Recent Feature Articles

Aug 2020

Thoroughly Tested

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Zak S worked for a retailer which, as so often happens, got swallowed up by Initech's retail division. Zak's employer had a big, ugly ERP systems. Initech had a bigger, uglier ERP and once the acquisition happened, they all needed to play nicely together.

These kinds of marriages are always problematic, but this particular one was made more challenging: Zak's company ran their entire ERP system from a cluster of Solaris servers- running on SPARC CPUs. Since upgrading that ERP system to run in any other environment was too expensive to seriously consider, the existing services were kept on life-support (with hardware replacements scrounged from the Vintage Computing section of eBay), while Zak's team was tasked with rebuilding everything- point-of-sale, reporting, finance, inventory and supply chain- atop Initech's ERP system.

Teleconference Horror

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In the spring of 2020, with very little warning, every school in the United States shut down due to the ongoing global pandemic. Classrooms had to move to virtual meeting software like Zoom, which was never intended to be used as the primary means of educating grade schoolers. The teachers did wonderfully with such little notice, and most kids finished out the year with at least a little more knowledge than they started. This story takes place years before then, when online schooling was seen as an optional add-on and not a necessary backup plan in case of plague.

I'm Blue

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Designers are used to getting vague direction from clients. "It should have more pop!" or "Can you make the blue more blue?" But Kevin was a contractor who worked on embedded software, so he didn't really expect to have to deal with that, even if he did have to deal with colors a fair bit.

Kevin was taking over a contract from another developer to build software for a colorimeter, a device to measure color. When companies, like paint companies, care about color, they tend to really care about color, and need to be able to accurately observe a real-world color. Once you start diving deep into color theory, you start having to think about things like observers, and illuminants and tristimulus models and "perceptual color spaces".

A Massive Leak

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"Memory leaks are impossible in a garbage collected language!" is one of my favorite lies. It feels true, but it isn't. Sure, it's much harder to make them, and they're usually much easier to track down, but you can still create a memory leak. Most times, it's when you create objects, dump them into a data structure, and never empty that data structure. Usually, it's just a matter of finding out what object references are still being held. Usually.

A few months ago, I discovered a new variation on that theme. I was working on a C# application that was leaking memory faster than bad waterway engineering in the Imperial Valley.

A large, glowing, computer-controlled chandelier