Psychic Software

2014-04-24

Lawrence’s first task at his new job would be an easy one. “All you gotta do is carry this across the finish line. It’s practically done already,” Chris the Costly Contractor informed him. Costly Chris was nearing the end of his contract and the company didn’t want to keep paying his jacked-up rates. That’s where Lawrence, the cheaper, full-time alternative to Chris, came in. “But, there are some recent change requests that we need to do. You’ll have the pleasure of talking to Becky about that,” Chris said with a sly grin.
Poster of Alexander Crystal Seer
The software was a simple CRM with a PHP front end. It was a straight-forward MVC application with a slew of stored procedures responsible for managing the data. Lawrence’s group worked on the UI layer.

Shepherd, guru, and leader of the UI effort was Becky, the designer. Becky’s background was in graphic design for print, and someone up the management tree had decided that design was design, and appointed her head of the user interface and experience group.

The First Rule of Enterprise Software is: don't talk about enterprise software. The Second Rule of Enterprise Software is: when you do talk about enterprise software, make references to stylish dramas from the '90s starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton to make it seem more exciting. However, the most important rule of enterprise software by far is Rule Number Three: Even the simplest little things can't be simple. Arthur was reminded of Rule Number Three on a recent trip into his employer's company-wide database.

The codebase Arthur maintained had a method for just about everything. "Hah!" You're probably thinking. "I bet it doesn't have a method that returns an array containing the letters of the English alphabet!" Well, Hah! yourself: stumbling across a call to GetAlphabetForHouseCombinedPortfolios in the bloated, inappropriately-generic UploadingTool class, Arthur was curious. Would it contain a hard-coded list of letters? A complex mathematical formula dependent on the current date that would baffle everyone by returning Hebrew when the clock switched out of daylight-savings time? No, like all proper enterprise solutions, the method invoked a stored procedure in the database. And that's why Arthur is proud to present sp_UploadingToolGetAlphabetForHouseCombinedPortfolios:

Desert Packet Storm

2014-04-22

Jonathan D. was the system administrator for a school nestled in a war-ravaged city somewhere in the middle of the desert. What with bombings here, explosions there, and the odd RPG whizzing by, dealing with a converted bathroom as an office/datacenter just didn't seem to be all that big of a deal.

The school had roughly 100 computers split between two buildings, along with the laptops everyone used. His office, ...erm... converted bathroom housed all of the servers, and the main computer room for the high school/middle school (grades 6 and up) building was located right outside the door.

We've all had that feeling before. We see something happening in front of us, yet because the sight doesn't conform to the worldview held within our brain, we just can't believe our own eyes. Dogs playing poker. Cats wearing panty hose. Politicians telling the truth. You get the idea. And depending on your personal threshold for incredulity, you might experience this feeling as a double take, a spit take or a psychotic break. If you happen to be prone to psychotic episodes, then I'm going to have to ask you to move on. Wait for tomorrow's WTF. Or maybe pet some kittens. Here's a picture to help you get started.

Incredibly cute kitten...sorry you can

Feeling calm and relaxed? Good. Now let me tell you a story about Steve. Steve is what you call a 'skeptic' (which is scarily close to septic, but I digress). He questions absolutely everything he encounters. He walks with overly firm footfalls to make sure that the ground won't open up under him. He carries two watches to act as verification for the clock on his smartphone. He even checks his own pulse to make sure he's alive.

"Adding an account on Mint.com, it asks for the last 4 digits of my SSN and for the first 3 digits," John A. wrote, "Seriously? There are only 100 combinations left to guess the full SSN!"

When you read a lot of bad code, you start to get a sense of why the code exists. Often, it’s ignorance- of the language, of the functional requirements, of basic logic. Sometimes, it’s management interference, and the slavish adherence to policy over practicality. Other times, it’s just lazy or sloppy work.

And sometimes, the mysterious logic that gave birth to a WTF is just that- a mystery.

Secure Development

2014-04-16

Steven's multi-billion dollar tech firm spared no expense in providing him two computers. One was stuffed in a broom closet down the hall; he used it for email, Internet access, and other administrative items. At his cubicle sat the computer on which he did all his programming, connected to the company's separated development environment (SDE).

The SDE was a company-wide network that existed in parallel to the normal network. No Internet connectivity, and login was only possible with an RSA SecurID dongle. The stated purpose was to provide a secure environment for software development. The other devs on Steven's team had their own SDE boxes for the same purpose.

Bank of the West Los Altos branch vault

I Had My Reasons

2014-04-15

Trevor spent a huge amount of time writing a 2,000,000+ PHP/JavaScript/HTML system for an e-commerce company. Like a few other I'm-Special geniuses in our field, he believed that he could do it better than everyone else. For this reason, he came up with his own way of doing things. Database queries. Date-time logic. You name it.

Back around the turn of the century, governments were a different place to work at. The public trough, while not as fat as it had been, was still capable of providing funding for boondoggles handed out to friends and family. This was before deficit hawks made a sport of picking off small cost overruns that scurried around the fields of government largesse. Before billions was spent on wars of questionable necessity. Before mayors broke down the stereotype that all crack addicts were skinny.

In this heyday, Ray worked for a government department that contracted, managed and passed-through telecommunications services from external providers to other government departments. The department's central billing and administration system was built and run on the Ingres ABF framework and it's origin dated back to the early 90's. What's more, as soon as the application could be put into minimal funding status, it was. Even in the heady Internet bubble days, no money was spent beyond what was needed to keep the application running.

"I was hoping to take a trip to Hong Kong, but NON-STATIC METHOD seems to be a good value," writes Ryan.

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