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Tag Archives: bad practices


My spouse traveled to Canada for a few days. She just went a few miles over the border into Vancouver, BC.

She neglected to add an international data plan to her mobile number before she left. Because of this, she racked up $300 of data charges in 24 hours.

Every wireless carrier has at least one, and you have to add it to your account before you travel outside the country, and then delete it when you return home. But, why? My carrier knows when I’m out of the country! In fact, multiple systems between my cellphone and my account know it!

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We had more fun with a vendor today.

We license a vendor’s services for corporate information, like annual revenue and office locations. Their name shall be kept confidential. I’ve written about them before.

About two weeks ago, we noticed a slowdown in our API calls into their system.

We asked them about it, and they replied that they would take a look. A bit later, they said they had found the problem and were working on a solution.

Today, after working on new code, I ran my unit tests. A few tests make calls to this vendor. (Yeah, I could have mocked out the calls. But there are good reasons to not mock out calls in unit tests.) I was surprised to see those tests now fail.

Curiously, they failed because the API calls returned the response, “Customer Disabled”.

Eh…. Wut?

I immediately switched to a browser window and tried a part of our product that used their API. I found that our product now failed with the same error. Uh oh.

I e-mailed the vendor and asked what’s up. Their answer:

We found that our service was being slowed down by your API calls. So we disabled your API key.

I am not kidding. Continue reading after you’ve caught your breath.
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At IP Street, most of our technology stack is open-source. Something happened last week that threw our components’ different design philosophies into stark relief.

We use Solr (with Zookeeper) for many of our search and pivot tasks, and Redis as a Swiss Army Knife. They do different things and have different consistency requirements. You can easily critique any juxtaposition as comparing apples to oranges. I think it’s instructive, because Solr and Redis are both high-performance, production-quality, and powerful tools.

Working on them within the same day, I experienced exact terminal opposites in configuration philosophy!

Let’s meet contestant number 1

Solr is a powerful search engine. Their Cloud feature lets you shard and scale your index, and Solr will do the internal shard and node routing. Or you can direct your queries to the appropriate node for a small performance win. Being short-handed understaffed frugal with our peons worker bees people, we let Solr do the routing. “Here’s a document, store it.” “I want this document.” “Here’s a pivot within a search, do it and assemble the results for me, pronto.” Etc.

Solr nodes are peers, though internally there are leaders and replicas. Solr uses Zookeeper, an Apache technology for distributed persistent configuration. Nodes do the right thing when other nodes come and go.
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We license a vendor’s services for corporate information, like annual revenue and office locations. Their name shall be kept confidential in this story.

We access their API via http calls. They call it a REST API. But like 95% of the “REST” APIs in the world, it’s not REST at all, and in fact nowhere near REST. The term “REST” has been corrupted to be become synonymous with, “web API”.

But whatever. It’s an API accessed with http calls.

One of service calls has a parameter called, “countryCode”, which was documented as an ISO 3166 country code.

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My friend Kirk has run his dev team in a mostly Agile system. Code sprints, agreeing on tickets for the sprint, declaring victory at the end of the sprint, etc.

But now Kirk’s boss says:

I need you to commit to achieve certain goals by various dates over the next year. Once you agree to them, you need to commit to delivering them on time.

How is this situation silly? Let me count the ways…

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A friend, whom I’ll call “Kirk,” works in a startup. A really good developer, whom I’ll call “Amy,” reports to him.

Kirk lobbied his boss for a big raise for Amy. He thought about this the right way:

I’ve researched the current market rates for developers of Amy’s level and abilities. She’s very good, she’s worked hard for us, and I expect great things from her this year. The plan calls for raising her salary to $X, But I suggest we raise her salary to $(X + n) because that’s the going salary for someone like her in this area.

Kirk’s boss thought about it the wrong way:

A raise to $(X + n/2) would be better. It’ll be a large increase over her current salary.

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I talked with Erik Carlin of Rackspace about last week’s Rackspace post.

He explained that I experienced a bug in their dynamic image configuration. When you instantiate a VM, a number of things happen behind the scenes to the base server image. It’s not as simple as copying a directory tree from A to B. A bug was introduced into their code, and they caught the bug and fixed it, but not before it bit some users.

So, Rackspace didn’t intentionally change the server image this time. I apologize for drawing that conclusion.

My November 2011 post about mutating server bits is still correct. We talked about Rackspace’s challenge in balancing “simplicity of use” vs. “power users’ information needs” when a server image changes.

 

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