Recent Articles

Nov 2019

BSOD with a Side of Fries

by in Error'd on

"Yes, I'd like to have a Quarter Pounder meal with a Coke and a Blue Screen of Death on the side. To go," Bruce W. writes.


What Am I?

by in Representative Line on

Object oriented programming is the weapon of choice for many programmers, and when wielded properly, you can often rely on a mix of convention and strong types to make it clear what type of object you’re working with. Sometimes though, you need to check. In a language like Java, you have the instanceof operator, a boolean comparison which answers if obj instanceof SomeClass. Seeing a lot of that in a codebase is a clear code smell.

Sometimes, though, not seeing it is the code smell.


The Support Game

by in Feature Articles on

PDP-11 (459312210)

In the 1970s, shortly before our friend Argle dared to do exactly what his boss asked of him in an efficient manner, he worked at the computer lab of a local community college. When his friend Terry was hired on as a new assistant, Argle sat down with her at the Tech Support desk for a run-down of hard-earned knowledge and best practices.


Never Refuse a Fifth

by in CodeSOD on

Sometimes, you want your dates to look like this: 3/3/2019. Other times, you want them to look like this: 03/03/2019.

There are plenty of wrong ways to do this. There are far fewer right ways to do it, and they mostly boil down to “use your language’s date library.”


An Excelent Start to a Career

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Hal was a wiz kid computer programmer at age 15 in 1976. He could make the toggle switches and LEDs on his Altair 8800 dance at will. In college, he was class valedictorian after earning his computer science degree in 1984. Hal was destined for greatness and the real world was about to get rocked.

Hal's college friend Victor, who graduated two years prior, was already running his own startup company that made Unix-based financial planning software. Remembering Hal's brilliance, Victor recruited him to join his company the day after graduation. Victor needed the wiz kid-turned-wiz adult to create the equivalent of Lotus 1-2-3 in Unix. It was a tall first project but it paid well, so Hal happily signed up. Besides, everyone knew that spreadsheets were gonna change the world.


Every System's Preferences

by in Error'd on

Rob W. wrote, "Looks more like this process is responsible for customizing the entire solar system's preferences."


Sorting Out a Late Night

by in CodeSOD on

Karl’s trials of crunch (previously) didn’t end with a badly written brain-fart. After too many consecutive late nights, Karl noticed that their grid layout was wrong.

It did this:

AlphaBeta
DeltaGamma

How The Semester Ends

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Ginger recently finished an advanced degree, and during her work, she of course had to work as a TA for a number of classes. Computer science professors are, at least in theory, capable of programming, and thus can build automation around assignments- providing students with templates to highlight specific tools and techniques, or to automate the process of grading.

Dr. Buchler taught the computer graphics course, and the ultimate assignment was to build a simple 3D game. Buchler provided a pre-scaffolded project with a set of templates that could be filled in, so the students didn’t need to worry about a lot of the boilerplate. Beyond that, Buchler didn’t offer much guidance about how students should collaborate, so students did what came naturally: they set up git repos and shared code that way.


Assert Yourself

by in CodeSOD on

Chris V does compliance testing. This often means they trace through logic in code to ensure that very specific conditions about the code’s behavior and logic are met. This creates unusual situations, where they might have access to specific and relevant pieces of code, but not the entire codebase. If they spot something unusual, but not within the boundaries of their compliance tests, they just pass on by it.

One of the C++ code bases Chris had to go through featured this “defensive” pattern everywhere.


One Way to Solve a Bug

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Startups go through a number of phases, and one specific phase is the transition from "just get it done and worry about the consequences tomorrow" into "wait, maybe if we actually did some planning and put some process around what we do, we won't constantly be one step behind the current disaster."

And that's when they start to hire people who have more management experience, but are also technical enough that they can contribute to the product directly. At BK's company, the latest hire in that category is Sylvester.


Watch the Skies!

by in Error'd on

"In light of the imminent UFO strike, I may need to reconsider my flight plans...or leaving my house in general," writes Pedro.


Overlapping Complexity

by in CodeSOD on

After his boss left the company, Joel C was promoted to team lead. This meant that Joel was not only responsible for their rather large production codebase, but also for interviewing new potential team members. There are a ton of coding questions that one can ask in a technical interview, and Joel figured he should ask one that they actually solve in their application: given two unordered sets of timestamps, calculate how much overlap (if any) is between the two series.

If you think about it for a minute, it's really quite simple: first, find the minimum and maximum values for each set to get the start and end times (e.g. [01:08:01,01:09:55] and [01:04:11,01:09:42]). Then, subtract the later start time (01:08:01) from the earlier end time (01:09:42) to get the overlap (01:09:42 - 01:08:01 = 00:01:41). A non-positive result would indicate there's no overlap (such as 12:00:04 - 13:11:43), and in that case, it should probably just be zero. Or, in a single line of code:


The Most Secure Option

by in Feature Articles on

“The auditors have finished examining our codebase.”

That was how Randy’s boss started the meeting, and she delivered the line like a doctor who just got the tests back, and is trying to break the news gently.


Time Dilation

by in Representative Line on

A good variable name is clear and specific about what the variable does. But sometimes you can have a variable name that's perhaps a little too specific. Victoria found this representative line of Rust code:

let threeseconds = time::Duration::from_secs(60);

A Botched Escape

by in CodeSOD on

Nancy was recently handed a pile of "modern" PHP that weighs in at tens of thousands of lines of code.

This is how every query is executed:


Airport via TCP

by in Error'd on

Peter G. writes, "Luggage from flight SQ978 arriving from Singapore on belt 12. Luggage from PQ968 arriving from Ko Samui on belt 6. Packets from VNC arriving from Kazakhstan on port 5900"