Classic WTF: The Source Control Shingle

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Our summer break continues. I once worked on a team which made "shingles"- software modules that were layered on top of a packaged product. There were a lot of WTFs in those shingles, but nothing that can compare to this once. Original--Remy

The year was 1999 and the dot-com boom was going full-throttle. Companies everywhere were focused on building revolutionary applications using nothing but top-shelf hardware and state-of-the-art software tools. Developers everywhere were trying to figure out if they should play more foosball, more air hockey, or sit back down on their Aeron and write more code. Everywhere, that is, except Boise, Idaho. Or at least, Dave's small corner of it.

At Dave's company, developers worked at a solid pace, using reliable tools, for a stable industry. They were sub-sub-contractors on a giant project commissioned by the U.S. Navy to condense naval vessel documentation. Generally speaking, the complete documentation required for a modern warship-from the GPS calibration instructions to the giant 130-millimeter cannon repair guide-is measured in tons. By condensing the documentation into the electronic equivalent, they could not only save tremendous physical space, but they could make it much easier to navigate.

Classic WTF: The Virtudyne Saga

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As we usually do around this time of year, it's summer break season for TDWTF. This week, we're going to rerun some old classics, starting with this legend from 2006, compiled into a single article. --Remy

The Virtudyne saga (published 2006-Oct-10 through 2006-Oct-13) is my all time favorite. It tells the story of the rise and fall of Virtudyne, one of the largest privately-financed ($200M) disasters in our industry. Like most articles published here, all names have been changed to protect the guilty, and I've worked very closely with Rob Graves (the submitter) to ensure that this presentation is as close to how it happened as possible.

Part I - The Founding

By most people's standard, The Founder was very wealthy. A successful entrepreneur since age seventeen, he built several multi-million dollar companies and amassed a fortune larger than that of most A-list Hollywood celebrities. He prided himself on having one of the largest private collections of Egyptian artifacts in the world and prominently displayed many of them in his Great Room. And it truly was a great room: having been to The Founder's mansion several times, Rob recalls that his two-story, four-bedroom home could easily fit inside the Great Room.

All the Way from Sweden

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"And to think, this price doesn't include assembly," wrote Adam G.

A Symbol of Bad Code

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As developers, when we send data over the network, we can usually safely ignore the physical implementation of that network. At some level, though, the bits you’re sending become physical effects in your transmission medium, whether it’s radio waves or electrical signals.

You can’t just send raw bits over the wire. Those bits have to be converted into a symbol suitable for the transmission medium. Symbols could be the dots-and-dashes of morse code, tones transmitted over a phone line, or changing duty cycles on a pulse-width-modulated signal. The number of symbols per second is the baud rate of the channel. What this means for digital transmission is that even if your channel has a potential bit rate of one gigabit per second, the actual baud rate may be different- either much larger or much smaller. For example, modems might send 4-bits per symbol, meaning a 2,400 baud modem actually can transmit 9,600 bits per second. GPS, on the other hand, can transmit 50 bits/s, but over one million symbols per second thanks to spread spectrum broadcast.

Reproducible Heisenbug

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Illustration of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

Matt had just wrapped up work on a demo program for an IDE his company had been selling for the past few years. It was something many customers had requested, believing the documentation wasn't illustrative enough. Matt's program would exhibit the IDE's capabilities and also provide sample code to help others get started on their own creations.

Is the Table Empty?

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Sean has a lucrative career as a consultant/contractor. As such, he spends a great deal of time in other people’s code bases, and finds things like a method with this signature:

public boolean isTableEmpty()

Walking on the Sun

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In 1992, I worked at a shop that was all SunOS. Most people had a Sparc-1. Production boxes were the mighty Sparc-2, and secretaries had the lowly Sun 360. Somewhat typical hardware for the day.

SPARCstation 1

Sun was giving birth to their brand spanking new Solaris, and was pushing everyone to convert from SunOS. As with any OS change in a large shop, it doesn't just happen; migration planning needs to occur. All of our in-house software needed to be ported to the new Operating System.

Is Null News Good News?

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"The Eugene (Oregon) Register-Guard knows when it's a slow news day, null happens," Bill T. writes.