The Ecphorizer

Vatican Roulette
Paul Gregson

Issue 05 (December 2005)

As a computer programmer, Paul relates a story of adding fertility data to an airline's reservation system!

Howard Q. Throckmorton
Chairman of the Board
Aphrodite Airlines.

This proposal is in response to your request that we explore ways to use the Data Processing Department to generate revenue. The notion occurred to us during iterations of the Monte Carlo method.

We have developed a system with the code name of VATICAN ROULETTE, which will take advantage of existing terminals, computers, and data entry staff, with no capital investment in extra equipment. The new system dovetails nicely with the idle time in our Reservations Department. The market to be served is that vast population of women who, during the graveyard shift, are normally variously occupied in bed rather than flying on Aphrodite Airlines.

At the time of registration into the VATICAN ROULETTE system, new subscribers supply basic biographical data: name, date of recent onset of menses, frequency etc., and a password. A master file is created on disk. On receipt of their subscription check the system will print a six month forecast of fertile and infertile days discreetly entitled “Table of Periodic Functions.” We will mail a copy for confirmation. Subscribers subsequently phone in fresh data and we update their master files. The forecast program will have a statistical level of confidence of 95%, giving n degrees of freedom. New forecasts (with optional appointments calendar) will be printed monthly and sent to subscribers in a plastic cylinder small enough to fit in a handbag. Together with a bill.

The real time value of the service becomes apparent on the graveyard shift. Subscribers can telephone the nearest Aphrodite Airlines Reservation Office from any bed in the country and give their password or number. Our staff member interrogates the computer via the otherwise idle Reservations terminal, and returns a simple “yes,” “no,” or “risky.” Complete confidentiality is thereby maintained.

It is noteworthy that activities which stimulate the need for this service tend to peak between 10:00 PM and 2:00 am, optimally coincident with low traffic volumes in our message switching system. Preliminary market research among the staff of Aphrodite Airlines reveals that a ready market for such a service already exists among the stewardesses. This immediately suggests advantages and improvements in our flight scheduling. We attach sample reports “Aircrew Availability Status” for management, and “Contingent and Past Due Liabilities” for the pilots.

The VATICAN ROULETTE system could be profitably franchised to other airlines. Our Legal Department should be sure to include a waiver of responsibility in the wording of the contract agreement between Aphrodite Airlines and VATICAN ROULETTE subscribers. And of course more than usual care will be taken by Data Processing Department when implementing these computer programs. Aphrodite Airlines could set an interesting legal precedent by becoming the first corporate body in history to appear as defendant in a paternity suit. If the jury is not well hung the decision might well go against us.

To minimize the effects of such an eventuality we suggest that the Data Processing Department, in collaboration with Personnel Department, revise their Policies and Hiring Procedures to include nepotism. After all, such “Sons of Aphrodite” would probably be endowed with the primary job requirement for programmers: illegitimacy.  

In the late sixties I worked for Airwest, later Hughes Airwest, at SFO. I constructed a system for tracking Statistical Load Messages (SLMs) which worked very well. This lighthearted legpull was well received throughout the top echelons of the company. I have a feeling that this is one of those “jokes” appreciated more by men than by the distaff side. Copyright August 2000, Paul E, Gregson

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