Daily Archives: 30 July 2004

Meeting Markup

Okay, things went much better yesterday than the days
before. But before I proceed I want to emphasize that these are
my personal opinions and do not reflect those of my employer.
Further, I have not yet received any formal training in the
system nor seen the system as a whole. And finally, I do not
wish to cast dispersion on anyone connected with this project,
whether within the Judiciary or the vendor chosen to create the
system. Everyone involved seems to be committed to doing as
good a job as possible and the vendor appears to have qualified
people here to lead the project.

With that said, the system worked and I got to see how
things are configured. I will try to use an analogy to describe
what the system does (fully acknowledging again that I’ve seen
just one very small part of it).

At the level of use I saw yesterday, the system is similar
to a content management system like MovableType. By that I mean
you take something like HTML and then add your
own tags that work only with your system. In this case, you use
WordPerfect or Word as your form editor to create the look and
feel of the form. You then insert their (a company called ACS)
tag variables where ever you want information from the central
database to be displayed. You then publish the form by doing a
merge that populates the form with the data drawn from the
Oracle database.

There are something like 400 predefined variables. These
variables come with the system and are the same whether you
using it here or anywhere else the vendor has sold their
software. It is possible to custom design variables but, of
course, you are on you own when it comes to supporting any
changes you’ve made (which sounds fair to me).

In order to save money, the Judiciary is trying, to the
extent possible, to keep customization of the base software to
a minimum. As fellow Daynoter Sjon Svenson correctly states in
his email below, one of the major reasons for the failure of
large projects like this (centralized or not) is feature creep.
That is, the scope of work, as originally designed, changes so
much, as new features are added or existing features are
substantially modified, that the project collapses in
confusion, cost over runs, and cross charges of featherbedding
or incompetence.

In my opinion, to the extent that the Judiciary and the
vendor can avoid this is the extent to which this multi-million
dollar multi-year project will succeed.

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th0u $h@lt n0t $p@|v|

For you l33t h4x0rs out there comes a translation project
worthy of your talents. The NHV (New Hacker Version) Bible from
the folks over at the ChristianHacker site here appears
to be an effort to translate the Bible into hackerspeak.
Whether this is for real or just a parody I don’t know. But for
what it’s worth, they provide a sample of what John 3:16 would
look like:

F0r G0d $0 l0v3d th3 w0rld, th@t h3 g@v3 hi$ 0nly b3g0tt3n
$0n, th@t wh0$03v3r b3li3v3th in hi|v| $h0uld n0t p3ri$h, but
h@v3 3v3rl@$ting lif3.

Mail Call

From: sjon svenson
Subject: daynote
Date: Thu, 29 Jul 2004 23:53:55 -0700 (PDT)

I am looking from the other side of the fence and can add another good reason for many failing projects. Open specifications.

That’s where the client (-state in your case-) gives specification and the programming starts. And then the client adds extra requirements and keeps changing the specs until the deadline is exceeded.

Of course usually more than one thing is wrong. Like choosing the right tool for the initial specs but by the time you reach the deadline the specs have changed so much that the tool is no longer appropriate for the job.


Kind regards,
Sjon Svenson


Date: Thu, 29 Jul 2004 21:20:59 -0700
From: JHR
Subject: Centralized Data Systems

Dan –

They DO fail – and with a great deal of regularity. There seems to be some reverse “economy of scale” effect. Californica has had ongoing problems with its attempts to computerize its Department of Motor Vehicles over the past 20+ years. At a glance, it would seem DMV operations would be tailor-made for automation. Didn’t work out in practice, due to incompetence, politics, etc. – the usual things that beset Gummint operations anywhere. Turned out to be a vast money and time sink, with no end in sight. The Californica DMV site is still a dicey thing, not to be trusted atall.

OTOH – this vulnerability is not all bad. It tends to mitigate against centralized control and access to Citizen information – a VERY good thing! Tends to emasculate FBI attempts to implement yet another spying-on-citizens attempt (Carnivore, etc.).

Cheer up. There may be some benefit in even the worst circumstances!

Regards,

JHR

Have a Great Weekend Everyone – Aloha!