snoofle

The Proprietary Format

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Have you ever secured something with a lock? The intent is that at some point in the future, you'll use the requisite key to regain access to it. Of course, the underlying assumption is that you actually have the key. How do you open a lock once you've lost the key? That's when you need to get creative. Lock picks. Bolt cutters. Blow torch. GAU-8...

In 2004, Ben S. went on a solo bicycle tour, and for reasons of weight, his only computer was a Handspring Visor Deluxe PDA running Palm OS. He had an external, folding keyboard that he would use to type his notes from each day of the trip. To keep these notes organized by day, he stored them in the Datebook (calendar) app as all-day events. The PDA would sync with a desktop computer using a Handspring-branded fork of the Palm Desktop software. The whole Datebook could then be exported as a text file from there. As such, Ben figured his notes were safe. After the trip ended, he bought a Windows PC that he had until 2010, but he never quite got around to exporting the text file. After he switched to using a Mac, he copied the files to the Mac and gave away the PC.

Handspring Treo 90

To Suffer The Slings and Arrows of Vendor Products…

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Being a software architect is a difficult task. Part of the skill is rote software design based upon the technology of choice. Part of it is the very soft "science" of knowing how much to design to make the software somewhat extensible without going so far as to design/build something that is overkill. An extreme version of this would be the inner platform effect.

A bike with square wheels

Way back when I was a somewhat new developer, I was tasked with adding a fairly large feature that required the addition of a database to our otherwise database-less application. I went to our in-team architect, described the problem, and asked him to request a modest database for us. At the time, Sybase was the in-house tool. He decreed that "Sybase sucks", and that he could build a better database solution himself. He would even make it more functional than Sybase.


The Truth About Internationalization

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Booleans. One would think that simple true and false would be sufficient to represent all the possible values. However, even more than dates, they are one of the most difficult things to master in all of computer science. There are all manner of possible values and many different ways of comparing different entities.

Compounding everything is another dimension to boolean-ness: internationalization. After all, not every language uses English spellings of true and false. In high school, they made me take French, so it'd be vrai and faux. For most of us, we'd put the language-specific spelling in an application-phrases file, cache it and pick the appropriate spelling based upon the meaning of the required phrase. However, the underlying core values of truth/falsehood would still be programming-language-specific.


Bank $Security

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Banks. They take your money and lend it to others. They lend money deposited by other people to you, either as a car loan, mortgage, or for credit card purchases. For this privilege, you give them all of your personal information, including your social security number. Implicit in that exchange is the fact that the bank should keep your personal information confidential. Security is important. One might think that such a concept would be important to banks. One would be wrong.

To be fair, the high ranking people at the banks probably believe that all of their customer information should be - and is - secure and protected. Unfortunately, there are multiple layers of middle and lower management (that we all know all too well) that might not comprehend that point.


-0//

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In software development, there are three kinds of problems: small, big and subtle. The small ones are usually fairly simple to track down; a misspelled label, a math error, etc. The large ones usually take longer to find; a race condition that you just can't reproduce, an external system randomly feeding you garbage, and so forth.

Internet word cloud

The subtle problems are an entirely different beast. It can be as simple as somebody entering 4321 instead of 432l (432L), or similar with 'i', 'l', '1', '0' and 'O'. It can be an interchanged comma and period. It can be something more complex, such as an unsupported third party library that throws back errors for undefined conditions, but randomly provides so little information as to be useful to neither user nor developer.


I Take Exception

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We've all seen code that ignores errors. We've all seen code that simply rethrows an exception. We've all seen code that wraps one exception for another. The submitter, Mr. O, took exception to this exceptionally exceptional exception handling code.

I was particularly amused by the OutOfMemoryException handler that allocates another exception object, and if it fails, another layer of exception trapping catches that and attempts to allocate yet another exception object. if that fails, it doesn't even try. So that makes this an exceptionally unexceptional exception handler?! (ouch, my head hurts)


For Want of a CR…

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A few years ago I was hired as an architect to help design some massive changes to a melange of existing systems so a northern foreign bank could meet some new regulatory requirements. As a development team, they gave me one junior developer with almost a year of experience. There were very few requirements and most of it would be guesswork to fill in the blanks. OK, typical Wall Street BS.

Horseshoe nails, because 'for want of a nail, the shoe was lost…

The junior developer was, well, junior, but bright, and he remembered what you taught him, so there was a chance we could succeed.


The More Things Change: Fortran Edition

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Technology improves over time. Storage capacity increases. Spinning platters are replaced with memory chips. CPUs and memory get faster. Moore's Law. Compilers and languages get better. More language features become available. But do these changes actually improve things? Fifty years ago, meteorologists used the best mainframes of the time, and got the weather wrong more than they got it right. Today, they have a global network of satellites and supercomputers, yet they're wrong more than they're right (we just had a snowstorm in NJ that was forecast as 2-4", but got 16" before drifting).

As with most other languages, FORTRAN also added structure, better flow control and so forth. The problem with languages undergoing such a massive improvement is that occasionally, coding styles live for a very long time.


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