Jake Vinson

Feb 2009

A Man's Array

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It's always a little frustrating when you're trying to write the most beautiful code you can, but because of a limitation in the programming language you have to roll up your sleeves and brute force it. As programming technologies mature, I find this to be rarer and rarer.

Sadly, Dan M. inherited a project in which some cutting-edge features weren't available. For example, the cutting-edgiest feature conceivable: arrays!

The Manual Migration

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The time had come for the national telecom we'll call Communicommco to shed its legacy systems and move into the future. In fact, calling them "legacy systems" is perhaps too charitable – these things were freaking dynasty systems. The dusty green screen terminals and ancient interface were being replaced with a cutting-edge the-future-has-arrived VB6 frontend. There was just one problem: the existing data had to be migrated in somehow.

Having just graduated college, Joe B. had a lot of free time on his hands. He had a job lined up, but that was six months away, and he was still too wet behind the ears to sell his services as a contractor. After seeing a lot of late-night commercials that made data entry sound pretty lucrative, he decided to try to get a position on Communicommco's migration project.

Non-Compliant By Design

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The IT Support Department at Stephen S.'s company was divided into two distinct castes: helpdesk admins and system admins. And the differences between these two groups were many.

The helpdesk admins had rotating shifts and were there 24/7 (and each was on call 24/7), while the system admins had a solid 9-5 and a rotating on-call admin. The helpdesk admins staff was always on duty, while the system admins would frequently attend catered vendor meetings, leaving the helpdesk admins crew to fight over the remaining scraps. There was a considerable difference in pay scale. The helpdesk admins were the low men on the totem pole, while the company bent over backwards to keep the system admins happy, stopping just shy of providing palanquin transportation to and from work (instead, they had a 50/50 mileage split).

The Wee Hours

Some Crazy Reason

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One time, out of boredom, I wrote a little utility called BitVerifier. It would loop over a folder and check every bit of each file. If the bit's value wasn't one or zero, it would prompt the user for the correct bit. At least in theory. I somehow never encountered a file with a "two" bit. But I got one key component right – an understanding of the valid range of values.

Rob K.'s colleague didn't even get that far.

The How, Not the Why

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Habits, good or bad, are easy to gain but hard to break. Often, the way one learns to do something is the way they keep doing it, sometimes never questioning if there is a better approach.

One of Lance K.'s colleagues had one habit that was well-intentioned – thoroughly commenting his code – but he apparently didn't realize that comments are meant to explain the why rather than the how:

Damn the River

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Hitchcock River had gotten so badly polluted that going for a dip in it would get you one of two things: superpowers or some kind of nasty flesh-eating bacterial infection. And as awesome as it'd be to have X-Ray vision, it was just not worth the risk.

Decades ago, Ed B. was working for an underfunded state research team with an insanely-frugal mad scientist at the helm. They were working together to study the sludge that flowed through Hitchcock River, and had a semi-friendly rivalry with a well-funded lab in a neighboring city ("Shelbyville"). Ed didn't mind the cheap boss or shoddy equipment, though, because the equipment they used had such cool names. Honestly, one of the devices they used was called a "gas chromatograph mass selective detector." Awesome.

Measuring Flux Capacitance

The Secret DTS Package

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"I don't know, Gerald, this doesn't look right."

"What do you mean?"

For a Good Time, Call...

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Let's face it; being a developer doesn't really foster a great social life. Late-night coding and sitting still for days makes our eyes bloodshot, our bellies large, our breath toxic, and our postures almost parabolic.

So sometimes we have to get creative to become more popular, or to at least get more phone calls. Maybe it's time to take a cue from one of Josh's colleagues.