The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Firehose

I've learned more in the last week about the U.S. armed forces and how they enroll new members than I can recount. (I mean that in several senses.) Our team were at the San Antonio MEPS before 6am and stayed until almost 11; later this afternoon, we're heading to Lackland AFB to watch Air Force recruits getting off the bus for basic training.

First, though, I need to nap. We left our hotel 15 minutes before the nearest Starbucks opened and couldn't locate an open fast-food joint on the way to Fort Sam Houston. Also, the USO volunteer—the person with control over the Keurig machine—didn't arrive until 8. Oh, the madness.

More about this later. We're still sorting out what we can and can't post on social media (no photos, no personally-identifiable information, but some details about the project). For now, I just have to assimilate all of this information and come up with a minimally-viable product outline by next week. Fun!

Links to read on the plane

I'm about to fly to San Antonio for another round of researching how the military tracks recruits from the time they get to the processing center to the time they leave for boot camp (officially "Military Basic Training" or MBT).

I have some stuff to read on the plane:

OK, off to K20. Or K18. Or wherever my plane has got to.

 

Strangest office building I've ever been in

Imagine the largest office building (in land area) you've ever been in, add a small shopping mall, four food courts, and the security that demonstrates exactly how silly and ineffectual airport security is, and that's the Pentagon.

I'm in a little island that's like an anti-SCIF (Secure Compartmented Information Facility). We're in the one unclassified office in the ring, complete with unclassified Internet service, and because of that, behind two steel doors and in a Faraday cage. And it's literally the only place we're allowed to take pictures, which is sad because every hallway in the building is a museum exhibit. It's weird.

That, and we can't go to the bathroom without an escort, makes this a very strange day indeed.

Also, it's like an ongoing pop quiz in uniform insignia recognition. And I'm still having problems with upper enlisted ranks.

Home tomorrow, after a visit to a military facility outside Baltimore.

On the Potomac

I'm in Northern Virginia for a project meeting tomorrow, so not much to post today except that I'm here. Tomorrow, though, should be very interesting. I hope to have photos. But it will soon become clear why I might not actually have any photos.

Team meeting at 8am Eastern, and it's midnight, so off I go for now.

Eddie Lampert loses a limb

The Sears death watch continues. Eddie Lampert's combination of incompetence and narcissism has now officially destroyed Sears Canada:

Sears Canada plans to liquidate its remaining stores with the loss of about 12,000 jobs, unable to fend off the march to online shopping after operating in malls and towns across the country for 65 years.

The Toronto-based chain will seek court approval for the filing on Friday and begin liquidation sales at its remaining 150 stores on Oct. 19 at the earliest, according to a statement Tuesday. The move follows a last-minute attempt by Executive Chairman Brandon Stranzl, backed by Blackstone Group, to put together an offer to save the retailer.

But the company said it didn't receive a viable bid to keep the stores operating as a going concern. Sears Canada filed for creditor protection in June with liabilities of $880 million in U.S. currency and had been gradually closing its 225 stores.

This comes just five days after Lampert invested $100m more of his own money in keeping Sears Holdings afloat. Good luck with that.

I think the only justifiable outcome here is for Lampert to become destitute, and then not die or become homeless because of government aid.

Link round-up

I've got a lot going on today, with a final rehearsal tonight before Saturday's dress for Carmina Burana (get tickets here) and two business trips in the next 10 days. But there are a few articles to note in today's media:

Back to work now.

New project meetings

Yesterday and today I've been in meetings all day starting a new project at work. Unusually for my career, the project is not only a matter of public record, but the work will be in the public domain. That's right: I'm doing a project for the largest organization in the world, the United States Government.

Some parts of the project touch on confidential information, and I'm going to remain professionally discrete about the project details. But the project itself is unclassified, and we have permission from the sponsor to discuss it openly.

I'll have more about it tomorrow, including a photo or two I never thought I'd be able to take, let alone share publicly. Stay tuned.

Hidden complexity in software could be a problem

The Atlantic worries that there's a "coming software apocalypse:"

There will be more bad days for software. It's important that we get better at making it, because if we don't, and as software becomes more sophisticated and connected—as it takes control of more critical functions—those days could get worse.

The problem is that programmers are having a hard time keeping up with their own creations. Since the 1980s, the way programmers work and the tools they use have changed remarkably little. There is a small but growing chorus that worries the status quo is unsustainable. “Even very good programmers are struggling to make sense of the systems that they are working with,” says Chris Granger, a software developer who worked as a lead at Microsoft on Visual Studio, an IDE that costs $1,199 a year and is used by nearly a third of all professional programmers. He told me that while he was at Microsoft, he arranged an end-to-end study of Visual Studio, the only one that had ever been done. For a month and a half, he watched behind a one-way mirror as people wrote code. “How do they use tools? How do they think?” he said. “How do they sit at the computer, do they touch the mouse, do they not touch the mouse? All these things that we have dogma around that we haven’t actually tested empirically.”

The findings surprised him. “Visual Studio is one of the single largest pieces of software in the world,” he said. “It’s over 55 million lines of code. And one of the things that I found out in this study is more than 98 percent of it is completely irrelevant. All this work had been put into this thing, but it missed the fundamental problems that people faced. And the biggest one that I took away from it was that basically people are playing computer inside their head.” 

I'm not sure that there's a coming apocalypse. Things get more complex; we have adapted pretty well as a species. I imagine taking any of today's top technologists forward 1000 or 2000 years (or even 100 or 200) and watching their heads explode. A bronze-age Egyptian wouldn't understand a telescope. An iron-age Roman wouldn't understand movable type. And Guttenberg himself wouldn't understand a light bulb, let alone the 1920x1200 LED monitors I have in front of me.

So I'm not too worried about an apocalypse. But as a programmer, I'm very worried about crappy software.

Also, it's interesting that the author singled out Visual Studio, which is the tool I use most often to write software. (I wrote all this blog's customizations with it, for example.)