#atozchallenge: Inquiry

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’ve heard a lot of people doing the A to Z Challenge ask "How are we up to the letter Q already?" I know how they feel: the month seems to be moving along at a pace more rapid than in years past. Maybe that’s because, unlike in previous years, I’m doing my entries for the challenge the night before.

The picture of the blackboard shows the six questions journalists would ask in order to write the story of an event. Let’s say they were writing about a fire…

Six people were injured in a fire in the 5600 block of South Kedzie yesterday morning that was the result of someone leaving an iron plugged in when they left for work.

We have the who (six people), what (were injured in a fire), where (in the 5600 block of South Kedzie), when (yesterday morning), and why/how (someone left an iron plugged in). The reporter would have asked (i.e. inquired) the firefighters what happened in order to write the story.

Now, if someone died under suspicious circumstances in the fire, the police would likely start an investigation, questioning witnesses, members of the family, and people who were seen in the area. Likewise, if the coroner found a lethal dose of phenobarbital in the victim’s body, he could conduct an inquest, examining the possibility of a suicide.

That’s a pretty morbid example. Let’s try another.

Going back to yesterday for a moment: as computer systems became more sophisticated, users demanded online access to their data. If Joe was in the office asking something about his overtime pay, or if a vendor called and wanted to know where their payment was, finding out that information from hardcopy reports generated by the application would be a time-consuming task. Likewise, users wanted to be able to update their data without filling out a keypunch sheet and sending it to the data entry people. They reasoned, if Joe’s salary on the master file is wrong, why can’t we enter the data ourselves to correct it?

The online applications I worked with at the software company were originally inquiry and entry systems. Users would work with a random-access copy of the master file built solely for the purpose of giving users access to their data. If they updated the information, the online software knew how to turn those updates into transactions that were then processed through the batch software of the application to update the real master file, which was sitting on one or more tapes in the tape library. At the end of batch processing, the online master file would be rebuilt from the real master file. The application was then ready for the next day.

Then, of course, users needed 24×7 availability of their data and didn’t have time to wait for batch to run, so they wanted to be able to update the master file immediately. But that’s a story for another day…

8 thoughts on “#atozchallenge: Inquiry

    1. A huge part of success is knowing what questions to ask. Regardless of what your business is, knowing the questions is more important than knowing the answers.


  1. A day’s worth of wait just for the updated file Vs now when it’s just a second away. I always learn something new while I read your blog John! Thank you so much for sharing this :)


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