Consulting in Hell (by John Koziol)

Sometime sitting around with experienced consultants and developers you hear some interesting stories on less-than-optimal situations they were placed in when coding or implementing a solution.

An associate of mine years ago told me about racing to complete a program on a minicomputer in Managua before the Sandinistas shut her down. Her concern was that if she could deliver the program and get paid while things were still uncertain, she could use that money to escape the country. Unfortunately, I don't recall if she succeeded in collecting but I do know she related this story to me in Miami, so the escape part worked out OK.

In 1991, I gained a contract to create a PC-based inventory and point-of-sale application for the giftshop of a new cruise ship that was leaving a shipyard in Germany in a matter of days. Needless to say I couldn't complete the application on time, so I was shipped with my TI laptop to Southampton, England, to meet the ship and continue work during sea trials and during an Atlantic crossing. For technical reasons lost to time, the application was being written in Clipper, so I was able to store the compiler and linker and the app on the miniscule hard disk of the laptop (hmmm...perhaps that was the reason). And yes, VFP aficionados, I eventually ported it to FP 2.0.

Problem #1 was when I came aboard ship and looked over the equipment.  Yes, PCs had been installed where and how specified but they were all Siemens-Nixdorf computers with German keyboards and DOS. So much for touch-typing in the large shipboard inventory.

Problem #2 was that these computers had to perform some terminal emulation for the managers to reconcile sales figures with the main minicomputer onboard and no one onboard had ever worked with the terminal emulation software.

So the ship left port and began looping around the North Sea. In winter.  Anyone with any ocean experience knows that the North Sea and North Atlantic are not places to be in the winter. So I'm frantically writing code and entering data as the ship fights 60-ft swells. Another point of note:  modern cruise ships have stabilizers to mitigate rolling during heavy seas.  Unfortunately, when doing sea trials and repositioning, they don't use them to save fuel.

During one particularly violent swell, the laptop flew from my work table and smashed on the floor.  Kaput. Thank goodness I had disk backups but now I was forced to continue work on the Siemens computer with the German keyboard and OS.

About 1/2 way through the Atlantic and a week at sea, the ship held a no-notice SOLAS drill (Safety Of Life At Sea).  This is a requirement by the US Coast Guard and participation is mandatory. Now, mind you, this ship was scheduled to sail out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and cruise the Caribbean. So the crew and staff had very lightweight uniforms and were required to stand in line for upwards of 45 minutes outside by the liferafts. In 10 degree F weather.  In a 50 knot wind.  During a snowstorm. Several cases of near frostbite were recorded.

We finally arrive in Boston and my customers CEO flew out to meet us and took us to a very nice dinner at the Charthouse. I had originally been scheduled to fly home to South Florida from there but was running late getting everything on-line, so I booked a new flight out of Philadelphia our next port-of-call.

We reached Philadelphia 2 days later. My mission accomplished; my troubles were over. Or so it seemed.

When you sail on a cruise ship they hold your passport and then return it to you when you depart.  Just one little problem; they couldn't find my passport. By the time they found it, I had missed my flight.

So I sat around the airport waiting for the next flight, which was in a few hours. I finally boarded a plane around 10 PM and was on my way home. But fate was not done with me.

On the return flight, the jet hit heavy turbulance and plummeted several hundred feet. A drink I had just ordered levitated in front of my face and then smacked me in the face, soaking me. Later, another drink flew off of the tray table and hurtled back several rows of seats.

I finally arrived home around midnight. I think I slept for 2 days straight afterward.

Comments (4)

  1. Well…at least the food was good, I hope.


  2. John Koziol says:

    Ha! No. I didn’t include that because it was a long post already but since the crossing was made without passengers and not the full complement, the food was pretty much TV dinner quality. Also, the only drinks on board were what folks brought with them and this really nasty cheap, Dutch beer.

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