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Voters News Service: What Went Wrong 237

Posted by timothy
from the just-about-everything dept.
ddtstudio writes "Baseline Magazine has a pretty good recounting of how even the national TV networks can have a computer network go wrong -- in this case the night of the last U.S. election. From the article: "VNS had been trying to rewrite and retool the system for years. This was just the most recent attempt and it failed miserably." Oracle, IBM, BEA Systems -- all crashed."
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Voters News Service: What Went Wrong

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  • Aha, so... (Score:3, Funny)

    by trveler (214816) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:36AM (#5079779)
    GWB Jr. is their fault!

    • For the last time (Score:2, Informative)

      by M.C. Hampster (541262)

      George W. Bush is not a Junior. Al Gore is.

    • Re:Aha, so... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It's not Junior, it's Shrub. And he did finish his MBA.

      AlGore, on the other hand, flunked out of Divinity school in his freshman year at Vanderbildt. And he flunked out of law school, too. And Bill Clinton was not a Rhodes scholar, merely a candidate. He was tossed out of Cambridge after a co-ed charged him with rape.
      • And Bill Clinton was not a Rhodes scholar, merely a candidate. He was tossed out of Cambridge after a co-ed charged him with rape.

        Ah, I see. So, the Rhodes trust [rhodesscholar.org] mistakenly sent him to Cambridge instead of Oxford, and Oxford [ox.ac.uk] mistakenly claims that he was a Rhodes scholar for the usual two-year term.

        Easy mistakes to make.

  • Nearly ad free (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:39AM (#5079790)
    ... and one page version [baselinemag.com] of article.
  • by mkweise (629582) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:39AM (#5079792)
    ...it was three elections ago. I hate it when people only count (and vote in) presidential elections, as though the other ones didn't matter!
  • Oh BooHoo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by billmaly (212308) <bill.maly@mcTOKYOleodusa.net minus city> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:43AM (#5079800)
    Quote from article: "Also, the networks would be unable to give the type of detailed explanations as to why voters voted the way they did this time around. For example, according to TV network analysts working the election, the networks wouldn't be able to tell viewers why particular demographic groups voted for specific candidates nor the issues that they considered most or least important when voting. "

    So, what this means is that people were able to go late to the polls, and cast a vote free from the influence of network prognostication. They were able to cast a vote that they thought was right, free from the spectre of "throwing a vote" as the election had already been "called" by *INSERT NETWORK NAME HERE*. Boo Hoo to the networks. Wow...why the hell is this a bad thing???

    Up until the 1960's, most US citizens were able to vote just fine, all by themselves, without the need for knowing why *INSERT DEMOGRAPHIC HERE* people voted for *INSERT CANDIDATE NAME HERE*. Why does it need to be different today? There's already enough blather on TV, if we could eliminate it from just one night every 4 years....oh man, that'd be sweet! :)

    Of course, I won't know because I'll be watching something that is entertaining, rather than a farce, on my TiVo!!! :)
    • Re:Oh BooHoo (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mccalli (323026) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:59AM (#5079846) Homepage
      So, what this means is that people were able to go late to the polls, and cast a vote free from the influence of network

      I'm hoping someone with more up-to-date knowledge will fill in for my sketchiness here, but...

      In the UK, there are laws about broadcasting political material during (and I believe immediately preceding?) an election. Additionally, I seem to remember that you are not allowed to report on the progress of that election whilst the voting booths are still open. I'm open to correction on that last point though - I'm sure some news programmes broadcast latest exit polls during the last few General Elections. However, it's a rule I definitely recall from somewhere.

      Regardless of my shaky memory, they both seem like a very good rules to me. An election's point is not to win ratings for some TV programme, and it really won't kill you to know the result a couple of hours later.

      Cheers,
      Ian

      • by Sick Boy (5293)
        I guess this would be why the British people still have a monarchy.
        • I'd rather have Queen Elizabeth II than George W. Bush as my head of state, thanks all the same.

      • Re:Oh BooHoo (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sql*kitten (1359)
        In the UK, there are laws about broadcasting political material during (and I believe immediately preceding?) an election

        I don't know about any laws, but there is certainly an unwritten rule that the BBC will broadcast whatever political material the Labour party tell it to.
      • Re:Oh BooHoo (Score:4, Informative)

        by tetranz (446973) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:36AM (#5080462)
        In New Zealand we have pretty much a total political news blackout on election day until the polls close. They can talk about voter turnout estimates etc but nothing much else. Exit polling is illegal. All billboards must be done by midnight before election day. Party volunteers giving rides to elderly people etc to polling places can have coloured ribbons on their cars but no party or candidate names.

        IMHO, these rules all make good sense. For one thing, we don't have billboard trash lying around the roadsides for weeks after an election.

        I remember a radio interview with someone in South Korea the day before their recent election. The interviewer asked 'how was ???? doing in the polls this week?', the answer 'we don't allow polls in the week leading up to an election'.
        • In New Zealand we have pretty much a total political news blackout on election day until the polls close. They can talk about voter turnout estimates etc but nothing much else. Exit polling is illegal. All billboards must be done by midnight before election day.

          What happens if any get let up? Hopefully something like disqualifying the candidate...
      • Re:Oh BooHoo (Score:4, Informative)

        by markhb (11721) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:27AM (#5080982) Journal
        First, the "cast a vote free from the influence of network prognostication" issue is a red herring in the case of the 2002 election, as that only really affects Presidential elections. US networks generally voluntarily refrain from projecting the results from any given state until all or most polls in that state have closed, so particular Congressional races would probably not be affected by early projections.

        But generally, it is important to note that America essentially places no special restrictions on election reporting. With regard to Presidential elections, part of the issue is that the contiguous USA spans four time zones (UTC-5 thru UTC-9), with Alaska and Hawaii extending at least another couple of zones west. Each state (and in many cases lower levels of government) sets its own polling hours for the convenience of its citizens (usually closing c. 8 or 9 Pm local time), so the poll closings roll East to West. Since the Eastern part of the country holds enough electoral votes to elect a President, it is possible for the networks to project a winner before the most populous state (California) finishes voting. Bills to introduce a uniform poll closing time for Presidential elections have been introduced in Congress (notably following the 1980 election which was called for Reagan before 9 Pm EST (UTC -5)), but they have never passed. Florida was hit in the 2000 race by the fact that the western panhandle extends into the Central time zone, and the state had polls close an hour later in that (demographically very different from the southern part of the state) area... so the networks (which at that time were following a "most of the polls have closed" criterion) called the state while people were still voting in Pensacola.

        -- Remainder of my .sig: be the majority of voters.
    • by GothChip (123005)
      Also, the networks would be unable to give the type of detailed explanations as to why voters voted the way they did this time around. For example, according to TV network analysts working the election, the networks wouldn't be able to tell viewers why particular demographic groups voted for specific candidates nor the issues that they considered most or least important when voting."

      The computer predictions were probably right. It was the final vote count that was wrong.
    • Re:Oh BooHoo (Score:2, Interesting)

      In the UK the media are not allowed to report any exit poll information until *after* the polls have closed, precisely in order to remove any possibility of the media influencing the votes of the populace. I'm very surprised that the same isn't true in the US.

      Of course, we don't have the amount of different time zones in this country, so we don't have quite the pressure for early information to satisfy the ravenous need for statistics.
      • ...but I would much prefer the government try to solve the problem.

        The solution I've been trying to get people to think about is a 24 hour voting "day." All the booths would open at the same time and stay open for 24 hours. In addition, exit interviews could be taken, but not reported until the polls close.

        That way the entire US would have the chance to vote at the same time and without external influence.

        I feel sorry for those commmunities on the west coast, or in the Pacific, who do not have real elections because one party's presidential candidate is declared the loser. People may disagree with this, but I am sure that there are people who would have otherwise voted who end up staying at home because "What's the use."

        • That is not a bad solution, but some of the more advanced States, like Tennessee, have been doing that notion one better for quite some time.

          We have "early voting", the electronic voting machines are setup in malls and other public areas around the time that absantee ballots go out. The voting stops on "election night" and the ballots are counted then.

          My first ballot for Sen. Fred Thompson was cast this way about 8 years ago.

          Gagging the media is just wrong. For once, the government has come up with a solution that seems to work well.

          As for the Brittons and all of their smug "we do x better" nonsense, I have seen your House of Commons on C-SPAN. You can no longer fool us :-)

          One more thing, before anybody pipes up about "costs", elections happen to be one of the things our government is *supposed* to be doing, so cost should not be an issue. Worry about cutting government costs where they don't need to be in the first place.
      • Re:Oh BooHoo (Score:5, Interesting)

        by kmellis (442405) <kmellis@io.com> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:18AM (#5080319) Homepage
        In the UK the media are not allowed to report any exit poll information until *after* the polls have closed, precisely in order to remove any possibility of the media influencing the votes of the populace. I'm very surprised that the same isn't true in the US.
        Well, we have that pesky Constutional guarantee of "freedom of the press". You can ask people how they voted (why wouldn't you be able to, and why wouldn't they be able to tell you?), and you can tell other people what you find out.

        This is a good example--of which there are many, many more--of a situation where the strict and broad Constitutional prohibition makes less sense than a nuanced and particular law tailored to the situation. It would be better if exit poll results could be suppressed.

        The thing that non-USAians don't quite understand about the USA and USAians is that built into the very fabric of our culture is a paranoia about abuses of power by the government. (Periodic lapses into naive trust during wartime, like now, notwithstanding.) All of the Bill of Rights are built upon the same sort of slippery-slope thinking that the gun rights folks use in talking about the Second Amendment: if you cut holes into the brick wall of blanket protections, the government is sure to come barreling through and effectively destroying the whole barrier. How libertarian-minded conservatives can tolerate Ashcroft is beyond my limited ability to comprehend human irrationality.

        Anyway, I'm pretty sure that the reporting of exit poll data has been legally found to be protected speech in prior law. I could be wrong. A better answer is just to encourage a civic-minded sensibility among the news reporting agencies so that they voluntarily refuse to report exit poll data until after the polls close. Or even after all the polls close.

    • by whovian (107062) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @09:12AM (#5079891)
      the TV networks confirmed what they had feared for months: They couldn't derive any meaningful exit-polling data from a system they had just spent between $10 million and $15 million to overhaul.

      Projecting winners and losers in various races would take several hours longer than in the past.

      (sarcasm)
      Y'know, it is truly a sad day when you can no longer count on the media to tell you what might happen and instead have to settle for what did .
      (/sarcasm)
    • As a Western-state voter, I fully intend to lie to any exit pollers who ask me how I voted.

      The networks seem to have this parallel election going on, so they can tell who won the election before the votes are counted.

      Out in the West, they tell us who won before we even get to the polls.

      Pox on that. There's only one real election. I abhor the parallel straw vote, and I look forward to any opportunities to thwart it.
      • As a Western-state voter, I fully intend to lie to any exit pollers who ask me how I voted.

        There are already several groups systematically lying to pollsters - especially exit pollsters, but also telephone pollsters, etc.

        One of the points is to foul up the "parallel election" you mentioned, in the hope that they'll either stop it or be discredited and ignored.

        But others are making various political points - again trying to get the pollsters to make wildly inaccurate predictions and lose credibility with the public (some of whome try to conform with the crowd and/or "vote for the winner") and/or with politicians (who, once elected become isolated from their constituents and tend to believe the media and the polls).

        Meanwhile: When listening to poll results, take careful notice of WHICH polling outfit is doing the work. Some polls (including most that hit the airwaves) are commissioned by people who want to create an image and use it to swing popular opinion and/or legislators, rather than to actually measure public opinion. And some poll operations cater to this market to make money.

        My impression:

        Zogby: Actually tries to predict elections, and does perhaps the best job of it.

        Field: Their results seem to completely mirror the Democratic Party line and are often wildly at odds with the actual results once an election is held.

        Gallup: Depends on the poll and the season. Better than Field come election time (though not as good as Zogby) but still seems to whore on other issues between elections.
  • Too many cooks? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jlanthripp (244362) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:43AM (#5079801) Journal
    Quoth the article:

    All members, including 19 newspapers, shared in the management of the company and oversaw its $33 million operating budget for the current four-year election cycle.

    Could the failure of VNS be the fault of having far too many PHB's droning on about mission statements and TPS reports?

  • I think another thing that doomed VNS is the fact that it might be possible the way the system was programmed could have been biased towards one political party or another. Unfortunately, this could have bad effects on the election, as the 2000 Presidential election fiasco showed.
    • I certainly perceived bias in VNS when I read that article. In both the 2000 presidential and 2002 North Carolina senate races, the system erroneously showed Democrats winning against republicans. Since this corresponds to the widely perceived bias in the media, it could easily look like a fix to a lot of people.
  • sensationalism (Score:4, Informative)

    by abhikhurana (325468) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:44AM (#5079804)
    Well, no where in the article is it mentioned that there was a problem with IBM and Oracle. It just says that there were delays in transferring data. So I don't know why Oracle and IBM were named in the original post.
  • Just to mention, aside from the obvious advantage of our elections in Brazil over the US elections: the TV networks could manage to deliver almost instant voting data for the public, including statistics, pre-voting predictions and so on.

    If the USA voters want a clean, fast and effective election, send the people responsible for it to Brazil, put your pride away and admit it works nicely.
    • I think if the mass media were reasonably unbiased something akin to the Voter News Service might actually work fairly well.

      The big problem is that most of the companies that contributed to VNS had a perceived political agenda that could "create" stories that could skew the election. This unfortunately caused the fiasco of the 2000 Presidential election in the USA; we are fortunate that VNS was kiboshed on 5 November 2002, which meant the networks couldn't "create" stories that could have affected the elections across the USA.

      If you're asking about my skepticism about the mass media read Bernard Goldberg's book Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (Regnery Publishing, 2001, ISBN 0895261901). That book--which became a #1 best seller in the USA--is a contributing reason why many mass media outlets in the USA is suffering massive losses in TV viewers, radio listeners, and newspaper/periodical readers.
    • Rrrriiiggghhhtt... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Talisman (39902)
      Assuming you aren't grossly misinformed about Brazil's voting system (which you probably are), they have much bigger problems to deal with.

      For example, what good is a technologically sound voting system when all the candidates are shit?

      I guess if you don't mind your savings account being frozen by the president [civnet.org] (de Mello), or a 35% currency devaluation [cnn.com] (Cardoso), or a president without a high school diploma [worldpaper.com] (da Silva), it's not so bad...

      And I won't even start on the rampant corruption in Brazil. Slashdot's database wouldn't be able to hold so much information.

      We'll put our pride away when Brazil puts away its complete joke of a government and stops forcing its masses to live in abject poverty [oecd.org].

      You can lecture us on technology when Brazil stops doing asinine things like blowing up its own oil platforms [acusafe.com].

      Verdade?

      Talisman

      Wanna get pissed [remail.org]?


      • For example, what good is a technologically sound voting system when all the candidates are shit?

        I ask myself that question every day. It's universally applicable, not just in Brazil.
      • For example, what good is a technologically sound voting system when all the candidates are shit

        Sounds like a good case for having "None of these candidates" as an option.
        • > For example, what good is a technologically sound voting system when all the candidates are shit

          Sounds like a good case for having "None of these candidates" as an option.


          Sounds like a good case for voting reform -- see my .sig. Consider a system with many candidates that voters can cast multiple (equal) votes for. It's called plurality voting.
    • Interesting to note this article:The GOP of Lincoln (Chafee). The Greatest Title Never Used. A little language-rasslin'. And more [nationalreview.com] where Brazil is now restricting print speech to eliminate "foreign" words. That bit is way down near the middle.

      Lots of other goodies in that column too that go along with this story and the objections some have to US media even reporting election coverage.

      Objections to Freedom of the Press on /.? No way!

      I especially like the bits about how the US media defines "left leaning" politicians.
  • by dubbayu_d_40 (622643) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:53AM (#5079827)
    So they're having a meeting dicussing requirements for a stable system, and an idiot say's "we must have voice recognition."

    Java, Oracle, DB2, BEA - nope, those were symptoms of a deeper failure...

    • this is true far, far too often. an end user says we need a web site that... we would like a java app to... this is where the systems analyst fails. it's their responsibility to keep asking further what the real requirements are, "we need to be able to collect, process and track orders in real time from our global customers." is a much better requirement statement than "we need a web site that takes orders from our customers".
      • this is true far, far too often. an end user says we need a web site that... we would like a java app to... this is where the systems analyst fails. it's their responsibility to keep asking further what the real requirements are, "we need to be able to collect, process and track orders in real time from our global customers." is a much better requirement statement than "we need a web site that takes orders from our customers".

        Especially since the "we need a website ..." only makes sense if that will be the only way you interact with customers. More likly a useful system will need to be able to cope with telephone, fax, mail and email as well as using a website.
  • by Znonymous Coward (615009) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:55AM (#5079834) Journal
    Who wants to start an open source project to replace this failed service. We'll use Linux, MySQL, Perl, PHP and Apache. Any takers?

  • First hand account (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:57AM (#5079837)
    OK Folks,
    I'm one of the lead programmers of one of the members

    We KNEW this was going to happen a LONG time before November. At the end of the article, they talk about "set a deadline 2 months ahead of the real deadline"

    Guess what? They did!!! They were supposed to be ready for the NJ Primary, which was before the summer - they missed it, BIG TIME - That's when the alarm bells went into overdrive for me

    I understand (This up in the levels above me) that the steering committee didn't realize that the technical committee was saying "We've got a BIG problem"

    Another warning sign was when their test data generator that they sent us in the spring generated XML that didn't match their own XSDs - and that was with all the fields declared as cdata - the field names didn't match

    The first test, which was supposed to be months ahead, came weeks ahead, and even the most basic message (just a heartbeat) didn't work. That's they day I knew it was doomed for sure. Our prime efforts switched to our backup data source at that time. THAT worked fine. I had a boring election night, watching VNS crash, and laughing
    • by Grab (126025) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:38AM (#5080477) Homepage
      Interesting stuff.

      My problem with this article is that it's describing the scenario as a "perfect storm", ie. it only happened bcos a whole bunch of unlikely things occurred together at precisely the wrong time, and there wasn't anything ppl could do about it.

      In fact, as you've shown, the project went into freefall, and no-one at any oversight level had the balls to say so. As usual, it seems they committed the standard IT sin of saying "let's put all this incompatible data together, with a new architecture, a new interface and a new team", which has a well-tested track record of producing failures.

      I'm constantly amazed by failures of IT projects being categorised as "one-off" events. History has shown that the *success* of a major IT project is a one-off event, and can only be achieved by major effort and good organisation. And in general, the guys at the coal face know full well that the project is screwed, but the layers of management filter out the bad news, so it ends up that managers don't know quite how bad it is until the iceberg actually hits. Some software guru (Yourdon?) said only half-jokingly that the chance of success is in inverse proportion to the cost of the project, and above some cost (or some number of people) the project is basically doomed to fail. ;-)

      Grab.
    • Steering committee...technical committee...XML...Oracle...BEA...ugh.

      This is a system conceived by and designed by bureaucrats. People who talk a lot but don't understand the difficulties of creating new technology and making it fit together. I'd bet that getting up for work each morning was painful for you, and your laugh was more sardonic than happy.
    • by johnalex (147270) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @01:18PM (#5081868) Homepage
      OK, the gentleman in me compels me to edit this, but you've all seen the story before:

      In the beginning was the Plan and then came the Assumption.

      And the Assumptions were without form, and the Plan was completely without substance, and darkness was upon the faces of the workers.

      And they spoke amongst themselves saying, "It is a crock of crap, and it stinketh."

      And the workers went unto their supervisors and sayeth, "It is a pail of dung and none may abide the odor thereof."

      And the supervisors went unto their managers and sayeth unto them, "It is a container of excrement and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it."

      And the managers went unto their directors and sayeth, "It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength."

      And the directors spoke among themselves saying to one another, "It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong."

      And the directors went unto their vice presidents to sayeth unto them, "It promotes growth and is very powerful."

      And the vice presidents went unto the president and sayeth unto him, "This new plan will actively promote the growth and efficiency of this company, and these areas in particular."

      And the president looked upon the Plan, and saw that it was good.

      And the Plan became Policy.

      And this is how Crap Happens.
  • What happened? (Score:4, Informative)

    by z_gringo (452163) <.z_gringo. .at. .hotmail.com.> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:57AM (#5079840)
    One stipulation: That the new system use more flexible and current programming languages--Java and the Extensible Markup Language-- rather than OS 390 to gather, compute and deliver data to the media outlets.

    That sounds great. People who have no idea how to accomplish the goal telling the people tasked with doing it, how it should be done. I can't believe it failed. They should have laid out what they wanted to acheive and left the rest up to the designers on how to meet those goals...

    Also, some interesting older information on the VNS can be found a the Votescam [votescam.com] website. Although they seem to have a few extreme views, along with some wild conspiracy theories..

    • Re:What happened? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by finkployd (12902)
      So....they want them to use Java instead of OS/390? That is like saying "I want you to use Perl for your program instead of Solaris". How does one replace an Operating system with a language?

      Nevermind the fact that Java runs just fine under OS/390

      Finkployd
    • Re:What happened? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jallen02 (124384)
      I don't completely agree with that. Just because a client is not completely a technical genius they can still impose technical requirements. Some of the time it actually makes sense. Some clients might have plans for future interoperability, or anything. If a client makes a request, especially something so generic as using Java and XML, the development team is being payed to honor that request within reasonable limits.

      Some of the time a client picking a language and implementation details can be a real PAIN! Yet, there are almost always circumstances, possibly just silly bias, that cause them to ask for this. Maybe they are planning to have development staff capable of handling that application. Maybe they already have a development staff that could only maintain an application written in Java. Maybe they don't want MS technology in their apps. I don't think it is always fair to assume someone imposing a request on a developer is immediately wrong. The client is *always* right. Even if they are right and it is doomed to fail. I don't think using Java and XML doom a project to fail.

      Anyway, some of the time it is easier to go with the flow as a software development company;)
    • People who have no idea how to accomplish the goal telling the people tasked with doing it, how it should be done.

      Welcome to the real world (sigh). It is very common (especially in government contracts) for the customer's requirements to include specific languages, APIs, and other assorted buzzwords. Nevermind whether they are appropriate for the task...they are a requirement from the customer.

      The very sad thing is that many times the required technologies are very immature (e.g., whiz-bang XML specs that are version 1.0 or worse), and the developers don't experience the hard lessons about new and immature technology until after delivering at least one "finished" version of the software. After that, the only recourse is damage control, where the developers are trying to protect their egos and reputations while trying to tactfully lead the customer out of the very deep muddy pit of technology they just bought.

      When looking for employment, I try to sniff out projects like this and avoid them like the plague. They are hell. Cleaning toilets for a living is better than a project like that.
    • Maybe they improved a bit after the Perot campaigns, but VNS has traditionally believed that there are only two parties, and that only two parties need to be counted, and that the sum of the votes for the two candidates is 100%, and that if one of the Two Parties isn't running a candidate, the other one is "unopposed", with "100%" of the vote. (As a Libertarian, this has always pissed me off... I've even seen one election where a Congressional race in New York City had 46% of the vote go to a minor-party candidate that they reported that way; it would have been fun if their "unopposed" candidate had lost. The runner-up in that race was from the New Alliance party, who were pretty far fringe.)

      In the Florida election, Ralph Nader's Green Party vote had a major impact on the end results.

  • From the article:

    Test heavy: Put it through at least 10 times as much activity as you really expect

    Yeah, that sounds clever. Make sure to buy at least 10 times more hardware than you really need.

    • Re:Stress testing (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Minna Kirai (624281) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @09:13AM (#5079893)
      Or make sure you know what kind of better hardware you could buy, if needed.

      When developing a system you should try to overload it so you can recognize what a failure state looks like. This may give your engineers valuable insight.

      What is the resource that gets exhausted first? What is the system's behavior when it is completely overloaded? Does it just stop functioning, or does it lose data? Or maybe generate bad data?

      These things could be nice to know, and may suggest quick improvements so that, if 6 years later the customer puts in 20 times as much usage as was originally budgeted, the failure isn't completely embarrassing.

  • by Tsar (536185) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @09:02AM (#5079857) Homepage Journal
    "Oracle, IBM, BEA Systems -- all crashed!"

    Doesn't that sound like a line from a bad disaster movie?
    DIE HARD IV: DIE HARDWARE.
  • Two words.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by primebase (9535) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @09:05AM (#5079869)
    "Poor Management".

    As someone who finally bailed out of an extremely poorly run company (WebMD) burdened with dumb management, it's easy to see the echoes.

    The list on the last page of the article is nearly perfect, with one small addition:

    6) Listen to your employees!! You hired them because you thought they were good at what they do. Why would you ignore their input into the process now?

    Nothing in this article is the "fault" of the technology (Oracle, Java, IBM, Linux, or anything) itself any more than it's the fault of a head of cabbage.

    It's just poor management.

    • Nothing in this article is the "fault" of the technology (Oracle, Java, IBM, Linux, or anything) itself any more than it's the fault of a head of cabbage.

      No, it is because the project management actually had cabbage for brains.
  • OS 390 (Score:4, Funny)

    by Zayin (91850) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @09:07AM (#5079875)

    One stipulation: That the new system use more flexible and current programming languages--Java and the Extensible Markup Language-- rather than OS 390 to gather, compute and deliver data to the media outlets.

    Ah, yes. The programming language OS 390. Are there any O'Reilly books on that subject?

  • "The first step was to change the VNS board of directors. Before the 2000 meltdown, the board was composed of representatives from the election units of each network. After the 2000 fiasco, a vice president from each network was on the board."
    "That new board took bids from computing companies to completely rewrite the VNS system. One stipulation: That the new system use more flexible and current programming languages-- Java and the Extensible Markup Language-- rather than OS 390 to gather, compute and deliver data to the media outlets."
    The results were exactly as should have been expected. People who don't understand what they are doing cannot manage highly technical projects.
  • by salesgeek (263995) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @09:27AM (#5079952) Homepage
    I actually liked having a little suspense and watching the ACTUAL local returns rather than some "projected" guestimate that was in at 2:00PM. People actually voted up to the end here. If VNS died completely I'd be fine with it.
  • by cottonmouth (543865) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @09:51AM (#5080114) Homepage
    perhaps we should go back to using hand written ballots. The computerized voting that this administration is pushing will only lead to more vote fraud because the count will not be audited. In the 2002 elections in 5 different states Republican candidates won by the same score of 18181 (a prime number). Now, I am willing to give Diebold the benefit of the doubt and say this is a programming error but the fact that this isn't being discussed in the media is a problem. This voting machine code should be GPL'ed so we can all look at it and make sure it works. If they do go to computerized voting there needs to be an audit trail.
    • The computerized voting that this administration is pushing will only lead to more vote fraud because the count will not be audited. In the 2002 elections in 5 different states Republican candidates won by the same score of 18181 (a prime number). Now, I am willing to give Diebold the benefit of the doubt and say this is a programming error but the fact that this isn't being discussed in the media is a problem. This voting machine code should be GPL'ed so we can all look at it and make sure it works.

      You can only verify if you can put the same data into your copy of the program. There are all sorts of issues surrounding being sure that the approved code and only that code is actually running on the machines.

      If they do go to computerized voting there needs to be an audit trail.

      How can you do this in such a way that makes an audit and/or recount possible?
  • by technomom (444378) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:09AM (#5080255)
    Where in the article did it say that BEA, Oracle and IBM systems crashed?

    I read...

    The databases which housed the election results and local demographics for more than 4,600 precincts were running on both IBM's DB2 and a version of Oracle 7. They were to be consolidated into Oracle 8i database software.

    "This caused all kinds of problems," one source close to VNS says. "You're not only talking about a clash in culture and expertise but you're also talking about trying to create places for data to fit that just aren't there."

    For example, participants say the new system wasn't able to compare previous election results. If a network analyst wanted to know how independent voters in a particularly county were voting compared to the 1996 or 2000 election, the system couldn't deliver the data quickly, if at all.

    "The fields just didn't match up," one network analyst says.

    "

    The last sentence says it all. Whoever did the data modeling for the new system screwed up. They didn't seem to understand the requirement that the news services would need to do historical comparisons.

    Oracle and IBM didn't crash. Project Management dropped the ball. The crux of the problem appears to be that there were several project managers. No one was in charge.

    JoAnn
  • by nlinecomputers (602059) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:22AM (#5080352)
    And yet votes still got counted. Reporters were still able to cover the votes being tallyed.

    Now why do they use this? And why is it government funded?

    Voting in this country is a fraud. Voting machines of any kind can be rigged. They don't count the ballots at the polling place. How do I know that my ballot box is the same one that arrives at city hall.

    When Jimmy Carter goes to some third world nation to help prevent a rigged election he makes them count the votes at the polling place. How come we don't do that here?

    It is a fraud. I don't vote because of it. Our rights were stolen from years ago.

    • Voting in this country is a fraud. Voting machines of any kind can be rigged. They don't count the ballots at the polling place. How do I know that my ballot box is the same one that arrives at city hall.

      Bah! The voting system isn't rigged because doesn't NEED to be. The REAL "rigging" happens much, much earlier on. The two ruling parties have dug themselves in so firmly and put up so many barriers to outside challenge that any fiddling with ballots is essentially unnecessary. Sure, they point fingers at one another and accuse each other of "cheating", but the REAL cheat is that our choice is between the "Raise Taxes Party" and the "Go To War Party". Personally, that's why I don't bother to vote.

    • Voting machines of any kind can be rigged.

      As can vote counting machines.

      They don't count the ballots at the polling place. How do I know that my ballot box is the same one that arrives at city hall.

      The most obvious way is by having the taking of the box done in public.
    • by ChaosDiscord (4913) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:46PM (#5081661) Homepage Journal
      Now why do they use this? And why is it government funded?

      The "this" in question, the Voters News Service, is funded by news networks and newspapers, not the government. They use it so that they can provide as up to the minute information on voting results as possible, and so that they can provide in depth analysis of voter behavior.

      Voting in this country is a fraud. Voting machines of any kind can be rigged. They don't count the ballots at the polling place. How do I know that my ballot box is the same one that arrives at city hall.

      I suggest volunteering to work at the polls, or to be a monitor of the polls. You're free to watch the entire process yourself. In hotly contested races, the various parties will send people down to monitor things themselves.

      It is a fraud. I don't vote because of it. Our rights were stolen from years ago.

      If you are absolutely convinced that the system is fraudulent, what are you doing about it? Might I suggest:

      • Vote anyway. It doesn't take long and gives you a certain credibility. Many people will hear, "I don't vote" and hear "I'm lazy and have no right to complain." It sounds more impressive if you say "I vote and I feel my vote was illegally discarded."
      • Monitor the election. Get a few friends and watch the ballot boxes from start to finish to ensure no tampering occurs.
      • Run for office yourself. Then vote for yourself. They can't steal that vote from you (after all, you can find out exactly how many votes you got, and if you don't get at least one, it will look suspicious).
      • Run your own polls. The various parties certainly do. If your polling results significantly diverge from the actual results, use it as evidence to...
      • Demand recounts. Collect as much evidence as you can and present it to as many people as you can. Hand recounts happen every election cycle in some places.
      • Demand accountable voting systems. The new touch screen systems are a sham that provides an opportunity for fraud. Voting should be done on paper in an easily human readable fashion. Locally (Madison, Wisconsin), we use a paper ballot with broken arrows next to each candidate. You just draw a line to complete the arrow of the candidate you want. It's easy for an automated tabulator to read, but if you need to recount, humans can trivially read your vote.

      Your claim that our election system is rigged is extremely serious. If you seriously believe it, don't you owe it to yourself and your country to fight back?

      • The "this" in question, the Voters News Service, is funded by news networks and newspapers, not the government. They use it so that they can provide as up to the minute information on voting results as possible, and so that they can provide in depth analysis of voter behavior.

        I was under the understanding the the VNS was started with government grants. I don't have the info in front of me and a google search is turning up dry so I'll withdraw it. I don't distrust the VNS system, I just thought it was amusing that it doesn't work.

        As to your lists of things that I should do: I have been a voting offical. My life and my family's life was threaten when I tried to expose the fraud that occured where I used to live. While I can protest I can also be killed. I will not discuss when or where this occured. Besides that is not the point. Not every election is fixed. Indeed most are not. But the system as setup is designed to allow it to easily occur. I personaly have witnessed vote tampering of one election.

        Your claim that our election system is rigged is extremely serious. If you seriously believe it, don't you owe it to yourself and your country to fight back?

        Yes but I have a family I must protect as well and the system is too well entrenched. Do you not think that no vote fraud occured in Florida? On both sides. I think Bush stole the election. And I like Bush and would vote for him. But get real. As long as they try to use fancy technology and refuse to count ballots at the place of voting then we are going to have fraud.

        I am trying to do something. Why do you think I post on /. ?
  • Ya know, the news agencies *could* just wait and announce the *real* results after *all* of the votes are counted, instead of spending millions on guessing. I never believe their conjectures anyway; I always wait for the next day's paper to tell me what actually happened.
    • Indeed the "old ways" still work. Canada's federal elections are run by an independent federal agency, not by the individual provinces. This allows for uniformity in the voting and counting process. The ballots are sheets of paper, with the candidates listed in alphabetical order by surname, and the party affiliation (if any) printed below each candidate's name. To the right of each name there is an open circle, where you can make any mark you wish (without mutilating the ballot) as long as it does not identify the voter. If you mismark your ballot, or stick your pencil through it, you can ask for another one from the returning officer, who has to mark the incorrect ballot uncountable (not spoiled; that's a separate category) and set it aside. Blind voters can mark their own ballots, because they get a template that shows them where the circles are on the paper. You have the right to submit an unmarked or spoiled ballot.

      When the local poll closes, the deputy returning officer unseals the ballot box, pulls out the ballots one by one, and reads off the name of the candidate the ballot is for. Any scrutineer (candidate-appointed observer) can inspect and challenge any ballot. The ballot is then placed in a pile for that candidate, and challenged ballots are set aside for a judicial inspection and recount if necessary. The votes are tallied by all scrutineers and the poll clerk as they are read, and the counts verified by all observers. Then the sorted piles are counted to validate the tally. Spoiled ballots (unmarked, marked more than once, or identify the voter) get their own tally and pile. Each pile of ballots is placed in an envelope, one for each candidate, the envelopes are sealed, and the seals are signed. Then the envelopes are placed back in the ballot box, which is resealed (with signatures of all scrutineers if they so choose), and returned to the constituency's returning officer for a judicial recount, if required. Once the ballot box has been resealed, the poll's results are phoned in to the candidates' headquarters and the constituency's returning officer. The counting process takes about an hour for each poll. If the consolidated results show a sufficiently narrow margin between the higher-polling candidates, then a full judicial recount is automatic. All the ballot boxes from the constituency are unsealed, the envelopes opened, and the ballots reinspected and recounted by the returning officer and a judge. This, too, is open to scrutiny by the candidates or their agents. (The other candidates may be interested in the recount as well, because it may determine whether they get their nomination fee back for gaining more than 10% of the vote.)

      The first public results are announced shortly after the polls close in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. However, under Canadian election law, these results cannot be reported where the polls are open. Thus television and radio coverage is limited to where the polls are closed, and Canadian-based Internet coverage does not begin until the polls close in British Columbia and Yukon. With staggered polling hours across the country, that's usually three hours after the polls close in Atlantic Canada, with enough extrapolation of reported results to declare a winner usually an hour before that, because of the 176 or so (of 301) seats that come from Ontario and Québec. The key is that the projections are made on real vote tallies, not exit polls and demographic profiles. If something is too close to call, the networks and newspapers won't call it. They will wait until they can make a statistically confident decision.

      It doesn't make the political analysis any more informed or interesting, though. Usually the analysis boils down to one of "Canadians are grumpy," "Canadians are complacent," or "Ontario doesn't think the way the rest of the country does, but their weight carries the vote."

      I may not like the outcome of the process, but that's because I don't usually like the inputs to the process, not the process itself. The process is not completely foolproof, but it is open and verifiable if candidates choose to avail themselves of that openness.

  • No wonder.. (Score:2, Funny)

    by TheVidiot (549995)
    Oracle + Java + BEA = burrrp!
  • by b17bmbr (608864) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:44AM (#5081144)
    apparently they weren't connected with .NET enterprise software!!
  • Agile anyone? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by john_roth (595710) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:51AM (#5081218)
    This is utterly predictable. Long projects with a
    single deliverable at the end are notorious for
    not delivering on time.

    Several things come to mind immediately from the Agile methodologies
    playbook:

    1. The customer should not set technical requirements.

    2. A working (but not feature complete) version
    of the product should be delivered no less
    frequently than every three months.

    3. The customer should set business requirements
    with one voice. If that means that the various
    customers have to vote on what's most important,
    then so be it.

    4. Features should be implemented in the order
    that it's most important to the customer.

    And we haven't even gotten into the software
    engineering yet!

    John Roth
  • I've seen this story, in one version or another, many times over the past decade or so - Some executive leader of a company or organization learns that the system their service is based on (which has probably been up and working nearly as long as they've been alive) is running on a mainframe, and they sniff their nose in horror and say, "Mainframe?!??!!! OS/390??? That dinosaur? We must get rid of this junk immediately!"

    Then, they proceed to fix the service that's not broken by a)completely junking the proven, tested old system before a quality, fully-tested replacement solution is ready, and b)leaning hard on their (poor, overworked ;) programmers to slam the new service into place in less time that it probably took to upgrade the OS on the old solution. That mold has never worked, and I think never will.

    I'm not a troll, so I won't dwell on how Java (and WebLogic) runs well on OS/390, and Linux runs on the mainframe just as well as on any other platform (and Java and WebLogic run there,of course, also); but those solution possibilities are there, needless to say.

    Even if they were going to replatform the whole system, why in God's green earth did they junk the old system before the new system was in place? I mean, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that you don't completely scrap your #1 bread-and-butter application before its replacement is ready and in place. Even if the new system would be light-years better... some information is better than no information (from the point of view of the networks)!!

    I agree with many of these previous posts... this is, among other things, a bad case of project managers and clueless executives getting caught with their pants down -- big time.
  • by Bob Uhl (30977) <eadmund42@gmail . c om> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @02:58PM (#5082438) Homepage
    Contrary to the write-up, if one RTFA one finds nowhere is it stated that International Business Machines let anyone down. The only mentions of IBM are that the old system used DB2 (along with Oracle 7) and S/390 mainframes, while the new system used Oracle 9i and BEA WebLogic (on what platform, it doesn't say).

    Reading further, I think that one can tell what went wrong with this project: rather than relying on proven technology, they wanted to make it all snazzy: voice recognition, Java, web application, XML &c. &c. &c. ad infinitum. Instead of sticking to what works, they went with what doesn't. It's like replacing a rock-solid program written in Lisp and running on a Unix system with something written in Visual Basic written on Windows. Don't have high hopes: it may run as well or better, but I'm not betting on it. The likely answer is that this system was over-designed and under-implemented. Too much fun, cutting edge technology and not enough old-fashioned engineering.

    Disclaimer: I work for IBM--when I saw the writeup, I read the article. I have nothing to do with our OS/390 division or our DB2 division. I'm a Unix admin, that's all.

  • by real gumby (11516) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @02:59PM (#5082446)
    VNS itself is screwed up. It's a cartel of newspapers and news services so they can cover lots of elections. Sounds good, right? But they normally only cover the "real candidates" -- so that a two-party race between a and a green will be reported as " candidate running unopposed."

    This combination leads to skewed, pro-establishment news reporting.

    So I wouldn't be surprised at all if they had a specification problem (as reported by the message from the guy who worked on it). It's completely consistent with the charter of the organization.

It is contrary to reasoning to say that there is a vacuum or space in which there is absolutely nothing. -- Descartes

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