Recent Feature Articles

Jul 2018

Classic WTF: Flawless Compilation

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Just today I was joking with my co-workers: I had written software for which we had no viable test hardware, but the code compiled, therefore I was done. The difference is I was joking… --Remy (Originally)

Back in the heady days of Internet speculation, the giant retailer JumboStores contracted with Fred’s software company, TinyWeb, to develop the region’s first web-based supermarket. Customers would be able to assemble carts online and receive their groceries the next day.

The virtual supermarket had to communicate with JumboStores’s inventory system in real-time. The former was bleeding-edge web technology, the latter a cobweb-laden mainframe with no external point of access.


Classic WTF: The Mega Bureaucracy

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Part of the reason we need a summer break is because we simply don't have the organizational skills of this particular company. I wonder if they sell consulting. Original -- Remy

Photo credit: 'digicla' at Flickr At my daytime corporate-type job, if I need to even sneeze in the general direction of a production environment, I need both a managerial and customer approvals with documentation solemnly stating that I thoroughly tested my changes and swear on a stack of MSDN licenses and O'Reilly books that I am NOT going to break anything as a result of my changes. Sure, the whole thing is a pain (and admittedly, a necessary evil), but what Bruce W. has to go through beats the pants off of anything I've ever had to go through.

For the most part, Bruce loves his job. He gets to work with a lot of intelligent and motivated people. He has been developing a new system to support a new product that has the possibility of earning his division several million dollars per year and saving the corporate parent several hundred thousand dollars per year. The net effect on the corporate parent's bottom line will be quite nice. He developed a Web front end while a fellow developer put together the data feeds. The initial development work was estimated to take about six weeks; pretty good since we only had eight weeks to work with.


Classic WTF: The Source Control Shingle

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Our summer break continues. I once worked on a team which made "shingles"- software modules that were layered on top of a packaged product. There were a lot of WTFs in those shingles, but nothing that can compare to this once. Original--Remy

The year was 1999 and the dot-com boom was going full-throttle. Companies everywhere were focused on building revolutionary applications using nothing but top-shelf hardware and state-of-the-art software tools. Developers everywhere were trying to figure out if they should play more foosball, more air hockey, or sit back down on their Aeron and write more code. Everywhere, that is, except Boise, Idaho. Or at least, Dave's small corner of it.

At Dave's company, developers worked at a solid pace, using reliable tools, for a stable industry. They were sub-sub-contractors on a giant project commissioned by the U.S. Navy to condense naval vessel documentation. Generally speaking, the complete documentation required for a modern warship-from the GPS calibration instructions to the giant 130-millimeter cannon repair guide-is measured in tons. By condensing the documentation into the electronic equivalent, they could not only save tremendous physical space, but they could make it much easier to navigate.


Classic WTF: The Virtudyne Saga

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As we usually do around this time of year, it's summer break season for TDWTF. This week, we're going to rerun some old classics, starting with this legend from 2006, compiled into a single article. --Remy

The Virtudyne saga (published 2006-Oct-10 through 2006-Oct-13) is my all time favorite. It tells the story of the rise and fall of Virtudyne, one of the largest privately-financed ($200M) disasters in our industry. Like most articles published here, all names have been changed to protect the guilty, and I've worked very closely with Rob Graves (the submitter) to ensure that this presentation is as close to how it happened as possible.


Part I - The Founding

By most people's standard, The Founder was very wealthy. A successful entrepreneur since age seventeen, he built several multi-million dollar companies and amassed a fortune larger than that of most A-list Hollywood celebrities. He prided himself on having one of the largest private collections of Egyptian artifacts in the world and prominently displayed many of them in his Great Room. And it truly was a great room: having been to The Founder's mansion several times, Rob recalls that his two-story, four-bedroom home could easily fit inside the Great Room.


Reproducible Heisenbug

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Illustration of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

Matt had just wrapped up work on a demo program for an IDE his company had been selling for the past few years. It was something many customers had requested, believing the documentation wasn't illustrative enough. Matt's program would exhibit the IDE's capabilities and also provide sample code to help others get started on their own creations.


Walking on the Sun

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In 1992, I worked at a shop that was all SunOS. Most people had a Sparc-1. Production boxes were the mighty Sparc-2, and secretaries had the lowly Sun 360. Somewhat typical hardware for the day.

SPARCstation 1

Sun was giving birth to their brand spanking new Solaris, and was pushing everyone to convert from SunOS. As with any OS change in a large shop, it doesn't just happen; migration planning needs to occur. All of our in-house software needed to be ported to the new Operating System.


Classic WTF: Common Sense Not Found

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It's the Forth of July in the US, where we all take a day off and launch fireworks to celebrate the power of stack based languages. While we participate in American traditions, like eating hot dogs without buns, enjoy this classic WTF about a real 455hole. --Remy

Mike was a server admin at your typical everyday Initech. One day, project manager Bill stopped by his cube with questions from Jay, the developer of an internal Java application.

“Hello there- thanks for your time!” Bill dropped into Mike’s spare chair. “We needed your expertise on this one.”


Flobble

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The Inner Platform Effect, third only after booleans and dates, is one of the most complicated blunders that so-called developers (who think that they know what they're doing) do to Make Things Better.™ Combine that with multiple inheritance run-amok and a smartass junior developer who thinks documentation and method naming are good places to be cute, and you get todays' submission.

A cat attacking an impossible object illusion to get some tuna from their human

Chops,an experienced C++ developer somewhere in Europe, was working on their flagship product. It had been built slowly over 15 years by a core of 2-3 main developers, and an accompanying rotating cast of enthusiastic but inexperienced C++ developers. The principal developer had been one of those juniors himself at the start of development. When he finally left, an awful lot of knowledge walked out the door with him.