The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Well, that could explain a few things

I'm excited about my new project, but as we ramp it up, I'm becoming aware of a cost: sleep. And that's not good.

Thanks to my Fitbit, I have a pretty good idea of how much I'm sleeping. Here's what October looks like so far:

The 11th through 13th and the 16th through 18th were travel days. And then on the 17th (the "wake" column of the 16th) I had to get up at an ungodly hour to get to the San Antonio MEPS by 6am.

I think this will settle down quickly, but wow, I'm really feeling it today.

Lunchtime links

Too much to read today, especially during an hours-long download from our trips over the past two weeks. So I'll come back to these:

But more seriously:

Lunch break is over.

AC0001001

Well, that's it for the Cubs this year.

I haven't actually seen the Anno Catuli sign this season. If they haven't changed it to reflect last night's horrible loss to the Dodgers, I'll try to get a snap of it reading AC0000000. But officially, today, the Cubs have gone one year from their last World Series and pennant wins.

Fans are still in denial. But an 11-1 loss looks to me like the old Cubs.

Saving you the trouble of a FOIA request

I have some clarity now on what I can and can't say about the project I'm working on. In short, it's not classified (though the data we deal with is personally-identifiable information–PII—and private health information–PHI). My security clearance is "public trust," the lowest level, and in fact the only level that someone with a clearance can disclose. Also, the contracts for this project are publicly available through FOIA.

So, I'm free to discuss this project in a way that I've rarely been permitted before. Now, I'm not allowed to post photos of, or taken on, military bases, and it's a bad idea but not necessarily prohibited for me to discuss individual people. (Which is a shame, because a week ago I got a tour of the Pentagon that included the 9/11 memorial, which really moved me. I will try to obtain permission to post photos, but it doesn't look likely I can.)

Here's the story.

Technically (and I never thought I would be one of these), I'm now a defense contractor. My client is the Defense Digital Service, a franchise of the United States Digital Service. President Obama formed the latter to prevent debacles like the HealthCare.gov rollout, which funneled $50m to Accenture and produced something a well-run start-up could have produced for a tiny fraction of that amount. The former (my client) reports directly to the Secretary of Defense's office, and, as a civil service agency, is not subject to White House interference.

My client's customer is the Military Enrollment Processing Command (MEPCOM), headquartered in North Chicago, Ill. This joint command runs the country's 67 Military Enrollment Processing Stations (MEPS) and enrolls everyone who joins the U.S. armed forces in the enlisted ranks. (They also provide services for some officer candidates, but my project doesn't apply to those folks.)

Our company will be upgrading the software that MEPS use to track applicants from the time recruiters drop them off to the time they enter basic training. The current software launched in 1996 and functions only because a dedicated group of people up at MEPCOM keep it running with spit and duck tape.

We've got five months to produce a pilot program that shows how we can overhaul the entire process. We're working closely with MEPCOM, the Baltimore MEPS, and the Air Force, because if you're going to do a pilot project you really want that service to be involved. (Rimshot!)

In the end, we're going to produce software that helps kids who want to serve the United States do so without losing bonuses, or getting shut out of health care, or getting told they can't serve because of a technicality someone should have caught early. Software that helps the dedicated civil servants who work in MEPS across the country do their jobs better. Software that helps every American taxpayer by solving these real problems at a fraction of what the government would have spent 10 years ago. (In fact, they did. In the early 2000s another firm spent 5 years and tens of millions developing a replacement that completely failed.)

In the coming months, I'll post what I can about this project, and about the people we're helping. By "what I can," understand that I'm going to clear some of the information I post with DDS, MEPCOM, and in some cases, the Air Force. Since my client is the U.S. Government, I literally have a First Amendment right to post anything I learn on my blog; but I recognize that just because something is available through a FOIA request doesn't mean I should publish it. To wit: This project touches real people, many of them smart teenagers in bad situations who have lost their best shot at getting a better life because of bad software. And that pisses me off. But each situation raises a complicated interaction of privacy concerns, which the law as written may allow me to disclose, but basic human decency obligates me to protect.

Also, the kids who we'll be helping by and large don't care about who's running the government. They love their country. They want to give something back. Or maybe they just want a good job. It doesn't matter. In the past week, I've seen four swearing-in ceremonies, in each of which a group of teenagers pledged to serve the United States and our Constitution, knowing that when they come back in a few weeks, they'll be shipped off somewhere and asked to do things both boring and horrific for four to eight years. It's really moving to see that. Even the officers who do 20 or 30 of these ceremonies each week feel it.

This is going to be one of the most impactful projects I've worked on. And it's really, really cool.

Back

Wow, do I have stories to tell. Two days in San Antonio and I've got a lot to digest.

Right now, dog and man both want dinner.

Firehose

I've learned more in the last week about the U.S. armed forces and how they enroll new members than I can recount. (I mean that in several senses.) Our team were at the San Antonio MEPS before 6am and stayed until almost 11; later this afternoon, we're heading to Lackland AFB to watch Air Force recruits getting off the bus for basic training.

First, though, I need to nap. We left our hotel 15 minutes before the nearest Starbucks opened and couldn't locate an open fast-food joint on the way to Fort Sam Houston. Also, the USO volunteer—the person with control over the Keurig machine—didn't arrive until 8. Oh, the madness.

More about this later. We're still sorting out what we can and can't post on social media (no photos, no personally-identifiable information, but some details about the project). For now, I just have to assimilate all of this information and come up with a minimally-viable product outline by next week. Fun!

Links to read on the plane

I'm about to fly to San Antonio for another round of researching how the military tracks recruits from the time they get to the processing center to the time they leave for boot camp (officially "Military Basic Training" or MBT).

I have some stuff to read on the plane:

OK, off to K20. Or K18. Or wherever my plane has got to.

 

Update on Éire and the Hebridies

On the southwest coast of Ireland, County Kerry's local newspaper warns that post-tropical storm Ophelia will hit within the hour with "violent and destructive gusts forecast with all areas at risk." 

Galway schools are closed an Irish defence forces are being deployed throughout the area:

The Department of Education has ordered schools across Galway to close tomorrow as a red weather warning remains in place for the county.

It follows a special meeting of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning this afternoon to discuss preparations for Hurricane Ophelia.

GMIT is also to close all of its campuses across Galway – while NUI Galway says it is currently assessing the threat and will make a decision at 7 this evening.

Meanwhile, the City Council says Hurricane Ophelia does not currently pose a strong flood risk.

In a statement, the local authority says while there will be a storm sea surge in Galway Bay, the overall tidal level is predicted to be below the critical level for flooding.

It adds it will continue to monitor the situation and further defences and other measures will be put in place if required.

Meanwhile the storm track seems to have shifted west, so that Islay and Campbelltown are not directly in Ophelia's path; but not entirely safe either:

Three battalions of soldiers are on permanent standby to deal with major incidents in the UK, but the Ministry of Defence said no specific requests had yet been made of them by local authorities.

The Republic of Ireland's Met Office predicts coastal areas will be hit by winds in excess of 80mph (130km/h) from 09:00 BST on Monday until Tuesday and is warning against unnecessary travel.

Gerald Fleming, head of its general forecasting division, told Irish broadcaster RTE: "The track is very consistent [and] has been for days.

"The strongest winds [will be] along the south coast.

'Huge contrasts'

"That'll be tomorrow morning, and it'll track up the centre again, going up along the western part of the country."

BBC Weather said Monday would be a "day of huge contrasts" with the strong gusts of wind travelling over the Irish Sea and heading north to central and southern Scotland, sparing eastern parts of the UK.

Eastern England is instead expected to enjoy unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures of 22C or 23C on Monday - compared with an average for mid-October of 15C.

Highs of 24C were recorded in the region on Saturday as some parts of the country basked in a "mini heatwave" thanks to warm air brought by Hurricane Ophelia

I hope the people I met in Ireland and Scotland over the years get through this once-per-century storm with their wits about them—and their houses. Good luck.

 

I should visit places I *don't* like

Another Atlantic hurricane is heading towards another place I've visited recently. Hurricane Ophelia, now churning in the eastern Atlantic, should reach the south coast of—not kidding—Ireland tomorrow morning as a tropical storm, and a few hours later roll over Islay.

The latest:

This year’s busy and bizarre hurricane season isn’t done stunning scientists. The latest named storm, Ophelia, is now the sixth major hurricane to form in the Atlantic this year, and the 10th consecutive named storm to reach hurricane strength this year — only the third time in recorded history and the first time in a century that has happened — tying the all-time single-year record. On top of all that, no major hurricane has ever formed as far east as Ophelia has. The storm intensified so far east, in fact, that the continent it now threatens is Europe. Ophelia reached category 3 strength 220 miles south of the Azores on Saturday morning, and is now on track to strike Ireland beginning Monday.

While it won’t still be a hurricane by the time it reaches the British Isles — Ophelia is forecast to have become an extratropical storm before then — it will probably still arrive as “a destructive windstorm in Ireland on par with some of the most damaging in the nation’s history,” according to Henson, with winds as high as 70 mph along the island’s southwest coast. A “status red” alert, Ireland’s highest, has been issued for five counties in that region. Storm surge flooding along the coast is possible, but the biggest threat will be from the high winds.

I mean, this is just weird: