stupid Stupid People

Based on a true story….

I don’t much care about the ins and outs of my job. What I mean is: I do the tasks allotted to me, but I don’t get emotionally invested. Mostly that’s because for one thing, the data is never good enough or consistent enough for me to be more than ‘mostly sure’ that any conclusion I come to is correct. So I don’t go nuts with the bold statements, and as a result I’m fairly relaxed most of the time.

But yesterday, in the space of less than half a day, I came up against the two dumbest things that have happened here since I started.

Firstly, I was given a series of files that somebody else in another department had created. I was told that because it was for a mobile campaign, it needed mobile phone numbers in it. Now I did not create this file, I know nothing about this campaign and I have nothing to do with either of these things anyway. I’m an insight analyst. Campaign list selection is on the second floor. In another BUILDING.

But apparently the person who created it was uncontactable and the person who passed it to me wanted to know if I could just use my Mad SAS Programming Skillz and pre-existing data to match into and reverse-engineer the phone numbers into the file.

My response was ‘sure’. Heaven knows, my working life is boring enough and a small challenge could lead to some gratitude and favours down the line, and I’m all about zen, kudos and karma. I’m a nice guy. And it wasn’t even a pretty lady asking the favour this time, so you know there was no ulterior motive.

I open the file. There is only one identifier that could be used to merge with and it is called (I kid you not) ‘urn-or-upuid’. That is to say, the person who did this file didn’t know which of two completely different identifiers they were dealing with. I know what a ‘u.r.n’ is. I know what a ‘’ is. This person? Only knew that it was either ‘upn-or-upuid’. Hence the name. Beautiful.

I take a look at some of the entries in the field. It is quickly apparent that they are neither a ‘u.r.n’ or a ‘’. You might as well call this variable ‘upn-or-upuid-or-some-number-I-pulled-out-of-my-a55’. Except there’s a limit to field names, so fair call, maybe it was an abbreviation after all.

Anyway, the person who wants the mobile numbers of these people, whose fault this debacle is not, can only offer me one thing: doing this is important, because the campaign needs to go out tomorrow. Which is completely unhelpful. Telling me the job is more important will not make the numbers coalesce into something useful or give me the clarity to divine their purpose any quicker. The only good thing here is that I don’t get stressed. Not because I’m a superfly-samuel-l-jackson-one-cool-motherf&&er, muthaf&&a but because if you give me completely impossible crap to do, I mentally file it under ‘too ridiculous to dignify with disproportionate effort on my part’. That’s because I’m paid to do my job, not do miracles, and also not to do somebody else’s job. I’ll have a go, but your deadline is not my deadline.

I don’t explicitly state this, I merely highlight that without knowing what this field is I can’t merge it with another file except by trial and error. And the files we’re talking about are generally too big for that kind of thing to be practical. The guy agrees and says he’ll get back to me the next day if he finds out what the field is called.

(I don’t mention to him that if he can find out what it’s called, then this info can only come from the person who named it, and if the person who named it is around then THEY should be the ones appending the mobile numbers for the mobile campaign they were asked to provide mobile numbers for.)

That’s the first task. There is a second.

It is from a person in another division who wants some data for some reporting they want to do and are hoping to source from our area. Why they would come to us is nebulous, because we are an insight department and not a finance or data hub. The company I work in already has these departments. The division asking even has a capability group whose job it is to source this information for people who need it. (We use them too. They’re useless). But this person chose not to go down that path, and instead has done something a bit like picking up a phone and saying"Hi, this is Accounting. Do you guys in Market Research have any idea on what the numbers for the business are?"


I have spoken to these people before. Last month they gave us a list of three or four dozen fields to see whether we could point them in the direction of that data. I explained then (and reiterated now) that we are an insight team. Our data is updated on a convenience/best-attempts basis for our needs, not in a regular way that is conducive to strict periodic reporting. I’ve done reporting in other jobs and can say without embarrassment or reservation: our data is not conducive.

They don’t care. And they want to send somebody up from their office to have a chat with us about the data they want for reporting going forward. They want us to put aside ‘a couple of hours’ to go through it, too. Dude, we have like FOUR source files – we told that last time, and they haven’t changed. So I have no idea what on earth you think you can fill two hours or more of my time with.
“That thing over there. What’s that?”
“Calls_0812? That’s the sum total of calls for December 2008, hence calls_0812.”
“Okay. What about that field?”
“Texts_0812? It’s the sum total of all texts sent by that phone for the month of December 2008”
“Do you have incoming texts?”
“Okay, what about that field?”
“Sit down for this one. Duration_0812 is the sum total of minutes for December 2008”
… and so on. That would round out ‘a couple of hours’ quite neatly. But they’d better pray there are no sharp objects in the room after about forty minutes.

But hey, why not… I’m up for a laugh if they are….

I leave it at that and head home. Surprisingly, I don’t turn to drugs for solace, I turn to jogging. And I’m not wholly comfortable with that choice, to be frank.

The next day I get in after my morning coffee and find emails from each of my two tormentors in my intray.

The “mobile phone number attachment magical mystery field” person has gotten back to me saying that the mystery ‘urn_or_upuid’ field is ‘an address field’. Really? Like… an address or a postcode or a demographic code or a random arbitrary alphanumeric key on a large database? … that doesn’t narrow it down at all, it just says ‘that number is a number with geographic relevance’. And our files have many fields with geographic relevance. So this doesn’t help. I am glad I didn’t lose sleep over this.

And the “Could I ask you to put aside six hours of your time to talk me through every permutation of ‘calls’, ‘texts’, and ‘minutes’ you have’?” person has now sent me list of all the fields he’s looking at getting from our datasets.

There are 488.


Okay, fine, there are (I do some filtering and unformatting on their stupidly laid-out spreadsheet) about 60 with an average of 8-point-something vaguely consistent subdivisions within each, for a total of 488 permutations. Morons.

And a quick scan reveals that most of them were in the email they sent us last time as well. So the bottom line is, it’s been about a month since they last spoke to us, and now they’ve come back with a spreadsheet 488 rows deep and 13 columns wide. And instead of prepopulating the fields they already know from last time (most of them), or just giving us their additional request, they’re asking us to restate every single old and new field AND the source table AND the source location AND the data rules AND the calclulation so that the spreadsheet can be filled in by us instead of them for a second time.

And THEN they want to talk with us for ‘a couple of hours’ on top of this? What exactly is your job, guys? Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot that all the text copy-pasting is really, really time-consuming.

I hold back on sending them an email with the words ’you’re kidding, right?’, or perhaps one containing a sound file of somebody laughing uproariously.

But hey, the random mobile number merge field requestor has gotten back to me by now. And apparently the mystery field has a name, and it is ‘cr_addurn’. So… neither of the two fields it was based and named after.

I send the person an email that includes the line:
“have we completely established that this data can not simply be re-drawn PROPERLY with mobile numbers attached this time, like you might assume would be plausible for a MOBILE CAMPAIGN?”

Because by this time the SAS system across the network has hit its mid-morning peak hour. This is where queries start taking really, really long to run. I’ve tried this merge several times but SAS keeps failing because our SAS license is server based and it will kick me out of sessions if it ever loses contact with the off-site license key. Which is mind-bogglingly stupid in itself.

And I haven’t reopened the 488 row email because that just makes me cross.

Sigh. The U2 song ‘Breathe’ from their new album includes the lyrical fragment:
‘Coming from a long line of travelling salespeople on my mothers side I wasn’t going to buy just anyone’s Cockatoo. So why would I invite a complete stranger into my house. (Would you?)’

All I can say is: I definitely need to breathe.

…And I certainly would not buy a cockatoo from any of these people.

stupid Stupid People


Joined July 2007

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Stupid people. Why does they be stupid?

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