Jonny Nexus

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Introducing… The ExplainTo Bear

I have just had the greatest idea I will ever have in my entire life. Ladies, gentlemen, those who’d rather not say, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri, I give you – the ExplainTo Bear!

I’m a programmer, and in programming – and I suspect many other professions – it’s a truism oft repeated that the best way to solve a problem that’s stumping you is to get one of your colleagues to have a glance at it. Why? Because a good 50% of the time you’ll figure the solution out yourself while you’ll still explaining the issue to said colleague, without him or her doing anything more than listen, and occasionally interject with, “I see”, “Right”, “Okay”, and “Got it”.

TeddyBearWhich is where my invention comes in. The ExplainTo Bear is a small cuddly toy with a built-in sound detector. When it detects more than a second’s worth of silence a hidden speaker emits one of a set of stock phrases, such as: “I see”, “Right”, “Okay”, and “Got it”. If you’re a manager1 and one of your programmers reports that they’re stuck, all you have to do is hand them the department’s ExplainTo Bear and tell them to work together with the bear to solve the problem2.

The potential of this is genuinely huge, so much so that I really ought to patent it and make a fortune. But I’m not going to, partly because in a world where the UK government is about to write off £300 million of Universal Credit IT spending3 I think this needs to be available to the whole of humanity, but mostly because I’m absolutely knackered right now and I really can’t be bothered.

Knighthood if it takes off would be nice, mind.

1This applies equally well if you’re a ScrumMaster in a company which uses an agile methodology and a programmer reports a problem during the daily scrum meeting.

2There is a type of programming called Extreme Programming, where programmers work together in pairs. This is a bit like that, but you only have to pay one salary.

3I should stress that I’m not necessarily claiming that the impending disaster that is the Universal Credit IT system could be solved simply by someone in charge spending twenty minutes talking to a stuffed toy, but it might have perhaps averted the cock up had someone done such a thing back in 2010, and realised that the plan they’d adopted was complete bollocks.

8 Comments

  1. Sadly for the patent there is prior art, otherwise known as ‘it’s been done’, and without the voice stuff too.

    There’s at least one university that has a stuffed toy students have to explain their programming problem to before they’re allowed to bother any of the staff with it.

    And, regarding the Universal Credit IT problems, blame the Tory ministers in charge. They’re the ones who think they’re bringing the word of god on tablets of stone… or some sort of tablet for the slightly more literate ones anyway. Civil servants just have to try and make the crap work.

    • Dammit, really? A bear. Oh well.

      And yeah, I’d agree that at the end of the day projects live or die by the leadership they get from the top.

  2. It might be useful for ExplainTo Bear to have a mode where every now and then, when it has been left alone, it would say “are you sure?” or “is that really a good idea?” and similar. Proactive mode. But it would need to withstand a good solid punching.

  3. Absolutely brilliant. I believe this has vast potential for many, broad applications.

  4. Sorry, but this one has already been done. See Kernighan and Pike’s The Practice of Programming page 123 for exactly the same idea (and lots of other useful trick for debugging).

    A slightly different variant from The Pragmatic Programmer (by Hunt and Thomas) uses a rubber duck to whom you explain your code line by line.

    But at least you can count yourself amongst such high praised authors.

    And if you like Agile then have a read of the first comment in this article for an unlikely use of a rubber duck in a scrum meeting:
    http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/03/rubber-duck-problem-solving.html

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