Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

Ten Silver Linings (or Brutal Realities) for Project Managers

Friday, January 30th, 2009

It comes down to this: Frivolities are unaffordable in lean times. That’s a good thing.

Yes, I’m still interested in what the project managers are doing — because what they’re doing, is what our businesses are doing. We should all be watching them.

The 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

security-wise, that is.

Don’t Yell at Your Computers

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Hat tip: Boortz.

IT Predictions for 2009

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

They’re gloomy. You were expecting something else?

Half of CIOs are looking to cut consulting-services costs, 35 percent want to reduce computer and server expenses, and 23 percent want savings on software, according to a Goldman Sachs survey.
The city of Seattle is using VMware to consolidate its existing servers, instead of buying 139 new ones from IBM. Next year, CIO Bill Schrier wants to use more of VMware’s so-called virtualization software, which lets computers run multiple operating systems, saving costs. VMware shares have dropped 71 percent this year before today.

Other parts of the software market, including SAP business applications and Microsoft Corp. operating systems and office program packages, may fare worse. Last week, Gartner cut its 2009 enterprise software growth forecast to 6.6 percent, or $244.3 billion, predicting slowdowns in those areas. That’s down from a September forecast of 9.5 percent.
While Microsoft will benefit from the popularity of its SharePoint software, which helps workers collaborate, slowing PC sales will crimp demand for its Windows and Office programs, according to Goldman Sachs. Microsoft spokesman Bill Cox declined to comment.

“I’m worried about every single vendor,” said Citigroup’s Thill. “It’s just a question of magnitude. The worst may very well be ahead.”

This is the kind of thing that made me wince throughout the year when people would talk about the technological Golden Age that would rise up to meet us once The Annointed One took His Holy Hand off the Bible on January 20th. Supposedly, the Obama Administration would peel back the veneer of dumbth and, with our battalion of bluetooth-earbud-wearing egotists packed into the White House, we’d stop banging rocks together in our little mud huts, and partake in the blessings of our twenty-first century Renaissance.

If this report be reliable, there’s no Renaissance ahead. There may not even be a chicken-in-every-pot. Can’t eat a unicorn fart.

My advice? First, take some solace in the list of worst predictions for 2008, because that’s what I’m gonna do. Predictions is predictions, they isn’t certainties — sometimes we need to remind ourselves of this.

1…A very powerful and durable rally is in the works. But it may need another couple of days to lift off…
3…Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are fundamentally sound…
6…Existing-Home Sales to Trend Up in 2008…

7…I think you’ll see (oil prices at) $150 a barrel by the end of the year…
10…There’s growing evidence that parts of the debt markets…are coming back to life.

Now those have to do with things being predicted good, and then goin’ bad. Except, I guess, for #7 if you’re a person who’s looking to buy oil products and not sell ’em. But predictions can go the other way — forecast gloom, and then become confounded as life hands you an unexpected bouquet of roses and chocolates. That does happen just as often.

And as Americans, we have a long and stalwart legacy of galvanizing ourselves into action as a direct consequence of need. When the need softens, we hibernate like big fat bears. We excel at adapting to the requirement of the moment. Once the zombies are all slaughtered and the mortgage payment is off in the mail and levee has been fixed and the foot fungus has been cured — we, The American People, can sit back the farthest, relax more muscles, flip on that idjit box that fastest, stick out that big ol’ belly the farthest, pop open that beer, and make sure it’s the biggest, coldest one there is…better than any nation, civilized or no, this rock in space has ever seen. That is what we do. We fix things that are busted, and once they’re fixed, we relax to such a masterful extent we practically melt.

That really is what’s been happening here. When did we really get disenchanted with technology in general? When it pulled this Chicken Little bullshit about the sky falling, and the world coming to an end because there weren’t enough digits to store the year. Everyone would have to hoard bar soap and banana chips into their backyard bunkers, and put a .50 cal turret on top, remember that?

When did we start wallowing in this modern, non-technical malaise? Survivor? Jar Jar Binks? The View? Britney Spears? Right about that same time. It’s been so handy to blame it all on that punk smirking cowboy George W. Bush — but he didn’t come along until about a year and a half later.

We weren’t being conservative. We were being fat and lazy. We were pissed off about that money we lost in the dot-com bubble, and besides, we didn’t want anything else invented because we figured it had all been invented already. Well, we’re still in that mode.

Maybe a good stiff economic crisis will be all it takes to pull us out again. Necessity is the mother of invention.

It’s worked before. In our country, anyway. Pretty consistently.

Think with high hopes. Act with low ones. Let every single new day you meet, as the Good Lord sees fit to let you roll outta that bed, know who’s boss — take it by the horns. And this will all work out. Really, it will.

And when it does, you better believe His Holiness At 1600 Pennsylvania will take all the credit for it. That’s okay. In government as well as in business, the Dilbert-pointy-haired-boss is a part of life. He’ll always be there. Ignore him, and do your best.

Women Avoid IT

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Is it still sacrilege to discuss that the two sexes might be fundamentally different?

Only if you discuss male superiority. Find a way to make the girls look good, and you can jibber-jabber away about it to your heart’s content. So in that politically-charged climate, how do we investigate the continuing gender imbalance in Information Technology, and how to better direct all these resources that have been spent through the years, in vain, to even things out?

Ah…someone’s found a way. Even better, based on what I’ve seen, I agree.

Yes, we know. IT is much the poorer for having missed the gender-equality boat. But facts are facts.

According to a report in the Boston Globe: “One study of information-technology workers found that women’s own preferences are the single most important factor in that field’s dramatic gender imbalance. Another study followed 5,000 mathematically gifted students and found that qualified women are significantly more likely to avoid physics and the other ‘hard’ sciences in favor of work in medicine and biosciences.

“Another study found that women who are mathematically gifted are more likely than men to have strong verbal abilities as well; men who excel in math, by contrast, don’t do nearly as well in verbal skills. As a result, the career choices for math-precocious women are wider than for their male counterparts. Sure, they can become scientists, but they can also succeed just as well as lawyers or teachers. With this range of choice, their data show, highly qualified women may opt out of certain technical or scientific jobs simply because they can.”

What’s being discovered is the Yin and Yang theory. When men and women discover at an early age that they possess superior communication skills, it opens up pathways to them and they shy away from technological pursuits. Those who don’t have these skills, begin a life-long effort spent making things work, observing how parts interact with other parts, and building bigger, fancier things. This molds and shapes how thinking people think.

Yin and Yang then goes on to say…whatever people don’t do, whatever they do only under protest, when backed into a corner and deprived of all other options…their skills start to atrophy. Which, here, would indicate that even bright women might tend to possess inferior technical skills. Maybe that won’t happen, but it will logically follow that when people enjoy an abundance of options, the overwhelming tendency is going to be for them to choose the one with the most immediate reward.

And with all things technical, of course, you always have to wait. The server isn’t going to come up and start servicing client requests until you get it built, generate the OS, install it, configure it for your network, et cetera.

All of which is a round-about way of saying — since women are much brighter at, and more naturally inclined toward, the art and science of communication — they’re not likely to find optimal fulfillment in building things. To be a nerd right down to the core, you have to possess a lifelong history of finding greater fulfillment in saying “Hey Mom and Dad, look what I did” rather than “Hey Mom and Dad, look at me.” That’s the definition. And that isn’t likely to happen to a female; little girls are just too cute. And so even the ones who possess all the skills, aptitudes and passions of snapping Lego building blocks together, tend to gravitate more naturally toward other efforts that are more socially, and therefore immediately, rewarding. Because they can.

So since the problem is rooted in an abundance of options available to bright, flexible, capable and intelligent women — now what do we do? Deprive them of the options?

That would appear to be the only course of action available to us. Other than simply recognizing the gender imbalance in IT, and learning to live with it.

Invention Versus Convention

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Dustbury is criticizing the folks who are my age, plus just a handful of years. Since this is a valid point and it’s been proven out, I find it to be a little bit of a scary thing. I can already feel some of the aptitudes and strengths I had, years ago, slipping away and I don’t know if it’s because of age or atrophy.

I concede that there are plenty of people like this out there:

I’m constantly amazed by the fact that our older faculty/staff can clearly and easily be separated into two degrees of capability: mediocre and nonexistent.

The Mediocre folks are capable enough of doing basic word processing tasks and working with one or two specialty statistics programs they’ve been using for at least a decade. The Nonexistent folks are much worse; they routinely need help figuring out (I am not making this up) that they have accidentally pushed the Caps Lock key when typing.

As near as I can tell, the “Nonexistent”-skilled folks have one thing in common: all are over the age of 45, whether faculty or staff. Watching them attempt to work on their own, I can only conclude that for some portion of the population, the ability to form new mental models and learn new tasks (or even new ways of doing old tasks) has been lost after this age.

The real threat, in my experience, is the person with Nonexistent skills who nonetheless estimates himself to be Mediocre or better; we spend an inordinate number of hours undoing the clever little things he’s done.

I am, of course, way over the age of 45, but I’ve spent half my lifetime in the company of these daffy machines, so I have at least a vague idea of what I’m doing most of the time, and when I don’t, I’m not too proud to request assistance.

My hope is, that as I finish up on my fifth decade on the planet, I will have been irritated and agitated into figuring out what the hell’s going on with this-or-that thing on a daily basis, and therefore have some of this “Young Man’s Magic” — the “ability to form new mental models and learn new tasks” — that a normal fifty-year-old would’ve lost. I’ll either have that germinating in my cranium, or a brain tumor, maybe.

That would appear to be my retirement plan. This bit of sabotage that was done to the market to get The Annointed One installed as our next President, has damaged my 401k to such an extent that I’m afraid to open those little envelopes and find out what kind of damage has been done.

But I see, going all the way back to second grade, when people are obsessed with how I’m going about a task rather than whether I’ll get it done or not, they end up pissed at me and I end up pissed at myself. I’m just not good at figuring out what the other fellow would do in my shoes, and doing the same thing. And so I’ve spent my career trying to keep myself in a position where outcome matters. That would seem to be an easy thing — outcome is supposed to matter.

But no. It’s been hideously difficult, and of concern to everyone else rather than just to myself…in the last ten or twenty years…it has been becoming increasingly more difficult. I’ve seen the world settling into this mold where if you do things the same way the other guy would do ’em, and fail, you’ve succeeded, but if you succeed by doing something unorthodox nobody else is doing, you’ve failed.

I’m thinking these people Dustbury is describing, are the ones who’ve adapted more easily to this marching-band mode of work. Leave it to the other fellow to actually invent something — you just go through the motions. They end up in leadership positions, because we find them comforting. They do what we expect them to do; all coloring within the lines. Sure, they work in places where you’re supposed to be creative and coming up with new ways of doing things…and they don’t do it…but who cares.

I can think of two occasions on which I seriously thought of getting out of software development altogether. The first time was when one of the managing partners made up his mind he was my direct supervisor (it was never clearly defined for me whether or not this was the case). He’d task me to do something that might take two to four hours. It was new, innovative stuff, having to do with adding a feature to a product that nobody had tried to add before. But he got it into his head exactly what I’d be doing fifteen minutes into it, and come charging into the lab to check up on me. In other words — success wasn’t defined as getting it done. It was defined as doing it the way he’d be doing it if he were the guy doing it.

You have to think things through logically to get anything accomplished at all, so this was a big damper. The logical thinker can see, easily, that you can’t do new things that haven’t been done before, when your goal has been defined as doing things the way any other yokel would be doing ‘em.

The other time I was in class, back when object-oriented programming was becoming the next Big Hot Thing. The instructor put some kind of question before the class and demanded we jot down our answers and submit them. After he got them back, he announced there was one answer he got that he was going to skip over, because it was the only one like this. Again — you aren’t building anything new, and you aren’t going to build anything new, if you’re charged with the task of doing things the way everyone else is doing ‘em. Technology is the opposite of convention. So anyplace success is measured through some kind of orthodoxy, the job, really, is to copy things. Whether people want to admit that or not.

Also, non-innovative people really bristle with a special kind of resentment when they see someone else being innovative. It’s not a simple peevishness. There really is no kind of anger in the human condition quite like this. Your wife, catching you sleeping with another woman, is going to leave some bits of anger uncovered, that this kind of rage captures quite nicely.

I should add that that second bit of demoralization really did drive me out of software development for a few years. After all, what would have been the point, suck up a few dollars an hour to copy things? Do things most similarly to the way some other guy would’ve done them? I’m not even “mediocre” at that. So I went other places, where I had the latitude to see what needed doing, figure out for myself how to get ‘em done, and get ‘em done.

I don’t know how many millions of others made the same move. But I do know in the years that followed, true innovation went on an enormous downslide. We haven’t had ‘em. An iPod that does what last year’s model did, but is a little smaller and faster, is helpful — but it isn’t a paradigm shift. A new Windows operating system that does what last year’s edition did, but tattles on you if you try to pirate software, has a few extra moving parts and a spiffy interface you haven’t seen before — but it isn’t a paradigm shift. The mid-eighties to early-nineties were loaded with paradigm shifts. Last real paradigm shift I saw in this business, was “Hey we’d better allocate four digits to hold the year, or else on January 1, 2000, the world might come to an end.” Since then most of it has been upkeep. And therein lies a tragedy that has affected us all, both in the things we use, and in the way we perceive and think about the world around us.

All convention, no invention. Yeah, I blame your “Nonexistent folks in charge of the show” theory. They end up running things because they’re good at copying, and that’s what we want. A new tool isn’t going to get you excited if you can’t form a vision of the work it can do, and you can’t form a vision of the work it can do, if you aren’t somewhat disciplined yourself in understanding how things work. Consumers now don’t understand how things work, so they’re obsessed with pretty things that look like other pretty things.

Figuring out new things, or doing things the same way the other guy’s doing ’em. Gotta be one or the other; can’t be both.

Thing I Know #177. Two women will harmoniously and happily share your bed long before invention and convention share your allegiance.

The Great Excel Spreadsheet

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Another office automation comedy of errors.

With a month’s worth of experience under his belt, Maxim’s project was coming along quite well. Everybody loved using the pretty Access front end with its drop-downs and he had created instead of the ominous facade of the Great Excel Spreadsheet. Even Helen was satisfied since she now had more of purpose than pushing paper out week after week! However, the joy was short-lived, as was revealed during an emergency department meeting.

The lead analyst started, “Maxim, we’re finding some discrepancies in the report. Several values in what we’re finding to be random stocks and bonds are being grossly misrepresented.”

“How do you mean?” asked Maxim.

“Point blank – we believe that YOU broke the Yield calculation and we’re two days away from sending out bad figures that could ruin the bank and its investors.”

It’s a story not unlike the one with the monkeys, the ladder, the bananas, and the high-voltage shock.

There’s something about the human condition that makes it breathtakingly easy to suppress and stultify creativity, innovation and generally outstanding performance, while believing with every fiber of our being that we’re doing our darnedest to promote these things.

Update 12/22/08: Ah, now I know where the hat tip goes. Gerard.

I hate it when tabbed browsing, coupled with my approaching senility, robs my dearest blogger friends of the credit that is due them.

Sucky Economy, Souped-Up Machine

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Jerry Pournelle offers his thoughts about how to put your Xanadu home computer to work helping you cope with a Mad Max world.

I disagree about C. To me, when you make a new computer language, you do so not to get people to talk to computers and vice-versa — that’s already possible when you start to create the language. The purpose of the language is to facilitate communication between first guy who touches the computer program, and the second guy who has to take it over after the first guy gets run over by a truck or gets a new job. Debugging? If the language is a success, there should be less of that to do than there was before. Otherwise, why did you go through the trouble.

In that sense, C was a huge step forward. C++ was something of a step backward. It was built to make programmers out of people who didn’t have that much passion for doing it.

As far as how to publish, this is my primary reason for linking his work. Lots of good thoughts from a seasoned, respected professional in this area, some of them original, others not. And he’s right, it’s probably the best time in human history — ever — to come up with something, add to it incrementally, and then when it’s polished and ready to go, find some ways to make a buck off of it.

Losers stare at the door that just slammed shut, with a stream of drool running down their chins, winners go look for the other door that opened. Can’t hurt, might help.

Hat tip: Inst.

Web Browser for Blacks

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Firefox isn’t black enough.

I’ll do a better job of checking it out later…it seems to be serious.

Hat tip: Boortz.

You know, as a computer networking professional, I have always considered the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) to be a little bit on the milquetoast side as well…just sayin’.

Nerds in the Age of Obama

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I wonder how technology is going to do now. I hear it’s going to get better, more prosperous, better nurtured, more flourishing. Now that we have that Texas cowboy outta there.

I don’t know. I really don’t.

As I say fairly often (moreso in technical circles than here, at The Blog That Nobody Reads)…it’s easy to forget that technology is the process of doing something other than what everybody else is already doing. You cannot con-form and per-form at the same time. And I remember what happened when Clinton got in. Yeah, yeah, e-mail, innernets, etc….you do realize, don’t you, that most of that was protocol, hook-ups, etc.? The technology came along in the years prior.

But I dunno. If there’s a line of people who’ve been disappointed at the state of technology during the Bush years, I’m surely at the head of it. I don’t wanna be an ingrate, but post-2001, we haven’t got squat. A bunch of stuff that hauls around your music collection. Vista. Miniaturization of what we had in the years before…on an impressive scale…and it runs much faster. But still. Oh, and don’t forget the social networking sites. FARK, eBay, eHarmony, Facebook, Myspace, etc. etc. etc. There’s a difference between mixing up stuff you’ve done before with the innernets, Reeses-chocolate-peanut-butter-style…and actually inventing something new.

I’m hungering like Dagny Taggart for the next tidal wave of Wozniak’s and Jobs’. Where’s the guy building an entire industry in his garage. Where’s the guy saying “hey, if you put out this kinda signal, you can make a gadget that does this”…and a zillion onlookers cursing themselves for having not thought of it first.

So we’ll see.

If we’re feelin’ all hopey-changey and hopeful and optimistic and setting new goals for ourselves because The One inspires us to do so — you know, we could start with that. Beats the hell out of unplugging our cell phones from the wall to save the planet from some carbon boogeyman.

Shut Up and Architect

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Nobody reads this blog, of course, but for those who do there has been an unmistakable trend in which we favor individual decision-making over group-based decision-making. We haven’t been moderate about this at all; we’ve had very few good things to say about the group decision-making process, and there’s a reason for this.

Baseline Mag has an article up that happens to be about one of my career specialties; it’s called It Projects Done Right. It specifically deals with risk management in the application development process. This has to do with effective group-based decision-making. It requires a lot of tools and a lot of collaboration, which is certainly possible, but usually isn’t done. Much more typical is the kind of group-based decision-making you see in the prior article, IT Projects Done Wrong.

In that older article, you see a way of thinking that is much more in harmony with the decision-making process embraced by your average Obama/Biden supporter:

When I got back to my cubicle, I wrote up a memo detailing (as I recall) about a dozen major risks I saw with the KAID project and the proposed schedule. Here were some of the risks:

 • We didn’t yet have a sufficiently complete set of specifications and requirements for the system that would allow us to even begin to estimate the work required.
 • We didn’t have an architecture for the system yet, much less key design solutions.
 • The system was to be developed using an obscure and specialized programming language.
 • None of the team members had ever developed in that programming language; they had been to a two-week training course in it back in September, but had done no work in the language since then.
 • Why? Because the development tools – integrated development environment (IDE), libraries, and so on – were not yet available commercially. Version 1.0 of the development suite was scheduled to be released at the start of December. (That alone should be enough to make any software engineers and team leads reading this shudder.)
 • Also, no other vendor was providing development tools for that language, so there were no alternatives if any problems cropped up with the version 1.0 development suite.

And so on, and so forth. For each risk, I assessed both the probability of the risk coming to pass and the likely impact on the project if it did. I distributed this memo to the entire project team, with cc’s to the division head and the technology manager just under him.

The response? While some of the engineers on the team sent me private e-mails thanking me for pushing back and for writing the memo, the client told me – in just about these exact words – to “shut up and architect.” The client wasn’t willing to risk the business with the customer by being honest about the risks, uncertainties, and unknowns surrounding the KAID project.

Recall what Tom Hagen told Jack Woltz during the dinner conversation, after Woltz had refused to offer the movie role to Johnny Fontaine: “If your driver will take me to the airport, Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.” Now here, group-think can be quite adequate, and compatible with the success of the project — it can even in some cases be superior. But in order for that to happen, you’ve got to have a supporting culture which addresses the selfish whims of the individual. It has to do that in such a way that people are told, and comprehend, bad news immediately.

Simply put, people have to be rewarded for finding risks. Not to the point where the project is paralyzed as people concentrate all their energies on collecting a virtual “bounty” on identified risks. But certainly, to the point where potentially damaging risks are identified early on, in such a way that the level of effort required to mitigate them is reduced, and the effects of their residual impact can be effectively compensated.

Information Technology is a tricky thing. It doesn’t weather the challenges offered by the stagnation of group-think very well. That’s because group-think has a distinct tendency to pressure each individual to do things the same way other individuals are already doing them; and technology, when you get down to brass tacks, is the exact opposite of that.

Labor Day 2008

Monday, September 1st, 2008

From 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., I spent chasing around some malware package on the laptop called “TDSS.” Up until 7 or 8 in the morning it was general spyware, from that point up until noon it was something called VUNDO. Once I got rid of VUNDO I had real feelings of accomplishment, but things still weren’t quite right.

By this time the kid was thoroughly engrossed in VIDEEYOGAYMZ!!!, and the girlfriend was eyeball deep in some man-bashing chick flick. (She retains an unusually realistic and mature outlook on life when she does this — read that as, if I ask nice, she still brings me beer. So she’s allowed.)

Meanwhile, there’s a refrigerator full of meat and buns and macaroni salad, and downstairs in the garage there’s a fresh box of beer that was supposed to have been chilling in the balcony-fridge overnight. Or at least this morning. And wasn’t. This was not how I intended to be spending my Labor Day.

Nine hours into it, I declared a moratorium on technology, and pronounced that the household should do what it intended to do today. Then I had to get everyone synchronized again. It makes me think of that time-honored saying — a liberal is a conservative who got harassed by a cop, a conservative is a liberal who got mugged. Seems to me the unpleasant thing no one wants to admit is, we begin to thirst for justice, not so much when we’re injured, as when we’re inconvenienced. When they hunt down that tenth-grader who cooked up VUNDO, they need to hang that little bastard by his balls. Nine hours of a Labor Day for which we’d spent three or four days making shopping lists and getting everything just-so. My girlfriend’s one day off work for the week. A cold barbeque grill, and everyone in separate rooms watching (or wrestling with) gizmos. Nine stinkin’ hours. Steam coming out of my ears. Urge…to…kill.

I do not know the cause-and-effect relationship of all these little beasties. I really couldn’t care less at this point. It seems, from a full day of searching, that they’re all of a fairly fresh vintage. I haven’t been on the ‘net at all today, save to check up on Rick’s blog a little bit, and to do the searching for Malware removal tools on the desktop that was no longer possible on the laptop. So Palin’s daughter is pregnant. Liberals are being classy.

And pool water stings when it goes up your nose, and makes that weird smell I remember from childhood. Cheeseburgers are good when they’re cooked on the grill.

Oh, and Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware (MBAM) fixes stuff that other things don’t. But there was a lot of other things learned from trial-and-error stuff today. I’ll put it all together in something, sometime soon. Looks like this is a recent epidemic. Maybe the information will help someone.

In hindsight, it was a very productive day. But as I said, that’s not now I intended to spend it. Consider me pissed.

Ambiguous Test Questions

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Question 1

Which is the odd one out and why?


As reader davee123 points out…

“CHIS” is the only one whose letters are arranged in alphabetical order
“DENC” is the one with the lowest sum of its letters
“PORL” is the one with the highest sum of its letters
“PERL” is the only one that has a corresponding O’Reilly book
“FRAP” is the only one that begins with a letter that is only used once
“SPAD” is the only one that could be changed into a real word if its vowel were replaced with a “U”.

Question 2

Tick one box to show a disadvantage of using a software package to help work out the budget rather than using a calculator, pen and paper.

The four options are:

1. The formulae could be wrong
2. The wrong prices could be input
3. A virus may corrupt the information
4. Multiple printouts could be produced

As the linked article goes on to clarify,

Answers 1 and 3 are both valid answers in our opinion, but the marking scheme insists that only answer 3 is valid.

Question 3 is one from my son’s math homework…

…write out in decimal form, the number one hundred and seventy-seven thousandths.

It fell to me to explain what the test-maker probably wanted when the boy started writing “100.077” over and over again.

These are not, I stress, the same as trick questions in which the test-maker methodically endeavors to deceive the test-taker, and assembles a trap that can be escaped only by those with a robust command of the concepts involved.

These are questions on which the test-maker remains blissfully ignorant of the fact that a question can be reasonably interpreted in a plurality of different ways. In order to answer the question correctly, with a potential greater than random chance, there must be a virtual empathy between the test-taker and the test-maker. At that point, the test-taker is being assessed for his ability to anticipate what people want him to do, and not for his command of the concepts.

In fact, in that situation, a robust command of the concepts can interfere with passing the test, creating the possibility that on average the people successfully passing the test may have an inferior understanding compared to some of the people who failed.

Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Some folks apparently didn’t understand my many references to this personality in the thread about Mary getting busted six ways from Sunday after she ‘fessed up to gutterballing the job interviews of applicants for technical positions.

We need to synchronize on our terms, since if you’re missing this you’re missing a lot. And, of course, it’s funny as all holy hell.

⇒⇒ Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy ⇐⇐

A reasonable debate can be had about whether the goal is really to keep Nick Burns out of your organization. That could be what it’s all about…the talking points seem to suggest this…but they don’t say this outright, word-for-word. That always makes me suspicious.

My whole beef is — if you’re going to avoid these altercations by “template-ing” your personnel, so that everybody behaves more or less the same way within a given situation, you’re probably exacerbating the problem. Interacting with people who aren’t exactly like us, is what makes us as mature and as socially capable as we are — necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. And, of course, IT is a special case because IT is where you need to fix what’s busted, especially if what’s busted is part of a new system in your organization that doesn’t have a robust support mechanism in place, and that’s exactly where this cookie-cutter corporate personality template really starts to hurt. You get a toughie that three or four of your best have already tried to solve and it’s still going unsolved, you’re probably going to want to increase the odds that the fifth guy who takes a peek at it has a shot at cracking it. Well, that’s a no-go if everyone’s been selected for common interests, common behaviors and common backgrounds. Can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that created it.

“Rogue” IT types, Mary called ’em…feh. We could benefit from some discussion about what exactly that is supposed to mean. I’ll bet the people who think like Mary, wouldn’t want that to be subject to any debate, or definition, at all. Their preference would be to keep slinging that term around, without defining it. That’s my guess, and I’ll bet a lot of money on it.

Mary Got Pummeled on the IT Labor Disconnect

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

This really made my day. The subject is an article in CIO Insight about the record high number of jobs in Information Technology. I.T. has just exploded, there’s jobs everywhere, in fact there’s a glaring skills shortage.

And people with big stacks of references and certifications and job histories, with glowing recommendations, out of work.

Both. How is that possible? That’s the “disconnect.”

This is one of those deals where the article itself tells you practically nothing, but the comment thread is loaded with fresh, red meat.

Mary revealed herself to be part of the problem, I think. Let’s set it up. An anonymous poster writes in, in response to the “if you have the right skills you still aren’t getting the job if your personality isn’t a good fit” canard:

By: Anonymous Reader
at: 07-11-08 @ 4:08 am EST

Personality “fit” is the equivalent of does the interviewer have a relative he’d prefer to hire. It is plain BS. I have worked for alot [sic] of companies where I was assured I was a great asset. Until one of their relatives needed a job. Then I am out. Personality “fit” is how companies avoid hiring full time employess [sic] with good credentials – In order to get Off-shore people for a dime a dozen relatively.

And “Mary” chooses to educate him.

By: Mary
at: 07-11-08 @ 8:55 am EST

Personality is very important for an organization. When I interview I not only look at skills but determine if the person will a be a fit within my team. Skills can be taught, but a good personality fit and being a member of a team is difficult to teach and is important. The team needs to be working as one for the best productivity and outcomes.

I was fortunate to come up through the ranks and understand the importance of each level IT functionality. If the organization culture includes teamwork then any candidate must fit the bill. In an interview if I see any hint of a “rogue” IT person, I will continue with the interview but will not select that person. Standardization is necessary for large organizations to function and you cannot go into a company thinking you are the “IT God” and begin to make changes to your way of thinking. I have had people tell me what they think is the best way to run an IT department. Guess what….that was a no sale. I could see that person messing up things that others would need to fix.

So for all of you who are “whining” take a deeper look at yourselves. See what you are doing and saying in interviews that eliminates you as a candidate.

My thoughts on this:
 • This has the whiff of a kernel of truth mixed in with bushels of nonsense. Yes, if my computer is busted I’m going to prefer someone with a decent personality to Nick Burns the Company Computer Guy. Who won’t? But…the same is true of my auto mechanic, no? The cashier at the grocery store? The guy in the toll booth? The clerk at the DMV? Someone want to explain to me why these individuals with talent and skill are left out of work for years, and it’s just the market’s way of letting them know they have to get their personalities polished to a mirror-finish now…but the “market” doesn’t have that effect on other industries?
 • Should we start discussing what I saw in my twenty years in I.T.? Yes, I did meet my share of jerks. Are you waiting for me to tell you where I saw them go? Want me to say I saw them pitched out on their ears? Hitting the unemployment line the minute they forgot to say “please” or “thank you”? Is that what I’m supposed to say I saw? Eh…sorry to disappoint…I saw them promoted, if anything. They were lauded for their “strong personalities.” And that is the only good thing I ever saw anyone say about their personalities. That they were “strong.” And it was said by their superiors, never by anybody who actually had to work with ’em. Never. Ever. Not once. Mary’s method strives to eliminate “rogues,” and what it ultimately ends up doing is befriending, and even elevating, jackasses. It metastasizes into exactly what it was trying to obliterate.
 • Let’s not forget the language barrier. It isn’t racist to point it out. Sorry, it simply isn’t. Mary is the one who brought up the issue — she says “[t]he team needs to be working as one for the best productivity and outcomes.” When you’re asking a guy to repeat himself over and over again, and he’s making the same demand out of you, that’s not working as one. Does Mary think we should be tolerating that? If not, let’s call her what she is; a bigot. But on the other hand, if she does think we should tolerate language differences but not personality differences — her argument becomes a lumbering contradiction because she’s arguing people should be spared the everyday inconvenience of working with others who come from dissimilar backgrounds and mindsets…(uh…they’re called, “people”)…but at the same time, linguistic disconnects, even paralyzing ones, are meaningless. So no, this is not the way we do things…if it really is a priority for the team to work “as one,” it takes a back seat to other things. Like the opportunity for people to work, for example, if it’s felt that over the long term they can make a positive contribution.
 • Mary craves orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, I would have to argue, is the exact opposite of technology. I.T. is about finding ways to do more this year than you did last year, with less this year than you had last year. That is the mission. You can’t get an atmosphere of “that’s the way people behave around here and that’s just the way it is”…without also getting an atmosphere of “that’s the way things are done around here and that’s the way it is.” That’s the opposite of technology; so if I.T. is there to find new ways to do things but it does this by always doing things the same way, then it ultimately becomes useless. And then people get laid off by the hundreds. Which is exactly what’s happening.
 • There is something else that concerns me: Nowhere does Mary comment on the quality of a personality type, even though the whole point to what she has written is the importance of evaluating what that personality type is. I’m concerned about maturity of people who actually make it through. Can they work with other folks who aren’t like them? I mean think about it; with Mary in charge, they wouldn’t have to, would they? Part of what made my colleagues capable of deep-thinking and problem-solving, was the necessity of working with others of different backgrounds. Perhaps you can remove that necessity and somehow retain that superior problem-solving capability. But I’m left with no reason to think so. A cloister filled with clones of oneself, has always been the happy playground of the immature mind. So who’s really “whining,” Mary?

That’s how I go about evaluating what Mary said. But I’m a nice guy. “John Reid,” on the other hand, is not.

Part of the problem or the solution?
By: John Reid
at: 07-11-08 @ 9:55 am EST

When the ax falls on your neck, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline. It is obvious to me, Sister, that adversity has never crossed your path. When it does, someone who is so totally self-involved and accepting of the corporate mind-set, often falls into a deepeer than deep despair. I do not believe that you will be capable of surviving the blow. Get ready for it. By the tone of your note, I suspect that your are a born-to-the-breed type, full of self-entitlement. Fools like you make for great ridicule stories around the water cooler for those with REAL power, which you do not have. And remember, blood trumps “team players” every time. Or are you a relative?

He cuts to the chase. I do not like his defeatist attitude, but he’s got a point: Mary’s worldview is presented as one of extremism; one of “this is how everything should work, everywhere, with no exceptions.” And he’s right, this works as long as there’s no adversity.

And that’s precisely my objection to Mary’s mindset. I.T. is the tread of the business tank. It is the place where the road is met. And roads have potholes. There simply is no room there for just one personality type. Quite to the contrary: You swipe your badge and walk into a data center, you have to be ready to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the people you find in there. If you’re going to whine away that this guy or that guy has a different background from yours, and we need to change hiring practices so everyone there is all the same — you are the problem. And I.T. can only meet your demands…which, I would argue, is exactly what it’s trying to do…by ultimately rejecting its primary mission.

TrueIT was a tiny bit more tactful. But zeroed in on Mary’s hunger for stultifying orthodoxy.

Get real!
By: TrueIT
at: 07-23-08 @ 2:42 pm EST

What you really mean is that you can’t deal with hiring anyone that may be beter qualified and may have a different insight than you. You feel more comfortable with a person you can control and who “fits” your idea of what is right. So you impose your personality and your personal preferences into the hiring decision, letting company goals and directives take a back seat! And you are so intoxicated by your own Kool-Aid that you don’t even see that you have become part of the problem! If you really did read – and actually understand – the words that other IT managers are posting here, you would have an idea of what is going on out here. But instead, you mold your thoughts into conformity with the corporate bosses who pay your salary. Very typical of the kind of hiring manager being discussed in these postings. Get a clue. You’re next on the layoff list!

The issue is accountability. In any endeavor, you’ve got to have a lot of things for real accountability.

You need measurement, because if the accomplishment of a goal is a subjective thing, “accountability” will just be twisted around into an entirely political endeavor. You need individuality, because if meeting goals is purely a “team” effort, nobody’s really going to feel personally motivated to give it their all. You need scope, because if one guy does his job right, but is going to have to hand it off to someone else who will screw things up, this ultimately gives rise to a defeatist attitude that permeates the environment. You need leadership, because someone needs to make sure that the team will succeed, once all the individuals have done their jobs; also, people outside the organization need to understand failure was possible, and yet due to the diligent efforts of that organization, success was realized. You need regular post-mortem exercises, because you can succeed over the short term and fail over the long term, if weaknesses in your process aren’t fixed just because smaller failures were somehow prevented by happy accidents and fail-safe devices from becoming major disasters. Most of all, you have to have vision, because success isn’t always going to be easy, and people need to be reminded that it’s important.

It takes a lot of moving parts to bring accountability to any process. Especially, to a process that is acted-upon by teams of people, rather than by individuals.

I’ve seen a lot of I.T. initiatives that were lacking just one, or more, of these critical component parts to real accountability. The failure of just any one of those, is incredibly damaging. They can make up for it when one or two are missing. If any more than that are gone, it’s nearly irrecoverable.

And where do I see the I.T. disconnect? I think in the layer above I.T., where the hiring actually takes place — all of these ingredients are missing. Each and every single one.

Because let’s face it. Everyone who consumes I.T. products, even if they’re happy with them, they can always express disappointment. It usually comes down to — if the business requirements were met, they were met with a lower threshold of certainty than we would’ve liked, looking back on it. Too many “oopsies.” This is business, dammit! We want it running like a well-oiled machine!

Or, the automated apparatus does exactly what we want it to do, but it runs too slowly.

The irony is this: “Oopsies” are in the nature of I.T. This is where new products are acquired (or built) and new things are tried. That’s what makes I.T., ultimately, a rather thankless gig. Business sees I.T. as a wonderful new car; but business is everlastingly confused about how to drive it. It wants to open the throttle on that bad boy, see what those ten cylinders can do. On winding, rocky backroads never before traveled. BUT — while this is going on, it wants to put an egg on the dashboard, or maybe a ball bearing, and delight in seeing it not roll off. Performance. Stability. Business demands both.

When these objectives fail, and one or more of them always do, there is no accountability matrix that traces the failure to the design, the implementation…or…well, tracing it to the hiring process would be just unseemly, of course.

And so hiring managers like Mary, I think, work in a vacuum. They can afford to fill all these positions with a certain microscopically-validated personality type, even if that makes the resulting organization less capable. And if she defines “rogue” as anybody who doesn’t think the same way, that’s exactly what will have to happen. It’s quite unavoidable. But there’s no accountability involved. I.T. could fail one effort after another effort after another…and deep down, I think consumers of I.T. understand it’s self-defeating to drive a car like a Lamborghini and a Rolls Royce at the same time, so on some level failure is expected. That’s the vision thing.

And so even though Mary’s cookie-cutter hiring practice is counterproductive to I.T.’s goal, it isn’t going to be corrected. Except in forums like this one, in which people feel they finally have the access, and the latitude, to sound off.

You Probably Aren’t Using IE

Friday, August 1st, 2008

…if you’re reading this.

Blogger friend Phil brought it to our attention that Internet Explorer is crashing when the front page to House of Eratosthenes is being loaded. Adding to the concern, for us, is that Cassy Fiano’s page, where we’re guest-blogging this week, also wouldn’t load in IE. And other blogs do.


Well, the first thing we did was save an off-line copy of the front page, and then go in with a text editor and hack away at the HTML code line by line, until enough code was missing that the problem would stop happening. And this narrowed it down to the sidebar, specifically, the Sitemeter widget. The problem was confirmed when I loaded up yet another blog, one in which I don’t have these blogging responsibilities, and it crashed IE just as reliably — also through the Sitemeter widget.

I found three entries in the Sitemeter support/announcements blog that might relate to this…

Visit or Page View Counter Display, July 31: For those of you who currently use the SiteMeter Icon that displays the total visitors to your site we wanted to let you know about some forthcoming changes to this feature…

Scheduled Outage August 3, 2008 (SM1, S17, S21, S26, S36, S37, S38, S39, S40, S41, S46 and S47), July 29th: Greetings, Our hosting provider has scheduled an outage on August 3, 2008 from 12:01 AM – 05:00 AM to consolidate their network into a single autonomous system. The following servers will be affected…

Sitemeter Icons Vanishing, July 17th: For the next 30 – 45 days we will be testing our servers and databases in preparation for the launch of our new SiteMeter platform…

There. Now you know everything I know.

Unless you’re using IE, in which case you’re not reading this.

Cross-posted, out of necessity, at Cassy’s to help reduce confusion for us all.

Update 8/2/08: Here’s your reading material. Thanks to Gerard for letting us know this morning it was starting to pop up.

Wired: Web Sites Using SiteMeter Are Crashing with Internet Explorer

The Inquisitr: Site Meter causing Internet Explorer failure

Mashable: Attention Sitemeter Users: Your Site is Down

Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate: SiteMeter causing blogs and websites to crash in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer

This Is Good L

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

The PictureYou really should head on over to American Digest and read up on Gerard’s conversation with the old guy named Frank.

It’s a lesson for us all about living in our designated segments, however long they may be, in the time stream…with a subtle seasoning involving good old fashioned humility. Having lived in that mini-tropolis for a few years myself, I was fully on board with Gerard’s opening quips about “the city thought it needed such a museum in order to qualify as a first-rate city…There’s a lot of that kind of stuff in this town.” That resonated with me, since I got that impression back in my Seattle days. Distinctly.

Now, I have the distinct impression I was sort of led along down a primrose path for the twist ending, to sort of help the lesson settle in a bit better. It’s quite a twist. It might be lost on most, save for those who have something of a natural interest in photography, genealogy, keepers of diaries…and the like. To those who appreciate such things, this goes into the must-not-miss file. Do yourself a favor, and make the time to read from top to bottom.

The Widget Boss

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Blogger friend Phil picked up on our rant about what’s happening to Information Technology, and blogger friend Buck went over to participate…sharing this interesting tale. Thereby, of course, releasing it into the public domain.

Which I’m sure he realizes. Oh, well. His tale is too good not to tell.

Early on in my post-USAF IT career I was reassigned to a boss like that, who was also in his first manager-slot (a great UNIX guy, promoted to his level of incompetency). He and I had one of those “introductory” meetings and he gave me the list… and scheduled a follow-on meeting. I was supposed to submit three career goals, in writing, for the next meeting and I did. Stuff like:

1. Spend more time at home,less at work.

2. Take a REAL vacation this year.

3. Get laid more often.

The subsequent discussion was sort of a life-changing event for the guy. He went on to become a competent manager, and I got a great deal of satisfaction from popping the corporate balloon. Win-win.

Blame the CIOs

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

There are a lot of ways to look at this:

The real problem behind the skills shortage is that many companies don’t keep IT professionals for the long stretch.

CIOs keep complaining that they can’t find workers with the skills they need. In fact, two recent surveys on top issues among IT executives—one from the Society for Information Management and another by Robert Half Associates—rank finding skilled IT professionals as the No. 1 issue.

Many IT executives gripe that universities are not producing a stream of IT graduates who are prepared to function in the business world. Some worry about the unflattering image of technical professionals as socially awkward. But no one is more to blame for the skills shortage than CIOs, especially those at large companies. The reality is that IT executives are creating the skills shortage they grumble about.

Point one: …about which they grumble. That’s the way you do it, about which they grumble. What’s so hard about that? It’s not awkward at all. “…they grumble about” is just plain wrong. Anybody who’s seen Beavis and Butthead Do America knows, a preposition is not something you ever want to end a sentence with.

Point two is best articulated by blogger friend Virgil:

Funny thing about us americans.

We want everything yesterday and when we’re done with it.

We throw it away.

Appears to me that we have now reached that point with employee’s if I read this article in CIO – Insight correctly…Perhaps it is time to look in the mirror and realize that the problem is in fact us as we are reaping what we are sowing.

My take on this is slightly different. I believe in things like mentoring, friendships, setting up the “two way street” and so forth. To the extent that is voluntary and not a mandate from on-high from some busybody politician telling real businessmen how to run their businesses, sure I can get behind that.

Vast Power of CertificationPoint three is mine: We are very confused — and I think the blame for this does fall somewhat on the CIOs — about what it is we mean when we use the term “skills.” What do we mean by that? The problem is, as I see it, that we’ve just finished undergoing the most insidious and extremist flavoring of thought-replacement possible, and that is the thought-replacement that is achieved by means of word-replacement. Skills, skills, skills…think about it. Your sink is busted and you need a plumber who has skills. What does “skills” mean in that context? It means, plain and simply, someone with the ability to fix your sink.

There it is, no ifs, ands or buts. And yet — that isn’t what CIOs talk about anymore when they use the word “skills.” They mean something very different. This is proven easily: You can be “more skilled” or “less skilled” than another plumber. There are plumbing problems some can fix that others can’t. This is an ancient tradition dating back to Roman times and before — apprentices, journeymen, etc.

We’re getting rid of that ancient tradition. “Skills” is becoming a pass-fail thing. You have it or you don’t.

Blogger friend Buck and I got into another one of our friendly disagreements about this:

…from Business Week:

The controversy over visas for high-skilled workers from abroad looks like it’s about to get even hotter.

The program for what are known as H-1B visas was originally set up to allow companies in the U.S. to import the best and brightest in technology, engineering, and other fields when such workers are in short supply in America. But data just released by the federal government show that offshore outsourcing firms, particularly from India, dominate the list of companies awarded H-1B visas in 2007. Indian outsourcers accounted for nearly 80% of the visa petitions approved last year for the top 10 participants in the program. The new data are sure to fuel criticism of the visa program from detractors such as Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). “These numbers should send a red flag to every lawmaker that the H-1B visa program is not working as it was intended,” said Grassley in an e-mail.


Critics such as Grassley and Durbin charge that the outsourcers are abusing the U.S. program. The work visas, they say, are supposed to be used to bolster the U.S. economy. The idea is that companies like Microsoft, Google, or IBM can use them to hire software programmers or computer scientists with rare skills, fostering innovation and improving competitiveness. Instead, critics say, companies such as Infosys and Wipro are undermining the American economy by wiping out jobs.


A clash is likely in the coming months. Durbin and Grassley are pushing for more restrictions in the program, even as tech companies are advocating for a sharp increase in the number of visas handed out each year. The senators want to tighten the program’s criteria, by requiring participating companies to try to hire American workers first and to pledge that visa workers will not displace American workers. U.S. tech companies, meanwhile, want Congress to increase the visa cap from 65,000 a year to at least 115,000.

I agree with Senators Durbin and Grassley… it appears the Indian outsourcers are abusing the program. But I also agree with the corporate IT guys in that we—the US― need more H-1B visas, not less. Finding qualified American IT workers was pretty danged hard in my day, and I can only imagine the situation is worse these days and not better…given the growth in the IT industry. I had a bunch of database administrators (primarily Oracle DBAs) working for me in the last job I held. Out of the five DBAs on my team three were Indian, one was Russian, and only ONE was American. And these are six-figure jobs we’re on about, Gentle Reader. The financial incentives and rewards are substantial in the IT field, particularly for DBAs, so why don’t we have more native-grown talent in these areas? That remains a mystery to me…

And how, exactly, was I supposed to pass that up? I couldn’t move on without turning that rock over…

Durbin, et al, are correct just like you are, but their motives aren’t as pure as yours. They’re just beating up on eevyl korporashuns to keep themselves in good graces with the watermelons (green on outside red on inside).

This word “skills” is very seldom explored meaning-wise. It needs exploration because it’s a Yin-Yang thing, and has two different meanings in the two worlds. In the world of Yang it is demonstration that you have completed coursework, and in the world of Yin it is aptitude. I have skill pumping gas into my car. Now if the time comes where there is certification handed out for pumping gas into a car, and I don’t have it, the inquiry “Does Morgan have skill pumping gas into a car” will elicit a definite yes from half of us and a definite no from the other half.

So in my world, when Bill Gates goes to Congress and says he needs more H1-B’s to address this lack of “skill” he must have a different meaning in mind of what “skills” are than I do. (In fact he does, because his statistics have to do with number of graduates from computer science courses.) That, or else America has gotten really atrophied at the “there’s [a way] to do this and I’m gonna find it by cracky” meme that used to be our defining characteristic, what made the country great and wonderful.

I like my world a lot better and I think Mr. Gates should [too]. It has to do with getting the job DONE. On time, under budget. Not following rules…not showing you have the right letters after your name. PERforming over CONforming. Not to badmouth my accredited, and sometimes overly-accredited, brethren in I.T. since having those kinds of “skills” is not mutually-exclusive from being able to do the job. But it isn’t synonymous either.

And the fact of the matter is, if we all agreed on what the word “skills” meant, and we were all concerned about getting the contraption built on-time, under-budget, so it stays built and does what it’s supposed to do…and if America had the kind of spirit it had in the John Wayne days…this wouldn’t be an issue at all. We’d see what needs to be done, pick the most capable from among us, and get ‘er done.

To which Buck, former manager of database administrators, said…

You bring up some good points… but it takes more than just will to “git ‘r’ dun” these days. You can’t just pick up a book and figure out how to optimize a database, or worse: fix one when it goes belly-up. Same thing where sys admin (in general) is concerned. It takes a lot of study or natural talent (similar to that “talent” for languages), coupled with experience, to be effective in tech. But you know this…

Yes I do. And Buck is absolutely right. Right, anyway, about the subject immediately under discussion, which is database administration. And with very few exceptions, I would broaden that floodlight out to shine on anything in Information Technology with the word “administrator” in the job title: E-mail administrator, access administrator, etc.

Your needs here aren’t at all like having a plumber fix your sink; not by a damn sight. You have anything you’ll be using that interfaces with a larger network…a car that needs to be registered…a phone that needs to be plugged in…you really want the work done the way anybody else would do it. Otherwise you embark on this technical-support tumbling-dominoes nightmare — we’ve all been there, haven’t we? “Sorry, Mr. X, I have another call to make and I’m going to have to come back to this…I don’t know who did the previous work on this, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before…it’s just weird…”

But then there is the job I held when I was a “Sr. LAN Administrator.” The name of that job was converted when I got a new boss who didn’t have a technical background and couldn’t understand what “Sr. Network Systems Engineer” meant. That job had a very simple definition, both before and after the name change: It was at the top of the ladder of escalation resources for technical problems that could not be resolved by others.

Hence my comments about PERforming versus CONforming. When problems are kicked upstairs to you, it really doesn’t do you or anybody else an awful lot of good for you to do things exactly the same way others have done them. If that worked, after all, the problem would already be solved wouldn’t it?

Yes, it would. So Buck’s comments have a validity to them; the validity extends well over what he has in mind. That validity does not extend to what I have in mind. Information Technology is a big world, in which you need his type of skill as well as mine.

So through this word replacement game, what we’re doing is eradicating, completely, PERforming in favor of CONforming. We’re making entire IT farms scrubbed clean of anybody who does anything outside of the box. And we don’t even have the vocabulary necessary to reverse this if we choose to, because now the word “skills” has been re-defined to infuse all IT farms with more of the same: Bright, golf-shirt-and-goatee wearing “engineers” richly skilled in Step 1 Step 2 Step 3, who, if the previous guy didn’t work that way (or something’s just plain busted) may not understand enough about how things work to fix little bits of it.

They are valuable people. We need them. But they are admins, not engineers.

I think the vision of the CIOs makes sense on some level. The assumption under which they’re operating is that when one of these unorthodox problems comes up that requires this escalation to guys who can think outside of the box and do things differently than the way the next guy might do them…it was probably caused by one of those guys. Speaking as one of those guys, I do have to say I can see the merits of this argument. I have seen this happen many times. Someone didn’t follow rules…someone who has an “admin” job and wants to have an “engineering” job and acted as an “engineer” when he was expected to act like an “admin”…and now we have a mess.

But I still blame the CIOs for that.

I blame them because it’s simplistic thinking, the kind of thinking they’re paid good money to avoid, to say this is the cause of all IT woes. This drive to expunge IT of anybody who colors outside the lines and saturate it with the “step 1 do this step 2 do that” mindset, makes sense only if you presume this is the only type of technical problem we can have. And after twenty years in the biz, I think I can provide my assurances that this is not the case.

I further blame them because it’s an avoidance of responsibility. This thing we talk about now when we use the word “skills” — it isn’t like the olden days when you’d talk about someone’s skills after spending years personally witnessing his use of them — it’s decidedly a third-party definition. You have skills, I point out you have skills, and what I mean is there is some third party esteemed accreditation institution that has put out a piece of paper that says you have the skills. Nobody expects me to know anything about the details, I’m just Player B. And, of course, if we’re talking about another guy who also has these “skills” it is logically impossible to compare the two of you. It’s strictly pass-fail.

You know, in IT and outside of it, we have a need for pass-fail jobs: You’re qualified to do them, or you aren’t. My point is that all jobs are not like that. If you’re going in for brain surgery or heart bypass surgery, you aren’t going to be satisfied with a surgeon who went through a pass/fail and got his piece of paper saying he’s got “skills.” You’ll want to know a bit more than that. You’ll be throwing around the word “skills” with the spirit in which we used to use it. You’ll want to talk to someone who’s worked with your surgeon, preferably for years, with a big ol’ saga of war stories to tell.

And I think people need to understand that with all the services they use, Information Technology is not going through a process of confining that kind of talent to the very top. It’s going through a process of cleaning it out. Everybody in our data center, top to bottom, is here to follow rules, to CONform and not to PERform. If something pops up and nobody can figure it out…well…nobody will figure it out. We’ll end up replacing huge things at great cost instead of smaller things at reduced cost — and don’t even ask what that will do to the delivery schedule involved in the repair, you don’t wanna know. We are making it into a bureaucracy — it only works if everybody follows the rules. Nothing Invented Here.

…here, where we expect things to be invented.

A lot of people don’t see an issue with that. I think I see a big one. Time will tell if I’m right.

Update 3/24/07: Run, don’t walk, over to Phil’s place to see what he has to say about this.

Without Apology

Friday, February 29th, 2008

This blog, which nobody actually reads anyway, agrees with the nanny-state on one single issue and we stomp the bleachers as we bang our hands together in applause here

“It is universally understood that operating a motor vehicle while using a cell phone is dangerous, and yet it’s almost a universal practice,” [Police Capt. Jeff] Gural said. “Unlike the seatbelt law, the violation of which puts only the violator at risk, violation of the cell phone law puts others at risk.

“Therefore, the Evesham police will be enforcing the law vigorously and without apology.”

Cinnaminson Police Lt. Robert Martens said it won’t be hard to find violators

“There are so many drivers that still talk on their (hand-held) cell phones that it’s going to be like shooting fish in a barrel,” Martens said of the number of potential violators traveling area roadways.

However, he said his department does not now plan any special details to look for violators.

“If we see someone violating the law and creating a traffic hazard, we’re going to enforce it,” Martens said.

The sight of people spending enormous gobs of money to make their car as cocoon-like as they possibly can, and then filling that cocoon with distractions, ticks me off like you wouldn’t believe. Worst of all is the sight of someone just jawing away on their cell phone…and I understand people are going to think I’m jumping to conclusions a bit too quickly, and they’re entitled to their opinion however wrong it may be. I insist you can tell certain things by the way they move. The way they hold the phones. The way their jaws move as they talk into them.

They are NOT receiving instructions on how to perform CPR on a baby, or how to defuse a bomb.

They are yakking away about stupid crap.

Because they’re used to driving this way. If they’re driving, and there’s no phone held up to their face, they feel that something is wrong. It’s like using a computer without drinking coffee. Quarter-pounder without the fries. The engine roars to life, and the phone has to be up to their silly ear if it isn’t there already.

Cardo ScalaBecause being ready for any ol’ thing to go wrong — the time-honored example of the three-year-old chasing the ball out into the street just yards in front of your bumper — that is unacceptably boring. To people who put ten…twenty…thirty thousand miles on their chariots, every year. Just consider the implications of that.

There shouldn’t even be a law needed, when you think about it. If you hold a cell phone up to your face, you’re advertising to the world that you don’t check your blind spots when you turn corners or change lanes. There can be very little doubt about it. Just watch people yakking away on their cell phones while they drive. Take a good look. Three quarters of them are holding the phone up to their left ears. Their left ears. They do head checks when they change lanes? They do? How? Law or no law, that’s worth a warning.

Pictured is the headset I use, which has worked wonderfully now for three years straight. There’s nothing unique about it except for the handy cord that you can use to keep it close by, like around your neck. You can get it for $25. Some others work perfectly well, and cost even less.

I’m always amazed by folks who drive BMWs or Lincoln Navs for the prestige factor, but can’t put together $15 to talk on their phones while they drive unobstructed. What’s up with you people? Are you afraid of losing the headset? Then keep the headset in your damn car.

Now that I actually agree with the nanny state about something, I have to go take a shower. But you see, I really have no choice but to agree with them on this one. It doesn’t matter how much “there oughtta be a law” is overused and over-abused…it applies here. This nonsense is WAY out of control.

WAY out.

Are We There Yet?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

That’s what I call quite a trip.

It is the furthest galaxy on the record. The galaxy Abell 1835 IR1916 is located about 13,230 million light-years away. Hence, it is seen at a time when the Universe was merely 470 million years young, that is, barely 3 percent of its current age.

But don’t feel so dejected, young-earth creationists, there’s something for you too…

Scientists are finding extraterrestrial influence in this galaxy. It seems the galaxy was engineered and fit into place by artificial forces. This is the furthest galaxy ever discovered. Therefore it is also the earliest galaxy that we can view through gravitational lenses.

Some 13.7 billion years ago, after the big bang, the Universe plunged into darkness. Neither stars nor quasars had yet been formed which could illuminate the vast space. The Universe was a cold and opaque place. Some thing went wrong, according to some scientists. Intervention was needed by the Type IV civilization that created the big bang in their massive inter-universe particle colliders. The big bang created a black hole in the hyperspace – our universe with three spatial dimensions and a forward moving single time dimension. According to scientists this was the start of ‘dark ages’ that was eventually corrected through the intervention of the Type IV civilization.

Type IV is a reference to the Kardashev Scale; specifically, to something on par with the Q Continuum.

This Is Good XLVII

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Dilbert’s been kind of hit-n-miss lately, but I have to doubt like hell I’ve seen the last of this

I Made a New Word XI

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

Section U Error (n.)

A computer network error with an unstated cause that shows a peculiar consistency to its occurrence, thereby arousing suspicions in the user community that the error is part of a deliberate design. As an example, to bring the traffic across over-worked and under-capitalized resources in line with a lower demand that can be more effectively serviced, by systematically denying requests at some point closer to the user.

Of course, an error that occurs all the time is most convincingly diagnosed as something out of commission, so the best pattern to indicate a Section U Error would be a generic problem that happens half the time. Once the user is acclimated to attempting a certain request twice, having settled on the expectation that the first attempt will fail and the second one will succeed, this would be strong evidence of a Section U Error.

I Doubt It Very MuchNow, proving such a thing is going to be nearly impossible. Nevertheless, explaining some network behavior by other means, remains highly difficult…so much so that eventually, Occam’s Razor nods toward Section U.

Named after the fictitious corporate memorandum in John Grisham’s novel The Rainmaker, directing that medical claims submitted to the Great Benefit insurance company be initially denied as a matter of ritual, regardless of validity.

Inspired because the error message from Hotmail that is captured in the graphic…which, I swear, I didn’t see after nearly a decade of using Hotmail before Sunday night or Monday morning, is popping up with a regularity I find…well…let’s just say I’m not believing everything I read.

Long Live Closed-Source Software

Monday, December 31st, 2007

“An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn’t been so good at creating notable originals.”

Not sure I agree, but he makes some good points and inspires some thought that might not otherwise take place.

Is IT a Bureaucracy?

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

This is a great article that makes some great points. The thread that opens up underneath it, started out laughably foolish, but afterward rose to the occasion and some great points were made there as well.

The article itself is a response to an indictment that appeared last month. And the response is just a bunch of bullets — why IT, in general, is dissolving into a puddle of bureaucratic goo when the challenges it is built to confront, demand anything but a bureaucracy. Interestingly, it has no preamble; just a two-liner from the editor and then launches right in.

Six is my fave, and when I look back on my career I see I’ve been guilty of this:

IT doesn’t ask why. They respond to the same problems over and over without implementing permanent fixes. They operate and support redundant applications even though no one uses them. They do not question business priorities and complain when all requests are listed as high priority by the business.

The last of the eight bullets is denial. IT doesn’t want to admit it’s becoming a bureaucracy, when it’s in the stages of becoming one. And then the first dozen or so comments in the thread pop in and essentially prove it.

I will need to allocate some time to sit down with this and figure out who’s pointing out more substantial stuff…the author of the article, or some of the commenters who came in later and have contributed some items I wouldn’t want to miss. Looks like a close call. But in my own twenty years, I have noticed that if there is one big problem that acts as a stumbling block against the endeavors of IT sub-organizations everywhere, it is human nature. I have yet to see an IT executive confront it directly.

The mission of Information Technology is to do more with less, and to deliver it as close to Right Now as possible, without disrupting production. Keep it working, and in the meantime go look for a cheaper way to do more quicker. This demands an awkward juxtaposition of creative-individualist and harmonious-collectivist thinking. This means the best and brightest should be promoted into positions where they can find out exactly what has to be done, and go shopping for ways to accomplish it, with all the less-creative folks standing behind them and lending support. Once the product is installed, information needs to be shared down to a substantially technical level, so that if there is a disruption in service someone will be around to make sure business is resumed as seamlessly as possible.

I have not yet seen this happen in my career. Anywhere. I don’t think I’ll see it.

Self-interest always gets in the way. Once you’re the “(blank)” guy, and you replace “(blank)” with whatever it is the company needs that is your specialty, you want to hoard the information. And why shouldn’t you? If you train someone else how to do the same thing, they’re probably going to start brown-nosing the boss, pretending that they’re the ones who got trained first and you’re the Johnny-come-lately…and if your boss is a dimwit, he might believe them and they’ll get all your plumb assignments. The boss, meanwhile, will pick out the guy who does things in a manner that most closely resembles the way he’d do things if he were they. And that guy will get all the “yummy” training…the expensive training…the training on all the yummy new products that are going to be in demand next year, or the year after. And so all the hoarding of information will be for nothing. But year after year people will continue to do it anyway.

It’s gotta be that way, if there are layers of management looking at IT trying to find ways to pare it down. And that ingredient will never be missing, of course. IT is in the business of delivering, among other things, economy.

So jealousy will have something to do with what motivates IT; therefore, elitism will drift in, sooner or later. I have yet to see any exceptions to it. An IT department staffed with, say for example, fifty highly energetic, skilled, experienced and resourceful engineers, will draw on the creative juices of………..four or five of those. At the most. The other ninety percent will be called upon to support that “Big Five.” …or not. Will that Big Five come up with the creative, resourceful, Indiana Jones “out of the box” types of solutions that will keep the department from drifting into a bureaucracy? Perhaps. Maybe. Probably not…the highest part of any mountain is it’s center.

Are all IT organizations neck deep in this problem? I would have to say no, since they’re disconnected entities functioning within private enterprises, with good specimens as well as bad ones. But I think it’s safe to say all the IT organizations that aren’t yet bureaucracies, are in danger of becoming those, since they’re staffed by ordinary people.

Ordinary people don’t really work that well together. Not once the advancement of one man’s career, is seen as a detriment to the career of his colleague.

And so I would reserve my most scathing criticism for the folks who skim over the Spanos article, and snear something to the effect of “not in my citadel.” Those may be bright people, but they’re engaged in a somewhat foolish thing.

PDF Tricks

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Going to have to play with this on my home PC when I get the chance.

That Adobe Reader, she does a great job of letting you know she’s running. Not subtle by any means. Good to know there are alternatives.

And yes…for the most part, I’m just finding this out now.

GPS Sneakers

Friday, February 9th, 2007


If Dr. Seuss Wrote Tech Manuals

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

Texas Scribbler brings us this piece of weekend humor.

If the label on the cable on the table at your house,
Says the network is connected to the button on your mouse,
But your packets want to tunnel on another protocol,
That’s repeatedly rejected by the printer down the hall,
And your screen is all distorted by the side effects of gauss
So your icons in the window are as wavy as a souse,
Then you may as well reboot and go out with a bang,
‘Cause as sure as I’m a poet, the sucker’s gonna hang!

Wet and Irritated

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Via Ronalfy we learn about a great little screed worth a chuckle or two. Too good to wait for the weekend.

Potty humor. Always funny.

The Vast Power of Certification

Monday, January 15th, 2007

Well, I have personal reasons for stopping to read news like this. We live in an accredited world. You have to have a diploma to get work…at pretty much anything. When your father’s father became a man, people told him the same thing, and they were right to. Get that diploma, son. And so back then, success depended upon sheepskin…nowadays, it likewise does…it just seems logical to assume, every single day in between it was the same way, right?

Well, of course there is that problem with the early eighties, when we got an entire industry going by a bunch of college drop-outs. And the industry actually gave us stuff. That worked. That we use. That defined what a career really was, for millions of people, including me.

Some say I have formed a personal bias from a skewed perspective. They’re right. I’ve learned some things that I just can’t ignore. Back in the olden days, I was a high school graduate…and a “champion.” Not, as in, best of the best of the best — not that by any means. I’m referring to the old-school definition of champion. The Middle English version. You want your side to prevail, you pick a knight, and you declare victory or suffer defeat, based on the victory or defeat of that knight. I was that knight. Employers would dip into their savings accounts to give me paychecks, and to earn those paychecks I would sit down in front of a computer network and make it do what it was supposed to do. I was the “best bet,” college degree or no. And I set out to make sure it was a winning bet.

And so while I do have my personal biases, my real concern is what I’m seeing happening to business. I come from a time when those who made the decision to hire, had a personal stake in seeing things come out right.

Look what we got going on nowadays…

Are highly educated teachers worth the extra pay?
Those with master’s paid more, but studies cast doubt on benefit
06:53 AM CST on Monday, January 15, 2007
By ANDREW D. SMITH / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas-area school districts spend nearly $20 million a year on extra pay for teachers with master’s degrees.

The payments make intuitive sense: Advanced training must help teachers teach better.

But scores of studies show no ties between graduate studies and teacher effectiveness. Even among researchers who see some value in some master’s programs, many urge dramatic reforms and an end to automatic stipends.

“If we pay for credentials, teachers have an incentive to seek and schools have an incentive to provide easy credentials,” said Arthur Levine, a researcher who once headed Columbia University’s Teachers College. “If, on the other hand, we only pay for performance, teachers have an incentive to seek and schools have an incentive to provide excellent training.”

Count James R. Sharp Jr. among the defenders of the programs. The first-grade teacher in the Garland school district says his recent graduate studies at Texas A&M-Commerce in Mesquite improved nearly every aspect of his performance.

“I learned to maintain discipline. I learned to manage time. I learned to communicate better,” he said. “It was a tremendous experience.”

Yet a large body of research casts doubt on the value of master’s programs, of any kind, in the classroom. A roundup published in 2003 by The Economic Journal, a publication of the international Royal Economic Society, unearthed 170 relevant studies. Of those, 15 concluded that master’s programs helped teachers, nine found they hurt them, and 146 found no effect.
“We teach practical matters: curriculum, law, reading, classroom management,” said Madeline Justice, [Texas A&M] interim department head for educational leadership. “Students tell us wonderful things about our program.”

Asked if she knew of any studies that showed systematic benefits of master’s degrees, Dr. Justice said her school was conducting a study of its master’s degree students but that data had yet to be tabulated.

William Sanders, who pioneered many analytical techniques while at the University of Tennessee, has found no clear benefit of master’s degrees from any education school.

“I did one study that compared graduates from 40 different schools of education, everything from tiny no-names to national powerhouses,” Dr. Sanders said. “Each school produced great teachers, mediocre teachers and lousy teachers in roughly the same degree.”

Look, I’m not going to sit here and type in something to the effect that a Master’s Degree doesn’t mean anything. It seems like a given that someone who has one, has achieved something that has not been achieved by someone who does not have one.

But at the same time, it’s pretty easy to see how the Dallas-area school districts got here. The requirement for a formal education, is a requirement that tends toward absolutism. In other words, you insist this position over here be filled by someone with a degree, you have to insist that position over there also be filled by someone with equal credentialing. And then you insist on the same thing for that other thing over there too. Before you know it, everyone has to have the same degree.

And position after position after position is filled this way, with no one ever called on the carpet to account for how this helps to accomplish the job at hand. Yeah, the certified people are going to be performing at-or-above the level of the non-certified people…more or less. But from working with highly educated people, I’ve noticed something over the years: A problem one of them can’t solve, tends to be a problem many of them can’t solve. Their backgrounds tend to overlap to the extent that it becomes an occasion when someone “brings something to the table” that hasn’t already been offered by someone else.

Kind of like giving your children a narrow gene selection by marrying your sister.

But of course when the higher-education folk can do everything asked of them in their positions, that is fulfilled by someone without the same credentials, is that so wrong? I suppose maybe not. The article makes mention of some $20 million allocated for teachers with Master’s Degrees. I guess whoever’s paying that $20 million would be in the best position to answer that question.

But I think that explains my concerns. There is cost; there is lack of diversity. Real diversity, as in, diversity of backgrounds and diverse personal capacities to competently confront challenges that come with the position. Thing I Know #40 is “We are a tribal species, although we’re loathe to admit it, and when people extoll the virtues of “diversity” they tend to talk about skin color and nothing else.” Obviously, I’m talking about something else, and this goes unsatisfied when a department is packed full of people with degrees, when their positions don’t actually demand them.

And finally, there is the marriage between those who make the decision to hire, and those with a stake in having the requirements of the position filled well. Performance goals being met or exceeded. The unthinking insistence on degrees that may or may not be related to the demands of the position, tends to drive a wedge between those two parties.

For example, in hiring a zookeeper, most people would be unable to articulate just how a candidate’s application could be bolstered by a degree in…let us say…astronomy. But, hey. It’s kind of technical to deliberate that issue, isn’t it? We can’t burden our human resources guy with the chore of figuring out if astronomy has something to do with hosing shit off the floor of a bear cage. Maybe there’s some overlap. Maybe there isn’t — but we know it takes something to get an astronomy degree.

So once the job offer goes out to the guy with the astronomy degree, can the human resources guy who made the decision, really bet that he’ll make a good zookeeper? That’s the question. And the answer is…well, nobody knows. You see, the human resources guy isn’t betting that. What he’s betting, is that if the candidate turns out to be a lousy zookeeper, he will not be blamed. It won’t be his fault. See, he hired someone with a degree.

That’s a ludicrous example, since of course zookeeping is a far cry from astronomy. But it’s not that distant from…botany. Or climatology. Shift the degree to those, and it becomes more realistic. And the ramifications remain the same. The human resources guy, is effectively outsourcing the vital decision-making that he’s earning good money to do. He’s leaving it up to an outside source, in the form of the degree-criterion. It’s human nature to do this. You have to make decisions day-to-day, you find ways to take the decision-making out of it.

That isn’t to say I think higher education is meaningless. But I think it’s fair to say that sometimes, we get a little too caught up in confusing “certification” with “having accomplished something related to the job at hand.” So I’m not surprised that some studies have gone out looking for payoff from hiring teachers with Master’s degrees, and have come up a bit empty.

After all, you probably don’t have too many people ready, willing or able to say, “THIS is how a teacher with a Master’s degree is going to do a better job than a teacher who doesn’t have one.” Yeah, you’ve got James R. Sharp. And I’ll wager everyone in his position, is going to say the same thing. He’s simply saying he had an experience that makes him better at his job. Hell, I’ve had lots of experiences that made me better at every job I’ve ever held. That’s what experiences do…formal ed, or other.

That doesn’t mean a prospective employer is going to come out ahead, by insisting every candidate have the same experiences. If they were to do such a thing, an honest study would come to the conclusion that employer had effectively been wasting money. And it looks like that’s what has happened here.

But there’s more…

“America has 3.2 million teachers who together make up the nation’s most powerful political lobby, and more than half of them hold master’s degrees. They’ll fight for that money,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based nonprofit that funds and reviews education research. [emphasis mine]

Ah…there ya go. Read back up at TIK #40. We are a — what? Tribal species, although we are loathe to admit it. It’s demonstrated that a big chunk of this “money for people with degrees” thing, is nothing more than “I want everyone to be exactly like me, and if they aren’t I just want them to go away.”

Again, it’s just how we work. Human nature.