Thursday, November 19, 2009 Reports mm Jobs Created or Saved in Congressional District xx

There have been a lot of blog posts and newspaper articles written about reporting results for the 57th district of Minnesota or "the fightin' 59th" of Illinois. But few focus on the real problem.

Since the site reports information from ordinary folks who receive "stimulus money," you can hardly expect them to know their congressman.

I once stood on the busiest corner of downtown Minneapolis during lunch hour while KTCA reporter Eric Eskola showed a picture of congressman Marty Sabo to passersby saying "Do you know who this man is?" I watched about 15 minutes of "uh, uh, no!" before anyone even came close.

But part of the job of programmers creating a website is to make sure that things like invalid congressional districts don't get past basic input edits! Try changing one digit in your credit card number the next time you input it on and see what happens!

A Congressional District input should be a wonderful learning tool. "Back in the day," we would have assigned a rookie programmer to handle this part of the coding on a project. "These two columns on the card contain the Congressional District," would have been stated to the rookie. "Make sure its valid."

With any luck at all, the rookie in question was a newly hired MBA from finance who had been sent down to the department to spend a few months "learning about computers". He'd been to programming school. Now the fun would start. Would he find a good source for his information? Would he only check to see if the input was numeric and less than some maximum? Would he allow "00"? Would he find the programming standard for tables? Would he document the table in understandable fashion? And the big one!"
So what are you going to do when the districts change after next year's census? ...Well, who do you think is going to make that change?
Eventually, everything would be fine and our MBA would go back to his "real" job upstairs. But years later when there was a major issue to work out in a possible acquisition or major restructuring and our MBA was now the CFO, he's the one who would say:
Let's get somebody from IT involved. Those guys have way of thinking through all the details and ramifications of stuff. We could really use that on this task force.
And that's the way it was.

And spending 18 million dollars to rework a website? We'll leave that for another post. But a lot of old MIS types are turning over in their graves.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lumberjack or Logger?

I was browsing for books on lumbering and railroads around the 1900 era. Yes, I know, "strange tastes" and all that.

I meandered into the reviews for this book,
"Glory Days of Logging/Action in the Big Woods, British Columbia to California" after Amazon caught me browsing through "Minnesota Logging Railroads." (Isn't it wonderful how Amazon does this? I recall disparaging them in the late 1990s when the stock market had given this profitless company a valuation exceeding General Motors - proof that the market does really know stuff about the future!) The author of the review has some pretty strong opinions about lumberjack versus logger:
(Please don't call them lumber-jacks. I never heard a man who works in the woods called a lumber-jack all my years going up in Oregon. Yet a recent TV show about the worlds most dangerous jobs constantly referred to them a lumber-jacks.)
I grew up in Oregon hearing both terms used. Of course, half of my family was from Minnesota. So, I thought, perhaps it is a regionalism. After all, shortly after I had moved from Oregon to Minnesota, I was having dinner at my future wife's house and my future mother-in-law said, "could you pass the hot dish, Tom?" I was at a loss for what to do - hell, most of the dishes on the table were hot! How was I to know that "hot dish" is Minnesotan for casserole?

So perhaps lumberjack is Minnesotan for logger? Wikipedia suggests that it is more a function of time than place. But our true Minnesota Lumberjacks are timeless:

And don't miss the Lumberjack World Championships in the Lumberjack Bowl when you visit Hayward, Wisconsin.