Protect Yourself

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We lend the soapbox to snoofle today, to dispense a combination of career and financial advice. I've seen too many of my peers sell their lives for a handful of magic beans. Your time is too valuable to waste for no reward. -- Remy

There is a WTF that far too many people make with their retirement accounts at work. I've seen many many people get massively financially burned. A friend recently lost a huge amount of money from their retirement account when the company went under, which prompted me to write this to help you prevent it from happening to you.

A pile of money

The housing bubble that led up to the 2008 financial collapse was caused by overinflated housing values coming back down to reality. People had been given mortgages far beyond what they could afford using traditional financial norms, and when the value of their homes came back down to realistic values, they couldn't afford their mortgages and started missing payments, or worse, defaulted. This left the banks and brokerages that were holding the mortgage-backed-securities with billions in cash flow, but upside down on the balance sheet. When it crossed a standard threshold, they went under. Notably Bear Stearns and Lehman. Numerous companies (AIG, Citi, etc.) that invested in these MBS also nearly went under.

The For While Loop

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Alex R. was the architect of a brand spanking new system that was to read inputs from numerous other internal systems, crunch a whole bunch of numbers, record everything in a database and spew forth a massive report file. He spent months designing the major details of the system, and more months designing the various sub-components. From all this came a variety of business-level data structures which spawned POJOs and the underlying DB tables to store assorted inputs, flags and outputs. He did a fairly thorough job of documenting all the interfaces, and provided detailed specifications for all of the next-level methods that were left as TBDs in the design.

Java Programming Cover

The project manager then assigned units of work to numerous offshored junior developers who managed to get virtually everything wrong. If they couldn't understand what a spec required, they changed the spec to reflect what they actually wrote. This caused Alex to start versioning the requirements document in order to catch the changes by the junior developers so that they could be rolled back.

Theory Versus Reality

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I went to college at the State University of New York at Albany, where back then, most of the Computer Science curriculum courses were entitled Theory of xxx. The programming assignments were the usual small-scope demonstrations of some feature of programming, typically something an experienced developer would code in 15-20 LOC.

My Masters project was to modify the TeX typesetting system (by Knuth) to leverage the more advanced features of a new typesetting system. It took me about two months to reverse engineer it only to find that the entire required modification amounted to a single character change.

Albert Einstein c1890s


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Sometime back, our friend Fred told us about his experiences with homegrown PK/FK relationships. Today, he regales us with a tale of trying to get users to use their new-and-improved sso mechanism, even if they don't want to.

His company currently runs a legacy reporting portal service that has an old-school sso which is used by several third party systems. This mechanism stores user names and passwords as clear text in the DB. It also passes them in clear text in a hidden HTML form. The third party code would create the hidden form with the user name and password in clear text and JavaScript-submit it to the login page - without HTTPS. OK, it was the way things were set up way back then.

A computer screen showing the prompt 'My name is *****. My voice is my passport. Verify me.

The Official Software

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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.

A Case of Bad Timing

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Although I've retired from full time work, I still consult for lots of small mom-n-pop places. Mostly, it's little scripts to automate doing this and that. Sometimes, the boss' kid or nephew was asked to get ambitious and solve a problem. When the inevitable happens, they call me to bail them out.

For the most part, it's usually something like some file got moved/renamed/deleted. Sometimes, they got ambitious and attempted to write a batch file. This time, a college freshman, who claimed to be "good with computers", had written a program to control the little scripts and jobs in an automated fashion. Apparently, it was getting too complicated for him and they asked me if I could work with it.

Paying Taxes on Technical Debt

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In the U.S., individuals are expected to file federal and state tax returns once a year by April 15. The tax forms are quite complicated, and have all sorts of sub-forms and schedules to support and detail the numbers on the main form. The tax code of the U.S. is approximately 74,000 pages of special cases.

For many items, the same data needs to be entered on multiple forms, usually as the starting point for different calculations that depend upon the same information; these are duplicated again on both federal and state returns. It follows that tax preparation software needs to put the relevant numbers in all the places that they are needed.

File folders on a shelf

Table 12

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We've all encountered database tables that look like this:

  ID    Data
  ----- --------------------------------------------
  00002 MALE|FEMALE|TRANS|EUNUCH|OTHER|M|Q|female|Female|male|Male|$
  00003 <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?><item id="1234"><name "Widget"/>...</item>
  00004 1234|Fred,Lena,Dana||||||||||||1.3DEp42|