Times of WTF

There’s a reason I avoid news of all flavors. The WTF-per-minute count gets too high for the tattered remnants of my sanity. I deal with enough WTF from work: I don’t need more in my life (for those who are wondering – the true measure of software quality is the number of WTFs per minute, as shown here).

Part of what I’m doing at work involves testing a new user interface for a partner. Said interface was delivered with the claim that it was almost ready to be taken live and could we evaluate it to see if any of our customers would prefer it over the old interface. Let’s just say that the idea this thing was nearly ready was a major WTF in itself, and it took a remarkably short amount of testing on our part before the partner was suddenly claiming we were effectively beta testing. Honestly, the backpedaling was enough to raise its own dust cloud.

I am somewhat relieved that the software my employer produces is at least better thought through than that. We try to use icons that are more or less meaningful (and let’s face it, some concepts aren’t that easy to get across in an icon) and to have appropriate labels as well. We also don’t even pretend to be mobile-friendly because anyone who’s insane enough to enter payroll on a mobile deserves what they suffer.

Payroll is not simple. Especially not when the rules you’ve got to comply with to handle payroll are the kind of horrifying convoluted mess that gives anyone a headache (doubt me? If you’re in the US, take the time to actually read the instructions on your W-2 or 1099 when you get them. And remember that these are the simple forms).

And yes, governments of all stripes generate WTFs at a rate that could power a small city.

It irritates me, because who the hell would accept any of this in fiction? Hell, there are things I’ve seen in code that I could never include in fiction. Nobody would believe finding a custom function to calculate standard deviation that was actually a random number generator. (That was an interesting WTF… Especially since it was in software that was supposed to be used for standardized tests). And that’s before you consider the things that can be found in comments (I’ll admit to not having located the exact line of code that summons the Great Old Ones, but I know it’s there. I think it inserts itself once the code gets complicated enough. Possibly the compiler inserts it).

Hell, 2020 wouldn’t pass muster in fiction – at least if we hadn’t lived it. I’m quite certain that in a few hundred years time, most of this year is going to be dismissed as the work of conspiracy theorists or insanity or something because “millions of people couldn’t possibly be that stupid”.

Yeah, right. In my experience, there is no lower limit to stupidity. Every time I start to think that one might have been located, someone goes and blows right through it. Usually someone who is otherwise intelligent, too – because the stupidity an intelligent person can produce is far, far more… interesting than the stupidity that comes from a stupid person. Confirmation blindness and hubris thy downfall shall bring.

On that happy note, have a picture of Midnight and Westley. I’d offer a new photo, but both boys are too busy chasing empty loo rolls around the house. Cheapest cat toy ever.

25 thoughts on “Times of WTF

  1. > Possibly the compiler inserts it

    Down at the coal face of security administration, nobody trusts the compilers any more, either. And certainly not software that depends on critical library functions that not only aren’t compiled in, but require internet access because they’re hosted on a server in a foreign country.

    And then the developers who want to use an inappropriate tool stack, vastly complicating something that ought to be simple. And then they spend increasing amounts of time, not working on their primary code, but accomodating all the updates in their tool stack which break their code, and then scrambling to replace tools that are desupported or “improved” into something incomptaible with how their software depended on them…

    [cough] “Nothing to see here, move along.”

  2. Then there are the coders/programmers who use types of code because It’s Cool (or because they think it shows “how smart” they are). 😡

    1. Intercal is a reasonable, legitimate, and enjoyable tool for web design, systems programming, and education.

      1. Related to that is “since they purchased this program from us, it should be hard to understand so they’ll pay us to fix/modify it”.

        Sometime in the late 70s I saw such a purchased program. The Field names in the File layout were things like “Field One”, “Field Two”, etc.

      2. For that, you just do spaghetti code.

        I have gotten onto a code base where all three programmers assigned to it were new. It’s — memorable.

  3. I’m pretty sure that much of the stuff about the voting machine software coming out is enough to make wtf/min approach infinity.
    It’s been 20+ years since I learned that going through a dozen pages of gooblyguck in search of a misplaced semicolon is my personal version of hell, but I still know enough to be horrified.

  4. 1. Loo rolls — My catten likes the caps from gallon jugs.
    2. Software, payroll — Preach it, sister! Once, meeting for JAD design of student performance reporting, I described the table-driven honor roll criteria and triggers. They wanted the attendance honor roll, the nutrition honor roll, and among others the gold, silver, and bronze honor roll. In a fit of WTF, I asked whether we needed to go as far as the uranium, neptunium and plutonium honor rolls. They asked, “Can we??”

  5. Nobody would believe finding a custom function to calculate standard deviation that was actually a random number generator. (That was an interesting WTF… Especially since it was in software that was supposed to be used for standardized tests).

    The charitable part of me says that the random number generator was put in there so that they could write the rest of the code while waiting for the STDev function to be written and not get errors from having a blank function. Somehow this didn’t get replaced with the right function prior to getting to you.

    The less charitable part says some lazy developer said, “Heck no one actually knows what a standard deviation is. Let’s just put in a random number. No one will notice.”

  6. And yes, governments of all stripes generate WTFs at a rate that could power a small city.

    Unfortunately, WTF’s do not liberate energy, they consume it.

    Reducing government would do more good than all the government conservation programs in existence. Not to mention cutting down on all the hot air generated by politicians… 😛

  7. What? They’re not in the Christmas Tree?

    Only one of our cats, the girl, is interested in playing, and we’ve got two trees– a tiny one from navy days goes over the manger scene. When she was investigating that, our punniest child was very impressed with how careful she was not to knock over the little toy manger she sniffed and went around behind to start grooming.
    “Of course GirlCat is being careful, she’s very religious.”
    Daughter, unsure if there is a joke coming or if cats have religion, gives me a look. “She is?”
    “Yeah! She’s a Cat-lick, see?”

    1. As our cat, Gertrude, is named after the patron saint of cats, please feel free to assure your daughter that cats may at least have enough religion to both have patron saints and be named for them.

  8. I agree with the look on Westley’s face! My cat, Max, has been under his quilt for the last week. I don’t think he’s coming out until spring.

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