Stuck In A Complicated Problem? You Need A Pencil!


Ever heard of the high tech pen NASA got made for use in space? It supposedly cost millions of dollars to develop. The Russian cosmonauts meanwhile just use pencils. This was proven to be a myth. However, the lesson imparted is not lost. Sometimes when stuck in a complicated problem, it's better to use common sense and practicality.

A case in point is during one of my development projects where the client is selling workshops through the Shopify platform. The workshops are embedded in a WordPress site using the Buy Button SDK. My task is to build a reservation expiry feature that will empty the cart after a certain duration, and it comes with a message box notifying buyers that their reservation will expire in a few minutes.

After finishing the main modules like timer, date diff calculations, cart empty, etc., I'm left with the message box. This is very straight forward, so I thought. My first attempt is to use the native JavaScript(JS) alert. But found out that it freezes the timer and the entire process until it is Ok'ed. Next, I tried using modal popup using Cascading Style Sheets(CSS) and JS. But it sits under the cart popup even when maxing out the z-index. Exploring more alternatives just yielded more complications.

With the deadline looming fast, and still out of a viable solution, a flash of ingenuity suddenly hit me. With a clear head, I concluded that the main issue is not the popup, but the cart. Why not close it, before displaying the popup? Then, BANG, just like that problem solved, haha.

Another example involves my fiancee Ting, whose blouse has tiny holes(maybe caused by a hungry and angry mouse, haha). She didn't throw it away and just decided to buy a new one, instead, she sewed buttons on top of them. What a genius move, see the result below.

Ting's Blouse
Ting's blouse.

A pencil solution is always simple and practical, yet it just works. So, next time you are mired in a difficult situation in web development or in life in general, don't forget to think about a pencil!

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