Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saving a bureaucratic software project



A recently published article, "The Secret Startup That Saved the Worst Website in America" details some of the problems with the Healthcare.gov launch fiasco that "so bad it nearly broke the Affordable Care Act."

It also outlines how a small team rewrote much of the software "working as a startup within the government and replacing contractor-made apps with ones costing one-fiftieth of the price."

A key point is something I've written about before, namely that one good programmer equals an infinite number of mediocre ones.

A handful of bright, motivated programmers can easily beat a massive army of corporate drones, middle managers and bureaucrats.

This is related to Brooks' law, which states that "adding manpower to a late software project makes it later." Or in other words, "nine women can't make a baby in one month."
"The government’s method of running software turned on a sequential design strategy known as “the waterfall”: a central calendar, the Gantt chart to end all Gantt charts, that promulgated when every task would finish. The government tried running software development as a bureaucratic process, with project managers managing project managers, and the whole thing broke."
This is pretty much the exact opposite of how you want to manage software development. In fact, it is #1 on my list of Top 5 Software Project Management Mistakes.

Kudos to the "Marketplace Lite team" at Healthcare.gov that did America a great service by helping to teach the government how to build software The Right Way™ :-)

Monday, March 09, 2015

Tax avoidance schemes: A simple solution


This morning I read the following CBC article: Corporate tax avoidance 'scheme' hurting Canada, expert says.

As they mention:
"Thirteen per cent of these corporations paid less than 5 per cent in taxes and more than half paid less than 10 per cent. Much of this tax evasion is done secretly."
"...the situation has become so serious that some corporations are trying to “put the brakes on” tax cuts, as they witness the effects on critical areas of the Canadian economy, such as education, health care and infrastructure."
As I alluded to in a previous posting, "Why make a profit?", there is a really simple solution to all of these complex schemes.

Instead of taxing net revenue (aka. "profit"), we should be taxing gross revenue (aka. "income").

Net revenue, or profit, is what's left over after a corporation pays all of its expenses. This makes it easy to devise complicated corporate structures that move money around to make it appear that the company has little or no profit. This practice is referred to in the industry as "tax planning" and is perfectly legal, for the most part.

Taxing gross revenue at a fixed, much lower rate, plus eliminating special interest subsidies, rebates, etc. would make the tax system universally fair.

Of course, doing this would put large swaths of bankers, accountants, and lawyers out of business, so really... there's no downside. ;-)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Healthcare in the United States


In the news: Another high profile case of a Canadian getting a huge bill in the States and not being covered.

They were on vacation and were caught off guard with a baby that came 9 weeks early.

They had proper travel insurance, but it Blue Cross, an American insurance company, decided that they're not covered due to preexisting conditions.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all the time.

I had my own expensive lesson in 2001 when I moved down for a new job, and had a medical emergency in the short time gap before my employer health insurance took effect.

Citizens of (every country except the United States) may be shocked to realize that a huge number of Americans must pay for emergency care out of pocket, bankrupting about 2 million people per year.

Not realizing the scale of the costs involved, and thinking that my Canadian government coverage applied (it did, but only for a tiny fraction) I went to the hospital and was treated.

I received random bills for months afterwards, thinking each time that would be the last. Each single item and service, down to OTC painkillers like Tylenol, were billed and invoiced separately from different providers.

All said and done, my 25-year-old just-out-of-college self learned a very difficult $5,000 lesson about the worst health care system in the civilized world.

Canadians: Take extra care to make sure you are very well insured before you step foot into the US -- even if it's just for a connecting flight.

You never know what might happen...

Note: I've written previously about private healthcare, and the US healthcare system (twice, actually).

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Direct brain interface between humans


Check out the following article:
UW study shows direct brain interface between humans

This is really cool stuff.

I first remember this technology concept from the original 1987 movie Robocop.

It's also been featured more recently in movies like Iron Man and Avatar.

I've always been interested in BCI (Brain–computer interface) advancement, and the last decade or so has seen some amazing progress.

Perhaps my prediction of BCI going mainstream by 2025 will come true after all...