Recent Articles

Dec 2017

2017: The Official Software

by in Best of… on
This personal tale from Snoofle has all of my favorite ingredients for a WTF: legacy hardware, creative solutions, and incompetent management. We'll be running one more "Best Of…" on New Years Day, and then back to our regularly scheduled programming… mostly--Remy

At the very beginning of my career, I was a junior programmer on a team that developed software to control an electronics test station, used to diagnose problems with assorted components of jet fighters. Part of my job was the requisite grunt work of doing the build, which entailed a compile-script, and the very manual procedure of putting all the necessary stuff onto a boot-loader tape to be used to build the 24 inch distribution disk arrays.

An unspooled magnetic tape for data storagesource

This procedure ran painfully slowly; it took about 11 hours to dump a little more than 2 MB from the tape onto the target disk, and nobody could tell me why. All they knew was that the official software had to be used to load the bootstrap routine, and then the file dumps.

2017: With the Router, In the Conference Room

by in Best of… on
This particular article originally ran in two parts, giving us a surprise twist ending (the surprise being… well, just read it!) -- Remy

One of the most important aspects of software QA is establishing a good working relationship with developers. If you want to get them to take your bug reports seriously, you have to approach them with the right attitude. If your bugs imply that their work is shoddy, they are likely to fight back on anything you submit. If you continuously submit trivial “bugs”, they will probably be returned right away with a “not an issue” or “works as designed” status. If you treat any bug like it’s a critical showstopper, they will think you’re crying wolf and not immediately jump on issues that actually are critical.

Then there’s people like Mr. Green, a former coworker of submitter Darren A., that give QA a bad name. The Mr. Greens of the QA world are so incompetent that their stupidity can cause project delays, rack up thousands of dollars in support costs, and cause a crapstorm between managers. Mr. Green once ran afoul of Darren’s subordinate Cathy, lead developer on the project Mr. Green was testing.

A shot from the film Clue, where Mrs. White holds a gun in front of Col. Mustard

2017: The New Manager

by in Best of… on
We all dread the day we end up getting dragged, kicking and screaming, out of our core competencies and forced to be a manager. This is one of those stories. -- Remy

Error Message Example vbs

She'd resisted the call for years. As a senior developer, Makoto knew how the story ended: one day, she'd be drafted into the ranks of the manager, forswearing her true love webdev. She knew she'd eventually succumb, but she'd expected to hold out for a few years before she had to decide if she were willing to change jobs to avoid management.

2017: The Second Factor

by in Best of… on
As this is a holiday week, per our usual tradition, we're revisiting some of the most popular articles from the year. We start with The Second Factor, a tale of security gone wrong. -- Remy

Famed placeholder company Initech is named for its hometown, Initown. Initech recruits heavily from their hometown school, the University of Initown. UoI, like most universities, is a hidebound and bureaucratic institution, but in Initown, that’s creating a problem. Initown has recently seen a minor boom in the tech sector, and now the School of Sciences is setting IT policy for the entire university.

Derek manages the Business School’s IT support team, and thus his days are spent hand-holding MBA students through how to copy files over to a thumb drive, and babysitting professors who want to fax an email to the department chair. He’s allowed to hire student workers, but cannot fire them. He’s allowed to purchase consumables like paper and toner, but has to beg permission for capital assets like mice and keyboards. He can set direction and provide input to software purchase decisions, but he also has to continue to support the DOS version of WordPerfect because one professor writes all their papers using it.

Developer Carols (Merry Christmas)

by in Feature Articles on
Árbol navideño luminoso en Madrid 02

It’s Christmas, and thus technically too late to actually go caroling. Like any good project, we’ve delivered close enough to the deadline to claim success, but late enough to actually be useless for this year!

Still, enjoy some holiday carols specifically written for our IT employees. Feel free to annoy your friends and family for the rest of the day.

Push to Prod (to the tune of Joy To the World)

'Tis the Season for Confidentiality

by in Error'd on

"For the non-German speaking people: it's highly confidential & highly restricted information that our canteen is closed between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Now, sue me for disclosing this," Stella writes.

Notepad Development

by in Feature Articles on

Nelson thought he hit the jackpot by getting a paid internship the summer after his sophomore year of majoring in Software Engineering. Not only was it a programming job, it was in his hometown at the headquarters of a large hardware store chain known as ValueAce. Making money and getting real world experience was the ideal situation for a college kid. If it went well enough, perhaps he could climb the ranks of ValueAce IT and never have to relocate to find a good paying job.

A notebook with a marker and a pen resting on it

He was assigned to what was known as the "Internet Team", the group responsible for the ValueAce eCommerce website. It all sounded high-tech and fun, sure to continue to inspire Nelson towards his intended career. On his first day he met his supervisor, John, who escorted him to his first-ever cubicle. He sat down in his squeaky office chair and soaked in the sterile office environment.

How is an Employee ID like a Writing Desk?

by in CodeSOD on

Chris D’s has a problem. We can see a hint of the kind of problem he needs to deal with by looking at this code:

   RETURN varchar2
  Employee_Name varchar2(50);
   SELECT  employee_name INTO Employee_Name
     FROM eyps_manager.tbemployee_history
    WHERE  ROWNUM=1 AND   employee_id = EMPLOYEE_ID
          AND effective_start_date <= Action_Date
          AND (Action_Date < effective_end_date OR effective_end_date IS NULL);

   RETURN (Employee_Name);

Titration Frustration

by in CodeSOD on

From submitter Christoph comes a function that makes your average regex seem not all that bad, actually:

According to "What is a Titration?" we learn that "a titration is a technique where a solution of known concentration is used to determine the concentration of an unknown solution." Since this is an often needed calculation in a laboratory, we can write a program to solve this problem for us.

Part of the solver is a formula parser, which needs to accept variable names (either lower or upper case letters), decimal numbers, and any of '+-*/^()' for mathematical operators. Presented here is the part of the code for the solveTitration() function that deals with parsing of the formula. Try to read it in an 80 chars/line window. Once with wrapping enabled, and once with wrapping disabled and horizontal scrolling. Enjoy!

Promising Equality

by in Feature Articles on

One can often hear the phrase, “modern JavaScript”. This is a fig leaf, meant to cover up a sense of shame, for JavaScript has a bit of a checkered past. It started life as a badly designed language, often delivering badly conceived features. It has a reputation for slowness, crap code, and things that make you go “wat?

Thus, “modern” JavaScript. It’s meant to be a promise that we don’t write code like that any more. We use the class keyword and transpile from TypeScript and write fluent APIs and use promises. Yes, a promise to use promises.

These are not the Security Questions You're Looking for

by in Error'd on

"If it didn't involve setting up my own access, I might've tried to find what would happen if I dared defy their labeling," Jameson T. wrote.

An Array of WHY

by in Representative Line on

Medieval labyrinth

Reader Jeremy sends us this baffling JavaScript: "Nobody on the team knows how it came to be. We think all 'they' wanted was a sequence of numbers starting at 1, but you wouldn't really know that from the code."

The Interview Gauntlet

by in Feature Articles on

Natasha found a job posting for a defense contractor that was hiring for a web UI developer. She was a web UI developer, familiar with all the technologies they were asking for, and she’d worked for defense contractors before, and understood how they operated. She applied, and they invited her in for one of those day-long, marathon interviews.

They told her to come prepared to present some of her recent work. Natasha and half a dozen members of the team crammed into an undersized meeting room. Irving, the director, was the last to enter, and his reaction to Natasha could best be described as “hate at first sight”.

ALM Tools Could Fix This

by in CodeSOD on

I’m old enough that, when I got into IT, we just called our organizational techniques “software engineering”. It drifted into “project management”, then the “software development life-cycle”, and lately “application life-cycle management (ALM)”.

No matter what you call it, you apply these techniques so that you can at least attempt to release software that meets the requirements and is reasonably free from defects.

A Type of Standard

by in CodeSOD on

I’ve brushed up against the automotive industry in the past, and have gained a sense about how automotive companies and their suppliers develop custom software. That is to say, they hack at it until someone from the business side says, “Yes, that’s what we wanted.” 90% of the development time is spent doing re-work (because no one, including the customer, understood the requirements) and putting out fires (because no one, including the customer, understood the requirements well enough to tell you how to test it, so things are going wrong in production).

Mary is writing some software that needs to perform automated testing on automotive components. The good news is that the automotive industry has adopted a standard API for accomplishing this goal. The bad news is that the API was designed by the automotive industry. Developing standards, under ideal conditions, is hard. Developing standards in an industry that is still struggling with software quality and hasn’t quite fully adopted the idea of cross-vendor standardization in the first place?

PIck an Object, Any Object

by in Error'd on

"Who would have guessed Microsoft would have a hard time developing web apps?" writes Sam B.

A Case of File Handling

by in Representative Line on

Tim W caught a ticket. The PHP system he inherited allowed users to upload files, and then would process those files. It worked… most of the time. It seemed like a Heisenbug. Logging was non-existent, documentation was a fantasy, and to be honest, no one was exactly 100% certain what the processing feature was supposed to do- but whatever it was doing now was the right thing, except the times that it wasn’t right.

Specifically, some files got processed. Some files didn’t. They all were supposed to.


by in News Roundup on

A long time ago, in a galaxy right here, we ran a contest. The original OMGWTF contest was a challenge to build the worst calculator you possibly could.

We got some real treats, like the Universal Calculator, which, instead of being a calculator, was a framework for defining your own calculator, or Rube Goldberg’s Calculator, which eschewed cryptic values like “0.109375”, and instead output “seven sixty-fourths” (using inlined assembly for performance!). Or, the champion of the contest, the Buggy Four Function Calculator, which is a perfect simulation of a rotting, aging codebase.

Protect Yourself

by in Editor's Soapbox on
We lend the soapbox to snoofle today, to dispense a combination of career and financial advice. I've seen too many of my peers sell their lives for a handful of magic beans. Your time is too valuable to waste for no reward. -- Remy

There is a WTF that far too many people make with their retirement accounts at work. I've seen many many people get massively financially burned. A friend recently lost a huge amount of money from their retirement account when the company went under, which prompted me to write this to help you prevent it from happening to you.

A pile of money

The housing bubble that led up to the 2008 financial collapse was caused by overinflated housing values coming back down to reality. People had been given mortgages far beyond what they could afford using traditional financial norms, and when the value of their homes came back down to realistic values, they couldn't afford their mortgages and started missing payments, or worse, defaulted. This left the banks and brokerages that were holding the mortgage-backed-securities with billions in cash flow, but upside down on the balance sheet. When it crossed a standard threshold, they went under. Notably Bear Stearns and Lehman. Numerous companies (AIG, Citi, etc.) that invested in these MBS also nearly went under.

Pounding Away

by in CodeSOD on

“Hey, Herbie, we need you to add code to our e-commerce package to send an email with order details in it,” was the requirement.

“You mean like a notification? Order confirmation?”

Get Inspired

by in Error'd on

"The great words of inspirationalAuthor.firstName inspirationalAuthor.lastName move me every time," wrote Geoff O.