Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ScienceFair storytime

"Now this project, this one's a joke."

It's Science Fair Week on the OhmsBlog! Yesterday's post is available here.

When I was an exhibitor at the 1998 Canada-Wide Science Fair in Timmins, Ontario, we were allocated several hours in our busy schedule for setting up our projects. Most people don't need too much time to get their project going, but sometimes shit happens and people need extra time to get organized. I recall one group whose computer project ended up in limbo because their computer was left sitting out on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport for a few days. In heavy rain.

For most of us, setting up was not quite so hectic. I unpacked my backboard for Advanced Windows 95 Security Techniques, the title spanning across the top in bright red. I removed my computer from its box, plugged everything in, and made sure that everything ran properly. I was mostly content to sit at my project and observe the commotion from my chair. Some competitors that had finished setting up decided to wander around, taking a look at some of the other projects.

One moment I was standing up and was doing some kind of maintenance on my setup, so my back was turned toward the aisle. Suddenly I hear a young man's voice behind me declare, "Now this project, this one's a joke."

I turned around to see what he was talking about, and behold, one of the senior level (grades 11-13) exhibitors is standing in front of my project and is critiquing it with his friend! I couldn't believe that anybody, much less another exhibitor, would have the nerve to walk right up to somebody's work and start talking trash in front of him.

I was incredulous. "Excuse me?" I said.

"It's a joke. You can't add security features to Windows 95, it's inherently insecure. It's impossible."

I was enraged. Who the hell did this guy think he was? What gave him the right to go around and pass judgements on everybody else's stuff? I figured that getting into an altercation at a national science fair would be headline news in all the wrong ways, so I bit my tongue a bit.

I looked him right in the eyes and stammered, "You know, I think that you very naïve." This guy had no right to dispense such comments, especially without reading anything beyond the title.

He and his friend wandered away, presumably to tear down somebody else's project. At this point, I was angry enough that I had to go and check out his work. I figured that I should go over and find out how credible this guy was, or at least find out what it was about his project that made him feel so superior to everybody else. I skimmed through the writing on his backboard, when suddenly I stopped and saw this sentence:

"C++ is not an object-oriented programming language."

I smiled. Things were unfolding exactly as they should. It suffices to say that in the end my project scored very well. Even though I know otherwise, I'd like to imagine that it was karma.


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