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[humorix] Running With Pointers Considered Harmful...
Running With Pointers Considered Harmful...
M.L. Pluspluss, Humorix Programming Columnist
September 23, 1999
I have recently encountered some of the great works of
Computer Science discussing the danger of such ideas as the
"goto" statement (one article I categorically reject),
"unstructured" programming, and Microsoft COM interfaces.
Yet in my recent foray into the reference works of our
industry, I failed to encounter any articles discussing a
key issue that has led to tragedy after tragedy.
This, as you who have attended some of my early design
presentations must know, is the issue of running with
pointers. Now I know that many of your mothers repeated
over and over, "Don't run with scissors, you will put your
eye out!" But how many of you ever had a parent or a peer,
let alone a Computer Science professor, point out the
danger of running with pointers?
I'm sure you must all be familiar with the case of Harry
Bumgartner, a programmer who worked at Eliant, the premier
maker of check register software for the Timex Sinclair.
One sunny morning, Mr. Bumgartner was presenting his new
algorithm for calculating the deduction factor of a haircut
in determining how work-related grooming expenses could be
tabulated for tax purposes, when a young James B. Broley,
thinking it humorous to rush into the conference room
brandishing a fine birch pointer like a madman, suddenly
put both of Mr. Bumgartner's eyes out.
Fortunately for Harry, he had suffered an attack of Cerebro
Hepto-axial-cyto-mitochondrial-hytotic-miosis while serving
with the Army in the Grenada operation in the mid 1980s and
had lost vision in both eyes, so no serious harm was done.
Unfortunately for young Mr. Broley, his little prank cost
him his job. He was recently sighted working the
drive-thru window for an In-and-Out Burger in Fresno, CA.
Yet, this is not the the most horrific case I can make for
the danger of running with pointers. There is always the
case of Jane M. Doe (not her real pseudonym) of Los
Ms. Doe kindly consented to a brief interview for this
public safety piece.
PLUSPLUSS: Ms. Doe, if that is your real name, [At this
point the guest became very belligerent], can you tell us,
in your own words, if they are your own words [Now the
guest began searching through her purse for, I was to find
out later, a large gun] just how you came to suffer your
DOE: Look, I don't have to put up with this. I have a
publicist, an agent, and have even chosen the actress that
will play me in the upcoming ABC mini-series, "Lost at the
Point!" (remember there is an exclamation point at the
end). [She was now brandishing a gun in my direction].
PLUSPLUSS: Well certainly, I'm all ears about this new
venture that your "misfortune" has led you too."
DOE: [very angry now] Look, it's unsupported wannabe
journalists like you working for self-proclaimed humor
portals that are responsible for my predicament. I have
half a mind to call my trainer David in to break your geeky
butt in half. Oh David, this man is bothering me. Would
you please dispose of him?
PLUSPLUSS: [breathing hard with gaps between words, as if
running] Thanks for... your time... Ms. Doe. I certainly
hope you... find a way to... spend all your... "damages"
efficiently... ouch, thorns...
As you can see from that excerpt recorded while I was
running... I mean leaving Ms. Doe's compound, her encounter
with a pointer was nothing less than shattering to her
moral sense and willingness to talk with legitimate
I have now demonstrated the personal consequences of
running with pointers (be they nice birch ones or even
poorly made Korean pine) but let me now propose a safer
We must, as professional programmers, adopt the laser
pointer as the standard pointer for all presentations, for
1. In a word, efficiency. The laser uses a battery to
provide a brilliant red spot. (Note: Looking at the light
coming from the pointer's "business" end can result in
blindness. You have been warned.) It is easier to see in a
darkened room than even the famous birch pointer used by
programmer Gerald M. Plotsnick.
2. More importantly, The laser pointer will not destroy
one's eye if one accidently falls on it [Editor: Actually
M.L., if one happens to fall on the pointer, it could (at
least theoretically) get jammed into the eye socket. [M.L.:
but I wasn't talking about that! I was talking about the
3. There are very few ways to hurt one's self with a laser
pointer [Editor: Well, they could shine it in their eyes or
something; or maybe try to pick their nose with it. [ML:
Well, I was assuming they weren't stupid!]].
5. Perhaps, most importantly, laser pointers help ensure
correctness in the presentation, thus reducing useless
questions and comments on the presenter's style. Using
laser pointers guarantees that the presenter knows what he
is pointing at. So often with other pointer technologies,
the presenter is able to apply the pointer to any item on
the screen. With the laser pointer, the user must decide
where it actually points if it is to have any meaning at
all. This guarantees that the presenter will always pay
attention to where the pointer is directed, unless he just
doesn't give a damn.
6. More scalable. Due to limitations on lengths and the
structural strength of wooden pointers, traditional
pointers do not scale well to large presentations. As the
size of the screen increases, so must the size of the
pointer increase, until such a point that the pointer is
either too limber and flexible to accurately point out the
detail the presenter wishes or it is too heavy for the
presenter to wield requiring some additional implementation
technology such as a robot to actually wield the telephone
pole sized pointer.
I believe that I have presented a very clear case
supporting the need for all programmers to switch to laser
pointers. I will be presenting this paper to the ACM when
I get the chance and I believe that it is inevitable that
the advantages of a laser pointer based system will
supercede the current approach of using wooden
technology. Clearly this provides safety advantages that
can't be underestimated. But additionally, all programmers
who adopt this position will know that they are adopting a
proven system that is more efficient and scalable than the
current "wooden" system most presenters currently use.
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