Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Obama Doesn't Just Want to Take Your Health Insurance Away - He Wants Your Job Too!

I see that the president is out promoting an increase in the minimum wage.
Barack Obama will repeat his call for an increase in the minimum wage to close an ever-growing inequality gap in a speech delivered in one of the poorest corners of the nation's capital.
I thought that Peggy Noonan was right when she said, yesterday, "... the administration is full of young people who’ve seen the movie but not read the book."

But, maybe, they haven't even see the movie.  At least they haven't seen this one!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Bipartisan Fix for ObamaCare: Chick-fil-A or Five Guys Burgers and Fries?

When I started into today's New York Times article on fixing I noted the length (7 on-line pages!) and was expecting one of those old-time, encyclopedic articles like one of many on the Challenger explosion

It was pretty light on facts but heavy on politics and emotion.  While revealing nothing the techies among us haven't been buzzing about for weeks, it did have these gems:
  • ... the moved satisfied most Democrats. Only 39 voted with Republicans to alter the health law, far fewer than the White House had feared.
  • “Just attack us,” Mr. Biden said, according to one person present. “Blame us.”
  • Now it was about a broken promise. But for Mr. Obama, the mounting criticism was more than political. It felt personal.  
  • That morning, an aide to the secretary woke up and burst into tears. “We are taking arrows every day,” she said.
Well, I just can't go on any more.  Read the whole damn thing.

But if you just want evidence that the effort to make the fix is apolitical - or maybe even bipartisan - just skip to page six for this description of the command and control structure - emphasis added:
The war room — a command center known internally as the Exchange Operation Center, or X.O.C. — takes up the fourth floor of a nondescript office building that sits next to a shopping mall, close enough for frequent food runs to Chick-fil-A or Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
Yes, it is once again OK to mention Chick-fil-A in Washington and New York.  (Chicago, probably not so much.)  So let's get re-write on the case and make that "Chick-fil-A or and Five Guys Burgers and Fries."

Yeah, I know I'm not the only one fascinated by the Chick-fil-A reference.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not the Whole Story about La Que Buena?

Have you ever tried to find a restaurant in Minneapolis that is open late?  Or open on Sunday? Good luck.

This story in the StarTribune reports that there is at least one spot open late.
  ... the place was crowded ... the gunman walked up to the front windows of the La Que Buena at 1611 E. Lake St. around 1:30 a.m. Monday and opened fire.
Don't you think there must be more to this story?  Now, at a Taco Bell near a factory with a second shift, I can picture patrons eating dineer at 1:30 in the morning.  On Lake Street - not so much.

There is this reassuring piece of news later in the article:
Except for homicide, crime levels have fallen in south Minneapolis this year.
 (emphasis added)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

NoSQL? Really?

You just knew the truth about the ObamaCare website implementation was going to come out.  I know that when the book is written, it's going to be a best-seller.  But, in the meantime, the dribbles of information are just fascinating.

Friday's article in the New York Times is factual enough to begin to expose the real problems:
CGI and other contractors complained of endlessly shifting requirements and a government decision-making process so cumbersome that it took weeks to resolve elementary questions, such as determining whether users should be required to provide Social Security numbers. Some CGI software engineers ultimately walked out, saying it was impossible to produce good work under such conditions.
Yes, it was just what McKinsey identified and I mentioned a couple of posts below.  But buried in the article is this gem:
Another sore point was the Medicare agency’s decision to use database software, from a company called MarkLogic, that managed the data differently ...
Try looking up MarkLogic in Wikipedia and you come up with a pretty slim profile - but within it is probably everything you need to know.  They make the NoSQL database system.  When a company chooses to denigrate a standard like SQL in that way -- well, my advice is run, run, run.

Here, law professor Ann Althouse translates and interprets the New York Times article for us as if she were analyzing the dissent of a subtle but needling Supreme Court justice.  It is well worth reading if you think you might ever get to participate in managing a very visible I/T project.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Could Walmart Save ObamaCare?

When I read that 30-40% of the ObamaCare system hadn't been built yet, I was even more flabbergasted than before.  I/T disasters are well known for reaching 90% completion and then suddenly ceasing to make progress.  This one must be really out of control!

Digging below the surface a bit led me to this article on payments.  About halfway through the article, this sentence caught by attention:
Behind the scenes, when an individual selects a plan, the federal system transmits a file, known as an “834," with all ...
Ding-ding! That can't be a file - that three-digit code starting with an 8 has to be an EDI transaction type.  Sure enough, check the EDI X12 transaction list. There it is:
EDI 834 - Benefit Enrollment and Maintenance
I don't imagine that there are any less than 100,000 programmers that have implemented EDI for their companies by this time.  Even the smallest of suppliers have had to knuckle under to their large and demanding customers.

I'm sure that my first EDI experience was in the 1970s.  But my quick Google research can only take it back to 1982 and this reference to Pillsbury in the UCS Startup.  I know that Twin Cities companies Pillsbury and Super Value were doing electronic order/invoice exchange prior to that as part of the Grocery Manufacturers Association pilot program.  I'll have to look further to date it.  Ah, those were the days.  No Internet.  Barely even local area networks - we had Datapoint's Arcnet installed, of course.  Communicating from one company's mainframe to another was easy enough, you just used a nicely performing third computer and used the one error-checking protocol that every vendor supported, the biSynch "IBM 2780 remote computer." (You'll find this technique vaguely, and incorrectly, referenced under Serial Communication in the Wikipedia article on EDI.)

Yes, people have been doing this stuff for at least 35 years.  In fact, the Wikipedia UCS article suggests that we might take it back to the 1960s.  That feels more correct.

So wouldn't you think the U.S. Government might be able to find an easy way to solve the ObamaCare data communications issue?  Let's just go to someone that is particularly good at implementing EDI and managing their EDI partners.  They could swallow their pride and go hire Walmart to get the job done.  Yes, I know it would be a big disappointment to have to stoop to that level - but even PBS has admitted to Walmart's expertise.  Perhaps Walmart could trade their expertise for an "Arkansas Anomaly" in the same spirit as the Cornhusker Kickback.

ObamaCare - An I/T Project Out of Control or Something Worse?

I chuckled when my neighbor sent me this picture of proposed new commemorative stamps.

I continue to marvel at the media's fascination - but woeful innocence and ignorance on display as an I/T project displays all of the classic signs of total mis-management. (There is a reason we quit calling it the "MIS Department" - staffed, of course, with MIS-managers!)

When this chart went up in the CMS conference room back in April,

wasn't there anyone in the room that stood up, picked up a marker, drew a circle on the screen and yelled, "This F---ing S--- has got to stop or we're going to have the biggest disaster on our hands since Prohibition!"


Well, good luck to anyone that thinks this thing is going to be running on November 30.  After all, they are still defining policy and requirements.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why Were So Many Newpaper and Magazine Articles So Strongly in Favor of Obamacare?

Even allowing for the normal leftward tilt of most news media, the unrestrained enthusiasm for the Affordable Care Act caught me by surprise at first.

I thought I had it figured out.  Newspaper writers, at heart, mostly want to be the next great American author.  Think Ernest Hemingway, reprised. Of course, most or our current reporters don't have Hemingway's courage and are unlikely to leave their newspaper desk and head off to front lines of some war raging in, say, Africa.  In fact, they are unlikely to abandon any job that then puts then outside of the boundaries of that critical corporate fringe benefit, Health Insurance.  Looking around the newsroom at a great many empty desks and noting the declining circulation numbers on the bulletin board must surely strike fear into many hearts.  "What will I do for health insurance, if I get the axe next?"

And that, I decided, meant that mandatory issue and subsidized premiums would be pushed by the media, with any thoughts of conflict of interest swiftly swept under the rug.

But I had never really thought about the large number of journalists that already function as freelancers.    And clearly, the Obama Administration never had either!  As the tiny minority of (a few million) people in the Individual Marketplace began receiving their cancellation notices for existing policies, a surprising number have turned out to be writers who had already (voluntarily or involuntarily) taken the plunge into the freelance pool.  And, damn!  Some of them are pretty good writers.

Bruce Barcott, in this article published in The New York Observer, might not be Hemingway - but he can sure tell a story.  The article is worth reading in its entirety just to get to the accountant/lawyer's description of how to supply a correct "monthly income" on the Washington State ACA Exchange.

For these writers, already in the Individual Marketplace, a great fear has been cancellation.  And now, as Nancy Pelosi hoped, we have found out what was in the bill.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Substandard Radio

I was listening to NPR late yesterday afternoon.  I know, that doesn't sound like me, but there aren't many choices of radio station near Danbury, Wisconsin, after sunset.  And, besides, WOJB has some of the best music in the country - in between those bizarre news screeds.

As I listened to their half-hour news summary I was struck by how the mellow-voiced reader seemed unable to say "cancelled insurance plan" without inserting the word "substandard" into the phrase!

When NPR gets their talking points and marching orders, they really get with the program.

I wonder if anyone in the Obama Administration or at NPR realizes that when they call insurance "substandard," they are insulting the purchaser and not the policy!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Do You Remember Harry and Louise?

Harry and Louise prevented the government takeover of health care with a simple conversation at their table back in 1993-94.  They drove Paul Krugman nuts.  (Google returns 215,000 hits for 'Paul Krugman Insane')

So, how did a community organizer from Chicago manage to overcome this clever marketing campaign when he wanted to be the health insurance king?  Investors Business Daily tells the story here:
So when President Obama decided to take another stab at health care, he was determined to avoid that pitfall. He endlessly promised in the most emphatic way possible that under his plan, Harry and Louise would have nothing to worry about.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Two More Thoughtful Analyses of the Obamacare Website

A few thoughtful people are now beginning to offer analysis of the debacle.

A commenter over on Marginal Revolution submitted this insight:
When you even contemplate bringing an old legacy system into a large-scale web project, you should do load testing on that system as part of the feasibility process before you ever write a line of production code, because if those old servers can’t handle the load, your whole project is dead in the water if you are forced to rely on them.
Ah, the wisdom of experience!  Perhaps the desired design is not possible.  Let's find out first before we head down this path.

Meanwhile, Arnold Kling has the same gut reaction that I did.
There is zero chance that rewriting five million lines of code is the answer. Either the solution is a lot simpler or there is no solution other than to start over.
As I noted a couple of posts down, not much new has been learned about managing software projects since Fred Brooks experience in the 1960s.  He concludes his analysis with this helpful advice:
For Christmas, someone should give President Obama and Secretary Sebelius a copy of The Mythical Man-month.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Do People Think Before They Comment?

I visited RETROREPORT yesterday following a link to a post titled, "Taking the Lid Off the McDonald’s Coffee Case."

It's about the 1992 lawsuit in which McDonald's lost a $2.9 million dollar judgement to Stella Liebeck, a 79 year-old lady burned by a cup of hot coffee. 

I was struck by this comment within the post:
(Jurors) also learned that McDonald’s had received nearly 700 complaints about hot coffee burns in the almost 10 years before Stella’s trial. But those details went mostly unreported ...
Whoa!  That fact was in the papers.  I could remember it from 21 years ago - I couldn't have recalled the exact number, but I knew there were plenty.  I know I pointed it out to lots of people at the time.  Off to Wikipedia.  Yes, the Wikipedia article cites the 700 complaints.  Where did they find it?  On the front page (p. A1) of the Wall Street Journal for Sept 1, 1994.  Not exactly hidden.

Think nobody reads the Journal?  Well, it's not as popular among young folks as Jon Stewart.  But it does have the largest circulation of any paper in the country. And, it beats almost everything else in the 18-49 demographic.
So, having knocked down the main premise of the post, let's go the comments section.

You have to love someone who says this:

Liebeck argues this coffee was a defective product under federal code because it was way too hot. ...
OMG!  Is there a federal code for the temperature of coffee?  If so, who enforces it?  How do they enforce it?

But wait a minute.  Even with over 700 complaints about hot coffee, we don't read of any fatalities.  Not so with this activity.  So, shouldn't there be some federal regulation to control the intensity of lap dances?  It seems like something the coffee inspectors could do in the evenings when there is little coffee to inspect.  Perhaps they could monitor the pulse of the patrons for danger signals.

And just to put your mind at ease, from that earlier Wikipedia article we learn this:
Retailers today sell coffee as hot or hotter than the coffee that burned Stella Liebeck.

Monday, October 21, 2013

ObamaCare has HOW MANY Lines of Code? continues to amaze.

This morning's headlines contained this gem:
5 million lines of software code needs to be rewritten...
That link takes us to a National Review site that then cites this New York Times article which, among other things, says:
One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.
Five Million?  Really?  It gets better:
According to one specialist, the Web site contains about 500 million lines of software code. By comparison, a large bank’s computer system is typically about one-fifth that size.
The mind boggles.  I've only been writing code since 1962 so maybe I don't have the experience necessary to judge the veracity of these estimates.  But, why not let an old guy supply a memory dump at this point.

  • In the early spring of 1972 I decided to leave graduate school at the University of Minnesota and go to work for a living.  I interviewed for a job at a company in St. Paul running ads in the Minneapolis paper.  The name, long forgotten.  They had at least one programming standard: "nine hundred lines of debugged code per programmer per month."  Lines of Code (LOC) is probably the worst measure even introduced to any discipline (discipline is a term I use cautiously when discussing programming.)  See this for a discussion.  I drove home laughing.  "Wow, are those people going to get some big programs!"
  • When IBM introduced the System/360 in the early 1960s the Operating System and other software was almost an afterthought.  Well, not quite.  It was a collection of programs designed to fulfill all of those Marketing promises.  "Yes, we have a COBOL compiler that will run on your 32K, multiprogramming, IBM 360 model 30."  IBM nearly went bankrupt, more than a few developers suffered nervous breakdowns and Fred Brooks was able to distill it all down into a single classic book on managing software development.  By the way, nobody ever compiled COBOL on a 32K System 360.  And nine women still can't produce a baby in one month!
  • My only personal contact with System 360 software development came in the early summer of 1967.  I was interviewing for a job with IBM near San Jose, California.  After flying in to SFO, I rented a car and drove down the uncrowded freeway south past the cornfields to pick up my interview schedule from Personnel (Human Resources hadn't been invented yet).  One session was at the site where the 360 Assembler was being supported.  I'm sure the facility was temporary and has long since been abandoned.  The hiring manager showed me what took place.  Problems with the assembler from the field were sent to this facility.  He picked one up.  A large plastic bag contained a listing on 11"x14" green-bar paper, a deck of punched card wrapped with a rubber band and a two page problem description.  His staff read and analyzed the contents of these bags which were abends from the field that couldn't be handled at the local offices.  How many were there?  I didn't ask - I should have.  It would make an interesting historical footnote.  But I did realize that this converted warehouse or aircraft hanger had a lot of cubicles.  At one point, I stood on my tiptoes and looked out above the six-foot partitions.  It was cubicles as far as the eye could see.

    It wasn't this building at Moffett Field

    But it might as well have been.
I think of that interview any time I read about a major-league software disaster or drive anywhere in San Jose area.

I wish I had a nickle for every development tool and technique that "reduced coding effort to a fraction of its previous size."  Third-Generation Languages - Fourth-Generation Languages - CASE Tools - Object-Oriented-Programming.  The list goes on and on.

But, apparently, the standard productivity output remains less than a thousand lines of debugged code per programmer per month.  But after fifty years of progress, it now takes 500 million lines to build a system instead of a few thousand.  Here's to progress!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Consumer Reports on Obamacare

What marvelous entertainment ObamaCare is providing!

Here are a few quotes from an article on-line in the WSJ on Friday.

First benefit - Vocabulary expansion.

The problems run much deeper than even critics expected, and whatever federal officials, White House aides and outside contractors are doing to fix them isn't working. But who knows? Omerta is the word of the day   ...
Omerta?  Here's a link to an on-line dictionary.

The article continues:
The department is also refusing to make available lower-level officials who might detail the source or sources of this debacle. Ducking an investigation with spin is one thing. Responding with a wall of silence to the invitation of a duly elected congressional body probing the use of more than half a billion taxpayer dollars is another. This Obama crowd is something else.
But wait.  Weren't we promised "open honest and transparent government?"

Well, there are on-line systems that do work.  In the old days, a Friday article like that would be lucky to prompt a Monday response in the Letters to the Editor.  Now, from the comments, we can instantly enjoy creative writing like this:
Physician: "What have you done to your knee?"
Sebelius: "I was running really fast from the American people... they had pitchforks and torches!"
Physician: "Well you blew out your knee... you'll need a replacement."
Sebelius: "Oh my, when can you schedule me in?"
Physician: "Well, I'm afraid that Kenyan Kare declines knee replacements for anyone over 65."
Sebelius: "Do you know who I am???"
Physiciann: "I can offer you some Ibuprophen... that will be $800.00" "Next..."

I see now that "The Best and the Brightest" techies are being brought in to resolve the problems.  Will we discover that after almost forty years, Brooks Law has been repealed?  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, there is lots of advice that the penalty for not having health insurance by January 1 is $95.  Oops!  It's actually 1% of income with a minimum of $95.  For a $50,000 income, that's $500.  Better news.  Next year it goes to 2%!
And here's the official advice from Consumer Reports after telling you that you might have to clear your cookies or switch browsers to complete your sign-on to
If all this is too much for you to absorb, follow our previous advice: Stay away from for at least another month if you can. Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they’ve made.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Worst Security Ever Provided on a Website

Apropos my post below on scripting, I was surfing the web the other day and came upon a very interesting page on a website.  I e-mailed a link to my next door neighbor who has an interest in the same subject.  He replied that "he didn't have a membership and permission to access the site."

What?  I didn't either.  I returned to the site.  No problem.  So I turned on scripting temporarily for the site.  Bang!  "You must be logged in to access this page."

So I took a quick look at the source code for the page.

First come several hundred lines of displayed information.

Then this little program, written in javascript:
<script language="JavaScript">
OK, I disguised the site name so as not to embarrass the site owner or his (presumably highly paid) IT contractor.

But, there it is.  If you don't have a login cookie on your computer, the already-loaded page gets replaced by the login page.  Er, as long as you have JavaScript enabled on your browser.  Otherwise, feel free to cruise to whatever page you would like.

Anyone who has seen a weaker security scheme, please comment!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

ShopVac Assembly - Be Careful!

I bought a new ShopVac Wet/Dry Vacuum from for spring cleanup and set out to assemble it Saturday.  The User manual has fourteen pages of instructions and cautions in multiple languages.

The English Safety Instructions include 23 items.

I put off reading that paragraph until I finished the assembly.  Step 5 of those instructions says,"Insert casters into feet by placing stem of caster into holes provided.  Apply pressure and twisting motion until casters snap into place ..."

Perhaps those instructions should be modified to include,"if no snap is heard, it's probably because the damned caster has just pinched your finger.  In that case, remove blood from finger with a clean rag."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A New Low in Website Creation Has Been Reached! (ScoreCard dot com)

"Here, run this program on your PC!"

Remember when people would say that and you'd actually do it?  Probably not, unless you were using PCs back in 1981/82 or thereabouts.  People have gotten a lot more savvy since then.  Thirty years of experience tells us that this is a bad idea.  No one would just accept a program from a stranger and run it on their computer in 2013.

Or would they?  Most web-surfers don't realize that this is what they might be doing when they visit a site on the web with "scripting" enabled on their browsers.

I normally surf the web with scripting disabled.  Scripts are just programs downloaded from websites onto your computer.  I presume they are all evil - not a bad position to start from in spite of their widespread use.  I will enable scripting at a site like my bank so I can log on to my account, since I assume they take reasonable security precautions in the code on their site.

Today, Instapundit had a link to the website RightWisconsin.  I followed the link and briefly saw the page flash up followed by this message:

Well, that is interesting.  And if I don't enable scripting, I keep getting bounced back to the message.  I can't visit RightWisconsin with scripting disabled.  Now who thought that was a good idea?

Well let's just check the code on the site to see what they are doing that makes it so damned important to be able to run javascript.  Besides setting up lots of tracking cookies, they include this piece of code to count the folks that drop by without scripting enabled
       <img src=" ... ... c1=2&c ... =1" />
 ScoreCardResearch?  Who's that?  Why do they want to know who came by without scripting enabled?

I'll leave you to research ScoreCardResearch for yourself.   See if you can turn up this quote:
Going crazy with the Scorecardresearch virus infection on your computer? Don't know what exactly it is and where does it come from? It seems ...
There used to be a widely accepted belief that swearing was the sign of weak vocabulary.   I don't necessarily agree since I learned my serious swearing in the army back in 1969 from some quite articulate NCOs.  But I do believe that the use of scripting is generally a sign of either weak CSS skills or evil intentions.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Wait! Don't Hangup on This Call.

206-397-1823 Health Care

That's the number left on Caller ID when this computerized robot-caller contacted me.

I suppose some ex-Microsoft programmer in Seattle got the idea of calling people at random after careful data analysis to solicit them for Health Insurance.  Then he could get really rich since his MS stock options were all underwater. Maybe he didn't qualify for the buyback program.

Well, the reason he didn't qualify was because he's incompetent as a businessman.  After telling me to press 1 to talk to a representative, I went into a holding queue for over three minutes since "all agents are busy helping other clients."  And so I was treated to three minutes of pleasant guitar music until an agent picked up the line.  Well, at least the phone company was making money!

I began my conversation with, "Wait!  Don't hangup on this call.  You are a ...." but, I'll be darned if the agent didn't hang up anyway.

Whom, do you suppose, buys health insurance from an unsolicited robo-call that dumps you into a three-minute wait?

Never hang up on these kind of calls.  Wait 'em out and make them pay for the call.  Then waste as much time as you can to maximize the loss on their call to you.  Hanging up just plays into their business model.