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.