Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Giving the IT Finger

Hierarchy of Blame

Depending on what you support (or use) you may not have this same list of folks to blame for problems with your system.

User Error
Is there any subset of humans more troublesome than users? They are either ignorant, stupid, or both. You know how whenever you call a help line (which makes YOU the user) they always start with the most fundamental of questions? That is because the first to blame for your problems is you. Some users are so good at being wrong that the only way to set them straight is to look over their shoulder as they recreate their “problem.” If something goes wrong then the first finger is pointed at the user.

If you can’t do something in the system then it must be because you don’t have the proper access; access that most certainly should have been figured out and applied to your account well before you ever wanted to use it. The security team will try to confuse you with whatever nomenclature applies to your system: permission lists, query trees, security search records, row level security, component interfaces, web libraries, yada, yada, yada. They are like magicians, distracting you while they do some “magic.” Once you get past the triage that is the help desk then the second finger is pointed at security.

Working As Designed
You may not like how it works. You may not agree with how it works. You may be confused and bewildered by how it works. That is how it works. Get over it already. The third finger is the middle finger. Brought to you by the designers of your system.

Production Support
There are folks who are responsible for knowing how everything works. They test. They design. They develop. They troubleshoot. They document. They educate. Sometimes they suck at it.  You know where to put that fourth finger.

DBA’s (or equivalent know-it-alls with access to everything)
You notify the DBA’s of a problem and they will immediately forward it to someone else. You know that old comic Family Circus? With the ghost-like “Not Me” who breaks things and screws things up? “Not Me” is who the kids blame when the parents ask who did something. “Not Me” is what the DBA’s say. Only after the problem has been redirected multiple times will the DBA’s take a serious look at it. Fifth finger pointed.

You have a problem? Is it legitimate? No worries, just sit back and let the hierarchy of blame runs its course. Enjoy the ride.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Mad Lib

Before proceeding please create selections for these items, so they may be inserted into the story as you read:

Name of Bar/Club. Activity. Body Part. Piece of Clothing. Part of town. Food. Dollar Amount. Sex Act 1. Sex Act 2.

A Man. A Woman. And what the parakeet saw.

The man and his friends go to ((name of bar/club)) for some drinking and ((activity)). The man and the woman make googly-eyes with each other. They meet and sit together. The man spills a hurricane right on her ((body part)). To make amends the man offers the woman his ((piece of clothing)). They stand-up and trade clothing on the spot. Over the next several hours the man and woman occasionally trade clothing. Management threatens eviction if the man and woman do not cease. They trade clothing again. They are kicked out.

The man and woman walk the ((part of town)) and eventually try to reenter where they were evicted. But the bouncers recognize them because the man is wearing a very distinctive shirt and hat. The man and women go to get some ((food)). While there some guy professes his admiration for the man’s very distinctive shirt. The man sell his shirt for ((dollar amount)) and the guy’s shirt. The man loses his hat and with his different shirt the man and woman are able to reenter.

The woman leaves with her friend but not before the man and woman enjoy ((sex act 1)) on a street corner. The man returns to his friends and later meets another woman. The place closes at 5am and the man and the other woman stand out front on the curb and enjoy ((sex act 2)).

The end.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Subprime Mortgage Blame Game

When reading The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, you must not get bogged down in the complexity of the investments. As you will learn in the book pretty much no one understood the mortgage-based investments that would eventually lead to the so-called Great Recession. All you need to understand is that Wall Street thought it had another the-house-always-wins investment security, and that a handful of people foresaw the folly in this and bet against it.

It is often assumed that players in a market (both buyers and sellers) will behave rationally, which should not be confused with behaving intelligently or logically. Rationality can be a relative, subjective term; it is often a matter of opinion. A rational person will almost always choose what they see as best for them, with the result being they get something they want as long as any recognized negative consequences are not realized in the short-term. Get what you want now, worry about the later consequences later. To put it more bluntly, people are selfish and greedy.

On the ground floor there were borrowers agreeing to loans they could not afford, and lenders offering loans they knew would default. Intelligent? No. Logical? No. Selfish and greedy? Most definitely. People with horrendous credit histories and income at or near poverty level were getting home/equity loans where the interest rate ballooned after four years, and even some where the interest rolled back into the loan principle for four years. Borrowers agreed to these outrageous conditions because all they saw was the immediate money. Lenders offered the loans because investment houses demanded more and more loans that could be bundled and sold. Again, immediate money.

Next on this assembly line are the rating agencies. Rating agencies are supposed to review an investment security, assess the risks, and label it as triple-A, double-A, etc. A rating of triple-A is supposed to be low risk. In fact, Wall Street considers triple-A to be virtually guaranteed. The rating agencies had no idea what were in these mortgage-based securities (neither did just about all of Wall Street). The agencies were given a batch to rate and generally (and essentially arbitrarily) rated 80% as triple-A, based on no research whatsoever. The remaining 20% were then bundled with other mortgages and resubmitted where 80% would then be rated a triple-A! This was plain and simple laziness.

There are plenty of directions in which fingers can be pointed. The fact remains that lenders are allowed to make any loans they want, however bad they might be, and borrowers are allowed to accept any loan that is offered, however unlikely they can afford it, and investment firms are allowed to bundle the mortgages and sell them, but rating agencies should never have rated investment securities that the agency did not research and completely understand. The rating agencies are the primary culprits.

Were the rating agencies selfish and greedy? Insomuch that laziness is a product of selfishness and greed, yes. If mortgage-based securities were too complex and lacked sufficient data for proper research then the rating agencies should have refused to rate them. Everyone else played the system, even those who bet the system would collapse, but the rating agencies enabled the system, dooming it to collapse.