Recent Feature Articles

Jan 2017

Unstructured Data

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Alex T had hit the ceiling with his current team, in terms of career advancement. He was ready to be promoted to a senior position, but there simply wasn’t room where he was- they were top-heavy as it was, and there were whispers among management of needing to make some cuts from that team. So Alex started looking for other openings.

There was another team at his company which had just lost all of its senior developers to other teams. Alex knew that was a bad sign, but in general, climbing the career ladder was a one-way street. Once he had a senior position, even if it was terrible, he could transfer to another team in a few months, keeping his senior title and salary.


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

A Case of Denial

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On his first day at his new job, Sebastian wasn't particularly excited. He'd been around the block enough times to have grown a thick skin of indifference and pessimism. This job was destined to be like any other, full of annoying coworkers, poorly thought out requirements, legacy codebases full of spaghetti. But it paid well, and he was tired of his old group, weary in his soul of the same faces he'd grown accustomed to. So he prepared himself for a new flavor of the same office politics and menial tasks.


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.


A Font of Misery

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After his chilling encounter in the company’s IT Cave, new hire George spent some time getting his development workstation set up. Sadly, his earlier hope that the PC in his office was a short-term placeholder until something better comes in was dashed to pieces. This PC was a small-form-factor budget system, relying on an old dual-core processor, 2 GB RAM, a 5400 RPM “green” disk drive, and integrated graphics with a single output port, to which was connected an aging 17" LCD monitor with a failing backlight.

A preview of a glitchy font


The Helpful Manager

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Git is a divisive piece of technology. There's a number of people who insist that it's the best of all possible version controls, often citing the fact that a complete repo copy is on everyone's computers in case of emergency. There are also a lot of horror stories of people screwing up commands and ending up neck-deep in tutorials, desperately trying to undo what they did. Recently, I was involved in a discussion about the merits of Mercurial. The usual git fans stopped by to ridicule the lack of history-rewriting in Mercurial, insisting that it's a necessary part of any version control. Which reminded me of this reader submission ...