Recent Articles

Mar 2019

Killer Errors

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Adam wrote, "I hear that NewFeature1 is a real, ahem, killer feature of these Wi-Fi drivers."


Swing and You're Out

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George G was hired to do some UI work for a company which sold a suite of networking hardware. As networking hardware needs to be highly configurable, George was hired on to do “some minor tweaks” to the UI. “It’s just some sizing issues, fonts, the like. I’m sure you’ll do something to the stylesheets or whatever,” said the boss.

The boss didn’t know what they were talking about. The UI for some of the products was a web based config tool. That was their consumer-grade products. Their professional grade products used the same Java program which was originally released 15 years earlier. There were no stylesheets. Instead, there was an ancient and wobbling pile of Java Swing UI code, maintained by a “master” who had Strong Opinions™ about how that code should look.


Remove This

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Denae inherited some 90s-era GUI code. The original developers have long since gone away, and the source control history has vanished into oblivion. In the 90s, the Standard Template Library for C++ was still very new, so when Denae needs to debug things in this application, it means doing some code archaeology and picking through home-brewed implementations of common data structures.

Denae’s most recent bug involved understanding why some UI elements weren’t updating properly. The basic logic the application used is that it maintained a List of GUI items which need to be repainted. So Denae dug into the the List implementation.


Exceptionally Serial

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You may remember Kara, who recently found some "interesting" serialization code. Now, this code happens to be responsible for sending commands to pieces of machine equipment.

Low-level machine interfaces remain one of the domains where serial protocols rule. Serial communications use simple hardware and have minimal overhead, and something like RS232 has been in real-world use since the 60s. Sure, it's slow, sure it's not great with coping with noise, sure you have to jump through some hoops if you want a connection longer than 15m, but its failures are well understood.


Portage and Portability

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ST 225 20MB drive and WDC controller

Many moons ago, when PCs came housed within heavy cases of metal and plastic, Matt Q. and his colleague were assigned to evaluate a software package for an upcoming sales venture. Unfortunately, he and the colleague worked in different offices within the same metro area. As this was an age bereft of effective online collaboration tools, Matt had to travel regularly to the other office, carrying his PC with him. Each time, that meant unscrewing and unhooking the customary 473 peripheral cables from the back of the box, schlepping it through the halls and down the stairs, and catching the bus to reach the other office, where he got to do all those things again in reverse order. When poor scheduling forced the pair to work on the weekend, they hauled their work boxes between apartments as well.


Do Not Read The Daily WTF

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Neil S. wrote, "MSN UK's reverse psychology marketing angle is pretty edgy."


Ancient Grudges

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Ignoring current events, England and the rest of Europe have had a number of historical conflicts which have left a number of grudges littered across the landscape.

Andro V lives in Norway, but is remotely collaborating with an English developer. That English developer wants their peers to know that Sweyn I and Thorkell the Tall’s invasions of southern England will never be forgotten.


How It's Made

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People like hot dogs until they see how it's made. Most people don't ask, because they don't want to know and keep eating hot dogs. In software, sometimes we have to ask. It's not just about solving problems, but because what scares some programmers is the knowledge that their car's software might be little more than the equivalent of driving duct-taped toothpicks down the highway at 70MPH. Our entire field is bad at what we do.

Brett worked as a system analyst for a medical research institution, MedStitute. MedStitute used proprietary software for data storage and analysis, called MedTech. Doctors and researchers like MedTech's results, but Brett his co-worker Tyree- know how it's made.


The Value of Your Code

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“We know that governmental data-systems aren’t generally considered ‘cutting edge’ or ‘well architected’, but we’ve brought together some top flight talent, and we’re building a RESTful architecture that guarantees your code gets nice, easy-to-consume JSON objects.”

That’s what Oralee B. was told when she was hired to work on it. The system owned pretty much the entirety of the municipal data management market, tracking birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates and pet licenses for nearly every city in the country. JSON is so simple, how can you screw it up?


The God Page

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Mike inherited a data-driven application. Once upon a time, it started out pretty well architected. Yes, it was in PHP, but with good architecture, solid coding practices, and experienced developers, it was simple and easy to maintain.

Time passed. The architects behind it left, new developers were hired, management changed over, and it gradually drifted into what you imagine when you hear "PHP app" in 2019.


No Matter Where You Go...an Error is There

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Michael P. wrote, "Only two minutes and a couple of blocks from my destination, Waze decided I should take a 2-hour, 80-mile detour."


Offensively Defensive Offense

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Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. Other times, the best offense is a good defense. And if you’re not sure which is which, you’ll never be a true strategic mastermind.

Tina’s co-worker understands that this is true for defensive programming. Always, always, always catch exceptions. That’s a good defense.


Free TDWTF Mug Day 2019

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Long time, no mug! It's been an insanely long time since we've held a Free TDWTF Mug Day. So long that I'm sure most of you have forgotten the joy that is free mug day. Here's how it works:

I've been pretty excited about BuildMaster 6.1, in part because it returns the product to my original vision of helping developers focus on writing great software instead of worrying about how to build, test, and deploy it from source code to production. Or, CI/CD as we'd call it today.


Switching to Offshore

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A lot of ink has been spilled talking about the perils and pitfalls of offshore development. Businesses love paying the wage arbitrage game, and shipping software development tasks to an outside vendor and paying half the wage they would for a dedicated employee.

Of course, the key difference is the word “dedicated”. You could have the most highly skilled offshore developer imaginable, but at the end of the day: they don’t care. They don’t care about you, or your business. They don’t care if their code is good or easy to maintain. They’re planning to copy-and-paste their way up the ranks of their business organization, and that means they want to get rotated off your contract onto whatever the next “plum” assignment is.


Virtually Careful

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Inheritance is one of those object-oriented features whose importance is perhaps overstated. When I was first being introduced to OO, it was a lot of “code reuse!” and “polymorphism!” and “code reuse!” In practice, inheritance is usually a way to tightly couple two different classes and create more headaches and rework in the future.

That’s why many OO languages favor interfaces, and why the classic Gang-of-Four patterns emphasize the importance of composition in many situations. And, because inheritance can make things complicated, most languages also require single parent inheritance.


For Each Parallel

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Parallel programming is hard. For all the advancements and tweaks we've made to our abstractions, for all the extra cores we've shoved into every CPU, deep down, software still carries the bias of the old uni-tasking model.

Aleksei P works on a software package that is heavily parallel. As such, when interviewing, he talks to candidates about their experience with .NET's Task objects and the async/await keywords.


Musical Beverages

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"If the screen is to be believed...This beer is going to rock!" wrote Tim F.