The Curious Case of the Missing Present

Imagine, if you will, a Santa’s grotto in a magical department store. Fresh faced children, still glowing from the snowfall outside, line up to greet the jolly man.
Joy and laughter can be heard throughout the crowd. Parents breathe a sigh of relief that their children are behaving well.
The amazing thing about this particular grotto is that whatever you ask Santa for, you receive as you leave. That’s one of the wonderful things about magic.

The first boy runs up to Santa, jumps on his knee, looks into his big jolly eyes, and asks for a train set. As he jumps down to leave, the elves hand him a big box, and inside is a train set that is just perfect.

The next child, a young girl, runs up to Santa, jumps on his knee, looks up and asks in a sweet voice for an iPod. As she jumps down to leave, the elves hand her a small box, and inside is the latest and greatest iPod.

The next child, another young boy, walks slowly up to Santa, climbs onto his knee, looks up and says in a thoughtful voice “I’m really not sure what I want for Christmas”. Santa smiles at him, the boy gets down and the elves hand him a box.
As the boy returns to his parents, they look inside the box… it’s empty.
The parents go absolutely crazy and start yelling. “WHY DID OUR BOY RECEIVE NOTHING? WE PAID THE SAME AMOUNT AS EVERYONE ELSE HERE!
The elves look shocked and say “Your boy did not know what he wanted, so we just gave him something that looked like a present but was actually nothing”
The parents reply “Surely there is a better solution than this! You could have sent him to the back of the line to think about what he wanted, or given him a gift voucher so that he could choose at his leisure later”
The elves answer, “Well, we could have done that, but this is easier, and it’s what all the other elves do. Maybe you should check to make sure that your boy knows what he wants and that he actually gets it in return”

I wonder if you will remember that poor disappointed boy next time you return null;

  • Straun

    Is that better than throwing the alarm switch? Or joining one line to check that what he wants is available before joining another to get it?

  • http://andypalmer.com Andy Palmer

    I don't know what the right thing to do is, but I suspect that the number of cases where giving the boy nothing is correct are very, very small. And likewise, I suspect (from experience) that the number of times the boy is (incorrectly, imho) given nothing is very, very high.
    Tony Hoare (who invented null in the 1960's) calls it his billion dollar mistake

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