It's the holiday season, and we use this opportunity to take a week and reflect on the best stories of the year. Here, we reach back to January for a tale of variable names and convention. --Remy

We've all been inflicted with completely overdesigned overly generalized systems created by architects managers who didn't know how to scope things, or when to stop.

We've all encountered premature optimization, and the subtle horrors that can spawn therefrom.

For that matter, we've all inherited code that was written by individuals cow-orkers who didn't understand that this is not good variable naming policy.

Jay's boss was a self-taught programmer from way back in the day and learned early on to write code that would conserve both memory and CPU compilation cycles for underpowered computers.

He was assigned to work on such a program written by his boss. It quickly became apparent that when it came to variable names, let's just say that his boss was one of those people who believed that usefully descriptive variable names took so much longer to compile that he preemptively chose not to use them, or comments, in order to expedite compiling. Further, he made everything global to save the cost of pushing/popping variables to/from the stack. He even had a convention for naming his variables. Integers were named I1, I2, I3..., strings were named S1, S2, S3..., booleans were named F1, F2, F3...

Thus, his programs were filled with intuitively self-explanatory statements like I23 = J4 + K17. Jay studied the program files for some time and had absolutely no clue as to what it was supposed to do, let alone how.

He decided that the only sane thing that could be done was to figure out what each of those variables represented and rename it to something appropriate. For example, he figured out that S4 was customer name, and then went through the program and replaced every instance of S4 with customer_name. Rinse and repeat for every variable declaration. He spent countless hours at this and thought that he was finally making sense of the program, when he came to a line that, after variable renaming, now said: account_balance = account_balance - zip_code.

Clearly, that seemed wrong. Okay, he must have made a mistake somewhere, so he went back and checked what made him think that those variables were account balance and zip code. Unfortunately, that's exactly what they represented... at the top of the program.

To his chagrin, Jay soon realized that his boss, to save memory, had re-used variables for totally different purposes at different places in the program. The variable that contained zip code at the top contained item cost further down, and account balance elsewhere. The meaning of each variable changed not only by code location and context, but also temporally throughout the execution of the program.

It was at this point that Jay began his nervous breakdown.

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