Be Patient!...OK?

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"I used to feel nervous when making payments online, but now I feel ...um...'Close' about it," writes Jeff K.


Wait Low Down

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As mentioned previously I’ve been doing a bit of coding for microcontrollers lately. Coming from the world of desktop and web programming, it’s downright revelatory. With no other code running, and no operating system, I can use every cycle on a 16MHz chip, which suddenly seems blazing fast. You might have to worry about hardware interrupts- in fact I had to swap serial connection libraries out because the one we were using misused interrupts and threw of the timing of my process.

And boy, timing is amazing when you’re the only thing running on the CPU. I was controlling some LEDs and if I just went in a smooth ramp from one brightness level to the other, the output would be ugly steps instead of a smooth fade. I had to use a technique called temporal dithering, which is a fancy way of saying “flicker really quickly” and in this case depended on accurate, sub-microsecond timing. This is all new to me.


The Wizard Algorithm

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Password requirements can be complicated. Some minimum and maximum number of characters, alpha and numeric characters, special characters, upper and lower case, change frequency, uniqueness over the last n passwords and different rules for different systems. It's enough to make you revert to a PostIt in your desk drawer to keep track of it all. Some companies have brillant employees who feel that they can do better, and so they create a way to figure out the password for any given computer - so you need to neither remember nor even know it.

Kendall Mfg. Co. (estab. 1827) (3092720143)

History does not show who created the wizard algorithm, or when, or what they were smoking at the time.


A Unique Specification

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One of the skills I think programmers should develop is not directly programming related: you should be comfortable reading RFCs. If, for example, you want to know what actually constitutes an email address, you may want to brush up on your BNF grammars. Reading and understanding an RFC is its own skill, and while I wouldn’t suggest getting in the habit of reading RFCs for fun, it’s something you should do from time to time.

To build the skill, I recommend picking a simple one, like UUIDs. There’s a lot of information encoded in a UUID, and five different ways to define UUIDs- though usually we use type 1 (timestamp-based) and type 4 (random). Even if you haven’t gone through and read the spec, you already know the most important fact about UUIDs: they’re unique. They’re universally unique in fact, and you can use them as identifiers. You shouldn’t have a collision happen within the lifetime of the universe, unless someone does something incredibly wrong.


The Sanity Check

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I've been automating deployments at work, and for Reasons™, this is happening entirely in BASH. Those Reasons™ are that the client wants to use Salt, but doesn't want to give us access to their Salt environment. Some of our deployment targets are microcontrollers, so Salt isn't even an option.

While I know the shell well enough, I'm getting comfortable with more complicated scripts than I usually write, along with tools like xargs which may be the second best shell command ever invented. yes is the best, obviously.


Just Handle It

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Clint writes, "On Facebook, I tried to report a post as spam. I think I might just have to accept it."


The New Guy (Part II): Database Boogaloo

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When we last left our hero Jesse, he was wading through a quagmire of undocumented bad systems while trying to solve an FTP issue. Several months later, Jesse had things figured out a little better and was starting to feel comfortable in his "System Admin" role. He helped the company join the rest of the world by dumping Windows NT 4.0 and XP. The users whose DNS settings he bungled were now happily utilizing Windows 10 workstations. His web servers were running Windows Server 2016, and the SQL boxes were up to SQL 2016. Plus his nemesis Ralph had since retired. Or died. Nobody knew for sure. But things were good.

Despite all these efforts, there were still several systems that relied on Access 97 haunting him every day. Jesse spent tens of dollars of his own money on well-worn Access 97 programming books to help plug holes in the leaky dike. The A97 Finance system in particular was a complete mess to deal with. There were no clear naming guidelines and table locations were haphazard at best. Stored procedures and functions were scattered between the A97 VBS and the SQL DB. Many views/functions were nested with some going as far as eight layers while others would form temporary tables in A97 then continue to nest.


The Manager Who Knew Everything

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Have you ever worked for/with a manager that knows everything about everything? You know the sort; no matter what the issue, they stubbornly have an answer. It might be wrong, but they have an answer, and no amount of reason, intelligent thought, common sense or hand puppets will make them understand. For those occasions, you need to resort to a metaphorical clue-bat.

A few decades ago, I worked for a place that had a chief security officer who knew everything there was to know about securing their systems. Nothing could get past the policies she had put in place. Nobody could ever come up with any mechanism that could bypass her concrete walls, blockades and insurmountable defenses.


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