It's Christmas Eve here and, oh my, everywhere so we're taking the day off. Our hearts at TDWTF go out to you poor schmoes (all 5 of you) who are stuck having to work today.

A few kilometers left on Ruta Nacional 128, a brief stop at a control policial, a short trip down the unpaved Calle 33, and just like that, Sergio was at his destination. It was a top-secret Argentinean Government Facility.

Now, before you get all excited, let me say that this was not the fun type of Top Secret. There were no alien spaceships, super weapons, or mind control devices. No, there were just maps. Lots and lots and lots of maps. Sergio’s job was to help digitize them.

Being the young'un that he was, Sergio’s role wasn’t to analyze, design, or even program the requirements. That’s what Highly Paid Consultants are for. Sergio’s role was to work with end users for the day and help support the system that the HPC’s had already built.

The System was an amalgamation of scanners (there were two large-format ones), printers (several laser and one giant plotter), workstations galore, servers (scanning, printing, file sharing, etc.), and of course, a whole bunch of government-employed cartographers.

As Sergio learned from his brief tour, one team was dedicated entirely to Scanning. They’d carefully slice up the large 6’-by-4’ maps into pieces that would fit in the scanners, scan the map pieces in to the file server, tape up the originals, and then return it to the archives.

Another team was dedicated entirely to Digital Slicing. Even with top-of-the-line 1996-hardware, the files generated by the hi-res scanner were far too big to be used and needed to be split into smaller chunks. So, this team would spend their days taking files from the share drive, slicing them up in Photoshop, and then put the resulting 10-20 files on another share drive.

And there was the Indexing Team. Actually, a more apt name would be Gustavo, the retired military sergeant. Despite being in his late 50’s, Gustavo could easily tear a phonebook in half with his pinky fingers and was not a bit modest about his massiveness. He was a gentle guy (so they said) and spent his days hunched over a workstation, creating the spreadsheet that would serve as index for the tens-of-thousands of digitized map files.

Out of all of the cartographer’s jobs, Gustavo’s was the most tedious. And it sure showed; he had an almost indescribable aura of despair. To create an index of a directory of files, Gustavo used the following process:

  1. Take a screenshot of the Windows Explorer file list with the Print Screen key
  2. Paste the screenshot in a new image inside Photoshop.
  3. Crop the image to the file names only.
  4. Save the image.
  5. Open the cropped image inside an OCR program and run the optical recognition.
  6. Copy the resulting text to an Excel Spreadsheet
  7. Scroll down the Windows Explorer vertical scrollbar to the next page or choose another folder
  8. Repeat

Now, up until this point, Sergio had witnessed a lot of inefficiency. Couldn’t they buy a bigger scanner? Couldn’t they use a tool to split up the files? Couldn’t they at least write a script to generate file lists? He had to speak up.

“Hmm,” Sergio broke in, “surely you can do this much quicker!” Gustavo glared back at Sergio and slowly shook his head. Without saying a word he offered up his seat and motioned towards Sergio in a so-you-really-think-you-can-do-better sort of way.

Sergio took a seat and started typing. He went to the DOS command prompt and typed in a single command:

dir *.tif > filelist.txt

Sergio opened up the file and started narrating as he worked. “See, you’d open the file like this, copy the text over to Excel like that, and then just run the data split command. There ya have it!”

He slowly turned back to Gustavo, half-expecting to be showered with praise and gratitude. Instead, he saw a completely terrified face. The usually stoic, geriatric hulk just stood there, mouth agape, as if he had just witnessed his own horribly painful death.

And that was when Sergio realized something. He had accomplished in thirty seconds what would take Gustavo a full week to do. That’s not so good for a useless guy in a useless government position, and certainly not so good for a young know-it-all’s health and well being inside of a top secret government facility.

Before Gustavo’s fear blossomed into anger, Sergio quickly closed the DOS prompt and jumped out of the chair. “Err, umm,” he stuttered, “I guess you can manage, though” He added, as he hastily walked away, “just let me, uh, know…”

After Sergio’s support day had ended, he headed back home, hoping that his “dir” secret never made it past Gustavo’s desk. He had to return a few months later for support and happened to walk past Gustavo’s desk.

Gustavo was still there, hunched over his workstation, still doing his Print Screen trick. Sergio nervously nodded hello and Gustavo glared back, still not saying a single word. It was okay, though; they had an understanding. The “dir” secret was safe with Sergio.