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California Can't Perform Pay Cut Because of COBOL 1139

beezzie writes "Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered a pay cut, to minimum wage of $6.55/hr, for 200,000 state workers — because a state budget hadn't been approved yet. The state controller, who has opposed the pay cut on principle and legal grounds, now says the pay cut isn't even feasible because the state's payroll systems are so antiquated. He says it would take six months to go to minimum wage, and nine months more to restore salaries once a budget is passed. The system is based on COBOL, according to the Sacramento Bee, and the state hasn't yet found the funds or resources, in ten years of trying, to upgrade it." The article quotes a consultant on how hard it is to find COBOL programmers; he says you usually have to draw them out of retirement. Problem is, if there were any such folks on the employment rolls in California, Gov. Schwarzenegger fired them all last week, too.
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California Can't Perform Pay Cut Because of COBOL

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  • COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:44PM (#24483971)
    There are plenty of COBOL Programmers out there, the problem is nobody in IT wants to hire old people.
  • Programmers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SgtPepperKSU ( 905229 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:44PM (#24483973)
    Why would you need a programmer to change people's pay in the system?

    Oh, wait; you don't. This is just more politics...
  • rule #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:46PM (#24484001)
    If you're going to pull a lame excuse out of your ass for why a decision can't by fulfilled, don't make it known that you're against said decision.
  • Re:Programmers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sebilrazen ( 870600 ) <blahsebilrazen@blah.com> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:46PM (#24484013)

    Why would you need a programmer to change people's pay in the system? Oh, wait; you don't. This is just more politics...

    Job security? They(the bureaucrats) didn't know that it could be done without a programmer, so the programmer did it so they'd need a programmer.

  • Re:Programmers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:47PM (#24484019)
    It is possible that the code actually is that fucked up.
  • by janeuner ( 815461 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:47PM (#24484025)
    ...expect minimum wage results.
  • by snkline ( 542610 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:47PM (#24484031)
    The problem is not lack of Programmers. The problem is managers who think a developer needs many years of experience with a specific language or technology to be able to work with it. I am sure many programmers would be willing to work on their COBOL systems, but without the required "10 years of experience with COBOL" on their resume, they would never be hired.
  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by taniwha ( 70410 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:47PM (#24484047) Homepage Journal
    no - the problem is that no one wants to be paid minimum wage to program COBOL
  • by Critical Facilities ( 850111 ) * on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:47PM (#24484051)
    OK, no one likes programming in COBOL, but to argue that these systems can't be updated because the language is obsolete is just an all out lie. Plenty of major corporations still use COBOL/CICS because it just works.

    If (as someone above stated) a programmer is required to update what should undoubtedly be database fields containing salary information, then it sounds like a problem of implementation, and not one of technology/language of choice.
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:49PM (#24484093) Homepage Journal

    Its because of poor coding skills.

    Convenient scapegoat there they have.

  • by p0tat03 ( 985078 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:50PM (#24484117)

    I am sure many programmers would be willing to work on their COBOL systems, but without the required "10 years of experience with COBOL" on their resume, they would never be hired.

    And what happens when your amateur COBOL hackers bork a live, production system upon which tens of thousands of people rely on for their paychecks?

    This isn't some lame Java app that's allowed to crash 5 times a day...

  • Re:Programmers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:51PM (#24484129)

    Seems to me the people who should get their pay cut are the governor and legislators. They're the ones who haven't produced a budget.

    Don't give them back pay either - every day there's no budget is another day they lose a payday - forever. That might encourage them to get their job done on time.

  • by LuxMaker ( 996734 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:51PM (#24484133) Journal
    From Wikipedia on California state controller duties: [wikipedia.org]

    * As the state's chief fiscal officer, acts as the state's accountant and bookkeeper of all public funds.

    * Administers the state payroll system and unclaimed property laws.

    * Serves on numerous boards and commissions including the Board of Equalization, the Board of Control, CalPERS and CalSTRS.

    * Conducts audits and reviews of state operations.

    I posit that he has failed to administer the state payroll system and as such needs to be canned and replaced. Part of administrating the system is making sure it is flexible enough to meet the demands of the California Governor.
  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drpimp ( 900837 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:52PM (#24484153) Journal
    no the problem is social security pays more so why go back to 40 hours weeks of coding at that rate!
  • by gfxguy ( 98788 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:54PM (#24484191)

    The problem is this person is lying. Seriously, wages change all the time; probably at least once a year people get reviewed and get raises; you're going to tell me there's a 9 month backlog?

    And why on earth would it take 50% longer to raise them back up again? That makes absolutely no sense.

    There's only one obvious conclusion: the state controller is lying.

  • Sheesh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:55PM (#24484199)

    The rate the guy's firing people lately, you'd think they'd nickname him the 'terminator' or something.

    Really though - this is a perfect example of modern conservatism: Destroy people's reliance on government by promising anything to be elected, then do absolutely everything you can to destroy everything that government does or provides. Soon, everyone sees politicians only as lying bastards (but still elects those who make the best promises), but no longer sees government as something that can actually help anyone do anything.

    The end result is a society that distrusts everyone, and a private sector which can pick off opportunities from an enormous set of basic needs that are being unmet.

    Government doesn't even need to be drown in the bathtub [wikipedia.org] - indeed, it might be reborn in a different form if you did that. This way, you get to keep it in a permanant coma, feeding off of everyone's needs and desires and blaming generic government for everything you do.

    Ryan Fenton

  • Re:Programmers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:55PM (#24484207) Homepage Journal

    Yes, but I would need a high degree of evidence to show me what a pay rate change would require reprogramming.

    And I work with a COBOL system.

  • by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:55PM (#24484217)

    Sure it *sounds* ridiculous to say you can't lower salaries without a programmer, but I bet it is a fairly complex batch program that has to run. You don't want people hand entering 200,000 payroll changes. If it takes 30 seconds (on average) to do each one by hand, that would be 41 weeks for a person to make all the changes. (assuming a 40 hour work week)

    Don't forget, the good governator is probably payed by that system too and you know HIS pay ain't going down.

    So, not only is it a HUGE number of data entries AND a complex filter on job classification. ALSO mistakes are something you don't want to make on payroll!

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:57PM (#24484251)
    Can't they outsource it to India?
  • Re:Programmers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord_Frederick ( 642312 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:58PM (#24484269)

    I've seen how government applications are coded. The majority are either built by someone that can program but not engineer software and the rest are built by the lowest bidder. I find it perfectly feasible that a simple change will break the entire system.

  • Re:Programmers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @02:59PM (#24484293) Journal

    Sometimes you really do. Often, with really old systems like this, data that ought to be in tables is hard-coded in the system, sometimes in really obscure places. Or the code may only support pay *increases* because nobody thought there'd ever be a pay decrease for a government employee. (Seriously.) If you've ever worked on a project to replace an antiquated system, especially for a utility or government entity, you'd be shocked at what you saw. It's amazing that anything works at all.

    Job security? Incompetence? Micro-management? Probably a combination of all three.

  • I call BS... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:01PM (#24484315)

    I'll give $3 to the first person who can explain to me why on Earth you need to edit the software to change people's salary (Ok, I probably won't give anyone money even if you do come up with a decent reason). Even if they had to individually change each entry, it just doesn't make sense; if you put 100 people (seems like a reasonable number to me) working full time on the project in 6 months you have about 100,000 work hours. So they're trying to say it takes a half hour to change one person's salary? I don't care how antequated the system is, that is unnacceptable.

    Somewhere, the current program is storing the salary data in some kind of file. Hire a high school CS student to parse the file, edit it, and save it back. I'm willing to bet a competent programmer could find some solution to this problem within a week. This is just the state controller trying to stick up for his employees; unfortunatly, he's too much of a wuss to do it the legal way and has instead turned to blattant lies that most people are too uninformed to see through.

  • by someme2 ( 670523 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:01PM (#24484323)

    The problem is not lack of Programmers. The problem is managers who think a developer needs many years of experience with a specific language or technology to be able to work with it. I am sure many programmers would be willing to work on their COBOL systems, but without the required "10 years of experience with COBOL" on their resume, they would never be hired.

    True. A lot of programmers wouldn't need 10 years of experience in COBOL. May be ten years of experience in any programming using different languages and paradigms would be enough. On the other hand some programmers would need 10 years of experience in COBOL to be able to work on a given job.

    A lot of managers can't tell the difference, luckily some do. The others have to rely on matching buzzwords on offered CVs to buzzwords on RFQs.

  • Re:Uhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by isomeme ( 177414 ) <cdberry@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:06PM (#24484403) Homepage Journal

    I can easily picture a system that encodes rules about pay grade differences derived from huge piles of laws, union contracts, and so forth. Changing everyone's pay to the same low level would violate all kinds of intertwined constraints and validation checks, and thus be rejected. I imagine the time quoted to make this change is due to the need to work around these cross-checks without eliminating them entirely, as most of the time (i.e., when the governor isn't posturing) they are quite useful to help avoid illegal or improper changes.

  • by krgallagher ( 743575 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:08PM (#24484439) Homepage
    "The problem is this person is lying."

    I bet if Arnold said to raise everyone's pay it would happen overnight.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:08PM (#24484455) Homepage

    Sure they do. When I do a job search for IT positions, nine out of ten are for "senior" level positions. Nobody is hiring junior or just normal engineers. Seniors only.

    Usually "senior" means 5+ years experience with some piece of technology invented six years ago, though.

    So to get a job in IT, you can't be old, you can't be young, and you must have started working with every one of the latest technologies professionally on the year it was invented (before most businesses even used such technologies).

    I can't believe anyone can find a job with those requirements. Perhaps the mass of positions advertised these days are just a ploy to allow more H1Bs and outsourcing.

  • by thrillseeker ( 518224 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:11PM (#24484503)
    What kind of programmer can't learn a language like COBOL

    the kind that you can get for minimum wage
  • I can code COBOL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phreakiture ( 547094 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:14PM (#24484565) Homepage

    I can code in COBOL. It seems unlikely, however, that Califorina can afford my fee.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:16PM (#24484619)

    no - the problem is that no one wants to be paid minimum wage to program COBOL

    No, the problem is CompSci snobbery and VERY poor textbooks that went thru all sorts of contortions to be GOTO-less.

    COBOL-74 had excellent capabilities for creating very structured, COBOL-85 even more. And "88" variables are just wonderful for decomplicating hairy IF statements.

  • Re:Programmers? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:16PM (#24484621) Journal

    My first thought was that the system was somehow set to only allow a certain maximum change in payrolls

    My first thought is that there's no way to say "Set everyone's hourly wage to 6.55", and that it would require loading each employee up one at a time, entering the new wage and saving the record, all while waiting about a minute (based on experience with large, ancient payroll systems) for each operation to complete.

    All while using data entry personnel who you trust to give themselves pay cuts.

    My second thought is that once it's done, there's no way to say "Set everyone's hourly wage back to what it originally was".

    Even if there was a button that set everyone's wage to 6.55, I'm almost certain that the governor isn't taking a pay cut, so the button would still be useless.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:17PM (#24484639) Homepage

    OK, no one likes programming in COBOL, but to argue that these systems can't be updated because the language is obsolete is just an all out lie. Plenty of major corporations still use COBOL/CICS because it just works.

    Yeah, but do they still have the expertise in house to make any changes?

    I've known organizations that had to pull people out of retirement (at 5x their old salary) to maintain old mainframe systems -- for the simple reason that there isn't anyone else left who knows how to modify the system, and if you don't throw cash at the old-timers, they'll laugh at you and go back to their golf game.

    If it works, great. If it stops, some companies simply don't have anyone left who can fix it. And then you're SOL.

    If (as someone above stated) a programmer is required to update what should undoubtedly be database fields containing salary information, then it sounds like a problem of implementation, and not one of technology/language of choice.

    Well, if it's a Vietnam-era bit of software (as TFA indicates) then it's quite possibly an implementation problem. What we currently consider to be "best practices" are likely to all be younger than the code in question. In fact, most of them are probably gleaned from systems just like this.

    I wouldn't really be surprised that a system for "which the state made a large investment decades ago and has been keeping it going the last few years with duct tape" isn't really easy to cajole along.

    I've been involved in projects to replace legacy applications -- it's sometimes not possible to actually give them all of the functionality because nobody has a detailed list until someone comes along and says "oh, what about feature X, how do I do that?" Then you see a room full of people looking stunned and asking "why is this the first we're seeing of this??". Often, it's a feature which is so fundamentally incompatible with everything else you've been told -- "X can never happen. Oh, except there."

    Never underestimate just how bad software of that vintage can be, and just how hard it is to fix or replace it.


  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:19PM (#24484663) Homepage Journal

    They lie in their requirements, you lie on your resume, balance is achieved.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:21PM (#24484727) Journal

    No, the problem is nobody wants to work for minimum wage PERIOD, especuially in a field that pays far, far more than minimum wage.

    he wants to pay minimum wage for a programmer? Imagine that, I want to pay fifty cents a gallon for gasoline like I used to. Guess what? I know I'm not getting that 50 cent gas, he's an idiot if he thinks he'll get minimum wage programers.

  • by Skjellifetti ( 561341 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:23PM (#24484777) Journal
    I posit that you were too f'ing lazy to bother reading one complete paragraph on the front page which plainly stated that the state hasn't yet found the funds or resources, in 10 years of trying, to upgrade it.

    If your understanding of how government works is so limited that you didn't know that the Controller can't spend the money to upgrade the system without Legislative budgetary approval signed off on by the Governor, do us all a favor and stay home next election day.
  • Re:Programmers? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:25PM (#24484823)

    I sincerely doubt anyone wants to sit around and manually change the pay rate for every individual on the payroll. I'm also relatively sure there's not a "modify all records" button.

  • Re:Programmers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Al Dimond ( 792444 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:31PM (#24484959) Journal

    A guess: it's not changing the pay that requires a change in the code. It's keeping track of how much pay each employee is then owed at the end of the political fight.

    You see, they're not just going to unexpectedly cut their employees' pay. They're just going to take a short, interest-free loan from them without their consent. How merciful of them.

    It's no wonder governments so often get the worst pick of employees. Why would people with choices stay when they could at any time used as political pawns like this?

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:34PM (#24485023)

    The problem is that the government only sees the option to pay dozens of old programmers to manipulate the COBOL code instead of paying one hacker for a day to write a Perl script to hard wire all the salary data in the database to minimum wage.

    If that politician can't think of a creative solution to a problem instead of proposing that it would take a year and a quarter to do something simple, he should step aside.

    Instead, though, we're going to line up in droves to put people just like him in charge of our health care.

  • Re:Programmers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by encoderer ( 1060616 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:35PM (#24485029)

    My honest guess?

    There's sanity checks on the data-input screens that prevent you from entering NaN, a negative number, etc, and somewhere along the line somebody added a sanity check to make sure the persons new rate was >= to existing rate. Maybe to prevent a misplaced decimal or something.

    And the "6 month solution" that they came up with was maybe to re-enter the employee data into a new record, with new rate, etc.

    But really, if I was tasked with this, I'd want a programmer, too. It would be a lot easier to mod these salaries in batch than one-by-one.

    I don't either of these require a team of COBOL wizzards as they're making it seem. Surely in the most populous state in the Union there is a single COBOL developer that has touched this payroll system before and can get into it.

  • by nickhart ( 1009937 ) <nickhart@gma i l .com> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:35PM (#24485035) Homepage

    I'm not sure why unions act like every person should be guaranteed a job. What universe you have to live in for things to be so certain?

    I don't know about you, but I live in the richest nation on Earth (which has a government that acts like it owns the universe). We spend more than 5x on our military each year (not counting "supplemental" spending on wars, interest on loans for said wars and other related costs) than it would cost to feed every hungry person on the planet, according to UN figures. The workers of the United States are some of the most productive in the world and we collectively create vast riches--for a tiny minority of people at the top who "own" the factories and businesses from which this wealth is extracted. This is nothing more than organized theft.

    Under a sane, rational system all workers would share in the wealth we create. When we discover new techniques that make our jobs more efficient, we would all work less--instead of under capitalism, which results in layoffs and fewer people working more. We wouldn't waste trillions on killing people--we'd spend trillions to create good jobs that serve important needs: like educating people, healing them, building efficient mass-transit and clean, renewable energy sources (all of which create more and better jobs than military spending does).

    Instead we live in a world where a handful of parasites lets their own short-term, profit-oriented interests dictate policy for the rest of us. They get to force their pro-capitalist dogma onto us in schools, textbooks and via the media they own, so that people believe that the current system is the way things should be and always will be (just as the Church and nobility once taught serfs and merchants to remain in their places).

    There's no reason we can't provide a job, food, clothing, shelter and health care for every single person on the planet--except that it wouldn't be profitable for the people at the top, and they are not going to give up their power and privilege without a fight.

  • Re:I call BS... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rujholla ( 823296 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:38PM (#24485091)

    Because you aren't changing their salaries. You are paying them a partial salary for the duration of the budget crisis and then back paying them all that remains.

    What do you do about health insurance payments -- what if their current options cost more that they are being paid.

    Do their 401K deductions and the resulting match go into their account now?

    There are a bunch of questions that come up when you start dealing with HR issues. Nothing is ever simple there.

    Don't get me wrong I support Arnold's effort to cut state spending to try and lower their defecit. But this might be more difficult to implement than it might seem at first glance.

  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <tmsNO@SPAMinfamous.net> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:48PM (#24485295) Homepage

    In a business with this kind of budget problem you simply lay people off.

    A business does not provide services essential to the safety, health, and welfare of a population.

    When you lay off a bunch of hackers who code website backends, or a bunch of fry cooks at the local fast food joint, the broader social implications are nill. When you lay off firefighters or hospital workers, it's likely more people will die.

  • by Pontiac ( 135778 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:53PM (#24485421) Homepage

    I can imagine this will be a complete nightmare to implement.
    Not just changing 200,000 pay records and tracking the difference for bak pay at a later day.

    What about taxes, insurance, flex spending accounts, retirement accounts,

    You are going to end up with payroll deductions that may excede the total check ammount.

    They are only going to be paying people $262 a week!
    If it were me I'd owe the state $$ after insurance, returement and flex spending accounts were deducted.

    Or do they plan on suspending all medical, retirement and flex spending payments? I doubt the insurance carrier would like that one bit.

    I also hope they plan on implementing a free employee bus system and homeless shelters.
    Plus start in office welfare sign up stations and free lunch programs.
    State Employees won't have any $$ left to pay rent, mortgage, power, water, phone, car payments or even buy gas.

    That kind of money would hardly cover daycare costs for 1 child.. would you work 40 hours a week for a net income of $50 before taxes, and costs just to get to work?

  • Re:Programmers? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by localman ( 111171 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:55PM (#24485481) Homepage

    I doubt it. The pay rates have absolutely changed many times since the code was written. Without extraordinary evidence I refuse to believe the pay rate change would be that difficult. This is just a lame excuse.

  • by sampson7 ( 536545 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @03:56PM (#24485503)
    Let's not ignore the circumstances here -- the Governor has directed this move as a political stunt in an attempt to force the Democratic legislature to agree to his proposed budget. Harming every day California State workers by lowering their salaries to minimum wage is a cheap trick and a disgraceful attempt to win political points.

    Suppose replacing salaries is a trivial programming task. Would you accept a job to change everyone's salary to minimum wage? Including yourself? What the State Controller is doing is in the best tradition of civil disobediance. He is an elected official answering to over 12 million California votes.

    He believes he has been issued a direct order by another elected official that he believes is illegal. Rather than trigger a constitutional crisis by outright refusing to follow the order, he's taken the very principle stand that it is impossible *cough* to enter these changes in a timely manner. Lowering salaries may not quite be the equivalent of committing a war crime -- but I don't see the "just following orders" excuse as valid. The Controller's sole constitutional reason for being is to manage the finances of the State, including the payroll system.

    Like government or not -- you do not improve government services by vindictively striking out at rank and file workers. The governor may not suffer if he doesn't receive a weekly paycheck, but I guarantee you that lots of others will. That's why what the Controller is doing is laudable -- even if it stretches credulity on the programming end.
  • by pentalive ( 449155 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @04:06PM (#24485743) Journal

    alias 'please'='sudo'

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @04:07PM (#24485761)

    That's a global problem. Companies want people with 5+ years of professional experience with technology that has been out for 3- years, flexibility (both in hours and location, meaning you work 48 hours a day, 8 days a week and have no problem being shipped off to their office in Abu Dhabi), can poop out perfect code while writing reports in at least 3 languages, have a masters and at least 10 years of professional experience but ain't older than 25, and don't ask for more than 2500 USD a month, tops.

    And then they go around and lament that we have not enough IT people. There are IT people on the market, but you have to pay their value and you have to step down from unrealistic expectations.

  • by mshannon78660 ( 1030880 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @04:11PM (#24485849)
    I'm going to go out on a limb, and guess you've never worked on a large payroll system before.

    First, the system has to work nearly perfectly out of the gate - this isn't a 100 person startup (according to this article [sfgate.com], just the increase in the number of state workers since Arnold took office (not the total, just the increase) is 26,000 (total is more than 200,000). Remember, this is payroll - you make a mistake, say on FICA or Federal income tax witholding, and you could easily be looking at millions in penalties. You've also got to keep in mind all the other things that get taken out of people's paychecks - insurance payments, retirement savings, wage garnishments, etc. Those not only need to get taken out, accurately, but the amounts getting taken out need to get paid to the appropriate entities (private companies, federal, state and potentially local governments, private individuals, etc.). Any mistakes there could mean penalties or lawsuits.

    Let's look at the back end for a minute. California will have some type of General Ledger-based accounting system - every one of those paychecks (not to mention all of the deductions, etc.) need to get posted against the appropriate GL account - I'm going to guess the number of those accounts is at least in the tens of thousands - so that money that is or isn't paid out is deducted from the appropriate department/group/whatever. Now, assuming you've taken care of all that (and again, not really any room for errors - it's a problem if the DOT suddenly can't pay the contractors that are working on the roads because somebody deducted too many paychecks from their GL account) you've got to deal with actually printing the checks and doing the electronic transfers. Here you might actually get lucky, and only have to generate a set of files in the right format - or the current payroll program might actually print the checks, too. Now, because this is temporary, you need to figure everything twice - what it would have been normally, what it will be with the cut to minimum wage, and you need to keep track of that difference so you can pay it out when the budget is finally approved. Oh, and you'll have to figure out the legal implications (what happens to people who's wages are garnished at a level that leaves their paychecks at zero or less? How do the Feds react to not getting the witholding when they are supposed to?). So, sure, you think you can do all that, with no bugs or errors, in less than six months, you're hired.

  • Code Rookies (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @04:13PM (#24485893)

    People who argue this issue has a simple solution are code rookies and have no idea of the complexities involved with large enterprise systems. They are basing their responses on a few primary mistakes:

    The ability to watch a screencast, install Ruby on Rails, and script a blog in a few hours is not equal to working on a complex legacy system.

    The ability to conceive of a simple answer is not equal to understanding a complex problem.

    The ability to access contemporary technologies does not mean that programmers from 30 years ago know less, were stupid, and failed to realize the choices and tradeoffs they faced.

    The best programmers I have ever met are from the pre-PC days when they had to work through the complex issues of performance, data storage and memory allocation. Although now retired, many remain smart, resourceful, and reflect the best engineering skills our country has ever seen.

  • by pentalive ( 449155 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @04:21PM (#24486063) Journal

    Whereas The government is too busy bickering with themselves to do their job.

    Whereas The people of the state are harmed by the lack of a budget year after year.

    We Propose that if a budget is not completed by the deadline, the previous budget is automatically re-enacted except Each legislator and the Governor get a 5% pay cut. During the period of the next two years the legislators may not raise their own pay.

    They (the legislators)may only raise their pay again with the second budget they enact on time.

  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @04:28PM (#24486219)

    Here's my understanding of the issue: Schwarzenegger wants a temporary paycut for all 200,00 employees. He wants to set all their wages to minimum. State Controller says the change could take many, many months to make the change and reverse it.

    Most people here are calling the controller a liar saying it can't possibly take that long. After all, people get salary adjustments everyday. Here is the problem: There are two ways to change their salaries: Manually and programmatically. Changing one persons' pay is easy because it is a manual change. Changing all 200,000 government workers is harder. You can either manually change all 200,000 people or change it in the code. The State Controller says the code is so old that this will be a problem. (1) No one really knows the business logic. (2) No one knows the code (COBOL) even if they knew the business logic.

    Now, I don't know if it's gonna take 15 months to do, but I would outright call the controller a liar without know the underlying details.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rgriff59 ( 526951 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @04:45PM (#24486591)

    no - the problem is that no one wants to be paid minimum wage to program COBOL

    I think you've hit it exactly. I know quite a few very capable programmers that still do COBOL. It would cost at least 20 times minimum wage to talk to them. And for a short term contract with no future, the price would at least double again for the work. Here are a few other observations:

    • Tens of thousands of lines of COBOL is not even big. If it doesn't deserve at least a fractional millions of lines designation, it is small.
    • Any programmer that can't learn COBOL in a few weeks is not much of a programmer
    • COBOL is not an excuse for living in the dark ages, modern COBOLs even have OO and XML extensions.

    But, of course, is is fun laughing at COBOL, after all it is a language where this statement can be totally functional:


  • Re:i knew it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @04:50PM (#24486669)
    I think if Jurassic Park has taught us anything it's not to clone dinosaurs by combining ancient DNA preserved in amber with genes from Bullfrogs then put them in a high tech enclosure and bring a small, select group to view it before opening up to the public.
  • by bill_kress ( 99356 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @04:53PM (#24486717)

    but I kinda like this guy.

    This is exactly what republicans say they should do. Take a hard line against government waste. If the existing systems can't do the job, get new systems.

    Also if the controller thinks that it will take as long to undo as it took to do (knowing when you are doing it that you will have to undo it), FIRE HIM AND EVERYONE WHO GAVE HIM AN ESTIMATE RIGHT NOW! This concept is so unforgivably wrong that for an engineer to not recognize that right off is virtually not possible (I expect this has been put forward a few times in this thread for just this reason).

    If they actually wanted to update it using modern development methodologies, it probably wouldn't even be anywhere near as expensive as they have been quoting.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iron-kurton ( 891451 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:17PM (#24487169)

    You basically described a full government collapse. At first, there would be a power vacuum, and all these different factions would fight to fill it. Then, as one faction takes power, it will most likely rule with an iron grip until the other factions have been completely eliminated. By the time they are though, the fear that there are other factions trying to eliminate those in power will be completely embedded into domestic policy, hence creating a totalitarian regime.

    Meanwhile, crime would run rampant on the streets, citizens will arm themselves to the teeth for protection, businesses will get looted, and all-around lawlessness would prevail. Without government to regulate firearms (I can't believe I said that), local police force would become useless and eventually dissolve, leaving bands of armed civilians to patrol the streets and dish out the law.

    OTOH, on the off-chance that a socially responsible (read: non-violent) group takes hold of the country, a lot of government jobs would get resurrected. Depending on the corruptness level of the group, these jobs would either serve to siphon (sp?) off tax payer money into the pockets of bureaucrats, or would be streamlined more efficiently until a more corrupt group could do the former.

    So, your two options are either violent lawlessness, or corrupted rule -- please don't say that's what we have now; I urge to look at government corruption in other countries, especially ones that have gone through a government collapse before uttering that statement.

    In summary, government collapse: bad!

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:18PM (#24487195)

    The problem is that the government only sees the option to pay dozens of old programmers to manipulate the COBOL code instead of paying one hacker for a day to write a Perl script to hard wire all the salary data in the database to minimum wage.

    That only addresses the front end of the problem. How about the (supposedly 9 month) job to write code that keeps track of how much should have been paid to everyone in the state, and how much was actually paid, and make up the difference? This may sound simple too, but in the intervening months some people are going to leave, some are going to get hired on, and some are going to go on unpaid leaves for various reasons. There are probably all kinds of other little items the database keeps track of related to pay that will need to be changed on both ends too, perhaps each with their own little rules for how to keep track of in the interim and apply (or not) at the end.

    It often suprises people (particularly non-coders) how difficult some seemingly simple sounding tasks can end up being, once you get down into the exact details.

    That being said, you can have no doubt that if the politicians in charge really wanted it to happen, they would have told the programmers "just do it", just like we typically get told. Politicians only get on our side when it helps their agenda to do so.

  • by mwlewis ( 794711 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:18PM (#24487201)

    The state isn't a private corporation that can just pass on cost increases to their customers.

    True. The residents, unlike customers, don't typically have the same capability to avoid the cost increases like the proposed "temporary" sales tax increase.

  • Re:Pure bu#s#*! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:40PM (#24487533) Homepage

    1 - Any programmer using any language could in less than 4 hours could write a program to first save then alter the files containing the employee's payrate. And then later restore the rate to its previous value.

    It's not a pay rate change. It's a minimum pay issuance. People will get the rest of the money they are due later (if they can figure out how to do it correctly). It's better than not being paid at all as other states do, or never being paid if temporarily laid off.

    2 - This does not require a COBOL program change, which by the way given the file layout I could write the program in 30 minutes or less and do it in COBOL, FORTRAN, PASCAL, ORACLE procedure or BASIC (maybe).

    Your program will need to calculate the pay due on the original pay rate, and calculate the pay to be issued on the minimum rate. It then needs to record the difference in the database for later issuance as pay. Then the tax programs need to do similar for the tax reports to the IRS. The tax is first calculated on the minimum pay issued. When the back pay is done, the tax calculations now have to be done on the combination of pay due for new earnings, as well as the back pay issued.

    This all has to be integrated into the existing payroll system. Otherwise you're designing a new system. This is not anywhere near as trivial as you make it out to be.

    3 - the state has employed programmers in the last 2 years, none of which were for their COBOL skills.

    Either upgrade the existing COBOL system to handle split payments like this, or migrate the entire payroll system to modern methods and modern systems (something they are starting to work on, but will take at least a couple years to complete even if a maximum budget for the conversion is authorized).

    Slashdot readers deserve that you check out the facts before publishing such crap.

    Slashdot readers deserve analysis by someone experienced in these complex systems running on legacy computers, and/or someone experienced in conversion of large scale complex systems from one platform to another, and the testing procedures involved in both.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:41PM (#24487551)

    I don't think the problem is in finding programmers who know COBOL. COBOL doesn't take that long to learn, and any decent programmer can pick it up, even those willing to put up with minimum wage.

    The problem is most likely in understanding and coping with a huge and antiquated accounting system, which is probably poorly documented and commented, and which has had tweaks and mods jammed in every year to cope with updated financial and legal requirements.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by demachina ( 71715 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:43PM (#24487583)

    "The national defense is one of the few things the federal government does today that actually has a constitutional basis. I don't think anyone suggests getting rid of our military. It's one of the VERY few things our government has done that actually WORKS (when liberals aren't busy undermining it and/or its mission, anyway)."

    I think that is seriously open to debate. For one things between the defense and intelligence establishment Afghanistan and Iraq wars what is the "defense" budget is up to $600-700 billion if you actually counted everything. This seems more than a little excessive for "defense" which it probably as much as the entire rest of the world combined spends on defense. Its also a LOT of money not going to any productive use.

    When was the last time our National Defense actually did "defense". Its been playing offense in places that have nothing to do with the U.S. including Iraq, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada and Korea, Western Europe in World War I, Spanish American, Mexican wars. The only wars that strike me as being "defense" are the Revolution, 1812, World War II though the U.S. provoked Pearl Harbor with an oil embargo on Japan, and Afghanistan. Afghanistan would have been self defense but the Bush administration actually failed miserably in stomping Al Qaeda and the Taliban and instead let them move to the tribal areas of Pakistan where they've been living happily ever since, while we occupy Afghanistan to no good effect.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:47PM (#24487647) Homepage

    instead of paying one hacker for a day to write a Perl script to hard wire all the salary data in the database to minimum wage.

    Does Perl have access to whichever old ISAM routines are running on the (probably) IBM 3070-era mainframe still in use? Perhaps if one is luckier, the payroll will be running under something like PR1MOS for which a C compiler (let alone a Perl implementation) doesn't even exist. You younguns don't remember all of the crap hardware/software that this stuff was designed/runs on.

  • Armchair Coders? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ogminlo ( 941711 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:53PM (#24487731)
    All of the "expert suggestions" in this thread and in TFA's comments section are ridiculous. Sounds just like "Dr." Bill Frist disgracing the medical profession by "diagnosing" Terry Schiavo from a videotape. None of the posters have seen the code and its gotchas, so no one is qualified to declare how dirt simple it must be to solve this problem.
  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darby ( 84953 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:54PM (#24487743)

    The national defense is one of the few things the federal government does today that actually has a constitutional basis. I don't think anyone suggests getting rid of our military. It's one of the VERY few things our government has done that actually WORKS (when liberals aren't busy undermining it and/or its mission, anyway).

    Really? There's a constitutional basis for using our military to murder democratically elected leaders in order to install brutal right wing thugs if they're friendly to certain powerful corporate interests?

    How exactly does that translate as "defense"?

    The most laughable thing is that you declare people who dislike that type of massive unconstitutional corporate welfare to automatically be "liberals" (which, of course they are according to what that word actually means although that's not what you meant by it) and then claim that by expecting the military to actually do their fucking job instead of being little besides a corporate hit squad that they're "undermining" the mission of the military.

    That is, of course, complete nonsense.

    Your idea of the military's mission is in direct contradiction to what it actually is. You also demonstrate your contempt for a free society and your love of militant fascism, corporate welfare and huge government.

    I mean, seriously, at least try to sound sane for a minute.

    "Waaaaaa the eval liberulz are undermining the mission of the military by expecting it to defend our country instead of attacking other countries for the profit of a few scumbags". That is what you said, and it's both false and utterly disgusting.

    Please keep your huge oppressive government wet dreams to yourself, or at least have the basic decency to be honest about your contempt for small government and the idea of a free society.

  • Re:i knew it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JPLemme ( 106723 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @05:57PM (#24487777)

    COBOL doesn't have functions, it has "paragraphs" that are just glorified GOSUBs.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Achromatic1978 ( 916097 ) <robert.chromablue@net> on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @06:38PM (#24488235)
    You also signed a contract with that person that you would pay them for services rendered. Failure at your end to correctly write a check does not absolve you of your legal obligation to pay that person on their scheduled pay date. What -should- happen (and not without its own issues, absolutely) is that the check should be processed and the difference repaid.

    It's also very much the law in Australia, too. If you overpay someone, you have absolutely zero recourse to reverse that transaction per se. Happened to someone in my ex-partner's department who issued a pay check with a decimal in the wrong place. They contacted the bank immediately and the bank's response was "Sorry, you made the payment. You will need to contact that person and obtain reimbursement."

    The problem is this: you promise to make payment on a given date. You are legally bound by contract law and labor law to do so. That you were in error in issuing the check for more than the required amount does not negate you the requirement to make payment to the correct amount. If you stop payment on the check, you are not paying the person, and are in breach of said contract. Labor law is strict on the fact that an employee should not be unfairly disadvantaged (and not being paid at all) as a result of an unrelated error on their employer's part.

    But by all means, please do explain how it is somehow more fair to stop payment altogether, than to recoup losses, due to YOUR mistake, than punishing the innocent.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ionix5891 ( 1228718 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @07:23PM (#24488743)

    heres what will happen.. [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Buelldozer ( 713671 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @07:58PM (#24489123)

    Sure, because the "full time professionals" are doing a wonderful job. Not.

    They're the ones who were on watch when California got into this mess. They're also the ones who can't seem to figure a way out of it without paralyzing their state government and causing the state employees considerable financial hardship.

    The "Pro's" are also the ones up in D.C. managing the economy for the rest of the country.

    I live in Wyoming where we, like Texas, have a part time "citizen legislature". No government shutdown or budget deficits here.

    I'm having a difficult time reconciling your opinion with reality.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by demachina ( 71715 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:17PM (#24490057)

    "What on earth makes you think the US is the "most aggressive country" ... ? "

    Because the U.S. has invaded more countries by far than any other country at least since World War II. The other leading contenders for the title aren't around any more, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the Soviet Union.

    Cuba multiple times(Bay of Pigs and Spanish American), Philippines(Spanish American), Panama, Grenada, Iraq two times, Afghanistan, and a dubious involvement in Vietnam propping up unpopular puppets, multiple invasions of Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and to many other banana republics to remember. Staged coups in Iran, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, again I can't even remember all the governments the U.S. has toppled over the last 100 years.

  • Re:i knew it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brain Damaged Bogan ( 1006835 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:20PM (#24490093)
    and then all the conservatives could go after cereal makers for encouraging canabilism in the same way they now go after video games for encouraging violence
  • Re:COBOL. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BeanThere ( 28381 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @09:51PM (#24490407)

    I'm not saying it's perfect, but normalised against its size, the US is a mild-mannered mouse, a smiling puppy. It's not too hard to start imagining what any of those countries - and many more - would do if they had as much military power as the US ... I guarantee you, it would absolutely not look pretty for the world. We can thank G-d that only the US has the power the US has. I live in Africa and we have the most horrific mad raging dictators in any direction you can throw a stone - I can list any number of countries nearby here that are FAR more "aggressive" than the US, they just don't have the power to do all that much harm with it.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vacuum_tuber ( 707626 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @10:53PM (#24491119) Journal

    Sorry, I wasn't suggesting that anyone and everyone should learn or approach COBOL without reason; I was addressing the mindless ridicule of COBOL, the comments that make it clear that many look down on COBOL and wouldn't want to go near it even with reason, most of them without even understanding it.

    COBOL is easy, it lends itself to explanatory naming, and the constructs are rarely cryptic. The mainframes for which COBOL is almost an assembler do decimal arithmetic and implement machine instructions for most COBOL verbs, including the MOVE to an edited numeric that involves formatting the number with things like currency symbol, leading spaces or asterisks, commas, decimal point, etc. The main complaint I have heard from those who have actually worked in COBOL is that it is verbose. That was a more valid complaint in the days of punchcards than it is in the day of editors that make it easy to work with verbose languages.

    My first computer was a Bendix G-15D, my second was a CDC 160A, then a PDP-1. Today I still work with a certain kind of mainframe and compiled BASIC in addition to COBOL 74 and 85. Oh yeah, I arranged for the legacy mainframe to be virtualized and run on modern servers, and we have 60 of the new ones installed in ten countries, running all manner of businesses, with more always in the sales pipeline.

    We who work with this stuff and actually get the business of business done while consulting weenies propose multilanguage tinkertoys while having no clue about the business, laugh at today's typical project where some of the languages and tools become obsolete before the project is even finished.

    I know of a COBOL shop where half a dozen long-term, competent people tend a repository of 50,000 programs that they wrote, 37,000 of which were found to be in active use in a 30-day audit, and where that repository can be drawn on by people who understand both the code and the business to produce new apps in times that would make today's trendy programmers' heads spin.

    TFA is a joke. It says more about the organization that owns the code than it does about the language it's written in. Any business programmer reading that they can't modify pay in a reasonable time would conclude that they can't find their way to the bathroom or parking lot, either.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JebusIsLord ( 566856 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @10:54PM (#24491131)

    I did NOT mean C#, I meant the .NET framework. VB.NET (ugly syntax, agreed) can do exactly the same stuff C# can. Microsoft stopped using it as a confusing and unrelated buzzword years ago. I hate being corrected when we both know exactly what I meant.

    Business users like GUIs. They aren't technical. .NET (the BCL, since you threw down the pedantic glove) includes a pretty good GUI toolkit with the native Windows look and feel.

    Swing and AWT suck, so for desktop apps I agree that Java isn't the best solution. I however find desktop .NET development to be easy, rapid, and extremely well documented. Ruby and Python are excellent languages for web apps, so they do have their role, but I wouldn't write a client-side app in them.

    It sounds like we're agreed in that low-level C just isn't the right tool anymore for most jobs, though.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by infinite9 ( 319274 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @11:02PM (#24491219)

    Usually "senior" means 5+ years experience with some piece of technology invented six years ago, though.
    ... or 7 years of experience with a technology invented 5 years ago.

    After 17 years in IT, I always laugh at "senior" level positions with 5+ years of experience. So far, I don't think I've experienced age discrimination yet (i'm 38). Long experience tends to help in the consulting world I think. I've also noticed that my age helps me to get along with management... we tend to be the same age.

    Maybe I'll experience more discrimination in another 10 years, but I doubt it. My theory is that people older than me now were guilty by association. They worked on dinosaurs and were themselves, therefore, dinosaurs. They sort of got left behind when the business world moved away from mainframes. But today, there's not much that separates me from a 28 year old, just more experience. And there are a lot more computer people in my generation than there were cobol people. So I think this helps the perception that it's normal to be my age and be in IT. As we all age together over the next 10 years, it will be "normal" to see a 48 year old IT consultant writing code. I see it now rather frequently in fact.

    Then again, maybe not. Time will tell. Maybe we all have the same chance... try like hell to renew... Carousel!

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Cramer ( 69040 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @11:06PM (#24491263) Homepage
    And you've never been in academia. While databases do solve real world problems, they started as academic persuits. "OO design" is entirely rooted in academia... I doubt anyone who has ever written any program has done so in a manner that is not today interpreted as some form of OO -- except that it propbably wasn't written in C++. I know I had written numerous "OO" things long before "object oriented" ever crossed anyone's lips. "OO design" is simply academic BS used to warp people's brains into programming everything orders of magnitude more complicated than it ever needs to be.
  • Re:COBOL. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by demachina ( 71715 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2008 @11:54PM (#24491667)

    "But that is precisely why our defense has been so effective"

    LOL. you're taking an enormous leap there which isn't really supported. It could be our defense has been so effective because the U.S. is surrounded by two huge oceans and the logistical challenges of attacking the U.S. are formidable. It would require an enormous navy to actually invade the U.S. Canada hasn't been invaded much either, except by the U.S. Switzerland doesn't spend anything close to what the U.S. does and I don't think its been invaded much either, despite sitting in the middle of a powder keg.

    Rationalizing preemptive warfare is an enormously foolish thing to do. Taken to its logical conclusion you will quickly turn in to a rogue state engaged in non stop aggressive warfare and operating at the same level as Nazi Germany. The U.S. was very close to just than when it invaded Iraq under false pretenses. The rationales used in Granada, Kosovo and Panama were just as weak. None of those wars had anything to do with defending the U.S. or even preempting a threat they were just cases of the U.S. being a bully.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @01:59AM (#24492451) Journal

    I want to point out that the only reason I'm replying to your post is that you were moderated "+5, Insightful." In another circumstance I might be modded "troll" for this. I will escape it this time because the mods might be biased, but they're not dumb.

    So it was written upon greenbar in the mode of the day, in The Tao of Programming [canonical.org], wherein much wisdom is stored - First Chapter, Third Verse:

    The Tao gave birth to machine language. Machine language gave birth to the assembler.

    The assembler gave birth to the compiler. Now there are ten thousand languages.

    Each language has its purpose, however humble. Each language expresses the Yin and Yang of software. Each language has its place within the Tao.

    But do not program in COBOL if you can avoid it.

    The difference between a man who cannot read the history and one who will not is moot.

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @03:31AM (#24492957)
    This kind of post is the reason I read Slashdot.

    On another note, theres no way in hell it could take that long.

    1: Find competent CS majors.
    2: Pay them to learn a "new" language in two months.
  • Re:Ben, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vacuum_tuber ( 707626 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @09:43AM (#24495539) Journal

    Thank you, symbolset. And I respect your opinion but I disagree. There's actually a parallel world thing going on here. You live in one, I live in another.

    I started programming just as the minicomputer revolution was breaking out in the early 1960s. I spent some time around the PDP-1, which was used by a major international communication carrier for doing message switching. I worked for a time on the Burroughs B300, a business computer that worked directly with data in the BCD char set, the forerunner of ASCII, and did decimal arithmetic directly on fields of digits. Tools were primitive and I was attracted to building tools.

    In the 1970s I personally developed the core communications operating system for a financial information service company, in assembly language, on a proprietary 16-bit minicomputer. I helped them recover from 2% market share in the industry they had invented to over 60% market share. While there I designed and built what may have been the first caching disk controller, wrote numerous neat utilities, and specified what may have been one of the early proto-LANs to interconnect up to 16 of our machines at DMA speed. I also learned the power of small team development where everyone knows their stuff cold and can complete each other's sentences in an environment free of politics.

    It wasn't until the mid 1980s that I came to know a certain type of mainframe. I did about 50/50 systems and utility development and business applications, first in compiled BASIC, later in COBOL and a proprietary 4GL/database. That segment of the mainframe world peaked in the mid to late 1980s and began a decline brought on by a combination of overzealous PC weenies and slow movement by all mainframe and mini manufacturers to integrate PC technology.

    The user community in which I worked shrank seriously through the 1990s but it wasn't until after Y2K that consulting business began to drop off for me. I switched my attention to a package that allowed moving COBOL apps essentially unchanged to Unix on RS/6000 or HP. The speed was great but there were too many wrinkles, and much of the beloved mainframe environment was missing.

    In 2003 I took steps that resulted in the virtualization of my favorite line of mainframes, and in 2004 co-founded two companies to promote the technology. In early 2005 we signed a multi-year contract with the mainframe manufacturer to bring a new, virtualized generation of their systems to market. By that time all their legacy stuff was showing its age and they had nothing to offer their customers as a way forward.

    In late 2005 the first of our systems was sold. By then we had settled on the Dell PowerEdge 28x0 machines running Linux and spec'ed out with the fastest Intel CPUs and other parameters. We were able to offer performance 50% greater than the fastest of the legacy mainframe models. In 2006 we adopted the PowerEdge 29x0 machines and faster, better Intel CPU chips and were able to offer twice the performance of the legacy top end. This year we're moving up again and can offer 220% of the legacy top end performance.

    Things progressed, and we now have over 60 sites in ten countries, all happy customers, most of the systems being the enterprise processor, a few being subordinate in large conglomerations of multiple platforms, and a few used only for archival storage of and access to data.

    It is typical of our customers that they built their own applications over the course of 10, 15, 20, even 25 or more years. The applications do precisely what they want, they are stable and nearly bug free, and they have competent staffs of programmers. Most use COBOL, a few use RPG, and one notable case that has not moved to our technology has apps written entirely in assembly language and 1/10th the processing cost that is standard in their industry.

    Our virtualized mainframe is the perfect solution for these folks. It is 100% seamlessly compatible with all their software. No data or programs have to be converted, just moved into the

  • Re:COBOL. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @01:17PM (#24499481) Homepage Journal

    Local police departments usually can't handle situations calling for aircraft, or SCUBA divers or Hazmat teams. They almost never have more than rudimentary lab capabilities for assaying alleged drug samples, or doing DNA tests or ballistics tests.

    All but the largest localities have limited ability to deal with rioting, or situations calling for special weapons and tactics. They never have enough cops to deal with natural disasters like hurricanes or man-made disasters like train wrecks or large chemical spills. Even their detective force probably has limited capacity and capabilities. They usually won't be ready to deal with arson or explosives. Nor can they deal with situations involving widespread police corruption.

    People who talk this kind of nonsense are usually ignorant of what their state actually does. Yes, people once survived without state services, but life was universally agreed to be nasty, brutish and short. Yes, localities could get along without state services, but it wouldn't be cheaper. Would it be cheaper for you if you had to take a few weeks off work to serve in a posse? Would it be wiser of you to leave that work to people who were most willing to do so?

    Eliminate statewide services and localities would have to band together to operate shared police academies, forensic labs, SWAT teams, air and marine wings, detective services and so forth. What you'd get, in the end, would simply be a different regional government.

    The answer to the problems of bad government is to pay attention, not turn your back on those problems.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle