Null For Dinner — Tastes Great, Less Filling

2 minute read

I arrived in Denver shortly after noon on Monday, planning to speak to the Tech Stars that night and to return home on an early afternoon flight today (Tuesday). While I was riding the shuttle bus to the Avis facility, a United Airlines rep called me up and offered me a first-class return seat in exchange for taking a slightly later flight (4:07 PM instead of 2:25 PM). I figured that I could meet a developer or two and perhaps even drop by and say hello to Alek, so I accepted the offer and confirmed my seat assignment.

The talk went really well and I ended up spending almost 2.5 hours speaking and answering a myriad of thoughtful questions. Afterward, David Cohen offered to create a post inviting local developers to meet me at my hotel (the very cool Boulderado) at lunch time. I accepted his offer and met with Michael from Hypersites and Richard from Giveness.

After lunch I drove back to the Denver airport and looked forward to my 4:07 departure and my comfy first class seat. When I tried to use the self-service check in I was asked to pay for it using 1000 miles. I quickly voided the operation and stepped up to the counter. As I stepped up the first surly woman said “I’ve already logged out, go over there.” I walked up to the next counter. The second surly woman begrudgingly accepted my explanation and allowed me to keep my seat without payment. Since the flight was already a little bit late I asked her if she could give me a pass for the Red Carpet Club. With a snarl she told me that she couldn’t do this and that if I wanted to use the club then I would have to buy a membership.

Excuse me, United Airlines — I did you a favor by opening up a seat on your earlier flight. Perhaps you could return it by handing out a guest pass – a simple piece of paper with a marginal cost to you of nearly zero and a very high goodwill value. Apparently 380,621 lifetime miles on your airline isn’t enough to really merit any special treatment.

Now I am upstairs, using the very nice Qwest Business Lounge, complete with a free wired internet connection.

I just checked my flight and it has suffered further delays and is now scheduled to leave at 7:50 PM. Given that the plane is 3 hours late out of Baltimore and isn’t supposed to arrive until 7:44 PM, I doubt it.

Oh yeah, and the real reason for this post is?

While checking the flight status I saw that there was a funny value for the meal:


For you non-programmers in my blog audience, I should explain that “null” is a special value for programs and for databases, often used to denote the absence of data. Whoever built this page neglected to check for this value and so an internal piece of raws data was inadvertently leaked to the user.

The code was probably something like this:

print("meal: ", $meal);

when they really meant:

if ($meal == NULL)
    print("meal: Starve to death, sucker!");
    print("meal: ", $meal);

I’ve got to built a PowerPoint for an internal presentation tomorrow, so I’m not lacking for things to do at this point.

**Update: **My flight now leaves at 8:15.