Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Nothing personal, it's just business

So for the past three weeks I have been working my tail off to do by myself in Ruby on Rails what took my predecessors years to do in J2EE. That is, rewrite my company's web portal, albeit only a portion of it, which will be shown at a demo. Thanks to Rails' fully featured stack and the wonderful simpleness that is Ruby, I'm nearly done. The hard part has been getting some of the team members to get their tasks done. They're not lazy, they are in fact very hard workers but they are absolutely swamped with other stuff and this is at the bottom of their priority list. I'm quickly finding out that managing a project and doing just the programming as I am accustomed to are two very different things.

Sometimes I wonder if all this hard work is really worth it. Only a month ago management was touting my proposal as the panacea to their problems. Costing only $15,000 and taking less than six months to complete looked very appealing. Of course, the more conservative members of the corporate IT team didn't think it could be done, hence the reason for this one month frenzy of coding to get a working demo out there.

Yet while I'm performing this Herculean task, management is actively seeking external solutions, i.e. vendors. Ugh, the "V" word. It's not that I hate vendors per se, that's too strong a word. It's just that they tend to promise the world and rarely deliver on it yet get away with charging an outrageous sum of money. Colleagues with more experience in the industry than I have tried to explain it using terms like "mitigating risk", "outsourcing experience", and "long term management". But when a product costs 100 times more (that is not an exaggeration in this case) , won't be delivered for at least a year and has little to no customization available, it really makes you wonder what sort of solution management is looking for.

On the plus side though, it's good to know a manager and their fiscal year's budget are so easily parted. It ensures that the smartest workers of this country's growing knowledge-based economy will always have gainful employment provided they charge the "right" price.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Edward Murrow's dream fulfilled

Having recently seen a viewing of Good Night, and Good Luck I was impressed by the passion and diligence with which Edward R. Murrow, host of the show See It Now which is often credited with helping to bring down Joseph McCarthy, approached his job. After revolutionizing radio broadcast journalism during WWII, he went on to develop CBS's television news services. But it was during the McCarthy hearings that Murrow's genius really shined.

Nearly every school age child in this country knows of the dangers of "McCarthy-ism". It is synonymous with the Salem witch trials yet even today people of influence make unabashed accusations against those who they disagree with. They do this without even a shred of evidence yet they have audiences numbering in the millions and it is this blind faith in that bright box that sits in our living room that Edward Murrow warned us about.

In one of his most famous speeches, Mr. Murrow told the members of the RTNDA convention in Chicago in 1958 about the dangers of filling the airwaves with simple minded programming. His show, though not the highest in the ratings, nevertheless performed a valuable duty by giving Americans a larger view of the world around them. People might forget what the question was a few hours after watching The $64,000 Question but it would be hard to erase the memory of Joseph McCarthy publicly humiliating innocent Americans to satisfy his own personal lust for power. Education and enlightenment were Murrow's goals and he achieved them beautifully.

Unfortunately the major networks were not along for the ride. They preferred the moneymaking shows, the sure bets, the kinds of shows that didn't strain Americans' comfort levels or push them intellectually. Fortunately for Americans, technology doesn't stand still. In 1985, the Discovery Channel first aired and since then television hasn't been the same. It has been joined by other educational channels such as the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel and my personal favorite for world issues, the Discovery Times Channel.

On the future of television Edward Murrow had this to say:
"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful."
But before enlightening television can be appreciated, it first requires the use of Man's greatest tool, his brain. So even if all three networks were to air educational and political shows 24/7 I don't think it would do much good unless people actually wanted to see it. Thankfully in today's age we now have that choice.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Two week hiatus

The hiatus was not intentional, more just the result of being extremely busy. Work last week was hectic especially in light of all that's going on there with my proposal to use Ruby on Rails. As it turns out my charm offensive was not nearly as effective as I hoped it would be. After taking the time to setup the accounts for the guys so they could try it out I get a snide email chiding me for going with non-standard software. And to add insult to injury my logs show that none of them have even logged in. I've only got one thing to say to that: don't knock it till you try it guys.

I was also super busy last week getting ready for my big trip to Washington, D.C. and oh boy was it big! I went up there to see my good friends Mike and Shayan. Brazilian restaurants, trendy clubs and hookah bars made up the majority of our nighttime activities. But by far the high point of the trip was the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. I absolutely love airplanes, jets, rockets and anything else that leaves this earth under its own power. I probably get it from my Dad who works on aircraft for the Navy.

So though I may have been derelict in my blog duties these past few weeks I can't say that I wasn't busy doing something else. And though I would like it to be higher, I seem to have found a balance with one or two postings a week.