Recent Articles

Dec 2018

2018: The Wizard Algorithm

by in Best of… on
NIH syndrome causes untold suffering in the world, but for just a few pennies a day, you can help. Or maybe not, but not-invented-here meets password requirements in this story from June. --Remy

Password requirements can be complicated. Some minimum and maximum number of characters, alpha and numeric characters, special characters, upper and lower case, change frequency, uniqueness over the last n passwords and different rules for different systems. It's enough to make you revert to a PostIt in your desk drawer to keep track of it all. Some companies have brillant employees who feel that they can do better, and so they create a way to figure out the password for any given computer - so you need to neither remember nor even know it.

Kendall Mfg. Co. (estab. 1827) (3092720143)

History does not show who created the wizard algorithm, or when, or what they were smoking at the time.

A Sour Currency Mix

by in Error'd on

"Lime bikes are finally in my city! Let's pay for it...So if my USD balance goes below GBP 0 it'll top up with ...AUD?" Ben writes.

2018: Shiny Side Up

by in Best of… on
It's been many, many years since I've suffered a helldesk gig, but I always get a tickle out of silly helpdesk stories like this one. Always look on the shiny side! -- Remy


It feels as though disc-based media have always been with us, but the 1990s were when researchers first began harvesting these iridescent creatures from the wild in earnest, pressing data upon them to create the beast known as CD-ROM. Click-and-point adventure games, encyclopedias, choppy full-motion video ... in some cases, ambition far outweighed capability. Advances in technology made the media cheaper and more accessible, often for the worst. There are some US households that still burn America Online 7.0 CDs for fuel.

2018: JavaScript Centipede

by in Best of… on
As we wind up for the new year, it's time to take stock and look back at some of our best articles for the year. We start with this horrid bit of code, which hopefully has devoured itself since we posted it. --Remy

Starting with the film Saw, in 2004, the “torture porn” genre started to seep into the horror market. Very quickly, filmmakers in that genre learned that they could abandon plot, tension, and common sense, so long as they produced the most disgusting concepts they could think of. The game of one-downsmanship arguably reached its nadir with the conclusion of The Human Centipede trilogy. Yes, they made three of those movies.

This aside into film critique is because Greg found the case of a “JavaScript Centipede”: the refuse from one block of code becomes the input to the next block.

A Lumpy Christmas

by in Feature Articles on

Every "enterprise" shop has that one system you hope you never need to touch. It's older than you are, "documentation" consists of whispers and rumors about its behavior, and it is absolutely 100% business critical. If it goes down, the business goes down.

Fortunately, you'll never have to touch that system, because there's an Ancient Wizard who has been sitting in the same cube since 1973, and knows its secrets. As long as the Wizard is around, you'll never touch it. Of course, if the system goes down when the Wizard is out of the office… well, fixing that would require a Christmas miracle.

Classic WTF: Power Supply

by in Feature Articles on
It's Christmas Eve, and as per usual, we're taking the day off. As you're thinking about your gifts, think about unwrapping THIS present, from a few years back. Original. -- Remy

MRI scans, while neat, do leave something to be desired in the “fun” and “comfort” departments. After surrendering every sliver of metal and some percentage of clothing, the patient must sit or lie stock-still in a cold room for long stretches of time. As the giant magnets do their work, ear-splitting tones and rhythmic pulses fill the room. For those who lie down to enter the giant magnet-coffin, it’s easy to feel like the Frankenstein monster in some mad scientist’s German techno experiment.

The noise is so bad that most facilities issue earplugs to their patients- but some, as Evi relates, spring for $1,500 headsets, and $10,000 systems to play music through said headsets. Seem steep? No doubt the 1–3 year warranties, ranging from $1,500 to $3,500, raise eyebrows too- but it was well outside the warranty period that Evi learned the true extent of the fleecing.

A Generic Holiday Title Goes Here

by in Error'd on

"Sure, there's the obvious 'they didn't put any effort into the email subject,' but the placeholder kind of shows they didn't intend to in the first place," Chris wrote.

Explicitly True

by in Representative Line on

Part of Python’s appeal is its rich class library. The old XKCD about import antigravity sometimes doesn’t feel that far off. Combined with a few third-party libraries, like NumPy, you can do a lot with very little code.

Of course, that feels a bit like magic. As Python gurus like to say, “Explicit is better than implicit”. One of Mark’s co-workers took this perhaps a bit too far, when they started adding this import to every file:

Assumptions are the Mother of all Bugs

by in Feature Articles on

A long time ago in my "C" programming days, I learned that when you code up anything that depends on any sort of external data, be it a file, database or socket, you should be paranoid and do it defensively. After all, you can't control those things and there's no guarantee that they will always work the way you hope. Sometimes you care about every possible error code; sometimes just success or failure. The point is to check the result of what you tried to do.

Fast forward through several years of C++ and ten years into Java, and our boss calls us into the office.

The Command Controller application is failing and nobody knows why. It runs fine for a while and then it starts throwing what appear to be random exceptions. The problem is happening on almost every single command that it's receiving, but only in production. We can not reproduce the issue in any of the other environments (DR, pre-prod, QA or Dev). The team that wrote it is dumbfounded and has asked for help. We have a pretty good reputation at solving tough issues, so you guys need to drop everything and figure this out.

Trim the Tree

by in CodeSOD on

Tis the season to think of trees.

Our Anonymous submitter has a program with a tree in it, and it’s a relatively big one: 7 levels deep, with 200,000 leaf nodes. Oh, and it’s managed in client-side JavaScript. In other words, it’s the sort of thing you really want to make sure you’re accessing efficiently.

A Short Leap

by in CodeSOD on

You know the story. A report is spitting out the wrong dates. Someone gets called in to investigate what’s wrong. After digging through piles of deeply nested SQL queries and views and trying to track down the problem, it turns out someone wrote their own date handling code which is wrong.

Darin P found the code this time.

Trouble at the End of the World

by in Error'd on

"Normally, the solar face in Apple Watch, is supposed to show a single 24-hour period," writes Juan C. wrote, "It turns out that going to Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world) makes it a bit confused, specifically stating that noon is midnight and showing more than one day."

Politics Rules! Common Sense Drools!

by in Feature Articles on

As programmers, we all need to fix bugs. As experienced programmers, we recognize that sometimes, the ability to fix one bug depends upon first fixing another bug. Managers, on the other hand, don't always get that simple concept.

At the beginning of my career, I worked for Initrode where I wrote software to run a test-station that diagnosed assorted electronic components of jet fighters. Initrode acted as a government-supplier of the test station to another government contractor (LUserCorp) that used the station to write the test sequences to diagnose electrical faults. If the test station hardware malfunctioned, or there were bugs in the software that made the electronics tests fail to work properly, then LUserCorp could use that as an excuse for time and cost overruns. If that happened, then the government would penalize Initrode to recoup those costs.

Identify Yourself

by in CodeSOD on

Brian B stumbled across a bit of code to generate UUIDs. Seeing that tag-line, I was worried that they invented their own UUID generator. The good news, is that they just use java.util.UUID. The bad news is that they don’t understand how if statements work.

public class UuidGenerator implements IdentifierGenerator {

    private String profile;

    private Map<String, String> map;

    public Serializable generate(SessionImplementor session, Object object) throws HibernateException {
        UUID id = UUID.randomUUID();

        if(session.getFactory().getDialect() instanceof H2Dialect){
            return UUID.randomUUID();
        if( session.getFactory().getDialect() instanceof org.hibernate.dialect.PostgreSQLDialect ){
            return id;

        return id;

Strongly Unrecommended

by in CodeSOD on

Asynchronous programming is hard. Because it’s so difficult, developers are constantly trying to find ways to make it simpler, whether it’s promises or callbacks, or the async/await pattern. It gets more difficult when you need to deal with handling exceptions- when a task fails, trying to recover from that failure in a separate thread is an extra special challenge.

Which brings us to Betty’s co-worker. Using C#’s Task objects, which tie into the async/await pattern, they wanted to simply ignore any exceptions thrown by one of those tasks. That’s your first WTF, of course. Their approach, however, is a larger one:

The Key to Using Dictionaries

by in CodeSOD on

It's easy to use dictionaries/maps to solve the wrong kinds of problems, but deep down, what's more elegant than a simple hashed map structure? If you have the key, fetching the associated value back out happens in constant time, regardless of the size of the map. The same is true for inserting. In fact, hash maps only become inefficient when you start searching them.

Concetta recently started a new job. Once upon a time, a developer at the office noticed that the user-facing admin pages for their product were garbage. They whipped up their own internal version, which let them accomplish tasks that were difficult, time-consuming, or downright impossible to do in the "official" front end. Time passed, someone noticed, "Hey, this is better than our actual product!", and suddenly the C# code that just lived in one folder on one developer's machine was getting refactored and cleaned up into an application they could release to the public.

The Error is ...Terror?

by in Error'd on

"Lasterror...Las terror...Terrorist...Zoroaster...They're all so close! Which one do I choose??" wrote Ralph.

Tokyo TDWTF Meetup: Bonenkai

by in Announcements on

Tokyo readers, it's been quite a while since our last Tokyo/TDWTF nomihoudai. It's always a fun time, and we've got a good group of regulars now. Here's a pic of a group of us from a past meetup:

Stringed Out

by in CodeSOD on

The line between objects and maps can sometimes get a little blurry. In languages like JavaScript, there’s really no difference between the two. In Python, the deep internals of your classes are implemented essentially as dicts, though there are ways around that behavior.

In a language like C#, however, you’ve got types, you’ve got property definitions. This can offer a lot of advantages. When you layer on features like reflection, you can inspect your objects. Combine all this, and it means that if you want to serialize a data object to XML, you can usually do it in a way that’s both typesafe and generally doesn’t require much code on your part. A handful of annotations and a few method calls, and boom- any object gets serialized.

Golf Buddies

by in CodeSOD on

Hiring people you know is a double-edged sword. You already have an established relationship, and shared background, and an understanding of how they think and act. You’re helping a friend out, which always feels good. Then again, good friends don’t always make good co-workers, and if you limit your hiring pool to “people I know” you’re not always going to find the best people.

Becky’s boss, Chaz, tends to favor his golf buddies. One of those golf buddies got hired, developed for a few months, then just gradually ghosted on the job. They never quite quit or got fired, they just started coming in less and less until they stopped coming in at all.

Chunks of Genius

by in CodeSOD on

Brian recently started a new job. That means spending some time poking around the code base, trying to get a grasp on what the software does, how it does it, and maybe a little bit of why. Since the users have some complaints about performance, that's where Brian is mostly focusing his attention.

The "good" news for Brian is that the his predecessors were "geniuses", and they came up with a lot of "clever" solutions to common problems. The actually good news is that they've long since moved on to other jobs, and Brian will have a free hand in trying to revise their "cleverness".

A Reusable Application

by in Tales from the Interview on

Jay J had been helping a friend with the job hunt. As an experienced developer, with a strong network, Jay had a sense of who was hiring and what jobs were promising. One of his connections turned up a lead at Initech. Jay pointed his friend in that direction, and wished for the best.

"They won't let me apply," the friend explained when Jay asked how things were going. "Here, try it. These are my details. This is the link for the web application. Fill in the form and see what happens."