Thursday, January 11, 2007

$CompCorp Update: Narrowing Down the Suspects

Some time back I figured out what $CompCorp's creative admin had done and told them the solution, which required $$$Custom$$$ $$$Programming$$$ $$$Group$$$ because of the mess they'd made of their database. They got lucky: I had an idea which I passed on to $$$CPG$$$ to pull a little switcheroo on the database and make it think it was in Arabic all along so that the data could be correctly migrated. Setting this up took a couple hours but saved days of scripting and testing, which in turn saved $CompCorp thousands in custom programming charges and tens of thousands in lost time.

$CompCorp was happy to get a quick and cheaper fix, upper management gave me a tip of the hat for it, but no good deed goes unpunished. Upper Upper Management saw my solution as an "unconsidered revenue-reduction activity" and "detrimental to support division future earnings projections" which they told Upper Management. Shit runs downhill.

$CompCorp came back today screaming. Again they're seeing seeing corruptions. And boxes. And somehow, despite knowing that I fixed what they fucked up, they're sure it's all my fault, not even $OurBigApp's.

I found the problem quickly enough: their CSS templates were wrong. And the reason they were wrong is that one of their admins -- quite possibly the same clever dick who caused the initial problem -- had a clever idea.

Arial, scourge that it is, is ubiquitous. Almost every damned computer in the world has it or can display it, substituting Helvetica if Arial isn't installed. But Arial is only a simple codepage 1252 set of 222 glyphs. Worse, it's not Unicode-compliant. When a character which isn't in the set is specified, for instance a "Latin Capital Schwa" (Ə -- U+018F), a box will be drawn. The proper behaviour is to get the operating system to find a font which does have that letter. A font like "MS Arial Unicode" which is only available from Microsoft when you purchase Office.

Most systems with Arial also have Arial Narrow and Arial Black. Not one of these three is Unicode-compliant. There is only one MS Arial Unicode and it has no variants other than the stretching and compressing tricks most graphical word processing programs can now do.

$CompCorp had been using Arial Narrow for all Western characters because it looked best in conjunction with the Arabic font they used. But since they're now using Unicode they had to change the font in their CSS sheets to "MS Arial Unicode". Which they did. Almost.

They'd made changes but the screenshots were such exercises in ugliness that even the most experimental modern art museum director would cringe. The pages were next to impossible to read. The text was bloated, it was clipped, it pushed the Arabic characters out of the way. I took a look at the CSS files.

Clever Dick figured since "Arial Narrow" had been specified before, "Arial Unicode MS Narrow" made perfect sense. Since there's no such font the operating system went to its look-up and substitution lists and settled on Arabic Transparent since the display characters it needed were in there.

I explained it all and sent back corrected CSS files. Again, not even a thank-you.

Specifying a font which doesn't exist: Root Cause: 17-Fuckwits

x-posted from HuSi, where you can vote in a typeface poll.


Anonymous Anonymous pulled out a crayon and scribbled:

Greetings from Atlantic Canada (a.k.a. "God's Armpit")

I too am a support monkey for $$$federal_gov$$$ and have run into many similar situations throughout my career.

All I can say is I feel your pain, have a matching "head-shaped dent in keyboard" and can only imagine what it must be like working in your $$$company$$$ since I have never had the privilege (or misfortune) or working in the Private Sector.

Just wanted to say thanks... your stories help reassure me that underpaid/underappreciated/overabused support monkeys are far from a dying breed and help me get through my own horrid days of Helldesk tribulations.

As we say from around here, tak'er easy & have a good one.

A fellow monkey,

11 January, 2007 18:15  

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The views expressed on this blog are my own and
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single one of my cow-orkers who has discovered this blog agrees with me
and would also like to see the implementation of Root Cause: 17-Fuckwit.