Sunday, November 17, 2013

Obamacare's Pre-existing Conditions, #1 in a series of undetermined length

Have we missed an important point regarding the delays and software difficulties with HEALTHCARE.GOV? It is possible that many members of the team are suffering from a medical condition known as SADD. SADD or "Software Almost Done Disorder" affects millions of IT technical professionals and project managers. Its incubation period is about six weeks for the commercial strain and up to a year for the government strain. SADD is a chronic condition that worsens over time, normally until the sufferer retires, changes careers, or gets a glue about best practices and productivity. Sufferers are unable to clearly articulate a definition of "done".  Even with a reasonable grasp of "done", they often exhibit an inability to plan their work, execute the plan, or adequately test the results.

If it is determined HEALTHCARE.GOV has not met its project goals because key members of the project team have pre-existing cases of SADD, then we may have to re-think the path forward. Those members of the team may be eligible for disability pay, and full availability of the site may have to wait until after they complete their treatment regimens, return to work and remediate the defects in the system.

Note: SADD was first documented as an occupational disorder among IT professionals in 2005 by Chris Drummonds on this forum.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Life Through The Peculiar Lens Of Social Media

If you have a lot of family, friends, and contacts of various kinds on social media you might have had the kind of morning that used to be known only to doctors, nurses, counselors, pastors, and so on. That is the simultaneous observation of the full spectrum of life events. Sometimes, within minutes we read of births, graduations, new jobs, marriages, divorces, retirements, sickness and death. 

For me, it has been one of those mornings. A friend's dad is in precarious health. Another friend lost a close friend of decades to the inevitability of physical death. Literally within seconds of reading about this friend's loss on my Facebook news feed, I saw a great picture of friends with their beautiful daughter who was born overnight. This nearly instant view of the major life events of our family and friends is sometimes a cause for great joy, on those days when everybody seems to have good news. Other days are frankly, depressing, when nobody has anything to report except illnesses, trouble at work, or failing relationships. Most common however are days like today, when the full cycle of life is on display. 

Social media, Facebook in particular, are filled with jokes, pretty pictures, political rants, advertisements and more. Do with those things what you will.  But keep a watchful eye for what really matters. Don't just read what you see like a newspaper. Engage with each other. Participate with each other in the miracle of life itself and our shared experience as we pass from cradle to grave with hope of the life to come.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Time Travel And The Day After Christmas

We already know that retail marketers are shape-shifters, perhaps not quite like Odo, the Star Trek character played by René Auberjonois, but they are ever-shifting, ever-adapting, and ever in our faces with some reason to buy, buy, buy, on their schedule, not ours.

Tonight's evening news featured a story about a major State Street (Chicago) department store's unveiling of its Christmas window displays, the Governor of Illinois lighting its 45-foot Christmas tree, with thousands of lights and ornaments, and yes, somebody singing an over-the-top hopped up version of Jingle Bells - the kind of music that makes we wish that we Christians could just have another day altogether and leave this "holiday" for the marketers. Following that story was an ad for a home furnishings store's "Pre-Veterans' Day" sale. Let me get this straight. It's not yet Veterans' Day, but we're having a Veterans' Day furniture sale. This is of course, weeks before Thanksgiving, which is in turn weeks before Christmas, which we are already celebrating.

If we have to be bombarded by all of this commercial clap-trap for the next several weeks, can we please at least do it in sequence? One passerby, interviewed by the news crew covering the Christmas window unveiling said, "It's never too soon to start the holiday season."  Really? Would December 26th be too soon? Yes. November 2nd is also too soon, unless you are an adept manipulator of rifts in the space-time continuum. In that case, the calendar is irrelevant, holidays can come in any order, or all at once. Maybe that's the solution. Let's just line up all of the holidays, one after another, shop 'til we drop and be done with it by mid-January and start again around the 1st of March.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gratitude for The American Revolution and Other Unintended Consequences

A humorous and memorable series of television commercials for the Dish Network asserts that unless you terminate your subscription to cable TV and switch to a satellite dish you may lose all of your life savings in Las Vegas, your house may explode, or you may simply end up in a ditch. Each commercial is a memorable short story linking, by cause and effect, a series of improbable events that begin with the decision to have cable TV instead of the dish and end in calamity for the cable subscriber. At the end of each tongue-in-cheek story, the very serious narrator exhorts the viewer to avoid losing your life savings, having your house explode, or ending up in a ditch simply by switching from cable to a satellite dish. Although the conclusion proposed by these commercials is based on an absurd generalization, the improbable sequences of events are not unlike real life. These stories are funny in part because they contain an element of truth. Most of what we have and who we are is the result of our own uniquely improbable sequence of events.
I worked for many years for Hart Schaffner and Marx, later Hartmarx Corporation, now-defunct, later HMX LLC, now-defunct. Although Hart Schaffner Marx, an iconic American brand of fine men's suits lives on through a new company, the enterprise is a faint shadow of what it was a generation ago. This is a direct result of the arrival of "business casual" – a change in cultural norms in the American workplace. In the 1940s men wore suits, ties and formal hats to see a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Today, some men don't even wear shirts. Today, we still refer to many occupations as white-collar jobs because a generation or two ago, the men holding those jobs were expected to wear a suit, tie and white shirt to work every day. Because of this evolution, many good people lost their jobs at companies like Hart Schaffner Marx and other makers and sellers of business apparel. What happened? What caused all this? In January of 1961, John F. Kennedy was the first person to be sworn in as President of the United States while not wearing a hat. Soon, consultants at Arthur Andersen were no longer required to wear hats to work. Eventually, employees at IBM were no longer required to wear white shirts every day. People started reporting to work on Friday without a tie. The term 'business casual" was coined. People stopped wearing suits to work. Many employees at Hart Schaffner Marx lost their jobs. Don't lose your job making suits. Insist that the President-elect wears a hat.
In 1674, Englishman George Ravenscroft invented lead glass, also known as lead crystal. Great Britain's King George III enjoyed port wine. His wine was stored in lead crystal decanters. The longer the wind stayed in the decanter the more lead leeched into the wine. King George developed lead poisoning. He lost his mind. He began treating his American colonial subjects badly. They rebelled. King George lost a large chunk of his empire. Don't make your King lose a large chunk of his empire. Don't let him store his wine in lead glass.
We celebrate the birthday of the United States of America today, on July 4th. We are grateful to our nation's founders and to all who have given so much to create our nation and to preserve it. Should we also in some small way be grateful to George Ravenscroft who inadvertently poisoned his King? Or should we simply be grateful, for all that we have, for all that we love and for the whole tapestry of our lives, woven together from innumerable threads of unforeseen causes and effects?
Be grateful that you have nor ended up in a ditch.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What is your central idea?

Mother's Day is a day of gratitude, a day to express appreciation for the care and love that most of us receive from our Mothers. It is a good day to recognize the role that our Mother's play in shaping the central ideas of our lives. Some of us embrace the same central ideas held by our Moms and Dads. Some of us run from them, and from their ideas. Some of us embrace the central idea that we saw them reaching for, even if they never quite firmly grabbed hold of it. And some of us embrace a central idea that Mom and Dad never would have expected, not because of rebellion, but because they left it to us, sometimes as abdication of their responsibilities and sometimes as active encouragement that we seek the truth on our own.

This central idea is the core of our life philosophy and world view. It may be humanistic, theistic or something else, but except for those of us living in utter confusion, we all have one. A central idea of Buddhism is that the goal of life is to break the cycles of death and birth by following the five principles. A central idea for the Cretan philosopher Epimenides, was an unknown god "in him we live and move and have our being". To the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus, we are the offspring of this unknown god. The central idea of Paul the Apostle was we are the creation of a knowable God who broke the cycle of death on our behalf, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and yes, in Him we live and move and have our being, to the end that we may obtain the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is also the central idea of my life, on which, yes, I have a sometimes weak, mortal grasp. It is an idea that my Mother pointed me toward, along with many others to whom I will ever be grateful.

What is the central idea of your life? Breath it in. Let it flow through every fiber of your being. Live it out. If you cannot fruitfully live and move and have your being in it, with love, joy, and peace, you may need a new central idea.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Insider Speaking, the WSJ Speech Code

Neighborhoods, companies, organizations, and families often have unique ways of communicating that can be difficult for outsiders to decipher. Sometimes called "speech codes" these patterns contain unique idioms, vocabulary, usage, and even grammar. Acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon form elements of a speech code known to the readers of the Wall Street Journal.

Listed below are examples all appearing on the front page of today's WSJ, in order of appearance. Some are unique to business and finance. Some are common idioms, but codes nonetheless. I've also included a few unusual phrases.

Do you speak the code?

VOL., NO., WSJ, DJIA, NASDAQ, NIKKEI, STOXX 600, 10-YR. TREAS., B of A, MBIA, "soured securities', SEC, Pa., CEO, S&P 500, "the bill faces hurdles", "a string of rulings", EU, "private-equity firms", PG&E, KPMG, NATO, "storefront pot shops", "stop and frisk", "Researchers made bits of human bone", FDA, greenback, ICAP, CFO, "Obama is held back by risks on Syria", "Turkey's economy is getting hairier", "Turkey's emergence as a place for facial hair transplants", "be-whiskered boom", "troubled incinerator project".

Finally, this isn't coded or unusual language, just something worth repeating, "The SEC also took issue with Harrisburg officials for doing what many public officials often do: Putting a good face on a difficult situation."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Egregious Customer Disservice

HFC / Beneficial, what were you thinking?

This is not a rant. I don't do that here. Really. This is just a report of an astounding customer service failure. 


  • Household (HFC) Companies and Beneficial Companies are part of the the HSBC Group, one of the largest financial services organizations in the world. 
  • They have a huge customer base in the United States. 
  • April 15, 2013 is this year's deadline for most U.S. taxpayers to file their federal and state income tax returns.
  • Some taxpayers need to include certain information on their returns related to their accounts with HFC / Beneficial.
  • Sometimes, those taxpayers misplace their paperwork.
  • Consumers have come to rely upon customer-facing web sites to get information they need when they misplace their paperwork.
  • HFC / Beneficial's customer-facing web site is down for maintenance on April 13 and 14, the two days immediately preceding the tax filing deadline. Automated and live operator telephone services are also unavailable.
What were they thinking? Obviously, they were not thinking about their customers.

Okay, maybe this is a little bit of a rant.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Keep On Paddling

I woke up in an unfamiliar place. I was in a small inflatable raft in a very large body of water. Where was I? I had gone out for an early morning paddle, without a phone or other GPS, and dozed off. The wind and the current had carried me beyond my normal range of exploration. Unperturbed, I studied the direction I was drifting for a little while, and began to paddle in the opposite direction. After a while, a familiar landmark came into view. I kept on paddling toward it and soon found my way safely home.

That was a dream I had early this morning. If you're like me, you have many different kinds of dreams. Some are frightening. Some are funny. Some are just inexplicable mash-ups of recent events, ideas, and emotions. Some, like this one, seem to tell a story with a point.

When you find yourself adrift in unfamiliar circumstances, consider the forces that brought you there. Understand them. All of them. Work to reverse them. Swim upstream for a while, if you have to. Soon, a solution, a familiar landmark, or a clear course will become apparent. Then, just keep on paddling until you are safely home.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Legislative Transparency and Accountability?

If you're in favor of legislative transparency and accountability, don't look for it in the so-called "American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012" passed yesterday by the Senate to avert the "fiscal cliff."

What's in the 157 page Senate budget bill? Contrary to media over-simplifications, it's not just about individual income taxes. Those are just in Title II.  There's a lot here that changes very little.

Title I - General Extensions 
Title II - Individual Tax Extenders
Title III - Business Tax Extenders
Title IV - Energy Tax Extenders
Title V - Unemployment
Title VI - Medicare and Other Health Extensions 
Title VII - Extension of Agricultural Programs
Title IX - Miscellaneous Provisions
Title X - Budget Provisions

A few observations...

  • There is no Title VIII. Odd. Why?  Is that where the spending cuts were supposed to be?
  • Title IX, section 901, "Strategic Delivery Systems" has the following provision: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, is amended—
    (1) by striking ‘‘that’’ before ‘‘the Russian Federation’’ and inserting ‘‘whether’’; and
    (2) by inserting ‘‘strategic’’ before ‘‘arms control obligations’’.
    What does this mean?  Why is it part of this bill?
  • Title IX, Section 902 denies Congress a cost of living pay raise in 2013. Good
  • Title X is the "kick the can down the road" section, extending spending authorizations in large, vague buckets, (Section 1001), a seemingly random modification of one rule about Roth IRA accounts (Section 1002) and most significantly, absolving Congress of accountability for the balanced budget effect of the bill (Section 1011):
    (a) PAYGO SCORECARD.—The budgetary effects of this Act shall not be entered on either PAYGO scorecard maintained pursuant to section 4(d) of the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010.
    (b) SENATE PAYGO SCORECARD.—The budgetary effects of this Act shall not be entered on any PAYGO scorecard maintained for purposes of section 201 of S. Con. Res. 21 (110th Congress).

A Personal Reaction

It's time for both parties, the White House, and both houses of Congress to stop campaigning and start governing. Is this the best they can do, beyond the last minute, with two years to work on it? We, the people, deserve a better work product from our government leaders. They are simply not doing their job.

Read It For Yourself

You can find the full PDF of the bill here.