Friday, January 30, 2009

The Computer Mouse and the Specimen Agitator

This is an example of how a customer thought outside the box to solve a problem.

We sell an ODBC driver for legacy Multivalued databases, and we had a customer who was doing HIV testing in the Seattle area, about the mid-1990s, when a different company was selling these products (at that time it was Liberty Integration Software. My current company, FusionWare, now sells these.)

The customer was using MS Query (came with Excel) to download some information into a spreadsheet. The report ran through a huge database file on their multivalue system, that took a long time to query (several hours). But for some reason, the report wouldn't complete. The customer cancelled it and restarted it several times, then they noticed something strange.

MS Query used to display the ODBC globe, which looked like a globe of the world, in the top right corner, and much like IE does with the stylized "e" it displays, when MS Query was downloading data, the world would turn.

Well, the report would run for a few minutes, then the world would stop turning. The customer noticed that if he touched any keys on the keyboard or moved the mouse, that the world would turn again for a few minutes. Somehow, the MS Query applet was getting stuck until something hit the message queue for the applet.

It turned out that this was a known bug with certain combinations of MS Query and associated ODBC and Jet components.

What to do now? The customer was a busy man and didn't have the time to sit there moving the mouse while the report finished - this would take hours!

Then he had a brainstorm! He took a specimen agitator. This is a bit like a miniature version of the things that shake up the paint cans at your local hardware store, except that it was intended to shake up blood samples, or other samples, possibly mixed with other chemicals in a test-tube.

Well, he put the mouse in the specimen agitator, turned it on, and left it running until the report completed.

The customer thought he should send Bill Gates one of these specimen agitators.

I never cease to be amazed at the ingenuity of some of my customers!

1 comment:

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