Gregor N. Purdy, Sr. > Morale > Morale

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NAME ^

Morale - Perl module for managing individual and calculating group morale.

SYNOPSIS ^

    use Morale;
    set_morale($morale, $user); # Named user
    set_morale($morale);        # Current user
    get_morale($user);          # Named user
    get_morale();               # Current user
    calc_morale();
        morale_file($user);         # Named user
        morale_file();              # Current user

DESCRIPTION ^

This module exists in its current form primarily to support the tkmorale program. See that program for example usage.

HISTORICAL NOTE ^

This section contributed by E. Denning ``Denny'' Dahl.

1999-06-24

I'll never forget my interview at Thinking Machines. It took place December of 1987, and I remember the trek from the Royal Sonesta through the construction zone that was the east end of Cambridge, in the snow and mud past the Athenaeum Building to the Carter Ink building which housed TMC. Not that we were ever supposed to abbreviate Thinking Machines Corporation to TMC, but I digress.

The salient point about the interview is that I'd never come across such a bright, enthusiastic and motivated bunch of people before. I had worked in high energy physics and then neural networks, and had come across plenty of people who were off the charts in terms of intelligence. But these people at TMC were also having fun! Folks had toys in their offices, they had hot-wired matrix boards, they were doing object technology, they knew what Ramsey theory was, and they had the coolest looking box on the block.

After I joined, I was one of the people who had to answer the question "What are all the blinking lights for?". Every time we heard the question, we would give a different answer. Sometimes it was a diagnostics hack, sometimes a performance feedback device, sometimes purely a marketing ploy. But the blinking red lights on the sides on the CM-2 captured the spirit of the place. It was like a Christmas tree!

We even have a picture of my two-year old daughter in an angelic little dress reaching out to touch the side of the big black cube. Almost a comic riff on Kubrick's ape and monolith image. But the point you can see I'm trying to make is that I and practically everyone else who worked at Thinking Machines had a deep love for what we were doing there. We were trying to invent a new paradigm for computation. That meant new hardware, new operating systems, new languages, new everything. What could be more fun?

This build-up made the let-down that much more painful. When I joined, the company had around 150 people. It grew to more than 500 before the structural problems really became evident. And evident is a relative term. I am sure that everyone who worked there had a different impression of the beginning of the end, and we all had different threshholds for holding on to our shared belief that we could change the world. But the cracks started, and began to widen, and eventually became too big to ignore.

So morale started going south. I was concerned, and of course always up for learning a little new technology and doing some inspired hacking, so I decide that Tcl & Tk would be a good vehicle for my latest greatest idea: Xmorale.

The notion was to build a wicked simple GUI that had a single slider to allow the user to input his or her morale, along with a submit button, and a second slider to show the company average morale. After I got conversant with Tcl & Tk (not too long) I hacked together Xmorale. Perhaps I could find the source code if I did enough detective work, but the essential spirit of the code was quite simple.

I used a .morale file in everyone's home directory to store each individual's contribution to the global company morale. Each .morale file contained a randomly generated but unique key, and the global company morale table just contained entries that mapped key values to morale values. The security was not ultra-tight. Each person's .morale file was permission 600, but of course anyone with root privileges could figure out what your personal morale was.

At any rate, the idea took off like wildfire. Within a few days of release, a significant fraction of TMC'ers had submitted their morales. Other hackers took up the idea and developed tools to record the company morale automatically and produce time series graphs. There were refinements and discussions and FAQ's and it was a great time.

Of course, the most gratifying aspect of Xmorale is that it made the company management very uncomfortable. There is nothing like having a staff meeting, and seeing the global company morale drop precipitously in the hour following the staff meeting to let you know how you are doing. So needless to say, there was vague pressure to discontinue the service. But once an idea like this is born, you cannot suppress it. This was social engineering at its finest.

I wish I could say that Xmorale had a real impact on what happened to TMC. Who knows? Maybe things would have been slightly different without it. But after entering Chapter 11, TMC finally emerged a far different and smaller beast. Recently it has been sold to Oracle. And I rather doubt Larry E. would take kindly to the notion of a database storing a time history of Xmorale, hour by hour, at Oracle. But you never know...

Here I thought this amusing hack would rest, until I had lunch one day with one Gregor Purdy, erstwhile consultant and man about town. I told him about Xmorale, and within 24 hours he had implemented a version completely from scratch using late 1990's technology, by which I mean Perl. Since I view this hack to be a truly subversive piece of software, I can only say that I hope it spreads as far and wide as possible. Deploy this at your own place of work, and then stand back to admire the consequences!

AUTHOR ^

Gregor N. Purdy <gregor@focusresearch.com>

COPYRIGHT ^

Copyright (C) 1999-2001 Gregor N. Purdy. All rights reserved.

This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as Perl itself.

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