Mudsharked

When I worked at TV Guide I had a co-worker who frequently used a phrase “couldn’t we just” (pronounced with a whiney way with a New Jersey accent) to drive web developers to the outer reaches of annoyance. The thing is, in software development there are very few things that are “just” and a lot of resons why we couldn’t.

One of the main reasons is that people tend to abuse just about any feature that you is created for them. This goes doubly for nice features.

Let’s say you have an understanding boss who lets you have some flexibility in your workday hours. You can safely bet that without frequent admonitions to come in at a reasonable hour your fellow cowokers (and probably yourself) will probe the limits of when to begin a workday to a ridiculous degree.

When I worked at a clam counter at Nathan’s at Coney Island we used to have a set of one pint containers with horseradish and cocktail sause. My supervisor told me to keep them under the counter and only furnish when requested. After a number of annoyed customers asked me why “couldn’t I just” leave them on the counter, I complied. What could go wrong?

A day later two homeless gentlemen had an argument over something and used the containers as projectile weapons against each other. My supervisor sent me out to clean the mess with a dose of “I told you so” (apparently this same exact fight happened in the past).

The thing is, your fantasy is usually not enough to envision the ridiculousnes to which features can be abused. For instance, as a fisherman I’ve always had a fantasy of fishing out of a building’s window. When I was taking a cruise around Seattles’s waterfront with my wife, the boat’s guide pointed out the Waterfront hotel, and mentioned that in the past hotel’s management provided fishing rods and tackle in the rooms.

The problem turned out to be not that the clients did not catch fish. The problem was that instead, they caught too many, and left their catch to rot in sinks, toilets and bathtubs. Tired of antisanitary fish carcasses they nixed this feature.

When I came home, I looked up the hotel, and found the bit that the guide left out. This hotel was the place where the infamous Led Zeppelin “mud shark incident” took place. The link is certainly not PG 13, because rockstars, hotel rooms, fish caught out of the window, and groupies is a dangerous mix.

Has a feature that you created ever been mudsharked?

The Mystery of Obidos

Whoa, caught amazon.com while it was down.
They are showing a page with Rufus, the Amazon dog.

By the way, I was meaning to write about that for some time now. Did you ever notice enigmatic word “obidos” in Amazon url?

Some theories from usenet:

  • Castle near Lisbon
  • OBI (Wan Kenobi) + DOS (Disk Operating System)
  • ‘OBI’ = Object Broker Interface

    This seems to be the correct answer though: Obidos is is a major port on the Amazon river.

    [update]
    Livejournal user hallerlake had this to add:

    “I worked at Amazon for a couple of years, and can mostly answer that.

    Obidos is the area where the Amazon is “concentrated” – it narrows to a point about a mile wide and a couple hundred feet deep. It’s the chokepoint of the Amazon. A wry sense of humor turned that to the naming scheme.

    The Amazon Marketplace (auctions+zshops+third party) code was called Varzea for similar reasons – it’s the delta point of the amazon river, where the river fans out.

    Amazon wrote their own web serving environment because the selection of scripting/webcontrol languages when they got started was so lousy. They had to call it something, so obidos it was. :) “


    Obidos is huge, it might be over a gig by now. I don’t think it’s that bad, though. I haven’t been at Amazon for a few years. For a long time Amazon ran on the Netscape web server environment, then eventually moved to a specially tuned Apache. But yeah, the webservers had a lot of RAM in them so that we could fork a bunch of different processes… and a garbage collector got added to take care of some of the memory leaks. Even still we had a service that killed and restarted processes every hundred accesses or so. It wasn’t pretty.

    I don’t know who came up with the name… I’d bet on Shel Kaphan or possibly Joel Spiegel. Shel set the direction for the company’s software development and architecture, including standardization on C (instead of C++) due to easier debugging. Certainly for the first few years he was The Guy for software architecture; these days I would imagine Al Vermeulen has that task.