What I Learned Today

One of my coworkers solved a problem today that I should have been able to solve. I got pulled into a project that uses a closed system with it’s own programming language that I had never seen nor programmed. My coworker was trying to figure out why his syntax was not working. So we cranked up the logging in Warn.log, Error.log and Fatal.log. We quickly figured out why it was failing, the program was looking for a file that did not exist and he was not catching that error, there is no catch statement.

So I began trying to write an IF/ELSE statement that would check for the error condition. I was given a .pdf of the manual for the system and just started trying different functions that made sense to me. I wrote a nice little one liner in the SYSTEM command that returned TRUE or FALSE if the FILE environment variable existed.

The problem was that we could not set the environment variable with a variable from the program. It has to be a string literal.

From the Trace.log:

      LET sys = EXPORT("FILE=" & $format)

      // Variable "Part01::sys" is a String
      // [  1] = ""

      LET sys = SYSTEM("if [ -f /usr/program/fmt/$FILE ]; then  echo "TRUE"; else echo "FALSE"; fi")

      // Variable "Part01::sys" is a String
      // [  1] = "FALSE"

      IF sys = "TRUE" THEN

        // Test result is FALSE - skipping...

      END IF

We tried a number of different variations on that theme, imported and exported variables to a subshell, tried different return values from the exit command. We got the system to turn circles but what we really wanted was squares.

Finally my coworker called and said, why don’t we just invert the logic. If it falls through to the end of the IF/ELSE statements it must be in the format we want. Let me take a step back and say this was his code, he should have been able to figure it out. I believe I helped him figure out what his main problem was, which helped him find the solution. I’m not trying to minimize his work, nor am I trying to minimize my input into the solution.

The moral of the story is that I should have taken a higher level look at the problem to understand the solution. I am quick to believe that I can code my way out of any problem, regardless whether or not I have ever seen the language. What I really needed to do was step back and take a higher level view of the logic, rather than dive into syntax and functions.

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