Recent Articles

Sep 2016

Every Possible Case

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Road cases 2

From reader Frank comes this delightful Java-flavored head-scratcher:

Properly Handled PHP

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It’s tempting to pick on PHP, because PHP is a terribly designed language. At the same time, there’s an air of snobbery and elitism in our mockery of PHP. I mean, half the Web runs on PHP, so how bad can it be? These examples could easily have been written in nearly any other language, and they’d be just as bad in those languages too. Is it fair to single out PHP? Perhaps not, but each of these examples does nothing- or nearly nothing- which may very well be PHP’s greatest asset.

As a case in point, Ethan inherited some code. It needs to count how many sub-directories there are in a certain directory.


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Steven worked for Integrated Machinations, a company that made huge machines to sell to manufacturers so they could actually manufacture stuff. He didn't build the machines, that would require hard physical labor. Instead, he wrote computer programs that interfaced with the machines from the comfort of the air-conditioned office. One such program was a diagnostic app used to log the performance of Integrated Machinations products. The machines didn't break down often, but when they did, logging was very important. Customers wouldn't be in a mood to hear that IM didn't know why the equipment they dropped fat stacks of cash on failed.

Text-xml file-type image Steven also had a subordinate named Thomas, who was foist upon Steven in an effort to expand the small development team. Steven could have easily handled everything himself, but Thomas needed something to do so he was given the simplest part of the diagnostic app - the downloader. Steven's code handled the statistical compiling, number-crunching, and fancy chart-making aspects of the application. All Thomas had to do was make the piece that downloaded the raw files from the machines to pass back.


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"In life, there are good surprises and bad surprises, but Microsoft fails to differentiate," writes Rob

As The World Ternaries

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Ah, the ternary operator. At their worst they’re a way to obfuscate your code. At their best, they’re a lovely short-hand.

For example, you might use the ternary operator to validate the inputs of a function or handle a flag.

Cache Congestion

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Recently, we featured the story of Alex, who worked in a little beach town trying to get seasonal work. But Alex isn't the only one with a job that depended entirely on the time of year.

Exceptional Condition

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“This is part of a home-grown transpiler…”, Adam wrote. I could stop there, but this particular transpiler has a… unique way of deciding if it should handle module imports.

Given a file, this Groovy code will check each line of the file to see if it includes an import line, and then return true or false, as appropriate.

Sponsor Announcement: Atalasoft

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Let’s take a moment to talk about documents. I once worked on an application that needed to generate some documents for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, and without confessing to too much of a WTF, let’s just say it involved SQL Server Reporting Services, SharePoint, and some rather cryptic web service calls that I’m almost certain have stopped working in the years since I built it. The solution belongs here.

I bring this up, because I’m happy to announce a new sponsor here at TDWTF: Atalasoft, which would have kept me from writing that awkward solution.

As Time Goes By…

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In my formative years, I had experienced such things as Star Trek, and the advent of new games like Pong, Space Invaders and Asteroids. As I ventured out of college and into the Orwellian future of 1984, I began a 3+ decade long sojourn into the world of technology. I mused about the wondrous changes that these new-fangled gadgets would bring to all of our lives. Telescreens that connected us both visually and orally in real time. Big Brother. History could be rewritten. Technology would boldly take us where no one had gone before...

Hollerith cards were replaced with Teletypes, then CRTs and finally flat panel displays. You can still fold, spindle and mutilate a flat panel display; it just takes more effort.

Something Seems to be Wrong with the Internet

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"Just perfect. This is not a good day for the entire Internet to break. Thanks for the heads up, Moodle," writes Đuro M.

It Takes One Function

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Longleat maze

This anonymous submission is the result of our submitter decompiling a Flash application to see how it worked. It’s not often that one thinks to himself, “Wow, some case statements would’ve been a lot better,” but here we are.

Learning to Share

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Maintenance programming is an important job in nearly any software shop. As developers move on to other positions or companies, the projects they leave behind still need someone to take care of them, to fix bugs or implement customer requests. Often, these products have been cobbled together by a variety of programmers who no longer work for the company, many of whom had only a loose understanding of the product (or even programming in general).

Martin was one such maintenance programmer. After being hired, management quickly realized he had a knack for digging into old systems and figuring them out well enough to update them, which often meant a full rewrite to make everything consistent and sane.


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C++ is a language with a… checkered past. It’s grown, matured and changed over the decades, and modern C++ looks very little like the C++ of yesteryear. Standard libraries have grown and improved- these days, std feels nearly as big and complicated as parts of Java’s class library.

One useful function is std::toupper. Given a char, it will turn that char into an upper-case version, in a locale-aware fashion. What if you want to turn an entire string to upper-case?

Red Black Trees

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In a good organization, people measure twice and cut once. For example, an idea is born: let's create a data center that is set up properly. First, you figure out how much equipment is needed, how much space is required and how much power is needed to run and cool it. Next, you size back-up batteries and fuel-powered generators to provide uninterruptible power. And so forth.

In a good organization, each of these tasks is designed, reviewed, built, tested and verified, and approved. These things need to be right. Not sort-of right, but right!

A power outlet painted over

Profound Sadness

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"Shortly after one of our dear colleagues left the business for pastures new, we started to find some messages they left behind," Samantha wrote.

Pointless Revenge

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We write a lot about unhealthy workplaces. We, and many of our readers, have worked in such places. We know what it means to lose our gruntle (becoming disgruntled). Some of us, have even been tempted to do something vengeful or petty to “get back” at the hostile environment.

Milton from 'Office Space' does not receive any cake during the a birthday celebration. He looks on, forlornly, while everyone else in the office enjoys cake.

A Painful Migration

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Database models

In most companies, business growth leads to greater organizational complexity. With more clients to juggle, owners must increasingly delegate less important tasks to a growing pool of employees and lower management. With time, the org charts grow from simple diagrams to poster-sized trees. Departments and SBUs become separate entities. What was once a three-man startup morphs into the enterprise behemoth we all know and love.

What You Don't See

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Many times, when we get a submission of bad code, we’re left wondering, “what else is going on here?” Sometimes, you think, “if only I knew more, this would make sense.” More often, you think, “if I knew more, I’d be depressed,” because the code is so clearly bad.

For example, Devan inherited a report, built using SQL Server’s Reporting Services Report Builder tool. Now, this tool is not intended as much as a developer tool, as a “if you can use Excel, you can make a report!” It uses Excel-style functions for everything, which means if you want to have branching conditional logic, you need to use the IIF function.

Classic WTF: The Big Ball of Yarn

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It's Labor Day in the US, so we're taking the day off to grill something before the weather turns horrid. While I was finding legacy articles to support the Your Code Might Be Unmaintainable… article, I noticed this classic, and knew that I wanted to re-run it again soon. - Remy

Not too long ago, I posted The Enterprise Dependency. Essentially, it was a visual depiction of a good ole' enterprise framework that was "several dozen megabytes chock full of helper classes like IEnterpriseAuthenticationProviderFactoryManagementFactory." Inspired by the diagram, commenter "LieutenantFrost" shared his own "enterprise-ness and despair" with a dependency diagram that looks somewhat like an anglerfish.

But that got me thinking: like a Representative Line, perhaps dependency diagrams can help provide some insight into the pain that large applications' maintainers face each day. And just then, Jan-Hendrik sent in such a diagram. Note that each little box represents a class, and a line is its dependency to another class.

What's Wrong with Lorem Ipsum?

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"The date is in the past and there is no time zone specification," writes Hugo K. "But apart from that, everything in this invitation is clear as...verterem mediocritatem?

Fully Wireless

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DPA dfacto Vocal wired first edition

Port-au-Prince, I wanna catch a glimpse ...