Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?

Comment Re:What? (Score 1) 99

How is this any different than calling them up and telling them what is broken?

I can answer that. I've had a lot of experience fixing up information flows in public agencies. The difference is in what happens to the information in your call once it's in the hands of the agency. It often falls into an irrationally complex morass of criss-crossing processes. Watching a government or non-profit organization respond to a new piece of information can be like watching an individual pachinko ball drop through the machine's forest of pins, only you can be sure that it will eventually drop into the right slot, the question is will it make it there in time? The morass into which your request falls isn't designed; it has evolved, and chances are nobody has ever had the job of seeing whether what it has evolved into makes any sense -- until a new system is planned.

One way to think about an organization is to compare it to the best organizations of that kind. And the best governmental organizations excel at performing routine tasks. None that I have ever seen excel at reinventing themselves; that takes the introduction of an outside force. It also takes the eyes of an an outsider with a knack for seeing which processes generate value and which processes simply support other processes. That's not always clear. I've had clients, with a simultaneously smug and hopeless air, hand me a fat ream of "critical reports" that a system absolutely had to generate. The first time this happened I was alarmed given my slim budget, but I quickly learned to ask this question: which of these "reports" do you actually use to make decisions with? Inevitably causes the ream of "reports" to slim down to a half dozen or so.

But if the hundred or so other things in that stack aren't things the organization uses to make decisions with, then what are they and why are they produced? Inevitably the answer is that they're produced to carry data from one process to another -- something that a computer system can do without any marginal input of labor. That means that upwards of 90% of the office work can be eliminated.

The result of eliminating that work isn't (as is often feared) that jobs disappear; it's that the organization becomes orders of magnitude more responsive. I've worked with mosquito control agencies that went from sending an inspector out days or weeks after the report of a problem (by which time it is certainly past) to sending out an inspector the same day and if necessary a spray truck that very night. I've worked with non-profits where donations took weeks or months to be deposited go to depositing the check and sending out the thank you letter the very same day. It's not hard to be responsive when you have a system that gets the right information to the right person immediately; it's impossible when your systems take weeks to get you information you need right away.

How do things get that bad? Not because you have bad people. You start with inexperienced people who learn how to do their jobs from the people who came before them; and since nobody has a full view of the entire system they come to see their job as keeping the system running more or less as it has been. That's not because they're bad or stupid; it's the best anyone can do under the circumstances. When there's was a problem in their part of the system the do their best to patch that part so the problem goes away.

Experienced programmers will recognize this anti-pattern; it's called "lava flow". Eventually the system becomes more patch than productive process and the effort to keep it running approaches or exceeds the effort spent on doing things that are intrinsically valuable.

So yes, I absolutely believe installing a system, particular a system with mobile data input, can have a massive impact on a public agency's responsiveness. I've seen it happen repeatedly. Imagine you're in charge of dispatching workers to deal with problems, but all you have for information is a half dozen printed spreadsheets some of which have no data that is newer than a month old. Now imagine the difference if you can pull up a map of any kind of complaint -- abandoned car, pothole, litter, dead animal -- and the data is current as of a few minutes ago. You can now send your road patching crew out to that cluster of potholes; your animal control officer goes straight to where there were reports of strays today rather than weeks ago. Just in time saved criss crossing the city, often in vain, is a massive force multiplier.

Comment Re:Who are these people? (Score 1) 248

Robert Reich is certainly right on about the demise of capitalism. Corporations stack the deck so much in their favor that capitalism as we used to have it, as it used to benefit average people, and lift them out of poverty, is pretty much dead.

Unfortunately for future generations, I'm pretty sure the demise of the kind of capitalism we used to have was inevitable. You can go back to the '20s and '30s and find critics of capitalism describing this exact scenario in great detail.

Like Empire America, the seeds of capitalism's own destruction were sown at it's very birth. It was a good run, though. It's kind of like cocaine. For a while, you're on top of the world, and everything's terrific. You love everyone and you've never been so productive. But eventually, it's going to rot you from the inside and you end up turning tricks and snatching purses.

Comment Re:US to be Blamed (Score 5, Insightful) 248

small ones run by real Americans apparently are fine

What the fuck is a "real American"? Is it the Canadian-born son of a Cuban refugee who's running for President? Is it the naturalized Iraqi-American who owns a convenience store? How about an Australian who owns some of the most powerful media outlets in the US along with a Saudi prince?

Please enlighten us.

I'm all for gutting Wall Street, but when I hear that kind of populism paired up with phrases like "real American" I kind of get the willies.

Comment Re:WTF? (Score 1) 190

That is, I believe, one of the primary reasons why the LSB was created - because a robust software archive, including both free and proprietary apps, is generally a good thing.

I think what happened, is that a decade and a half ago, people thought they needed proprietary apps. But what actually happened is that we didn't get enough of them anyway (LSB or not) to keep our dependence going, so eventually we stopped missing them. LSB is from a time when your web browser might have been Netscape Navigator!

I bet you don't miss Netscape Navigator.

In 2015, proprietary software is viewed as being something like diamond-encrusted buggy whips. Sure, it might seem nice to have diamonds encrusted on your buggy whip, but we're all driving around in our fancy auto-mobiles now. It's not that whip-bling is bad (yes, it's "generally a good thing"); it's just hard to care.

Comment Was any other decision even possible? (Score 1) 104

The Obama administration has announced it will not require companies to decrypt encrypted messages for law enforcement agencies.

Suppose they had decided the other way. Just what company would have been required to crack GnuPG? The Coca Cola company? Chevrolet? The New York Times? Point guns at whatever innocent peoples' faces that you want to, and you're still not going to magically give them the ability to bruteforce AES.

Now suppose they approach someone (again, with gun in hand: "obey me or else I will murder you") and ordered them to produce a fork of GnuPG with a backdoor. Ok, that might work. But what incentive does everyone have, to use that fork? You can produce all the crippled crapware that you want, but even the people who bother to install it, just do it by mistake.

The issue isn't going to be revisited; it's a permanent victory because there's no reasonably plausible way that things can go any other way.

Comment Re:Very clarifying comment (Score 1) 370

We all know the Scandi stereotypes; axe wielding alcoholic fuelled sea borne robbers

But that's an awesome stereotype.

It's like the stereotype of Italians being big "in the pants" and great lovers. I mean, OK. I'll take that.

No, we need some kind of insulting slur for Scandinavians, because they've got it just too damn good.

My computer can beat up your computer. - Karl Lehenbauer