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Monday, September 23rd, 2019
LJ.Rossia.org makes no claim to the content supplied through this journal account. Articles are retrieved via a public feed supplied by the site for this purpose.
6:30 am
Accounting for Changes

Sara works as a product manager for a piece of accounting software for a large, international company. As a product manager, Sara interacts with their internal customers- the accounting team- and Bradley is the one she always bumps heads with.

Bradley's idea of a change request is to send a screenshot, with no context, and a short message, like "please fix", "please advise", or "this is wrong". It would take weeks of emails and, if they were lucky, a single phone call, for Sara's team to figure out what needs to be fixed, because Bradley is "too busy" to provide any more information.

One day, Bradley sent a screenshot of their value added taxation subsystem, saying, "This is wrong. Please fix." The email was much longer, of course, but the rest of the email was Bradley's signature block, which included a long list of titles, certifications, a few "inspirational" quotes, and his full name.

Sara replied. "Hi Brad," her email began- she had once called him "Bradley" which triggered his longest email to date, a screed about proper forms of address. "Thanks for notifying us about a possible issue. Can you help me figure out what's wrong? In your screen shot, I see SKU numbers, tax information, and shipping details."

Bradley's reply was brief. "Yes."

Sara sighed and picked up her phone. She called Bradley's firm, which landed her with an assistant, who tracked down another person, who asked another who got Bradley to confirm that the issue is that, in some cases, the Value Added Tax isn't using the right rate, as in some situations multiple rates have to be applied at the same time.

It was a big update to their VAT rules. Sara managed to talk to some SMEs at her company to refine the requirements, contacted development, and got the modifications built in the next sprint.

"Hi, Bradley," Sara started her next email. "Thank you for bringing the VAT issue to our attention. Based on your description, we have implemented an update. We've pushed it to the User Acceptance Testing environment. After you sign off that the changes are correct, we will deploy it into production. Let me know if there are any issues with the update." The email included links to the UAT process document, the UAT test plan template, and all the other details that they always provided to guide the UAT process.

A week later, Bradley sent an email. "It works." That was weird, as Bradley almost never signed off until he had pushed in a few unrelated changes. Still, she had the sign off. She attached the email to the ticket and once the changes were pushed to production, she closed the ticket.

A few days later, the entire accounting team goes into a meltdown and starts filing support request after support request. One user submitted ten by himself- and that user was the CFO. This turns into a tense meeting between the CFO, Bradley, Sara, and Sara's boss.

"How did this change get released to production?"

Sara pulled up the ticket. She showed the screenshots, referenced the specs, showed the development and QA test plans, and finally, the email from Bradley, declaring the software ready to go.

The CFO turned to Bradley.

"Oh," Bradley said, "we weren't able to actually test it. We didn't have access to our test environment at all last week."

"What?" Sara asked. "Why did you sign off on the change if you weren't able to test it!?"

"Well, we needed it to go live on Monday."

After that, a new round of requirements gathering happened, and Sara's team was able to implement them. Bradley wasn't involved, and while he still works at the same company, he's been shifting around from position to position, trying to find the best fit…

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Friday, September 20th, 2019
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6:30 am
Error'd: Full Stack Languages...and BEYOND!

"When travelling to outer space, don't forget your...Javascript code?" writes Rob S.

 

Pascal wrote, "If you ask me, I think Dr. Phil needs to hire a captioner that doens't have a stutter."

 

Tore F. writes, "If the Lenovo System Update tool was coded to expect an unexpected exception, does that mean that it was, in fact, actually expected?"

 

"Note to self: Never set the A/C to its lowest limit, or at least have a toilet and TP handy," writes Peter G.

 

"No matter how hard you try, Yodal, 82 - (-7) does not equal 22," Chris E. wrote.

 

Jiri G. writes, "100% service availability? Nah, you don't need that. Close enough is good enough."

 

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Thursday, September 19th, 2019
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6:30 am
Redesign By Committee

Sample web form

Carl was excited to join his first "real" company and immerse himself in the World of Business. The fresh-faced IT Analyst was immediately assigned to a "cross-strata implementation team" tasked with redesigning the RMA form completed by customers when they returned goods. The current form had been flagged for various weaknesses and omissions.

The project's kickoff meeting ran for three hours, with twelve team members in attendance representing departments throughout the company. By the end of the meeting, the problem had been defined, and everyone had homework: to report to the next team meeting with their own interpretations of what the new form should look like.

Each team member dutifully came back with at least one version of the form each. The next meeting consisted of Norman, the QA Manager, critiquing each prospective form as it was presented to the group. Without fail, he'd shake his head with a furrowed brow, muttering "No, no ..."

This proceeded, form after form, until Terry, an Accounts Junior, presented his version. When Norman expressed displeasure, Terry dared to ask, "Well? What's wrong with it?"

Norman gestured to the list of required criteria in his hands. "You've missed this piece of information, and that's probably the most important item we need to capture."

Terry frowned. "But, Norman, your form doesn't have that information on it, either."

Upon looking down at his own form, Norman realized Terry was correct. He rallied to save his dignity. "Ah, yes, but, you see, I know that it's missing."

Stupefied, Terry backed down.

Carl cycled through bafflement, boredom, and agony of the soul as the meeting dragged on. At one point, Finance Manager Kevin picked up yet another version of the form and asked, "What about this one, then?"

Jason the Ops Manager skimmed through it, ticking off items against the list of criteria. "Yup, yup, yup, yup ... yes, this is it! I think we've cracked it!" he exclaimed.

Norman peered at the form in Jason's hands. "That's the form we're currently using." The very form they needed to replace.

Hours upon hours of combined effort had thus far resulted in no progress whatsoever. Carl glanced at the conference room's wall clock with its stubbornly slow hands, wondering if a camera hidden behind it were recording his reaction for a YouTube prank channel. But, no. He was simply immersed in the World of Business.

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Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
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6:30 am
CodeSOD: You Can Take Care

Tiberrias sends us some code that, on its face, without any context, doesn’t look bad.

var conditionId = _monitorConditionManagement.GetActiveConditionCountByClient(clientIdentityNumber);

_monitorConditionManagement.StopCondition(conditionId);

The purpose of this code is to lookup a condition ID for a client, and then clear that condition from a client by StopConditioning that ID. Which, if you read the code closely, the problem becomes obvious: GetActiveConditionCountByClient. Count. This doesn’t return a condition ID, it returns the count of the number of active conditions. So, this is a stupid, simple mistake, an easy error to make, and an easy error to catch- this code simply doesn’t work, so what’s the WTF?

This code was written by a developer who either made a simple mistake or just didn’t care. But then it went through code review- and the code reviewer either missed it, or just didn’t care. It’s okay, though, because there are unit tests. There’s a rich, robust unit test suite. But in this case, the GetActiveConditionCountByClient and the StopCondition methods are just mocks, and the person who wrote the unit test didn’t check to see that the mocks were called as expected, because they just didn’t care.

Still, there’s an entire QA team between this code and production, and since this code definitely can’t work, they’re going to catch the bug, right? They might- if they cared. But this code passed QA, and got released into production.

The users might notice, but the StopCondition method is so nice that, if given an invalid ID, it just logs the error and trucks on. The users think their action worked. But hey, there’s a log file, right? There’s an operations team which monitors the logs and should notice a lot of errors suddenly appearing. They just would have to care, which guess what…

This bug only got discovered and fixed because Tiberrias noticed it while scrolling through the class to fix an entirely unrelated bug.

“You really shouldn’t fix two unrelated bugs in the same commit,” the code reviewer said when Tiberrias submitted it.

There was only one way to reply. “I don’t care.”

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Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
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6:30 am
A Learning Experience

Jakob M. had the great pleasure of working as a System Administrator in a German school district. At times it was rewarding work. Most of the time it involved replacing keyboard keys mischievous children stole and scraping gum off of monitor screens. It wasn't always the students that gave him trouble though.

Frau Fritzenberger was a cranky old math teacher at a Hauptschule near Frankfurt. Jakob regularly had to answer support calls she made for completely frivolous things. Having been teaching since before computers were a thing, she put up a fight for every new technology or program Jakob's department wanted to implement.

Over the previous summer, a web-based grading system called NotenWertung was rolled out across the district's network. It would allow teachers to grade homework and post the scores online. They could work from anywhere, with any computer. There was even a limited mobile application. Students and parents could then get a notification and see them instantly. Frau Fritzenberger was predictably not impressed.

She threw a fit on the first day of school and Jakob was dispatched to defuse it. "Why do we need computers for grading?!" she screeched at Jakob. "Paper works just fine like it has for decades! How else can I use blood red pen to shame them for everything they get wrong!"

"I understand your concern, Frau Fritzenberger," Jakob replied while making a 'calm down' gesture with his arms. "But we can't have you submitting grades on paper when the entire rest of the district is using NotenWertung." He had her sit down at the computer and gave her a For Dummies-type walkthrough. "There, it's easier than you think. You can even do this at night from the comfort of your own home," he assured her before getting up to leave.

Just as he was exiting the classroom, he heard her shout, "If you were my student, I would smack you with my ruler!" Jakob brushed it off and left to answer a call about paper clips jammed in a PC fan.

The next morning, Jakob got a rare direct call on his desk phone. It was Frau and she was in a rage. All he could make out between strings of aged German cuss words was "computer is broken!" He hung up and prepared to head to Frau's Hauptschule.

Jakob expected to find that Frau didn't have a network connection, misplaced the shortcut to her browser, didn't realize the monitor was off, or something stupid like that. What he found was Frau's computer was literally broken. The LCD screen of her monitor was an elaborate spider web, her keyboard was cracked in half, and the PC tower looked like it had been run over on the Autobahn. Bits of the motherboard dangled outside the case, and the HDD swung from its cable. "Frau Fritzenberger... what in the name of God happened here?!"

"I told you the computer was broken!" Frau shouted while meanly pointing her crooked index finger at Jakob. "You told me I have to do grades on the computer. So I packed it up to take home on my scooter. It was too heavy for me to ride with it on back so I wiped out and it smashed all over the road! This is all your fault!"

Jakob stared on in disbelief at the mangled hunks of metal and plastic. Apparently you can teach an old teacher new tricks but you can't teach her that the same web application can be accessed from any computer.

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Monday, September 16th, 2019
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6:30 am
CodeSOD: Should I Do this? Depends.

One of the key differences between a true WTF and an ugly hack is a degree of self-awareness. It's not a WTF if you know it's a WTF. If you've been doing this job for a non-zero amount of time, you have had a moment where you have a solution, and you know it's wrong, you know you shouldn't do this, but by the gods, it works and you've got more important stuff to worry about right now, so you just do it.

An anonymous submitter committed a sin, and has reached out to us for absolution.

This is a case of "DevOps" hackery. They have one server with no Internet- one remote server with no Internet. Deploying software to a server you can't access physically or through the Internet is a challenge. They have a solution involving hopping through some other servers and bridging the network that lets them get the .deb package files within reach of the destination server.

But that introduces a new problem: these packages have complex dependency chains and unless they're installed in the right order, it won't work. The correct solution would be to install a local package repository on the destination server, and let apt worry about resolving those dependencies.

And in the long run, that's what our anonymous submitter promises to do. But they found themselves in a situation where they had more important things to worry about, and just needed to do it.

#!/bin/bash count=0 for f in ./*.deb do echo "Attempt $count" for file in ./*.deb do echo "Installing $file" sudo dpkg -i $file done (( count++ )) done

This is a solution to dependency management which operates on O(N^2): we install each package once for the total number of packages in the folder. It's the brutest of force solutions, and no matter what our dependency chain looks like, by sheer process of elimination, this will eventually get every package installed. Eventually.

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Friday, September 13th, 2019
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6:30 am
Error'd: Many Languages, One WTF

"It's as if IntelliJ IDEA just gave up trying to parse my code," writes John F.

Henry D. writes, "If you have a phone in English but have it configured to recognize two different languages, simple requests sometimes morph into the weirdest things."

 

 

Carl C. wrote, "Maybe Best Buy's page is referring to a store near Nulltown, Indiana, but really, I think their site is on drugs."

 

"Yeah, Thanks Cisco, but I'm not sure I really want to learn more," writes Matt P.

 

"Ebay is alerting me to something. No idea what it is, but I can tell you what they named their variables," Lincoln K. wrote.

 

"Not quite sure what secrets the Inner Circle holds, I guess knowing Latin?" writes Matt S.

 

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Thursday, September 12th, 2019
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7:00 am
CodeSOD: Time to Wait

When dealing with customers- and here, we mean, “off the street” customers- they often want to know “how long am I going to have to wait?” Whether we’re talking about a restaurant, a mechanic, a doctor’s office, or a computer/phone repair shop, knowing (and sharing with our customers) reasonable expectations about how much time they’re about to spend waiting.

Russell F works on an application which facilitates this sort of customer-facing management. It does much more, too, obviously, but one of its lesser features is to estimate how long a customer is about to spend waiting.

This is how that’s calculated:

TimeSpan tsDifference = dtWorkTime - DateTime.Now;
string strEstWaitHM = ((tsDifference.Hours * 60) + tsDifference.Minutes).ToString();
if (Convert.ToInt32(strEstWaitHM) >= 60)
{
	decimal decWrkH = Math.Floor(Convert.ToDecimal(strEstWaitHM) / 60);
	int intH = Convert.ToInt32(decWrkH);
	txtEstWaitHours.Value = Convert.ToString(intH);
	int intM = Convert.ToInt32(strEstWaitHM) - (60 * intH);
	txtEstWaitMinutes.Value = Convert.ToString(intM);
}
else
{
	txtEstWaitHours.Value = "";
	txtEstWaitMinutes.Value = strEstWaitHM;
}

Hungarian Notation is always a great sign of bad code. It really is, and I think that’s because it’s easy to do, easy to enforce as a standard, and provides the most benefit when you have messy variable scoping and keeping track of what type a given variable is might actually be a challenge.

Or, as we see in this case, it’s useful when you’re passing the same data through a method with different types. We calculate the difference between the WorkTime and Now. That’s the last thing in this code which makes sense.

The key goal here is that, if we’re going to be waiting for more than an hour, we want to display both the hours and minutes, but if it’s just minutes, we want to display just that.

We have that TimeSpan object, which as you can see, has a convenient Hours and Minutes property. Instead of using that, though, we convert the hours to minutes, add it together, if the number is more than 60, we know we’ll be waiting for over an hour, so we want to populate the hours box, and the minutes box, so we have to convert back to hours and minutes.

In that context, the fact that we have to convert from strings to numbers and back almost seems logical. Almost. I especially like that they Convert.ToDecimal (to avoid rounding errors) and Math.floor the result (to round off). If only there were some numeric type that never rounded off, and always had an integer value. If only…

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Wednesday, September 11th, 2019
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6:30 am
CodeSOD: ImAlNumb?

I think it’s fair to say that C, as a language, has never had a particularly great story for working with text. Individual characters are okay, but strings are a nightmare. The need to support unicode has only made that story a little more fraught, especially as older code now suddenly needs to support extended characters. And by “older” I mean, “wchar was added in 1995, which is practically yesterday in C time”.

Lexie inherited some older code. It was not designed to support unicode, which is certainly a problem in 2019, and it’s the problem Lexie was tasked with fixing. But it had an… interesting approach to deciding if a character was alphanumeric.

Now, if we limit ourselves to ASCII, there are a variety of ways we could do this check. We could convert it to a number and do a simple check- characters 48–57 are numeric, 65–90 and 97–122 cover the alphabetic characters. But that’s a conditional expression- six comparison operations! So maybe we should be more clever. There is a built-in library function, isalnum, which might be more optimized, and is available on Lexie’s platform. But we’re dedicated to really doing some serious premature optimization, so there has to be a better way.

bool isalnumCache[256] =
{false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true, false, false, false, false, false,
false,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true,  true, true, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false,
false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false};

This is a lookup table. Convert your character to an integer, and then use it to index the array. This is fast. It’s also error prone, and this block does incorrectly identify a non-alphanumeric as an alphanumeric. It also 100% fails if you are dealing with wchar_t, which is how Lexie ended up looking at this block in the first place.

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Tuesday, September 10th, 2019
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6:30 am
Death by Consumption

Tryton Party Module Address Database Diagram

The task was simple: change an AMQ consumer to insert data into a new Oracle database instead of an old MS-SQL database. It sounded like the perfect task for the new intern, Rodger; Rodger was fresh out of a boot camp and ready for the real world, if he could only get a little experience under his belt. The kid was bright as they came, but boot camp only does so much, after all.

But there are always complications. The existing service was installed on the old app servers that weren't setup to work with the new corporate app deployment tool. The fix? To uninstall the service on the old app servers and install it on the new ones. Okay, simple enough, if not well suited to the intern.

Rodger got permissions to set up the service on his local machine so he could test his install scripts, and a senior engineer got an uninstall script working as well, so they could seamlessly switch over to the new machines. They flipped the service; deployment day came, and everything went smoothly. The business kicked off their process, the consumer service picked up their message and inserted data correctly to the new database.

The next week, the business kicked off their process again. After the weekend, the owners of the old database realized that the data was inserted into the old database and not the new database. They promptly asked how this had happened. Rodger and his senior engineer friend checked the queue; it correctly had two consumers set up, pointing at the new database. Just to be sure, they also checked the old servers to make sure the service was correctly uninstalled and removed by tech services. All clear.

Hours later, the senior engineer refreshed the queue monitor and saw the queue now had three consumers despite the new setup having only two servers. But how? They checked all three servers—two new and one old—and found no sign of a rogue process.

By that point, Rodger was online for his shift, so the senior engineer headed over to talk to him. "Say, Rodger, any chance one of your installs duplicated itself or inserted itself twice into the consumer list?"

"No way!" Rodger replied. "Here, look, you can see my script, I'll run it again locally to show you."

Running it locally ... with dawning horror, the senior engineer realized what had happened. Roger had the install script, but not the uninstall—meaning he had a copy still running on his local developer laptop, connected to the production queue, but with the old config for some reason. Every time he turned on his computer, hey presto, the service started up.

The moral of the story: always give the intern the destructive task, not the constructive one. That can't go wrong, right?

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Monday, September 9th, 2019
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6:30 am
CodeSOD: Making a Nest

Tiffany started the code review with an apology. "I only did this to stay in style with the existing code, because it's either that or we rewrite the whole thing from scratch."

Jim J, who was running the code review nodded. Before Tiffany, this application had been designed from the ground up by Armando. Armando had gone to a tech conference, and learned about F#, and how all those exciting functional features were available in C#, and returned jabbering about "immutable data" and "functors" and "metaprogramming" and decided that he was now a functional programmer, who just happened to work in C#.

Some struggling object-oriented developers use dictionaries for everything. As a struggling functional programmer, Armando used tuples for everything. And these tuples would get deeply nested. Sometimes, you needed to flatten them back out.

Tiffany had contributed this method to do that:

public static Result<Tuple<T1, T2, T3, T4, T5>> FlatternTupleResult<T1, T2, T3, T4, T5>( Result<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<T1, T2>, T3>, T4>, T5>> tuple ) { return tuple.Map(x => new Tuple<T1, T2, T3, T4, T5>(x.Item1.Item1.Item1.Item1, x.Item1.Item1.Item1.Item2, x.Item1.Item1.Item2, x.Item1.Item2, x.Item2)); }

It's safe to say that deeply nested generics are a super clear code smell, and this line: Result<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<T1, T2>, T3>, T4>, T5>> tuple downright reeks. Tuples in tuples in tuples.

Tiffany cringed at the code she had written, but this method lived in the TaskResultHelper class, and lived alongside methods with these signatures:

public static Result<Tuple<T1, T2, T3, T4>> FlatternTupleResult<T1, T2, T3, T4>(Result<Tuple<Tuple<Tuple<T1, T2>, T3>, T4>> tuple) public static Result<Tuple<T1, T2, T3>> FlatternTupleResult<T1, T2, T3>(Result<Tuple<Tuple<T1, T2>, T3>> tuple)

"This does fit in with the way the application currently works," Jim admitted. "I'm sorry."

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Friday, September 6th, 2019
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6:30 am
Error'd: Does Your Child Say "WTF" at Home?

Abby wrote, "I'm tempted to tell the school that my child mostly speaks Sanskrit."

 

"First of all, I have 58,199 rewards points, so I'm a little bit past joining, second, I'm pretty sure Bing Rewards was rebranded as Microsoft Rewards a while ago, and third...SERPBubbleXL...wat?" writes Zander.

 

"I guess, for T-Mobile, time really is money," Greg writes.

 

Hans K. wrote, "I guess it's sort of fitting, but in a quiz about Generics in Java, I was left a little bit confused.

 

"Wait, so if I do, um, nothing, am I allowed to make further changes or any new appointment?" Jeff K. writes.

 

Soumya wrote, "Yeah...I'm not a big fan of Starbucks' reward program..."

 

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Thursday, September 5th, 2019
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6:30 am
CodeSOD: Give Your Date a Workout

Bob E inherited a site which helps amateur sports clubs plan their recurring workouts/practices during the season. To do this, given the start date of the season, and the number of weeks, it needs to figure out all of the days in that range.

function GenWorkoutDates()
{

   global $SeasonStartDate, $WorkoutDate, $WeeksInSeason;

   $TempDate = explode("/", $SeasonStartDate);

   for ($i = 1; $i <= $WeeksInSeason; $i++)
   {
     for ($j = 1; $j <= 7; $j++)
     {

	   $MonthName = substr("JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec", $TempDate[0] * 3 - 3, 3);

       $WorkoutDate[$i][$j] = $MonthName . " " . $TempDate[1] . "  ";
       $TempDate[1] += 1;


       switch ( $TempDate[0] )
	   {
     case 9:
	   case 4:
	   case 6:
	   case 11:
	     $DaysInMonth = 30;
	     break;

	   case 2:
     	 $DaysInMonth = 28;

	     switch ( $TempDate[2] )
	     {
	     case 2012:
	     case 2016:
	     case 2020:
	     	$DaysInMonth = 29;
	        break;

	     default:
	       $DaysInMonth = 28;
	       break;
	     }

	     break;

	   default:
	     $DaysInMonth = 31;
	     break;
	   }

	   if ($TempDate[1] > $DaysInMonth)
	   {
	     $TempDate[1] = 1;
	     $TempDate[0] += 1;
	     if ($TempDate[0] > 12)
	     {
	       $TempDate[0] = 1;
	       $TempDate[2] += 1;
	     }
	   }
     }
   }
}

I do enjoy that PHP’s string-splitting function is called explode. That’s not a WTF. More functions should be called explode.

This method of figuring out the month name, though:

$MonthName = substr("JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec", $TempDate[0] * 3 - 3, 3);

I want to hate it, but I’m impressed with it.

From there, we have lovely hard-coded leap years, the “Thirty days has September…” poem implemented as a switch statement, and then that lovely rollover calculation for the end of a month (and the end of the year).

“I’m not a PHP developer,” Bob writes. “But I know how to use Google.” After some googling, he replaced this block of code with a 6-line version that uses built-in date handling functions.

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Wednesday, September 4th, 2019
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6:30 am
CodeSOD: UnINTentional Errors

Data type conversions are one of those areas where we have rich, well-supported, well-documented features built into most languages. Thus, we also have endless attempts for people to re-implement them. Or worse, wrap a built-in method in a way which makes everything less clear.

Mindy encountered this.

/* For converting (KEY_MSG_INPUT) to int format. */
public static int numberToIntFormat(String value) {
  int returnValue = -1;    	
  if (!StringUtil.isNullOrEmpty(value)) {
    try {
      int temp = Integer.parseInt(value);
      if (temp > 0) {
        returnValue = temp;
      }
    } catch (NumberFormatException e) {}
  }    	
  return returnValue;
}

The isNullOrEmpty check is arguably pointless, here. Any invalid input string, including null or empty ones, would cause parseInt to throw a NumberFormatException, which we’re already catching. Of course, we’re catching and ignoring it.

That’s assuming that StringUtil.isNullOrEmpty does what we think it does, since while there are third party Java libraries that offer that functionality, it’s not a built-in class (and do we really think the culprit here was using libraries?). Who knows what it actually does.

And, another useful highlight: note how we check if (temp > 0)? Well, this is a problem. Not only does the downstream code handle negative numbers, –1 is a perfectly reasonable value, which means when this method takes -10 and returns -1, what it’s actually done is passed incorrect but valid data back up the chain. And since any errors were swallowed, no one knows if this was intentional or not.

This method wasn’t called in any context relating to KEY_MSG_INPUT, but it was called everywhere, as it’s one of those utility methods that finds new uses any time someone wants to convert a string into a number. Due to its use in pretty much every module, fixing this is considered a "high risk" change, and has been scheduled for sometime in the 2020s.

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Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019
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6:30 am
CodeSOD: Boxing with the InTern

A few years ago, Naomi did an internship with Initech. Before her first day, she was very clear on what her responsibilities would be: she'd be on a team modernizing an older product called "Gem" (no relation to Ruby libraries).

By the time her first day rolled around, however, Initech had new priorities. There were a collection of fires on some hyperspecific internal enterprise tool, and everyone was running around and screaming about the apocalypse while dealing with that. Except Naomi, because nobody had any time to bring the intern up to speed on this disaster. Instead, she was given a new priority: just maintain Gem. And no, she wouldn't have a mentor. For the next six months, Naomi was the Gem support team.

"Start by looking at the code quality metrics," was the advice she was given.

It was bad advice. First, while Initech had installed an automated code review tool in their source control system, they weren't using the tool. It had started crashing instead of outputting a report six years ago. Nobody had noticed, or perhaps nobody had cared. Or maybe they just didn't like getting bad news, because once Naomi had the tool running again, the report was full of bad news.

A huge mass of the code was reimplemented copies of the standard library, "tuned for performance", which meant instead of a sensible implementation it was a pile of 4,000 line functions wrapping around massive switch statements. The linter didn't catch that they were parsing XML using regular expressions, but Naomi spotted that and wisely decided not to touch that bit.

What she did find, and fix, was this pattern:

private Boolean isSided; // dozens more properties public GemGeometryEntryPoint(GemGeometryEntryPoint gemGeometryEntryPoint) { this.isSided = gemGeometryEntryPoint.isSided == null ? null : new Boolean(gemGeometryEntryPoint.isSided); // and so on, for those dozens of properties }

Java has two boolean types. The Boolean reference type, and boolean primitive type. The boolean is not a full-fledged object, and thus is smaller in memory and faster to allocate. The Boolean is a full class implementation, with all the overhead contained within. A Java developer will generally need to use both, as if you want a list of boolean values, you need to "box" any primitives into Boolean objects.

I say generally need both, because Naomi's predecessors decided that worrying about boxing was complicated, so they only used the reference types. There wasn't a boolean or an int to be found, just Booleans and Integers. Maybe they just thought "primitive" meant "legacy"?

You can't convert a null into a boxed type, so new Boolean(null) would throw an exception. Thus, the ternary check in the code above. At no point did anyone think that "hey, we're doing a null check on pretty much every variable access" mean that there was something wrong in the code.

The bright side to this whole thing was that the unit tests were exemplary. A few hours with sed meant that Naomi was able to switch most everything to primitive types, confirm that she hadn't introduced any regressions in the process, and even demonstrated that using primitives greatly improved performance, as it cut down on heap memory allocations. The downside was replacing all those ternaries with lines like this.isSided = other.gemGeometryEntryPoint.isSided didn't look nearly as impressive.

Of course, changing that many lines of code in a single commit triggered some alarms, which precipitated a mini-crisis as no one knew what to do when the intern submitted a 15,000 line commit.

Naomi adds: "Mabye null was supposed to represent FILE_NOT_FOUND?"

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Monday, September 2nd, 2019
LJ.Rossia.org makes no claim to the content supplied through this journal account. Articles are retrieved via a public feed supplied by the site for this purpose.
6:30 am
Classic WTF: Hyperlink 2.0
It's Labor Day in the US, where we celebrate the workers of the world by having a barbecue. Speaking of work, in these days of web frameworks and miles of unnecessary JavaScript to do basic things on the web, let's look back at a simpler time, where we still used server-side code and miles of unnecessary JavaScript to do basic things on the web. Original. --Remy

For those of you who haven't upgraded to Web 2.0 yet, today's submission from Daniel is a perfect example of what you're missing out on. Since the beginning of the Web (the "1.0 days"), website owners have always wanted to know who was visiting their website, how often, and when. Back then, this was accomplished by recording each website "hit" in a log file and running a report on the log later.

But the problem with this method in Web 2.0 is that people don't use logs anymore; they use blogs, and everyone knows that blogs are a pretty stupid way of tracking web traffic. Fortunately, Daniel's colleagues developed an elegant, clever, and -- most importantly -- "AJAX" way of solving this problem. Instead of being coded in HTML pages, all hyperlinks are assigned a numeric identifier and kept in a database table. This identifier is then used on the HTML pages within an anchor tag:

<a href="Javascript: followLink(124);">View Products</a>

When the user clicks on the hyperlink, the followLink() Javascript function is executed and the following occur:

  • a translucent layer (DIV) is placed over the entire page, causing it to appear "grayed out", and ...
  • a "please wait" layer is placed on top of that, with an animated pendulum swinging back and forth, then ...
  • the XmlHttpRequest object is used to call the "GetHyperlink" web service which, in turn ...
  • opens a connection to the database server to ...
  • log the request in the RequestedHyperlinks table and ...
  • retrieves the URL from the Hyperlinks table, then ...
  • returns it to the client script, which then ...
  • sets the window.location property to the URL retrieved, which causes ...
  • the user to be redirected to the appropriate page

Now that's two-point-ohey.

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Friday, August 30th, 2019
LJ.Rossia.org makes no claim to the content supplied through this journal account. Articles are retrieved via a public feed supplied by the site for this purpose.
6:30 am
Error'd: Resistant to Change

Tom H. writes, "They got rid of their old, outdated fax machine, but updating their website? Yeah, that might take a while."

 

"In casinos, they say the house always wins. In this case, when I wanted to cash in my winnings, I gambled and lost against Windows 7 Professional," Michelle M. wrote.

 

Martin writes, "Wow! It's great to see Apple is going the extra mile by protecting my own privacy from myself!"

 

"Yes, Amazon Photos, with my mouse clicks, I will fix you," wrote Amos B.

 

"When searches go wrong at AliExpress they want you to know these three things," Erwan R. wrote.

 

Chris A. writes, "It's like Authy is saying 'I have no idea what you just did, but, on the bright side, there weren`t any errors!'"

 

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Thursday, August 29th, 2019
LJ.Rossia.org makes no claim to the content supplied through this journal account. Articles are retrieved via a public feed supplied by the site for this purpose.
6:30 am
CodeSOD: Bassackwards Compatibility

A long time ago, you built a web service. It was long enough ago that you chose XML as your serialization format. It worked fine, but before long, customers started saying that they’d really like to use JSON, so now you need to expose a slightly different, JSON-powered version of your API. To make it easy, you release a JSON client developers can drop into their front-ends.

Conor is one of those developers, and while examining the requests the client sent, he discovered a unique way of making your XML web-service JSON-friendly.

{"fetch":"<fetch version='1.0'><entity><entityDescriptor id='10'/>…<loadsMoreXML/></entity></fetch>"}

Simplicity itself!

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Wednesday, August 28th, 2019
LJ.Rossia.org makes no claim to the content supplied through this journal account. Articles are retrieved via a public feed supplied by the site for this purpose.
6:30 am
Teleported Release

Matt works at an accounting firm, as a data engineer. He makes reports for people who don’t read said reports. Accounting firms specialize in different areas of accountancy, and Matt’s firm is a general firm with mid-size clients.

The CEO of the firm is a legacy from the last century. The most advanced technology on his desk is a business calculator and a pencil sharpener. He still doesn’t use a cellphone. But he does have a son, who is “tech savvy”, which gives the CEO a horrible idea of how things work.

Usually, this is pretty light, in that it’s sorting Excel files or sorting the output of an existing report. Sometimes the requests are bizarre or utter nonsense. And, because the boss doesn’t know what the technical folks are doing, some of the IT staff may be a bit lazy about following best practices.

This means that most of Matt’s morning is spent doing what is essentially Tier 1 support before he gets into doing his real job. Recently, there was a worse crunch, as actual support person Lucinda was out for materinity leave, and Jackie, the one other developer, was off on vacation on a foreign island with no Internet. Matt was in the middle of eating a delicious lunch of take-out lo mein when his phone rang. He sighed when he saw the number.

“Matt!” the CEO exclaimed. “Matt! We need to do a build of the flagship app! And a deploy!”

The app was rather large, and a build could take upwards of 45 minutes, depending on the day and how the IT gods were feeling. But the process was automated, the latest changes all got built and deployed each night. Anything approved was released within 24 hours. With everyone out of the office, there hadn’t been any approved changes for a few weeks.

Matt checked the Github to see if something went wrong with the automated build. Everything was fine.

“Okay, so I’m seeing that everything built on GitHub and everything is available in production,” Matt said.

“I want you to do a manual build, like you used to.”

“If I were to compile right now, it could take quite awhile, and redeploying runs the risk of taking our clients offline, and nothing would be any different.”

“Yes, but I want a build that has the changes which Jackie was working on before she left for vacation.”

Matt checked the commit history, and sure enough, Jackie hadn’t committed any changes since two weeks before leaving on vacation. “It doesn’t looked like she pushed those changes to Github.”

“Githoob? I thought everything was automated. You told me the process was automated,” the CEO said.

“It’s kind of like…” Matt paused to think of an analogy that could explain this to a golden retriever. “Your dishwasher, you could put a timer on it to run it every night, but if you don’t load the dishwasher first, nothing gets cleaned.”

There was a long pause as the CEO failed to understand this. “I want Jackie’s front-page changes to be in the demo I’m about to do. This is for Initech, and there’s millions of dollars riding on their account.”

“Well,” Matt said, “Jackie hasn’t pushed- hasn’t loaded her metaphorical dishes into the dishwasher, so I can’t really build them.”

“I don’t understand, it’s on her computer. I thought these computers were on the cloud. Why am I spending all this money on clouds?”

“If Jackie doesn’t put it on the cloud, it’s not there. It’s uh… like a fax machine, and she hasn’t sent us the fax.”

“Can’t you get it off her laptop?”

“I think she took it home with her,” Matt said.

“So?”

“Have you ever seen Star Trek? Unless Scotty can teleport us to Jackie’s laptop, we can’t get at her files.”

The CEO locked up on that metaphor. “Can’t you just hack into it? I thought the NSA could do that.”

“No-” Matt paused. Maybe Matt could try and recreate the changes quickly? “How long before this meeting?” he asked.

“Twenty minutes.”

“Just to be clear, you want me to do a local build with files I don’t have by hacking them from a computer which may or may not be on and connected to the Internet, and then complete a build process which usually takes 45 minutes- at least- deploy to production, so you can do a demo in twenty minutes?”

“Why is that so difficult?” the CEO demanded.

“I can call Jackie, and if she answers, maybe we can figure something out.”

The CEO sighed. “Fine.”

Matt called Jackie. She didn’t answer. Matt left a voicemail and then went back to eating his now-cold lo mein.

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Tuesday, August 27th, 2019
LJ.Rossia.org makes no claim to the content supplied through this journal account. Articles are retrieved via a public feed supplied by the site for this purpose.
6:30 am
CodeSOD: Yesterday's Enterprise

I bumped into a few co-workers (and a few readers- that was a treat!) at Abstractions last week. My old co-workers informed me that the mainframe system, which had been “going away any day now” since about 1999, had finally gone away, as of this year.

A big part of my work at that job had been about running systems in parallel with the mainframe in some fashion, which meant I made a bunch of “datapump” applications which fed data into or pulled data out of the mainframe. Enterprise organizations often don’t know what their business processes are: the software which encodes the process is older than most anyone working in the organization, and it must work that way, because that’s the process (even though no one knows why).

Robert used to work for a company which offers an “enterprise” product, and since they know that their customers don’t actually know what they’re doing, this product can run in parallel with their existing systems. Of course, running in parallel means that you need to synchronize with the existing system.

So, for example, there were two systems. One we’ll call CQ and one we’ll call FP. Let’s say FP has the latest data. We need a method which updates CQ based on the state of FP. This is that method.

private boolean updateCQAttrFromFPAttrValue(CQRecordAttribute cqAttr, String cqtype,
        Attribute fpAttr)
        throws Exception
    {
        AppLogService.debug("Invoking " + this.getClass().getName()
            + "->updateCSAttrFromFPAttrValue()");

        String csAttrName = cqAttr.getName();
        String csAttrtype = cqAttr.getAttrType();
        String str = avt.getFPAttributeValueAsString(fpAttr);
        if (str == null)
            return false;

        if (csAttrtype.compareTo(CQConstants.CQ_SHORT_STRING_TYPE) != 0
            || csAttrtype.compareTo(CQConstants.CQ_MULTILINE_STRING_TYPE) != 0)
        {
            String csStrValue = cqAttr.getStringValue();
            if (str == null) {
                return false;
            }
            if (csStrValue != null) {
                if (str.compareTo(csStrValue) == 0) // No need to update. Still
                // same values
                {
                    return false;
                }
            }
            cqAttr.setStringValue(str);
            AppLogService.debug("CQ Attribute Name- " + csAttrName + ", Type- "
                + csAttrtype + ", Value- " + str);
            AppLogService.debug("Exiting " + this.getClass().getName()
                + "->updateCSAttrFromFPAttrValue()");
            return true;
        }
        if (csAttrtype.compareTo(CQConstants.CQ_SHORT_STRING_TYPE) == 0) {
            AttributeChoice_type0 choicetype = fpAttr
                .getAttributeChoice_type0();
            if (choicetype.getCheckBox() != null) {
                boolean val = choicetype.getCheckBox().getValue();

                if (val) {
                    str = "1";
                }

                if (str.equals(cqAttr.getStringValue())) {
                    return false;
                }

                cqAttr.setStringValue(str);

                AppLogService.debug("CS Attribute Name- " + csAttrName
                    + ", Type- " + csAttrtype + ", Value- " + str);
                AppLogService.debug("Exiting " + this.getClass().getName()
                    + "->updateCQAttrFromFPAttrValue()");
                return true;
            }
            return false;
        }
        if (csAttrtype.compareTo(CQConstants.CQ_DATE_TYPE) == 0) {
            AttributeChoice_type0 choicetype = fpAttr
                .getAttributeChoice_type0();
            if (choicetype.getDate() != null) {
                Calendar cald = choicetype.getDate().getValue();
                if (cald == null) {
                    return false;
                } else {
                    SimpleDateFormat fmt = new SimpleDateFormat(template
                        .getAdapterdateformat());
                    cqAttr.setStringValue(fmt.format(cald.getTime()));
                }
                AppLogService.debug("CS Attribute Name- " + csAttrName
                    + ", Type- " + csAttrtype + ", Value- " + str);
                AppLogService.debug("Exiting " + this.getClass().getName()
                    + "->updateCSAttrFromFPAttrValue()");
                return true;
            }
            return false;
        }

        AppLogService.debug("Exiting " + this.getClass().getName()
            + "->updateCSAttrFromFPAttrValue()");
        return false;
    }

For starters, I have to say that the method name is a thing of beauty: updateCQAttrFromFPAttrValue. It’s meaningful if you know the organizational jargon, but utterly opaque to everyone else in the world. Of course, this is the last time the code is clear even to those folks, as the very first line is a log message which outputs the wrong method name: updateCSAttrFromFPAttrValue. After that, all of our cqAttr properties get stuffed into csAttr variables.

And the fifth line: String str = avt.getFPAttributeValueAsString(fpAttr);

avt stands for “attribute value translator”, and yes, everything is string-ly typed, because of course it is.

That gets us five lines in, and it’s all downhill from there. Judging from all the getCheckBox() calls, we’re interacting with UI components directly, pretty much every logging message outputs the wrong method name, except the rare case where it doesn’t.

And as ugly and awful as this code is, it’s strangely familiar. Oh, I’ve never seen this particular bit of code before. But I have seen the code my old job wrote to keep the mainframe in sync with the Oracle ERP and the home-grown Access databases and internally developed dashboards and… it all looked pretty much like this.

The code you see here? This is the code that runs the world. This is what gets invoices processed, credit cards billed, inventory shipped, factories staffed, and hazardous materials accounted for.

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