several other people involved, of course, but the above were the ones who put in the sleepless nights, long hours, plane flights, endless arguments with the project manager, and who really made the system go. Thanks guys. I still think, even though the company was sold out from under us, that we set a standard in the industry that few have managed to reach and none have surpassed. Heck, the company who bought us *still* can’t get chromakey to work! (grin)