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Thursday 18 December 2014

The trouble with holiday parties on Wednesday is that you have to function on Thursday. So, to spare my brain from having to do anything other than the work-related things its already got to do, here are things I will read later:

All for now.

Thursday 18 December 2014 12:36:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | World | Business | Travel | Weather#
Wednesday 17 December 2014

After 38 years of publication, Dr. Dobbs is shutting down:

Why would a well-known site, dearly loved by its readers and coming off a year of record page views, be sunset by its owner?

In one word, revenue. Four years ago, when I came to Dr. Dobb's, we had healthy profits and revenue, almost all of it from advertising. Despite our excellent growth on the editorial side, our revenue declined such that today it's barely 30% of what it was when I started. While some of this drop is undoubtedly due to turnover in our sales staff, even if the staff had been stable and executed perfectly, revenue would be much the same and future prospects would surely point to upcoming losses. This is because in the last 18 months, there has been a marked shift in how vendors value website advertising. They've come to realize that website ads tend to be less effective than they once were.

So rather than continue with Dr. Dobb's until it actually loses money, [our owners] decided to sunset the site — a sudden end to remarkably robust and wondrous journey that began 38 years ago.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Dobb's was the best source of information about C/C++ programming, bar none. I've read the magazine and the website off and on for about 30 years. I'm sad to see it go.

Wednesday 17 December 2014 11:49:50 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Business#
Monday 8 December 2014

Chris Hughes responds to accusations that he killed The New Republic:

At the heart of the conflict of the past few days is a divergent view on how the New Republic — and journalism more broadly — will survive. In one view, it is a “public trust” and not a business. It is something greater than a commercial enterprise, ineffable, an ideal that cannot be touched. Financially, it would be a charity. There is much experimentation in nonprofit journalism – ProPublica and the Texas Tribune are proving the model — and that may be the right path for certain institutions. At the New Republic, I believe we owe it to ourselves and to this institution to aim to become a sustainable business and not position ourselves to rely on the largesse of an unpredictable few. Our success is not guaranteed, but I think it’s critical to try.

For anyone who loves what makes the New Republic special — the valuable journalism that pours forth on its digital and print pages — and believes there ought to be more outlets committed to quality journalism rather than fewer, the current choice is clear: Either walk away mourning a certain death or set to work building its future. That means we have to embrace some change.

So, if that's what he sees as the heart of the conflict, and if he really believes the journalistic heavyweights who fled his bracing changes, then it's hard to see how this gets resolved. Writing in the same Washington Post as Hughes, journalist Dana Milbank corrects Hughes' mistakes:

Hughes is no idiot (he reads Balzac in French), but as a businessman he turned out to be a lost boy. When he took over in 2012, he fired the magazine’s business staff, hiring instead a Harvard friend with no media experience. He had no interest in the work needed to woo advertisers. He redesigned the website himself; it looked good but didn’t work well. He tried to eliminate landline phones, seeing no reason why reporters might need them. And his spending spree caused annual losses to swell from $1 million when he bought the struggling magazine (he was its fifth owner in a decade) to $5 million.

While his mistakes are excusable, his childish impatience is not. After David Bradley bought the Atlantic in 1999 he made plenty of mistakes – but he kept the long view and ultimately made that grand old institution a leader in digital innovation. By contrast, Hughes became bored with journalism, occupying himself with the latest phones and the prospect of creating new apps; his visits to Washington headquarters became infrequent. He announced a “New Republic Fund” to invest in “early-stage technology companies.”

The final blow: bringing in former Yahoo News general manager Guy Vidra (who once worked on the business staff of the Post) to be CEO, a man dedicated to “re-imagining TNR as a vertically integrated digital media company.”

Megan McArdle and Lucia Moses also have thoughts about Hughes, none particularly flattering.

I'm much more interested in where the former TNR editors wind up than continuing with TNR. But I'll keep reading it for the next few weeks, just to see. It may not be entirely dead yet; it may just be pining for the fjords.

Monday 8 December 2014 21:40:06 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | US | Business#
Friday 5 December 2014

After Jack Conte got an ass-kicking by the Internet this week, he and Nataly Dawn posted two links to their defenders, who I think are correct:

As a tour manager, I have settled shows and handled finances for bands big and small. Some of these bands played the smallest and shittiest venues in the country, and some of them played arenas and the main stage at large festivals. I have slept on people's couches and had bands with big enough budgets to put their crew up at the Ritz. I have read a lot of the rebuttals regarding Pomplamoose and Jack Conte's article, and I have yet to hear from someone that is actually qualified to talk about life on the road. (Fuck you, Lefsetz). It is because of my experience that I feel entitled to say to the nay-sayers: Shut the fuck up.

They could have gone out on the road without a crew; lots of bands do that. But I have never in my life seen a band that headlines mid-level venues go on tour without at least a small crew. I am not talking about the band that goes out for a week to play shitty bar gigs up and down the West Coast. I am talking about an actual tour, where you have to take care of advancing, payroll, settling with promoters, babysitting support acts, and whatever else the day might throw at you. If you happened to be one of the people that thought the crew and band members were too much of an expense, then you likely have no clue what it's like to be on a tour — in which case I say shut the fuck up.

Writer Ari Herstand was more polite, but agrees:

Why did this surprise so many people, aside from the fact that there seemed to be a few expenses that were a bit high? It’s that the old guard is losing their power and prominence. They feel tall standing on these indie bands’ shoulders, chastising them, explaining how they could have done it better. But the thing is, Pomplamoose, and every other band growing up in the digital era, doesn’t need to be told how to ‘do it better.’ They’re figuring out what works for them. And what works for them won’t work for anyone else. Every band’s situation is personal and specific.

The real problem is, the major label system has a very cookie cutter formula for launching a career. They believe it takes at least $500,000 to break an artist. And when anyone challenges this formula (and actually starts to see some success) the old guard gets scared. However, the major label failure rate is 98%. Sure, the 2% become superstars, but what about the others? Instead of going for the lottery, craft a career that sustains. That makes sense for you.

Pomplamoose doesn’t need your approval. They and are making a fine, middle class income. They don’t need to be superstars to call themselves a success.

I'm on Conte's side here. Lots of people hate others' success more than their own failures. Conte's blog post attracted them the way picnics attract ants, and to similar effect.

Friday 5 December 2014 13:54:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#

One of my favorite publications, the century-old New Republic, died today:

There was a telling moment at the New Republic’s centennial celebration last month in the stately Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. New CEO Guy Vidra, recently appointed by owner (and Facebook co-founder) Chris Hughes, took the podium to discuss the magazine’s challenges and opportunities in a digital age, just as any modern-day media mogul would do. When he referenced the name of The New Republic’s top editor, however, he mispronounced it: “Frank FOY-er,” he said.

[Thursday] afternoon, a shower of memos sprung from New Republic e-mail accounts, announcing a significant shakeup, as first reported by Politico’s Dylan Byers: Foer was out as editor-in-chief, to be replaced by Gabriel Snyder of Bloomberg Media, and formerly editor of Atlantic Wire and Gawker. In his memo, Vidra wrote of his new top editor, “He is committed – as am I – to The New Republic’s mission of impact, influence and persuasion, but understands that fulfilling that mission in today’s media landscape requires new forms,” reads the memo. “He truly reflects the ‘straddle generation’ of journalists and editors who remain deeply rooted in the qualities of traditional journalism – having worked with brands such as the New York Observer and The Atlantic – but also understands what it takes to create content that will travel across all platforms. We believe he is the right person to help us to maintain the core DNA of The New Republic, while propelling us forward to the 21st century.”

This morning, the excrement hit the ventilator as 30 editors and writers resigned:

The resignations were prompted by Thursday's big shakeup. Longtime editor Franklin Foer and literary editor Leon Wieseltier each announced that they were leaving their posts amid some sweeping changes at the century-old magazine.

On Friday morning, ahead of a scheduled 10 a.m. ET staff meeting, 10 contributing editors, including New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait and The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, submitted their resignations to Hughes.

"Dear Mr. Hughes, We are contributing editors of the New Republic, and our commitment to 
the venerable principles of the magazine requires us now to resign," they wrote. "
Please remove our names from the masthead."

Lizza later tweeted a list of further resignations, which included senior editors such as Jonathan Cohn, Julia Ioffe and Alec MacGillis.

Julia Ioffe, whose reporting on Ukraine was unparalleled, posted on Facebook:

The narrative you're going to see Chris and Guy put out there is that I and the rest of my colleagues who quit today were dinosaurs, who think that the Internet is scary and that Buzzfeed is a slur. Don't believe them. The staff at TNR has always been faithful to the magazine's founding mission to experiment, and nowhere have I been so encouraged to do so. There was no opposition in the editorial ranks to expanding TNR's web presence, to innovating digitally. Many were even board for going monthly. We're not afraid of change. We have always embraced it.

As for the health of long-form journalism, well, the pieces that often did the best online were the deeply reported, carefully edited and fact-checked, and beautifully written. Those were the pieces that got the most clicks.

Also, TNR's digital media editor Hillary Kelly resigned today. From her honeymoon. In Africa. Consider that.

But enough polemics about the cowardly, hostile way Frank and Leon and the rest of us were treated. We've done some incredible work in the last 2.5 years and I'm proud of every day I ever worked there. I loved The New Republic, and, more than that, I love my colleagues. They are exceptional, earth-movingly good people. I will miss working with them every day.

So, since everyone I read at New Republic has quit, there's really no more need for me to subscribe.

This is a sad day in American journalism. Hughes' destruction of the magazine reminds me of Ecclesiastes: "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child."

Update: Former TNR writer Andrew Sullivan has more.

Friday 5 December 2014 11:33:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Writing#
Tuesday 2 December 2014

Pomplamoose front-man and Patreon CEO Jack Conte published a blog post last week discussing the economics of touring musicians. I commented here, both as a fan of Conte's and as a supporter of Pomplamoose (including through Patreon).

Within a few days, music critic Bob Lefsetz accused Conte of fabricating his figures, and also of concealing his role with Patreon. Master click-bater Mark Teo piled on, Conte responded, and it's now a standard Internet catfight.

I don't see the ethical problem here. I do see that musicians and other artists who make it, unless they vault over the middle, hard-working part of their career right into multi-millions, often get accused of selling out.

More later, when I'm not about to board a flight...

Tuesday 2 December 2014 09:35:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Blogs | Business#
Wednesday 12 November 2014

The Redmond giant stunned the software development world this week by opening up several core technologies, including the entire .NET platform, to the public:

We are building a .NET Core CLR for Windows, Mac and Linux and it will be both open source and it will be supported by Microsoft. It'll all happen at https://github.com/dotnet.

Much of the .NET Core Framework 4.6 and its Reference Source source is going on GitHub. It's being relicensed under the MIT license, so Mono (and you!) can use that source code in their .NET implementations.

Dr. Dobbs is impressed (as am I):

Of these platforms, Linux is clearly the most important. Today, Microsoft earns much of its (record) profits from enterprise software packages (SQL Server, SharePoint, Exchange, etc.). By running .NET on Linux, it now has the ability to run those apps on a significant majority of server platforms. Except for Solaris sites, all enterprises will be able to run the applications without having to add in the cost of Microsoft Server licenses.

But perhaps more important than the pure server benefit is the cloud aspect. VMs on the cloud, especially the public cloud, are principally Linux-based. Windows VMs are available, too, but at consistently higher pricing. With this move, .NET apps can now run anywhere on the cloud — or said another way, between servers and the cloud, the apps can run anywhere IT is operating.

The big winners of all this goodness are C# developers. In theory, .NET portability favors all .NET languages equally, but it's no secret that C# is the first among equals. (It is, in fact, the only language that Xamarin supports currently.) Microsoft has been an excellent steward of the language, evolving it intelligently and remarkably cleanly. Among developers who use it regularly, it is uniformly well liked, which distinguishes it from most of the other major development languages today, where an appreciation that borders on ambivalence is the more common experience.

The big loser is certainly Java. Java's stock in trade has been its longstanding ability to run without modification or recompilation on all major platforms. In this valuable trait, it has had no major competition. If Microsoft's port of .NET provides a multi-platform experience that is as smooth and seamless as Java, then the JVM will have some very serious competition.

Once I'm done with the deliverable that's due tomorrow, I may download the .NET Framework and take a look. I'll also spin up an Azure VM and play around with Visual Studio 2015 before the end of the week.

Wednesday 12 November 2014 17:27:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud | Cool links | Work#
Tuesday 21 October 2014

After getting pounded by Uber and Lyft, Hailo has pulled out of its North American markets:

Tom Barr, co-chief executive and president, said Hailo would concentrate on markets in Europe and Asia and enhanced products such as payment technology and a "concierge" service.

"In the next phase of our growth, we have decided to put all of our energy and resources into these areas," Barr said in a statement to AFP on Wednesday.

"We have therefore decided to end our operations in North America, where the astronomical marketing spend required to compete is making profitability for any one player almost impossible."

On the ground, it appeared that Hailo simply wasn't very helpful. The few times I've used it in Chicago, I've had long waits as 3, 4, or more drivers refused (or ignored) the hail and about the same number of empty cabs went by after someone accepted.

In a note to subscribers, Hailo said its last day of operations in Chicago will be Saturday.

I have now downloaded Uber to my phone...

Tuesday 21 October 2014 13:33:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Business | Travel#
Tuesday 9 September 2014

West Monroe Partners (my employer, who have no editorial control over this blog, nor do they endorse anything I write here) has a thriving mergers and acquisitions practice. In order to provide appropriate advice to our private equity clients, we perform "diligences," which are thorough investigations of a company's strengths and weaknesses. Almost always, the target companies have technology assets that we evaluate as part of the diligence. Which is why I'm up at the crack of dawn in a hotel outside Phoenix.

Obviously I can't disclose anything about a diligence effort, or what kind of transaction is contemplated, or even what industry the company is in. In fact, sometimes I won't even know who the target is until I get there, as is the case today. So I am able to say nothing more about today's work than I'm in Arizona.

Still, the work is really interesting. We get pretty deep into the target's processes, methodologies, even sometimes their actual code and infrastructure. As a technology professional, it gives me exposure to different ways of doing things, especially what works and what doesn't. And it gets me out of the house for a day or two.

Of course, this will slow down posting a bit this week...

Tuesday 9 September 2014 06:38:02 MST (UTC-07:00)  |  | Software | Business | Travel | Work#
Thursday 21 August 2014

Philip Shorer on the Atlantic's CityLab blog argues for a 4-day work week:

Beyond working more efficiently, a four-day workweek appears to improve morale and well-being. The president of the UK Faculty of Public Health told the Daily Mail that a four-day workweek could help lower blood pressure and increase mental health among employees. Jay Love of Slingshot SEO saw his employee-retention rate shoot up when he phased in three-day weekends. Following this line of thought, TreeHouse, an online education platform, implemented a four-day week to attract workers, which has contributed to the company's growth.

In this scenario, employees still work 40-hour weeks, but they do so over the course of four days rather than five. This arrangement still sounds sub-optimal, though, as working at full capacity for 10 hours is more demanding than doing so for eight. Despite that, the employees at Stephens’s company still preferred 40 hours in four days to 40 hours in five days. They might be even happier—and work even better—if they worked fewer hours in addition to fewer days.

Of course, counting travel, as a consultant I frequently do four 10-hour days followed by an 8-hour day. Cutting one of those out might be a good thing.

Thursday 21 August 2014 16:01:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business#
Tuesday 19 August 2014

I had planned to write today about aviation weather radar, being an accidental landlord in Chicago, or the latest plan to replace a burned-down grocery in my old neighborhood. Instead, I'm going to gush a little about my new phone.

I've used a Windows HTC-8 for almost two years now, and I've been frustrated with it nearly the whole time. Today, while waiting out a thunderstorm at the local T-Mobile store, I decided to pick up a Samsung S5.

Instead of complaining about the HTC-8, I'll link to a comparison, and then list these things that made me giddy earlier today:

  • I have all the applications I've been missing again.
  • Android has a new, combined inbox for email they didn't have before, so I still get all my mail in one place. (This was the best feature of the Windows 8 phone.)
  • Wi-Fi calling.
  • Combined SMS and Google Hangouts.
  • An app to archive SMS. I've lost all my SMS messages for the past two years because Windows 8 doesn't have any way of extracting them.
  • Google Maps.

I could go on, and no doubt I will, but it's late in the day and I have to play with my phone some more.

Tuesday 19 August 2014 17:00:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Tuesday 15 July 2014

Microsoft veteran Raymond Chen explains why Ctrl-F doesn't "find" in Outlook, like it does in every other modern application across the universe:

It's a widespread convention that the Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut initiates a Find operation. Word does it, Excel does it, Wordpad does it, Notepad does it, Internet Explorer does it. But Outlook doesn't. Why doesn't Outlook get with the program?

Rewind to 1995.

The mail team was hard at work on their mail client, known as Exchange (code name Capone, in keeping with all the Chicago-related code names from that era). Back in those days, the Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut did indeed call up the Find dialog, in accordance with convention.

And then a bug report came in from a beta tester who wanted Ctrl+F to forward rather than find, because he had become accustomed to that keyboard shortcut from the email program he used before Exchange.

I'll let Chen give you the punchline.

Tuesday 15 July 2014 17:13:10 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Software | Business#
Friday 11 July 2014

I have to dash off to a meeting in a few minutes, then to Wrigley. So this is more of a note to myself.

Lucene.NET will be coming to Weather Now, I hope in a few weeks. This will massively improve its piss-poor searching, and allow me to do a few other things as well given Lucene's amazing search capabilities.

Unfortunately, Weather Now ranks third in development priorities behind my employer and my long-suffering freelance client. At least it kind of runs itself these days.

Friday 11 July 2014 12:44:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Thursday 10 July 2014

Imagine you're sitting on your front stoop, strumming your guitar, and Eric Clapton comes out of nowhere to give you some pointers.

That's about what happened to me today. Earlier this week, Jon Skeet (described by Scott Hanselman as "the world's greatest living programmer) noticed something I posted on the IANA Time Zone list, and asked me about the Inner Drive Time Zone library.

So I sent him the package.

And this afternoon, he sent me a benchmark that he wrote for it. Just like that.

Of course, the benchmark showed that my stuff was about 10% as fast as the Noda Time library, an open-source project he curates. So, having a couple of hours for "personal development time" available, I optimized it.

The specific details of the optimization are not that interesting, but I managed to more than double the library's performance by changing about ten lines of code. (It's now 20% as fast as Noda.) Along the way I exchanged about 10 emails with Skeet, because he kept making really crack suggestions and giving me valuable feedback about both my design and his.

That was cool.

Thursday 10 July 2014 17:52:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Astronomy#
Friday 4 July 2014

Embattled clothing retailer American Apparel tweeted an Independence Day ad yesterday showing a stylized photo of the 1986 Challenger explosion with the hashtags "#smoke" and "#clouds." (I will not post the image here.)

Shortly after, they tweeted a heartfelt apology blaming the child that somehow they put in charge of social media. Unfortunately, they also have a child, Ryan Holiday (born in June 1987), running their entire marketing department, who threw his social media flunky under the bus to cover his own ignorance and ineptitude. The apology reads as follows:

We deeply apologize for today's Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.

So, Ryan Holiday is an asshat (which one could infer from his writings), and obviously running with scissors in his current job. Note to Ryan: don't blame your subordinates in public for your own screw-up, especially when the purported cause of that person's mistake is a characteristic you share. And note John Luttell (interim CEO of American Apparel): Cleaning up Dov Charney's brand damage should begin with replacing your marketing director.

I wish, I really wish, more Americans knew something about history.

Friday 4 July 2014 09:21:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#
Thursday 3 July 2014

Last night I got an email from Microsoft saying the Windows Azure subscription that I got through work was disabled because it had run out of credits.

Some context:

  • The Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) gives developers access to all of Microsoft's software development projects, along with a monthly credit to use Windows Azure that can go as high as $150. Because West Monroe Partners wants to make sure all of us have the right tools, we get the subscriptions with the $150 credit.
  • I activated my MSDN subscription a year ago, and so far have used only $7.25 of Azure services.
  • Yesterday I spun up a JDK 7.2 virtual machine (VM), which, at 33c per hour, was unlikely to bust my Azure credit limit. Plus, I shut it down when I was done, having used only 2 hours of computing time.

Here's what I missed when I spun up the VM:

(Click on it to see full-size.)

Even at full size you probably didn't notice the little warning box lower-right that says, in 9-point type, "You selected an image that has special pricing information. Learn more." You also probably didn't realize that the special pricing image means Microsoft will disable your Azure account if you don't give them money once you spin up this VM.

I'll skip to the end. Here is the relevant part of the message I sent to Microsoft Customer Support after I resolved the ensuing hilarity:

All right, now that I’ve managed to re-enable my subscription after wasting an hour of my life, I have four serious complaints.

Complaint #1: Shutting down an entire Azure subscription without warning because it has a 34c balance—thirty four U.S. cents—is unacceptable.

Complaint #2: The Azure account portal (account.windowsazure.com) does not work with Microsoft Internet Explorer 11. The login session does not propagate to the dialog box that takes billing information. I had to make the change using Google Chrome.

Complaint #3: The Azure account, but not the subscription, already had payment information available. Yet the portal prevented me from merely applying the existing payment information to the new subscription at the “remove spending limit” dialog box.

Complaint #4: If, despite all common sense and reason, a change to the subscription could result in the subscription being disabled without notice, a very small “Pricing Information” note is insufficient warning. The portal should have an unambiguous, impossible-to-miss step in the virtual machine configuration dialog box.

Is this looking a gift horse in the mouth? No. This is a benefit Microsoft provides developers so we developers can learn their products and sell them. So the horse isn't exactly a gift; it's a demonstrator. And for a few hours last night, mine wouldn't leave his stall.

Thursday 3 July 2014 09:47:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Windows Azure#
Saturday 14 June 2014

Everyone outside the U.S. use chip-and-PIN credit cards. That we still use magnetic strips explains how the U.S. accounted for half of all fraudulent transactions worldwide in 2012. Come October 2015, we'll get to the worldwide standard:

The switch will cost retailers hundreds of millions of dollars. But credit card companies have pushed for the change for years. Beginning in October 2015, they will start leaning harder on banks and merchants by shifting the legal liability for fraud to the party with the least-sophisticated technology. That will be a powerful incentive for retailers to upgrade their systems.

Those of us who travel internationally for business are already used to the difference between American readers and those used in much of the rest of the world—and the accompanying inconveniences. Many automated machines, which are common at petrol stations and supermarkets, do not accept American swipe-and-sign cards at all. And tell a European cashier that you want to sign for a transaction and you will often be met with a bemused look. For those Americans who don't yet have chip-and-pin cards (and that's most of us, since few banks offered them before last year), the coming change will eliminate that awkwardness once and for all. The bottom line for business travellers: if you're not already using a pin with your credit cards, get used to the idea—and start thinking of a good one.

Yes, one of the annoyances of traveling abroad right now is that when I present my chip-and-sign card overseas, I still have to sign a little chit. My bank says they'll switch to PIN with my next card, coming soon.

Saturday 14 June 2014 10:26:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business | Travel#
Thursday 12 June 2014

We've been using Microsoft Azure virtual machines for development for a while. This means we run our Visual Studio instances in the cloud up on special virtual machines that have nothing on them except the bare minimum required for writing software. This keeps different projects separate from each other, and also speeds up network access, which is useful for network-intensive applications.

We started noticing, however, that going to MSDN or Google or other big sites became...challenging. All of these sites started acting as if our VMs were located in Brazil, when we knew perfectly well that they were in Virginia. Microsoft has finally explained the problem:

IPv4 address space has been fully assigned in the United States, meaning there is no additional IPv4 address space available. This requires Microsoft to use the IPv4 address space available to us globally for the addressing of new services. The result is that we will have to use IPv4 address space assigned to a non-US region to address services which may be in a US region. It is not possible to transfer registration because the IP space is allocated to the registration authorities by Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

At times your service may appear to be hosted in a non-US location.

It is important to note that the IP address registration authority does not equate to IP address physical location (i.e., you can have an IP address registered in Brazil but allocated to a device or service physically located in Virginia). Thus when you deploy to a U.S. region, your service is still hosted in U.S. and your customer data will remain in the U.S.

In other words, Microsoft's cloud service is so popular that they have run out of addresses to assign to it. Microsoft, it should be noted, has tens of millions of IPv4 addresses available. (Of course, IPv4 has only 4.2 trillion possible addresses, though fully 43 billion are in private IP ranges.)

Thursday 12 June 2014 10:49:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Monday 9 June 2014

When I set up the appointment for Comcast to come out and install a new internet connection at IDTWHQ, I explained to them that (a) I have a satellite dish and (b) my building has common cable. In fact, they needed the building's account number to set up the service.

So when the installer got here at 11:45 (still between 8 and noon, at least) and noticed that (a) I have a satellite dish and (b) my building has common cable, he explained that he couldn't actually install my new Internet service because, it turns out, (a) I have a satellite dish and (b) my building has common cable, so they have to run a new coaxial cable through my wall.

They can send the drilling team out as early as June 26th, which is unfortunately during my first week at my new job.

In other words, I might have to suffer with this crap:

...for another three weeks.

And people wonder why American internet service is the worst in the OECD.

Monday 9 June 2014 12:33:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Thursday 5 June 2014

Long-time readers know I rarely post directly about my personal life, but this one is kind of big.

After nearly three years, I'm moving from 10th Magnitude to take a new position as a .NET Architect with West Monroe Partners. I've learned a lot working with 10th, and I wish everyone there the best in the future.

I'll have more to say about this in the coming weeks. I'm excited about the change, and looking forward to some totally new challenges with WMP.

Thursday 5 June 2014 13:34:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business | Work#
Wednesday 4 June 2014

Yesterday I mentioned three things that weren't connected except they all ended recently. This morning Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal has an op-ed about one of them:

HomeMade Pizza Co. was in the right business and exactly the wrong place.

We consumers indeed are buying more fresh prepared meals to eat at home or elsewhere, like the take-and-bake pizzas HomeMade hawked from 1997 until its abrupt closing Friday. These kinds of meals have become a $26 billion business in this country and are growing at a healthy clip.

But we're not buying most of those grab-and-go meals at stand-alone storefront operations, where costs for an operator like HomeMade, which had more than 20 outlets when it shut down, include the lease and utilities, and whatever it takes to let potential customers know that it's there and why it's worth a visit.

The fresh pre-prepared food business is proving a boon to food/drug stores, where almost three-quarters of these meals are being sold, according to NPD Group. Savvy supermarket operators are offering an expanding array of menu items, increasingly going beyond heat-and-serve home-style meals. Some have added restaurant-quality entrees, various cuisines and occasionally palate-challenging fare.

While you're chewing on that, here's another passing: the Cubs are ending their 90-year relationship with radio station WGN:

The team tomorrow will reportedly announce a new seven-year agreement with WBBM-AM/780 to air the team's games beginning in 2015, ending a run with WGN-AM/720 that dates back to 1924.

"The economic terms just don't make sense for us,” WGN Radio President Jimmy de Castro told media columnist Robert Feder. “So it's really not us saying we don't want them anymore. It's the Cubs saying that the economics they need are much greater than what we think they're worth or what we'll pay. They chose to go another way economically and made a decision to move on.”

Sic transit gloria etuli.

Wednesday 4 June 2014 09:42:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | Business#
Monday 2 June 2014

This is overdue, but I'm very happy about it:

When Santa Barbara startup FindTheBest (FTB) was sued by a patent troll called Lumen View last year, it vowed to fight back rather than pay up the $50,000 licensing fee Lumen was asking for. Company CEO Kevin O'Connor made it personal, pledging $1 million of his own money to fight the legal battle.

Now the judge overseeing the case has ruled (PDF) that it's Lumen View, not FindTheBest, that should have to pay [FTB's $200,000 legal] expenses. In a first-of-its-kind implementation of new fee-shifting rules mandated by the Supreme Court, US District Judge Denise Cote found that the Lumen View lawsuit was a "prototypical exceptional case."

These guys are extortionists, and I am overjoyed that the law finally recognizes them as such. FTB has a pending appeal on a RICO action against Lumen, which the district court denied. That would be even sweeter.

Monday 2 June 2014 17:57:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#
Monday 26 May 2014

A couple weeks ago I read a Snopes article about how Atari may have buried millions of E.T. game cartridges in New Mexico. After reading it, I found a copy of Zap! The rise and fall of Atari, on which much of the article was based.

The book was fascinating. Author Scott Cohen describes the meteoric rise of the company from Nolan Bushnell's Pong game until the company's self-inflicted and fatal shot to the head on 7 December 1982. Since Cohen wrote it in late 1983, the story ends a few months before the company did. But Atari had already been measured twice by that point, so no one reading the book when it came out would have any doubt about its prospects.

It always astounds me how companies keep making the same mistakes. Societies do too; but one can explain the timescale of human idiocy (usually 75-125 years) because people who would have known better tend to die eventually. Companies can flame out in just a few years.

Take Atari. In short, the company died because management—in particular CEO Ray Kassar—made a series of horrible decisions and ignored the lessons from their consequences. The initial growth and success of the company after Kassar took over was impressive, but it happened despite management, not because of it. The company's future sales required continuous development of new games, but management thought creating software wasn't any different than building cars.

At one point, four of Atari's top engineers, the guys creating the products Atari needed to sell, asked for commissions on the millions of game cartridges that people bought. In other words, they wanted recognition for their successes. Kassar responded, "You are no more important to that game than the guy on the assembly line who puts it together." The engineers quit and formed Activision, which then ate Atari's lunch.

With massive turnover in engineering, a game console that had not been upgraded in six years, over-saturation of the game cartridge market, poorly-reviewed products, and direct competition from technically superior products like personal computers, one would think management would notice the problem. Nope. On 7 December 1982, Atari announced disappointing earnings and precipitated the video game crash that left none of the original players standing.

The book concludes with a description of Silicon Valley as the new Detroit:

Silicon Valley is no longer the place for development and technology that it was. Now it's a meat market. What is happening to the Valley happened to Detroit, except there it was spread out over forty years. There are more companies in the Valley now than before, but it's not the hot spot it was. More companies are thinking about moving to the Midwest, since "cheap" labor down South is no longer cheap. Much of Silicon Valley will probably end up in Detroit, where all those auto workers are standing around with nothing to do.

So, not all of the book is accurate... It was a good read, though.

Monday 26 May 2014 12:54:51 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Business#
Monday 19 May 2014

The deployment, I mean. Everything works, at least on the browsers I've used to test it. I ran the deployment three times in Test first, starting from a copy of the Production database each time, so I was as confident as I could be when I finally ran it against the Production database itself. And, I made sure I can swap everything back to the old version in about 15 minutes.

Also, I snuck away to shoot publicity photos for Spectralia again, same as last year. I'll have some up by the end of the week, after the director has seen them.

Sunday 18 May 2014 21:36:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Sunday 18 May 2014

I have a totally-no-boring software deployment today. This is not optimal.

Sunday 18 May 2014 09:57:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Monday 12 May 2014

Snopes just republished the legend of the E.T. game cartridges in light of the actual burial site being dug up recently. Forgetting for a moment the legend itself, the background story was a description of how Warner management killed Atari:

In 1982, Warner Communications could honestly claim to own a goose that laid golden eggs. Its money-producing fowl was called Atari, a video game company it purchased for $28 million in 1976 which had since burgeoned into a $2 billion concern. In the early 1980s Atari owned 80% of the video game market, it accounted for 70% of Warner's operating profits, and in the fourth quarter of 1982 the Wall Street "whisper number" concerning Atari's expected Atari symbol earnings predicted a 50% increase over the previous year.

The goose died at 3:04 P.M. EST on 7 December 1982, when Atari reported only a 10% to 15% increase in expected earnings, not the 50% figure so many people had been counting on. By the end of the following day Warner stock had plummeted to two-thirds of its previous value, and Warner closed out the quarter with its profits down a mind-boggling 56%. (Even worse, a minor scandal erupted when it was revealed that Atari's president and CEO had sold 5,000 shares of Warner stock a mere 23 minutes before announcing Atari's disappointing sales figures.) Atari racked up over half a billion dollars ($536 million) in losses in 1983, and by the end of 1984 Warner had sold the company.

What accounted for the sudden death of Warner's prized goose? A number of interrelated factors brought about its fatal illness...

The factors Snopes summarized highlight how acquisitions by incompatible companies can go wrong, among other things.

Monday 12 May 2014 17:30:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

I'm uploading a couple of fixes to Inner-Drive.com right now, so I have a few minutes to read things people have sent me. It takes a while to deploy the site fully, because the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ documentation (reg.req.) is quite large—about 3,000 HTML pages. I'd like to web-deploy the changes, but the way Azure cloud services work, any changes deployed that way get overwritten as soon as the instance reboots.

All of the changes to Inner-Drive.com are under the hood. In fact, I didn't change anything at all in the website. But I made a bunch of changes to the Azure support classes, including a much better approach to logging inspired by a conversation I had with my colleague Igor Popirov a couple of weeks ago. I'll go into more details later, but suffice it to say, there are some people who can give you more ideas in one sentence than you can get in a year of reading blogs, and he's one of them.

So, while sitting here at my remote office waiting for bits to upload, I encountered these things:

  • The bartender's iPod played "Bette Davis Eyes" which immediately sent me back to this.
  • Andrew Sullivan pointed me (and everyone else who reads his blog) towards the ultimate Boomer fantasy, the live-foreverists. (At some point in the near future I'm going to write about how much X-ers hate picking up after both Boomers and Millennials, and how this fits right in. Just, not right now.)
  • Slate's Jamelle Bouie belives Wisconsin's voter rights decision is a win for our cause. ("Our" in this case includes those who believe retail voter fraud is so rare as to be a laughable excuse for denying a sizable portion of the population their voting rights, especially when the people denied voting rights tend to be the exact people who Republicans would prefer not to vote.)

OK, the software is deployed, and I need to walk Parker now. Maybe I'll read all these things after Game of Thrones.

Sunday 11 May 2014 21:15:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Software | Business | Windows Azure#
Thursday 8 May 2014

I may come back to these again:

Publishing the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ to NuGet is still coming up...just not this weekend.

Thursday 8 May 2014 12:52:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | World | Blogs | Business#
Friday 2 May 2014

The Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ is about to get wider distribution.

After 11 years of development, I think it's finally ready for wider distribution. And, who knows, maybe I'll make a couple of bucks.

I've updated the pricing structure and the license agreement, and in the next week or so (after some additional testing), I'm going to release it to NuGet.

That doesn't make it free; that makes it available. (Actually, I am making it free for development and testing, but I'm charging for commercial production use.)

I'll have more to say on this once it's released.

Thursday 1 May 2014 19:16:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business#
Wednesday 2 April 2014

Crains reports this morning that a local Chicago technology start-up (not mine) has just gotten a ton of money:

Bswift LLC, a healthcare-benefits software firm, has received $51 million from a private-equity fund to keep up with torrid growth.

The Chicago-based company has been growing at more than 40 percent annually for the past four years and is enjoying a surge in demand, in part because of the Affordable Care Act. Bswift's technology is used by companies to provide comparison shopping, enrollment and administration of health insurance benefits. It also operates insurance exchanges for private and public markets.

Bswift's business is exploding. Headcount at the firm, which is based in the West Loop, has soared to more than 300 from 165 a year ago. A year ago, the company had expected to hire 100 people over three years.

“We've added 45 people since the beginning of the year,” [Bswift CEO Rich] Gallun said. “We'll be over 400 by the end of the year.”

Wow. And whoa. And woe.

That's really good news for Bswift's owners and stakeholders. I'm concerned what it's like to work there, though. Managing any growth taxes the abilities of any manager or business owner. Growing staff by 5% every month—they've added 45 employees this year alone—has to be a strain.

I'm curious what it's like over there right now, and how they're managing the growth. With this infusion of cash, they're going to have a lot of pressure to grow even faster. How will they maintain their culture? How will they manage quality and delivery? What do their clients think?

Wednesday 2 April 2014 08:31:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Business#
Tuesday 1 April 2014

Microsoft has partnered with Lotus Formula 1 Racing to create a series of ads about Microsoft Azure:

Neowin reports:

The new ad, which has been running for the past few days on many U.S. TV networks and has been posted on YouTube, attempts to show how the Lotus Formula 1 racing team uses a number of Microsoft cloud services such as Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics to collect and analyze data from 200 sensors on the car. The ad's main them is that the cloud products offer the Lotus team a way to better understand how the F1 vehicle runs on each track and, therefore, give them an edge in winning races.

The new TV commercial comes even as rumors hit the Internet that Microsoft is planning to rebrand its Windows Azure cloud website hosting service to Microsoft Azure, in order to better reflect the fact that it can use software not made by the company like Linux.

The "rumors" are true, by the way. The service is now called Microsoft Azure.

Tuesday 1 April 2014 12:34:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Windows Azure#
Wednesday 19 March 2014

The repercussions from Monday's data-recovery debacle continued through yesterday.

By the time business started Tuesday morning, I had restored the client's application and database to the state it had at the moment of the upgrade, and I'd entered most of their appointments, including all of them through tomorrow (Thursday). When the client started their day, everything seemed to be all right, except for one thing I also didn't know about their business: some of their customers pay them based on the appointment ID, which is nothing more than a SQL IDENTITY column in the database.

If you know how databases work, you know that IDENTITY columns are officially non-deterministic. In this specific case, the column increments by one every time it adds a row, but also in this specific case, I didn't re-enter the data in the same order it was originally entered, since I prioritized the earlier appointments.

We've gotten through the problem now, and the client no longer want to put my head on a spike, so I will now take a moment for an after-action review that might help other software developers in the future.

First, the things I did right:

  • When I deployed the upgrade Saturday, I preserved the state of the database and application at exactly that moment.
  • All of the data in the system, every field of it, was audited. It was trivially easy to produce a report of every change made to the system from roll-out Saturday afternoon through roll-back Monday night.
  • When I rolled back the upgrade Monday night, I preserved the state of the upgraded database and application at exactly that moment.
  • When the client first noticed the problem, I dropped everything else and worked out a plan with them. The plan centered around getting their business back up first, and then dealing with the technology.
  • Their customers were completely back to normal at the start of business Tuesday.
  • The application runs on Windows Azure, which made preserving the old application state not only easy, but possible.

So what should I have done better?

  • My biggest error was overconfidence in my ability to roll back the upgrade. No matter what other errors I made, this was the root of all of them.
  • The second major error was not testing the UI on Internet Explorer 8. Mitigating this was the fact that neither I nor my client was aware that the bulk of their customers used IE8. However, given that people using IE8 were totally unable to use the application, even if the numbers of customers using IE8 was very small, the large impact should have put IE8 near the top of my regression test checklist.
  • Instead of spending a couple of hours re-entering data, I should have written a script to do it.
  • I have always regretted (though never more than today) publicizing the appointments IDENTITY column to the end user, because it's normal they'd use this ID for business purposes. This illustrates the danger—not just the sloppy design—of using a single database field for two purposes. Any future version of the application will have an OrderID field that is not a database plumbing field.

All in all, the good things outweighed the bad, and I may get back in my client's good graces when I roll out the next update. You know, the one that works on IE8, but still solves the looming problem of the platform's age.

Wednesday 19 March 2014 09:59:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Tuesday 18 March 2014

At 8:16 this morning, a long-time client sent me an email saying that one of his customers couldn't was getting a strange bug in their scheduling application. They could see everything except for the tabbed UI control they needed to use. In other words, there was a hole in the screen where the data entry should have been.

Here's how the rest of the day went around this issue. It's the kind of thing that makes me proud to be an engineer, in the same way the guys who built Galloping Gertie were proud.

The whole story is past the jump...

Monday 17 March 2014 23:26:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud | Security | Windows Azure | Work#
Sunday 16 March 2014

The news recently and Krugman this morning have brought Tennyson to mind:

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

Heroism has its place, but not when it takes everyone else through hell.

Sunday 16 March 2014 11:51:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Business#
Saturday 15 March 2014

I've just picked up Bob Martin's The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers.

I'm just a couple chapters in, and I find myself agreeing with him vehemently. So far, he's reinforcing the professional aspects of the profession. Next chapters will TDD, testing, estimation, and a bunch of other parts of the profession that are more difficult than the actual coding part.

More later.

Saturday 15 March 2014 14:06:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business#
Friday 14 March 2014

All four are dead:

Quiznos, the Denver-based sandwich chain, said Friday it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Delaware, the second quick-service restaurant chain in a week to do so.

Quizno's bankruptcy filing comes just days after Sbarro, the New York-based pizza chain, filed for court protection in Manhattan on Monday, the second time in three years. Hot Dog on a Stick, another purveyor of quick-service food, in February also filed for bankruptcy protection.

This is unfortunate especially for Chicago-area coyotes, as they are known to like Quiznos.

Friday 14 March 2014 16:38:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#
Thursday 13 March 2014

Calumet Photo, one of the last real photography stores, has closed abruptly:

Calumet Photographic, a Chicago-based camera supply and photo services provider that first opened 1939, has abruptly closed its doors and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

Calumet said on its Facebook page that it was closing its stores in the United States, but that its European stores would remain.

In its Chapter 7 filing, in which a company prepares to liquidate, it listed between $50 million and $100 million in assets and $10 million to $50 million in liabilities.

I rented lenses from them for my trips to Korea and Sint Maarten recently, and I found them truly helpful on other photographic issues. This is a big blow to photography.

Thursday 13 March 2014 15:51:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography | Business#
Saturday 1 March 2014

Parker, 14 weeksI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 7½-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in September 2011, more than 1,300 posts back, so it's time for a refresh.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than 13 years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago (the greatest city in North America), and sometimes London, San Francisco, and the rest of the world.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until early 2011 when I finally got the first digital camera I've ever had whose photos were as good as film. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.

I also write a lot of software, and will occasionally post about technology as well. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got more than 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

Saturday 1 March 2014 14:27:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Biking | Cubs | Geography | Kitchen Sink | London | Parker | Daily | Photography | Politics | US | World | Religion | Software | Blogs | Business | Cloud | Travel | Weather | Windows Azure | Work | Writing#
Thursday 27 February 2014

Security guru Bruce Schneier wonders if the iOS security flaw recently reported was deliberate:

Last October, I speculated on the best ways to go about designing and implementing a software backdoor. I suggested three characteristics of a good backdoor: low chance of discovery, high deniability if discovered, and minimal conspiracy to implement.

The critical iOS vulnerability that Apple patched last week is an excellent example. Look at the code. What caused the vulnerability is a single line of code: a second "goto fail;" statement. Since that statement isn't a conditional, it causes the whole procedure to terminate.

If the Apple auditing system is any good, they would be able to trace this errant goto line not just to the source-code check-in details, but to the specific login that made the change. And they would quickly know whether this was just an error, or a deliberate change by a bad actor. Does anyone know what's going on inside Apple?

Schneier has argued previously that the NSA's biggest mistake was dishonesty. Because we don't know what they're up to, and because they've lied so often about it, people start to believe the worst about technology flaws. This Apple error could have been a stupid programmer error, merge conflict, or something in that category. But we no longer trust Apple to work in our best interests.

This is a sad state of affairs.

Thursday 27 February 2014 08:27:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Software | Business | Security#
Tuesday 25 February 2014

Who can blame him? People using iOS and Android have millions of apps to choose from. It's worse than just having too many apps:

Nothing terrifies me more than an app with no moral conscience in the desperate pursuit of revenue that has full access to everything on my phone: contacts, address book, pictures, email, auth tokens, you name it. I'm not excited by the prospect of installing an app on my phone these days. It's more like a vague sense of impending dread, with my finger shakily hovering over the uninstall button the whole time. All I can think is what shitty thing is this "free" app going to do to me so they can satisfy their investors?

For the sake of argument, let's say the app is free, and the developers are ethical, so you trust that they won't do anything sketchy with the personal information on your device to make ends meet. Great! But they still have to make a living, don't they? Which means doing anything useful in the app requires buying three "optional" add-ons that cost $2.99 each. Or there are special fees for performing certain actions. Isn't this stuff you would want to know before installing the app? You betcha. Maybe the app is properly tagged as "offering in-app purchases" but the entire burden of discovering exactly what "in-app purchases" means, and how much the app will ultimately cost you, is placed completely on your shoulders. You, the poor, bedraggled user.

Fortunately, I have a Windows phone, so this is not a problem for me.

O____O

Tuesday 25 February 2014 08:15:42 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#
Friday 21 February 2014

Via a colleague comes Mike Monteiro's famous presentation to Creative Mornings SF from two years ago. It's applicable to just about any creative endeavor, including software development:

Friday 21 February 2014 08:32:26 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#
Wednesday 19 February 2014

Researcher Capers Jones has examined well-known "laws" of programming against the data. The one that jumped out at me:

Cunningham's Law of Technical Debt

Shortcuts and carelessness during development to save money or time lead to downstream expenses called "technical debt" that may exceed the upstream savings.

Empirical data supports the basic concept that early shortcuts lead to expensive downstream repairs. Ward Cunningham's technical debt concept is a great metaphor, but not such a great metric. Technical debt omits projects canceled due to poor quality. Since about 35% of large systems are never finished, this is a serious omission. These failing projects have huge costs, but zero technical debt because they are never delivered. Technical debt also omits the costs of litigation and damage payments for poor quality. I worked as an expert witness in a lawsuit for poor quality control where the damage award to the plaintiff was more than 1,000 times larger than the technical debt to fix the bug itself.

In other words, quality issues cause more damage than programmers think. There's no substitute for early quality.

Wednesday 19 February 2014 16:12:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#
Monday 17 February 2014

I spent 4½ hours today upgrading three low-traffic websites in order to shut down an Azure database that cost me $10 per month.

The problem is this: I continually improve the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture as I learn better techniques for doing my craft. The IDEA began in 2002, and the industry changes rapidly, so every so often it changes significantly enough that things using earlier versions break when they're upgraded. About a year ago, version 2 ended and version 3 came out, breaking everything that used version 2.

Except, I still had some things out there using version 2, including its clunky data architecture. Therefore, I had to keep its clunky data architecture running on its own Azure database, at a cost of about $10 a month.

The three sites involved date from 2004, 2006, and 2007. All three moved to Microsoft Windows Azure by mid-2012, but unfortunately that means all three used the Azure SDK 1.7, which Microsoft killed somewhere around November 2012.

Upgrading from a dead version to a live version requires some effort. So for 4½ hours today, I dealt with version conflicts, expired publishing certificates, niggling little configuration errors, and a virtual machine that needed a critical upgrade. Along the way I gained 10 Stack Overflow reputation points because other people have felt my pain, but didn't know how to get past it.

This is a good example of yak shaving, and also the fundamental principle of software development: enlightened laziness.* Had a client needed me to do this work, each upgrade would have cost the client around $300 (which, being a salaried consultant, I would not have actually received). So it wasn't horribly expensive, but remember: I did this to save $10 per month.

So, from a commercial perspective, today's activities made no sense. Yet I feel completely satisfied that I solved a problem today that had bothered me for months.

* Why spend 10 minutes on a task when you can spend 4 hours automating it? By these words ye shall know software professionals.

Sunday 16 February 2014 21:00:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Tuesday 11 February 2014

My dad highlighted a Washington Post article from the weekend outlining why Accenture may have been a bad choice (as I pointed out at the time) to manage the healthcare.gov project:

At the University of Michigan, students and faculty members are protesting the school’s use of Accenture to help cut costs, citing a report by a committee of alumni and graduate students that said the firm has “a disturbing pattern of problematic past performance.” In North Carolina, glitches in an Accenture-configured computer system contributed to massive backlogs for food-stamp recipients, leading the Obama administration last month to threaten to withdraw the state’s food-stamp funding.

Federal officials have also on occasion criticized the company’s integrity. The U.S. Postal Service Inspector General’s Office wrote in June that Accenture had “demonstrated an absence of business ethics” and said that the agency should consider terminating the firm’s more than $200 million in contracts. The office cited in part a 2011 settlement with the Justice Department in which Accenture paid $63 million to resolve alle­gations of what the government called “kickbacks” and “bid- rigging” in numerous federal contracts. The company denied wrongdoing in the case.

Accenture officials defended their past performance and commitment to ethics, pointing out that the firm has received strong ratings from industry analysts. In the United States alone, they said, the company has successfully worked on more than 1,000 federal, state and local projects in the past year.

Yes, "industry analysts" say they're a great company. What this has to do with their ethics, business practices, or general loathsomeness is left to the reader's inference.

Tuesday 11 February 2014 08:09:00 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#
Sunday 26 January 2014

Yesterday I wrote that I'd spend this morning setting up the Inner Drive Website as a continuous-delivery application running in Windows Azure cloud services. Well, that was a bit optimistic. Here's what I did instead:

  • Shook my head sadly that the last time I published the site at all was last March. That's a little dis-continuous, I think.
  • Upgraded the application to .NET 4.51, the Azure SDK 2.2, Azure Storage 3.0, and the latest Inner Drive Extensible Architecture build.
  • Moved the master code repository to my real provider.
  • Upgraded an administration feature to a new database schema.
  • Created an entirely new copy of the site's database to accommodate this, because other applications are using the old database schema.
  • Beat Web deploy into submission to avoid the 30-minute Azure publish time. (Why 30 minutes? Because I have a slow DSL and because the site has about 30 MB of SDK files (register!).
  • Corrected an idiotic mistake that prevented people from resetting their forgotten passwords.

The total time for this mishigos: 5 hours, including 6 minutes for the last bullet point.

So I haven't actually converted the repository to Git, let alone set up a CI server or anything like that. And now, I will go walk the dog, and work on this no more.

Sunday 26 January 2014 15:54:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Saturday 25 January 2014

This is just a note to myself, really. Last weekend I spent an hour setting up continuous deployment of an Azure website using Git.

At work, we're moving towards doing the same thing with Azure cloud services, which has a different set of problems to solve.

I'll have more to say about this once we've done it. Meanwhile, here are a few of the resources we're reading to get started:

This weekend I may move Inner-Drive.com to CI/CD as well. It'll be my Sunday Morning project, possibly.

Saturday 25 January 2014 14:24:39 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Thursday 16 January 2014

Andrew Sullivan tops my reading list every day. He and his staff post sometimes 100 items a day on The Daily Dish, and even if I only read a tenth or them, my day is better. He's infuriating, fascinating, informative, conservative, Catholic, gay, mercurial, level. I don't agree with him about a third of the time, but one of his best characteristics is his willingness to listen to arguments and change his mind.

So last February, when he jettisoned a paid gig with The Atlantic to become a professional blogger, I supported him. By "supported" I mean "gave him money." And now I'm up for renewal, about which he says:

What have we created together? Every now and again over the years, I've tried to figure it out. A blog? A magazine? A blogazine? A website? But every year, it changes again, as the new media shift, and as the world turns and as small experiments - like the Window Views or the Reader Threads - become ramparts of the whole thing. Do we, the staffers, write this blog? Sure, we do. But so do you, every day, with emails and testimonies and anecdotes that bring dry news stories to vivid personal life. Do we curate the web? Sure. Every day, we scour the vast Internet for the smart or the funny, the deep and the shallow, the insightful and the abhorrent. But you send us so many links and ideas every day that the creators of the Dish are better understood as a collective of all of us, you and us, correcting, enlightening, harshing and moving each other.

It's journalism, in its original meaning. It's a conversation. It's how I start to get information—but only how I start, because he always posts multiple viewpoints even while making it clear what he believes. And I'm proud to give him money to keep writing.

(By the way, if you want to give me money, just let me know.)

Wednesday 15 January 2014 21:22:19 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#
Friday 10 January 2014

The Washington Post is reporting that the Obama Administration has dumped CGI Federal and hired...oh sweet baby dills, Accenture:

Federal health officials are preparing to sign a 12-month contract worth roughly $90 million, probably early next week, with a different company, Accenture, after concluding that CGI has not been effective enough in fixing the intricate computer system underpinning the federal Web site, HealthCare.gov, the individual said.

Accenture, which is one of the world’s largest consulting firms, has extensive experience with computer systems on the state level, and it built California’s new health insurance exchange. But it has not done substantial work on any federal health-care program.

This contract is worth billions to Accenture, who deserves it about as much as Bashar Assad deserves a Nobel peace prize.

Let me tell you a story about Accenture. A few years ago I worked for one of its subsidiaries. I was on a project I really enjoyed, traveling 100% outside of Chicago. Then I got a new job and gave 30 days' notice so that we would have sufficient time to staff someone else in my role and transfer what I knew to him.

That was Friday. On Monday, when I showed up at the job site, I couldn't log into my accounts on the client's systems. So I went to the client and said, "Hey, I'm having trouble logging in."

He said, "What the f@&! are you doing here?"

It turned out, the Accenture partner on the project had told this guy that I just up and quit, walked off the project, and didn't give any notice. Unfortunately, the Accenture partner did not communicate this fable to me, or to my boss at the subsidiary, so I flew to the project location Sunday night as planned.

I neither know nor care what the client said to the Accenture partner who lied to him and tried to destroy my reputation, but the client assured me it would not be a happy or polite conversation. I never met the Accenture partner personally, which is good, because I might have said something rude as well.

This wasn't the first or last time that Accenture did something Machiavellian at my expense, but it was one of the few that had so many impartial witnesses that I can relay it without fear of contradiction.

So: these are the folks that my President's government has decided to hire.

I'm also chuckling that the contract will begin on March First. Google that phrase and you'll see why it's funny to us in the industry.

Friday 10 January 2014 11:37:54 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Business#
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David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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