Recent Articles

Mar 2018

Mistakes From Out of the Blue

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"I got this email out of the blue from TI. By the way, my name isn't ALFONSO," writes Jamie.

Randomly Functional

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True random number generator

Jonathan T. had recently been afforded the opportunity to go back and tweak the very first Python-based CMS he'd ever built. Years earlier, he and another junior developer had been forced to cobble this site together with no code reviews, oversight, or help of any kind. Terrible choices had been made in the name of getting their work done.

An HTTP Code

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Peter B’s company didn’t have the resource availability to develop their new PHP application entirely in-house, and thus brought in a Highly Paid Contractor™ to oversee that project. This story could end here, and you could fill in the rest, but Peter found an… interesting block of code during the autopsy on this disaster.

Now, I want you to imagine that someone has handed you an integer. You need to know if that integer constitutes a valid HTTP status code. Now, this could get difficult, as just because a number falls between 100 and 599 doesn’t mean that it’s actually a defined status code. Then again, services may define their own status codes, and clients should understand the class of a status code, even if they don’t understand the number, so getting a 147 code isn’t wrong, so we can just probably assume any n where 100 <= n < 600 is valid enough.

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.

A Passion for Details

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Passion projects are so common in our industry that there are some people who won’t hire you as a programmer if you’re not also programming in your free time. That’s TRWTF, honestly. There’s nothing wrong with being the kind of programmer who shows up for your 9–5 and then goes home and doesn’t touch a computer until the next day.

There’s also nothing wrong with passion projects. I have a bunch of them, usually carefully chosen to have absolutely no utility whatsoever, so they never start feeling like a job.

Drunken Parsing

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"Hi, $(lookup(BOOZE_SHOP_OF_LEAST_MISTRUST))$ Have you been drinking while parsing your variables?" Tom G. writes.

Flushed Down the Pipe

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No matter how much I personally like functional programming, I know that it is not a one-size fits all solution for every problem.

Vald M knows this too. Which is why they sent us an email that simply said: “We have a functional programmer on the team”, with this representative line attached.

Lightweight Date Handling

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Darlene has a co-worker who discovered a problem: they didn’t know or understand any of the C++ libraries for manipulating dates and times. Checking the documentation or googling it is way too much to ask, so instead they opted to use the tools they already understood- a database. We’ve seen that before.

There was just one other problem: this application wasn’t data-driven, and thus didn’t have a database to query.

And Now You Have Two Problems

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We all know the old saying: “Some people, when confronted with a problem, think ‘I know, I’ll use regular expressions.’ Now they have two problems.” The quote has a long and storied history, but Roger A’s co-worker decided to take it quite literally.

Specifically, they wanted to be able to build validation rules which could apply a regular expression to the input. Thus, they wrote the RegExpConstraint class:

Daylight Losing Time

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The second Sunday of March has come to pass, which means if you're a North American reader, you're getting this an hour earlier than normal. What a bonus! That's right, we all got to experience the mandatory clock-changing event known as Daylight Saving Time. While the sun, farm animals, toddlers, etc. don't care about an arbitrary changing of the clock, computers definitely do.

Early in my QA career, I had the great (dis)pleasure of fully regression testing electronic punch clocks on every possible software version every time a DST change was looming. It was every bit as miserable as it sounds but was necessary because if punches were an hour off for thousands of employees, it would wreak havoc on our clients' payroll processing.

ICANN't Even...

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Jeff W. writes, "You know, I don't think this one will pass."

Let's Set a Date

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Let’s imagine, for a moment, that you came across a method called setDate. Would you think, perhaps, that it stores a date somewhere? Of course it does. But what else does it do?

Matthias was fixing some bugs in a legacy project, and found himself asking exactly that question.

Just One More Point

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Fermat Points Proof

Tim B. had been tasked with updating an older internal application implemented in Java. Its primary purpose was to read in and display files containing a series of XY points—around 100,000 points per file on average—which would then be rendered as a line chart. It was notoriously slow, taking 1-2 minutes to process each file, but otherwise remained fairly stable.

The Unbidden Password

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English - Mortise Lock with Key - Walters 52173

So here's a thing that keeps me up at night: we get a lot of submissions about programmers who cannot seem to think like users. There's a type of programmer who has never not known how computers worked, whose theory of computers in their mind has been so accurate for so long that they can't look at things in a different way. Many times, they close themselves off from users, insisting that if the user had a problem with using the software, they just don't know how computers work and need to educate themselves. Rather than focus on what would make the software more usable, they program what is easiest for the computer to do, and call it a day.

A Very Private Memory

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May the gods spare us from “clever” programmers.

Esben found this little block of C# code:

I Don't Always Test my Code, but When I do...

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"Does this mean my package is here or is it also in development?" writes Nariim.

What a Stream

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In Java 8, they added the Streams API. Coupled with lambdas, this means that developers can write the concise and expressive code traditionally oriented with functional programming. It’s the best bits of Java blended with the best bits of Clojure! The good news, is that it allows you to write less code! The better news is that you can abuse it to write more code, if you’re so inclined.

Antonio inherited some code written by “Frenk”, who was thus inclined. Frenk wasn’t particularly happy with their job, but were one of the “rockstar programmers” in the eyes of management, so Frenk was given the impossible-to-complete tasks and given complete freedom in the solution.