Remy Porter

Remy escaped the enterprise world and now makes LEDs blink pretty. Editor-in-Chief for TDWTF.

Jun 2018

Foggy about Security

by in CodeSOD on

Maverick StClare’s company recently adopted a new, SaaS solution for resource planning. Like most such solutions, it was pushed from above without regard to how people actually worked, and thus required the users to enter highly structured data into free-form, validation-free, text fields. That was dumb, so someone asked Maverick: “Hey, could you maybe write a program to enter the data for us?”

Well, you’ll be shocked to learn that there was no API, but the web pages themselves all looked pretty simple and the design implied they hadn’t changed since IE4, so Maverick decided to take a crack at writing a scraper. Step one: log in. Easy, right? Maverick fired up a trace on the HTTPS traffic and sniffed the requests. He was happy to see that his password wasn’t sent in plain text. He was less happy to see that it wasn’t sent using any of the standard HTTP authentication mechanisms, and it certainly wasn’t hashed using any algorithm he recognized. He dug into the code, and found this:


Got Your Number

by in Representative Line on

You have a string. It contains numbers. You want to turn those numbers into all “0”s, presumably to anonymize them. You’re also an utter incompetent. What do you do?

You already know what they do. Jane’s co-worker encountered this solution, and she tells us that the language was “Visual BASIC, Profanity”.


External SQL

by in CodeSOD on

"Externalize your strings" is generally good advice. Maybe you pull them up into constants, maybe you move them into a resource file, but putting a barrier between your code and the strings you output makes everything more flexible.

But what about strings that aren't output? Things like, oh… database queries? We want to be cautious about embedding SQL directly into our application code, but our SQL code often is our business logic, so it makes sense to inline it. Most data access layers end up trying to abstract the details of SQL behind method calls, whether it's just a simple repository or an advanced ORM approach.


Wait Low Down

by in Feature Articles on

As mentioned previously I’ve been doing a bit of coding for microcontrollers lately. Coming from the world of desktop and web programming, it’s downright revelatory. With no other code running, and no operating system, I can use every cycle on a 16MHz chip, which suddenly seems blazing fast. You might have to worry about hardware interrupts- in fact I had to swap serial connection libraries out because the one we were using misused interrupts and threw of the timing of my process.

And boy, timing is amazing when you’re the only thing running on the CPU. I was controlling some LEDs and if I just went in a smooth ramp from one brightness level to the other, the output would be ugly steps instead of a smooth fade. I had to use a technique called temporal dithering, which is a fancy way of saying “flicker really quickly” and in this case depended on accurate, sub-microsecond timing. This is all new to me.


A Unique Specification

by in CodeSOD on

One of the skills I think programmers should develop is not directly programming related: you should be comfortable reading RFCs. If, for example, you want to know what actually constitutes an email address, you may want to brush up on your BNF grammars. Reading and understanding an RFC is its own skill, and while I wouldn’t suggest getting in the habit of reading RFCs for fun, it’s something you should do from time to time.

To build the skill, I recommend picking a simple one, like UUIDs. There’s a lot of information encoded in a UUID, and five different ways to define UUIDs- though usually we use type 1 (timestamp-based) and type 4 (random). Even if you haven’t gone through and read the spec, you already know the most important fact about UUIDs: they’re unique. They’re universally unique in fact, and you can use them as identifiers. You shouldn’t have a collision happen within the lifetime of the universe, unless someone does something incredibly wrong.


The Sanity Check

by in CodeSOD on

I've been automating deployments at work, and for Reasons™, this is happening entirely in BASH. Those Reasons™ are that the client wants to use Salt, but doesn't want to give us access to their Salt environment. Some of our deployment targets are microcontrollers, so Salt isn't even an option.

While I know the shell well enough, I'm getting comfortable with more complicated scripts than I usually write, along with tools like xargs which may be the second best shell command ever invented. yes is the best, obviously.


Maximum Performance

by in CodeSOD on

There is some code, that at first glance, doesn’t seem great, but doesn’t leap out as a WTF. Stephe sends one such block.

double SomeClass::getMaxKeyValue(std::vector<double> list)
{
    double max = 0;
    for (int i = 0; i < list.size(); i++) {
        if (list[i] > max) {
            max = list[i];
        }
    }
    return max;
}

The Enabler

by in CodeSOD on

Shaneka works on software for an embedded device for a very demanding client. In previous iterations of the software, the client had made their own modifications to the device's code, and demanded they be incorporated. Over the years, more and more of the code came from the client, until the day when the client decided it was too much effort to maintain the ball of mud and just started demanding features.

One specific feature was a new requirement for turning the display on and off. Shaneka attempted to implement the feature, and it didn't work. No matter what she did, once they turned the display off, they simply couldn't turn it back on without restarting the whole system.


A Test Configuration

by in Representative Line on

Tyler Zale's organization is a automation success story of configuration-as-code. Any infrastructure change is scripted, those scripts are tested, and deployments happen at the push of a button.

They'd been running so smoothly that Tyler was shocked when his latest automated pull request for changes to their HAProxy load balancer config triggered a stack of errors long enough to circle the moon and back.


A/F Testing

by in CodeSOD on

A/B testing is a strange beast, to me. I understand the motivations, but to me, it smacks of "I don't know what the requirements should be, so I'll just randomly show users different versions of my software until something 'sticks'". Still, it's a standard practice in modern UI design.

What isn't standard is this little blob of code sent to us anonymously. It was found in a bit of code responsible for A/B testing.