snoofle

Over thirty years of professional experience designing and developing high performance parallel transactional server side systems in "C", "C++" and Java on *nix and Windows platforms for military, financial and health platforms. Bachelor's in Geological Engineering and Masters in Computer Science.

The 3,000 Mile Commute

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A true story, recounted from personal experience by our own Snoofle.

Many decades ago, DefCon Inc, a defense contractor working for the US military was attempting to get awarded a new contract to build some widget needed for combat. As part of their proposal, they wished to demonstrate that they had the available staff to dedicate to the project. Toward this end, they hired more than 1,000 assorted programmers, project leads, managers and so forth. The military folks that were evaluating the various proposals saw a slew of new employees that were completely unfamiliar with the relevant processes, procedures and requirements, and awarded the contract to another firm. In response, the contractor laid off all 1,000 folks.

A few months later, another such contract came up for grabs. Again, they hired 1,000 folks to show that they had the staff. A few months later, that contract was also awarded to another contractor, and again, all 1,000 folks were laid off.

A map showing the routes between Newark Airport and LAX

Healthcare Can Make You Sick

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Every industry has information that needs to be moved back and forth between disparate systems. If you've lived a wholesome life, those systems are just different applications on the same platform. If you've strayed from the Holy Path, those systems are written using different languages on different platforms running different operating systems on different hardware with different endian-ness. Imagine some Java app on Safari under some version of Mac OS needing to talk to some version of .NET under some version of Windows needing to talk to some EBCIDIC-speaking version of COBOL running on some mainframe.

Long before anyone envisioned the above nightmare, we used to work with SGML, which devolved into XML, which was supposed to be a trivial tolerable way to define the format and fields contained in a document, with parsers on every platform, so that information could be exchanged without either end needing to know anything more than the DTD and/or schema for purposes of validation and parsing.


1 Moment in Time

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On occasion, we've all faced a situation where we need to check to see if some internal application process has succeeded, or gotten stuck. There are many ways to accomplish this; some better than others. In the old days, folks used loops to count CPU cycles. Of course, as CPUs got faster, this didn't scale all that well. Now you can use myriad combinations of event handlers, semaphores, thread safe flags and threads. Or you can just use the time tested method of hard coding a sleep.

Of course, this requires that you have a decent idea of how long something will take to complete. It also assumes that you know something about the delays that can reasonably be expected in the execution environment.


A SNOBOL's Chance

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We’ve all inherited legacy systems. You know the sort; 20 years old, more than 50,000 lines of code, poorly designed - even for its time, completely undocumented externally and useless code comments within, mangled beyond recognition due to countless developers making myriad ad-hoc changes upon changes and so-on. Now imagine such a system written in a tool that’s been around for nearly half a century, but rarely used for the intended purpose of the application.

A group of people rolling a snowball taller than any of them

Reg worked for a firm that built space-rocket related applications; specifically an Ada compiler, written in SNOBOL, for a 15+ years obsolete legacy processor used in the rocket. The system itself consisted of more than 100 SPITBOL (a speedier compiler of SNOBOL) programs, most of which were written by one guy nearly four decades ago, Barry. Barry was a former sixties hippie-turned-coder. Though long since retired, he had been called back to active duty to try and help decipher what this thing does.


The Contractor

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As developers, we often find ourselves working in stupid ways because the folks who were hired above/before us think that what they set up is ideal. While this happens in numerous industries, finance, especially at huge conglomerates, takes IT/Software-WTF to a whole new level. As contractors, we often get the we need your help in an emergency even though everything is unicorns and rainbows speech that precedes some meltdown for which they want you to take the blame.

EXPENSES

After taking a contract position at a large financial company, Bryan T. expected to see some amazing things. On the interview, they talked a big game and had even bigger budgets. It didn't take long to see some amazing things; but not the kind of amazing you'd think.


Re-Relational

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Given the rise of the internet in the mid 1990's, various events and companies led up to Adobe releasing Flash. Not to be out done, in the mid noughts, Microsoft created their own version called Silverlight. Somewhere down the road, Facebook, Instagram and others put forth React. These can sit on top of a webservice, like, for example, WCF to make it easier for web-facing programs to call home to interact with back-end applications to do useful things like display videos of cats being, well, cats. Occasionally, folks even attempt to use these tools to provide access to business applications.

Some time back, Fred became a hired-gun/consultant/architect to a small financial company to help them replace a dying 150K LOC Silverlight UI with a React front-end, and the underlying WCF API (named Rest.Services for some reason). This allegedly trivial task was budgeted to take three months. Ten months down the road, Silverlight and the underlying code base were way ahead on points while the battle raged on. Eventually, management acquiesced and allowed the entire UI to be rewritten from scratch. The back-end, however...


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.


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

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