Mark Cuban, Keeping an Eye on the Bailout

If you’ve been listening to NPR’s Planet Money, you already know about  But in case you don’t, it’s a creation of Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) to report on how the money allocated by the bailout bill is being used.

They’ve already discovered that we taxpayers won’t know how much the companies working on behalf of the Treasury Department are being paid because that information is redacted.

My Two Cents on Reinventing the Wheel

Yesterday, I came across a spirited defense of reinventing the wheel in a recent post from Jeff Atwood.  Dare Obasanjo stands firmly in the “roll your own as last resort” camp.  In this particular case, Atwood asserts the following:

[D]eeply understanding HTML sanitization is a critical part of my business.

I’ll take Atwood at his word on what’s critical to his business (and what isn’t), but it seems that there’s a middle ground between his position and Obasanjo’s.  Particularly when there’s an open source solution available (SgmlReader in this case, since it’s written in C#), adopting and improving it has these benefits:

  • Improved understanding of HTML sanitization for the adopter.
  • Strengthening of the existing community.

To Atwood’s credit, he’s made his solution available here so that all of us who write software for a living can benefit from it.  I would be very interested in seeing a comparison between the SgmlReader and Atwood’s HTML Sanitizer to see which is better.

My own experience with reinventing the wheel (in software development terms) has rarely, if ever, been positive.  Therefore, I have a lot of sympathy for Obasanjo’s perspective.  Because I’ve inherited a lot of software from predecessors at various employers, I’ve seen a lot of less-than-ideal (to put it kindly) custom implementations of validation, encryption, search and logging functionality.

There are probably plenty of reasons that development teams reinvent the wheel in these areas, but one highly likely (and unfortunate) reason seems to be insufficient awareness about the wide variety of high-quality open source solutions available for a variety of problems.  I don’t know whether this is actually more true in internal IT shops than other environments or not, but it seems that way.  Encryption and logging in particular are two areas where it seems like custom code would be a bad idea for virtually everyone (except those actually in the encryption and logging library businesses).  With libraries like log4j, log4net, the Enterprise Library, and Bouncy Castle available, developers can spend their time focusing on what’s really important to their application.  Code for authentication and authorization seems like one of those areas as well.  It seems like there are a lot of solutions to this problem (like OpenID on the public web, and Active Directory in the enterprise) that time spent hand-rolling login/password anything is time not spent working in areas where more innovation is possible (and needed).

When I asked the question of “what should always be third-party” to Stack Overflow, I got some interesting answers.  Most answers seemed to agree that encryption should be third-party, except in rare cases, but there was surprising little consensus beyond that.  Beyond the scarce resources argument against custom logging (or other areas with widely available open source alternatives), there’s a diminishing returns argument as well.  I’ve only used Log4Net and the logging in the Enterprise Library, but they’re really good frameworks.  Even if I had the resources to implement custom logging well, the odds that the result would be a significant improvement over the existing third-party options are slim to none.  I’d like to see the quality argument made more often in buy vs. build decisions.

Why Performance Reviews Don’t Work

This morning, I came across this interesting post about why performance reviews don’t work.  The alternative that stood out was weekly one-on-one meetings with direct reports.  It’s a recommendation I first heard nearly two years ago on the Manager Tools podcast.  I’ve managed employees in the past, and when I followed the advice about weekly one-on-one meetings, virtually every relationship improved.  It is more meetings, but the results are worth it.

While I don’t have a manager title in my current job, I’m still in fairly regular touch with the employees I used to manage.  Were it not for those regular meetings, I doubt I’d have the same relationship with my former co-workers that I do today.

More Financial Crisis Info

I heard about this site on the financial crisis during an episode of the Planet Money Podcast.  They interviewed Simon Johnson (one of the co-founders) during “A Very Scary Cut–In The Interest Rate”.  The Financial Crisis for Beginners may be the best place to start.  Right near the top of that page, you’ll see links to both shows from This American Life I blogged about October 8 and May 28.

Understanding collateralized debt obligations

The best explanation of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) I’ve heard so far comes from the latest episode of the Planet Money podcast.  I was driving to work at the time, so I don’t have the exact time index of it, but I think it starts at the 16 minute mark.  The whole episode is worth hearing too.

Wikipedia has something to say about CDOs too, but I prefer the Planet Money explanation because it does a great job of showing how just one CDO can connect widely disparate parts of the economy.

Bailout Price Tag Continues Rising

According to this story in the Wall Street Journal (it’s subscriber-only, sorry), AIG just got another $37.8 billion from the Federal Reserve.  That puts the price tag for just bailing them out at $123 billion.  This may be a sign that the $700 billion $850 billion may not be enough.

In other news, the national debt is now so high that the US debt clock has run out of digits.  I don’t know if the figure includes the spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More Financial Crisis Education

The reporters who did the Giant Pool of Money story have followed up with Another Frightening Show About the Economy.  Like the first show, this one is well worth setting aside an hour to listen to–much more worthwhile than the same amount of time spent watching network or cable news on the same subject.  The explanations of precisely what frightened the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve into begging for new legislation are especially worthwhile.

Other worthwhile stories on this topic include:

Having listened to a number of episodes of Planet Money, it’s proving to be a good podcast.  Each one is a lot shorter than the stories I mentioned earlier, so they’re especially convenient if you haven’t got a lot of time.