Friday, November 15, 2013

Advice from a Lowly Retired Elementary School Computer Teacher - Hey Obama - It's Computer Science 1.1

.... and some lessons for my colleagues in MORE.

Bear with me on this one.

Obama Care Spaghetti code
With every passing day, it becomes clearer just how incompetent -- and really arrogant - team Obama is and has been - and I can begin to understand the often misguided anti-government tea party movement which this failure has given so much more life to. I think it may go down as one of the major failures of policy in history.
More OBama Care spaghetti code

Let me elaborate.
Mr. Chao rejected Republican suggestions that the administration had blocked an “anonymous shopping” feature because it feared that consumers would be shocked if they saw the full unsubsidized prices of insurance policies.

In fact, Mr. Chao said, federal officials excluded the feature because it had failed to perform properly during testing. “It failed so miserably that we could not conscionably let people use it,” he said. ... NY Times
WTF. The Republicans may be right and he could be lying. Even if he is lying then he is basically putting a charge on  the US government as incompetent. I say better to take the political hit rather than undermine things further. But let's give Chao the benefit of the doubt that he is telling the truth.

The absolute incompetence born of arrogance became clearer than ever.

The anonymous shopping module, since it would not have required a log-in, should have been one of the simpler features -- though synchronizing with goodness knows how many thieving insurance companies does complicate matters.

I have no clear idea why but for some reason I have an MA in computer science from the mid-late 80s - not the technology for teaching masters but one geared to working industry. (When I started we used punch cards.)

A basic law of programming: You make sure a module works and if you have a deadline of, oh say, Oct. 1 you set your internal deadline way before - for the sake of argument given the complication of Obama Care  - July 1. If it ain't working them you are in deep doodoo.

I was not a gifted programmer but was lucky to have two other NYC teaching pals - Ira Goldfine and the late Jim Scoma - save my ass repeatedly during some very tough course work at Brooklyn College. The idea is to design a program from the top down and write code from the bottom up.

Knowing my procrastination habits real well, Ira warned me when I took the first course in 1984 -- no program works the way you think it will and every fix often creates more problems - so if it's due on a Tuesday get it ready Sunday to give you 48 hours. And these were fairly simple programs. Like it would often take multiple attempts to fix even a 10 line program.

I followed Ira's advice and always got my programming assignments done way before due-time -- and there were 10 assignments in that basic course. The college rule was that you lost 5 points for every day you were late.

That programming experience affected the rest of my life and made me very aware of deadlines and how you had to drop everything and focus intently to get it done.

There would never have been almost 10 years of Ed Notes hard copy and over 7 years of this blog if not for the rigor of the computer courses -- which is why I have always advocated teaching kids to program as early as kindergarten - I actually did teach 2nd - 6th graders basic LOGO (using the onscreen turtle).

Ira is am amazing detail guy and I am not but I try even though it taxes my increasingly puny brain. It was Ira in the early election years of ICE (2004-7) who designed the UFT election stuff which made my hair hurt -- it was only this past election where I used what I learned from Ira to design MORE's successful petition campaign where I felt comfortable. How did I attack the petition problems? I broke the tasks into smaller modules -- that is the only way I can deal with things now - due to that experience at Brooklyn College 25-30 years ago. (The negative is that I have trouble analyzing from the top and starting from the bottom can get you in trouble -- especially when doing landscape design -- unintended consequences.)

I taught 3 semesters of this basic entry course to the MA program at Brooklyn College in the late 80s to undergrads and grads and always told them what Ira had told me. In one class one of my top students was a math teacher who also taught programming (Pascal) at Brooklyn Tech. We were using an industry language - PL1 - but the differences weren't that great. Actually, I think the College had just switched to Pascal and I had to learn it on the fly - So this guy sort of made me nervous since I figured he knew more than me -- and at first I could see it in his attitude -- he was a well-dressed high school teacher being taught by a lowly elementary school teacher dressed in jeans and a tee shirt.

So I say over and over to the class -- as the programs get more complicated -- write them in short modules that can be tested and build your program using these modules --- if you try to write the entire program as one module it will rarely work right away and fixing it can be a nightmare as each fix can cause unintended consequences.

The programming assignments got more complicated and longer with each assignment. This guy aces every one of the first 3 or 4 programs - which are fairly short. The 5th one is already getting into writing a banking deposit and withdrawal program. I have office hours for a half hour before class and this guy shows up almost crying. "I can't get it to work. I don't want to lose the 5 points." I look at the program and it's an unfixable mess. No modules at all, full of what we used to call spaghetti code. He was overconfident and wrote the entire program before testing it, figuring he would show up in the computer lab and print it out.

I tell him this: you are a great student and will undoubtedly get an A. The 5 points are nothing. Go home and rewrite the program from scratch using the modules that you test along the way to see that they work. He breathes a sigh of relief. Two days later he handed it in with a big smile on his face and a big "Thanks." I felt like such a real teacher.

Too bad the Obama care programmers didn't take my class.

So with every passing day, it becomes clearer just how incompetent -- and really arrogant - team Obama is and has been - and I can begin to understand the often misguided anti-government tea party movement which this failure has given so much more life to. I think it may go down as one of the major failures of policy in history.

I often am a pain in the ass to my colleagues in MORE -- and I blame it on my sense of modular programming experience. When I see the equivalent of spaghetti code in MORE organizing and implementation it drives me crazy and I annoy people to death. MORE is functioning on multiple levels -- the top stuff doesn't work well for me but the lower level committee -- modular - work is making sense. What I am fighting for is more modular --- bring organizing down from central monthly meetings to local -- district level -- organizing meetings. Or to specific subject committees where the real work can get done.

For those who have survived reading to this point, I am organizing a hard core contract committee which is getting together this afternoon to see if that idea is feasible -- break down the contract and see the parts that are least enforced -- a modular approach to the problem.

See, I learned those computer science lessons well.

TODAY's Events
Portelos hearing -- 11-? (3PM for me)
3:30 - meeting with reporter
4PM - Hard core contract planning meeting
6PM - NYCORE meeting
9PM - get yelled at by wife for being out all day

1 comment:

  1. You are letting the noise from the right-wing media obscure what the real problem is. The things you say about the technology problems may be correct, but even if the system worked perfectly (Social Security and Medicare work fine), the underlying problem remains. Early in Obama's Presidency there was a great deal of talk about single payer. The insurance and drug companies went into high gear and came up with the Affordable Care Act (which the media follows the right-wing in calling Obamacare.) That is the problem. It is a system designed and managed by the insurance companies. They have no real interest in seeing it succeed because it does have some things that don't like such as the requirement to insure people with preexisting conditions, so it not succeeding is in their interests.

    In the long run, hopefully having millions of people without health care will cause people to rise up and demand single payer. The same applies for corporate education reform. People are going to have to rise up to demand free, equitable public education for all. If this does not happen we will descend into dictatorship where poverty and misery will be imposed on us.


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