Duck, it’s a missile… wait no, kidding kidding. And how a terrible software interface was at fault.

By | Systems Thinking

Hawaii Missile Alert Bad Software Was at Fault

​An emergency notification on Saturday informing Hawaiians that a missile was inbound and moments from impact in their vicinity left residents, visitors, and vacationers of the state pretty flipping shaken up. For fun, it took about a half hour to let everyone in on the joke, it was a false alarm.

Let that wobble around for a sec – you’re on vacation with your kids and just gearing up for some beach time and all the phones around you scream to life, shouting holy f#ck, there’s a missile INBOUND right this minute. Oh umm seek shelter. WTF “seek shelter” means in the face of an immediate inbound missile attack is a different topic. But suffice it to say your vacation is gloriously unhinged. So you proceed to flip the hell out for the next 30 or so minutes until your phone says, JK JK, you’ve been punked. What the hell just happened?

So… the questions are:

  1. How did this happen and…
  2. How did it take so damned long to unf#ck.

The answer to both is, as a software developer, astonishing… and as someone with experience in government software (ahem healthcare.gov, looking at you), not the least bit surprising.

So it was human error that caused the alert to be sent out. Sort of. A human clicked the wrong button, yes, but WOW the interface that allowed that to happen is so far beyond amateur hour it’s not even funny.

Let’s have a look.

hawaii emergency alert system interface

Ok so here we see the interface in all it’s glory. Clicking one of those clearly and well designed links kicks off an emergency broadcast, presumably with no confirmation such as “Do you REALLY want to flip the entire state out right now?” The administrator clicked the “PACOM (CDW) – STATE ONLY” link instead of clicking the “DRILL – PACOM (CDW) – STATE ONLY” link. A simple mistake in the early morning that anyone could have made. And the best part was that even though he immediately realized what he’d done, there was NO way to undo or send a revised alert.

The problem here starts with UX and interface design.

  1. There is no visual distinction between drills, tests and the real deal.
  2. There is no failsafe or confirmation that forces a user to double check – “do you really want to send this?”. Seriously what software interface DOESN’T have a confirmation check for important actions? Confirm purchase, delete this image, cause statewide panic…
  3. There is was no undo. There was no way to send a revised alert or cancel the existing alert. The link at the top that says “BDM False Alarm” is new :). Brilliant.

This interface is pretty much unforgivable in the face of the magnitude of the system and that we’re in 2018 not 1992. Developers cannot create interfaces that allow this sort of simple mistake to happen. This was a software developers fault, plain and simple – not a human error or a training issue or any other political spin we want to throw at it. Design better software folks.

The Equifax Sh!tstorm & Those Pesky Security Updates

By | Lithyem Insights

Importance of Software Security UpdatesJust to set the stage… Cyber theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States by far. Cyber crime damage costs are reported to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021. Global security and ransomware damage costs are on track to exceed $5 billion in 2017. That’s up 15x in just 2 years to $325 from 2015… and expected to get much worse. Cheers.

So now that you’ve got your head wrapped in tinfoil and bought a tiny house off the grid… what the hell happened?

This post isn’t about what to do if you were affected by the Equifax hack, there’s plenty out there on that. The interesting point here is one of the main causes of the hack in the first place was the failure to make timely security updates to critical software.

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Why Excel is Threatening Your Business

By | Lithyem Insights

Why Excel is Threatening Your Business

Forrester estimates that about 81% of all business use Excel. Excel is used for estimation, projection, day to day operations and pretty much anything you can imagine. Entire companies are run on Excel… it’s used in industries from finance to construction to education to medicine, relatively important stuff.

So… ?

Here’s a fun statistic: Researchers have found that up to 90% of all spreadsheets have errors that affect their results.

Let that sink in for a sec.

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Your software project is going to fail

By | Systems Thinking

Your software project is going to fail and I can tell you why.

I’ve been developing software solutions and involved in the technology space for nearly 20 years now. I’ve been responsible for designing and implementing some incredibly complex business platforms and I’ve seen over and over what works and what doesn’t. I’ve seen everything from huge successes to spectacular failures and just recently watched a huge belly flop of a platform rollout (I had nothing to do with it!) that got me thinking about how this keeps happening to so many companies trying to solve their technology challenges.

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A System is NOT a Process

By | Systems Thinking
systems-process

I presented a workshop a few weeks ago for CONNECT called Bulletproof Information Systems and I noticed that what people struggled with most was understanding the distinction between a System and a Process. When asked to list a process they would like to map out, many people listed things like marketing and lead generation, both systems not processes.

A light bulb went on – they don’t know the difference, and neither do most people.

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Optimize BEFORE You Automate

By | Systems Thinking
optimize before you automate
Happy new year! 2017 is off to the races and companies are coming back online and ready to tackle their goals for the new year. Like a lot of companies, a technology upgrade may be on the table for you. Maybe it’s a project management system, a CRM, an accounting platform, a workflow system – maybe it’s an off the shelf solution or a custom build… either way, STOP. Consider this quote before anything else.


The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. – Bill Gates


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Email is not your friend, Visualized.

By | Systems Thinking
Visual Analysis of Typical Email Exchange
Let’s assume for a moment that you have a finite amount of mental bandwidth and that every piece of visual information that you have to process uses up some of that bandwidth. Here’s just one way that email robs you blind without you even realizing it.

To illustrate, I took a 7 email exchange with a colleague and dissected the information. The exchange went like this:

  1. I emailed a colleague with a simple request.
  2. He responded with a question.
  3. I replied with an answer.
  4. He emailed a 3rd person for clarification.
  5. He forwarded the 3rd person’s response to me with a question.
  6. I replied with an answer.
  7. He confirmed, and closed the thread.

I looked at this email exchange and highlighted all the new information, the redundant information, the sub-thread information and the completely worthless information. For all the text in the exchange, there were about 9 or 10 short sentences (6.81%) worth anything at all, out of the pages and pages of content. Read More