Saturday, February 11, 2012

Headline of the Week...

The Wall Street Journal wins the coveted JamulBlog Headline of the Week™ award for this one:
Immaculate Contraception
The column is excellent.  My favorite line:
If that sounds like a distinction without a difference, odds are you're a rational person.
Heh!  Read the whole thing.

Prompted by this kerfuffle, Paul Rahe (a man of formidable intellect) lays into the American Catholic hierarchy in this post on Ricochet.  He places the blame for the current situation squarely on the American Catholic's loss of their moral compass.  It's a delight to see such a mind intellectually stomping all over the field, and even more of a delight to see someone placing all this in a historical context dating all the way back to the Magna CartaDon't miss his post!

Late-breaking news: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is blasting Obama's plan as a non-solution.  The flap continues...

Scafetta vs. HadCRUT...

There's a new icon in the right sidebar, labeled “Scafetta v. HadCRUT”.  This is courtesy of Anthony at Watts Up With That; if you click on the icon you'll go to his reference page.

The icon shows competing climate forecasts.  In bright green, the IPCC “consensus” forecast.  The black line shows Scafetta's forecast based on solar models.  The red line (and blue recent extension) shows the actual measured temperature.  Anthony promises to update this monthly.

The evidence so far is convincing to me: nobody knows how to forecast climate!  But the IPCC folks are off by the proverbial country mile; Scafetta is at least in the general area...

Don't Panic!

This is still JamulBlog.  I'm still SlightlyLoony.  Just making a few changes in the appearance, that's all...

Root Cause...

I stumbled across this post quite by accident.  It articulates very clearly something I learned about the hard way, in a past job.  I was responsible for the operations of our datacenter, and in particular for the availability (meaning the percentage of the time everything was running correctly).  One of the routine exercises we went through was called “root cause analysis” – an absolutely standard methodology for identifying the cause of an outage.  Once the cause was identified, the idea was that you'd take action to prevent it ever happening again, thus incrementally improving your availability metrics over time.

Nice theory.  It even worked, sometimes.  But many times it did not.  Here's one relatively simple real-life example to illustrate how this theory could break down:

We had a planned change to the configuration of one of the applications we developed.  The change consisted of adding two words to one line of a configuration file, which would be automatically re-read by our application.  We had tested the change on a lab instance of the application.  Our technician opened the file in his favorite editor, made the change, and saved the file.  About two minutes later, our application crashed (taking down a stock trading application with hundreds of users).

We restarted our application, and everything was fine.  Then we went into full root cause analysis mode, as this failure was kind of scary.  I'll spare you all the details, but eventually we figured it out: the technician had saved the file, but left it open in his editor – and his editor literally kept the file open.  Our application tried to re-read it and got a “file in use” error and promptly exited.

The root cause analysis exercise pointed the finger of blame at the technician, for leaving the configuration file open.  The mitigation my team recommended was (a) training the technicians to not do that, and (b) always making such changes with two-man teams, one to watch the other and verify that the editor was closed.

I was not at all happy with this outcome.  Leaving the file open only caused an error because our application was stupid enough to behave that way.  And our technician was only able to cause this error because we were too lazy to automate this sort of configuration change.  To me, there were several “causes”, all contributing:
- the technician's error
- our lame software crashing on a config file open error
- our failure to automate the task

The article linked above discusses the failings of root cause analysis in a clear and easy to understand way.  I particularly liked this observation:
Finding the root cause of a failure is like finding a root cause of a success.
In a single sentence, that's exactly the problem I found with root cause analysis.  In the end, we still used root cause analysis as a tool for analyzing our outages, but the mitigations we chose were not those that you'd expect to get with root cause analysis.  I wish I'd read this article back then, as I think it would have provoked me to go think out a different approach...

Baby Dunya is Reading...

Via my mom...

Laugh or Cry?

Political humor, via reader Jim M.  I verified three of these at random; they appear to be accurate.  I'm surprised at how many of these are new to me!
The problem with political jokes is that they get elected.
    Henry Cate, VII

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.

If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches, there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven.
    Will Rogers

Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.

Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.
    Nikita Khrushchev

When I was a boy, I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it.
    Clarence Darrow

Why pay money to have your family tree traced; go into politics and your opponents will do it for you.
    Author Unknown

If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates.
    Jay Leno

Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.
    John Quinton

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.
    Oscar Ameringer

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it.
    P.J. O'Rourke

I offer my opponents a bargain: if they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.
    Adlai Stevenson, campaign speech, 1952

A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.
    Texas Guinan

Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.
    Gore Vidal

I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.
    Charles de Gaulle

Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.
    Doug Larson

Don't vote; it only encourages them.
    Author Unknown

There ought to be one day - just one - when there is open season on Senators.
    Will Rogers

Abbott & Costello Explain Unemployment...

Via reader Jim M.:
Abbot and Costello on Unemployment

COSTELLO: I want to talk about the unemployment rate in America.
ABBOTT: Good subject. Terrible times. It's about 9%.
COSTELLO: That many people are out of work?
ABBOTT: No that's 16%.
COSTELLO: You just said 9%.
ABBOTT: 9% unemployed.
COSTELLO: Right: 9% out of work.
ABBOTT: No that's 16%.
COSTELLO: Okay so it's 16% unemployed.
ABBOTT: No that's 9%.
COSTELLO: WAIT A MINUTE. Is it 9% or 16%?
ABBOTT: 9% are unemployed. 16% are out of work.
COSTELLO: If you're out of work you're unemployed.
ABBOTT: No you can't count the "Out of Work" as the unemployed. You have to look for work to be unemployed.
COSTELLO: But ... they're out of work!
ABBOTT: No you miss my point.
COSTELLO: What point?
ABBOTT: Someone who doesn't look for work can't be counted with those who look for work. It wouldn't be fair.
COSTELLO: To whom?
ABBOTT: The unemployed.
COSTELLO: But they're ALL out of work.
ABBOTT: No the unemployed are actively looking for work... Those who are out of work stopped looking. They gave up. If you give up you're no longer in the ranks of the unemployed.
COSTELLO: So if you're off the unemployment roles that would count as less unemployment?
ABBOTT: Unemployment would go down. Absolutely!
COSTELLO: The unemployment goes down just because you don't look for work?
ABBOTT: Absolutely it goes down. That's how you get to 9%. Otherwise it would be 16%. You don't want to read about 16% unemployment do ya?
COSTELLO: That would be frightening.
ABBOTT: Absolutely.
COSTELLO: Wait I got a question for you. That means there are two ways to bring down the unemployment number?
ABBOTT: Two ways is correct.
COSTELLO: Unemployment can go down if someone gets a job?
ABBOTT: Correct.
COSTELLO: And unemployment can also go down if you stop looking for a job?
ABBOTT: Bingo.
COSTELLO: So there are two ways to bring unemployment down and the easier of the two is to just stop looking for work.
ABBOTT: Now you're thinking like an economist.
COSTELLO: I don't even know what the hell I just said!