I Spy with my Bastard Eye

Stack Overflow

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Episode 27

BOFH 2001: Episode 27



" I murmur, glancing sneakily around the office, "with my little eye, something beginning with...



"Explosion!" The PFY responds, eager for anything to relieve the tedium.

"You can't SEE an explosion!" I state.

"I beg to differ. Fancy a practical demo?"

"Ah, no. Not really. But anyway, you don't SEE an explosion, you WITNESS an explosion."

"But SEEING it is HOW you witness it," The PFY explains.

"But what if you only heard it?" I ask, obviously just as bored as The PFY is with the day's activities.

"That's splitting hairs - but let's ask the panel... Do you SEE and explosion, or do you WITNESS an explosion?"

"Why?" The Boss asks, wandering in nervously, no doubt wishing that he'd taken an early morning tea.

"It's just a discussion we're having..."

"Yes, but WHY are you having that discussion?"

"Oh, just.. general interest. So do you SEE an explosion, or WITNESS an explosion?"

"Both, I suppose. Are you sure this isn't related to something?"

"No no, we were involved in an elementary diagnosis training routine based on atypical environment monitoring when the subject came up."

"Yes. Right! Well, I think that's about all for now then.."

The Boss wanders off distractedly, while I have to admit to being slightly confused.

"What was that about?"

"Mmm?" The PFY asks, scratching something down on a clipboard.

"He came in for something, then left?"

"I'm guessing Stack Overflow."


"Stack Overflow. You know, when people hear something they should remember, or something they don't understand, they push it onto their mental stack. Too many items on the stack, they stack overflow and lose everything."

"I BLOODY INVENTED IT," I cry. "Of course I know about it. But that was only two things!!!"

"Yes I know. It would seem that he's particularly stack sensitive as of late."

"So you overloaded him on purpose?"

"Yeah well, there was blood in the water..."


"Why not?"

"You must have had a reason!"

"Well it's an experiment I'm doing," The PFY explains. "I'm trying to find the exact point of cutoff - where he changes over from Interested to Mental-Power-Save mode. It's quite an art form. You can almost hear the >click< sometimes..."

"And the aim of the experiment is?"

"Well, it's more an extended form of Bastard research really. I'm looking at what particular circumstances cause Stack Faults, and how they can be caused. Obviously with the aim of preventing future occurrences.."

"Yes, I'm sure," I respond, doubting The PFY's altruism at this point.

"It's true, it's a carefully plotted experiment! I've found that varying the stacking method and circumstances can enhance the effect.."

"Like how?" I ask, slightly intrigued now - and let's face it - still bored.

"Allow me to elaborate," he said, getting into the swing of his research like a sad geeky bastard. Which I have to admit he is - in certain areas anyway. "We have subject A, who for the sake of argument, we'll call The Boss."

"No he's not!" I argue.

"Yes, very droll. So, we have subject A, and we introduce him to several concepts he's not heard of before - say 'Threadsafe Programming', 'Source-based Routing' and, say, 'Personal Hygiene'. He Stack Overflows as the third unknown item is pushed onto his stack - but in a soft manner - possibly just forgetting what he's doing momentarily."

"Yes..." I agree, having observed the phenomenon several times, and instigated it far more times.

"BUT! Perhaps we introduce some element of urgency into the situation beforehand, say 'The Head if IT wants you to brief him in 10 minutes about the following...'. The speed and type of overflow changes dramatically. He barely makes two items before overflowing, and the symptoms are more disorientating."

"You've been working on this a while haven't you?" I ask, pityingly.

"I even have a chart!"

"Why did I think you would."

"Ah, but just look at it."

The PFY hands over his clipboard, which bears a large graph with multicoloured 'X's marked on it in varying places.

"What are the Axes?" I ask, as my interest grows.

"X Axis is level of extra Stimulus, Y Axis is Number of Stack items."

"Ah yes, I see, a definite downward curve. Hang on a minute! He got four items with a... mid-range extra stimulus."

"Yes, he was carrying a notepad which I didn't see!"

"What a cheat," I commiserate.

"Yes, upset my research for a moment there. Lucky his pencil lead broke when I said 'Gay Porn' or the whole thing would have gone awry. But I still can't seem to crack the single item Stack Overflow barrier."

"What have you tried?"

"The usual, threats of unemployment - job cuts and management cull, Pay reduction, Personal Ridicule, you name it."

"I see. Mind if I have a crack?"

"Be my guest!"

Striking while the research iron is hot, I sneak onto an Erotic Story Archive Server, grab something raunchy and confessional, tailor the names and places to correspond vaguely to The Boss's secretary, then send him a copy, with a 'From' address from her.

As expected, The Boss queues up a copy to the printer in a processor cycle, and rips off to the printer to make sure that no-one intercepts it. By some stroke of misfortune however, there seems to be a print queue problem and the job ends up stuck in the queue.

"Something seems to be wrong with the print queue outside my office," he blurts quickly, ducking in the door and out again in case the queue starts while he's absent.

"Yes, I know," I respond, faking concern. "The Head of IT's been onto me about it already. "

"Really? Why?" he gasps.

"Oh, apparently he's got some document stuck on it too."

"There was nothing in the queue!"

"No, it must have been a small job, so it's probably stuck in the printer somewhere. I'll pop over and soft-reset it in a sec to make sure we don't lose anything"

"Ah. Well tell you what, why not just cancel my job for me?"

"I would if I could, but the queue seems to be ReadOnly for some reason." I respond, telling The Boss what he already found out about 100 clicks on ABORT previously.

"Perhaps we should just turn the printer off?"

"No, that's the worst thing - the queue could get confused about the job status and just keep queueing your job, over and over."

[Sometimes I hate myself]

"Hey, isn't that the printer starting up no.." The PFY adds as The Boss sprints off.

"You mean bastard," I say, as The Boss returns from the false alarm.

"It's RESEARCH!!!" The PFY snaps back defensively

"I spose you're right," I concur, upping the priority of a job that's just popped into the queue and releasing it for printing. At the sound of the printer starting, The Boss rips back to the device, grabs the printout and tears it up before the secretary can collect it.

"It's obviously stuck on that queue," I say to The Boss, when he realises his error and trundles back to Mission Control at top speed. "Tell you what, why don't I re-queue it to this printer here and see if it goes through."

"Ah, OK," The Boss says, as he notices the Head of IT chatting with the secretary - no doubt about The Boss' newfound emphasis on workplace fitness - as she re-queues her print job.

Three clicks later, The Boss - taking no chances - slips between us and the printer as it warms up for his output.

A page curls its way out of the device, into The Boss's hand.

"This is the wrong job again - has her job got that printing over and over problem you were talking about?"

"I don't think so >clickety<. Oh there we go! It's simple, you've picked up her job and she's just picked up yours. It's a classic Re-queue Tranposition En..."


Well, if it's for science, I spose it can't be all bad.. ®

BOFH is copyright © 1995-2001, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.

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