Recent Feature Articles

Dec 2018

A Lumpy Christmas

by in Feature Articles on

Every "enterprise" shop has that one system you hope you never need to touch. It's older than you are, "documentation" consists of whispers and rumors about its behavior, and it is absolutely 100% business critical. If it goes down, the business goes down.

Fortunately, you'll never have to touch that system, because there's an Ancient Wizard who has been sitting in the same cube since 1973, and knows its secrets. As long as the Wizard is around, you'll never touch it. Of course, if the system goes down when the Wizard is out of the office… well, fixing that would require a Christmas miracle.

Classic WTF: Power Supply

by in Feature Articles on
It's Christmas Eve, and as per usual, we're taking the day off. As you're thinking about your gifts, think about unwrapping THIS present, from a few years back. Original. -- Remy

MRI scans, while neat, do leave something to be desired in the “fun” and “comfort” departments. After surrendering every sliver of metal and some percentage of clothing, the patient must sit or lie stock-still in a cold room for long stretches of time. As the giant magnets do their work, ear-splitting tones and rhythmic pulses fill the room. For those who lie down to enter the giant magnet-coffin, it’s easy to feel like the Frankenstein monster in some mad scientist’s German techno experiment.

The noise is so bad that most facilities issue earplugs to their patients- but some, as Evi relates, spring for $1,500 headsets, and $10,000 systems to play music through said headsets. Seem steep? No doubt the 1–3 year warranties, ranging from $1,500 to $3,500, raise eyebrows too- but it was well outside the warranty period that Evi learned the true extent of the fleecing.

Assumptions are the Mother of all Bugs

by in Feature Articles on

A long time ago in my "C" programming days, I learned that when you code up anything that depends on any sort of external data, be it a file, database or socket, you should be paranoid and do it defensively. After all, you can't control those things and there's no guarantee that they will always work the way you hope. Sometimes you care about every possible error code; sometimes just success or failure. The point is to check the result of what you tried to do.

Fast forward through several years of C++ and ten years into Java, and our boss calls us into the office.

The Command Controller application is failing and nobody knows why. It runs fine for a while and then it starts throwing what appear to be random exceptions. The problem is happening on almost every single command that it's receiving, but only in production. We can not reproduce the issue in any of the other environments (DR, pre-prod, QA or Dev). The team that wrote it is dumbfounded and has asked for help. We have a pretty good reputation at solving tough issues, so you guys need to drop everything and figure this out.

Politics Rules! Common Sense Drools!

by in Feature Articles on

As programmers, we all need to fix bugs. As experienced programmers, we recognize that sometimes, the ability to fix one bug depends upon first fixing another bug. Managers, on the other hand, don't always get that simple concept.

At the beginning of my career, I worked for Initrode where I wrote software to run a test-station that diagnosed assorted electronic components of jet fighters. Initrode acted as a government-supplier of the test station to another government contractor (LUserCorp) that used the station to write the test sequences to diagnose electrical faults. If the test station hardware malfunctioned, or there were bugs in the software that made the electronics tests fail to work properly, then LUserCorp could use that as an excuse for time and cost overruns. If that happened, then the government would penalize Initrode to recoup those costs.