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  • Archive for the 'Commiserations' Category

    On Being an IT Project Manager

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 23rd October 2013 (All posts by )

    My profession is much in the news at the moment, so I thought I would pass along such insights as I have from my career, mostly from a multibillion-dollar debacle which I and several thousand others worked on for a few years around the turn of the millennium. I will not name my employer, not that anyone with a passing familiarity with me doesn’t know who it is; nor will I name the project, although knowing the employer and the general timeframe will give you that pretty quickly too.
    We spent, I believe, $4 billion, and garnered a total of 4,000 customers over the lifetime of the product, which was not aimed at large organizations which would be likely to spend millions on it, but at consumers and small businesses which would spend thousands on it, and that amount spread out over a period of several years. From an economic transparency standpoint, therefore, it would have been better to select 4,000 people at random around the country and cut them checks for $1 million apiece. Also much faster. But that wouldn’t have kept me and lots of others employed, learning whatever it is we learn from a colossally failed project.
    So, a few things to keep in mind about a certain spectacularly problematic and topical IT effort:

    • Large numbers of reasonably bright and very hard-working people, who have up until that point been creating significant wealth, can unite in a complete flop. Past performance is no guarantee, and all that. Because even reasonably bright, hard-working people can suffer from failures of imagination, tendencies to wishful thinking, and cultural failure in general.
    • Morale has got to be rock-bottom for anybody with any degree of self-awareness working on this thing. My relevant moment was around the end of ’99 when it was announced, with great fanfare, at a large (200+ in attendance) meeting to review progress and next steps, that we had gotten a single order through the system. It had taken various people eight hours to finish the order. As of that date, we were projecting that we would be doing 1,600 orders a day in eight months. To get an idea of our actual peak rate, note the abovementioned cumulative figure of 4,000 over the multi-year lifespan of the project.
    • Root cause analysis is all very well, but there are probably at least three or four fundamental problems, any one of which would have crippled the effort. As you may infer from the previous bullet point, back-office systems was one of them on that project. Others which were equally problematic included exposure to the software upgrade schedule of an irreplaceable vendor who was not at all beholden to us to produce anything by any particular date, and physical access to certain of our competitors’ facilities, which they were legally required to allow us into exactly two (2) days per year. See also “cultural failure,” above; most of us were residing and working in what is one of the most livable cities in the world in many ways, but Silicon Valley it ain’t.
    • Not to overlook the obvious, there is a significant danger that the well-advertised difficulties of the website in question will become a smokescreen for the fundamental contradictions of the legislation itself. The overall program cannot work unless large numbers of people act in a counter-incentived (possibly not a word, but I’m groping for something analogous to “counterintuitive”) fashion which might politely be termed “selfless” – and do so in the near future. What we seem likely to hear, however, is that it would have worked if only certain IT architectural decisions had been better made.

    This thing would be a case study for the next couple of decades if it weren’t going to be overshadowed by physically calamitous events, which I frankly expect. In another decade, Gen-X managers and Millennial line workers, inspired by Boomers, all of them much better at things than they are now, “will be in a position to guide the nation, and perhaps the world, across several painful thresholds,” to quote a relevant passage from Strauss and Howe. But getting there is going to be a matter of selection pressures, with plenty of casualties. The day will come when we long for a challenge as easy as reorganizing health care with a deadline a few weeks away.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Commiserations, Current Events, Customer Service, Health Care, Internet, Law, Medicine, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Systems Analysis, Tech, USA | 6 Comments »

    In Memoriam: The Bravest of Men

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 28th November 2011 (All posts by )

    Kapler the Brave

    Kapler the Brave

    Alexei Kapler was the bravest of men.

    How brave?

    Put it this way: there are two kinds of brave:

    • Brave
    • Alexei Kapler brave.

    Alexei Kapler was Alexei Kapler brave.

    By profession, Kapler was a screenwriter, journalist, director, and actor. By avocation, he was an accomplished womanizer. One night, Kapler, a man of forty years, met a sixteen year old girl at a party. This young woman was intelligent, strong-willed, attractive, and sad. It was the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death. No one seemed to remember. Kapler was happy to listen, comfort, sympathize, and seduce.

    Since his new conquest came from a sheltered background, Kapler decided to show her the wild side of life. He lent her forbidden adult books. He took her dancing, took her to see avaunt garde theater, and took her to meet outrageous people at outrageous parties. Kapler was a man of the world, witty, knowledgeable, a skilled raconteur. The young woman was swept off her feet by this urbane sophisticate. There were problems though: Kepler was married. And he was having an affair with a sixteen year old girl.

    Hiding the affair from her family was a must. Hiding it from the girl’s father was especially important. Kapler was a smooth enough operator that he might have kept their affair secret from the girl’s father under normal circumstances. Unfortunately for him, this girl’s father had a particularly suspicious temperament. While something like this temperament is not unusual in any father of a sixteen year old girl, this father was different:

    He could have phones tapped.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Commiserations, Crime and Punishment, History, Russia | 38 Comments »

    The Mayflower Compact

    Posted by Lexington Green on 25th November 2010 (All posts by )

    Mayflower Compact

    In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.
     
    Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
     
    In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620

    May God bless all our ChicagoBoyz and -Girlz, our families, our readers and their families, our friends and our enemies (turn their hearts to righteousness, O Lord!), and an extra slice of God’s love to everyone cannot be with their family on Thanksgiving, or has no family to go to, and is noshing at home, or is on duty on land or sea, or is stuck somewhere, and may be noodling on the computer and see this … .

    May God grant safe travels and happy reunions and kindness and all good things, great and small, including but not limited to turkeys not being overcooked, and the gravy coming out correctly, and nothing burnt, and everything on the table on schedule and looking and tasting good, and many willing and cheerful hands making light work of the cleanup afterward, and a nice walk in the dusk and the cold air after dinner.

    Thank you Lord for this great country, still a “civil body politic” after almost 400 years, and thank you for all who took risks and made sacrifices to give us what we have. Please grant that we may we be worthy to keep it and preserve it and improve it and to pass it on even greater than it was given to us.

    God bless America.

    Posted in Christianity, Civil Society, Commiserations, History, Holidays, Religion, USA | 9 Comments »

    My Boss’s Phone

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 20th April 2010 (All posts by )

    Not my boss's phone

    Not my boss's phone

    Per Lex’s request, on this, the day America laid siege to Boston, MA, interrupting the otherworldly disputations of many a Brahmin:

    Noted American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once observed:

    The ultimate in paranoia is not when everyone is against you but when everything is against you. Instead of “My boss is plotting against me,” it would be “My boss’s phone is plotting against me.”

    My boss’s phone is rather nondescript. It’s color is a few shades darker than full oppression gray. It whimpers with the soul draining anonymity of the standard corporate VoIP phone design. It has a gray LCD, gray buttons with obscure functions, and an incomprehensible gray user manual.

    It frequently finds itself on sales calls.

    If it was a person, it would have no face.

    My boss’s phone lacks the personality of the door from Ubik:

    The door refused to open. It said, “Five cents, please.”
     
    He searched his pockets. No more coins; nothing. “I’ll pay you tomorrow,” he told the door. Again he tried the knob. Again it remained locked tight. “What I pay you,” he informed it, “is in the nature of a gratuity; I don’t have to pay you.”
     
    “I think otherwise,” the door said. “Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt.”
     
    In his desk drawer he found the contract; since signing it he had found it necessary to refer to the document many times. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory fee. Not a tip.
     
    “You discover I’m right,” the door said. It sounded smug.
     
    From the drawer beside the sink Joe Chip got a stainless steel knife; with it he began systematically to unscrew the bolt assembly of his apt’s money-gulping door.
     
    “I’ll sue you,” the door said as the first screw fell out.
     
    Joe Chip said, “I’ve never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it.”

    Of course the motives of doors are usually open and shut. The hang ups of boss’s phones are more cryptic:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Commiserations, Internet, Personal Narrative, That's NOT Funny, War and Peace | 2 Comments »

    ‘Post Mortem’

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 30th August 2008 (All posts by )

    There’s at least one blog for everything, and it turns out that the Washinton Post actually has an obituary blog, called ‘Post Mortem‘.

    Some interesting ones:

    Is God Dead?:

    In 1966, Time magazine ran a provocative cover with the bold question, “Is God Dead?” The story led to sharp backlash from social conservatives and sparked a public debate about philosophy and religion. The editor responsible for that story, Otto Fuerbringer, has died at 97, and his obituary is in today’s (Friday’s) Post.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Commiserations, Obits | Comments Off

    Soldier Bloggers

    Posted by Lexington Green on 8th November 2004 (All posts by )

    The very good and funny Beautiful Atrocities had this recent post about military personnel with blogs.

    I was only able to glance at them, but you may want to look to these sources for some firsthand reports.

    Posted in Commiserations | Comments Off

    Life is just a bowl of pits

    Posted by Captain Mojo on 5th October 2004 (All posts by )

    Rodney Dangerfield has died at the age of 82. His lack of respect was a matter of record, but the man had some smart ties on his antebellum Tonight Show appearances, and if you didn’t think Easy Money and Back To School were funny, you are a filthy communist. Respect or no, he will be missed.

    Posted in Commiserations | 5 Comments »