Recent Feature Articles

Jul 2017

Finding the Lowest Value

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Max’s team moved into a new office, which brought with it the low-walled, “bee-hive” style cubicle partitions. Their project manager cheerfully explained that the new space “would optimize collaboration”, which in practice meant that every random conversation between any two developers turned into a work-stopping distraction for everyone else.

That, of course, wasn’t the only change their project manager instituted. The company had been around for a bit, and their original application architecture was a Java-based web application. At some point, someone added a little JavaScript to the front end. Then a bit more. This eventually segregated the team into two clear roles: back-end Java developers, and front-end JavaScript developers.

An open pit copper mine

The Little Red Button

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Bryan T. had worked for decades to amass the skills, expertise and experience to be a true architect, but never quite made the leap. Finally, he got a huge opportunity in the form of an interview with a Silicon Valley semi-conductor firm project manager who was looking for a consultant to do just that. The discussions revolved around an application that three developers couldn't get functioning correctly in six months, and Bryan was to be the man to reign it in and make it work; he was lured with the promise of having complete control of the software.

The ZF-1 pod weapon system from the Fifth Element

Upon starting and spelunking through the code-base, Bryan discovered the degree of total failure that caused them to yield complete control to him. It was your typical hodgepodge of code slapped together with anti-patterns, snippets of patterns claiming to be the real deal, and the usual Assortment-o-WTF™ we've all come to expect.


The Defensive Contract

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Working for a contractor within the defense industry can be an interesting experience. Sometimes you find yourself trying to debug an application from a stack trace which was handwritten and faxed out of a secured facility with all the relevant information redacted by overzealous security contractors who believe that you need a Secret clearance just to know that it was a System.NullReferenceException. After weeks of frustration when you are unable to solve anything from a sheet of thick black Sharpie stripes, they may bring you there for on-site debugging.

Security cameras perching on a seaside rock, like they were seagulls

Beforehand, they will lock up your cell phone, cut out the WiFi antennas from your development laptop, and background check you so thoroughly that they’ll demand explanations for the sins of your great-great-great-great grandfather’s neighbor’s cousin’s second wife’s stillborn son before letting you in the door. Once inside, they will set up temporary curtains around your environment to block off any Secret-rated workstation screens to keep you from peeking and accidentally learning what the Top Secret thread pitch is for the lug nuts of the latest black-project recon jet. Then they will set up an array of very annoying red flashing lights and constant alarm whistles to declare to all the regular staff that they need to watch their mouths because an uncleared individual is present.


Rubbed Off

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Early magnetic storage was simple in its construction. The earliest floppy disks and hard drives used an iron (III) oxide surface coating a plastic film or disk. Later media would use cobalt-based surfaces, providing a smaller data resolution than iron oxide, but wouldn’t change much.

Samuel H. never had think much about this until he met Micah.


Open Sources

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121212 2 OpenSwissKnife

Here's how open-source is supposed to work: A goup releases a product, with the source code freely available. Someone finds a problem. They solve the problem, issue a pull request, and the creators merge that into the product, making it better for everyone.


Classic WTF: The Proven Fix

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It's a holiday weekend in the US, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate the history of the US than by having something go terribly wrong in a steel foundry. AMERICA! (original)--Remy

Photo Credit: Bryan Ledgard @ flickr There are lots of ways to ruin a batch of steel.

Just like making a cake, add in too much of one ingredient, add an ingredient at the wrong time, or heat everything to the wrong temperature, and it could all end in disaster. But in the case of a steel mill, we're talking about a 150 ton cake made of red-hot molten iron that's worth millions of dollars. Obviously, the risk of messing things up is a little bit higher. So, to help keep potential financial disaster at bay, the plants remove part of the human error factor and rely upon automated systems to keep things humming along smoothly. Systems much like the ones made by the company where Robert M. was a development manager.