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!