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The Daily WTF

Curious Perversions in Information Technology

Last Build Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2017 06:22:09 GMT



Thu, 23 Mar 2017 10:30:00 GMT

Alan worked for Maria in the Books-and-Records department of a massive conglomerate. Her team was responsible for keeping all the historical customer transaction records on line and accessible for auditors and regulatory inquiries. There was a ginormous quantity of records of varying sizes in countless tables, going back decades. Maria was constantly bombarded with performance issues caused by auditors issuing queries without PK fields, or even where-clauses. Naturally, these would bring the servers to their proverbial knees and essentially prevent anyone else from doing any work. To solve this problem, Maria decided that all auditors and regulators would be locked out of the database for purposes of direct queries. Instead, they would be provided with an API that would allow them to mimic a where-clause. The underlying code would check to see if no PKs were specified, or if a where clause was missing altogether. If so, it would run the query at a much lower priority and the auditor issuing the offending query would wait while the servers did the massive scans in the background, so the other auditors could continue working with a reasonably responsive database. So far, so good. Alan wanted to build a mechanism to query the list of available tables, and the columns available in each. This could be provided via the API, which the auditors' developers could then programmatically use to create the objectified where-clause to submit as part of a query. Maria would have nothing to do with that. Instead, she wanted to sit with each potential auditor and have them define every single query that they could possibly ever need (table(s), column(s), join(s), etc). Alan pointed out that the auditors could not possibly know this in advance until some issue arose and they had to find the data relevant to the issue. Since this would vary by issue, the queries would be different every time. As such, there was no way to hard-wire them into the API. She put her foot down and demanded a specific list of queries since that was the only way to build an API. Alan went to every auditor and asked for a list of all the queries they had issued in the past year. They grudgingly obliged. Maria then went on to design each API function call with specific arguments required to execute the given underlying query. The results would then be returned in a dedicated POJO. Again, Alan groaned that defining a POJO for each and every subset of columns was inappropriate; they should at least design the POJOs to handle the entire column set of the given table, and have getters that represented columns that were not requested as part of a given API query throw a column-not-queried exception. Maria said No and insisted on separate POJOs for each query. Some time later, Alan had finished building the API. Once it was tested and deployed, the other development teams built relevant GUIs to use it and allow the auditors to pick the desired query and appropriate parameters to pass to it. This worked well until an auditor needed to add a column to one of the queries. If Maria had let Alan use table-wide column pick-lists and POJOs that had all the fields of a table, this would have been easy. However, she didn't, and made him create another virtually identical API function, but with a parameter for the additional column. Then it happened with another query. And another. And another. After a while, there were so many versions of the API that the managers of the other teams blasted her choice of implementation (they had to deal with the different versions of the POJOs for each table in their code too) and demanded that it be made sane. Finally, under pressure from above, Maria relented and instructed Alan to change the API to use the pick lists and POJOs he had originally wanted to provide. To implement this required changing the signature of every method in the API. Fearing a riot from his counterparts, he got them all together and offered a two month window during which both old and new versions of the method calls would b[...]

CodeSOD: Dictionary Definition of a Loop

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:30:00 GMT

Ah, the grand old Dictionary/Map structure. It’s so useful, languages like Python secretly implement most of their objects using it, and JavaScript objects imitate it. One of its powers is that it allows you to create a sparse array, indexed by any data type you want to index it by.

Catherine’s cow-orker certainly thought this was pretty great, so they went ahead on and used the Dictionary to map interest rates to years. Years, for this application, were not tracked as actual years, but relative to an agreed upon “year zero”- the first year of the company’s operation. There was a new annual interest rate tracked for each year since.

If you’re saying to yourself, “wait… this sounds like a use case for arrays…”, you’re onto something. Pity you didn’t work with Catherine. You probably wouldn’t have left this behind:

private static double FindInterestRate(int operationYear, Dictionary yearToInterestRates) //where 0 is the first year
    if (operationYear < 0)
        return 0;
        for(int i = 1; i < yearToInterestRates.Count; i++)
            if (operationYear < yearToInterestRates.ElementAt(i).Key - 1)
                return yearToInterestRates.ElementAt(i - 1).Value;
        return yearToInterestRates.Last().Value;

Now, even if you don’t know C#, this is obviously pretty bad, but it’s actually worse than you think. Let’s talk for a minute about the ElementAt method. Accessing a key in a dictionary is an O(1) operation, but that’s not what ElementAt does. ElementAt finds elements by indexes, essentially treating this Dictionary like an array. And how does ElementAt actually find elements in a non-linear structure? By iterating, meaning ElementAt is an O(n) operation, making this loop O(n2).

Remember, our goal, is to find a specific index in an array. Compare the efficiency

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The Automation Vigilante

Mon, 06 Mar 2017 11:30:00 GMT

Fresh off an internship, Trace landed his first full-time job performing customer service and administration at a large company. Oddly enough, customer service wasn't the worst part of the job. He barely had time to help customers due to all the tasks required just to tread water in the company's lumbering beast of an ERP system. All day long, he had to click the same buttons, generate the same PDF files, and send the same emails. This drudgery wasn't limited to Trace, either. Everyone in his department, from other young graduates to the most senior reps, performed the same grueling ritual. It'd been devised long before Trace was born, and it was taken for granted—right along with the resultant stress, weariness, and repeated mantra of "I'm too busy right now!" Trace saw no reason why the repetitive process couldn't be automated in some fashion, but Trace wasn't a programmer himself. Undaunted, he scheduled a meeting with his boss to go over his idea. "Let's bring in someone who can write a program for this. It'll save lots of time and effort in the long run, which we can then use to help our customers." Trace smiled, excited by the prospect of making a real difference at his new corporate home. There was no crack in his manager's tired expression. "It's not an ideal process, sure, but it works. Besides, we don't have room in our budget to hire programmers." That was the day Trace learned that there wasn't a single sound suggestion in the universe that couldn't be shot down with the words, "There's no budget for that." He returned to his desk, discouraged. Just as he was about to plow back into his paperwork, he had a new thought. Wait, why can't I make this happen? He wasn't a programmer, but that didn't mean he couldn't learn. Hadn't his college roomate always told him that 90% of his CompSci major came down to how well he phrased his Google searches? During downtime and after work, Trace began to teach himself how to code. At first, he'd learn operations and then copy/paste them like mad—he hadn't learned loops yet—but over time, the program gained sophistication. It could click buttons, create PDF files, send emails, and lookup and consolidate important information. It was time to show it to the team. Trace spent a few coffee breaks approaching people at their cubes, demonstrating his achievement. "Isn't this great?" Some of the newer coworkers saw the benefit at once. The more veteran employees frowned with confusion, scorn, or outright fear. "Are you trying to get us all fired, kid? If you show this to management, we're screwed!" "I don't have any control over this!" "My way works for me!" Trace reluctantly left these folks to keep clicking the same buttons, generating the same PDF files, sending the same emails, and making the same old tired complaints about their workload. He learned another important lesson about how easy it was to become complacent with, and even dependent upon, the status quo. With that lesson firmly in mind, he spent his free time deepening his programming knowledge, refining his existing code, even throwing in a few loops. It paid off as his daily administrative chores became a matter of clicks rather than hours. Customers gave him great feedback because he had time to give their issues the attention they deserved. Over time, Trace climbed the ladder with promotions, and quietly shared his program with each new hire. Whenever they suggested process improvements of their own, he made sure to listen. [Advertisement] Release! is a light card game about software and the people who make it. Play with 2-5 people, or up to 10 with two copies - only $9.95 shipped! [...]

Error'd: Rebooting Space Mountain

Fri, 03 Mar 2017 11:00:00 GMT

Hugo K. writes, "Space Mountain is closed for refurbishment. It will reopen when all security patches are installed."



"Thanks TeamViewer for copying every picture 1.1 million times over," writes Michael L., "You can, um, stop whenever you like."



"I had no idea that Report Builder depended on 2972!" wrote David G., "If I ignore this will 30584 still get updated?"



"While I have unlimited phone and text, it seems odd that Verizon would track my data usage so precisely," wrote Ken L.



Adam K. writes, "My day was going great until Atlassian changed how reputation was tracked."



"Today Spotify played the same song on my daily mix twice, at the same time. I guess the album title explains it," wrote Matthijs W.



Prutser writes, "Someone forgot some tags while making this website and, all of a sudden, broken HTML was painted all my old dormitory."



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