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Episode 32: Hack Something Together

The laughter stops as soon as I enter the Boss's office. He and the Bean Counter look like guilty school boys caught with a copy of Debbie Does Didcot.

'Joe, good of you to join us,' the Boss tells me, waving me to the chair in front of his desk. The Bean Counter is sitting to one side, red-faced but trying to recover some decorum.

'As if I had any choice,' I mumble.

'We've been thinking,' the Boss continues regardless.

'Yes,' the Bean Counter chimes in, 'we've given this a lot of thought indeed.'

'Indeedy-doody,' I say, 'thinking about what exactly.'

'Stationery,' the respond together.


'Yes,' the Bean Counter explains, 'it's costing us a fortune. There's no central control, ordering is all over the place.'

'Is that why we've never got any pens or paper in stock?'


'On the other hand,' I continue, 'we do have half a million paper clips locked in a cupboard somewhere because your PA got air miles for every order…'

The Boss gives me that pleading look that suggests that what I'm talking about is news to his Bean Counter pal. 'Without central ordering it's easy for there to be blips in supply,' the Boss squirms uncomfortably. 'Which is why we've decided that we'll create a little stationery order app. Nothing fancy, just hack something together. We can distribute a copy to each department, they can place orders which go to a central database.'

'Then what happens?' I ask.

'Well,' the Bean Counter explains, 'all items will have to go through an approval process after which we can place a single consolidated order to take advantage of economies of scale and…'

'So we'll carry on bringing in our own pens and paper for a while longer than,' I sigh.

'So, not a major piece of work then,' the Boss continues. 'A single order screen, a couple of buttons and an admin screen or two that connects to the back end database.'

I hate it when the Boss acts all grown up. 'Not so fast,' I counter. 'Is this a web-based application? Traditional three tier or do you want Ajax functionality? How does the review items use case map to a simple admin screen? And what about user authentication? Transactions? Do we…'

'We don't have to worry with all of that,' the Boss counters confidently. 'Look at this…'

I walk around his desk and take a peek at his screen. Unfortunately it's not the athletic Debbie doing Didcot, but a simple app I put together just before the Christmas party. It's a single screen rich client app that enabled us to place bets on who would get off with who, with side bets on who'd be asked to leave the company in January… Simple back end database, with bugger all security, no transactions but some nice functionality and plenty of eye candy.

'Just swap the back-end database with a table of approved items and…'

'I'd like it ready by the end of the month,' the Bean Counter interjects forcefully.

'That's a week on Monday, and I'm away for most of that time,' I point out.

'Then get one of your team to take it on,' the Boss insists.


'I suggest Crispin,' the Boss adds. 'He's more than happy to do it.'

'Rice?' I whisper. I hate that sinking feeling. The Boss has stitched me up completely. And in getting the CEO's nephew to do it he's pulled a pretty good stroke. There's not much I can do to argue.

So, I come back from my holiday expecting that Rice is still struggling with the stationery ordering system, but nope it's done. Not only that, as I sit down at my desk I get the email announcing the release.

Two clicks later the app's on my machine. I fire it up and it loads flawlessly. Nice interface. Good use of colour. Intelligent set of drop downs. Performance is fairly snappy. I ought to feel pleased that it's turned out so well.

'What do you think?' Rice asks, beaming. He looks as happy as a happy thing in a good mood.

'Looks good,' I admit. 'How much of my code did you re-use?'

'A lot of it,' Rice admits. 'I kept the structure but changed a lot of the GUI side of things. I added lots of keyboard short-cuts too. Why don't you order some paper? Hit Ctrl-P.'

'Ctrl-P? Doesn't that fire off a print job?'

'No,' Rice explains. 'That's off the file menu.'


The phone rings as I'm about to find out more. It's the Boss. He's in full rant mode. I hold the phone at arms length while he rants about Ctrl-S (Staples), Ctrl-C (paper Clips), Ctrl-V (enVelopes), Ctrl-Z (Zip cartridges) and the rest… Turns out that even after closing the app the short-cut keys don't revert to normal mode in Office.

Oh dear.

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