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Episode 22: Smelly John

I should have guessed that something was up when the Boss offered to buy me lunch. The warning signs were all there: big smiles, good humour, generosity. But I missed it and one meal in a curry-house and a round of drinks and I was putty in his hands. I know, I'm cheap. It scares me sometimes just how cheap I am, but there you go.

So, there I am at the end of the meal agreeing to do some work for Smelly John. The Boss doesn't actually refer to his brother-in-law in those terms, but he doesn't dispute the description. Smelly John is something of an entrepreneur, who has managed to create a small business empire that spans his favourite interests: small rodents and beer. He breeds guinea pigs, chinchillas and various fancy rats which he sells to collectors. He also brews real ale which he sells to various pubs and direct to real ale aficionados. Add to the combination of rodents and real ale his own pungent body odours and the name Smelly John is an understatement.

Anyway, in the past I've been stupid enough to agree to write software to run his businesses. He coughed up the cash quickly enough, along with a barrel of Old Frogwangle, one of his most potent of beers. It tasted like something the guinea pigs had been bathing in and the effect was lethal. Since then I've not wanted anything to do with Smelly John and his ventures at all.

The Boss tells me that Smelly John is saying that he's got so much information on customers and suppliers that the software I knocked up for him is struggling to cope. It's slowing down just when he's gearing up to expand. I don't really want to do it so I quote some ridiculous amount of money and insist that the machine is delivered to me so that I don't have to visit Smelly John's place at all. The Boss raises his eyebrows when I quote my price but promises to report back later.

Ten minutes later Smelly John's agreed the money and the machine is on the way over to my house so that I can work on it at the weekend. Bollocks.

I start by disinfecting Smelly John's machine, though there's still a nasty smell that lingers. Booting up takes ages, the minutes tick by and it's nothing to do with any of my software. This is good…

I spend the first thirty minutes removing viruses, trojans, bots, spyware, adware and other nasties. I also uninstall the anti-virus software that's more than a year out of date and replace it with something that's current and easy to use. Also install a personal firewall and some spyware removal software.

Rebooting is much, much faster, but still not fast enough. So the next step is to look at the hard disk to see what I can find. And the first thing is that he doesn't have much in the way of hard disk left. A quick scan shows thousands of orphaned temporary files, unwanted software and other assorted dross. There's also a huge internet cache folder. I take a quick look at the latter and find that Smelly John's interest in breeding isn't limited to guinea pigs and chinchillas. I archive some of the more interesting files and then zap everything.

The machine is booting up much faster now. Performance is almost acceptable. I still haven't looked at my software yet, but I know that it'll work better already.

I take a look at the data directory and find that it's stuffed full of back-up files. A year earlier he'd been scared about losing his files, so I'd talked him through using copy and paste to make backups of the database. And he's been following those instructions for a year. Unfortunately he's been taking backups of the backup file, again and again and again. I figure that nobody needs a hundred copies of the same file. I zap all the crap and create a simple batch file that just zips and copies the right file to the right place.

Next I look at his Windows settings and tweak a few of those. Booting up now is fast and there's lots of free disk space.

Still haven't looked at my software. Before I do I upgrade to the latest Java run-time. He's running on something elderly and relatively slow compared to the latest.

Now, finally, I load up the software. The splash screen is there instantly and the software is up and running fast. I quickly run through some interactions and performance is very snappy.

Now it's time to do some work on the software itself. I load up the source code, up the version number and then recompile. Programming finished.

I reboot and run the program again. The new version number is there on the splash screen, prominently displayed.

I shut down and decide to wait until Monday before I return the machine, and updated software, to Smelly John. In the mean time I just need to work out how to disinfect the large wodge of cash that he's paid me.

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