Friday July 30, 2021 and I’m back in Portland after an extended and unplanned hiatus of, at last count, maybe six weeks? Seven weeks?
I spent four of those weeks in Missouri. If you’re inclined, you can read about my adventures in a very protracted Twitter thread. They have nothing to do with technology, technology-and-society, government or any of the other things I write about. Mostly. Mostly they are to do with mice.
Elsewhere: If you’re an 80s/early 90s kid of a certain persuasion, you may be familiar with The Usborne Book of the Future, a wondeful, cozy book about, well, what the future would be like. It was written in 1979, the year I was born.
“Dan,” I said to myself, “what if you used a formative book about the future from your childhood to critique attitudes toward technology and current challenges faced by society?”
“OK, so you mean Black Mirror but make it based on a children’s book from the 80s”
I present Imagining if we’d grown up with The Usborne Book of 2021 instead of The Usborne Book of the Future, also available in Threadreader form.
On with the show, I suppose!
Just one short piece on 3D engines, a slightly longer piece on jobs for computers and a longer piece on, well, you’ll just have to read it.
A few pieces here:
I learned about architectural rendering software. Here’s a package called Lumion, which latest release has object packs to put in architectural renders of rooms, 3D character packs (renderghosts!), supports rain streaks and fire, metallic car shaders, improved grass lighting and a cool thing called animated phasing, which is where you produce an animation where all the bits of your building drop into place. They have a trailer you can watch on Youtube!
Hang on, some of these features sound like… 3D game engine features? I’m pretty sure I remember Epic Games’ Unreal Engine getting in on this business what with their integration into live broadcasting and virtual sets. Oh! They do! They have a whole architecture vertical and a product called Twinmotion that does archviz! They… also have a trailer you can watch on YouTube!.
Anyway, this did remind me to look up what Unreal’s been doing with broadcast and virtual sets these days. Helpfully, Epic Games just held a Broadcast and Live Events event in June, and you can watch a sizzle reel because who has the time these days.
Anyway, one thing that caught my attention here was their talk on Unreal and Weather Network. Remember that hurricane weather broadcast in 2018 with the water everywhere? They did an 8 minute talk about virtual production and mixed reality.
For a split second in the Weather Channel case study, there’s an interesting monitor showing something that says STARTRACKER and a readout that says OPTICAL GOOD which caught my attention: it’s a product for in-studio camera tracking made by mo-sys, because you need to know where the camera is, where it’s going and what it’s pointing.
Caught my attention because: Epic is a games company that now makes most of its money from a) a free-to-play game that imho actually acts as a de-facto single-world me*se, b) a 3D graphics engine for games, but now that game engine (and the hardware powering it–which happens to also be critical to artificial guessing and machine guessing) have escaped their confines.
So over breakfast earlier this week I accidentally researched a public transport infrastructure megaproject and it completely reinforced all of my beliefs about software.
So in London, there’s this project called Crossrail. It is… a rail project… that will cross London from west to east. Crossrail is one of these things Europeans do, which is, like, a massive public transport infrastructure project. I know! Weird, right? Like most infrastructure megaprojects, it has a) taken a long time and b) is late. The idea dates back to 1941 and this latest (actually happening!) incarnation was approved in 2008 through primary legislation, and construction started in 2009. The line is due to open in 2023. Anyway, it’s late. But you know, these things happen.
The blog post I read started off like this: “The Crossrail project, which is currently set to open in the first half of 2022 is now aiming for a February opening date, assuming nothing unexpected happens to delay the project.” (my emphasis, of course)1
What’s left to do? Here’s what Crossrail says:
Before commencing Trial Operations, we will be uploading the passenger-quality software, called ELR100, onto the central operating section. The ELR100 software is the last major configuration before revenue service and it is pivotal to the programme advancing through to Trial Operations.2
Ding ding ding! It’s software! Let’s dive down the rabbit hole.
ELR100 is more-or-less the software that controls train signaling. If you want to run trains at a relatively high frequency, you’ve pretty much got to let computers do it these days because computers need employment too. New computers are being made all the time (even during the pandemic) and they all need jobs. OK, fair enough.
To give a computer a job, you need software, which is where ELR100 comes in. Well, Crossrail is complicated, because it involves existing train lines and trains and those trains and train lines already have computers and those computers already have jobs!
So the actual job the humans need to do is:
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had to get a disparate group of people to work together but boy is trying to get computers to work together also difficult! Especially when the computers are doing jobs that are all of different ages!
In other words, Crossrail is probably (already?) going to be late because of legacy software integration issues. Which is not a surprise!
Last bit: the new part of ELR100, which is also something called CBTC (communication-based train control) has a version which runs on wifi, specifically using 802.11 radios! Bet you didn’t know that! Kind of amazing and terrifying!
Anyway, here are some references:
Caught my attention because: Legacy software integration woes will continue until the discipline of software engineering and management of human projects continues.
Long story short: it’s your regular “oh, we just wanted to modernize our systems and implement world-class CRM” company-meets-prime-contractor tragic romance. BSkyB, the British equivalent of Dish or DirectTV, had a super old (i.e. “legacy”, 80s-era) set of technology that implement subscriber management and at the turn of the millennium, upon the most excellent advice of Arthur Andersen (maytheyrestinpeace), decided to transform how they managed their relationships with their customers by upgrading to state of the art technology and new businesses processes. Sorry, I guess I should’ve put a content warning in here.
Anyway, your standard procurement story follows:
So far so regular transformation-comedy, right? I mean, everyone’s familiar with these courtship maneuvers.
The second act is your usual, too: lots of sweet letters (ultimately amounting, one suspects, to sweet nothings), are exchanged between Broadcasting Company and Arthur-and-Ed, and it turns out that things are also slightly more complicated. Ed actually has an uncle who “lives in America”, who needs to act as a chaperone. Broadcasting Company also brings a sibling along(!), so now there are quite a few people at the dance and you know what they say about it getting a bit crowded. I bet Misunderstandings Ensue.
WELL! Turns out, a few years down the line, Arthur-and-Ed are totally unreliable scumbags! They just keep making promises and promises and promises to Broadcasting Company and never following through! There was a whole thing where they were going to build a new house and move in together, and that pretty much never happened. Arthur-and-Ed also keep asking Broadcasting Company for more money until finally, Broadcasting Company has just Had Enough and resolves to DTMF already. This happened on August 17, 2004, which I know some people might be familiar with the phenomenon of remembering certain dates with a certain kind of clarity following a tumultuous relationship.
Now, there are a few things in reading this judgment that I was unfamiliar with and I want to share as New Things I Learned About and also Wasn’t It Ever Thus:
“Essential to both of these approaches is a formal size measure of the system to be developed. Our estimating process makes use of Function Points and has been independently assessed by the Guild of Function Point Analysts, who approved of our approach.” (my emphasis)
THERE IS A GUILD OF FUNCTION POINT ANALYSTS. HOLY-MOLEY do I want to play this RPG.
But wait! What happens if I search for “guild of function point analysts”? “It looks like there aren’t many great matches for your search,” says Google. In fact, the only mentions of this guild Google can find are a) this judgment, and b) the preliminary program of the 3rd Annual European Software Engineering Process Group Conference (Euro-SEPG‘98)5, in which the Guild is listed as a… vendor presentation? Look at my Thinking Face Emoji.
Look, I should wrap this up because then a stunning thing happens, an absolutely stunning thing, something so stunning that I did a literal, out-loud, OH MY GOD as I was reading the judgment which while it may sound like a fairly regular occurrence is in fact not thank you very much.
So, yadda yadda, lots of stuff in the judgment. Let’s get to one of the fun parts which is when people give evidence, or in this case, the part about the credibility of witnesses and in particular, the credibility of a Mr. Joe Galloway, the managing director of Electronic Data Systems Limited, and at the time of judgment, HP Enterprise Services UK Limited (i.e. the managing director of Ed, of Arthur-and-Ed).
Pretty important to establish the credibility of the managing director of your main defendant, right? Hooo boy.
Turns out that Galloway, in paragraph 8 of his statement, said that he had an MBA from Concordia College, St. Johns (1995 to 1996)”. Galloway repeats this, multiple times, throughout his written and oral evidence.
Reader, I will shock you with this: THIS MBA WAS NOT A GENUINE MBA!
I mean, here’s an abbreviated summary of what happened:
Well, what to do? In a scene that honestly reads like part of a John Grisham novel:
And the sum of this evidence? * There was not and never had been a Concordia College & University on St John * There was not, nor ever had been a Coca Cola office or facility on St John * There was not, nor ever had been an airport on St John * It was not possible to fly onto the island
OH NO JOE! You did a big lie in court!
How does this tawdry tale of digital transformation and the hopes and aspirations of a successful commercial broadcaster implementing a world-class customer relationship management system end?
Well, for Joe it ended like this:
“EDS accept that Joe Galloway lied to the court in relation to his MBA and he has been dismissed from his employment by EDSC as a result.”
Caught my attention because: are you kidding me.
OK, that’s it for this episode. I should see you again next week.
I’m still quite tired. Have you heard? There’s a pandemic going on and it’s never going to stop, well, it’s going to become endemic. Fantastic!
It’s been a while. How are you doing?
Oh gosh I just had a terrible flashback to 1998 and writing undergrad essays ↩