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Way back in September , I started my first real job, working at Oranim, a big bread factory in Israel that made something like , loaves of bread every night in six giant ovens the size of aircraft carriers. The sides of the ovens were yellowing, machines were rusting, there was grease everywhere. What are you talking about? It took me a couple of months of cleaning the bakery every morning before I realized what they meant.

In the bakery, clean meant no dough on the machines. Clean meant no fermenting dough in the trash. Clean meant no dough on the floors. Clean did not mean the paint on the ovens was nice and white. Painting the ovens was something you did every decade, not every day. Clean did not mean no grease. In fact there were a lot of machines that needed to be greased or oiled regularly and a thin layer of clean oil was usually a sign of a machine that had just been cleaned.

The whole concept of clean in the bakery was something you had to learn. To an outsider, it was impossible to walk in and judge whether the place was clean or not. An outsider would never think of looking at the inside surfaces of the dough rounder a machine that rolls square blocks of dough into balls, shown in the picture at right to see if they had been scraped clean. An outsider would obsess over the fact that the old oven had discolored panels, because those panels were huge. The bread still tasted just as good.

When you start out as a beginning programmer or you try to read code in a new language it all looks equally inscrutable.

Ellen Looks Back at 'When Things Go Wrong'

As you get more proficient at writing code in a particular environment, you start to learn to see other things. Things that may be perfectly legal and perfectly OK according to the coding convention, but which make you worry. That code smells a little bit dirty. You have a superficial idea of cleanliness, mostly at the level of conformance to coding conventions. You start to smell subtle hints of uncleanliness beneath the surface and they bug you enough to reach out and fix the code.

You deliberately architect your code in such a way that your nose for uncleanliness makes your code more likely to be correct. This is the real art: making robust code by literally inventing conventions that make errors stand out on the screen. On with the example. Instead you have to encode it before you copy it back into the HTML. All strings that originate from the user are unsafe.


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Any unsafe string must not be output without encoding it. If wrong code, at least, looks wrong, then it has a fighting chance of getting caught by someone working on that code or reviewing that code. So our convention says this: if you ever see Request that is not surrounded by Encode , the code must be wrong. You start to train your eyes to look for naked Request s, because they violate the convention.

How We Learn

What if we made a coding convention that said that when you write out any string you have to encode it? Now whenever you see a naked Write without the Encode you know something is amiss. This looks wrong according to our convention, which requires us to encode strings on the way out:. Did we remember to encode the string?

If you have a lot of code like this, it takes a ton of detective work to trace the origin of every string that is ever written out to make sure it has been encoded. Let me rewrite that same code, changing nothing but the variable names to match our new convention. The thing I want you to notice about the new convention is that now, if you make a mistake with an unsafe string, you can always see it on some single line of code , as long as the coding convention is adhered to:.

Every line of code can be inspected by itself , and if every line of code is correct, the entire body of code is correct. In fact we can extend the rule a bit, and rename or wrap the Request and Encode functions to be UsRequest and SEncode … in other words, functions that return an unsafe string or a safe string will start with Us and S , just like variables.

Now look at the code:. See what I did? Now you can look to see that both sides of the equal sign start with the same prefix to see mistakes. This makes mistakes even more visible. This business of making wrong code look wrong depends on getting the right things close together in one place on the screen. I have to be able to see it right there and that means a variable naming convention.


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  6. There are a lot of other examples where you can improve code by moving things next to each other. Most coding conventions include rules like:. What all these rules have in common is that they are trying to get the relevant information about what a line of code really does physically as close together as possible.

    Using the right word can matter. Using the wrong word can matter even more. I once lost a potential writing gig because I used "who" instead of "whom" in a proposal letter. Even just one incorrectly used word --especially when you're trying to make a great impression--can ruin everything. Is that unfair?

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    To make sure that doesn't happen to you, I've collected some of the most common incorrectly used words from other posts into one epic post. Thanks to all the readers along the way who offered their own examples, many of which are included here. Adverse means harmful or unfavorable: "Adverse market conditions caused the IPO to be poorly subscribed. Aside from the two words being pronounced differently the s in advise sounds like a z , advise is a verb while advice is a noun. Advice is what you give whether or not the recipient is interested in that gift is a different issue altogether when you advise someone.

    So "Thank you for the advise" is incorrect, while "I advise you not to bore me with your advice in the future" is correct if pretentious. If you run into trouble, just say each word out loud and you'll instantly know which makes sense; there's no way you'd ever say "I advice you to Verbs first. Affect means to influence: "Impatient investors affected our roll-out date. How you use effect or affect can be tricky. For example, a board can affect changes by influencing them and can effect changes by directly implementing them. Bottom line, use effect if you're making it happen, and affect if you're having an impact on something that someone else is trying to make happen.

    As for nouns, effect is almost always correct: "Once he was fired he was given 20 minutes to gather his personal effects. Aggressive is a very popular business adjective: aggressive sales force, aggressive revenue projections, aggressive product rollout. But unfortunately, aggressive means ready to attack, or pursuing aims forcefully, possibly unduly so. Of course, most people have seen aggressive used that way for so long they don't think of it negatively; to them it just means hard-charging, results-oriented, driven, etc. But some people may not see it that way.

    So consider using words like enthusiastic , eager, committed, dedicated, or even although it pains me to say it passionate. An award is a prize. Musicians win Grammy Awards. Car companies win J. Power awards. Employees win Employee of the Month awards. Think of an award as the result of a contest or competition.


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    A reward is something given in return for effort, achievement, hard work, merit, etc. A sales commission is a reward. A bonus is a reward. A free trip for landing the highest number of new customers is a reward. Be happy when your employees win industry or civic awards, and reward them for the hard work and sacrifices they make to help your business grow. Use between when you name separate and individual items. Take "The team will decide between Mary, Marcia, and Steve when we fill the open customer service position. Use among when there are three or more items but they are not named separately.

    Like, "The team will decide among a number of candidates when we fill the open customer service position. You haven't named them separately, so among is correct. And we're assuming there are more than two candidates; otherwise you'd say between. If there are two candidates you could say, "I just can't decide between them. Both have to do with objects you move or carry.

    The Feedback Fallacy

    The difference is in the point of reference: You bring things here and you take them there. You ask people to bring something to you, and you ask people to take something to someone or somewhere else. Compliment means to say something nice. Complement means added to, enhanced, improved, completed, or brought close to perfection. I can compliment your staff and their service, but if you have no current openings you have a full complement of staff. Or your new app may complement your website. Both words come from the root continue, but they mean very different things.

    Continuously means never ending. Hopefully your efforts to develop your employees are continuous, because you never want to stop improving their skills and their future. Continual means whatever you're referring to stops and starts. You might have frequent disagreements with your co-founder, but unless those discussions never end which is unlikely, even though it might feel otherwise , then those disagreements are continual.

    That's why you should focus on continuous improvement but plan to have continual meetings with your accountant: The former should never, ever stop, and the other mercifully should. A criterion is a principle or standard. If you have more than one criterion, those are referred to as criteria.

    When Everything Looks Fine. | the Fitty

    But if you want to be safe and you only have one issue to consider, just say standard or rule or benchmark. Then use criteria for all the times there are multiple specifications or multiple standards involved. Discreet means careful, cautious, showing good judgment: "We made discreet inquiries to determine whether the founder was interested in selling her company. Discrete means individual, separate, or distinct: "We analyzed data from a number of discrete market segments to determine overall pricing levels. Elicit means to draw out or coax.

    Think of elicit as the mildest form of extract. If one lucky survey respondent will win a trip to the Bahamas, the prize is designed to elicit responses. Illicit means illegal or unlawful, and while I suppose you could elicit a response at gunpoint, you probably shouldn't. Every day means, yep, every day -- each and every day. If you ate a bagel for breakfast each day this week, you had a bagel every day.

    Everyday means commonplace or normal. Decide to wear your "everyday shoes" and that means you've chosen to wear the shoes you normally wear. That doesn't mean you have to wear them every single day; it just means wearing them is a common occurrence. Another example is along and a long: Along means moving in a constant direction or a line, or in the company of others, while a long means of great distance or duration.

    You wouldn't stand in "along line," but you might stand in a long line for a long time, along with a number of other people. A couple more examples: a while and awhile , and any way and anyway. If you're in doubt, read what you write out loud. To evoke is to call to mind; an unusual smell might evoke a long-lost memory.

    To invoke is to call upon something: help, aid, or maybe a higher power. So hopefully all your branding and messaging efforts evoke specific emotions in potential customers. But if they don't, you might consider invoking the gods of commerce to aid you in your quest for profitability. Farther involves a physical distance: "Florida is farther from New York than Tennessee. So, as we say in the South and that "we" has included me , "I don't trust you any farther than I can throw you," or "I ain't gonna trust you no further.

    Use "less" when referring to items you can't or haven't tried to count, like "less time" or "less money. Anyone who has children uses good more often than he or she should. Since kids pretty quickly learn what good means, "You did good, honey" is much more convenient and meaningful than "You did well, honey. Good is an adjective that describes something; if you did a good job, then you do good work.

    Well is an adverb that describes how something was done; you can do your job well. Where it gets tricky is when you describe, say, your health or emotional state. If you're praising an employee and referring to the outcome say, "You did a good job. And while you're at it, stop saying good to your kids and use great instead, because no one -- especially a kid -- ever receives too much praise. If and whether are often interchangeable. It gets trickier when a condition is not involved. And always use if when you introduce a condition. Many people including, until recently, me use impact when they should use affect.

    Impact doesn't mean to influence; impact means to strike, collide, or pack firmly. And to make it more confusing, effect means to accomplish something: "The board effected a sweeping policy change. How you correctly use effect or affect can be tricky.