snoofle

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

by in CodeSOD on

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
  ----- --------------------------------------------
  00001 TRUE, FALSE, FILE_NOT_FOUND
  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|

The Little Red Button

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Bryan T. had worked for decades to amass the skills, expertise and experience to be a true architect, but never quite made the leap. Finally, he got a huge opportunity in the form of an interview with a Silicon Valley semi-conductor firm project manager who was looking for a consultant to do just that. The discussions revolved around an application that three developers couldn't get functioning correctly in six months, and Bryan was to be the man to reign it in and make it work; he was lured with the promise of having complete control of the software.

The ZF-1 pod weapon system from the Fifth Element

Upon starting and spelunking through the code-base, Bryan discovered the degree of total failure that caused them to yield complete control to him. It was your typical hodgepodge of code slapped together with anti-patterns, snippets of patterns claiming to be the real deal, and the usual Assortment-o-WTF™ we've all come to expect.


The Insurance Plan

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When designing a new feature of an application, among other things, you always want to decide how it will be used. Is it single threaded or will it need to happen in parallel. Will only one user do it at a time, or does it need to support asynchronous access. Will every user want to do it in the same way, or will they each want something just a little different.

In Sewer Ants, ants in a Sewer

Charlie C. worked for a modestly sized financial startup that had gained some traction. The company had grown to about 100 people. They had garnered about 300 customers, and they were building software that would solve a problem that was causing regulators all manner of headaches.


Basic Manners

by in Editor's Soapbox on
As someone who's been accused of "not being a team player" because I had the temerity to say, "No, I can't come in on short notice on a day I've called off, because I'm busy,", Snoofle's rant struck a nerve. I lend him the soapbox for today. -- Remy

When you're very young, your parents teach you to say please and thank you. It's good-manners 101. Barking give me ..., get me ... or I want... usually gets you some sort of reprimand. Persistent rudeness yields reprimands of increasing sternness such as no dessert, no TV, etc. Ideally, once learned, those manners should follow us into the grown-up world.

The cover of Miss Manners' Guide for the Turn-Of-The-Millenium

Should.


All You Zombies…

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We've all been approached for jobs where the job description was merely an endless list of buzzwords across disciplines, and there was no real way to figure out what was actually the top couple of relevant skills. The head hunter is usually of no help as they're rarely tech-savvy enough to understand what the buzzwords mean. The phone screen is often misleading as they always say that one or two skills are the important ones, and then reject candidates because they don't have expertise in some ancillary skill.

A sign, dated March 9, 1982, welcoming travelers from the future

Teddy applied for a position at a firm that started out as a telco but morphed into a business service provider. The job was advertised as looking for people with at least 15-20 years of experience in designing complex systems, and Java programming. The phone screen confirmed the advert and claims of the head hunter. "This is a really great opportunity," the head hunter proclaimed.


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