Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I think I'd prefer a job that was doable

So, this posting for a Vice President of System Engineering at Integrien caught my eye. Specifically, this bit:

* Must be very, very, very smart (High Emotional Intelligence)
* 10+ years engineering experience with 7+ years of experience in management
* Must understand software and technology intimately
* Heavy technical background in computer science or mathematics
* Able to travel 50% of the time

Ah ... Now, if a job posting demands that I be smart, that's fine; they're just using space badly. It's a throwaway line. Do stupid people see that and say, "well, that lets me out?" If a posting asks that I be very smart, I break out in a sweat. This suggests that they have technical problems that they want someone to solve without spending money.

Three 'very' modifiers means things must be very, very, very bad indeed. What "very, very, very smart" communicates is that they're desperate for a savior, and you should only take this job with the intent of being hired away on the strength of it before everything comes crashing down.

And 'high emotional intelligence?' I think that means, "our management is a little unstable, and it's important that you not cry if they scream at you."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reaping the Whirlwind

The Iraq Occupation is a complex enough beast that it supports many little pet theories. When Larry Franklin was nailed for passing classified information, I developed one that he was a pivotal figure working on behalf of Iranian intelligence -- that Iran maneuvered us into Iraq to weaken America and remove Saddam. And, if a bright light is ever shown on the ramp up to our invasion, I expect that it'll show Iran helped things along materially at the very least.

If we do invade Iran, this will be bad for them. Bad for us, but worse for them. And we wouldn't have gotten anywhere close to it without strong presences in Afghanistan and Iraq, so that'll've been a little ironic.

One of the few things I envy about the lives of people in the future is that they'll have a much better perspective on the various debacles at the start of 21st Century America.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The best superbowl commercial

As much as I love the paper, what I read in the Wall Street Journal often upsets me. Today, I was pretty happy. There was a front page reminder on how our miracle economy is due entirely to Chinese (and to some extent Koreans) giving us money and another noting that investors who looked brilliant three years ago are sitting on empty houses and quoting a 34-year-old who dumped a pair of investment homes last year saying 'it eats you alive.'

But, one thin I couldn't get past. Their superbowl commercial coverage gave panel reactions on almost every ad in the game, without even mentioning the best one. An unwieldy map refuses to be refolded, and continues to expand miraculously, growing into a monster and wreaking destruction. Ultraman, now powered by a Garmin GPS navigator, arrives to destroy him. It's pretty cool.

It makes you wonder if they throw up conceptual blind spots just for practice sometimes.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Due to a 6th Alarm fire in Far Rockaway, Queens, 300 residents are in need of shelter for the next day or more. We are currently looking for ERV Drivers, Shelter Workers, DMHS, and DHS to respond immediately and throughout the day.
This sort of thing comes in from the Red Cross every so often; I'm a shelter worker. But, I'm tired, I have work to do and brunch and superbowl plans, I just did a 6-hour shift on Wednesday, and they don't call it Far Rockaway because it's convenient. On the other hand, my friends would understand if I bailed, people really need help, and I could spend 8 hours out there.

I'm saying 'no', but I want to keep an eye on this -- saying 'no' to institutional requests for help can be habit forming. I haven't responded to an emergent event since the Yankee flew into a building.

Unofficial 'Best Guess' Acronym expansion:
ERV -- Emergency Response Vehicle, it's a small truck with many disaster management tools
DHS -- Disaster Health Services
DMHS -- 'M' for 'Mental'. People -- both responders and clients -- get very upset at these things. There's a lot of counseling.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The futility of software project planning

This is a nice little review of Scott Rosenberg's Dreaming in Code. It has a little 'software programmers are bad people' bias, but it's understated.
I had moved from being a journalist and an editor to being the managing editor of a Web site, and we had decided to build, on our own, some software for Salon: a new content management system. But as I tell it in the book, it turns out to be a software disaster, a classic death march situation in which everything went wrong and nothing worked as planned and when we deployed it everything broke.
It's hard to communicate exactly how unpredictable software development is. In many types of projects, once you've finished it, you know how long it would have taken. And that's the sort of process system dynamics talks about well -- particular situations and units of work. But, in software development, there are always many choices, most of which won't work. But, deciding they won't work isn't much easier than actually trying them.
[A]s long as you are not trying to do something new -- if you are doing something that has already been done -- then you have a frame of reference to estimate how long it is going to take, and to guess how many people are going to be required, and so on.
Now, he gets into the 'build vs. buy' argument a little. I used to be pretty categorical about this: building software is always a disaster; if it exists and you can't afford to buy it, you can't afford to do it. Only code when you have to. However, since moving from development to professional services, I've come to understand that buying software is also always a disaster.
[T]he programmer who says, it will be faster for me to write it, rather than to learn it, is usually correct. Except that what he will write, most likely, is something that will work but will not have its rough edges worked out, will not have the benefits of a piece of software that has actually been used for a few years, where the bugs have been found and the users have given feedback and have helped you figure out where the problems are. So what they will often be handing you at the end of that I-can-do-it-faster-myself thing is something that works, but that is kind of a mess in certain ways. Whereas the thing that you were going to pull off the shelf, maybe it will take the programmers a while to learn it, but once they learn it enough to hook it up to this project you are creating, what they are hooking up will probably have a lot fewer problems.
This isn't true. Any software you buy will have had gaps in its testing, probably just right where you want to use it. And, components are often even less well documented than business software, because there's a cultural thread which states that well written code is self-documenting, and documentation is just to please PHBs. This contributes to the bit about writing code being as easy as learning someone else's code, which is truer.

So, I'm thinking maybe I'll read it. I'll get back with you if I do.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Climate Change about 1/115 as bad as auto traffic

The worst could mean more than 1 million dead and hundreds of billions of
dollars in costs by 2100, said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for
Atmospheric Research in Colorado

Do you feel a little like Number Two when Dr. Evil wants to hold the United Nations hostage for one million dollars? We lose Florida, invite routine tornadoes and hurricanes, create large scale famine and only lose one in every six thousand people?

Car crashes, which is a fine measure because it's a risk we're completely comfortable with, killed about 1.22 million people in 2001. Climate change will kill fewer than that over the next 94 years.

Well, maybe the industrial revolution wasn't such a bad idea after all.


So, if you thought the Iraq Occupation was as bad as ideas got, check out this policy proposal from ABC News. My favorite part is where it says "Not a scientific survey."