Clay Shirky describes how government IT cannot effectively translate planning into reality, avoids testing, and insists on shunning a phased roll-out approach but then finds itself experiencing exactly that.
It’s certainly true that Federal IT is chronically challenged by its own processes. But the problem with Healthcare.gov was not timeline or budget. The problem was that the site did not work, and the administration decided to launch it anyway.
This is not just a hiring problem, or a procurement problem. This is a management problem, and a cultural problem. The preferred method for implementing large technology projects in Washington is to write the plans up front, break them into increasingly detailed specifications, then build what the specifications call for. It’s often called the waterfall method, because on a timeline the project cascades from planning, at the top left of the chart, down to implementation, on the bottom right.
Like all organizational models, waterfall is mainly a theory of collaboration. By putting the most serious planning at the beginning, with subsequent work derived from the plan, the waterfall method amounts to a pledge by all parties not to learn anything while doing the actual work. Instead, waterfall insists that the participants will understand best how things should work before accumulating any real-world experience, and that planners will always know more than workers.
This is a perfect fit for a culture that communicates in the deontic language of legislation. It is also a dreadful way to make new technology. If there is no room for learning by doing, early mistakes will resist correction. If the people with real technical knowledge can’t deliver bad news up the chain, potential failures get embedded rather than uprooted as the work goes on. ...
[Emphasis added:] The vision of “technology” as something you can buy according to a plan, then have delivered as if it were coming off a truck, flatters and relieves managers who have no idea and no interest in how this stuff works, but it’s also a breeding ground for disaster. The mismatch between technical competence and executive authority is at least as bad in government now as it was in media companies in the 1990s, but with much more at stake.
The Oldest College Daily recently advised the Yale community of a potential downside to the use of free University-provided email addresses.
Yale students’ email accounts are subject to search without consent or notification by the University, as outlined in a publicly available but little-publicized document.
Under the University’s Information Technology Acceptable Use Policy, the University maintains the right to access not only employee accounts, but students’ accounts as well. While 55 of 73 students interviewed were unsurprised that the University can monitor their correspondences, few were clear on the specifics under which Yale can search their accounts.
Only three students of 73 interviewed were aware of the specifics of Yale’s policy, with one adding that he learned about the University’s regulations through a class.
“I feel like the University should make clear under what circumstances they consider searching emails,” Sherry Du ’17 said. “The school should do more to publicize this.”
Most students said they were not taken aback by the policy because the email account is provided by Yale.
Graduate students who came to Yale after working in the corporate world expressed especially little surprise over the policy. Ashlee Tran SOM ’14 said employees at large corporations assume their emails are monitored.
“It doesn’t shock me at all that they can do that,” Acer Xu ’17 said. “It’s Yale email, it’s an internal server.”
According to its Acceptable Use Policy, several circumstances warrant access to students’ emails: “preserv[ing] the integrity of the IT systems,” complying with “federal, state, or local law or administrative rules,” carrying out “essential business functions of the University,” “preserv[ing] public health and safety” and producing evidence when “there are reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of law or a significant breach of University policy may have taken place.”
Administrators did not define what actions constitute a significant breach of University policy, though ITS Director of Strategic Communications Susan West described these circumstances as “specific and unusual.”
For the University to access a student account, two administrators must give their approval: University Provost Benjamin Polak as well as the dean of Yale College or the appropriate graduate or professional school, though deans are allowed to delegate this task.
However, in situations where “emergency access is necessary to preserve the integrity of facilities or to preserve public health and safety,” systems administrators may access an account without approval.
No explicit mention is made in the Undergraduate Regulations of the University’s right to access student accounts, though the Appropriate Use Policy is accessible through a link on page 128 of the 131-page document.
“Preserv[ing] the integrity of the IT systems,” complying with “federal, state, or local law or administrative rules,” carrying out “essential business functions of the University,” “preserv[ing] public health and safety” and producing evidence when “there are reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of law or a significant breach of University policy may have taken place.”
Sullyblog recently found itself another humanitarian crusade to climb on board.
Bad enough our letting the Bush Administration roughly handle jihadi terrorists (Torture!). On top of that, we allow domestic cats to reproduce and then we “introduce” them into natural environments properly understood to be the park and preserve of rodents and small birds. We are kind of like God introducing Spaniards into the New World.
Disapproving Aunt Andrew quotes crusading vegan journalist Deanna Pan writing in Mother Jones about the findings of a study of feline atrocities by the University of Georgia.
About 30 percent of the sampled cats were successful hunters and killed, on average, two animals a week. Almost half of their spoils were abandoned at the scene of the crime. Extrapolating from the data to include the millions of feral cats brutalizing native wildlife across the country, the American Bird Conservancy estimates that kitties are killing more than 4 billion animals annually. And that number’s based on a conservative weekly kill rate, said Robert Johns, a spokesman for the conservancy.
“We could be looking at 10, 15, 20 billion wildlife killed (per year),” Johns said.
Doesn’t it seem fitting that the moralizing and modernizing representatives of the progressive community of fashion not only hasten to defend the Mussulman bombmaker, but also take time out from ordering the stars in their courses to champion the rights of mice, rats, pigeons, and house sparrows?
Spoilsport Deanna Pan (I bet she was not born with that surname) thinks we should bell and bib our cats in order to foil their hunting.
(Also quoted by Andrew Sullivan) Amanda Marcotte, writing in Slate, contends that helicopter-pet-ownership, i.e. persistent bien pensant human supervision and restricted access to the out-of-doors, is the solution.
One of my cats spent the first year of her life as a completely outdoor cat who slept in a barn, so getting her to stop begging to be let out took some spine, but now she’s perfectly happy to have her outdoor life limited to small amounts of time on the balcony. If I ever feel bad about exerting power over her in this way, I just remind myself I’m being much more generous to her than she’d be to small creatures that she comes across, which goes a long way toward relieving any guilt.
All of which proves, I think, that no limits to officious theorizing of the modern pseudo-intelligentsia can be found to exist.
Personally, I think all these self-appointed legislators’ pantries should be infested with hanta-virus-bearing mice and pigeons should target them whenever they go outside.
“They were running the biggest start-up in the world, and they didn’t have anyone who had run a start-up, or even run a business,” said David Cutler, a Harvard professor and health adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign.
[T]he age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. —- Edmund Burke
Dan Greenfield observes that no one should be very surprised that the Obamacare web-site failed to work. In this case, it was simply a matter of the Nomenklatura’s characteristic magical thinking attempting to take the place of software engineering in very much the same way the idea of Obamacare itself tries to replace the market with a theoretical determination of what is best by similar great minds.
Our technocracy is detached from competence. It’s not the technocracy of engineers, but of “thinkers” who read Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman and watch TED talks and savor the flavor of competence, without ever imbibing its substance.
These are the people who love Freakonomics, who enjoy all sorts of mental puzzles, who like to see an idea turned on its head, but who couldn’t fix a toaster.
The ObamaCare website is the natural spawn of that technocracy who love the idea of using modernity to make things faster and easier, but have no idea what anything costs or how it works.
It’s hard to have a functioning technocracy without engineers. A technocracy made in Silicon Valley with its complete disregard for anything outside its own ego zone would be bad enough. But this is a Bloombergian technocracy of billionaires and activists, of people who think that “progress” makes things work, rather than things working leading to progress.
Healthcare.gov showed us that behind all the smoother and shinier designs was the same old clunky government where everything gets done because the right companies hire the right lobbyists and everything costs ten times what it should.
If the government can’t build a health care website, how is it going to actually run health care for an entire country is the obvious question that so many are asking. And the obvious answer is that it will run it the way it ran the website. It will throw wads of money and people at the problem and then look for programs it doesn’t like to squeeze for extra cash.
Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI Federal, left, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. CGI will earn at least $290 million from its Obamacare contract to design the site.
Mark Steyn identifies the Canadian Company which got the no-bid contract to build the botched Obamacare web-site. Who knew? They were already famous for their achievements on behalf of the Canadian Government.
CGI is… a Canadian corporate behemoth. Indeed, CGI is so Canadian their name is French: Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique. Their most famous government project was for the Canadian Firearms Registry. The registry was estimated to cost in total $119 million, which would be offset by $117 million in fees. That’s a net cost of $2 million. Instead, by 2004 the CBC (Canada’s PBS) was reporting costs of some $2 billion — or a thousand times more expensive.
Yeah, yeah, I know, we’ve all had bathroom remodelers like that. But in this case the database had to register some 7 million long guns belonging to some two-and-a-half to three million Canadians. That works out to almost $300 per gun — or somewhat higher than the original estimate for processing a firearm registration of $4.60. Of those $300 gun registrations, Canada’s auditor general reported to parliament that much of the information was either duplicated or wrong in respect to basic information such as names and addresses.
CNN Money describes the problems and quotes technicians about what it will take to fix it.
Experts say the major problems with the Obamacare website can’t reasonably be solved before the end of 2013, and the best fix would be to start over from scratch.
After assessing the website, Dave Kennedy, the CEO of information-security company Trusted Sec, estimates that about 20% of Healthcare.gov needs to be rewritten. With a whopping 500 million lines of code, according to a recent New York Times report, Kennedy believes fixing the site would probably take six months to a year.
But would-be Obamacare enrollees only have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage starting at the beginning of 2014. Nish Bhalla, CEO of information-security firm Security Compass, said it “does not sound realistic at all” that Healthcare.gov will be fully operational before that point.
“We don’t even know where all of the problems lie, so how can we solve them?” Bhalla said. “It’s like a drive-by shooting: You’re going fast and you might hit it, you might miss it. But you can’t fix what you can’t identify.”
Several computer engineers said it would likely be easier to rebuild Healthcare.gov than to fix the issues in the current system. But it’s unlikely that the government would toss out more than $300 million worth of work.
The sheer size of Healthcare.gov is indicative of a major rush job. Rolling the site out too quickly likely increased the number of errors, and that makes the fixes more difficult to implement.
“Projects that are done rapidly usually have a lot of [repetitive] code,” said Arron Kallenberg, a software engineer and tech entrepreneur. “So when you have a problem, instead of debugging something in a single location, you’re tracking it down all through the code base.”
To put 500 million lines of code into perspective, it took just 500,000 lines of code to send the Curiosity rover to Mars. Microsoft’s (MSFT, Fortune 500) Windows 8 operating system reportedly has about 80 million lines of code. And an online banking system might feature between 75 million and 100 million lines. A “more normal range” for a project like Healthcare.gov is about 25 million to 50 million lines of code, Kennedy said.
“The [500 million lines of code] says right off the bat that something is egregiously wrong,” said Kennedy. “I jumped back when I read that figure. It’s just so excessive.” ...
..The New York Times report said five million lines of code need to be replaced just so the site can run properly.
But the Obamacare website has bigger problems than simply getting people registered for health care. The code is also riddled with security holes, according to Kennedy, who outlined his cybersecurity concerns on Trusted Sec’s company blog.
“If someone can’t register, that’s obviously bad—but if the information gets hacked, you’re talking about one of the biggest breaches in American history,” Kennedy said. “I think security is an afterthought at this point.”
The site itself, which apparently underwent major code renovations over the weekend, still rejects user logins, fails to load drop-down menus and other crucial components for users that successfully gain entrance, and otherwise prevents uninsured Americans in the 36 states it serves from purchasing healthcare at competitive rates – Healthcare.gov’s primary purpose. The site is so busted that, as of a couple days ago, the number of people that successfully purchased healthcare through it was in the “single digits,” according to the Washington Post.
And our liberal friends believe we ought to be happy to turn over our healthcare choices, and a one sixth portion of the American economy, to the same government which demonstrably could not even satisfactorily develop a website in three years?
The colorful secret of a 1,600-year-old Roman chalice at the British Museum is the key to a supersensitive new technology that might help diagnose human disease or pinpoint biohazards at security checkpoints.
The glass chalice, known as the Lycurgus Cup because it bears a scene involving King Lycurgus of Thrace, appears jade green when lit from the front but blood-red when lit from behind—a property that puzzled scientists for decades after the museum acquired the cup in the 1950s. The mystery wasn’t solved until 1990, when researchers in England scrutinized broken fragments under a microscope and discovered that the Roman artisans were nanotechnology pioneers: They’d impregnated the glass with particles of silver and gold, ground down until they were as small as 50 nanometers in diameter, less than one-thousandth the size of a grain of table salt. The exact mixture of the precious metals suggests the Romans knew what they were doing—“an amazing feat,” says one of the researchers, archaeologist Ian Freestone of University College London.
The ancient nanotech works something like this: When hit with light, electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the color depending on the observer’s position. Gang Logan Liu, an engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has long focused on using nanotechnology to diagnose disease, and his colleagues realized that this effect offered untapped potential. “The Romans knew how to make and use nanoparticles for beautiful art,” Liu says. “We wanted to see if this could have scientific applications.”
When various fluids filled the cup, Liu suspected, they would change how the vibrating electrons in the glass interacted, and thus the color. (Today’s home pregnancy tests exploit a separate nano-based phenomenon to turn a white line pink.)
The cup was “perhaps made in Alexandria” or Rome in about 290-325 AD, and measures 16.5×13.2 cm. From its excellent condition it is probable that, like several other luxury Roman objects, it has always been preserved above ground; most often such objects ended up in the relatively secure environment of a church treasury. Alternatively it might, like several other cage cups, have been recovered from a sarcophagus. The present gilt-bronze rim and foot were added in about 1800, suggesting it was one of the many objects taken from church treasuries during the period of the French Revolution and French Revolutionary Wars. The foot continues the theme of the cup with open-work vine leaves, and the rim has leaf forms that lengthen and shorten to match the scenes in glass. In 1958 the foot was removed by British Museum conservators, and not rejoined to the cup until 1973. There may well have been earlier mounts.
The early history of the cup is unknown, and it is first mentioned in print in 1845, when a French writer said he had seen it “some years ago, in the hands of M. Dubois”. This is probably shortly before it was acquired by the Rothschild family. Certainly Lionel de Rothschild owned it by 1862, when he lent it to an exhibition at what is now the V&A Museum, after which it virtually fell from scholarly view until 1950. In 1958 Victor, Lord Rothschild sold it to the British Museum for £20,000… .The cup is normally on display, lit from behind, in Room 50 (it forms part of the museum’s Department of Prehistory and Europe).
2,000-year-old 100-layer sword, reputed to have been owed by Lui Bang (fl. circa 200 B.C.) first Emperor of the Han Dynasty, found originally covered with blood rust. The pattern shown in the bottom photo is known as leopard spots.
Collectors Weekly visits swordmaker Francis Boyd, learns the difference between Damascus layered and wootz steel, and gets to see a sword gifted in China by Marco Polo (or a close relative).
When I got this sword, it was completely covered in blood rust.” Sword maker Francis Boyd is showing me yet another weapon pulled from yet another safe in the heavily fortified workshop behind his northern California home.
“You can tell it’s blood,” he says matter-of-factly, “because ordinary rust turns the grinding water brown. If it’s blood rust it bleeds, it looks like blood in the water. Even 2,000 years old, it bleeds. And it smells like a steak cooking, like cooked meat. I’ve encountered this before with Japanese swords from World War II. If there’s blood on the sword and you start polishing it, the sword bleeds. It comes with the territory.”
Blood rust: I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it would turn water red, but the steak comment is kind of creeping me out, as is the growing realization that if these swords could talk, I couldn’t stomach half the tales they’d have to tell.
Do you still pine for your college days, when the personal computer was a decade or more in the future, and the typewriter still reigned?
USBtypewriter offers not-terribly-expensive conversion kits to allow you to use old-timey manual typewriters instead of that nasty new-fangled keyboard. Sorry, those slightly less geriatric who prefer electric typewriters (like the Royal I used to use, or the IBM Selectric) are out of luck.
Richard Fernandez (who went to Harvard and is consequently shaky on his Greek Mythology.*) thinks that Information Technology, the Internet, and the Blogosphere have revived the Muses.
Today most people don’t believe in the Muses any more. Not in the sense that the ancients did. The three — the goddesses of literarture, science and the arts — were at one time supposed to command men to speak. They have largely been replaced by the single all purpose modern deity: the Job. In modern political orthodoxy we do things for one rational reason only, which is to get paid.
We write when the Boss tells us to. We craft a speech of talking points that the committee has approved. But of the muses we heard no more. Until recently.
If any spiritual debt is owed to the informational technology revolution it has been in the resurrection of the Muses. For no one familiar with the programming world will believe for a minute that its best developers write code to be paid. They code because it is cool. They code and you would have to pay them not to code.
They are laboring, not for the chump change offered on Rent-A-Coder, but under the lash of the muse. And because they have been so successful at remolding our world modern, cynical, materialistic culture has once again been forced, at iPod-point to re-acknowledge the impulse of creativity.
We are no more surprised to read of some eminent programmer found dead in a motel room, surrounded by empty boxes of pizza and hundreds of cans of Jolt Cola, expired of heart attack, one bony finger poised to type the final curly bracket of his life than the ancients would have been to find some pilgrim deceased on the path to a seer’s cave, or overcome by the smoke of the Oracle. A victim to the muse and wanderer along the way.