Still populating

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Adam Rosenthal told me in an email recently: populating

While trying to enter my address into American Airlines' horribly designed phone app, I was asked to wait, because "States/Provinces are still populating for the first time".

What the hell was going on? I'm sure you regular readers will be able to guess.

It's nerdview! A classic case, in fact. There is some internal state that the system can be in where a database of US state and Canadian province names, from Alaska to Wyoming, is being compiled or loaded and is not available for use yet. Database engineers talk about the loading of items of information into slots in a database as "populating" the database, as if it were an empty country in which immigrants were settling. But no end user should ever be confronted with any mention of such internal states or database-populating processes: we are supposed to use the system when the databases it needs have already been fully populated. The end user is not even supposed to know about the population process.

If a system is ever in a state where it is unable to respond because internally it is populating a database, it should apologise for being unavailable, but it should never talk to us about how "States/Provinces are still populating for the first time." That's a mechanism-internal engineer's-eye-view notion. It's deep nerdview.

Plus a grammatical error: "States/Provinces" is the name of a database (or part of one), so it's a singular noun phrase, not a plural one. Hence (as in Cornflakes is my favorite breakfast) the agreement should be singular. The message should say "States/Provinces is still populating for the first time." Except that it shouldn't, because it should never appear before the user's eyes at all.

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