The *hidden* Obamacare website code.

I just saw this video of Congressman Joe Barton questioning Cheryl Campbell of CGI about the Obamacare website’s *hidden* code. It really doesn’t bother me that the congressman doesn’t understand that he’s looking at a ‘comment’, not ‘code’. And it doesn’t bother me that he doesn’t understand that it was probably commented out because of the dynamic, incremental, nature of software development with decisions being made and unmade continuously on the fly. And it doesn’t bother me that he doesn’t understand this commented code doesn’t affect compliance since it’s not functional, not displayed, and completely ignored by the computer. I can almost guarantee how this played out; An overly defensive business analyst decided to add this in as a CYA tactic. The developer added it then somebody realized it was not to spec and told the programmer to remove it. The programmer commented it out instead of removing it because they’ve seen the flip flopping on functionality like this in the past (possibly multiple times in this project). The comments were never removed (are they ever?), and it was promoted to production. Then somebody with enough knowledge to be dangerous, but doesn’t know what they are looking at found it, and pushed it through the ranks until if finally wound up being questioned in a Congressional Hearing. What bothers me is that nobody was able to clear up this misunderstanding. There was nobody to step in and say, “Hey, this is a non-issue”. It’s a non-threat. I was a little disappointed that Cheryl Campbell didn’t chime in and say “Actually, Mr. Congressman, I understand your concern, but it’s not what it looks like”, then explained what it was. Ok, she obviously doesn’t have the skills to understand or explain it, but you would think the solution architect would’ve rode shotgun to clear up misunderstandings like this. I’m also embarrassed that programmers are still commenting dead code instead of removing it. It’s not 1990 anymore, the source control tools we have are awesome, so don’t be scared to delete anything which is no longer serving a purpose, it will live in your source repo history forever. Don’t be a hack. Once it is understood this commented out code is a non-functional historical artifact of an extremely dynamic process, it could also be asked “Why was this added in the first place?”. And that would be a valid question, to which I would answer, “It doesn’t matter since that functionality was... read more

A simple proposal to rule out obvious software patents

I just read the EFF’s new website ( about how to change the patent system to prevent the patent trolls from stifling innovation.  I like some of the ideas, but question how realistic others are (i.e. #3? – C’mon; How many implementations in how many languages will you need to write to cover all your bases?) I realize this is an extremely naive statement to make, but I’m going to make it anyway; solving the ‘non-obvious’ aspect of a software patent is simple. … and it doesn’t involve judges learning to code. Here’s my proposal:  Software patent proposals should include a unit test suite and a single solution implementation.  The test suite would be made public immediately, without the implemented solution.  The public would take a crack at making the test suite pass. If there are no successful passes, then it could be deemed as a difficult problem with a non-obvious solution. If the patent office is bombarded with working solutions, then it unquestionably fails the ‘non-obvious’ test. It’s debatable what to do if a relative few brilliant developers solve it, while most fail.  But this would definitely eliminate laughable patents like Amazon’s 1-Click which would have bombarded the patent office in less than an... read more

11 Personal Programming Assumptions That Were Incorrect

Today I got side tracked and spent an unreasonable amount of time on One of the questions I was looking at was What is your longest-held programming assumption that turned out to be incorrect?

Many of the answers immediately resonated with me, like Instantsoup’s answer That people knew what they wanted and JohnFx’s awesome answer about comparing his knowledge to the collective knowledge of all other programmers. Other answers reflected a poor initial understanding of the language or technology, many of these I was fortunate enough to not relate to.

As you can imagine, I immediately started coming up with my own answers, so I continued reading to make sure they weren’t already there. But as I read, I came up with more initial assumptions which proved to be false. I thought I’d pick out the best, and answer with that one, but realized I had a whole blog post!

So without further ado; here is my list of assumptions about programming and the industry which proved to be incorrect: …

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I have a pet peeve and like most pet peeves it’s an irrelevant petty little annoyance, not quite a huge, humanity, oppressing problem.

My pet peeve is filling out the same information; name, address, city, etc… on paper forms. All that standard information at every doctor’s office, school, activity registration form for my kids, etc… I mean why do I need to keep writing this stuff? And why does somebody else have to take the time to retype it into their system?

Really! In all seriousness … what a waste of time! 5 minutes I’ll never get back, every time I start a new relationship with any organization.

But wait … I have a vision! Not a big glorious, save humanity vision, it’s more of a save each person 5 minutes of writers cramp, kind of vision. Yes! That kind of glorious vision! …

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