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.

After killing 11 hour days with the machine for several months, I had had it; I didn't get my MS to babysit some machine. I tracked down the source to the boot loader software, learned the assembly language in which it was written and slogged through it to find the problem.

The cause was that it was checking for 13 devices that could theoretically be hooked up to the system, only one of which could actually be plugged in at any given time. The remaining checks simply timed out. Compounding that was the code that copied the files from the tape to the disk. It was your basic poorly written file copy routine that we all learn not to do in CS-102:

    // pseudo code
    for each byte in the file
        read next byte from tape
        write one byte to disk

Naturally, this made for lots of unnecessary platter-rotation; even at over 3,000 RPM, it took many hours to copy a couple MB from tape to the disk.

I took a copy of the source, changed the device scanning routine to always scan for the device we used first, and skip the others, and do a much more efficient full-buffer-at-a-time data write. This shortened the procedure to a very tolerable few minutes. The correctness was verified by building one disk using each boot loader and comparing them, bit by bit.

Officially, I was not allowed to use this tape because it wasn't sanctioned software, but my boss looked the other way because it saved a lot of time.

This worked without a hitch for two years, until my boss left the company and another guy was put in charge of my team.

The first thing he did was confiscate and delete my version of the software, insisting that we use only the official version. At that time, our first kid was ready to arrive, and I really didn't want to stay several hours late twice a week for no good reason. Given the choice of helping take care of my wife/kid or babysitting an artificially slow process, I chose to change jobs.

That manager forced the next guy to use the official software for the next seven years, until the company went out of business.

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