Monday, February 16, 2009

Real life: Taking down the Christmas lights and project failure

[This was originally posted at]

In Chicago, we've had another cold winter. Finally, we got a reprieve as it got warm enough for the snow to melt. I looked outside at our 25 foot (?) pine tree, and saw my opportunity to take off the lights. I had done this before, and I figured it should be a quick "project".

However, as luck would have it, things did not go well. The winter wind must have pushed the lights closer to the tree trunk, and entangled them in the branches. I had borrowed someone else's extension pole to initially put them out, and returned it, so I did not have the ideal tools. Regardless, I started out working on the bottom of the tree - close to the ground where I had the most maneuverability, and things seemed optimistic. However, as I worked on higher and higher branches, it got slower. At first I thought I'd just "tough" it through, perhaps with the job taking 2-3 times longer than I thought, but things just screeched to a halt at the 15-foot mark.

With the long strands of lights entangled in all the branches, I had no choice but to actually cut the lights. I thought that I had found my solution, so now it would just take 4-5 times longer than scheduled, and I'd need to throw away the lights. But, at the 20-foot mark, I didn't even have the tools with which to cut the lights. Now I was desperate - it would be a fire-hazard to have openly-cut electrical lights hanging on a tree 20 feet in the air. So, I broke down and drove to the hardware store. The guy found an old Christmas-light extension pole, complete with claw for grasping lights to pull them down (i.e. the right tool), and I returned home with new hope.

Finally, with this new tool, I could finish the job - behind schedule and with a mess of cut-up lights for garbage. It almost felt like a software project.

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