Implementing Software in a Proust State of Mind

This is another one that I wrote a couple of years ago…

Here I am, at work, at 10:00 PM.  We’re doing a major implementation of the application that I support.  The implementation will take about 6 hours.  It started 8:00 PM.

A number of us have  come in to support this.  There’s me, in my role as technical architect.  I don’t actually do anything, but if bad things go seriously wrong, I have to make the technical recommendation whether or not we need to cancel the update and ultimately, I will take the blame for the failure.  I’ve never had to do a rollback, so I’m not sure how bad it’d be.  I’m guessing some kind of ritualistic seppuku is involved.

There are the infrastructure guys, who are actually doing the database and application server work.  There’s the project manager, kind of like me, just watching the proceedings.  There are the developers, who do the technical check-out and are around if questions / problems come up during the implementation.  Finally, there are the customers, who do the final acceptance upon completion of the update.

So, it’s kind of a party, except for the fact that everyone’s stressed and there’s no alcohol. People usually bring in food and / or sweets. One of my cubemates pulls out a couple of madeleines.  She offers me one.

I take a bite and am instantly transported back to my childhood.

OK, I lied.  It didn’t instantly transport me to my childhood, but it did transport me to Los Angeles about a year ago… A year ago, I went to San Diego and to Orange County.  While there, I made a side trip to Venice Beach.  On my way to Venice Beach, I made yet another side trip to the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

I’m not sure how to describe it.  Is it a museum?  Is it a hoax?  Is it an acid trip?  Perhaps all three?

I parked on the street and went inside.  It’s technically a free museum but there was a suggested donation.  The person who accepted my donation very much had an errie Norman Bates feel to him, which kind of set an appropriate tone for the experience.

The museum itself was strange, to say the least.  It was dimly lit.  There was no apparent structure to the rooms.  In fact, some rooms are unmarked and closed off by curtains.  You ended up just kind of wandering aimlessly.  Which I think was kind of the idea.

There were a couple of strange static exhibits.  There was a collection of models of trailer park homes.  There was another room dedicated to ‘Microminiature sculptures’.  Each sculpture was done on a human hair and was placed inside the eye of a needle.  A magnifying glass was provided at each station so that you could see the level of detail for each sculpture.

There were a series of oil paintings of dogs of the Soviet Space program. There were various displays that contain convoluted mirrors that when you looked at them, you saw vague heavenly shapes. There were various interactive displays, some of which no longer appeared to work.

At the end of it all was a tea room, which was inhabited by a dog and a woman that quietly poured each guest a cup of tea from a decrepit samovar.  The room itself was apparently patterned after Tsar Nicholas II’s study at the St Petersburg Winter Palace.

As you leave, you have no idea what you just experienced.  Some things were clearly false.  Some things sounded true, but were so obscure that they were probably unprovable.

And the madeleine?  Where does that fit in?  Well, one of the exhibits that they had was composed of a madeleine with a bite taken out of it.  The caption claimed that this was the very madeleine that Proust took a bite out of that triggered a flood of memories that ultimately resulted in one of the great novels of the 20th century, In Search of Lost Time.

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