The Fairy and the Pig
In Heaven, there is a schedule by which each fairy gets to go to Earth from time to time and grant a wish. Though the highest ranking fairies may make the trip as often as once a month, some are so cynical from previous wish-grantings that they go only once a year, usually in the fall to see the new fashions. The younger fairies, however, have more enthusiasm and never miss an opportunity to make life on earth a little closer to their own heavenly existence.
The youngest fairies can only make the trip on the twenty-first of June, and this year their excitement built up something fierce as the end of spring drew near. Plans for the impending trip so dominated their conversations that older fairies betook themselves to cloud regions far from Heaven's exit port But the young ones didn't notice, so busy were they exchanging tales and plans. Had this not been Heaven, an observer might have thought that each was trying to outdo the next.
There was considerable competition in trying to make an original choice of subject. Should they bestow their wish on someone poor or someone rich but unhappy? Should the lucky one be ugly or pretty, grouchy or merry? In the midst of these debates, one of the very youngest fairies ventured to ask, "Why do you always grant your wishes to human beings? Don't animals have wishes too? Personally, I's like to grant a wish to a pig."
The other fairies didn't take these remarks seriously, so the subject was dropped from the conversation. But our young fairy didn't forget so easily, and when midsummer came, he betook himself to a farm near Pochahontas, Iowa, there to alight on the wooden railing of an enormous hog wallow. The pigs, as is their nature, regarded him curiously until satisfied that he couldn't be eaten, at which point they gave a collective grunt and returned to t heir wallowing. Our fairy, to say the least, was overwhelmed with disappointment.
But one of the pigs didn't behave like the others , and waddled over to the fence. Our fairy took heart and addressed him thus, "Mister Pig, I see that you are a hog apart. Would you like to know who I am and what is my mission?"
"Sure," snuffled the pig, trying to smell the answer with his nose, which he trusted more than words anyway.
"I'm a fairy, and I've come down from heaven to grant someone a wish."
"A fairy," thought the pig, who was a cut above the others when it came to brains. "No wonder I didn't recognize the smell."
"Do you know what a wish is?"
"You bet your sweet life I do, " the pig snorted. "Every minute of every day I wish I had a pair of wings like the birds -- and like you-- so I could fly out of here and not have to share this wallow with those stupid swine."
"How perfectly marvelous," thought the fairy. He raised his twinkling wand and passed it three times over the pig's back saying "Then you shall have your wish, your heart's desire." And low and behold, a pair of wings began to grow between the pig's shoulders.
"WOW," he grunted, "you really did it. Can I fly with 'em?"
"Try them and see," the fairy replied. "The horizons of the world are now yours for a mere flutter."
The pig shook his wings, awkwardly at first, then gaining better control, he rose above the pigpen, soaring past the fairy who had to strain to catch up.
"Do you like them?"
"And where are you going first?"
"Right here," the pig answered, splashing down in a wallow about a stone's throw from the one he just left.
"Here?" the fairy asked. "Why here?"
"Cause Farmer Brown never lets us go here unless he forgets to close the gate. This way I don't have to share this wallow with those stupid swine. I have it all to myself." And with that, he rolled over in mud so deep his beautiful new wings became as sloppy as the rest of him, and totally incapable of flight.
Moral: Interviewing is always limited by your customer's knowledge.
Two Philosophers: A Fable
Once upon a time — and come to think of it, not so very long ago at that — two philosophers were out for a ride on horseback before breakfast. Hector, who was riding a large dappled horse named Alice, pointed to the sunrise and said, "Science has made a great contribution to philosophy, for now we know that the sun and the moon are not the same, even though they look alike.
His friend and philosophical opponent, Rector, replied, "You are misled by science, for only philosophy is able to free itself from the illusory 'laws' of the scientists." His horse, a palomino named Fred, tossed his mane in agreement, for Fred was a high-spirited horse.
"How is that?" asked Hector. "Surely you do not believe that the sun and the moon are alike?"
"Of course they are, for both have a luminous essence."
"A luminous essence?"
"Yes, a luminous essence."
"But whatever is a luminous essence?"
"Now Hector," said Rector impatiently, "don't just make arguments about words. You know perfectly well what a luminous essence is, because it is part of the common experience of all men, and does not depend on language."
"But what if the luminous essence of the sun is not the same as the luminous essence of the moon?"
"Don't just make arguments for argument's sake, Hector! You know that the luminous essence of the two are the same, otherwise you would not call them by the same name."
"You mean, then" said Hector, "that the leg of a horse is like the leg of a table because I call them both legs?"
"Precisely what I mean," said Rector, with a bit of triumph in his voice.
"And therefore you mean that a horse is like a table, because they each have the property of having four legs?"
Rector smiled and reigned his horse. "I do believe you now see the power of my argument. That makes it a good time to stop for breakfast." And so saying, he rode Fred over to the garden restaurant they were passing.
Hector, being hungry, was not inclined to continue to the argument, so he dismounted and tied Alice to a railing. The serving girl brought them a large loaf of bread and a big iron pitcher of milk.
"Aren't you going to get off your horse?" Asked Hector.
"No," replied Rector, "I prefer to eat sitting up high where I can see the far horizons. Just hand me half of that loaf of bread."
"Still you should come down and give Fred a rest," said Hector, handing him the bread and going over to take the saddle off of Alice.
Fred snorted a little when he saw Alice being unsaddled, but Rector stayed on him anyway. "Be careful where you put that saddle," he told Hector, "the ground is still wet with morning dew."
"Yes, but where else can I put it?"
"Don't be so helpless. Put it on the table."
Hector followed his advice, but the saddle was too big and clumsy for the table, and it knocked off the pitcher of milk. The noise of the iron pitcher frightened Fred, who was already restless, and he reared up on his hind legs and bolted for the road. Rector, who had let go of the reins in order to eat his bread, could not hold on and was thrown to the ground, landing on his head and splitting his skull. Hector merely got his pants and shoes wet with milk, but rector hurt his head so badly he was not able to philosophize for three months.
Moral: It's true that horses have legs and tables have legs; but it's still better not to eat on horseback or put saddles on the table.
The Railroad Paradox
Suburbantown was a wealthy suburb, and many of the spouses liked to leave the children and dogs and spend an evening in Gotham City with their mates. They preferred to precede their evening of dinner and theater with browsing among Gotham City's lush markets. But, there was a problem. To allow time for proper shopping, a Suburbanite would have to depart for Gotham City at 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon. At that hour, no Central Railroad train stopped in Suburbantown.
Some Suburbanites noted that a Central train did pass through their station at 2:30, but did not stop. They decided to petition the railroad asking that the train be scheduled to stop at Suburbantown. They readily found supporters in their door-to-door canvass. When the petition was mailed, it contained 253 signatures. About three weeks later, the petition committee received the following letter from the Central Railroad.
The Water Moccasin and the Waterproof Moccasin
"You're new around here, aren't you?" asked the snake with an eye to getting acquainted. To tell the truth, the snake did not have too many friends in the swamp and he liked to be the first to greet new arrivals, before the others started telling bad gossip about him. He was actually a very friendly snake, and the gossip about him was cruel and unjustified, but to most of the inhabitants of the swamp, a snake was a snake and that was all there was to it.
"Well, yes," replied the moccasin. "In fact, I just arrived this afternoon." He was a little shy about speaking to strangers, having passed all of his short life in the company of his twin, the right-hand moccasin.
"Then let me welcome you to our swamp. I'd shape your hand," offered the snake, "but as you can see, I don't have any hands, as I am a moccasin."
"Hey, really!" exclaimed the show. "But I'm a moccasin too!"
"That's funny, you don't look like a moccasin."
"I was just going to say the same thing about you. Are you sure you're a moccasin?"
"Of course I'm sure. I may not be very smart, but I've been a moccasin — a water moccasin — all my life, that much I know."
"Oh well," said the shoe. "That explains it. You're a water moccasin, but I am a waterproof moccasin. Guaranteed never to leak on the rainiest days, and lifetime plastigranite sole to boot."
"How interesting. Well, there aren't many moccasins of any kind around here anymore — and as you know, some creatures are a bit prejudiced against us. So we moccasins have to stick together. Why don't you swim over with me to my house for a bite to eat? Are you hungry?"
"I don't think so," said the waterproof moccasin, mainly because he did not know what 'hungry' was. "But I would like to come to your house — only I can't."
"Why not?" The water moccasin had been refused before, but never by a fellow moccasin.
The shoe sensed his suspicious tone and hastened to reassure his new — his only — friend from the swamp. "Not because I don't want to. But I'm stuck here in these branches and can't get out."
"Don't be silly," laughed the snake. "Just wriggle out and come along with me."
"It's like this," the snake answered, giving a short demonstration that created a series of ripples in the water. The ripples made the shoe bob up and down, which the snake took as his efforts to wiggle, but he didn't get loose. "That's the way," he encouraged, "but you'll need more action, more flexibility, if you want to get loose."
"But I can't," said the waterproof moccasin, who was beginning to cry at the prospect of spending the whole dark night alone in the swamp before someone came back to find him. "I can't."
"Well I never! What kind of moccasin are you if you can't wriggle any more than that?"
"I guess we waterproof moccasins weren't made to wriggle the way you water moccasins can. I think it's this lifetime sole of mine. My sides are flexible enough, but it's so stiff it won't let me wriggle."
"Then what good is it?"
"I don't know, I guess. Until today, I used to think it was good to have a lifetime sole. Not I'm not sure."
"Well I'm sure," answered the water moccasin as he began to swim away. "What good is anything that lasts a lifetime, but binds you so tight you can't even have fun. I'll see you around."
And so the waterproof moccasin remained tangled in the branches until one day it rained and he filled with water and sank to the bottom of the swamp, never to be seen again.
Moral: If you try to trade off flexibility for long life, you may wind up losing the long life because no "lifetime" design can anticipate everything.
These stories are adapted from Gerald M. Weinberg, Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982.