Friday, August 14, 2009

Outside of the Box

If you are an IT professional aspiring to become a softwarephysicist, your biggest challenge will be to begin thinking outside of the box that currently defines the present narrow IT paradigm, which sadly precludes all other ideas from outside of IT itself. It requires broadening one’s point of view, abandoning a parochial worldview of software, and going beyond the narrow confines of conventional IT thought. This is difficult, but not impossible, as detailed in an email I sent out yesterday to my fellow team members in Middleware Operations.

So I woke up this morning at 1:00 AM to the horrible smell of a skunk. We smell skunks quite frequently in our neighborhood, but this time it was much more intense than usual, so I got up to investigate. Following the scent trail, I ended up in my basement, which was almost unbearable due to the intense stench. With the aid of a flashlight beamed through the thick glass block window of one of my window wells, I could see the vague image of a black furry creature with a white stripe scampering about. Not wanting to tackle a skunk in the dark, I decided to go back to bed and await daybreak. So I spent the whole night plotting various strategies to get the skunk out of my window well. I thought about dropping in some items to form a crude staircase, but I figured the skunk might not be able to figure out how to use a staircase, and I was also a little short on the necessary items anyway. I finally came up with this plan:

1. Cut away the bushes around the window well so that I could work without interference.

2. Use a mirror attached to a long pole as a makeshift periscope to safely see what was going on down in the window well.

3. Attach a rope to the handle of a plastic bucket and put some peanut butter laced bread in the bucket as bait.

4. Lower the bucket with the bait into the window well from a safe distance using the rope.

5. Use my periscope to see when the skunk went into the bucket.

6. Then quickly pull the bucket up to release the skunk.

7. Run like Hell.

It took me all night to come up with this plan, and I could not sleep a wink, worrying about what would happen if something went wrong, and I got sprayed by the skunk.

I forgot just one thing. The skunk also spent the whole night planning his escape too!

So I got up this morning and as soon as there was enough daylight, I proceeded with my plan. While I was cutting away the bushes around the window well, safely out of range, I was surprised that I did not hear the skunk scurrying about or spraying things at random out of fear. I used my makeshift periscope to look down into the window well, but strangely, I could not see the skunk. Instead, there seemed to be a lot of dirt in the window well. Building up a little courage, I carefully peeked over the rim of the corrugated galvanized metal that lined the window well, and to my surprise - no skunk! That is when I noticed this huge ramp of dirt in the bottom of the window well that was excavated from one of its corners. At first, I thought the skunk had built a ramp like the Egyptians used to build the pyramids, and that he escaped via the ramp. But the ramp really did not reach high enough to let the skunk escape! Then I noticed on the surface of the ground, about a foot from the window well, that there was a clean little hole in the ground. I tore the mirror off my makeshift periscope and stuck the pole straight down into the hole, and sure enough, it went straight down to the point at the bottom of the window well. So the skunk was smart enough to burrow a hole down a foot in the corner of my window well until he was clear of the metal window well wall, and then he dug straight up to make his escape! So the skunk came up with a counterintuitive solution; he dug down to escape up! I used a post hole digger to clear the dirt from the window well and a shovel to stuff it back down the hole to seal up the escape hatch.

As a softwarephysicist, I always try to think "outside of the box", so I was pretty embarrassed as I gathered up all my tools and walked away from a skunk who could think "outside of the window well", while I could not. So I figure if I leave my laptop and BlackBerry out at night with my ID and Password next to the bread with the peanut butter on it, I can subcontract out being Middleware Operations Night Primary at a very low price!

Keep this in mind the next time you have to troubleshoot an IT problem.

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Steve Johnston