Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed Takes the Last Walk on the Wild Side

Rock legend Lou Reed passed away today at age 71. He worked with Andy Warhol and developed a cultish following with The Velvet Underground before going solo in the 1970s. That was a Walk on the Wild Side:

The song I've been seeing posted on Facebook today is Perfect Day:

Another song they should be posting is Satellite of Love:

And of course "Standing on the corner, Suitcase in my hand:"

I can't play Sweet Jane without also playing March of the Wooden Soldiers:

Somewhere, I imagine, Lou Reed is Waiting for the Man:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013, Good Enough for Government Work

The rollout problems at the website continue to embarrass and plague the Obama administration.

So what if they spent $400 million on the website. Hey, I live in the state of Massachusetts where the Big Dig highway and tunnel project cost $14.6 billion and still a ceiling panel fell and killed someone shortly after it opened. Let's not even mention the ginsu guardrails.

I found the source of the problem in this AP article on The Huffington Post:
"Crammed into conference rooms with pizza for dinner, some programmers building the Obama administration's showcase health insurance website were growing increasingly stressed. Some worked past 10 p.m., energy drinks in hand. Others rewrote computer code over and over to meet what they considered last-minute requests for changes from the government or other contractors."
Some worked past 10pm? The programmers I know, myself included, do their best work from 10pm to 4am. If only some of the coders worked past 10pm, no further explanation is needed.

Meanwhile, the new mantra is "we're listening — and improving every day". But is this really true:
"The initial consumer experience of has not lived up to the expectations of the American people."
It went about as well as Dilbert or I would have expected. Whose idea was it to roll out the whole website for all the states at once without going through either a beta test period or a pilot launch for a few states? The same folks who came up with this idea to fix it with a Tech Surge:
"To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering."
Now, in my experience, adding more people to a programming project under stress will only make the project take longer. All those new people have to be brought up to speed. And who is going to take the time to teach them? It better be the best and brightest people on the existing team, the exact people you instead want hard at work fixing problems.

Update: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama's point person on Obamacare, was interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the launch problems on CNN. Watch Secretary Sebelius squirm over the so-called Tech Surge:
SEBELIUS: You heard [President Obama] yesterday in the Rose Garden and, you know, he is the first to admit that the Web site doesn't work the way we need it to work. So that's one of the reasons, Sanjay, we have announced this tech surge and bringing in new eyes and ears.

Jeff Zients, who's a colleague and friend of mine from this administration, is coming in as a management consultant to the administrator of CMS, to make sure we look at the whole management system. We want to make sure that we have the best and the brightest in terms of tech folks. We have gathered them together and asked the contractors to bring their A team to the table, have asked the presidential innovation fellows to add some strength, because we just want to make sure we get all the right answers and do what is needed to be done as quickly as possible to open up the doors of this marketplace.

GUPTA: Jeff Zients brings a CEO background with him.

SEBELIUS: He does.

GUPTA: What about tech people? We hear the best and the brightest. Are there people or companies that we're going to recognize? Can you give us some names?

SEBELIUS: Well, right now, we've asked all of our contractors to look at their teams on the ground and bring in their absolute A team. And I am confident that that is happening every day. While we also, the presidential innovation fellows --

GUPTA: The contractors didn't do such a great job so far.

SEBELIUS: Well, I --

GUPTA: I mean did -- why didn't they bring their A team in in the first place?

SEBELIUS: I can't tell you --

GUPTA: Why are we saying in three weeks now bring your A team into this whole equation?

SEBELIUS: We have hoped that they had their A team on the table, but I -- I am talking to CEOs and urging them to make sure that we have the talent that they have available. I think all of them have folks who are assigned to a project.
It's painfully obvious that she doesn't know what she is talking about. Of course the contractors brought their A teams in the first place, grading on a scale because the sort of companies who get hired for government work can't actually recruit A talent for such projects unless they promise them they only have to do C work.

But that wasn't the problem, the problem was the website just wasn't ready to go live. They either didn't know that they had a buggy system that wasn't quite ready or they did know and went live anyway. Either way it's incompetent management, not incompetent team players. Trust me, all software starts out life buggy and no software is bug free. The skill is finding and fixing the important bugs before release.

All that aside, here was the real hubris moment:
SEBELIUS:... If we had an ideal situation and could have built the product in, you know, a five-year period of time, we probably would have taken five years. But we didn't have five years.
In the real world, you don't get five years to build a website and if it takes you five years that is so not ideal.

After watching the interview, I spent some time on myself. I looked up health plan rates in 4 states without any great difficulty. Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington had their own websites. Iowa required staying on It turns out that the states whose governors and legislators oppose Obamacare got the clunky federal website, while the state governments that are supportive of Obamacare built their own better websites. That seems fair enough.

My whole session took about 40 minutes, or 10 minutes per state, while I continued to watch television. It was no harder than searching for plane tickets. True, I did not attempt to enroll or buy anything. I did have to refresh the page and restart my search once or twice, just like on the airline websites.

The individual health insurance I get now through the small business I work for costs $492.92 a month. There were plans with comparable prices, including many with a lower premium. Frankly, I might do better to get paid in cash rather than benefits and buy on the exchange where I would have actual choices rather than just the plan my small employer picks.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Minute Man National Historical Park is Closed Reopened?

I took a bike ride out to Minute Man National Historical Park today.

The parking lot at North Bridge in Concord was chained off. A line of cars was parked along the road.

The parking lot at Merriam's Corner was also chained. Someone left a note, "Have we forgotten what we fought for in MA? End the Obama tyrannical anarchy.

"Area Closed" a sign announces. "All National Park Service area beyond this point closed to public use and travel because of the government shutdown."

The Old Manse is open, because it is run by The Trustees of Reservations, a Massachusetts charitable organization. The National Park Service would prefer you not ponder too long on that thought.

A few sightseers at the North Bridge.

"Here once the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world."

More sightseers at the North Bridge.

This helpful Tea Party patriot informed me that as I was on the other side of the chain, I was trespassing. It did seem a trifle unfair that I had just twice ridden across the bridge that he had spent the last 5 hours clamoring to be reopened.

"Historic hay field" according to the marker. The colonists hand dug ditches to drain this field so it could grow hay, but it has now been restored to marshland.

One of several closed buildings along Battle Road. I don't have a problem with closed buildings. I do have a problem with purporting to close open public spaces.

A spot called Parker's Revenge. The Lexington militia who were fired on by British soldiers in the morning waited here in ambush for their return.

The east entrance to the Minute Man Park at the base of Fiske Hill. No closed signs.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Boston under a Steady Stream of Crap and Piss

I was surfing through Universal Hub when I came across this gem of a picture taken on the Tobin Bridge which connects Boston to points north and east of the Mystic River.

The picture came with this complaint: "These cows just pooped all over the lower deck of the Tobin Bridge. Got on cars. Could someone please cleanup? Rain won't get there. Thanks."

I live across the Charles River from Boston, but will given them this sage advice based on over 50 years experience with cow manure: "Don't worry, it will powder off."

It turns out the city has a website called Citizens Connect devoted to the self-reporting of these gems. Some examples of the crap citizens using their Androids and iPhones to send in, just from today:
Curb cut fills with water. When it freezes this becomes a dangerous slip hazzard.

The last "parking space", L side on Brimmer @ Pinckney is probably illegal but badly marked and curb paint gone. Cars parked there like dark blue one in photo prevent garbage, fire, lg. delivery trucks fm turning.

283–339 Boylston St, Boston. Throughout the common and public garden all of the fences are broken, missing parts, unpainted etc. they look third world. How about a new design that doesn't look horrible and is vandal proof ! It really looks like crap everywhere ! ...

On the Inbound side of Centre St just before you enter the rotary, directly in front of police district 5, the road significantly dips. Please level and grade it.
That's all well and good, general constructive comments on how to improve the city, but many of the complaints take a more personal turn:
50 Garden Street. Trash out on wrong day.

47 garden street. Trash on wrong day.

46 Garden St, Boston. Construction trash and household trash on sidewalk for 48 hours, not a pickup day

2–8 Utica St, Boston. Public Urination. Man exposed himself and urinated behind 107 South Street
You can see where this is going, getting people to report their neighbors for minor code violations (although you'd have to be braver than the average officious asshole to take that last picture). It goes on for pages and pages, and the city of Boston pays someone to read through and forward each report to the appropriate commissar department for action. And maybe they do take action, although I somehow doubt it.

Still, I'm adding Citizens Connect to my blog list for a good laugh now and then.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Blink and You May Miss the Government Shutdown

The U.S. government shut down at midnight, according to Piers Morgan at CNN, who keeps showing a closed but still well-lit Washington Monument. Same for the Statue of Liberty. Did the last guys out forget to turn out the lights?

It would suck to be a tourist in Washington, DC tomorrow with all the federal museums closed. You'd be forced to wander the Washington Mall, visit the Holocaust Museum, go shopping in Georgetown, hike around Great Falls (slip under the National Park Service entrance gate, if necessary). If you were really hard-pressed for something to do, you could stop by the Capitol building and yell at Congress.

The Washington Monument, by the way, is already closed for repairs due to an earthquake on August 23, 2011. The Statue of Liberty actually closed at 5pm, when the last ferry of the day departed from Liberty Island. That's when most of the federal offices around the country closed too. Maybe they will open tomorrow, or maybe they won't.

If I were a nonessential federal employee I would be quietly happy if this shutdown goes on for a week or more. The fall weather here on the East Coast is nice and the long Columbus Day weekend is coming up. You can drive back to DC from the beach or the mountains in a couple of hours if there is an early resolution. A lot of times the federal employees get paid retroactively for the hours they didn't have to work during the shutdown without having to make up the hours when these things are resolved.

As for me personally, I suspect it will be several weeks before I suffer even a minor inconvenience from the federal government being closed. I do have one increasingly serious problem. I have been looking for 12-packs of Diet Dr. Pepper for the last 3 or 4 days and haven't been able to find any at the usual grocery and CVS stores. I have a small supply, but when that runs out, look out!

Update: CNN is reporting that Giant Panda Cam at the National Zoo has gone dark. It's sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund, and was still live earlier this morning. That means some federal employee came in to work this morning and turned it off. I smell a criminal violation of the Antideficiency Act of 1870.

Update: I have acquired two 12-packs of the elixir of life so I am good for the duration:

Update: No barricades at our National Park Service site in Cambridge:

All it takes for a federal closing is a piece of paper and some masking tape. Anything beyond that is a gratuitous violation of the Anitdeficiency Act of 1870.