Monday, December 30, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Treat

As much fun to make... it is to eat!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mid-Morning Watch

Now what do they do if I just sailed away
Who the hell really compelled me to leave today
Runnin' low on stories is what made it a ball
What would they do if I made no landfall
I lived half my life in an eight by five room
Just cruisin' to the sound of the big diesel boom
It's not close quarters that would make me snap
It's just dealing with the daily unadulterated crap
Sail away for a month at a time,
Sail away I've got to recharge mind
Then you'll find me back at it again
Oh I love the smell of fresh snapper fried light
What'd you say, Pouilly Fuisse to round out the night
The mid morning watch is the best time to look
Oh what would they do if I wrote the big book
`Cause I've seen incredible things in my years
Some days were laughter, others were tears
If I had it all to do over again
I'd just get myself drunk and I'd jump right back in
Sail away, that's the way I survive
Sail away, that's just no shuck and jive
It just makes my whole life come alive
The wind whistled thru the cool rigging at night
Crazy crowds boogie to the sound and the lights
Bums down in Capo's he's just havin' a ball
What would he do on another landfall
What would they do if I made no landfall
Oh what would they do if I flew to Nepal
What would I do if I met Lucille Ball
Tryin' to make a little sense of it all
Just tryin' to make a little sense of it all

Thursday, December 19, 2013

School Notes

A random sampling of school related silliness that usually goes unnoticed this time of year.

New form of self abuse.  Apparently some tender young Gwinnett hotties have been posting selfie beav shots and now the big dogs are sniffing around looking to prosecute anyone they can for distribution of child porn. Can self publication also be self abuse? And social media is all atwitter with one allegedly female poster saying "this [...] isn't funny's bullying and I hope yall get caught." By "yall" she was not referring to the originators of the allegedly illegal selfie porn or even those they originally sent it to but to the posted reactions of others who viewed it. And here's a clue for the little darlin': it wasn't funny because you thought it was funny and the humour has not dissipated because you say so if for no other reason than the fact it never was funny.  That any young woman thinks sending a picture of her Vajayjay to a schmuck of a boyfriend improves her self-worth will never be funny.

Having to cheat at cheating. The sixth guilty "educator" has admitted to giving teachers answer sheets so they can correct the wrong answers on their students' tests. On the surface this is just another in a series of "good Germans following orders" but ponder for a while that these "teachers" needed the answer sheets. What does that mean? Well it means the teachers are so ignorant they didn't know the correct answers either. But there is a bright side. They didn't teach to the test because they're too ignorant to do so.

The REAL Santa. Is apparently white. Or so says an unnamed teacher in New Mexico. Is that because black men don't live long enough for a beard to go white? Or that Latinos are so poor they could never get fat? Seriously, has anyone seen a fat black man with a white beard or white haired Latino with that certain gravitas needed to pull off being the big guy? And why can't Santa be a woman? Could it be because THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS? Not even in public schools!?!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hungry For Facts

Tis the season for everyone to feel good by feeding others. And it has become quite the corporate cause du jour[1] and you've probably felt the pressure to save the world from starvation. You may even have heard some of the more aggressive non-profiteers declaring that "every 15 seconds a child dies of hunger." This is rather deliberate deception is promoted by the "If Campaign"[2]. While Jack Handy of the If Campaign refused to address the deception head on (in a relatively recent More or Less programme) he did justify the use of the tactic arguing that it resonates more than "three million a year", humanizes the problem and provides a depiction of scale and urgency that even the little people can grok.

The UN Food Programme's Jane Howard disapproves characterizing this as a misleading headline grabber and the UN avoids using these tactics as the situation changes from year to year and the use of old data could be perceived as deceptive. Since malnutrition (not exactly hunger) is only one factor in the deaths being used in this calculation it also leads to overcounting by multiple non-profiteers each advancing one of these multiple causes of death. The fact is there are other underlying causes and while nutrition is contributory it is not the only or primary problem. When the fundamental problem is not lack of food to eat but not knowing what to eat programmes that do not focus on education may cause more harm than good.

The reports being used by the If Campaign come from the Lancet and Robert Black of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University with the shock headline based on the Lancet report of estimated data based on a survey. Mr. Black's research shines a harsher light on Hunger Profiteers. He points out that most nutrition related deaths are occurring in non-famine, non-conflict areas (India, Nigeria, Asia,...) where there are sufficient resources in-country. The factor creating nutrition deficiencies range from cultural avoidance (e.g., milk, meat), the fact that even pregnant women often are last at the table and that many people simply do not understand the importance of fruits and vegetables in their diet. A full quarter of these deaths are due to inadequate breast feeding. In many locations up to six months of exclusive breast feeding is recommend for proper nutrition and to avoid exposing infants to contaminated food.

Confronted with these facts the If Campaign acknowledges that one cannot get all the information from their bumper sticker campaign line but still claim it creates the right engagements to lead to further discussions. A reasonable conclusion is this discussion revolves around "how much money are you pledging" rather than a deep dive into real issues and concrete facts. When further challenged Handy slyly pointed out they do not use the word "starvation" and if there is any confusion it is because the audience "inferred" that.

Robert Black is more upbeat. He has seen a decrease in excess deaths that he attributes to increased awareness regarding nutrition. Apparently folks really are starving for knowledge but thankfully there are fewer of them.

[1] You may have wondered how we can justify legislation requiring the use of food (corn) for automobile fuel if people really are starving to death. 
[2] The "If Campaign" is based on the tagline of "there is enough food for everyone IF" where the "if" is primarily "give us your money."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fair Slice

It seems impossible to teach math without toothpicks and pizzas but in computer science it's all about cake*. Specifically when addressing fair division the analogy used is Cake Cutting. The goal is equitable (fair?) division of oft indivisible assets and has found utility in asset allocation in divorce settlements. The research goals are systems that are Pareto-optimal**, envy-free, and maximal. Algorithms include Cut and Choose, Last Diminisher, Divide and Conquer, and Adjusted Winner.

For this discussion "maximal" is not a consideration but Pareto-optimal and envy-free are and since we are concerned with a 2-person problem we'll start off simple with Cut and Choose.

As an overview let's cut the cake.

In the good old days Mum cut the cake and choose who got each piece--you and your self-centered older Sis. This resulted in you and Sis examining the other's plate and concluding that plate held the larger piece thereby failing on our two important criteria. It was neither an equitable allocation nor was it envy-free. In fact one has to wonder how so many have concluded "Mum always liked me best."

When Mum's not around and Dad's watching football then Sis generally wields the knife dividing the cake into a two thirds piece and a one thirds piece then declares these "halves". You get the "smaller half." This is arguable less equitable in distribution but disregarding intensity cuts the envy in half.

Cut and Choose is simply this: Sis cuts the cake and you choose who gets which piece. Sis can cut where ever she likes but will cut as closely as she possibly can to equalize the pieces lest you give her the short piece. Consequently she will be equally pleased with either piece as it is she who ensured they were equal sized. You will be at least as pleased as you choose the one you feel is best. Equal division and envy-free.

A hybrid approach is to allow Sis to cut and cut wherever she likes and then let you cut the larger piece to a size you deem equal to the smaller. Then you subdivide the remainder in a similar fashion with you cutting first. Rinse...Repeat...Until only a small crumb remains. This is laborious and time consuming and is often expedited by having an objective third party (Mum) equalize the pieces reserving the excess for other purposes. Like herself.

Dunwoody has become quite accustomed to playing the role of big Sis when Mum's not around cutting and taking the choice bits for herself. With cityhood there were inherent limits to selfish behaviour in that Dunwoody is not the exclusive taxing authority but shares that with DeKalb County. Not so with the proposed Dunwoody Independent School District since DeKalb County Schools will no longer receive any tax revenue from properties within Dunwoody.

Like big Sis, Dunwoody will make the cut and would like to be the sole unfettered Chooser guaranteeing an inequitable distribution. But in seceding Dunwoody will also point towards a solution. In fact they already have. In Representative Taylor's Report it is disclosed that Dunwoody will leave $8600 per student for DeKalb County Schools to educate children in DeKalb. This is a clear statement that Dunwoody believes that a child in DeKalb (which also means in Dunwoody) can be properly educated for $8600  per year. Now they are quick to point out that with the same millage rate Dunwoody would take in over $12,600 per student per year but it bears restating: Dunwoody claims that a student can be properly educated for $8600 per year. In fact Dunwoody claims they can do even better as they tout anticipated fiscal efficiencies due to their smaller system with lowered administrative overhead.

Given approval by the Legislature and voters across Georgia it appears that Dunwoody will be granted the option to unilaterally choose whether or not to "Cut the Cake" with an a priori assignment of the pieces. Any hope of equitable envy-free distribution rests on use of the hybrid approach with the State Legislature playing the role of Mum. This is easily done and need not be post facto. The legislature simply needs to ensure that the applicable law requires that new schools operate with per student expenditures equal to or less than that of the system they leave behind:
"To ensure efficacy of newly created City Schools these schools will operate on a budget not to exceed the per FTE budget of the existing System after the City Schools separate. This budget limitation will be in effect for ten years after which the budget can only be raised with approval of voters in the City."

* Food seems to be the Computer Scientists' friend beginning with the analogy of the dining philosophers.
** This is a ten dollar word for "fair" but anyone, especially computer scientists who've grappled with "fair" allocation of resources know there is no such thing. Consequently the ten dollar word is preferred. 

Monday, December 9, 2013


Whenever three or more are gathered to complain you would think you had inadvertently walked in on a twelve-step meeting. You're probably in a church. Folks are milling about, chatting and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup until the meeting is called to order. Attendees speak in a fashion reminiscent of a testimonial. It is a church after all. More than not speakers begin with something like: "My name is Bob. I've lived in Dunwoody since before God invented rocks and I'm here to say..." and then roll into a less-than-complementary observation or a why-question.

Such was the case at a recent townhall meeting sponsored by the newly elected Dunwoody Councilman. The event was video taped and YouTubed by (no surprises here) Councilman Heneghan. Fran Millar was in attendance as was the outgoing Councilwoman. The format was open mike with the audience encouraged to voice their concerns. No surprises here either.

The WOW! factor comes from the blogosphere with one local opinion outlet characterizing the crowd as haters--an opinion seconded on another site. There was indeed an audience comment berating bloggers who strike thru snide comments as engaging in grade school humour. OK. To be fair they actually will give pretty much anyone a blog* which most bloggers use as a modern day megaphone for their opinion. But hate is a pretty strong word to level against folks who are also voicing their opinion albeit in a different forum that others may see as outdated.

There was also some dead horse beating and some critical comments regarding City sins of omission and commission. Testimonial from no less than Fran Millar supported one corpse flogging and called out the City on one act of gross negligence. One would therefore think it might be difficult to lambast those hosting and attending this meeting by pointing out that listening is insufficient while at the same time neglecting to point out that is nonetheless necessary. Or perhaps not?

It appears that Dunwoody suffers a greater chasm between internal factions than one would conclude from a fairy ring of yard signs, red tees or red letters. After the constant pleas for citizens to become engaged come the protestations when those who do and have engaged are not properly aligned in their thinking. Or maybe these folks are not as savvy as those of us equipped with a keyboard, an opinion and just a bit too much time on our hands**.

While it is two hours of your life you will never get back it may be worth your while to watch the videos and decide for yourself if these folks rise to the level of haters. It is also up to you to determine if listening is necessary but not sufficient or if engaging your neighbors and constituents is just another unnecessary distraction undermining good governance.

* Making it hard to determine exactly how many bloggers were in attendance. 
** You mean like those of us here at TOD?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Report Report

The much ballyhooed Dunwoody Independent School District Feasibility Study has finally been made available to the public. You are strongly encouraged to read it and form your own opinions. Though there are plenty of nits to pick this is a look at the bigger picture and what can be learned from this report.

Authorship is clear with specific individuals named and proper consideration given to a Graduate Research Assistant. Sadly the same cannot be said for the commission of the report, research directives or editorial guidance as no individuals are named but instead we are given to understand the report was commissioned by the City and a recently formed community group. It isn't clear what the study cost nor who specifically paid for the effort.

However it is a matter of public record that Representative Taylor was privy to drafts of the document and it is not an unreasonable stretch to assume that he also gave specific research direction as well as editorial oversight. Therefore we shall refer to this as "Representative Taylor's Report." The tone of Representative Taylor's Report is convincingly arrogant[1] and there can be no doubt this work is by and for Dunwoody.

The overarching purpose of Representative Taylor's Report is to support his drive towards an independent Dunwoody school system and to that end his report is largely defensive. Representative Taylor and his entourage have come under fire for re-segregation and questions have been raised about the financial operations of an independent system. A stretch goal is to support Representative Taylor's recent flip flop from "Dunwoody Schools can do a better job with less" to "we're going to tax you at the same rate as DeKalb[2] and spend the money however we want." In effect the politicians behind this effort were safe in saying they can do better with less because they never had any intention of letting that happen. However this preemptive lobbying may draw increased attention to shaky financial aspects that Representative Taylor may wish were overlooked.[3]

It should come as no surprise that Perimeter Center (and other Dunwoody businesses) can finance Dunwoody's Schools. Businesses are already a significant revenue source for the City and the Schools will not share any of the tax revenue with the County. It is notable that a secessionist City School System will mean a dramatic shift from State and Federal revenue sources to local tax revenues and the recent real estate bubble is a warning against operating in this manner without a rate cushion. More troubling is that businesses are the majority funders yet are disenfranchised with regards to governance.

Representative Taylor's Report belabours the point that DeKalb Schools are now and will remain majority black and the same is true of the Dunwoody cluster. The focus is exclusively on race and ignores other demographic issues (e.g., special needs students) that are often a more significant issue in a schoolhouse setting.

The issue that no one on either side seems willing to openly discuss is that this secessionist movement is not about segregation--it is about subjugation. The student body will remain majority black but what about the teacher corps? What about principals and staff? Central office administrators? The local Board of Education? It is a sure thing that the further you move from the students' chairs the larger the proportion of whites in positions of authority. It is all but certain that the Board, the Superintendent and top administrators will be exclusively white. The only people of color Dunwoody Independent School District students are likely to encounter in a school setting are janitors and cafeteria workers. Naysayers need a coherent explanation as to why Dunwoody which is not exclusively white has a Mayor and Council that is and a City Hall staffed disproportionately with whites and provide some plausible reason why Dunwoody Schools would not follow suit.

An independent school system has potential to be a good thing for Dunwoody but advocates must provide some assurances beyond "just believe" to ensure enforceable commitment to responsible system creation and operation is in place.
  • The per FTE expenditures must be capped at the same level as DCSD after Dunwoody withdraws--commit to doing better with less and set the tax rate accordingly. 
  • Representative Taylor's Report touts operational efficiencies [4] that Dunwoody would employ that would result in additional saving--the five year startup plan should clearly show these efficiencies accruing to the taxpayer in the form of rate reductions. 
  • The operational plan should include proportional representation from the business community with Board nominees presented by the business community for approval by majority vote of City Council thereby providing a transparent process for a public-private governance partnership.
  • Transparency in operations must far exceed that of the DeKalb system or the City of Dunwoody with pro-active dissemination of financial data, contract information and employee CV and training. The public must have no doubt that the best and most capable employees are in place and that all facets of District operations are professional and auditable by the public.
Representative Taylor and his supportive colleagues run a serious risk of being outed as just another bunch of tax and spend empire building politicians distanced from their conservative roots and detached from their constituents. If they persist they will paint for the world a picture of Dunwoody where the darkies play in the back yard while the rich plantation owners sit on the porch sipping sweet tea.

[1] We will assume that Representative Taylor is well aware that the DeKalb County School District owns, staffs and maintains all the schools in the Dunwoody Cluster and this far exceeds what his report deprecatingly refers to as "supervision."
[2] In Representative Taylor's Report and his public speeches it is increasingly clear that he advocates a "same tax rate" rather than a "same expediture" models as the former represents more money. Page 12 of his report is a relatively shameless pandering to teachers by suggesting a raise and further implying that given more money teachers will do a job they currently are not doing.
[3] On page 13 the authors mention smaller class sizes in the context of increased spending but cite research showing that smaller class sizes are ineffective suggesting that capital expenditures needed to support smaller classes is politically untenable or seriously undermines the case for financial viability. On page 11 the authors briefly hint at a significant CapEx issue when pointing out they assume that Dunwoody will acquire school properties under the same attractive terms as City Parks.  No substantive information is given in support of this assumption suggesting that it is necessary to support financial viability.
[4] On page 13 of Representative Taylor's Report the authors point to significant savings thru outsourcing and on page 9 they offer an unsupported assertion that resource allocation by principals will provide efficiencies. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bread, Keyboards And Triangles

The profound and inevitable disaster that is is becoming undeniable and those of us on the Dilbert side of the Pointy Hair Boss vs Engineer relationship can only smile in amusement as knee-slapping laughter is considered impolitic. Even the lowest estimates of money spent indicate this was a disaster in the making. Taking the low estimate $174 million spent to date* this represents an incredible army of programmers. If you take only $80 million as technical workers and the rest dedicated to management and G&A it is still enormous. The industry budgets $250,000 for a man-year of software development at North American rates. Not off-shore which is a five for one price or H1-B which is half price. Conservatively this means the feds put 240 man-years to develop a system that 3 guys built in 3 days** on their own. Clearly the Feds put too many developers on this for it to ever succeed.

But why the disparity? How can 2 man weeks kick ass and 240 man-years beget an unusable, fragile piece of internet crap? Is it simply that anything the Federal government touches immediately turns to shit? As it happens it is a bit worse than that. Many engineers in corporate product development and IT groups see the same thing day in and day out. They could write the script.

  1. Effort estimates were success-based and milestones are slipping.
  2. Management turns up the heat with "work harder--we tried smarter and that didn't work" resulting in little more than an existence proof that software development is like baking bread--when it is not done on time turning up the heat produces a very undesirable outcome.
  3. Developers approach management asking for more time pointing out they've hit the keyboard bandwidth barrier*** but are mistakenly relying on bobble-head bosses' assurance that they understand Brooks' Law. They don't and assign more programmers instead of allocating more time. The project gets later faster.
  4. Reality forces management to accept that the project jumped the shark at the keyboard bandwidth thingamajiggy and reluctantly negotiate the Iron Triangle**** resulting not only in schedule slip but in "de-featuring" the commitments.
At this point cost in dollars and political capital is out of control. Obama's ratings in any area on any scale by any metric have tanked. As for money David Powner, the director of IT management at the Government Accountability Office, responded when asked how much it will cost to fix the website: “We're kind of blind to that.” Ahhh, what cost to clean that egg off the face of POTUS?

Though this project has serious systemic problems related to ignorance regarding modern software development techniques the real problem is that the Federal government should never have been engaged in health care in this fashion in the first place. If the goal was shifting resources from Medicare to Medicaid then enact legislation to effect the changes. If the goal was to define minimal levels of insurance coverage or eliminate "previous condition" exclusions this too can be handled in the regulatory arena. 

Governments need to stick with what they do best, regulation and oversight, and stop meddling with those things that will ultimately be resolved by competitive players in an open market. And governments large and small would be well advised to steer clear of software development. 

* It isn't clear if this is total development or just fixes after the rollout disaster. 
*** Originated by a member of TOD in response to management pressure to accelerate development: "even if I knew exactly what to type it simply cannot be typed that fast--I'm at the keyboard bandwidth barrier."
**** When, What, and How Well. You can pick at most one, influence another and have no control whatsoever of the third. The Iron Triangle is not flexible.