Homeownership: a metaphor for legacy code

I kind of just wrote a mini choose-your-own-adventure story involving toilets.


Say you’re a homeowner and you’re trying to install new gray water low-flow toilets in your house to comply with the law just passed on water conservation.

Of course there’s going to be some sort of connection you didn’t realize you needed until you already took your old toilet out because your house was built in 1967 and there was a law passed in your county in 1966 requiring that all toilets have QP-compliable connector sockets but then the law was repealed in 1969 when it was found that only one company had the patent for making QP-compliable connector sockets and so the company had an illegal monopoly on the sockets. Later it was found that the sockets didn’t even solve the problem the company claimed they solved so the company got sued and went under.

Unfortunately since your house was built before the law was repealed, your entire plumbing system relies on these QP sockets. And of course your new toilets aren’t compatible with the QP sockets.

So you can either:

(A) replace your entire plumbing system to eliminate these outdated unnecessary sockets from a repealed law so you can install all the new toilets to comply with the new law,


(B) special order custom QP sockets from a third party vendor to be able to install your new toilets and comply with the new law (while also unnecessarily complying with the outdated repealed law by keeping the pointless sockets).

You choose A: Replace the plumbing system

You decide to rip out the entire plumbing system. You have some home improvement money saved up, and you can deal with a few months’ inconvenience of tearing up walls to remove the pipes. You’re planning to stay in this home for a long time. It makes sense to invest in something as fundamental as the entire plumbing system.

You ask your friends to refer you to contractors, compare quotes, read reviews online, read FAQs and top posts on /r/homeimprovement and the like. You’ve found a contractor who checks out. She outlines the process and schedule.

You move most of your furniture into storage but you don’t need to move out for now.

You choose B: Special order the sockets

You just wanna change the damn toilets to comply with the damn water conservation law. Even though any water saved from the new toilets is a drop in the bucket (ha!) compared to how much water gets wasted by agri-businesses. Do we really need to grow alfalfa in California? Like really?

Anyway. You’re a reasonable person and you’re gonna follow the law. You can afford new toilets, which is better off than most people, but there’s no way you’re gonna drop twenty grand and spend six months living in a construction zone to change your toilets.

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Software engineer, armchair novelist

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