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The Parable of the Hairy Arm


One day, as is often the case, the chimps found themselves scrambling to meet an important deadline.  They only had a few days before a major review of their Assembly by the Senior Minder, and everything needed to be right.  As usual, there had been several last minute changes, and there was quite a bit of work to do.


Still, it was a good team, with just the right mix of old chimps, new chimps and specialist chimps.  Everything was plugging along and there was a good deal of confidence that all The Assembly would be ready in time.

One of the new chimps was especially proud of his work.  In truth, his part of The Assembly had been completed for some time.  He had been polishing, optimizing, seasoning and fine tuning.  His documentation was unusually complete, and he had even added a few special features that he suspected might come up.  In a word, he was confident.

The new chimp’s mentor was an old grey chimp that had been with the group, and other groups, for ages.  He had worked on countless Assemblies and under innumerable deadlines.  But in the new chimp’s eyes, the old chimp was pretty dull, and no longer the sharpest stick in the bush.  Mostly, the old chimp just went on and on about his the retirement cabin he was building, in a remote part of the jungle, while he casually scratched out codes and methods.  The short, the new chimp didn’t pay much attention.

One thing the new chimp did see, was that the senior chimp had included in his work an old donglewort that the new chimp knew had not been used for anything in many years.  In fact, that was the first donglewort he’d ever seen!  But there it was hanging off an extra loop of unreachable code.  The new chimp snickered a bit to himself, but said nothing.  The old grey chimp was old (and grey) and probably pretty set in his ways.  It was old fashioned and unsightly, but did no real harm.  And no other chimps said anything about the donglewort either.  So there it was.

Finally, the day of the big review came.  All the chimps gathered, including the odd one that only worked at night, and the Senior Minder took up the work piece by piece for inspection.  The old chimp and new chimp would be last though because of the core nature of their pieces in The Assembly.  


Mostly, it was quite good.  All the minor parts were fine, the requirements were achieved, save for a few minor adjustments here and there that would be no trouble.  The Senior Minder came to the old chimp’s work next to last.  He looked and studied, turned it around, tried different things out, while mumbling a bit to himself.


Then the Minder set down the work and said, “What’s this?” pointing at the donglewort.  “Do we use these?  We don’t need this anymore, right?”

“Hm, well no not much,” said the old chimp, “but you never know.”

“Well, let’s just take that off, K?” said the Senior Minder.  “Anyone have any comments?”

The room was quiet.  “Sure, that’s easy,” said the senior chimp,” which it was for the code loop was unreachable anyway.  “I guess you’re right, good point.”

The Senior Minder came to the new chimp’s fancy and glimming component last.  Surely it would be a credit to The Assembly, the new chimp thought.

The Senior Minder looked all around the component, turned it this way and that, tried different inputs and sampled different outputs.  

“This is pretty good, I suppose,” said the Senior Minder with a sign, “but the indentation is not right and these variable names don’t match the new standard.  We need to change it.  Also what’s this extra part here?” pointing to the additional feature the new chimp had added.

The new chimp’s heart sank.  “Uh, well...” he fumbled.  It was hard to explain and the meeting was going long.  All the other chimps wanted to go home.  “It’s a little complicated, but...”

“Well,” interrupted the minder, “I knew this isn’t in the spec, we need to just get that off for now.  Also, I can see if 
you don’t have that, then we won’t need these other parts either, here, here, here...  over here...  and on the other side here.  Also this part should be in Times New Roman”

“Er, uh,” said the new chimp.

“Let’s get this refactored for tomorrow, OK?” the Senior Minder added, and quickly finished off the review.

Later, as it grew dark out in the jungle, the new chimp worked away, taking out the various parts and re-indenting and re-doing the tags.  All the other chimps had gone home, or so he thought...  But the old grey chimp come in and sat down.  

“It’s a shame,” said the new chimp, “I thought this was pretty good stuff.”

“It is,” said the old chimp.

“Really?  Do you think so?”

“Yes, but you left out the hairy arm.”

“The what?” asked the new chimp, wondering if he’d heard correctly.

“You see,” said the old chimp, “let’s say we were all sitting each in a truck, waiting to go, and then the Minder comes around, it’s a good idea to have your arm hanging out of the window.”

“But isn’t that unsafe and unsightly?” asked the new chimp.

The old chimp laughed.  “The Minder will tell you to get that hairy arm inside!  But if he can’t do that...  Well then he’ll just have to look closer for something else to change won’t he.”

And the new chimp began to understand.

“Always leave a hairy arm,” said the wise old chimp, then went home, leaving the new chimp to work late.