arcodology (n.): the black art of code examination and analysis, performed during software upgrades and/or web site refreshes. arcodologists sift through tangled code fragments, often (but not always) of unknown origin and authorship, in search of meaning, enlightenment, or any shred of code that can actually be re-used. See also frustration, laziness, and cruft.

i spend a fair amount of time writing code, and often have to re-write stuff that someone else has written. it keeps me awake at night, thinking about all the terrible code out there (including my own). it reminds me of one of my favorite computer geek quotes:

If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.
   – Weinberg’s second law

the code you can’t touch is the worst
here’s the scenario – you’re working on a web site redesign, and you’ve got a week until launch. you’re only supposed to touch these pages (not those), and don’t change any of the nav framework, ok?

ok. no problem. only a few pages to code? easy. until you look under the hood and see HTML riddled with more font tags than MicroSoft FrontPage from 1996 <shudder>. and let’s not even talk about using single-column, single-row tables to do god-knows-what.

c’mon, people. it’s 2004 (almost 2005). let’s at least get rid of the font tags. please.

or is stuff you can change worse?
the code you can change might even be worse, because if you’re an anal retentive code snob like me (i can see the comments already…), you just have to change it so you can sleep. time never permits, of course, so you struggle through the night, tossing and turning, thinking about those crufty CSS files still sitting around that you just didn’t have time to fix <shudder, again>.

so what about this site, mr. code weenie?
the HTML for this site sucks. so does the CSS. i should know – i wrote it. it’s not standards-compliant, it doesn’t validate, the CSS is inelegant, and a lot of it is just a plain HTML–table–hack job. i want to rewrite it, now that i’ve read Zeldman’s standards book. he has inspired me to make the time to do it.

it takes time. it takes effort. it’s worth it.

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One thought on “arcodology

  1. Andrew Lynch

    Nice post. The Weinberg quote is fitting and timely since I just got back from a UK trip during which I presented stuff to a group of conservative middle-aged engineers who ruefully plead guilty to the Woodpecker Principle.
    I don’t think we could do what we do for a living if we weren’t anal, so I’m all over it like #FFFFFF on Oryza sativa.


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