Recent Articles

May 2022

Magically True

by in CodeSOD on

Matt P was spending a few hours trawling through a Java code base, working through the poorly documented logic and the bugs and the odd conventions. It was the kind of code base that rightly eschewed "magic numbers", favoring constants, but was also the kind of code base which took that to an extreme which arguably didn't help readability.

For example:

Classic WTF: Color Me Stupid

by in Feature Articles on
It's a holiday in the US today, so we're flipping back through the archives to remember a classic WTF. These colors don't run, because they'll trip over their own shoelaces. Original. --Remy

Andy's company develops solutions for "Industrial" handheld devices. To make deployment and updates easier, they each run a thin client so only the server is different from project to project. This client was written by a long-gone employee in the early nineties, and had barely changed since because it "just worked". Updating it was discouraged for fear of breaking backward-compatibility.

Andy's new project was the first chance he'd had to use it, so he asked a colleague if there was some code that could be used to interface with it. What Andy received was essentially a giant method which responded to the client by cycling through a switch-statement to decide what to paint next based on the current state of the client. Andy took the initiative to create a library for making servers for these things a bit less spaghetti-like, and to encourage this new-fangled concept of code-reuse.

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho

by in Error'd on

This week brings an ongoing installment in a long-running gag, and a plea for help with a truly execrable pun. Can someone please find me some map-related material in Idaho? I promise not to credit you directly!

Workaholic Stuart Longland flexes "Yes, I'm working on a Sunday. And yes, I've worked some long hours in the past. But 56 hours in one day? I don't know whether to crow or cry! But TRWTF is the fact these phantom work entries re-incarnate after I delete them." In his own defense, Stuart explains (and I concur) "Monday-Friday is fairly meaningless after COVID and the Queensland Floods."

Minor Revisions

by in Feature Articles on

In many places, driver's licenses work on a point system. As you commit infractions, you gain or lose points, when your point score hits a certain threshold, your insurance company raises your rates or you may even lose your driver's license. Where Christopher Walker lives, you start with twelve points, and each infraction takes a few away. Once a year, you have the option to attend a workshop on safe driving, where you can then regain a few of those points.

It's complicated and tedious, so several organizations, from the local department of motor vehicles to various insurance companies, have set up systems to manage this information. One of those organizations built a PHP application about fifteen years ago, and it gradually grew in kruft and complexity and confusion from that point forward. It works, but it's entirely unmaintainable.

New Anti-Pattern Just Dropped

by in CodeSOD on

Linda discovered a new anti-pattern, helpfully explained with comments.

try { this.initializeConfig(this.configFile); } catch (ADWException e) { // something went terrible wrong... but we go on, since // following errors will be thrown. }

Weakly Courses

by in CodeSOD on

Kerin inherited a scheduling application for a university. This application stored the scheduled days for a class in the database… as one comma-separated field. This was a problem for Kerin, who was hired to add predictive scheduling and classroom density measurements to the system.

This particular function was written to take that data and transform it for display. Sort of.

Nullable or Not

by in CodeSOD on

Nullable types, at least in theory, make our code simpler and easier to maintain. If nothing else, we know when there's a risk of a null value, and can handle it with some grace. At least, that's how it works if we understand what they do.

Boaz's co-worker knows that nullables are valuable, but doesn't quite get it.

Nice Work If You Can Get IT

by in Error'd on

Danish cookie connoisseur Jørgen N. contributes our starter course this week. "Cloudera has an interesting way of implementing "Required only" cookies." It's an exercise for the frist poster to explain to the peanut gallery what's so distasteful about third-party cookies.


The String Buildulator

by in CodeSOD on

"Don't concatenate long strings," is generally solid advice in most languages. Due to internal representations, strings are frequently immutable and of a fixed length, so a block like this:

string s = getSomeString(); s = s + "some suffix";

Failed Successfully

by in CodeSOD on

Martin's company had written a set of command line tools which their internal analysts could then string together via shell scripts to do their work. It was finicky and fragile, but frankly didn't work too badly for most cases.

There was one tool, however, which seemed to be the source of an unfair number of problems. Eventually, Martin sat down with an analyst to see what was going wrong. The program would exit successfully, but wouldn't actually do any of the work it was supposed to. Instead of doing the normal thing and writing errors to STDERR, the tool wrote to a file. Which file, however, was determined by reading some shell variables, but the shell variables used by each of the tools were slightly different, because why would you build a consistent interface for your suite of analytical tools?

The GUID Utillity

by in CodeSOD on

Let's say you saw a method called StrToGuid, in a C# codebase. Your first thought might be: "Wait, isn't there a built in parse? Well, I guess maybe they might do some sort of exception handling. But it still doesn't seem right." And then you'd take a look at the method signature and see that it takes both a string, and an integer named counter, and you'd think: "Wait, what?"

Henrik H had a similar experience. His team hired a new developer, someone with 15+ years of experience. This is what they contributed to the codebase:

An Animated Block

by in CodeSOD on

"There are a few more functions like this in the same file," writes Jenny, about today's submission. This is one which largely does speak for itself.

const gright = () => { setIscountright(isCountright + 1); if(isCountright === 0) { setIsleft(!isLeft); setIsfirstdot(!isFirstdot); setIssecdot(!isSecdot); setInfof('Once activated buttons on the right panel will appear'); setIssquareleft(!isSquareleft); setIsanimBottRightIn(!isAnimBottRightIn); } if(isCountright === 1) { setIssecdot(!isSecdot); setIsthirddot(!isThirdtdot); setInfof('Tap on them to change content of the projection on the wall'); setIselmscale(!isElmscale); setIssquareleft(!isSquareleft); setIsmap(!isMap); setIsmapdot(!isMapdot); setIsborderwhite(!isBorderwhite); } if(isCountright === 2) { setIsright(!isRight); setIsthirddot(!isThirdtdot); setIsfourthdot(!isForthdot); setInfof('Use the menu bar in top left corner to switch between pages'); setIssquareleft(isSquareleft); setIsanimBottRightIn(!isAnimBottRightIn); setIselmscale(!isElmscale); setIsmap(!isMap); setIsmapdot(!isMapdot); setIsborderwhite(!isBorderwhite); setIsindicator(!isIndicator); setTimeout(():void => { setAnimain(false); setMainsec(true); setIsindicator(false); setIsindicator2(true); }, 1000); setTimeout(():void => { setMainsec(false); setMainth(true); setIsindicator2(false); setIsindicator3(true); setShowdone(true); }, 2200); } }


by in Error'd on

This week's edition of Err'd gets off to a flying start with one that came in "over the transom" as t'were. Ordinarily, expired certs are a bit mundane for this column, but in this case, where this foible fetched up is at least worth a chuckle.

Jim M. wrote directly to the editor with this explanation. "If you're looking for compliance reports to prove that your cloud provider has solid security practices, be wary of this WTF with Azure. Quoting the site, SOC 2 Type 2 attestation report addresses the requirements set forth in the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM), and the Cloud Computing Compliance Criteria Catalogue (C5:2020) created by the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Sounds impressive! The link for Azure DevOps SOC 2 Type 2 attestation report goes to this link,, which shows that the cert for this page has expired. Try it here: "

Nullable Booleans

by in CodeSOD on

Austin's team received a bug report. When their C# application tried to load certain settings, it would crash. Now, since this was a pretty severe issue in their production software, impacting a fair number of customers, everyone on the team dove in.

It didn't take Austin long to spot the underlying problem, which isn't quite the WTF.

Observing the Observer

by in CodeSOD on

In the endless quest to get asynchronous operations right, we're constantly changing approaches. From callbacks, to promises, to awaits, to observables. Observables are pretty straight forward: we observe something, like a socket or a HTTP request, and when something happens, we trigger some callbacks. In a lightly pseudocode version, it might look something like:

requestFactory.postFormRequest(url).subscribe( resp => myResponseHandler(resp), err => myErrorHandler(err), () => myRequestCompleteHandler() )

Counting Answers

by in CodeSOD on

Lacy's co-worker needed to collect groups of strings into "clusters"- literally arrays of arrays of strings. Of great importance was knowing how many groups were in each cluster.

Making this more complicated, there was an array list of clusters. Obviously, there's a code smell just in this data organization- ArrayList<ArrayList<String[]>> is not a healthy sounding type name. There's probably a better way to express that.

Uniquely Unique

by in CodeSOD on

Giles's company has a hard time with doing things in the database.

In today's example, they attempt the very challenging task of generating unique IDs in a SQL Server database. Now, what you're about to see follows the basic pattern of "generate a random number and see if it's already been used", which is a fairly common anti-pattern, but it's managed to do this in some of the worst ways I've ever seen. And it can't even hide behind the defense of being written a long time ago- it's a handful of years old.

He's Got a Ticket to Ride

by in Error'd on

We've had a rash of train troubles lately. If only I had saved them all, we could have enjoyed a first class special edition instead of squeezing them into economy. But here we are. First stop Budapest!

Magyar Máté murmurs from Switzerland "I seem to have a ticket into the void 😱" Make sure you pay for a round trip!

Capital Irregularities

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Carolyn's company has a bunch of stringly-typed enums. That's already a problem, even in Python, but the other problem is that they need to display these in a human readable format. So, "ProductCategory" needs to become "Product Category". Now, it's true that every one of these stringly typed enums follows the PascalCase convention. It's also true that the list of them is constantly growing.

So this is the method someone wrote for formatting:

Exceptionally TF

by in CodeSOD on

Steve's predecessor knows: sometimes, stuff happens that makes you go "WTF". While Steve was reviewing some inherited PHP code, he discovered that this predecessor had built some code to handle those situations.

namespace WtfInc; ##use \Exception as Exception; class WTFException extends \Exception { public function __construct($message = null, $code = null) { if (! $message) { $message = "WTF!?"; } else { $message = "WTF!? " . $message; } parent::__construct($message, $code); } }

Fetching Transactions

by in CodeSOD on

When companies reinvent their own accounting software, they usually start from the (reasonable) position of just mirroring basic accounting processes. You have transactions, for an amount, and then tagged with information about what the transaction actually represents. So, for example, if you wanted to find all the transactions which represent tax paid, you'd need to filter on some metadata and then sum up the amounts.

It quickly gets more complicated. In some organizations, that complexity keeps growing, as it turns out that each department uses slightly different codes, the rules change over time, this central accounting database gradually eats older databases which had wildly different rules. Before long, you end up with a database so krufty that it's a miracle SQL Server doesn't just up and quit.

Annotated Private Members

by in CodeSOD on

Shery sends us perfectly innocent looking Java class, marked up with some annotations. The goal of this class is to have an object which contains a list of names that is definitely not null. Let's see how we did.

@Data @Builder @NoArgsConstructor @AllArgsConstructor public class NamesHolder { @NotNull private List<String> names; }