COB-59: celebrating bureaucratic snafus

bureaucratic error

Occasionally a form gets lost, a record gets mis-transcribed, and the wrong person is tortured or shot.  Everyone knows that bureaucratic errors occur.  Few realize that they are part of an effective operating plan.  In the most progressive bureaucracies, the error program is so important that it’s mentioned at least in an appendix to one of the chapters of the organization’s mission statement.

An error program helps to develop fault tolerance. As the Netflix tech blog recently explained, “The best way to avoid failure is to fail constantly.”  Netflix, in a move probably intended to compete with cable and network-television bureaucracies, instituted a formal program of failure:

One of the first systems our engineers built in AWS [Amazon Web Services] is called the Chaos Monkey. The Chaos Monkey’s job is to randomly kill instances and services within our architecture. If we aren’t constantly testing our ability to succeed despite failure, then it isn’t likely to work when it matters most – in the event of an unexpected outage.

Well-developed bureaucracies embrace failure as part of their normal operations.  A bureaucracy that fails constantly builds a reputation for consistent service and encourages fault tolerance among its customers.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, Cisco continues its business blunders with an ill-informed management restructuring.  Cisco reduced the number of its management councils from nine to three and its management boards from forty-two to fifteen.  Cisco has thus increased its vulnerability to Horowitz’s Law of Crappy People. One news report insightfully described this management restructuring as “shedding bureaucracy.”  Shedding bureaucracy indicates a failing company.

Without increasing its appreciation for middle management, Google runs the risk of following Cisco. Google lets its engineers spend 20% of their time working on projects not established through Google’s bureaucratic hierarchy.  Back in 2008, Google’s recently deposed CEO Eric Schmidt described this rule as a means to foster innovation:

The story of innovation has not changed. It has always been a small team of people who have a new idea, typically not understood by people around them and their executives. [This is] a systematic way of making sure a middle manager does not eliminate that innovation. … It means the managers can’t screw around with the employees beyond some limit.

Middle management is not a problem; it’s a solution in search of a problem.  Is there any wonder that Eric Schmidt is no longer Google’s CEO?

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats. Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here. Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

counseling prisoners on child-support obligations

As Turner v. Rogers highlights, indigent child-support debtors facing incarceration are not granted the benefit of counsel in South Carolina.  Counsel here does not mean a child-support administrator offering advice to the indigent child-support debtor.  Counsel here means a lawyer certified to argue in court of law and professionally responsible for serving the interest of her or his client, the indigent child-support debtor.  To appreciate better the importance of this difference, consider a child-support obligation education program currently being offered to men prisoners in California.

On March 21, 2011, the California Department of Corrections issued a press release entitled “Child Support Obligations Education Begins for California Inmates.”  The subtitle of the press release declares: “Effort to educate inmates on their rights, intended to reduce recidivism.”  This educational effort has been designed and implemented through a partnership with the California Department of Child Support Services, the California Child Support Directors Association, El Dorado County Department of Child Support Services, Marin County Department of Child Support Services, and Solano County Department of Child Support Services.  None of the partners are organizations whose primarily mission is to uphold inmates rights.  None of the partners works with released prisoners with the primary purpose of helping released prisoners to avoid recidivism.  Can anyone really believe that the primary purpose of this child support obligation education is to “educate inmates on their rights, intended to reduce recidivism”?

The press release doesn’t waste many words before declaring a plausible primary purpose for the educational effort.  The first sentence of the press release’s text declares that the educational program’s purpose is “to inform state prison inmates of their rights under child support collection laws.” After just one more sentence, the press release declares a more plausible purpose: “Consistent payment of child support is our primary objective.”  Here’s the relevant text so you can see for yourself the full context of this verbal manipulation:

Child Support Obligations Education Begins for California Inmates

Effort to educate inmates on their rights, intended to reduce recidivism

SACRAMENTO – A unique partnership of child support organizations has resulted in a comprehensive educational effort to inform state prison inmates of their rights under child support collection laws.

Beginning this month, a video entitled, “Working with the Child Support Program: What You Need to Do” will be shown on inmate television at all 30 state male institutions, educating inmates who have active or pending child support orders on how to handle this obligation while incarcerated.

“Consistent payment of child support is our primary objective.” said Jan Sturla, Director, California Department of Child Support Services. “The child support program will work with obligors to address their child support while incarcerated. It is our objective to educate incarcerated obligors about the child support process, so they can get back on track in meeting their obligations to their children.”

Given the enormous financial burdens that the child-support system imposes on prisoners who fail to acquire and file child-support forms under tight deadlines, the educational effort sensibly emphasizes quickly filing child-support forms.[*]  Nonetheless, just like the Texas Attorney General’s counsel to incarcerated persons concerning child support, the California child-support agencies’ child support obligation education for prisoners doesn’t adequately serve prisoners’ interests.  For example, it doesn’t encourage prisoners to acquire highly certain paternity information and information about the marital status of the mother before signing a legal acknowledgement of paternity.

Child-support agencies are state agencies that administer, collect, and distribute (to non-impoverished parents) particular taxes called child support.  Child-support agencies alone are unlikely to provide the best counsel or education for child-support obligors and potential obligors.

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Read more:

Note: Child support obligations education video for California male prisoners included above. Update: California has made this video private, perhaps so that the public cannot review how the state of California is manipulating prisons with respect to “child support.”

measure mobile photo integration via Monday/Sunday posting change

Photo-sharing activity on Flickr jumps on Monday and then gradually decreases to Sunday.  Averaged across 10/9 May and 17/16 May 2011, the Monday/Sunday change for DSLR cameras, point & shoot cameras, and camera phones are 36%, 26%, and 23%, respectively.[*]  Uploading to Flickr photos accumulated over the weekend plausibly explains the Monday/Sunday increase.

Flickr is working hard to develop good mobile applications.  Good mobile applications would allow simple, immediate transfer of photos from a camera phone to Flickr.  If Flickr camera phone users were using such mobile apps, one might expect to see a lower (and possibly even negative) Monday/Sunday posting change.  The Monday/Sunday posting change might serve as an indicator for Flickr mobile integration.

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Related post: photo sharing via mobile phones

Statistics:  Needle database of Flickr camera use statistics

[*] Flickr camera statistics are updated every day about 5pm EST.  Needle collects the data at 3am. Hence in the Flickr Needle database, the data collected on a given collection date refers to Flickr data posted about 5pm EST on the previous day.  I’ve defined the data day (which determines the day of the week) as the day prior to the Needle collection date.  That appears to be more plausible than defining the data day as two days before the Needle collection date.