back to article Programming error created billion-dollar mistake that made the coder ... a hero?

Ah, dear readers, welcome once again to Who, Me? in which Reg readers confess the times their reach exceeded their grasp, technology-wise-speaking. This time meet "Francis" who was a bright young thing working on contract as a programmer to a largish organisation that was in the process of upgrading certain systems. Despite …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Explosive demonstration

    At a small on site lab, we had a centrifuge that was fitted with a head rated for half the maximum RPM the base unit could deliver. I pointed out that it should probably be hard locked to prevent settings beyond the head rating and even pulled up a manual showing how it could be done. This was left with the lead maintenance technician before I took a much needed holiday.

    When I returned, there was a shiny new centrifuge in its place. Apparently, the technician had verified that the centrifuge could indeed be set higher but had then gone off to track down that pesky manual. In the mean time, a sample had been run and the head unit gave way. Fortunately, the shell contained the chunks but it apparently made quite a bang.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

      Re: Explosive demonstration

      In my younger days my employer used a big-ass centrifuge to dry out acetyl salicylic acid in mass.

      It had a diameter of 4m, all stainless steel, and was quite heavy.

      I would not like to be near that thing should its governor decide to pack up and allow it to overspeed out of control....

      1. logicalextreme

        Re: Explosive demonstration

        Four hours since you posted and nobody's asked what an ass-centrifuge is? Or linked to the oxkcd?

        For shame

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Explosive demonstration

          Probably because most of us are not a dumb-ass.

        2. Sceptic Tank Silver badge

          Re: Explosive demonstration

          Are you dof*? It's a tool powered by a large donkey.

          * Not bright

      2. that one in the corner Silver badge

        Re: Explosive demonstration

        Apparently[1], you could learn the history of experimental hardware, particularly the centrifuges, by reading the scars in the walls of the university basement lab: note how the 4 cm deep gash bisects that strange chemical stain...

        [1] "apparently" 'cos I never went down to look - mad science is scarey!

        1. John 110
          Coat

          Re: Explosive demonstration

          I once rescued a trainee who had been backed into a corner by a rampaging centrifuge into which she had placed only one tube (NB my pet TV peeve is people only putting one tube in a centrifuge then not having to chase the beast across the lab.(my second pet peeve are these "naked" centrifuges -- yes I know they're cinematic, but they'd been phased out before Queen's College became Dundee University)). I could reached the power switch and just flipped it off...

          --> labcoat

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: Explosive demonstration

            > I could reached the power switch and just flipped it off...

            Something is just not quite right about that sentence.

            Do we read it as "I could (and did) reach the power switch" OR "I could have reached the power switch (but was having too much fun laughing)".

            Given the general attitudes of El Reg commentards, do we think John 110 was more likely to have been a gentlemanly hero or...?

          2. herman Silver badge
            WTF?

            Re: Explosive demonstration

            W0t? You don’t have a self balancing centrifuge?

            1. John 110
              Flame

              Re: Explosive demonstration

              "W0t? You don’t have a self balancing centrifuge?"

              Not in 1973 we didn't. It was another 5 years before we had centrifuges that you couldn't open while they were spinning.

              (NOTE: The preferred method for bringing a slowing a centrifuge to a full stop back then was to press a rubber pipette teat onto the hub. Not recommended if you want the buffy coat.)

          3. logicalextreme

            Re: Explosive demonstration

            "Rampaging centrifuge" may be my phrase of the year.

          4. Tim99 Silver badge

            Re: Explosive demonstration

            Some of us remember using "naked" centrifuges that you cranked by hand - One had exposed gears! I think you needed a couple of turns per second of the handle…

      3. Tim99 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Explosive demonstration

        Quite a headache? At least there was something to ameliorate it. >>======>

    2. EarthDog

      Re: Explosive demonstration

      I worked in a refinery and we did "lock out tag out". You had a brass name tag that fit on a pad lock. You used said pad lock to loch machinery in the "off" position. Thereby preventing an intense emotional events in the form of electrocutions or being sucked into large moving machinery. So if working on a system, lock it out because Mr. Murphy.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Explosive demonstration

        Loching machinery being throwing it in a lake?

      2. herman Silver badge

        Re: Explosive demonstration

        Nessie? Is that you?

    3. Tom 7

      Re: Explosive demonstration

      As a kid we lived next to a 'stately' home with 700 acres of woodland with its own sawmill - lovely old thing all belts and widgets and a 6' diameter saw blade that seemed to take forever to get up to an enormous speed. One day the blade decided to go for a walk and sheered off. It managed to get several hundred yards uphill through densely wooded rugged initially like a knife through butter and then after it struck some rocks and became unstable or bent it just shredded everything in its path for a couple of hundred yards. Its one of the few reasons I'd not advise using rotating masses as energy storage devices!

      1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

        Re: Explosive demonstration

        Well, even one used as a *data* storage device stores energy as a byproduct.

        I heard a story 45ish years ago, from what were even then the old days, about just such an occurrence. It seems a multiple-foot-wide disk drive platter broke free of its moorings, and even without teeth it sliced through the drive enclosure and kept going. I wish I could remember more details.

        1. nonpc

          Re: Explosive demonstration

          I recall that tale - as a gap year job I started my computing experience at Harwell, and, as an early morning arrival, along with switching on the kettle, I had to turn on the vertical winchester disk as it took 20 mins(?) to get up to speed, before I loaded the paper tape system bootstrap. I was told to run like hell if the disk started making noises...

      2. herman Silver badge

        Re: Explosive demonstration

        In Australia a power station turbine went walkies some years ago.

        1. Luiz Abdala
          Mushroom

          Re: Explosive demonstration

          I heard of one steam turbine in South Africa where the blades decided to leave the building and get encrusted 3m deep into concrete columns.

          Considering they were something in the 2 - 5m width range and were spinning at exactly 3000 rpm, their mass was just a multiplier.

      3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Explosive demonstration

        Conservation of angular momentum: It's not just a good idea. It's the law.

    4. Potty Professor
      Boffin

      Re: Explosive demonstration

      When I started on the drawing board at a large steam turbine manufacturing company in 1974, my first assignment was to lay out the installation of a blade wheel in the vacuum overspeed chamber. About a year later, we were all busy at our boards when there was a loud bang and the whole building began shaking, as if we were in an earthquake.

      After a while, the shaking slowed down and eventually stopped, during which time most of the inhabitants of the office block had exited and were milling around in the car park. My Boss, one Tom Heath, poked his head round the doorframe and said "That's one of your jobs, Iain, please get me drawing XXXXXXX and bring it into my office". With much fear and trembling I retrieved the drawing from the filing system and trudged reluctantly towards my doom.

      We pored over the drawing, recalculating every dimension, stress calculation, and instruction, after which Tom said that he couldn't see anything wrong, perhaps we should go down and inspect the corpse. On arrival on the shop floor, we found that the overspeed chamber had been opened, and its contents were being shovelled out onto a portable workbench for examination. The Foreman was standing by with his arms folded across his chest, his foot tapping, and a face like thunder.

      Tom searched through the metallic scrap on the table and suddenly his hand shot out and grabbed a mis-shaped bolt head. He showed it to me and asked "What do you think that is?". I replied that it appeared to be the head of a 3/4 inch black mild steel bolt, which was displaying a textbook cup and cone tensile failure on its underside. Tom unrolled the drawing over the scrap and pointed to a legend which called for 3/4 inch High Tensile bolts to be fitted.

      The Foreman suddenly defated like a punctured baloon, and his face went an unhealthy grey colour. "Oh! Shit!" he exclaimed, as the realisation that the failure was down to him and not us, and that he would therefor be footing the bill for a new blade wheel, shaft, instrumentation, and radio communications equipment, all of which had been destroyed by the failure of the drive bracket counterweight.

      Tom rolled the drawing up, tapped me on the shoulder with it, and said "Time for a cuppa, I think". We walked away across the shop floor, leaving the Foreman standing dejectedly beside the ruined chamber.

      (PS, as well as Tom Heath, we also had a Ted Jones on the section, at a time when Ted Heath was PM and Tom Jones was big in the charts).

      1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

        Re: Explosive demonstration

        "For want of a nail..."

  2. Joe W Silver badge

    Worst code I ever saw...

    ... was the one I wrote half a year ago. More or less. It happens less often as I got better. I think it is mostly ok now, except for the bits of code that I know I should have written differently and not under pressure, and I definitely should revise the code rather sooner than later.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Worst code I ever saw...

      Cheer up - even at my advanced age I can still take two days tracking down what I thought was a serial communications synchronisation issue, but turned out to be that I'd forgotten a '\r' on the end of a string...

      1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

        Re: Worst code I ever saw...

        I learned a long time ago: if the bug is so obscure that the only possible explanation is that the compiler is generating bad code, well, that just means I've done something *really* dumb.

        (Except, of course, for the two or three times in a long career when the compiler really was generating bad code, or the moral equivalent in an interpreted language.)

        1. herman Silver badge

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          Uhmmm. I once found a bug in an Intel C compiler and had to explain it to them and some years later I found the exact same bug in GCC and had to explain it to them. So a compiler generating bad code does happen.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            OP did say "two or three times".

            I've found a compiler bug or two m'self, and a number of errors in language-implementation and third-party libraries. But I too have learned to assume it's my error first, and then when I can't find it, assume it's still my error and I just haven't looked hard enough. Only then try to reproduce the problem in some other way to show it's probably not my code.

            One C library bug I identified many years ago I demonstrated by instrumenting the large software package that originally showed the problem to log its malloc/realloc/free operations; then I wrote a script that converted the log into C code that just duplicated those operations, after validating them for obvious errors like invalid realloc and duplicate-free. When that program reproduced the problem, I cut it down by bisection until I had a minimal reproduction, which turned out to require only 16 mallocs and 3 frees in a particular pattern.

        2. Not Yb Bronze badge
          WTF?

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          An earlier version of "mIRCscript" is the only language I've found to have an bug in the "IF-THEN" statement. It was fixed eventually, in an update that added a different bug to the parser.

    2. DrXym

      Re: Worst code I ever saw...

      I used a little USB board that could be hooked up with a PC floppy drive to recover some Amiga formatted disks. These held source code I had written a very long time ago including an unpublished game and a couple of published games that ended up on magazine cover disks.

      When I looked at the source I was actually surprised that the code wasn't completely abysmal - it was pretty legible for the most part and I could follow it even though it was invoking Amiga APIs. But I was shocked by how few comments there were in it compared to how many I write now. One of the games had a lot of vector geometry going on in it and it was almost impossible to figure out what was going on without any comments.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Worst code I ever saw...

        almost impossible to figure out what was going on without any comments

        One of mine is currently "doing Python" in GCSE Computer Science. I've been impressed with how well it's been picked up, though of course I still get the occasional "hey dad, what have I done wrong here?".

        But they haven't been told how (or why) to comment code. Everything written so far is almost completely comment-free. Granted, most of it is self-explanatory at the moment, but a few well-placed comments inserted now would get them into good habits for later methinks.

        I have a similar gripe about keyboard skills. Nobody seems to teach "touch typing", despite the fact that most (all?) school leavers will be going in to jobs where typing is a major part of their daily lives. Recipe for RSI, carpal tunnel problems and the like.

        M.

        1. Dave K

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          That was the problem I had when learning to code. My dad (a university lecturer) taught me first in Pascal, then in C and always expressed the need for comments. As the code I was working on originally was so simple and self-explanatory, plus each exercise was pretty-much standalone, it seemed pointless to me adding comments that explained code which was simple and obvious, and which I had never needed to refer back to so far.

          Of course over time, the code steadily becomes more complex as I learnt new commands/functions and more advanced algorithms and techniques. Then we get onto the topic of reusing code when tackling a challenge that is similar to some code I'd written a month or two earlier. Being faced with a fairly complex algorithm and zero comments suddenly made me understand why comments are so useful.

          These days I probably end up over-using them if I'm honest, but it doesn't half help when I rip-off some of my old code from previous years.

          1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Then we get onto the topic of reusing code when tackling a challenge that is similar to some code I'd written a month or two earlier. Being faced with a fairly complex algorithm and zero comments suddenly made me understand why comments are so useful. ... Dave K

            Would anyone else/many more agree that such is very true here on El Reg which makes the exercising of fairly complex algorithms here invaluable, and indeed much appreciated. It is a service par excellence.

            1. jake Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              That's a confession if I've ever seen one.

              1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                Once again "amanfrommars" deceived me into reading the almost-meaningful verbal jigsaw.

          2. 8BitGuru

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Some years back I landed a job at a large event-management outfit. The role was on a greenfield project which had been running for a year or so, being built by a sizable 3rd-party systems provider. I was entrusted to the care of 'Ada' (for that was not her name) who was a hotshot contractor assigned by the aforementioned provider who had been on the project since its inception. They were in the process of handing-over to internal staff, of which there were few - I was a new hire to beef-up the crew.

            After the usual corporate-standard fortnight of sitting around waiting for a desk, a laptop, email and security permissions setup, etc. I was finally given my 'intro to the system' session by Ada. Neither of us expected this to take long - she knew the code well, and I've been getting paid to write code for 30+ years. She walked me through the repo, pulled the source, and showed me some of the code she and her associates had created.

            I noticed a distinct lack of comments. As in, zero. Not one, in any source file, about anything, no matter where in the object model we were or how specialised the business logic seemed to be. Nothing at all to give even a hint of what the oftentimes-complex code did, or why it did it, or when. I made an observation to Ada, indicating my surprise. Her reply, drawn from her vast well of commercial experience (2 years out of Uni and in her first contract placement) chilled my blood.

            "Comments are a code-smell."

            I resigned that day.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              "code-smell"

              Whenever I hear that term, I take a couple cautious sniffs and say "That ain't the code, mate, it's you" ... Generally gets the point across.

            2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              "Comments are a code-smell." Upvoted for having the sense to run like heck.

              "internal staff, of which there were few" Sounds like you were not the first to run.

            3. TheMeerkat

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              It depends. I usually have no problem reading other people’s code without comments in Java when I see a system for the first time provided it is well written. The average C code on the other hand is usually written in a way that requires comments.

              But some people’s code is very difficult to read even if it is full of comments in any language.

              1. Tom 7

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                I did experiment with writing code in HTML documents so the code was in between verbose comments and yet the build process stripped out all but the code before running make. Some editors now can call a URL so you can just add a URL in the code comments to take you to the bit in the documentation related to the following code. I still feel there is some option for hypertext in code so documentation (from sketching out the projects to completion) allows easy jumping to the right documentation is worth exploring but teaching old dogs new tricks is often counter-productive.

              2. theOtherJT Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                And then you encounter syntactically valid perl...

              3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                I know of plenty of algorithms that are very difficult for a maintainer to understand without additional explanation, even when implemented cleanly in a language with ample abstractions. Individual function points may be relatively easy to grasp, but understanding what they do in concert may not be.

              4. Down not across

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                It is not always about what the code does, but why.

            4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              I've read the arguments for "comments are a code smell", and it's an interesting philosophical proposition, but it utterly fails in practice.

              The arguments are that code which isn't comprehensible itself needs to be refactored, and that comments don't get updated during maintenance (or even during initial development) and so you get skew between code and comments. More generally, it's that having different documents for different audiences – code and comments for developers, and just code for machines – increases the likelihood of error.

              While these are all points with some validity, in the real world, there is always code which is too complex to be sure maintainers will divine its intention, regardless of how well it's structured; failure to update comments should be fixed by process, including code reviews; and humans can't perfectly emulate machines when reading code anyway.

              "Comments are a code smell" is a sophomorism, the sort of reductive thinking you get from people who have some experience but not enough, and so still believe in elegant solutions to irreducibly complicated problems.

        2. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          I learned the hard way. Coming from BASIC on a 32K micro, there were no comments as comments took space and execution time.

          I started writing C like that.

          Until I came back to revise a project several years later and eventually figured that rewriting chunks rather than try to figure out what was actually going on would be a quicker solution.

          Gone are the short 1-2 letter variable names, and hello lots of commenting. It'll help down the line, especially if something is being done in an unusual way and you leave a note to explain why.

          1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            When I was doing some particularly involved kernel mode code on a VAX, I ended up with approximately a 80x24 screenful of comments per line of code. I also had a preface explaining what the code was meant to do, why a particular approach had been taken, and why other 'obvious' approaches had not been chosen, with links to extensive documentation elsewhere. When you are doing counter-intuitive stuff, you have to work hard to prevent other people making 'obvious' simplifications to improve what 'some idiot' (including previous versions of myself) has written.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              I was working on early UNIX (pre-BSD) at Berkeley when one of the professors bellyached at me for including too many comments, as in his opinion it wasted paper.

              "Yeah, well, get me a glass tty and I'll stop using the '33 ... "

              I had a second-hand VT52 on my desk the following morning. JOY! :-)

              The very same professor still demanded weekly dead-tree printouts. Naturally.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                "I was working on early UNIX (pre-BSD) at Berkeley when one of the professors bellyached at me for including too many comments, as in his opinion it wasted paper."

                Clearly the massive capital expenditure on the computer wasn't his problem, but looking after the pennies worth of paper coming directly from his budget was a huge concern :-)

          2. spuck

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            In a previous life when I was doing more embedded work, I butted heads with a fresh-from-University co-worker who resisted my suggestion to replace the binary-on-the-wire protocol he was struggling to implement with a text-based one.

            His reasoning was that everyone knows how slow it is to parse text and it needed to be binary for efficiency.

            So instead of being able to sniff the traffic and dump it for his viewing using a terminal program which he already had, he had complicated the task of not only writing both ends of a new protocol, but using those same pieces to write a decoder to make the protocol human readable.

            The problem he was running into was that as both ends were still being developed, the decoder itself was also being developed; he was verifying the tools with the same code that was in the tools themselves.

            There are times when every cycle counts, but this wasn't one of them. This was two microcontrollers exchanging messages of 100 bytes or less, several times a second, and doing little else aside from busy waiting. I told him there was no bonus check to be had for having the microcontrollers sitting idle 70% of the time rather than 50% of the time.

            I asked him to prove how inefficient parsing the text would be and asked: "Who's time is more valuable; you or the computer?" It's a mantra I still chant...

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              Argh. This exact thing, several times over. I hear ya.

              And those ad hoc binary protocols often have minimal redundancy, so corrupted messages aren't detected but processed as if they were legitimate, right up to the point where something breaks badly.

          3. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            "Gone are the short 1-2 letter variable names, and hello lots of commenting. It'll help down the line"

            Have an upvote just for the elimination of short variable names. That's one of the ways of making code illegible that I hate most. I remember one occasion vividly where this was a problem. I generally like Python as a language if performance isn't critical because it is often readable, or at least I think it is when I'm writing it. However, they have one syntactic mechanism I'd like to see stripped out. When importing things from other modules, you can rename it to something shorter. I had the misfortune to find a codebase where they decided to rename every external resource with a two-character name and then use more two-character names for all their variables, leading to lines like this:

            if not (ri.open(fx, fn, enc(lt[xu:xv]), os.path.join(cd, n)):

            This code wasn't even a normal program or script, but was operating some hardware over a serial link to a microcontroller that had a restricted set of communications. Instead of writing something to handle that protocol abstractly, they built error checking into everything they ran based on the serial error codes which were sometimes based on the command you just sent and sometimes not. Making any productive changes to this took a lot longer than other projects I had.

            1. DS999 Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              I hate it when people take that too far and insist on long names even for throwaway index counters in a for loop. Nothing wrong with using i & j for those if the loop is simple and the values are not used outside of it. Plus you end up with equally useless but now overly wordy variable names like "loop_counter".

              It is annoying to see something like "loop_counter1" and "loop_counter2" leading to overly long lines when you have code that requires referencing those variables multiple times on each side of an assignment or comparison statement!

              But yes for variables with context across a function that's longer than a page (including header & comments) and absolutely always for global variables, they need to have names chosen carefully. Not just 'longer' though, otherwise you aren't gaining anything by changing a variable called "pp" to "position_pointer". Position of what? Pointer meaning it is a C pointer, or pointer meaning it is an index into an array 'pointing' to a particular position?

              No matter what coding standards you set up, people who don't engage their brains will manage to render it useless.

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                It's true there's no point in using a long variable name if it doesn't mean anything.

                I still occasionally have to work on a component written in COBOL with variable names like "working-storage-6-bytes". Completely correct, completely useless.

          4. swm

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            I remember the days of the original BASIC (I actually wrote the precursor for BASIC on the LGP-30). The reason for the short names was that then all variables could be permanently assigned to a storage location (26 for A-Z, and 260 for A0-Z9). It sped things up and was easy to understand and required less code. Now with more than 6K of words (pre-byte) of memory, faster processors etc. there is no reason for requiring short identifiers.

            1. Glen 1

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              Related:

              You start to run into similar issues with modern (but low specced) microcontrollers.

              Not with variable names, but with strings.

              If you declare a string literal to be written out over serial, (e.g. "Program got to here"™), the whole thing is written into ram before passing it on. When your dealing with 2k of RAM and no GC, a program that has lots of nice feedback soon fills up the available RAM. A trap for younger players, as it were.

              The solution is to copy the string from flash/rom/progmem (which is usually in much greater supply). In the Arduino ecosystem, you have an F macro - so the above becomes:

              serial.println(F("Program got to here"));

              1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                Many years ago I was involved in developing - from first principles - an item of test equipment. The bloke in charge was a hot shot analogue engineer and knew the type of equipment backwards. Practically everything else was left up to muggins, who was on a sandwich year from a degree in E&EE, knew which end of a 74LS04 was which (but little else), had programmed in BBC BASIC, Pascal, 6502 assembly, ARM assembly and about 6 weeks combined C, 6809 and Modula-2. Yup, team of two plus one part-time whose real job was elsewhere in the factory.

                I designed and built a hand-held computer system built around Intel MCS96 parts (learning its assembly language from scratch) and knowing absolutely nothing about anything made a lot of design errors which weren't fatal, but of the "if I'd known then what I know now..." variety. The two chief ones were crafting my own integer division routine using - literally - repeated subtraction (how slow was that?) and the text messages / serial protocol issue described above.

                I'd managed to squeeze space for 24k of ROM in to the 64k memory map, but some ridiculous amount - maybe 8k or more of that - was taken up with stuff that was to be displayed on the screen, menus, error warnings, status messages and the like. There was not much room left, especially once we worked out I needed a floating point routine and had to import a bulky (this is Intel, after all) FP library. And the serial protocol was essentially shoving a CSV file (or, at least, what I thought was a CSV file without any kind of reference other than playing with an ancient spreadsheet) over the link and hoping for the best. Listen, the internet didn't exist and the sorts of computer magazines sold in newsagents didn't cover that sort of thing.

                After 13 months of this we had three working prototypes of varying utility (designed to be sold at separate price points) but I had to head back for my final year, so another student was brought in and I have no idea how much further the project went. I hope it didn't die because of silly things I'd done, but it did give me an awful lot of "well, I won't do it that way again!" experience.

                M.

        3. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
          Pint

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          There's a very dangerous trait to consider comments a "code smell" and to remove them because "good code should be self-commenting".

          I don't hold with that. Good code has good comments, and the comments act as signposts. They're your guides, especially in those fraught times when Something Has Gone Horribly Wrong and you're rooting desperately in code while They Who Must Be Obeyed are standing behind you, tutting, and calculating how much this is costing the company every second it's not working.

          Icon because I think we all need it after the PTSD trigger I've just dropped.

          1. Fonant

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Agree. Comments in code shouldn't cover the "how" as much as the "why". The code should, usually, show "how", but the "why" is often much more complicated.

            Good variable naming helps a Great Deal, too. I find myself refactoring variable and method names all the time.

            1. nintendoeats Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              Definitely, variable and function naming is critical.

              I feel that this is one are where coming from a writing background gives me an advantage. When we write code, we are writing it to be read by both humans and computers. The difference is, computers just need to know what to do; they don't need to understand why they are doing it. Variable/function names and comments are like a backchannel for just humans, a place to discuss issues that do not concern the computer.

              1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                Used sparingly, even the occasional "Here be dragons" is useful - it alerts the reader to the fact the function is both complicated and temperamental!

                (interrupt handlers anyone!)

              2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                Agreed. I presented on this very subject at Computers & Writing (or maybe the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing conference) some years back. Code has multiple audiences.

          2. richardcox13

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Only those who think "agile means no design" think "code is self commenting": they've never worked on a system with some "proper" business requirements where the only sensible reaction is "WTF", but you still have the implement them.

            To quote Refactoring:

            Don’t worry, we aren’t saying that people shouldn’t write comments. In our olfactory analogy, comments aren’t a bad smell; indeed they are a sweet smell. The reason we mention comments here is that comments are often used as a deodorant. It’s surprising how often you look at thickly commented code and notice that the comments are there because the code is bad.

            And then expands on this, including that extracting the code into multiple functions, even if they need long names (naming sections of code really helps, languages with local functions are particularly useful here), significantly reduces – but does not eliminate – the need for comments.

          3. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Agreed. I agree having the "#This adds 7 to x", then the next line of code is "x=x+7", that type comment is useless. But, having a comment *why* you are adding 7, where x came from, and what x (with 7 added) is going to be used for later (unless x was just used within a few dozen lines of code maybe) would be good. (And obviously I'd give the variable a bettter name than "x".)

            I have plenty of code that is self-documenting, insofar as you can look at it and figure out *what* it's doing. But, why is it doing it? If it's either a modern "microservice", or a function in a larger program, or just a code fragment, what does it do for the larger program (or whatever you call a collection of microservices actually getitng soething done?) For instance, I have "time.sleep(0.1)" in a program. It's clear that sleeps 1/10th of a second, sure that's self-documenting. But without a comment you'd have no way to know that because the web site it accesses has a 10 hits a second fair use limit, and although the program usually hits the site far less frequently than that, it ensures back-to-back-to-back hits (which may happen occasionally) will never violate the fair use limit.

            1. DS999 Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              Yes the "adds 7 to x" is the perfect example of how people can defeat any well intentioned coding standard. I've seen code where every single line is preceded by a comment, explaining what the line does but nothing about why it is doing that or giving you any clue about the overall intent of a particular function - you get a function called "compute_checksum" and the comment will say "this function computes the checksum". Of what? For what reason? Using what checksum scheme, etc. etc.

            2. breakfast Silver badge
              Holmes

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              This is the kind of case where comments are critical. "This operation seems backwards because against version 1.2 of the frobsticate library the order of parameters is the opposite of what logic would indicate" is absolutely the kind of knowledge that I would forget in the six months before I next looked at that part of the code or a new programmer coming onto the project would need to know.

          4. Richard Pennington 1
            Boffin

            Formal Methodists

            There are some in the Formal Methods / Machine Proof communities who hold that code is its own formal specification.

            However, it may not correspond with any level of the design as envisaged by the design team...

          5. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            How can you possibly make Not-Good-Code self-commenting?

            Anyone (un)lucky enough to read my code will soon come across a comment that begins /*Wibble: ... */ which then goes on to indicate how this "could be done better" if there ever was the need (or you just have too much time on your hands).

            For example "this does a linear scan through an array of strings 'cos it is one function call to do so and only gets called once per week; if this ever shows up over 1% of execution time in a profile run then the best thing is to use this search tree module that is already being linked into the app from over there."

            I.e. I know it isn't perfect, today it doesn't need to be, it just needs to work - and, yes, I did consider the alternatives.

            (The sub-optimal code is also self-commenting to the how and commented to the why as well, of course. Cough.)

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              Even a lot of good code isn't self-commenting. If you read a nice, clean implementation of Paxos with no comments, would you know its intent or understand the reasoning behind the algorithm? I'd be even many people familiar with the algorithm would need to spend significant time figuring out just what each piece did.

        4. jmch Silver badge

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          "Nobody seems to teach "touch typing", despite the fact that most (all?) school leavers will be going in to jobs where typing is a major part of their daily lives."

          Here in Switzerland, kids are being taught touch typing starting in 4th grade (approx 9-10 yrs). Part of the mark given for German (or, I guess, French / Italian in the respective cantons) used to be given for neatness and clarity in handwriting, and that part has now been split in 2 with half the marks for handwriting and half for typing. I believe it's something quite new introduced in last year or 2, but it certainly seems focused on new realities. Useful skill to learn although to be honest I wouldn't put it as part of the grades.

          My experience with self-learnt typing is that there is little to be gained in speed and accuracy by looking at the screen as opposed to looking at the keyboard. Just as someone touch-typing while looking at the keyboard knows what their fingers are doing on which keys without looking at the keyboard, I know what's appearing on the screen even while I'm looking at the keyboard because I know exactly what the result will be of all the keys I've pressed.

          Far more importantly, kids need to be be taught to know WHAT to type, otherwise they're just very fast at producing rubbish prose or error-strewn code.

          1. plunet

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Here in Switzerland, kids are being taught touch typing starting in 4th grade (approx 9-10 yrs)...

            Factor in the options of QWERTY, AZERTY (French) or QWERTZ (German) keyboards and those yoofs must have a a bunch of fun.

            1. jmch Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              All Swiss keyboards are QWERTZ, and share keys for French / German è é à and ü ö ä.

          2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

            touch-typing vs high-speed hunt-and-peck

            I know what's appearing on the screen even while I'm looking at the keyboard because I know exactly what the result will be of all the keys I've pressed.

            No, you don't. If you're typing at any decent speed, looking at the keyboard doesn't let you know about accidentally double-struck letters, letter inversions, or skipped characters. That's why I look at my screen.

            1. jmch Silver badge

              Re: touch-typing vs high-speed hunt-and-peck

              Good of you to tell me about my experiences!

              I guess it depends what you mean by decent speed. Its decent enough for me, but then again I'm not paid for how fast I type

              1. doublelayer Silver badge

                Re: touch-typing vs high-speed hunt-and-peck

                I don't know about your experiences, but I do know it's impossible to know exactly what happened just by knowing what keys you pressed. You can't be 100.0000% sure that the keyboard didn't accidentally swallow your key press (I have one where the S key doesn't always work unless you press it straight on, for example, and probably requires a cleaning). Or you could have a laptop with that annoying trackpoint in the middle of the keyboard (I know some of you like it, but I don't) or a trackpad that interpreted your palms as fingers and moved your focus. This doesn't mean you have to look at the screen, but it means that typos will remain a possibility either way.

                1. jmch Silver badge
                  Happy

                  Re: touch-typing vs high-speed hunt-and-peck

                  True, but I do occasionally glance at the screen, just as, I would think, all but the best touch-typers might occasionally glance at the keyboard

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: touch-typing vs high-speed hunt-and-peck

              Last time I did a typing speed test (with real words, not random characters) I clocked at over 80 words per minute. But I **HAVE** to be looking at the screen to catch all the mistakes! Many I can tell by feel - oops, hit two keys at once, so backspace twice and repeat, but some I'm not positive exactly what happened without looking at the screen.

              I was about to type "Ironically, none of this happened in this comment", when I apparently didn't push the "I" quite hard enough. My finger says I did, but computer said no.

              1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: touch-typing vs high-speed hunt-and-peck

                Looking for a fill-in job having finished university, my attention was drawn to a data-entry job at a local high-tech engineering firm. I applied via the job centre, who had to work hard to persuade the firm to consider me, and even then insisted that before being interviewed I had to make a trip to nearest Big City for a typing test as I didn't have any formal typing qualifications.

                You can guess where this story is going. I passed the test with flying colours. In fact the person administering the test said it was the best performance they'd had all week even from school leavers who had typing / secretarial qualifications galore - perhaps not the absolute fastest, but accurate so time wasn't wasted making corrections.

                Despite that, I wasn't even interviewed for the data entry job. A few weeks later I took a job as a caretaker (cleaner / odd jobs / security) covering sick leave at a local school, before finally getting my first "proper" job six months later.

                M.

          3. jake Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            "I know what's appearing on the screen even while I'm looking at the keyboard because I know exactly what the result will be of all the keys I've pressed."

            No. You do not.

            "kids need to be be taught to know WHAT to type"

            Indeed.

          4. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            "that part has now been split in 2 with half the marks for handwriting and half for typing"

            Surely not? They're still marking students on handwriting rather than content in this day and age? We haven't done that discriminatory shit in UK schools for... a quarter of a century or so. (God that makes me feel old.)

            When I was at school - more than 25 years ago - my English teacher got sacked (and I believe barred from teaching) after someone correlated the grades given out with the races of his students. He'd used 'handwriting' as his excuse for marking down every single student of the races he disliked. It was always a stupid thing to mark, but it was also an opportunity for racists to racist.

            1. jmch Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              I believe it works out at about 2% of the total. Certainly if a pupil is failing they have bigger problems than their writing.

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              "Surely not? They're still marking students on handwriting rather than content in this day and age? We haven't done that discriminatory shit in UK schools for... a quarter of a century or so. (God that makes me feel old.)"

              Unfortunately, despite your example of a minority using it as a method of abuse, it shows in the very poor handwriting of so many people. Likewise, we don't usually mark down on spelling in the UK "so long as the intent is communicated". Also shown be the poor grasp of grammar and spelling exhibited by so many these days. "Don't worry, the computer will mark up all the grammar and spelling corrections with suitable Americanisms"

            3. Potty Professor
              Devil

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              I was left handed when a child, but when I was in Junior School, we had a teacher who had an intense dislike of left handed people. If he saw you using your left hand, he would call you out to the front of the class, tell you to hold out your left hand palm uppermost, and proceed to administer four sound whacks with 12 inch wooden ruler across your palm, accompanied by his litany "You write with your right hand, it's why it's called your right hand". I would then return to my desk and clamp my left hand under my right armpit until the stinging ceased, and refuse to do anything at all for the duration.

              I am now fairly strongly right handed, but do have the occasional ambidextrous episode, such as when I was up a ladder painting the guttering, and my next door neighbour said "I didn't know that you were left handed". I replied, "No, I'm ambidextrous, and I can't move the ladder any farther to the left or it will fall off the end of the wall".

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                Hmm. I had a bit of that. I am actually genuinely ambidextrous though,

                For most tasks I have a preferred hand- just not the same one. But for writing I was forced to fix to my right hand- it would probably have been my left otherwise*. As a general rule I use right for strength and left for dexterity. And sometimes I use both together, great for sorting tasks But often I've just got used to using one, usually right handed - like the mouse- because that's what was available to me when I started.

                *My left hand isn't much worse than my right, I just don't use it as much And in Hebrew I found that I wrote better left handed- partly because I learnt that separately as a young adult and it goes right to left.

              2. Potty Professor
                Devil

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                I got my own back on him, though, when I took my 11 Plus exam. I had recently fallen off a piano stool (don't ask) and had a green stick fracture of the right Radius bone. I was in plaster from my palm up to just below my armpit, with the elbow set at 90°. I was allowed extra time to take the exam because I had to write left handed. Mr Currell was invigilating, and I could see the steam emitting from his ears as I was permitted to do the very thing he had beaten out of me two years before.

                I naturally used to use the mouse in my right hand, but several years ago, I developed RSI, so I now use it left handed, which frees up the right hand for taking notes, etc.

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              While I agree with the punishment for the racist teacher, easily readable handwriting is still important. I'm in pharmaceuticals, where paper documents are very much still the norm. Whose initials are these? Rather, WHAT initials are these? Can anybody read the explanatory comment on this batch doc? "Legible" is a key part of the ALCOA principles.

              "ALCOA stands for Attributable, Legible, Contemporaneous, Original and Accurate"

          5. Aleph0
            Facepalm

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            "I know what's appearing on the screen even while I'm looking at the keyboard"

            Lucky you, all too often I end up finding out that some poorly-written program (looking at you, SAS EG) has silently stolen focus from the one I was writing into, and when I look up from the keyboard a bunch of text that was supposed to be there is nowhere to be seen...

            Icon is my reaction when I then think about how mumble-ty years ago I knew how to touch type...

            1. A K Stiles
              Coffee/keyboard

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              Umpteen years ago I was working as a data input monkey on an AS400 system. I used to switch my eyes between the paper data and the keyboard with an occasional glance at the screen as it was pretty common for the screen rendering to be lagging behind the input buffer and I could be entering the next screen of data whilst the display was showing the previous page (repetition is a brutal mistress). I could correct typos as I went without ever seeing them on the screen.

              Thankfully I now do stuff where the thinking takes more time and effort than the key bashing, but it certainly did wonders for my multi-finger typing, which drifted naturally into touch-typing when I was no longer just re-keying stuff from a piece of paper.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                I had a brief lesson in "proper" typing at around 4th grade, but simply did two-finger hunt-and-peck for several years. Then slowly and subconsciously switched to four-finger, then six, then eight... One day, I realized I was naturally keeping my hands in "home" position on the keyboard like they had tried to teach me over 20 years before.

                What trained me the most was MUDding - you'd better learn to type fast, or your character will get killed!

          6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            "Here in Switzerland, kids are being taught touch typing starting in 4th grade (approx 9-10 yrs)."

            ...and a significant portion of them are probably wondering why they are being taught this since their only other interactions with computers are touch screens on smart phones and tablets outside of school. I wonder how long the keyboard will last as a primary input device? You don't see many keyboards in Star Trek :-)

            1. jmch Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              "I wonder how long the keyboard will last as a primary input device?"

              I've noticed my kids when they were younger trying to "swipe" a magazine or the TV screen, so certainly they're born into a world where touch-screen is default. Having said that, a proper keyboard ergonomically suited to the size of human hands will always work better than a smaller touchscreen, and even a keyboard-sized touchscreen will lack the feedback that a keyboard gives.

          7. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            I digagree that you actually now what keys you pressed or in hat order.

        5. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          I have a similar gripe about keyboard skills. Nobody seems to teach "touch typing", despite the fact that most (all?) school leavers will be going in to jobs where typing is a major part of their daily lives.

          I was saying this in 1982

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            My mom and dad insisted on teaching me a couple decades before that (I still have the Smith-Corona Portable). Dad was a very early computer guy and could see which way the wind was blowing.

            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              Yeah, my mum was a typist. And my handwriting was godawful. 50 odd years ago she taught me to type. I wasn't brilliant, but it was better than handwriting.

              I had to wait for the BBC micro to be invented before everything suddenly improved for me.

              These days my handwriting is still godawful and sadly my touch typing has deteriorated too.So that I end up looking at the keyboard more and more. For me touch typing only works if the position of the keyboard is consistent. And over the last few years this has just not been the case.

        6. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          >Nobody seems to teach "touch typing",

          When I went to secondary school (in the late iron age) they had just removed all the typing desks - cos we had finally abandoned all that "girls do secretary / boys do metalwork" stuff and in the future we would all do Craft-Design-Technology and nobody would type.

          Ironically now when I'm not building prototypes in a workshop I'm typing code

        7. Richard Pennington 1
          Go

          Re: Typing

          I'm retired now, but I never learned to touch-type.

          However, I did - and still do - type in a very unusual manner ... one of my methods for copy-typing was - and still is - to hold the copy in my left hand and to type one-handed with my right, at a reasonable speed. One witness to my (absence of) technique observed - correctly - that I play the piano.

        8. phuzz Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          I never learned to touch-type (well, I was taught, but it never took), and I've never had problems with RSI etc. except associated with mouse use. Switched to using a vertical mouse and it cleared right up.

        9. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          Watching a friend two-finger type a few days ago, it finally dawned on me: *that's* why laptop keyboards have become so universally awful -- because most people don't have a problem with them. The forces driving the switch to chiclet keyboards are obvious -- cost and thinness. But the other half of it is the dwindling market of touch typists demanding keyboards suitable for touch typing.

      2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Worst code I ever saw...

        When I was coding I often laid out the structure of a function/whatever just in comments, then went back and wrote the code to do what the comments said should be happening. That practice came from writing stuff that interfaced to a number of slightly weird libraries which it was easy to mis-remember parameter order/purpose - coding usually meant frequent reference to API documentation. Unless I laid out the structure in comments first, then by the time I was a few lines in I'd started to lose track of what my actual logic was.

        1. Flightmode

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          Anything that has nested if-statements gets comments put in from the start, otherwise there's no way I can keep track of those curly braces or indents.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Many is the time I've had a compilation error that's pointed to mis-formed loops, even though code looks OK on visual inspection. Select the offending code, count instances of "{", get a big number. Count instances of "}", get big number minus 1. Put head in hands and weep while mumbling "oh, FFS - not again..."

            1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
              Flame

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              Why do programming languages always choose between begin/end and {/}. On some keyboards curly braces are more painful than begin/end and I'd like the option to use either please.

              1. that one in the corner Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                Macros, baby, macros.

                For anyone lucky enough to have missed it, there was a craze in the 80s to write C that looked "readable", from all the coders who knew BASIC/Pascal/ALGOL/SIMULA and were suddenly presented with a C compiler on the IBM PC (Amiga programmers knew better!). Cue hundreds of headers starting

                #define BEGIN {

                Even using "FOR" instead of "for"!

                The best fun was had with the slight changes in preprocessor behaviour - it seems that some would strip out comments whilst others just did the macro & include expansions, leaving comments in the output. So cue people writing

                #define FOREACH(i,n) int i; for(i=0; i<n;++n) // C is weird, starts count at zero

                FOREACH (j, k) BEGIN printf(" %d", j); END

                Would the numbers appear on stdout? Maybe?

              2. jake Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                "On some keyboards curly braces are more painful"

                That's why keyboard re-mapping was invented. Put 'em where you want 'em.

                1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                  Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                  >That's why keyboard re-mapping was invented. Put 'em where you want 'em

                  Foot pedals, the only choice for a gentleman

                  1. jake Silver badge

                    Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                    "Foot pedals, the only choice for a gentleman"

                    I fiddled about with a foot pedal input device way back when. Was a Moog Taurus originally[0], but I modified it so various chords became control, alt & shift keys, Fx keys, Sun's "L" keys, and a couple other key bindings depending on the computer it was plugged into. It was an attempt to bring sanity to EMACS, among other things.

                    Even when working well, it turned out to be more trouble than it was worth, so I never pursued it. A friend of mine took my breadboard rig and code & used the basic idea for an alternative input device for disabled folks while getting his Masters at Stanford.

                    [0] Don't swear at me, I didn't wreck it! Somebody else had cannibalized most of the electronics, I found the carcass in a pile of trash outside SAIL's DC Power building when we were moving out in 1980. The idea of making it an input device flashed into my mind as soon as I set eyes on it.

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                      "It was an attempt to bring sanity to EMACS, among other things."

                      Not exactly an upvote for EMACS, is it?

                      ESC ESC :q!

                      Wait, no, I meant wq ... too late.

                      (Personally, I'm a barbarian who prefers pico/nano.)

              3. david 12 Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                I'm a left-handed touch typist. Keys under the little finger of my right hand are always more difficult for me than text. Even upper-case number keys #$% are slightly slower and more difficult.

                A proper language would use simple text that can be typed at for speed for common structural statements. .EQ. .LT, .GE. (For younger readers: the dots in those operators are part of the syntax)

                I'm not opposed to functional languages, or significant white space, or multiple inheritance in it's right place. I don't yearn for GOTO or FILE 7.

                But damn, I'm sorry that a language for right-eye-dominant hunt-and-peck typists who did their own code-entry with one index finger had so much effect on subsequent languages.

                1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                  Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                  "AutoHotkey" is free software for Windows whose features include macro substitution on the fly. I don't have it to hand today but I think you could set it up so you type .eq. and see = and so forth.

            2. Gene Cash Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              I guess I rely too much on EMACS blinking the opening brace and auto-indenting everything when I add the closing one.

            3. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              I count them both in one pass: starting at 0, add 1 for each "{" and subtract 1 for each "}". If the result ends up nonzero, you have a problem. (If it ever goes negative, you can stop early; not only have you found a mismatch, but have also somewhat narrowed it down.)

              1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge
                Happy

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                Haha, if your { } counting goes below zero it does not necessarily mean you are finished, you may have a missing { !

                1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

                  Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                  If it goes below zero, I *know* I have a missing "{". Which is precisely why I can stop counting; I've answered the two-part question "is there an imbalance, and if so, which kind?" and am ready to move on to the next phase of problem isolation.

                  (Obviously, if you start counting in the middle of a properly nested structure, the count can go negative. So don't do that; start at the beginning.)

      3. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: Worst code I ever saw...

        As soon as an {} section is more than my (large) screen can display I add a comment at the } to make it clear to which { it belongs to.

        if (a -eq b) {

        # 80 lines of stuff

        } # if (a -eq b)

        1. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          This kind of comment is *always* useful and always appreciated.

          It also resolves your own confusion when you don't know why something spat its dummy... and you realise you missed a closing } somewhere...

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Get your sword, Coding Style Heretic!

            Always have your braces lining up vertically, indent one space (tabs are for barbarians!) inside the braces. Then use your editor's "mark column" and "jump to matching brace" actions to give you a nice vertical highlight when everything matches properly.

            1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              Barbarian here! My { always align vertically with } - Allman style - and are MISRA compliant with a line of their own. I'm not a fan of vertically dense code which I find difficult to read.

              But I can't be doing with spaces instead of tabs; I hate it when I delete what I expect to be a tab and the whole line loses vertical alignment.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                Back in roughly 1975, one of my Big Iron mentors had a bumper-sticker:

                Tabs are for typewriters!

                A woman from the typing pool who much preferred Fresca to Tab took exception to the comment, so he offered to buy her lunch in compensation for the perceived slight. They are still married.

                A few years later, another mentor opined "Feelthy TABs are the devil's work, unless you are using them on your Smith Corona".

                Personally, I prefer spaces, but I'll use tabs where required. When in Rome & all that.

            2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              They are, they are! But when the beginning and the end don't fit on your screen you need hints!

              1. anothercynic Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                EXACTLY! And I'll fight @that one in the corner to the death with my sword on this.

                Bring it on, buster! ;-)

                1. that one in the corner Silver badge

                  Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                  En garde! <swing>gcc <block><parry><indented_block>gcc

                  I see you have studied your Agrippa <leap>

                  But what you don't know is that I am not left-handed <swing>clang

                  Neither am I <parry>lattice<swing><parry>whitesmith

                  You win this match, but I shall return!

                  1. that one in the corner Silver badge

                    Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                    And the whispering breeze replies

                    </parry></swing></swing></swing></leap></indented_block></parry></block></swing>

                    1. Flightmode
                      Pint

                      Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                      OMG, thank you!!

                      I saw your first post and all I could think of was this relevant[0] XKCD: https://xkcd.com/859/ .

                      [0]: Is there an XKCD relevant for situations where there is a relevant XKCD? That would be awesome.

                      1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

                        Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                        Even awesomer would be an xkcd that's relevant only to situations where there is *no* relevant xkcd...

                    2. Flightmode
                      Devil

                      Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                      Actually, looking at it again, your tags are unmatched. That's evil.

            3. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

              Re: Worst code I ever saw...

              RE "Coding Style Heretic" -- When jake said, "when in Rome", he didn't mean "... feed the Christians to the lions". Anyway my code editor finds the matching braces even when they don't line up.

              RE "} # if (a -eq b)" -- Took me *decades* to learn that trick. I find it especially helpful when there are a bunch of nested closing braces very close together, with maybe one line of code in-between. Which one still needs closing, before or after that one line? But I make it even more explicit, for grepping later:

              } # END if (a -eq b)

              As for the Who, Me? it's a good thing the change from add to add-update wasn't worthy of a comment!

              1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                Re: Worst code I ever saw...

                It may be better to use a descriptive comment at start and end of a block instead of: # END if (a -eq b )

                In case you have to change the start bit to something else instead of: if ( a -eq b )

                Or even change the start of a different block to be: if ( a -eq b )

        2. Kubla Cant

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          Upvoted.

          But in most cases the best solution is to refactor the 80 lines of stuff to one or more well-named methods. The only exception I can think of is where it's 80 lines of essentially repetitive code, so there's little advantage in moving it to an 80-line method.

          1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Na, I have enough actual work cases where this applies. Not much repetitive code, though some comments in between.

          2. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Sometimes extracting a method/function is a good approach. Other times I just rearrange to avoid the isolated statement. That's especially so for "if"'s:

            if (cond) { 80 lines of blah blah blah } else { return ERROR; }

            becomes:

            if (!cond) { return ERROR; } else { 80 lines of blah blah blah }

            That allows the reader to be done with the "if" more quickly -- to pop it off one's mental stack, as it were, before diving into the blah blah blah.

            (Sorry for cramming those onto one line each; proper formatting, in whatever HTML subset El Reg might allow me this week, on my phone where every tag is torture, is more trouble than it's worth.)

        3. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          This is good as long as you're careful always to make it look different from a real line that's been commented out when debugging. Lines like that lead a later viewer (it's always future me if I've done it) to think either that the code should be running, or more likely that it failed and was replaced, so it should be stripped out to avoid confusing future future me.

          # Repeat: this means that a equalled b eighty lines ago and still should

          is better than a line that might look like code.

        4. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          Yes! I did that with node.js/Javascript code I had to work on. I can't believe the RECOMMENDED code layout with it is like:

          for (let i=0; i<5; i++) {

          ...

          }

          instead of

          for (let i=0; i<5; i++)

          {

          ....

          }

          Despite Javascripts recommendations I tend to dot he second form, and indent the {} if I can, and do the comment at the end commenting what the bracket is for. As you say, I've spent FAR too long before I did this finding the missing bracket. (It's especially bad in node.js since the syntax includes functions where it's like x(parameter 1, {...90 lines of code..}).

    3. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Worst code I ever saw...

      I'll admit to having been lax in commenting code for a while - only I'm going to read it so there's no need, is there?

      Well, yes there is! I've got to understand it if I have to revise it and as I wend my way towards retirement UI have to bear in mind someone else *will* have to support it in the future. Cue a rush of commenting as I migrate code for a new plant.

      1. UCAP Silver badge

        Re: Worst code I ever saw...

        A friend of mine sent me a copy of some source code I had written in the 1990's that was used to schedule observations for a science satellite mission. Well commented - yes. Understandable - yes. Well structured - not even close. Maintainable - let's talk about that some other time.

        Amazingly the software worked and actually exceeded its functional requirements by a significant measure; in doing so it contributed to the satellite also exceeding its science objectives. BUT, I am definitely cringing at looking at what I wrote all those years ago.

        1. jake Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Worst code I ever saw...

          "BUT, I am definitely cringing at looking at what I wrote all those years ago."

          Don't cringe. Pat yourself on the back instead. And have a beer! It did the job it was required to do, and more. Can't ask for more than that.

          Besides, you should see the garbage code the other guy was cranking out.

          1. Dvon of Edzore
            Thumb Up

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            Jake is quite correct. At the time, good enough was good enough. You should also rejoice that you have grown as a programmer and could do a better job now. That's what the Senior part of one's job title used to mean.

          2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: Worst code I ever saw...

            It's likely that the other guy's code is in a rocket that did the big firework thing, so no evidence :-)

            Examples that we do seem to know about, probably all of us, include "wrong arithmetic sign, tried to fly down instead of up" and "failed to convert metric and imperial measurements".

    4. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Worst code I ever saw...

      20 or so years ago we had a Perl programmer whose main script generated static web pages from the stuff (pseudo/simplified text and images) that the designers wrote.

      It had exactly one comment in it. At its most incomprehensible core section, the programmer had added: // This is a skanky hack

      To this day I have no idea what it was doing!

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Worst code I ever saw...

        "To this day I have no idea what it was doing!"

        Hacking skankely. Duh!

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    A fine tradition ...

    >"Some idiot," he writes, "had put an add-update where there obviously should have been an add."

    ... of fixing the problems you cause. And collecting brownie points into the bargain.

    While some organisations will instantly sack the individual deemed responsible for such ballsups, there is a better way!

    It is said that experience is the lessons learned from mistakes made. So what better way to gain that experience than by making mistakes. Combine with the other cliche of that which does not kill you, makes you stronger and a convincing argument can be made to retain all but the worst problem-makers: the people who always seem to be in the middle of every corporate disaster.

    And in this case, had "Francis" been given the heave-ho, what are the chances that the replacement, would not have also spotted the same idiotic add and changed it to the obvious add-update?

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: A fine tradition ...

      You want to keep the ones who learn from their mistakes, but get rid of the ones who don't. If you can find ones who learn from other people's mistakes, hang on to them as long as possible.

      1. Fred Daggy Silver badge

        Re: A fine tradition ...

        And sometimes if people take you for granted, it WAS possible to reboot, a production server. Investigation will find that it "Blue Screened". People suddenly remember all the systems that are running like clockwork, and why you are there.

        In our company it was always assumed that the ERP financial and ERP production systems were the most valuable and hardest to negotiate downtime for. But when yours truly was laid low for a spot of surgery and a junior admin decided to "improve things" on the Exchange Server., the 7 hour email outage lasted just about the entire surgery and recovery time, until the colleagues across the pond woke up. Much gnashing of teeth and wailing of hands proved that 7 hours without email was more upsetting to the company than not being able to produce in 3 factories for 7 hours.

        Now days a properly configured SEIM will point the finger quickly. Luckily our security team are a Marx Bros v Three Stooges crossover.

      2. Flightmode

        Re: A fine tradition ...

        If you foster a culture that allows you to make mistakes every now and then[0], you'll get employees that will 'fess up when things break, you can fix the problem faster and you'll have a learning experience. If you, on the other hand, turn anywhere else than "What went wrong here, and how can we prevent it from happening again?" in your post-mortem, your employees will clam up for fear of retaliation. This will in many cases lead to longer troubleshooting times and can have adverse knock-on effects. Red herrings encountered during troubleshooting may cause unnecessary changes to processes, for example; or permissions may be overly tightened. And of course, you'll wake unnecessarily many people to join marathon conference calls...

        Make sure your processes support your staff. Automate recurring tasks if possible, but trust your people to know their stuff. And of course, as the AC above me pointed out, locate the ones that aren't learning from their mistakes on their own, and help them.

        [0] This does not include companies whose CxOs says, with a big grin, to the press that "We EXPECT our staff to fail AT LEAST fifty percent of the time! That's how AGILE we are!". Because that's just dumb.

  4. chivo243 Silver badge
    Pirate

    enough knowledge to be dangerous!

    And quick thinking enough to blame the previous programmer. "It was like that when I got here!" I wonder what position Francis holds now?

    1. Irony Deficient

      I wonder what position Francis holds now?

      The bishopric of Rome.

  5. Lil Endian Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Welcome Back!

    This loop looks fun - do it again!

    ....This loop looks fun - do it again!

    ........This loop looks fun - do it again!

    ............This loop looks fun - do it again!

    *** Out of memory ***

    Nah! Never happens!

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Welcome Back!

      To understand recursion you must first understand recursion!

      ----------> Mine's the one with the jacket in the pocket of the jacket in the pocket .......

      1. Lil Endian Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Welcome Back!

        Thanks for the feedback for the feedback for the feedback...

      2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: Welcome Back!

        You need to put a stop condition otherwise you get stack overflow eventually!

        To understand recursion you must first understand recursion, until you understand recursion!

        1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

          Re: Welcome Back!

          and DON'TGoogle "Google"!!!!

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: Welcome Back!

            Without The Hawk to bless it, we are in big trouble if the red light ever stops blinking. We dropped the box once but it looks Carrier lost

          2. chivo243 Silver badge
            Headmaster

            Re: Welcome Back!

            I thought you weren't supposed to google yourself...

        2. richardcox13

          Re: Welcome Back!

          > You need to put a stop condition otherwise you get stack overflow eventually!

          Or tail recursion....

      3. a pressbutton

        Re: Welcome Back!

        It is called recurseion because if you get it right the first time, your time was wasted

      4. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

        Re: Welcome Back!

        "Mine's the one with the jacket in the pocket of the jacket in the pocket"

        That's known as the Droste effect.

        1. Lil Endian Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Welcome Back!

          Nice one CRM.

          I especially like the Bourton-on-the-Water reference (in the link), as I remember as a kid looking at that model and being fascinated by the model-in-a-model. (Looking up to see if I could see me looking down at myself!)

  6. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    Always a good idea to have a "brake" clause in a contract when doing upgrades, and force things to slow down, or pause for a couple of hours or days.

    Because people will make mistakes when under pressure.

    But beancounters don't like this as it'll make projects run over budget.

    But mistakes make projects run far more over budget plus the extra costs involved should any specialized knowledge be required to fix things should it be required.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Testify

      Currently shoveling large piles of stuff on a project which was procured with the exact opposite - a rigidly fixed delivery schedule that just keeps piling on more trouble while we try and recover from the flaws which should have been sorted on day minus one. Just another day in the public sector.

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Testify

        And then you suddenly find yourself explaining to auditors why things took so long, or you leave when you realise that the NAO has just described your project as irrecoverable? Or your project suddenly shows up in Written Questions in the HoC?

        Not that _I_ ever ended up there, but I know of people who have (or projects that have - Yes, DEFRA, I'm looking at you!)

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Because people will make mistakes when under pressure.

      But beancounters don't like this as it'll make projects run over budget."

      If you're under pressure to meet a deadline, it's usually because the deadline wasn't properly specified in the first place, or was "adjusted" by the bean counters to fit a smaller budget than was originally planned for.

  7. trevorde Silver badge

    Self inflicted public humiliation

    A lot of my code is now open source on github. The horror...

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Self inflicted public humiliation

      Don't worry, you'll live. And also eventually get over the horror.

      Wait until you get hate-email from somebody lambasting code you wrote 40 years prior that hasn't been used for at least thirty years to your knowledge, and only runs on a processor that has been out of support for about as long.

    2. Dave559

      Re: Self inflicted public humiliation

      Just as long as the code doesn't happen to include any access credentials, etc, that also ended up getting checked into the repo (because that never happens)…! >:->

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: Self inflicted public humiliation

        Well, code CAN contain such credentials, but: They must be stored in a secure way, so they only work on this machine (or vm) with that specific account, else decoding the security token won't work. Though I only use that inline-credentials way only for small scripts. For projects they have to be stored in a different, more secure, way.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crisis - What crisis?

    "Never waste a crisis" - Attributed to Bill Clinton, though I suspect that he learned it from others!

    1. Irony Deficient

      “Never waste a crisis”

      A version of it, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”, has also been attributed to Churchill, albeit without a source. The earliest sourced version might be the title of an article that was written in 1976 by M. F. Weiner in the journal Medical Economics : “Don’t Waste a Crisis — Your Patient’s or Your Own.”

  9. Howard Sway Silver badge

    it was impossible for anyone to track down the idiot responsible

    This is what version control should absolutely not be used for. It's there to see what changes were made when (and why, if you have any sense), and allow reversion to older code. If you have to track down the person that wrote it to solve it, your code and documentation are of unacceptably poor quality and need improving.

    To check quality of work, use code reviews and testing. If you start chucking blame around when errors are made, realise instead that errors are a fact of life, and use them as a learning exercise for general improvement. Flapping about in a panic or shouting at techies solves nothing, and is a sign that management needs to improve by being realistic and having processes in place to calmly deal with issues as they arise.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: it was impossible for anyone to track down the idiot responsible

      > This is what version control should absolutely not be used for

      Uh, can't agree with that "absolutely" - you find an apparent problem with a recent code change and want some more info about it, going for a chat with the person who made the change is the best approach. You can check the issue tracker (linked to from the commit comment, wasn't it - if not, go for a chat...) and then back to the requirements first, of course...

      Note that, despite the name of the Subversion command "blame" (which I also believed was chosen as a short command name when devs were capable of talking tongue in cheek), "going for a chat" does *not* mean "chucking blame around" (well, not until they prove themselves to be total &£@+%&).

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: it was impossible for anyone to track down the idiot responsible

        If you're not sure why it's there but there might be a reason, find the person and ask. If you are sure it is not necessary, no need to find them just to blame them for having it. Unless it looked like deliberate sabotage, it was likely a mistake and their response about it will either be "I don't remember it" or "I don't remember it, but you're right it needs to be taken out".

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: it was impossible for anyone to track down the idiot responsible

          > If you are sure it is not necessary, no need to find them just to blame them for having it

          Not finding them to blame them, but more than once, having spotted something that doesn't belong, it was worth discussing it because we found that a misunderstanding had led to multiple occurrences, which the perp (!) was able to quickly correct (he knew where the bodies were) and the commits went under their name, showing that they'd taken responsibility.

      2. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

        Re: it was impossible for anyone to track down the idiot responsible

        I hate hate hate the name of the "blame" command in whichever VCS. The command itself is very useful, but I use its alias, "annotate" -- and create that if necessary and possible.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bonus mistake

    I once worked at a place that had a mainframe from IBM that was charged 'per transaction'.

    It was accessed via various layers of tooling i was responsible for, in an ASP.net front end, by field staff. They had to stay 'on site' while various batch jobs completed and tested configurations and such.

    One of the processes I wrote was a batch job that queried the mainframe (via a Brand New High Throughput High Performance WS-* interface) for the results of those batch jobs, and when they were complete 'closed' the job and thus allowed the field staff to move on.

    I kept the list of batch jobs in a SQL Server 2000 database. Every minute or so a small job would go and reconcile against the mainframe. It should only have reconciled the 'open' jobs, but some fool (me) had neglected to add the 'where' clause to omit the 'closed' ones; nevertheless this had all happily gone through integration test and gone live.

    Months later, first I knew of the bug was when the beancounters who audited mainframe usage called me up and asked why this tool had cost £250,000 in mainframe charges.

    A quick scan of the code, a 'doh' moment, and a hot fix, and the problem vanished. Overnight, the transaction hits reduced to acceptable levels.

    I called back and explained the situation. I told them that field staff were so keen to get on to the next job, that they were hitting 'Refresh' on their browsers too regularly, and this was hammering the server needlessly. I told them I'd identified a quick caching solution that mitigated the problem, and deployed it.

    I got a two grand bonus for creative and quick problem solving.

    While this was well over 15 years ago now, 'Anonymous' for obvious reasons,

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bonus mistake

      While this was well over 15 years ago now, 'Anonymous' for obvious reasons

      You'll find exactly the same thing goes on today - just replace "mainframe" with "cloud".

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, this week's article - how to make a mistake and blame someone else!

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Not really, he blamed "anonymous" else, not someone (specific) else. He forgot himself :D.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pages and pages of old code commented out

    Where I work now, it was a common practice to just comment out code.

    Horrible to start with, and a nightmare when it goes on for several pages. Especially annoying when you grep for something and you get false hits in the old commented out garbage.

    My current co-worker and I have decided this is not acceptable and all this will be mass deleted as we make fixes/updates. There was a huge outcry from the old guard, but we stuck to our guns.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pages and pages of old code commented out

      I look forward to the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth (yours) when in a month or two the whole thing grinds to a halt, and old guard say - 'oh yes - the new code works on the Widget 9700, but fails on the new widget 9701, but don't worry, the working code is in there - just commented out.'

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Pages and pages of old code commented out

        In which case they go to the version control, rewind until the comments come back, copy them into the specifically-named files they always should have been in, and give a lecture about how to organize code that runs into files that compile and are labeled for what they do. For the same reason that printing out a copy of the code and putting it on your desk doesn't count as having it available for use, storing necessary code in comments that won't ever run unless an undocumented manual procedure is followed is also not the way to do it.

      2. the hatter

        Re: Pages and pages of old code commented out

        Luckily (in this case), we live in the 21st century, and 'delete' can mean many, many things. And very few of those things actually mean 'all traces purged from the universe'

  13. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Not a programming error, at least not on my part, but a few years ago, I maintained a site that used a custom written back end API to access data.

    Most of the site functioned well for years, but there was one page that was always slow. It was a simple equipment list, so shouldn't have taken more than a few seconds. Even on a gigabit ethernet connection (and the server was hosted in the next building, so no connection issues to slow it down. On average, it two 10-15 minutes for the page to load.

    My colleague, who maintained the server, told me point blank it must be my crap code. I had already worked out the problem. It was the fact that thanks to his design, I had to make at least 5 calls to the API to get all the required info for each item. For some items, it was a lot more. Assuming the page contained 200 items, it was having to call the API >1000 times, and for each call, the Webservice was making calls to the SQL Server Database. I think with a few users using the site (it was quite heavily used in it's heyday), the queue of pending operations on the SQL Database could build up very quickly.

    So, I added logging with timestamps to the code. I showed him the log, showing the hundreds of calls to the API, and how long they were taking.

    After spending a few minutes looking at my code, and the log, he said "leave it with me". A few days later, he told me he'd created a new API. One that returned all the information my site needed in one call. It reduced load times from 10 minutes to less than 1 minute.

    1. Thomas Steven 1

      Now we have Entity Framework and LINQ for writing a few lines of code to make huge inefficient garbage calls to SQL Server databases

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I recently wrote some SQL code that was pulling production data from a database. The system manual said to do it like this:

      select (fields) from (table)

      where parentid=(select equipmentid from (table)

      where parentid=(select batchid from (table)

      where batchname like '%yadda%'))

      This worked just fine when run on test data. But on the full production data, it took upwards of 10 minutes to run! The solution was to run:

      select equipmentid from (table)

      where parentid=(select batchid from (table) where batchname like 'yadda%')

      (Note the lack of wildcard at the start of the batchname!)

      and store the result (i.e. "&equipmentid"), and then run

      select (fields) from (table)

      where parentid=&equipmentid

      Not running the two inner selects a hundred thousand times each definitely sped things up a bit - down to about 0.5 seconds runtime.

      The manual gives you a starting point, but don't go strictly by it...

  14. aerogems Silver badge

    Reminds me

    For some reason this story reminds me of a particular lecture in a physics class I took in college. The topic of the day was thermal expansion, and so the professor had an cast iron ball and ring. He heated up the ring to show that it would expand and fit over the ball. Thing is, he got distracted and then the ring cooled onto the ball. Both of them are made of the same material, so heat and expand at the same rate, making him have a minor panic attack about having to tell the lab manager what he'd done.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reminds me

      Best example of thermal expansion was a manufacturing plant with a 150-foot-long machine. One end was attached to a wall, the other was attached to an I-beam sitting perpendicular to two floor-mounted I-beams. When at operating temperature, the machine was about 120 °C. Some servicing was done in the winter, at likely 5 °C.

      The lower I-beams had rather impressive scrape marks from the upper beam's movement.

  15. EarthDog

    Unmaintainable code

    Oblig. Dated but many of the principles still ring true and hilarious.

    https://cs.fit.edu/~kgallagher/Schtick/How%20To%20Write%20Unmaintainable%20Code.html

  16. theOtherJT Silver badge

    Once upon a site migration...

    ...I was tasked with getting about 10,000 pages of website from our old CMS to our new one. Having spent several months poking around in the piles of spaghetti code that tied together a few hundred modules that had been attached to the old site in order to get it to do the dozens of intranet things that it didn't really have any business doing, I came to the conclusion that the fastest way to get everything moved would be to get each page owner - and helpfully the pages had the owners name stamped on them - to simply copy-paste the pages in question into the new site and do some much needed update on the copy as they went along.

    I was told in no uncertain terms that there was no way everyone had time for that, and we had to automate it. I said something along the lines of "OK, but I'm giving this a 50% chance of working at best, and given the number of interactions we might not find out exactly how bits of it are broken until it's too late to do anything about it.

    It was decided by the website committee* that we would go ahead with the automated migration, and so one fateful morning I pressed the enter button on an utterly terrifying bash script calling various bits of perl, php, and in one instance piping an SQLdump through awk. It was not pretty.

    It took about an hour to realize that it was taking much longer than it ought to and clearly something somewhere had gone wrong and we were going to have to revert to backup even if it did finally complete, and I informed the website committee of this. Again, the committee decided* that it would be better to wait for it to finish and then spend a couple of days cleaning up the errors on the new site than going back and doing it all again. I pointed out that this was a very bad idea since I didn't really understand how it was that it had broken in the first place because the code I'd written couldn't possibly cover every weird edge case that I suspected, but couldn't prove, existed.

    Three weeks later everyone agreed that we needed to go back to the backup and start over.

    *That is, no one is prepared to take actual responsibility for the decision, and the only person who clearly opposed it** was mysteriously omitted from the minutes.

    **Me.

    1. Lil Endian Silver badge

      Re: Once upon a site migration...

      They don't listen do they? But sometimes it goes in the user's favour.

      My client was a manufacturing company, about 150 staff, mostly on the shop floor. The board had insisted to one of the users, "Eric", a blue collar manager, that they must have a report generated from [my] system, ASAP-pronto-quick-sharp. So Eric asked me if I could produce code for the next day.

      Of course, I'd give it a go, I said.

      So, wanting to help Eric out, I pulled an all-nighter The reporting code was just hacked together, not pretty. It ran just fine, but it was slow, very slow.

      I arrived on-site very early to install the update, before Eric was in, and returned home. When Eric ran the report, instead of the usual "It's working!" message, the pop-up read "Eric, go and make yourself a cup of tea...". When I spoke to Eric later he said he realised immediately that I wasn't joking and effectively had the morning off!

  17. Wilco

    No version control? No excuse

    "Of course these were the days before strict version control" - really? SSCS was released in 1972. Even I'm not that old.

  18. vcragain

    While not having an actual example of this, as an old long-retired programmer, THAT is the thing that made me very humble many years ago - that point where your own feelings of "I am so smart" got the better of you & you forever after KNOW that you will never do that again ! Nothing like having to admit to the boss man you were the one that 'did it' ! I think that is life's biggest lesson !

  19. Bruce Ordway

    Ever had a moment of ineptitude accidentally turn into eptitude

    At one site I worked it was so common we had a definition for "inverse incompetency".

    Where the person starts out with a fatally flawed concept and executes it so poorly that favorable results are achieved.

  20. ricardian

    I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Obfuscated_C_Code_Contest

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