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OT: most egregious programming error, ever

by swampyankee (Parson)
on Feb 21, 2006 at 22:12 UTC ( [id://531815]=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

This is inspired by the references to the "dictator programmer" in the OT: The mythical man month - have we learned nothing? thread.

What is the most egregious, dumbest programming error of which you've heard?

To keep this from getting too far afield, you or the person from whom you heard the story must have direct personal knowledge -- as in s?he was the project manager or at least heard the project manager's shrieks of rage as the problem was discovered.

My anecdote is the programmer who completed a project, which was to be (eventually) used on a CDC computer, in IBM assembly language.

Incidentally, the "Venus probe crashes due to missing comma in FORTRAN DO statement" can't be used; it didn't happen, at least not in FORTRAN. NASA didn't use FORTRAN to program the computers in its space probes.

emc

" When in doubt, use brute force." — Ken Thompson

Edit: g0n - moved to Meditations from SoPW

  • Comment on OT: most egregious programming error, ever

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Re: OT: most egregious programming error, ever
by Old_Gray_Bear (Bishop) on Feb 21, 2006 at 23:46 UTC
    Back in the late 70's, I was part of an external audit team doing 'project oversight' on systems-developement efforts for a rather large governmental agency. The principal contractor was a large accounting firm, let us call them 'A2', to protect the innocent (namely me).

    One day I received the documentation of a final systems end-to-end test run, to "sign-off on". The folks from A2 had run five transactions through the system, which had taken six seconds of wall-clock time. I looked at this, did a little arithemetic and said "Hum, that means that we can process about 72,000 transactions a day. What is the estimated transaction volume?" The A2 Project Manager immediately responded with "120,000 per day. But we are absolutely certain that the system can handle it."

    I asked that they re-run the test with a few more transactions, say 120,000. After a bit of 'discussion' between the Project Manager and my management chain (the PM claimed I was being 'negative and obstructive'), A2 re-ran the test with 35,000 transactions. They claimed that it was 'an imposition', but they'd do it anyway; just to keep me quiet. The run took twenty-seven hours to finish ....

    I spent a couple of hours during the test looking through A2's source code. It seems that the A2 programmers had left all of the debugging code in place and turned on; they just sent the output to the bit-bucket. I spent most of a Saturday carving the "print 'DEBUG -- entering subroutine X' " and "print 'DEBUG -- exiting subroutine X' " statements out of the "final deliverable". We kicked off the 35K transaction run just before 2000. It finish two hours later. I bundled the findings into a memo and sent them up the food chain.

    On Monday, a major hoo-hah ensued. The A2 Managenment tried to get an official repremand stuck into my file on the grounds that I had 'tampered with their deliverable'. My manager refused and threatened to have my memo read into the Congressional Record by a tame Senator or two. The Government Account Office got involved and my team got to audit the entire code corpus that A2 had produced. That was a fun ten months. --- Update ---
    Corrected missing word in the last paragraph. (Thank you Roy_Johnson)

    ----
    I Go Back to Sleep, Now.

    OGB

Re: OT: most egregious programming error, ever
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on Feb 22, 2006 at 02:30 UTC

    As a pointer, you can find tons of great stories at The Daily WTF and ComputerWorld’s Shark Tank column. They’re not limited to dumb programming errors, but they’ll all make you alternately cringe and laugh.

    Makeshifts last the longest.

      http://some.url?backdoor=secrect

      Oh, my ...


      holli, /regexed monk/

      There is also comp.risks, which is a wonderful source of similar tales.

      emc

      " When in doubt, use brute force." — Ken Thompson
Re: OT: most egregious programming error, ever
by vagnerr (Prior) on Feb 21, 2006 at 23:13 UTC
    How about...
    A programmer in our group who decided to use the mysql data dictionary DB (ie "mysql") to store his application data. Complete with using the mysql root user in his application, because... Well it was too hard to create a dedicated database, and user account for the job :-}


    _______________________________________________________
    Remember that amateurs built Noah's Ark. Professionals built the Titanic.
Re: OT: most egregious programming error, ever
by CountZero (Bishop) on Feb 22, 2006 at 11:47 UTC
    A very recent one (well, not on programming but still IT-related): the local PHB of IT decides to sack the local Head of Networks and sends --through Human Resources-- a "TOP URGENT User-out" message to the Head Office. Such "User-out" message is used to immediately block all computer, e-mail and network access to avoid any downloading of company data by the person being fired (who is at that moment not yet aware of his dismissal).

    Guess what happens? Someone from the Head Office IT Department actually called the poor local Head of Networks to ask "if it is OK to terminate all your accounts, as we see that you are logged-in on some servers and we would not want to disrupt your session"!

    CountZero

    "If you have four groups working on a compiler, you'll get a 4-pass compiler." - Conway's Law

Re: OT: most egregious programming error, ever
by derby (Abbot) on Feb 22, 2006 at 13:44 UTC

    Not a programming error but the most egregious spec I ever had to deal with was the one that had a database requirement to store 2^64 records (for a product line with an expected run of just 10 years!). When I pointed out there was no way in hell they could manufacture that many products in 10 years, the spec was begrudingly modified.

    -derby
Re: OT: most egregious programming error, ever
by rinceWind (Monsignor) on Feb 22, 2006 at 13:08 UTC

    This thread brings to mind one here on Perlmonks from some time back:

    "Don't try this at home"

    --

    Oh Lord, won’t you burn me a Knoppix CD ?
    My friends all rate Windows, I must disagree.
    Your powers of persuasion will set them all free,
    So oh Lord, won’t you burn me a Knoppix CD ?
    (Missquoting Janis Joplin)

Re: OT: most egregious programming error, ever
by reasonablekeith (Deacon) on Feb 22, 2006 at 17:19 UTC
    by far the most worrying thing I have ever seen is an online payment application that went something like this...
    https://somewhere/payment.cgi?cardnumber=34523523453&surname=smith&add +ress1=5%20street...
    ...going on to detail _all_ a customers details on the url. It was actually a customer who phoned up and pointed this out.

    How they kept their jobs is beyond me.

    ---
    my name's not Keith, and I'm not reasonable.
Re: OT: most egregious programming error, ever
by freddo411 (Chaplain) on Feb 22, 2006 at 18:52 UTC
    What is the most egregious, dumbest programming error of which you've heard?
    How about blowing up a $7 billion dollar Ariane 5 rocket?
    http://www.around.com/ariane.html

    -------------------------------------
    Nothing is too wonderful to be true
    -- Michael Faraday

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