User can’t get her mapping software to properly display states on the U.S. map she’s preparing. So she calls the vendor’s support line, and this pilot fish takes the call.

“I followed the usual help desk rubric without success,” fish says, “until she mentioned that the map’s database shows that the U.S. has 3,192 states.”

Fish understands the problem at once: The user has inadvertently added the country’s 3,000-plus counties to the list of states. “Over 3,000 states — I think we’ve found our problem!” fish announces, and waits to hear the user agree.


Fish waits a moment, just in case the user is just slow getting to an “Aha!”

Nothing but silence.

Figuring the user will be less embarrassed if she spots the problem herself, fish tries again: “How many states are in the union?”

User hesitates, then tentatively says, “3,192?”

“States?” fish prompts. “Like California, Virginia, Michigan? Three thousand of those?”

Still silence.

Fish presses on. “Remember in school we learned there’s one star on the flag for every state? How many stars are there in the flag?”

And with the confidence that only a computer display can give, user replies decisively, “3,192!”

Says fish, “I abandoned the geography lesson and skipped to the answer.”