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Lies, Damn Lies and BOFH Statistics
All in a bad cause
Episode 25 BOFH 2000. Episode 25
So I get this tape in from the courier and it's marked -AS PER USUAL
- "Ultra Urgent". Which means that The Boss is going to be in any time to see how..
"How's that tape going?" The Boss asks, trundling into the office at warp factor .0000000003 before I have a chance to nudge it off the table and into the bin.
"The Survey Data tape!" He cries. "Very important stuff that. We paid a survey company twenty five thousand pounds to do an electronic survey to find out what our customers really want."
"You mean like a good product at a reasonable price?" the PFY chirps in.
"No, no," The Boss smiles condescendingly. "We want to know what the customer REALLY wants - product colour, naming, whether to use chrome or not."
"All important stuff then," I comment, rolling my eyes at the PFY.
"Yes! So where can the tape be?"
"Probably hasn't been delivered," I say.
"Well it's funny because I saw the courier on the way out," he cries triumphantly, producing a delivery receipt from his pocket. "And he says you DID get one."
"Yes" the PFY jumps in, knowing my policy on signing for things only too well "- or rather someone named.. uh.. John Major did. Does HE work here?"
"The beancounters maybe?" I suggest helpfully.
"It doesn't matter," The Boss cries yet again, with a hint of triumph in his voice, while producing another tape. "I got a copy delivered just in case!"
He hands itover, chomping at the bit to get the tape read-in.
"Chop! Chop!" he cries. "What's on it?"
"Well, as I've only just got the thing, it's hard to say," I respond, not appreciating The Boss's attempts to grease the gears of media reading.
"Well it's really important!" The Boss burbles, stating once more, for the benefit of the COMPLETELY bloody stupid, the reason for his visit.
"Yes, yes," I murmur, slapping the tape into the external drive on my machine.
Normally - I have to admit - I'd only be reading a foreign tape once I'd run it through the Virus Scanning Bulk-Eraser (Never had a Virus that's survived a good, hard, scanning from that baby). HOWEVER, if I do that it's only going to have The Boss skulking about for even longer. And I don't think I could handle it.
Once it's in, I run a quick tar, an od, and finally a binary dump to come to an interesting conclusion.
"The tape's blank," I tell The Boss, ignoring his disbelieving facial response.
"It can't be, it was written by a professional archiving company!"
"Then it must have been written in Braille."
"Or marker pen!" the PFY cries, recalling a past habit of mine of writing: "The Boss is a Winker" on the leader of 9 track tapes, to give the tape monkey something to cheer him up at backup time.
"Well fast forward the tape along a bit, maybe the data starts further on.." The Boss cries, getting a little disconcerted. "Perhaps they didn't rewind it properly before they wrote it."
"Can't happen," I respond. "All tapes have a beginning of tape mark of someform. If there's nothing after that mark, there's nothing on the tape."
"But.. But.. "
"Look, I'll show you" I cry, grabbing a recent addition from the rubbish bin and yanking it's label off before The Boss can cop a dekko, "Here's a tape with, uh, intermittent read errors, which we chucked out."
I slap the tape in the drive and run it up.
"Look, see, data!"
"Which starts at the beginning of the tape. All valid data. Actually, how were you going to interpret your data?"
"Oh, with this program," The Boss burbles, pulling a floppy out of the Pandora's box that is his business suit.
I chuck the floppy into my machine and run up the executable (without even virus checking because I like to live on the edge) and pump the data at it.
"Well" I cry, "if we used the data on THIS tape for instance, it says that... 68% of people prefer British Racing Green or Cobalt Blue, while 11% prefer reds and browns... 73% of people prefer a name that is orientated to the British and/or American markets as opposed to Asian... 67% like chrome, although 53% of those didn't like it to be a dominating influence... uh, 67% of the respondents were in the upper quartile of income earners, and a staggering 83% say they buy our products recently."
"Well, that's believable as the survey was of our clients, and a lot of them are rather well-to-do," The Boss says.
"Remember," I add, applying a pin to The Boss's bubble. "this is just a tape I pulled out of the bin. The results are just an interpretation of the binary data."
"But it's so accurate - it's almost like it WAS the survey data!" he responds.
"Hmmm. And you're not suspicious?"
"Well if a survey confirms EVERYTHING you expected, why spend a large amount of money on a survey? I certainly wouldn't like to be the person who suggested an expensive survey like that when it comes out telling us what we already know..."
The Boss is strangely quiet at this.
"No," I continue. "What you want is a survey that breaks new ground -tells us something we don't know. Similar data, but varying by certain degrees."
A 15-watt bulb suddenly illuminates in The Boss's mind.
"Have you got any data like the data on that tape?"
"I don't know," I mumble, looking to the PFY for inspiration. "What was on that tape?"
"Soft Core Porn," the PFY cries, obviously mistaking it for one of our archive tapes.
"We, uh, take copies of stuff we delete from the users' shares," I ad lib,"just in case they complain, then deny having it."
"Ah. So I want to use soft core porn as the input."
"NO!" I cry. "Soft core didn't work, the data was totally unbelievable. You're going to have to use some DIFFERENT data. Hardcore porn is probably best"
"Hardcore?!" he says anxiously.
"Yes," the PFY adds. "Possibly even bestiality. IF you want good data to cover your arse.."
. . .
Two days later, at The Boss's leaving drinks (after the Big Porn scandal, which was after the Big Survey scandal where The Boss presented the data that people liked the idea of Purple and Yellow-embossed Chrome product, with names like Kamakuza which would be bought en masse by low income types)...
"How on earth did they find out?" The Boss cries.
"Well, I think the giveaway was when you attached the data file to your email and didn't change the file extension from .jpg," I murmur.
Still, it was time for a change.... ®
BOFH is the Bastard Operator From Hell. He is the creation of Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his copyright.