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Voters News Service: What Went Wrong

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the just-about-everything dept.

United States 237

ddtstudio writes "Baseline Magazine has a pretty good recounting of how even the national TV networks can have a computer network go wrong -- in this case the night of the last U.S. election. From the article: "VNS had been trying to rewrite and retool the system for years. This was just the most recent attempt and it failed miserably." Oracle, IBM, BEA Systems -- all crashed."

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237 comments

First Post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079774)

Shoutouts to homiez

What went wrong? (-1, Troll)

l33t j03 (222209) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079776)

They used Linux.

Re:What went wrong? (5, Informative)

cioxx (456323) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079785)

They used Linux.

The systems in question were mainframe computers running IBM's Operating System 390.

Not that i'm a linux fanatic, just wanted you to get your facts straight.

BZZZZZZ! (4, Informative)

M.C. Hampster (541262) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079807)

From article:

Insufficient testing of the new Java-based WebLogic application server that replaced mainframe computers running IBM's Operating System 390.

Now, it does not mention what OS they were running WebLogic on in the article, but it was definately not OS/390.

Re:BZZZZZZ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079822)

Maybe this? MetaMatrix [metamatrix.com] running WebLogic

Re:What went wrong? (1)

jsse (254124) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079831)

They used Linux.

The systems in question were mainframe computers running IBM's Operating System 390.

Not that i'm a linux fanatic, just wanted you to get your facts straight.

You sure it was Linux? [ibm.com]

Or you assumed that a OS/390 must run Linux?

Besides, I'm not that pro-Linux in this, but if you go straight to the end you see the problem was not all that OS-centric.

I just want to state with the facts. Thanks for your time.

FUCK OFF LAMER! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079843)

Just what are you trying to mumble? BEA Weblogic Server is a Java application. Stupidass.

Re:What went wrong? (1)

beanyk (230597) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079948)

I think if you look at your parent poster's use of blockquote (or whatever), you'll see that (s)he was saying the same thing -- someone else was making the Linux assertion, (s)he was questioning it.

Re:What went wrong? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079829)

l33t j03 - FUCK OFF LAMER! What kind of lamerchild uses warez writing like that? "leet joe" does.

Frosty Piss! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079778)

w00h00!

Aha, so... (3, Funny)

trveler (214816) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079779)

GWB Jr. is their fault!

For the last time (2, Informative)

M.C. Hampster (541262) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079799)


George W. Bush is not a Junior. Al Gore is.

Re:For the last time (0)

fussman (607784) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080538)

Yeah, especially the way he acted when the whole florida thing was going on. The parody of the political sign "Gore-Lieberman" which read "Sore-Loserman" said it all.

Re:Aha, so... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079988)

GOD HELP US if Gore was in office during 9/11.

We would be paying off Al Queda.

Peace thru appeasement....

Re:Aha, so... (1)

Crazieeman (610662) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080528)

Ahh, Slashdot. Flamebait through truth. Someone's got a political bone to pick to mod that one down.

Nearly ad free (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079790)

... and one page version [baselinemag.com] of article.

That wan't the *last* US election (3, Insightful)

mkweise (629582) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079792)

...it was three elections ago. I hate it when people only count (and vote in) presidential elections, as though the other ones didn't matter!

Re:That wan't the *last* US election (5, Informative)

A Big Gnu Thrush (12795) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079828)

Yes it was.

From the article:

Back up to Election Day, Nov. 5. The balance of power in Congress was up for grabs. Yet by 10 a.m., the TV networks confirmed what they had feared for months: They couldn't derive any meaningful exit-polling data from a system they had just spent between $10 million and $15 million to overhaul.

That's 2002.

Read Your Novel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079854)

It would be great if it were actually possible to read your novel. Unfortunately, the sites perpetual pop-overs, reminders to download the flash player, blah blah.. It's worse than a porn storm....

Re:Read Your Novel (1)

A Big Gnu Thrush (12795) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080377)

Thanks for the feedback. I have not been to it in anything other than Mozilla with popups disabled. You're right...it's worse than a porn storm.

Re:That wan't the *last* US election (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079870)

...it was three elections ago. I hate it when people only count (and vote in) presidential elections, as though the other ones didn't matter!

By my reckoning, only two elections (2000, 2002). Some of only vote in Federal elections because that is all we are entitled to (as expats), and because the issue of issuing bonds for Smith Primary School doesn't interest much people outside of Smithville.

Re:That wan't the *last* US election (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079975)

What other ones?

Oh BooHoo (5, Insightful)

billmaly (212308) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079800)

Quote from article: "Also, the networks would be unable to give the type of detailed explanations as to why voters voted the way they did this time around. For example, according to TV network analysts working the election, the networks wouldn't be able to tell viewers why particular demographic groups voted for specific candidates nor the issues that they considered most or least important when voting. "

So, what this means is that people were able to go late to the polls, and cast a vote free from the influence of network prognostication. They were able to cast a vote that they thought was right, free from the spectre of "throwing a vote" as the election had already been "called" by *INSERT NETWORK NAME HERE*. Boo Hoo to the networks. Wow...why the hell is this a bad thing???

Up until the 1960's, most US citizens were able to vote just fine, all by themselves, without the need for knowing why *INSERT DEMOGRAPHIC HERE* people voted for *INSERT CANDIDATE NAME HERE*. Why does it need to be different today? There's already enough blather on TV, if we could eliminate it from just one night every 4 years....oh man, that'd be sweet! :)

Of course, I won't know because I'll be watching something that is entertaining, rather than a farce, on my TiVo!!! :)

Re:Oh BooHoo (0)

Skater (41976) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079836)

A friend of mine pointed out that what happened in 2000 is exactly what should happen when the country doesn't really like either candidate.

Interesting point. It's not totally relevant to your comment, but your post made me think of it.

(I know I didn't care for any of the candidates running in 2000, so it was difficult to decide.)

--RJ

Re:Oh BooHoo (4, Interesting)

mccalli (323026) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079846)

So, what this means is that people were able to go late to the polls, and cast a vote free from the influence of network

I'm hoping someone with more up-to-date knowledge will fill in for my sketchiness here, but...

In the UK, there are laws about broadcasting political material during (and I believe immediately preceding?) an election. Additionally, I seem to remember that you are not allowed to report on the progress of that election whilst the voting booths are still open. I'm open to correction on that last point though - I'm sure some news programmes broadcast latest exit polls during the last few General Elections. However, it's a rule I definitely recall from somewhere.

Regardless of my shaky memory, they both seem like a very good rules to me. An election's point is not to win ratings for some TV programme, and it really won't kill you to know the result a couple of hours later.

Cheers,
Ian

Re:Oh BooHoo (3, Funny)

Sick Boy (5293) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079858)

I guess this would be why the British people still have a monarchy.

Re:Oh BooHoo (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079888)

I guess this would be why the British people still have a monarchy.

A constitutional monarchy. As opposed to the US patriarchy...? Remind me, who was Bush's dad again, and who ran the state which made the court decision over the recount...? A shining example of democracy in action it was, oh yes. Heartwarming to see.

Re:Oh BooHoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079912)

Wow, that comment would be smart if you had any idea what you're talking about.

(Hint: It was GWB's brother. His dad was a former president. And Governors do not have control over the courts.)

Re:Oh BooHoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079938)

It was GWB's brother. His dad was a former president.

Yeah, that was the point of the post - the whole thing was a family stitch-up. As for Governers not having control, of course they do. Whatshername was a political appointee by Jeb.

Re:Oh BooHoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080174)

A decision which was challenged in the FL Supreme Court, and upheld as the correct one.

Re:Oh BooHoo (1)

blibbleblobble (526872) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079895)

You can't count the votes before they're all cast, otherwise you'd allow positive feedback and group-think, which is undesirable.

However, in the UK, you can ask a sample of people how they voted, and use that as a representative sample.

Except, of course, if you just bought an expensive proprietry system to count the exit polls, and suddenly realise that your voice-recognition system can't handle as many calls as you were expecting.

So they'd have been better-off with a perl script and some distributed servers to collect and report their localalities. So what's new? Consultants fail again. Big software projects fail again.

Re:Oh BooHoo (3, Interesting)

sql*kitten (1359) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079955)

In the UK, there are laws about broadcasting political material during (and I believe immediately preceding?) an election

I don't know about any laws, but there is certainly an unwritten rule that the BBC will broadcast whatever political material the Labour party tell it to.

Re:Oh BooHoo (0)

samweber (71605) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080111)

I only partially agree with you. On the one hand, waiting a few hours (or even a few days) to make sure that all the ballots are counted correctly, and so that news about the outcome in one state doesn't affect another, all seem like good things.

However, one function that VNS had was a check against election fraud. In the 2000 elections the only state where the VNS data disagreed with the actual result was in Florida. Sure enough, there was incredible fraud occuring in Florida (most of which only came out after the election was decided).

In the 2002 election there were reports of voting machines which were programmed to count only republican ballots. Were things like this significant? Without VNS, we are missing an independent check.

Re:Oh BooHoo (4, Informative)

tetranz (446973) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080462)

In New Zealand we have pretty much a total political news blackout on election day until the polls close. They can talk about voter turnout estimates etc but nothing much else. Exit polling is illegal. All billboards must be done by midnight before election day. Party volunteers giving rides to elderly people etc to polling places can have coloured ribbons on their cars but no party or candidate names.

IMHO, these rules all make good sense. For one thing, we don't have billboard trash lying around the roadsides for weeks after an election.

I remember a radio interview with someone in South Korea the day before their recent election. The interviewer asked 'how was ???? doing in the polls this week?', the answer 'we don't allow polls in the week leading up to an election'.

Re:Oh BooHoo (3, Funny)

GothChip (123005) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079855)

Also, the networks would be unable to give the type of detailed explanations as to why voters voted the way they did this time around. For example, according to TV network analysts working the election, the networks wouldn't be able to tell viewers why particular demographic groups voted for specific candidates nor the issues that they considered most or least important when voting."

The computer predictions were probably right. It was the final vote count that was wrong.

Re:Oh BooHoo (2, Interesting)

jonathan_ingram (30440) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079862)

In the UK the media are not allowed to report any exit poll information until *after* the polls have closed, precisely in order to remove any possibility of the media influencing the votes of the populace. I'm very surprised that the same isn't true in the US.

Of course, we don't have the amount of different time zones in this country, so we don't have quite the pressure for early information to satisfy the ravenous need for statistics.

Time Zones are a problem.... (2)

sckienle (588934) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080042)

...but I would much prefer the government try to solve the problem.

The solution I've been trying to get people to think about is a 24 hour voting "day." All the booths would open at the same time and stay open for 24 hours. In addition, exit interviews could be taken, but not reported until the polls close.

That way the entire US would have the chance to vote at the same time and without external influence.

I feel sorry for those commmunities on the west coast, or in the Pacific, who do not have real elections because one party's presidential candidate is declared the loser. People may disagree with this, but I am sure that there are people who would have otherwise voted who end up staying at home because "What's the use."

Re:Time Zones are a problem.... (2)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080269)

That is not a bad solution, but some of the more advanced States, like Tennessee, have been doing that notion one better for quite some time.

We have "early voting", the electronic voting machines are setup in malls and other public areas around the time that absantee ballots go out. The voting stops on "election night" and the ballots are counted then.

My first ballot for Sen. Fred Thompson was cast this way about 8 years ago.

Gagging the media is just wrong. For once, the government has come up with a solution that seems to work well.

As for the Brittons and all of their smug "we do x better" nonsense, I have seen your House of Commons on C-SPAN. You can no longer fool us :-)

One more thing, before anybody pipes up about "costs", elections happen to be one of the things our government is *supposed* to be doing, so cost should not be an issue. Worry about cutting government costs where they don't need to be in the first place.

Re:Time Zones are a problem.... (2)

Grab (126025) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080338)

I have seen your House of Commons on C-SPAN

Hey, all he said was we had fair elections. No-one said our politicians had to behave sensibly when they got into office! ;-)

Grab.

Re:Oh BooHoo (5, Interesting)

kmellis (442405) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080319)

In the UK the media are not allowed to report any exit poll information until *after* the polls have closed, precisely in order to remove any possibility of the media influencing the votes of the populace. I'm very surprised that the same isn't true in the US.
Well, we have that pesky Constutional guarantee of "freedom of the press". You can ask people how they voted (why wouldn't you be able to, and why wouldn't they be able to tell you?), and you can tell other people what you find out.

This is a good example--of which there are many, many more--of a situation where the strict and broad Constitutional prohibition makes less sense than a nuanced and particular law tailored to the situation. It would be better if exit poll results could be suppressed.

The thing that non-USAians don't quite understand about the USA and USAians is that built into the very fabric of our culture is a paranoia about abuses of power by the government. (Periodic lapses into naive trust during wartime, like now, notwithstanding.) All of the Bill of Rights are built upon the same sort of slippery-slope thinking that the gun rights folks use in talking about the Second Amendment: if you cut holes into the brick wall of blanket protections, the government is sure to come barreling through and effectively destroying the whole barrier. How libertarian-minded conservatives can tolerate Ashcroft is beyond my limited ability to comprehend human irrationality.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure that the reporting of exit poll data has been legally found to be protected speech in prior law. I could be wrong. A better answer is just to encourage a civic-minded sensibility among the news reporting agencies so that they voluntarily refuse to report exit poll data until after the polls close. Or even after all the polls close.

Cry me a friggin river (5, Insightful)

whovian (107062) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079891)

the TV networks confirmed what they had feared for months: They couldn't derive any meaningful exit-polling data from a system they had just spent between $10 million and $15 million to overhaul.

Projecting winners and losers in various races would take several hours longer than in the past.

(sarcasm)
Y'know, it is truly a sad day when you can no longer count on the media to tell you what might happen and instead have to settle for what did .
(/sarcasm)

Too many cooks? (5, Insightful)

jlanthripp (244362) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079801)

Quoth the article:

All members, including 19 newspapers, shared in the management of the company and oversaw its $33 million operating budget for the current four-year election cycle.

Could the failure of VNS be the fault of having far too many PHB's droning on about mission statements and TPS reports?

Re:Too many cooks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079864)

Could the failure of VNS be the fault of having far too many PHB's droning on about mission statements and TPS reports?

yes, that's why the article also says:

"You simply can't have six different competing news agencies jointly managing a technology project of this scope," he says. "That's why I left VNS. Everyone is trying to decide what should be done and how. If you don't have a final decision maker who takes the responsibility for a project like this, you end up with what we saw in November."

and

4. Name one chief: Regardless how many partners, consultants and vendors are involved, give one person ultimate decision-making power

yours was a cheap karma whore.

Re:Too many cooks? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079919)

slashdot is also a miserable failure and embarassment to the computing commnunity. It too should shut down. Slashdot, please shutdown now, please stop embarrasing us!

I don't work... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080050)

for organizations that have "mission statements".

Do you notice they all include the cliche'd line:
"....enhance shareholder value..."

Hell, its stupid, nobody reads it, but they might at least be honest:

"...make money for the owners..."

People are so fricking stupid.

Re:Too many cooks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080207)

Did anyone else read

"Too many crooks"?

That would explain it.

WAY TOO MANY CHIEFS!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080225)

I'm outta here... Gotta get to bed now.

Perceived bias also doomed VNS? (1, Interesting)

MtViewGuy (197597) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079802)

I think another thing that doomed VNS is the fact that it might be possible the way the system was programmed could have been biased towards one political party or another. Unfortunately, this could have bad effects on the election, as the 2000 Presidential election fiasco showed.

Re:Perceived bias also doomed VNS? (3, Interesting)

jayayeem (247877) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079905)

I certainly perceived bias in VNS when I read that article. In both the 2000 presidential and 2002 North Carolina senate races, the system erroneously showed Democrats winning against republicans. Since this corresponds to the widely perceived bias in the media, it could easily look like a fix to a lot of people.

sensationalism (4, Informative)

abhikhurana (325468) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079804)

Well, no where in the article is it mentioned that there was a problem with IBM and Oracle. It just says that there were delays in transferring data. So I don't know why Oracle and IBM were named in the original post.

News for Nerds??? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079806)

How exactly????

half the users here probably aren't even old enough to vote, and the other half probably couldn't because they're convicted child molesters.

Come to Brazil and see it working! (2, Interesting)

lotrfan (551106) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079813)

Just to mention, aside from the obvious advantage of our elections in Brazil over the US elections: the TV networks could manage to deliver almost instant voting data for the public, including statistics, pre-voting predictions and so on.

If the USA voters want a clean, fast and effective election, send the people responsible for it to Brazil, put your pride away and admit it works nicely.

The big problem: media bias in the USA (2)

MtViewGuy (197597) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079883)

I think if the mass media were reasonably unbiased something akin to the Voter News Service might actually work fairly well.

The big problem is that most of the companies that contributed to VNS had a perceived political agenda that could "create" stories that could skew the election. This unfortunately caused the fiasco of the 2000 Presidential election in the USA; we are fortunate that VNS was kiboshed on 5 November 2002, which meant the networks couldn't "create" stories that could have affected the elections across the USA.

If you're asking about my skepticism about the mass media read Bernard Goldberg's book Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (Regnery Publishing, 2001, ISBN 0895261901). That book--which became a #1 best seller in the USA--is a contributing reason why many mass media outlets in the USA is suffering massive losses in TV viewers, radio listeners, and newspaper/periodical readers.

Rrrriiiggghhhtt... (2, Interesting)

Talisman (39902) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080040)

Assuming you aren't grossly misinformed about Brazil's voting system (which you probably are), they have much bigger problems to deal with.

For example, what good is a technologically sound voting system when all the candidates are shit?

I guess if you don't mind your savings account being frozen by the president [civnet.org] (de Mello), or a 35% currency devaluation [cnn.com] (Cardoso), or a president without a high school diploma [worldpaper.com] (da Silva), it's not so bad...

And I won't even start on the rampant corruption in Brazil. Slashdot's database wouldn't be able to hold so much information.

We'll put our pride away when Brazil puts away its complete joke of a government and stops forcing its masses to live in abject poverty [oecd.org] .

You can lecture us on technology when Brazil stops doing asinine things like blowing up its own oil platforms [acusafe.com] .

Verdade?

Talisman

Wanna get pissed [remail.org] ?

Re:Rrrriiiggghhhtt... (2)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080267)


For example, what good is a technologically sound voting system when all the candidates are shit?

I ask myself that question every day. It's universally applicable, not just in Brazil.

Re:Rrrriiiggghhhtt... (1)

nandix (150739) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080544)

or a president without a high school diploma [worldpaper.com] (da Silva)

let me get this straight: you're putting the lack of a high school diploma on the same level as corruption? (de Mello was forced to resign, right?). and exactly how was high school useful for a guy who said Africa is a country?? (and i just picked up a random 'bushism' here)
i'm neither from brazil nor from the us, but it pisses me of that someone from the land of the free and equality of oportunity puts off a president for not having a high school diploma, please, give it a second thought and stop being so racist (yes, academic elitism is a form of racism, mind you).

Re:Come to Brazil and see it working! (2)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080457)

Interesting to note this article:The GOP of Lincoln (Chafee). The Greatest Title Never Used. A little language-rasslin'. And more [nationalreview.com] where Brazil is now restricting print speech to eliminate "foreign" words. That bit is way down near the middle.

Lots of other goodies in that column too that go along with this story and the objections some have to US media even reporting election coverage.

Objections to Freedom of the Press on /.? No way!

I especially like the bits about how the US media defines "left leaning" politicians.

BEA systems failed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079819)

Be more specific if you claim such! What kind of BEA system's server software? BEA TUXEDO, WEBLOGIC SERVER, what???

Re:BEA systems failed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079880)

they mentioned WebLogic. read first, then post. don't forget to think in there too.
other VNS subscribers were repeatedly instructed to log off their machines, so the new servers running BEA Systems' WebLogic application server could be rebooted

Re:BEA systems failed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080170)

No surprise here. Everyone knows that the sky is blue, that water is wet and that you have to reboot java appservers every couple of hours.

I'll tell you what went wrong (5, Insightful)

dubbayu_d_40 (622643) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079827)

So they're having a meeting dicussing requirements for a stable system, and an idiot say's "we must have voice recognition."

Java, Oracle, DB2, BEA - nope, those were symptoms of a deeper failure...

Re:I'll tell you what went wrong (2)

mark_lybarger (199098) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080407)

this is true far, far too often. an end user says we need a web site that... we would like a java app to... this is where the systems analyst fails. it's their responsibility to keep asking further what the real requirements are, "we need to be able to collect, process and track orders in real time from our global customers." is a much better requirement statement than "we need a web site that takes orders from our customers".

Let's get an open source solution for this (4, Funny)

Znonymous Coward (615009) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079834)

Who wants to start an open source project to replace this failed service. We'll use Linux, MySQL, Perl, PHP and Apache. Any takers?

Re:Let's get an open source solution for this (1)

blibbleblobble (526872) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079904)

Who wants to start an open source project to replace this failed service.

GNU.Free [free-project.org] ?

Re:Let's get an open source solution for this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079972)

GNU.Free [free-project.org]?

That site says boldly "WE RUN GNU" yet according to this Netcraft report [netcraft.com] the site runs FreeBSD!!! If they would really run GNU, they would use The Hurd. Well, I guess The Hurd can't do the job... LOL!

Re:Let's get an open source solution for this (2)

Mr Guy (547690) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080191)

Alright, but once you get going post it to /. to stress test it.

Re:Let's get an open source solution for this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080476)

Is this gonna be another in a long list of half-completed, half-forgotten open source projects wasting away on freshmeat?

First hand account (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079837)

OK Folks,
I'm one of the lead programmers of one of the members

We KNEW this was going to happen a LONG time before November. At the end of the article, they talk about "set a deadline 2 months ahead of the real deadline"

Guess what? They did!!! They were supposed to be ready for the NJ Primary, which was before the summer - they missed it, BIG TIME - That's when the alarm bells went into overdrive for me

I understand (This up in the levels above me) that the steering committee didn't realize that the technical committee was saying "We've got a BIG problem"

Another warning sign was when their test data generator that they sent us in the spring generated XML that didn't match their own XSDs - and that was with all the fields declared as cdata - the field names didn't match

The first test, which was supposed to be months ahead, came weeks ahead, and even the most basic message (just a heartbeat) didn't work. That's they day I knew it was doomed for sure. Our prime efforts switched to our backup data source at that time. THAT worked fine. I had a boring election night, watching VNS crash, and laughing

Re:First hand account (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079887)

tell us more! tell us more! like specific details! about the systems the causes, etc!

and if you have an account, and your uid is triple digit or less, then i'm blaming the fiasco on /. distraction!

Re:First hand account (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080124)

I'd LOVE to give you more details, but I wasn't on the VNS side - just at my side - all I know is they were late, and kept crashing, and most of the programmers at the major clients knew it was coming - that's why backup systems were in place, and why you got results for all the networks election night.

Most of the details I know were in the article

Re:First hand account (4, Insightful)

Grab (126025) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080477)

Interesting stuff.

My problem with this article is that it's describing the scenario as a "perfect storm", ie. it only happened bcos a whole bunch of unlikely things occurred together at precisely the wrong time, and there wasn't anything ppl could do about it.

In fact, as you've shown, the project went into freefall, and no-one at any oversight level had the balls to say so. As usual, it seems they committed the standard IT sin of saying "let's put all this incompatible data together, with a new architecture, a new interface and a new team", which has a well-tested track record of producing failures.

I'm constantly amazed by failures of IT projects being categorised as "one-off" events. History has shown that the *success* of a major IT project is a one-off event, and can only be achieved by major effort and good organisation. And in general, the guys at the coal face know full well that the project is screwed, but the layers of management filter out the bad news, so it ends up that managers don't know quite how bad it is until the iceberg actually hits. Some software guru (Yourdon?) said only half-jokingly that the chance of success is in inverse proportion to the cost of the project, and above some cost (or some number of people) the project is basically doomed to fail. ;-)

Grab.

Paranoia (-1, Flamebait)

henben (578800) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079839)

Interesting how the one system that might have provided independent evidence of election fraud happened to go down during the very election when the Bush junta seized power.

</paranoia>

What happened? (4, Informative)

z_gringo (452163) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079840)

One stipulation: That the new system use more flexible and current programming languages--Java and the Extensible Markup Language-- rather than OS 390 to gather, compute and deliver data to the media outlets.

That sounds great. People who have no idea how to accomplish the goal telling the people tasked with doing it, how it should be done. I can't believe it failed. They should have laid out what they wanted to acheive and left the rest up to the designers on how to meet those goals...

Also, some interesting older information on the VNS can be found a the Votescam [votescam.com] website. Although they seem to have a few extreme views, along with some wild conspiracy theories..

Re:What happened? (3, Insightful)

finkployd (12902) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079871)

So....they want them to use Java instead of OS/390? That is like saying "I want you to use Perl for your program instead of Solaris". How does one replace an Operating system with a language?

Nevermind the fact that Java runs just fine under OS/390

Finkployd

Re:What happened? (2, Insightful)

jallen02 (124384) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079903)

I don't completely agree with that. Just because a client is not completely a technical genius they can still impose technical requirements. Some of the time it actually makes sense. Some clients might have plans for future interoperability, or anything. If a client makes a request, especially something so generic as using Java and XML, the development team is being payed to honor that request within reasonable limits.

Some of the time a client picking a language and implementation details can be a real PAIN! Yet, there are almost always circumstances, possibly just silly bias, that cause them to ask for this. Maybe they are planning to have development staff capable of handling that application. Maybe they already have a development staff that could only maintain an application written in Java. Maybe they don't want MS technology in their apps. I don't think it is always fair to assume someone imposing a request on a developer is immediately wrong. The client is *always* right. Even if they are right and it is doomed to fail. I don't think using Java and XML doom a project to fail.

Anyway, some of the time it is easier to go with the flow as a software development company;)

Re:What happened? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080379)

That always happens when customers have signed deals with software/hardware vendors. They impose some platform or developing environment on you, whether or not it can achieve the job, and when something goes wrong it's your fault. That's corrupt management at its best.

BTW: comparing a programming language (Java) and a markup language (XML) to an operating system (OS390) just give the proof of their deep ignorance.

Stress testing (1)

Zayin (91850) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079851)

From the article:

Test heavy: Put it through at least 10 times as much activity as you really expect

Yeah, that sounds clever. Make sure to buy at least 10 times more hardware than you really need.

Re:Stress testing (4, Insightful)

Minna Kirai (624281) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079893)

Or make sure you know what kind of better hardware you could buy, if needed.

When developing a system you should try to overload it so you can recognize what a failure state looks like. This may give your engineers valuable insight.

What is the resource that gets exhausted first? What is the system's behavior when it is completely overloaded? Does it just stop functioning, or does it lose data? Or maybe generate bad data?

These things could be nice to know, and may suggest quick improvements so that, if 6 years later the customer puts in 20 times as much usage as was originally budgeted, the failure isn't completely embarrassing.

Re:Stress testing (1)

deeLo57 (641046) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080497)

You wouldn't need to buy 10 times as much hardware, there are very good Companies [empirix.com] out there that does combined Web and Voice testing of your new Voice Response Systems combined with your internal Web application servers.

Okay, I'll burn karma... (5, Funny)

Tsar (536185) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079857)

"Oracle, IBM, BEA Systems -- all crashed!"

Doesn't that sound like a line from a bad disaster movie?
DIE HARD IV: DIE HARDWARE.

Two words.... (5, Insightful)

primebase (9535) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079869)

"Poor Management".

As someone who finally bailed out of an extremely poorly run company (WebMD) burdened with dumb management, it's easy to see the echoes.

The list on the last page of the article is nearly perfect, with one small addition:

6) Listen to your employees!! You hired them because you thought they were good at what they do. Why would you ignore their input into the process now?

Nothing in this article is the "fault" of the technology (Oracle, Java, IBM, Linux, or anything) itself any more than it's the fault of a head of cabbage.

It's just poor management.

OS 390 (4, Funny)

Zayin (91850) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079875)

One stipulation: That the new system use more flexible and current programming languages--Java and the Extensible Markup Language-- rather than OS 390 to gather, compute and deliver data to the media outlets.

Ah, yes. The programming language OS 390. Are there any O'Reilly books on that subject?

The results were exactly as should be expected. (3, Insightful)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079890)

"The first step was to change the VNS board of directors. Before the 2000 meltdown, the board was composed of representatives from the election units of each network. After the 2000 fiasco, a vice president from each network was on the board."
"That new board took bids from computing companies to completely rewrite the VNS system. One stipulation: That the new system use more flexible and current programming languages-- Java and the Extensible Markup Language-- rather than OS 390 to gather, compute and deliver data to the media outlets."
The results were exactly as should have been expected. People who don't understand what they are doing cannot manage highly technical projects.

Would it be more relevent... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079900)

If the result of the election was an acurate reflection on the number of votes cast for a particular candidate? A flawed system reporting on a flawed system, maybe they've hit on something there.

The real (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079902)

problem was that they called Florida for Gore even though Bush was ahead in the actual vote count.

As a result, they cost Bush about 30,000 votes in the panhandle of Florida where the polls were not closed.

The VNS caused the Florida fiasco.

Did they have... (1)

RyoSaeba (627522) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079925)

...a /. effect, too ?
Since from the article it seems too many people were trying to access the same pages at the same time....

I liked this year's coverage! (3, Insightful)

salesgeek (263995) | more than 11 years ago | (#5079952)

I actually liked having a little suspense and watching the ACTUAL local returns rather than some "projected" guestimate that was in at 2:00PM. People actually voted up to the end here. If VNS died completely I'd be fine with it.

moron /., what weNT whoreabully wrong (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5079991)

in the 'next' election, should there be a need for won, uid knead to be .connectdead buy va.msn.?net? [trustworthycomputing.com] (VAST), in ordered to be abull to 'vote'. then, after much whirring, george et AL, would be re-'elected' buy a LANdsLIEde.

meanwhile, the 'news', would cullame yet another great victorIE, knot only for US, but for yOUR legacIE.

there's still good gnus, but no mention of IT here.

buy the time J. get's his head out of bill's .asp, his pockets (& all other form of asset/identity) will be picked, for years to come.

polls are pateNTdead? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080168)

that's right, you guessed IT, just another eyecon, FUDging up the ?works?.

sanjayahuja [nytimes.com] - 02:39pm Mar 30, 2002 EST (#755 [nytimes.com] of 762)

It's exactly the sort of thing Microsoft tries to set up

AFAIK, MSFT is not too aggressive about pursuing patent violations. In as much polls, seem to be under discussion, MSFT owns the patent on web polls. See US patent below:

MSFT's web poll patent [164.195.100.11]

They would be well within their rights in demanding that george pay them a royalty for the polls he ruins, or in the alternative shut him down. Teeheehee!

yuk. i mean yikes

Actually I think the VNS needs to be saved or... (3, Interesting)

cottonmouth (543865) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080114)

perhaps we should go back to using hand written ballots. The computerized voting that this administration is pushing will only lead to more vote fraud because the count will not be audited. In the 2002 elections in 5 different states Republican candidates won by the same score of 18181 (a prime number). Now, I am willing to give Diebold the benefit of the doubt and say this is a programming error but the fact that this isn't being discussed in the media is a problem. This voting machine code should be GPL'ed so we can all look at it and make sure it works. If they do go to computerized voting there needs to be an audit trail.

you're crazy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080331)

this would be like demanding the right to query midas himself, over the 'purity' of the goaled, after it's been smelted, buy farcIEs?

have you taken lairy/robbIE's visual studio test drive yet? no meNTion of the kode blew virot, or the gpl, except that you can't use it, the gpl, that is.

Oracle, IBM, BEA....all crashed?? Huh? (3, Insightful)

technomom (444378) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080255)

Where in the article did it say that BEA, Oracle and IBM systems crashed?

I read...

The databases which housed the election results and local demographics for more than 4,600 precincts were running on both IBM's DB2 and a version of Oracle 7. They were to be consolidated into Oracle 8i database software.

"This caused all kinds of problems," one source close to VNS says. "You're not only talking about a clash in culture and expertise but you're also talking about trying to create places for data to fit that just aren't there."

For example, participants say the new system wasn't able to compare previous election results. If a network analyst wanted to know how independent voters in a particularly county were voting compared to the 1996 or 2000 election, the system couldn't deliver the data quickly, if at all.

"The fields just didn't match up," one network analyst says.

"

The last sentence says it all. Whoever did the data modeling for the new system screwed up. They didn't seem to understand the requirement that the news services would need to do historical comparisons.

Oracle and IBM didn't crash. Project Management dropped the ball. The crux of the problem appears to be that there were several project managers. No one was in charge.

JoAnn

Stephen King is Dead at age 55 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080341)

Um, I don't mean to rain on you peoples parade, but I do feel there is more pressing news right now -- LIKE THE DEATH OF AMERICAN ICON STEPHEN KING!!!

He was found dead in his Maine home this morning. Details forthcoming.

God bless his family and may he rest in peace.

Amazing. It crashed. (3, Insightful)

nlinecomputers (602059) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080352)

And yet votes still got counted. Reporters were still able to cover the votes being tallyed.

Now why do they use this? And why is it government funded?

Voting in this country is a fraud. Voting machines of any kind can be rigged. They don't count the ballots at the polling place. How do I know that my ballot box is the same one that arrives at city hall.

When Jimmy Carter goes to some third world nation to help prevent a rigged election he makes them count the votes at the polling place. How come we don't do that here?

It is a fraud. I don't vote because of it. Our rights were stolen from years ago.

VNS was *right* in Florida (1, Troll)

upstateguy (90019) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080436)

VNS wasn't off in predicting Florida for Gore based on exit polling.

It certainly appears that most voters in FL *meant* to vote for Gore but goofy ballets (not unique to FL) and Democrats blowing the recount (there weren't enough votes for Gore in the recount of the few counties they asked for but there *were* if the whole state had been recounted.

That said, it's probably a good thing that VNS is gone. In this last election, it was less stressful and not as annoying watching the network coverage that night.

Re:VNS was *WRONG* in Florida (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5080491)

how about the 30,000 votes for Bush in the panhandle that were never cast because VNS liberals called state for ALGORE while polls were still open?? that was trickery at its worst

Re:VNS was *WRONG* in Florida (1)

cottonmouth (543865) | more than 11 years ago | (#5080582)

You listen to Rush Limbaugh too much. If I was a voter I wouldn't give a damn about what the media whores say on TV I would just go and vote.
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