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Perl Programming The Military

An Army Medal For Coding In Perl 192

Posted by Soulskill
from the bringing-efficiency-to-the-military-beast dept.
shocking writes: Arizona National Guard member Vivin Paliath was surprised to be commended for writing Perl scripts and Excel macros while his unit was deployed in Iraq. His work automated a number of previously manual processes that were part of the logistics processes of his unit. He wrote, '[A]s a programmer, I'm constantly looking for ways to make my job easy. I didn't want to sit and add qualifications, and print licenses one by one. I was too lazy for that, and worse, the whole thing was horribly inefficient. So I decided to figure out how to automate the process. ... I started writing Perl scripts to query the data. By the time we had reached Iraq, I had a working script that generated licenses as text files for all the soldiers. The script only took a second or two to run, and the longest part of the process was simply printing out the licenses. But I wasn't done yet. I was still annoyed that I would have to add driver qualifications manually. So I wrote another script that would go and add qualifications to drivers en masse. The script even had a configuration file where you could specify what qualifications you wanted to add and to whom."
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An Army Medal For Coding In Perl

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  • by Megane (129182) on Friday June 27, 2014 @11:41AM (#47333245) Homepage
    I'm sure there's a CPAN module for that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2014 @11:44AM (#47333281)

    ...for coding in Perl.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2014 @11:47AM (#47333317)

    That sounds like hacking to me.

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Friday June 27, 2014 @11:54AM (#47333399) Homepage Journal

    There's a metal for those wounded in combat, and Perl cuts psyches deeply indeed.

  • by qw(name) (718245) on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:01PM (#47333481) Journal
    Anything that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of our forces deserves recognition. If writing code and automating or stream-lining a process is successful, write the person who did it up for a citation or medal. I did it in the navy 20 years ago and received a NAM (Navy Achievement Award) for my efforts. Not all medals given in the military are for combat duties.
    • by stu72 (96650) on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:11PM (#47333581)

      It's hard to understand because..

      a) most people probably have little understanding of military awards outside of hollywood and might be forgiven for thinking they are all given for combat

      b) most managers, whether in the military or not, seem woefully clueless about the impact of cumbersome poorly designed systems and the payback on well designed ones (or well designed hacks running on top of the poor system) So that someone even noticed he was more productive, didn't freak out because he did something different, didn't freak out because the different thing involved "programming" *AND* gave him a medal... seems pretty remarkable.

      • So that someone even noticed he was more productive, didn't freak out because he did something different, didn't freak out because the different thing involved "programming" *AND* gave him a medal... seems pretty remarkable.

        Companies like ORACLE or SAP live of this increased productivity of their customer companies. Increasing productivity is one of the major reasons for use of computers in business.

      • Sounds like they should give a medal to the guy who gave this guy a medal!

    • Now if we could just get our common staff accountant to that level of efficiency we'd be getting somewhere.

    • by rjune (123157) on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:54PM (#47334085)

      If you have been in the service it's not hard to understand at all. I received an Aerial Achievement Medal during Desert Storm. Some of the things that I did was to write a DOS Batch file that backed up our flight plans (routing etc. was coordinated with other units to prevent midair collisions), fixed a glitch in the Mission Planning software (ANGPLAN forever!), and prepared more mission packages than I can count. This helped our unit earn a Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (we did not miss a single refueling) Everybody has to do their job for a unit to perform at peak level.

      • by c6gunner (950153)

        I received a CO's commendation for writing a website. Felt rather silly. But I had to write the damn thing in classic ASP so I guess you could say the award was hard-earned.

    • by westlake (615356)

      Anything that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of our forces deserves recognition. ... Not all medals given in the military are for combat duties.

      The Commendation Medal was originally only a service ribbon and was first awarded by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard in 1943. An Army Commendation Ribbon followed in 1945, and in 1949, the Navy, Coast Guard, and Army Commendation ribbons were renamed the "Commendation Ribbon with Medal Pendant." By 1960, the Commendation Ribbons had been authorized as full medals and were subsequently referred to as Commendation Medals.

      For valorous actions in direct contact with an enemy, but of a lesser degree than required for the award of the Bronze Star Medal, a Commendation Medal with "V" Device or Combat "V" (Navy/Marine) is awarded.

      The Army Commendation Medal is awarded to American and foreign military personnel in the grade of O-6 and below who have performed noteworthy service in any capacity with the United States Army. Qualifying service for the award of the medal can be for distinctive meritorious achievement and service, acts of courage involving no voluntary risk of life, or sustained meritorious performance of duty. Approval of the award must be made by an officer in the grade of Colonel (O-6) or higher.

      Commendation Medal [wikipedia.org]

    • I thought pretty much the same thing, people routinely get recognized for this kind of stuff. Though a Commendation medal is probably a bit much for what he did, I'd think it would have only have rated a Command letter or a Group or Force Commander letter at best.

      But award inflation had already set in when I was in during the 80's, and despite several attempts no one has ever been able to even slow it down more than temporarily.

    • by PJ6 (1151747)
      Taking your own initiative to improve efficiency and effectiveness? In the military?

      It's hard to understand because the expected response is a reprimand.
  • All I did was float around the Big Pond (East coast) in Uncle Sam's Yacht Club DURING the Vietnam era. I also got a medal for behaving 4 years in a row. This guy actually did something. I enjoyed the article.
    • All I did was float around the Big Pond (East coast) in Uncle Sam's Yacht Club DURING the Vietnam era.

      I don't know why you call it the big pond, it's smaller than the one on the other side.

      Still, you were maintaining a state of preparedness & covering the other flank in case the Frogs, Limeys or Krauts got up to something.

  • Where's my medal? (Score:4, Informative)

    by BenJeremy (181303) on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:04PM (#47333521)

    I wrote a nice database system to track inventory cards and print out cards that were pretty much identical to the forms our S-4 used back in the late 80s in the Marine Corps. It was much better than the system they had used - which relied on removing old cards, and filling out, by hand, all new cards every time a piece of equipment was checked out or checked in. It helped alot with leakage... and worse, with equipment that was supposedly checked out, but had actually been checked in (and the Marine would then have to incur replacement cost).

    There were other things I worked on, but this one had a significant impact on our effectiveness as a logistics unit.

    • by Hey_bob (6104)

      Your OIC/SNOIC might have recommended you for a NAM, Meritorious Mast, or a Certificate of Commendation.. But as they were lacking a streamlined computer system to for the processing of those things in the 80's, it was lost in a stack of paperwork, when some Lance Corporal in S1 became a short timer. The big green weenie strikes again!

      • by BenJeremy (181303)

        Yeah, I got a couple of those during my time in. I did a few things to improve productivity and spent a lot of time teaching people how to use PCs (The amazing, Tempest-certified Z-248! Running Enable!). I think I had performed over 200 one-on-one classes in the ~3 years I was at that particular unit.

        Tweaked the EDL-based print spooler we ran to get print from Camp Lejeune so we could store more than 65,535 lines of print (hmmmm maybe it was 255 lines)... that made it possible for the "night shift" person t

  • by cirby (2599) on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:05PM (#47333529)

    One of the criteria is "meritorious service."

    Writing - on his own - a set of scripts that save that much time for his unit? Should certainly qualify.

  • by Chelloveck (14643) on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:05PM (#47333533) Homepage

    Sounds like someone who embodies the Three Virtues [threevirtues.com] of a programmer: Laziness, Impatience, and Hubris. Well done!

    I'm always amazed at what non-programmers are impressed by. Code up some major application, and... Why doesn't it have this feature? Why does it have that workflow? What kind of colorblind dyslexic idiot designed this UI? But whip up a simple script to automate some repetitive, routine task and you're a genius!

    • 'Murica
    • by Durrik (80651)
      <quote>
      </p><p>I'm always amazed at what non-programmers are impressed by. Code up some major application, and... Why doesn't it have this feature? Why does it have that workflow? What kind of colorblind dyslexic idiot designed this UI? But whip up a simple script to automate some repetitive, routine task and you're a genius!</p></quote>

      I'm always surprised at this as well. I had two things I was known for at my previous company. One that I was proud of, a software library th
    • "I'm always amazed at what non-programmers are impressed by. "
      Mostly this is because you have a narrow view of your work and don't consider the needs of the people for whom you are actually producing that work.

      • by Kaenneth (82978) on Friday June 27, 2014 @02:06PM (#47334679) Homepage Journal

        Years ago I was the IT guy for a local government budget office.

        After I stopped the servers from crashing any spending an hour rebuilding every day, and fixed the backup system so it actually backed up data, I had plenty of free time.

        Instead of hiding in my office looking busy while playing MUDS/Nethack I took the time to sit with individual users, and quietly //observe their workflow.//

        They spent most of the day comparing two columns of numbers (one from mainframe, one from SQL) for equality.

        After a quick VBA prototype, they ended up with simple daily reports of where the numbers didn't match, saving about 40 hours a day between the 20 analysts.

        The key thing many IT guys miss, is taking the time to fully understand what the users actually need/want; but instead jump to conclusions that everyone wants what a programmer wants.

    • Sounds like someone who embodies the Three Virtues [threevirtues.com] of a programmer: Laziness, Impatience, and Hubris. Well done!

      I'm always amazed at what non-programmers are impressed by. Code up some major application, and... Why doesn't it have this feature? Why does it have that workflow? What kind of colorblind dyslexic idiot designed this UI? But whip up a simple script to automate some repetitive, routine task and you're a genius!

      It wasn't what he did but the results he achieved that earned him a medal. He saw a problem, applied a fix an made life easier for himself and his unit. Just because it was a relatively simple coding effort is immaterial.

      In addition, what is simple to one person isn't to another; it all depends on one's experience.

    • by itsdapead (734413)

      I'm always amazed at what non-programmers are impressed by. Code up some major application, and... Why doesn't it have this feature? Why does it have that workflow? What kind of colorblind dyslexic idiot designed this UI? But whip up a simple script to automate some repetitive, routine task and you're a genius!

      It suggests that one of these things solved a real problem that the users actually had, while the other solved problems that the developers thought the users ought to have.

      A simple solution that does something useful, now, is worth 100 elegant applications that will totally revolutionise your work once they're finished... provided you completely re-arrange your practices to match the software.

    • by ChilyWily (162187)
      I completely agree with this comment. I'm currently on a project where the Architect is super impressed that there is an excel style chart I coded up in Java solely because he understands the excel-style table and chart and can speak to it in front of his boss. But a ton of work I did writing some machine learning to detect and display faults in a heat map flew him into a rage of criticism and anger... because to him heat maps are only used for financial data and "not applicable here". He even argued about
  • Ah, lazy .... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:06PM (#47333545) Homepage

    I was too lazy for that

    More useful things have been invented out of an express desire to be lazy than I can even count.

    The realization of "WTF am I doing this by hand when I can write a script" sparks so many cool things.

    If he streamlined his job and got better results I don't see why he shouldn't get recognition.

    I'm sure the military hasn't introduced the Perl Star or anything, so I'm sure they've worked within existing stuff to say "damn, son, that's some fine work".

    • Re:Ah, lazy .... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by c (8461) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:25PM (#47333755)

      More useful things have been invented out of an express desire to be lazy than I can even count.

      Not so much a "desire to be lazy", but more about pre-empting laziness.

      Laziness is like entropy; it's gonna happen.

      Tedious manual processes are inherently error-prone. If everyone is conscientious and on-the-ball, things generally work, albeit less efficiently than we'd like. But that's not sustainable in the long term... eventually, people get into a groove and start getting sloppy.

      Designing, writing, testing, and rolling out (usually against the inertia of an existing process) a program isn't lazy. It maybe allows the programmer to be lazy later, but in the short term actually a lot more up-front work. It's just a shedload more interesting that the actual work it's replacing, which is usually the main motivation for doing it at all.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        I'm not saying the man was 'lazy'. Not at all.

        But every time I've found I need to write a script like this, I've attributed it to being too lazy to want to repeat the process.

        A few years ago we automated something -- because we'd just spent a few hours doing it on one server, and would have to repeat the process for a bunch of other servers, and that wasn't something any of us wanted to do again since it was a huge sequence of manual steps.

        It's more of an investment in long-term laziness to make the proble

        • by c (8461)

          I assure you, I mean lazy in a very complimentary way here. ;-)

          Oh, I understand what you mean. But calling it "lazy" is... well, lazy.

          Programmers are generally not lazy people. They're willing to work pretty hard at stuff that matters or that they care about. They just don't like to waste their time, nor do they like to do poor work.

          Tedious manual error-prone processes that could be done more efficiently and correctly by making a machine to do it are exactly the sorts of jobs programmers don't like to do.

          Gr

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            Oh, I understand what you mean. But calling it "lazy" is... well, lazy.

            Bah, laziness is the mother of invention. ;-)

            The wheel being the prime example. Instead of schlepping stuff around, let the wheel do some of the work.

            And, since I saw this link elsewhere in this thread ... I'm hardly the first person [threevirtues.com] to phrase it as 'lazy'.

  • I avoided the military and so got no medals.
    I didn't get shot either, so on balance I consider that a win.

    • I avoided the military and so got no medals. I didn't get shot either, so on balance I consider that a win.

      There should be a new medal for this, clearly. The Army Avoidance Cross we can call it. I'm writing my Congressman...

      • by Kaenneth (82978)

        I think having one of those would be a republican presidential candidate requirement.

  • by Dutchmaan (442553) on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:19PM (#47333679) Homepage
    Get this man to the VA stat!
  • The next time someone asks "What good is Perl anymore?" or "Who actually uses Perl?" or "Why use Perl?" you can point them to this article. Perl is perfect for this type of quick development. Sometimes the older languages still have a lot of value.
    • by halivar (535827)

      It's the duct tape of languages. It's for kludgey hacks, and if you see someone using it, you look down on them; but when YOU need it, it's a goddamn miracle

    • by c6gunner (950153)

      The next time someone asks "What good is Perl anymore?" or "Who actually uses Perl?" or "Why use Perl?" you can point them to this article. Perl is perfect for this type of quick development.

      Kinda. But he could just as easily have written it as a VB Script. More easily, actually, since he was working on windows and ended up having to write Excel VBA for it later anyway.

  • This right here is why we should be teaching basic programming or scripting in middle school. Show young students how to automate simple tasks and they'll apply it to nearly every field that exists. I remember talking to an IT consultant about the recently released Exchange 2007 (when Exchange went all gung-ho about PowerShell) and he said how he hated the de-emphasis on the GUI and the huge emphasis on PowerShell. "On my first deployment I didn't use PowerShell at all. But by my third one, it was all done
    • This right here is why we should be teaching basic programming or scripting in middle school. Show young students how to automate simple tasks and they'll apply it to nearly every field that exists."

      And far too many of them will think they know what they are doing and screw things up.

  • Meritorius medal for streamlining things w/ perl, and a dishonorable discharge for doing *anything* with Excel.

    And before the accusations fly, my statement stands no matter what spreadsheet program you replace "Excel" with. They aren't database tools and shouldn't be used as such.

    • by rjune (123157)

      Hussain invaded Kuwait on Sunday, my unit called Monday night and we deployed Tuesday. You go with what you have and make it work. I did backups to floppy disks because that is all we had, the backups were critical, and it worked.

      • by cellocgw (617879)

        May I respectfully disagree, on behalf of all the dead GIs who "went with what they had," in their case being non-armored HUMMVs and worthless body armor.

        Read "Paths of Glory" for an earlier instance of the same Charlie Foxtrot.

        With rare exception, it's far better to postpone action until properly prepared than to follow blind orders. I suspect Sun Tzu would agree.

        • by rjune (123157)

          I think we were talking about two different things. When I wrote my comment I was referring to your comment about the use of Excel for database functions. I think you read way too much into the comment as I was not referring to the examples that you cite or the environment. In fact, for the two examples you cite in your latest post, we agree. The process used by the military for getting software applications is as convoluted and inefficient as the one used for building construction. Viven was talking a

  • by tool462 (677306)

    Perl Traumatic Stress Disorder
    My thanks to this young man for his sacrifice, from a fellow perl hacker who's spent 15 years in the trenches...

  • Let me tell you a secret. Every good programmer/hacker (in the truest sense of the word), got that way by being lazy.

    The hard working guy? He is quite willing to keep on doing his work the hard way,spending his own time and effort instead of the computer's time.

    It's us lazy guys that say "this is stupid, the computer can do this part". Then we write the code and let the software do the hard work, instead of us.

  • ... during Military Funeral Honors as Perl is Dead -- dying in the line of duty.

  • This is nothing, I once got a Navy Achievement Medal (one step down from a Commendation medal) for setting up a mail alias on my own domain for my reserve unit to use for group communications, and for installing and updating anti-virus software on the unit's laptops. It all literally took me half an hour to complete.

    • by hax4bux (209237)

      I got a NAM for coding in 1987, and my (regular, active duty) job was to actually code.

  • by Hussman32 (751772) on Friday June 27, 2014 @01:44PM (#47334503)
    “Gentlemen, the officer who doesn’t know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless.” -- General George S. Patton, USA

    Remember before criticizing the US Army, it's considered the best in the world, largely because of quartermaster capabilities.

  • ...but instead of some sort of recognition or reward for increased efficiency, they removed one of our team members. I guess I can at least put it on my resume and apply for a better employer...
  • The really well-known medals like Victoria Cross / Congressional Medal are not awarded for merely doing your job, but there are medals for all sorts of things.

    Simply being in a combat zone, regardless of the actual task one is doing, is more dangerous and requires more courage than anything most people will do in their entire life, and merits recognition of a certain degree.

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