News Roundup: Calculated
A long time ago, in a galaxy right here, we ran a contest. The original OMGWTF contest was a challenge to build the worst calculator you possibly could.
We got some real treats, like the Universal Calculator, which, instead of being a calculator, was a framework for defining your own calculator, or Rube Goldberg’s Calculator, which eschewed cryptic values like “0.109375”, and instead output “seven sixty-fourths” (using inlined assembly for performance!). Or, the champion of the contest, the Buggy Four Function Calculator, which is a perfect simulation of a rotting, aging codebase.
The joke, of course, is that building a usable calculator app is easy. Why, it’s so easy, that we challenged our readers to come up with ways to make it hard. To find creative ways to fail at handling this simple task. To misinterpret and violate basic principles of how calculators should work.
Well, I bring this up, because just a few days ago, iOS 11.2 left beta and went public. And finally, finally, they fixed the calculator, which has been broken since iOS 11 launched. How broken? Let’s try
1+2+3+4+5+6 shall we?
For those who can’t, or don’t wish to watch the video, according to the calculator,
1+2+3+4+5+6 is 75. I entered the values in quickly, but not super-speed.
I personally discovered the bug for myself while scoring at the end of a round of board games. I just ran down the score-sheet to sum things up, tapping away like one does with a calculator, and got downright insane results.
The underlying cause, near as anyone has been able to tell, is a combination of input lag and display updates, so rapidly typing “1+2+3” loses one of the “+”es and becomes “1+23”.
Now Apple’s been in the news a lot recently- in addition to shipping a completely broken calculator, they messed up character encoding, causing “I” to display a placeholder character, released a macOS update which allowed anyone to log in as root with no password, patched it, but with the problem that the patch broke filesharing, and if you didn’t apply it in the “right” order, the bug could come back.
The root cause of the root bug, by the way, was due to bad error handling in the login code.
Now, I’ll leave it to the pundits to wring their hands over the decline of Apple’s code quality, worry that “is this the future of Apple?!?!!11?”, or claim “this never would have happened under Jobs”. I’m not interested in the broad trends here, or prognosticating, or prognostibating (where you please only yourself by imagining alternate realities where Steve Jobs still lives).
What I am interested in is that calculator app. Some developer, I’m gonna assume a more junior one (right? you don’t need 15 years of experience to reimplement a calculator app), really jacked that up. And at no point in testing did anyone actually attempt to use the calculator. I’m sure they ran some automated UI tests, and when they saw odd results, they started chucking some
sleep() calls in there until the errors went away.
It’s just amazing to me, that we ran a contest built around designing the worst calculator you could. A decade later, Apple comes sauntering in, vying for an honorable mention, in an application they actually shipped.