Real-life isn't like 24

While I'm no longer an avid viewer of 24 (I haven't seen seasons 6 or 7, but was glued to the TV when 24: Redemption just happened to be on) I have taken several things away from that show which, on occasion, cause me to be disappointed in real life. One of these things is the speed at which the crew of CTU, or whatever rag-tag bunch of techies Jack Bauer has to help him now, seemed to operate.

Whenever Jack Bauer needs the details about a certain suspect, all he has to do is give maybe the first couple of characters of said suspect's plate number, and within minutes (REAL-TIME minutes) he will have all the info he asked for. Things like aliases, addresses, phone numbers, political views, the place their credit card was used last, the neglect they received from their parents, the lasting psychological effects of that neglect leading to the number of Chris Brown's they've pulled with current and past partners... No information is out of reach of CTU.

I even remember one episode where they get their hands on a laptop with encrypted contents. The level and method of encryption is pretty reasonable such that trying to crack it would take much longer than 24 hours, yet they did, somehow, because CTU is that awesome. (although XKCD has already shown that encryption is virtually useless against a determined opponent)

Unfortunately, real-life (or at the very least, my work) doesn't operate like this at all. Here's how a quest for information went down at work today:

  • request for information was made to our client
  • client then e-mailed my project manager with the request for information
  • e-mail is then forwarded to me 2 HOURS after the first bullet point
  • I start work on the request by running several queries on the database, some of which take up to 5 minutes to complete
  • all members of our team attend a scheduled team meeting which took about an hour
  • we return and I run more queries to double-check my results
  • I send a reply e-mail with my findings to our client

At the end of all this, it's 6pm, it's getting dark outside, I'm pretty much the only person left on our floor, and the person I sent the e-mail to will have probably gone home already meaning they won't get to forward the results to the original requestor until tomorrow morning. How's that for information turn-around time?

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The story of my life

OK, so if speed was needed, I probably wasn't the best person for the job; I'm still becoming familiar with the system I've been assigned to, and I'm far from any kind of programming genius. But by the end of it, I just wanted to get back home as quickly as possible, and I was both disappointed in 24 for setting unrealistic expectations on programmers (just like how CSI has set unrealistic expectations of clear-cut forensic evidence in court cases) and maybe a little envious of people like those in CTU who could've done my job in mere minutes (REAL-TIME minutes). Provided such people existed.

If they did, then I totally understand why 24's Chloe looks pissed-off all the time.

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The wind changed, and it stayed that way