Outsourcing Responsibility

What do you do when your debugger fails you?

 

Dear KV,

I’ve been assigned to help with a new project and have been looking over the admittedly skimpy documentation the team has placed on the internal wiki. I spent a day or so staring at what seemed to be a long list of open-source projects that they intend to integrate into the system they have been building, but I couldn’t find where their original work was described. I asked one of the project team members where I might find that documentation and was told that there really isn’t much that they need to document, because all the features they need are available in various projects on github.

I really don’t get why people do not understand that outsourcing work also means outsourcing responsibility, and that in a software project, responsibility and accountability are paramount.

Feeling a Sense of Responsibility

Outsourcing Responsibility

George V. Neville-Neil

 

Forked Over

 

Shortchanged by open source

Dear KV,

 

How can one make reasonable packages based on open-source software when most open-source projects simply advise you to take the latest bits on GitHub or SourceForge? We could fork the code, as GitHub encourages us to do, and then make our own releases, but that puts the release-engineering work that we would expect from the project onto us.

 

Forked Over

Forked Over

George V. Neville-Neil

 

The Logic of Logging

And the illogic of PDF

 

GEORGE NEVILLE-NEIL

 

Dear KV,

I work in a pretty open environment, and by open I mean that many people have the ability to become the root user on our servers so that they can fix things as they break. When the company started, there were only a few of us to do all the work, and people with different responsibilities had to jump in to help if a server died or a process got away from us. That was several years ago, but there are still many people who have rootly powers, some because of legacy and some because they are deemed too important to restrict. The problem is that one of these legacy users insists on doing almost everything as root and, in fact, uses the sudo command only to execute sudo su -. Every time I need to debug a system this person has worked on, I wind up on a two- to four-hour log-spelunking tour because he also does not take notes on what he has done, and when he’s finished he simply reports, “It’s fixed.” I think you will agree this is maddening behavior.

Routed by Root

 

http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2588887

 

This is the Foo Field

The meaning of bits and avoiding upgrade bog downs

GEORGE NEVILLE-NEIL

Dear KV,

When will someone write documentation that tells you what the bits mean rather than what they set? I’ve been working to integrate a library into our system, and every time I try to figure out what it wants from my code, all it tells me is what a part of it is: “This is the foo field.” The problem is that it doesn’t tell me what happens when I set foo. It’s as if I’m supposed to know that already.

Confoosed

This is the Foo Field

 

Bugs and Bragging Rights

It’s not always size that matters.

GEORGE NEVILLE-NEIL

Dear KV,

I’ve been dealing with a large program written in Java that seems to spend most of its time asking me to restart it because it has run out of memory. I’m not sure if this is an issue in the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) I’m using or in the program itself, but during these frequent restarts, I keep wondering why this program is so incredibly bloated. I would have thought Java’s garbage collector would prevent programs from running out of memory, especially when my desktop has quite a lot of it. It seems that eight gigabytes just isn’t enough to handle a modern IDE anymore.

Lack of RAM

Bugs and Bragging Rights

 

A Lesson in Resource Management

Waste not memory, want not memory—unless it doesn’t matter

GEORGE NEVILLE-NEIL

Dear KV,

I’ve been reworking a device driver for a high-end, high-performance networking card and I have a resource allocation problem. The devices I’m working with have several network ports, but these are not always in use; in fact, many of our customers use only one of the four available ports. It would greatly simplify the logic in my driver if I could allocate the resources for all the ports—no matter how many there are—when the device driver is first loaded into the system, instead of dealing with allocation whenever an administrator brings up an interface. I should point out that this device has a good deal of complexity and the resource allocation isn’t as simple as a quick malloc of memory and pointer jiggling—a lot of moving parts are inside this thing.

http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2523428

 

The Naming of Hosts is a Difficult Matter

Also, the perils of premature rebooting

GEORGE NEVILLE-NEIL

Dear KV,

An argument recently broke out between two factions of our systems administration team concerning the naming of our next set of hosts. One faction wants to name machines after services, with each host having a numeric suffix, and the other wants to continue our current scheme of each host having a unique name, without a numeric string. We now have so many hosts that any unique name is getting quite long—and is annoying to type. A compromise was recently suggested whereby each host could have two names in our internal DNS (Domain Name System), but this seems overly complicated. How do you decide on a host-naming scheme?

Anonymous

The Naming of Hosts is a Difficult Matter

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Cherry-picking and the Scientific Method

Software is supposed be a part of computer science, and science demands proof.

GEORGE NEVILLE-NEIL

Dear KV,

I’ve spent the past three weeks trying to cherry-pick changes out of one branch into another. When do I just give up and merge?

In the Pits

Dear Pits,

I once rode home with a friend from a computer conference in Monterey. It just so happened that this friend is a huge fan of fresh cherries, and when he saw a small stand selling baskets of them he stopped to buy some. Another trait this friend possesses is that he can’t ever pass up a good deal. So while haggling with the cherry seller, it became obvious that buying a whole flat of cherries would be a better deal than buying a single basket, even though that was all we really wanted. Not wanting to pass up a deal, however, my friend bought the entire flat and off we went—eating and talking. It took another 45 minutes to get home, and during that time we had eaten more than half the flat of cherries. I couldn’t look at anything even remotely cherry-flavored for months; and today, when someone says “cherry-picking,” that doesn’t conjure up happy images of privileged kids playing farmer on Saturday mornings along the California coast—I just feel ill.

Cherry-picking and the Scientific Method

Swamped by Automation

Whenever someone asks you to trust them, don’t.

Dear KV,

As part of a recent push to automate everything from test builds to documentation updates, my group—at the request of one of our development groups—deployed a job-scheduling system. The idea behind the deployment is that anyone should be able to set up a periodic job to run in order to do some work that takes a long time, but that isn’t absolutely critical to the day-to-day work of the company. It’s a way of avoiding having people run cron jobs on their desktops and of providing a centralized set of background processing services.

Swamped by Automation

Divided by Division

Is there a “best used by” date for software?

Dear KV,

Do you know of any rule of thumb for how often a piece of software should need maintenance? I’m not thinking about bug fixes, since bugs are there from the moment the code is written, but about the constant refactoring that seems to go on in code. Sometimes I feel as if programmers use refactoring as a way of keeping their jobs, rather than offering any real improvement. Is there a “best used by” date for software?

Fresh Code

 

Dear KV,

I’ve been upgrading some Python 2 code to Python 3 and ran across the following change in the language. It used to be that division (/) of two integers resulted in an integer, but to get that functionality in Python 3, I need to use //. There is still a /, but that’s different. Why would anyone in their right mind have two similar operations that are that closely coded? Don’t they know this will lead to errors?

Divided by Division

 

Divided by Division

http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2428618