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STARS is late and over budget by $700 Million

This one is tougher than the space shuttle:

Good article with all the buzzwords: open, cots, PC-like user interfaces, real time, politics, unions.  This is a mother lode of IT realism and horror.  Pretty important system too.

http://www.baselinemag.com/article2/0,3959,6753,00.asp

tk
Thursday, September 26, 2002

"The STARS workstation is a custom gray cabinet with a Sun Microsystems computer running Solaris 8 buried deep inside."

Some names keep popping up in these disaster stories :-).

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, September 26, 2002

You got to be kidding if you want to suggest the problem is Sun or Solaris, as their Unix implementation is rock solid.  That probably perhaps why you see their name popping up consistently in these mission critical projects.

Raist3d
Thursday, September 26, 2002

About a year ago, I saw some news show like "60 Minutes" or "Dateline" about the problems with getting _ground_ radar to work (the system would prevent planes from crashing into each other on the runways).  Apparently, the ground radar system has been delayed by years, if not decades, and still doesn't work.

J. D. Trollinger
Thursday, September 26, 2002

Projects like this make me think that there are physical limits to what can be achieved with computing.
Somebody stuffed up on the feasability documentation.
After that, all was doomed anyhow, no matter what technologies were used.

Tony
Thursday, September 26, 2002

> Projects like this make me think that there are physical limits to what can be achieved with computing.

The article implies that there was little wrong with the original software (it works at Frankfurt), and little wrong with (Raytheon's) enhancements; the budget bulge was caused by disagreements about requirements from the users - a political problem.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, September 26, 2002

Chris,

American air traffic is not the same as that of Europe's.

The off-the-shelf Raytheon system would not have worked in the US.

Let me ask you this -- would you accept a car in which the steering wheel and accelerator and gear shift were replaced by a QWERTY keyboard and a trackball with which you were expected to make a right turn by selecting "Direction Change" form the "Tools" menu, then filled out the dialog by typing "90" in the editor, choosing the "degrees" in the popup units menu and "CW" in the popup orientation menu? No you would not, because it would not give you enough response time to drive safely.

It's easy to blame the users or the unions or politics but the fact is the morons at Raytheon delivered an idioticallybadly designed system with an optimally horribly user interface and had complete disdain for the users. The Air Traffic Controllers that stopped this insanity saved Raytheon's asses because you can bet they would have been sued out of business by grieving families of dead passengers.

Were the Controllers asking for more money? Better benifits? More time off? No they weren't so don't call it politics. They were the only ones in this whole insanity who *weren't* involved in politics and they were the only ones that maintained their professionalism and integrity -- and saved lives by doing so. They deserve far more credit than you give them.

X. J. Scott
Thursday, September 26, 2002

All kinds of politics are involved when you have more than one person involved; hierarchy, power, authority, conflict, compromise are always issues when humans are get together.

It's remarkable that any big project gets done and works at any cost and timeframe.  When the project is in the public sector, whoa ...

This kind of project is not in the realm most of us work in.  The key executives and managers have to be every bit as sharp at their profession as the engineers are at theirs.  Even that may not be enough.

But that said, the biggest errors may have been in the original time and budget estimates.

tk
Thursday, September 26, 2002

> The off-the-shelf Raytheon system would not have worked in the US.

I wonder why not: same planes, same pilots, same laws of physics, twice as many passengers at Frankfurt than at JFK, same tonnage of cargo.

> They deserve far more credit than you give them.

I didn't intend to use "politics" as a four-letter word ("users" is a five-letter word), and I only know what's said in the cited article. I meant that my reading of the article didn't suggest this was a good example of the "physical limits to what can be achieved with computing", it sounded more like a UI issue.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, September 26, 2002

"I didn't intend to use "politics" as a four-letter word"

Ah.. I guess I was being overly-sensitive then.

Perhaps you are right about Frankfurt. Maybe they are as busy as LAX or Chicago; I had heard that conditions here were a lot more hectic but maybe that's changed.

X. J. Scott
Friday, September 27, 2002

> Frankfurt ... as busy as LAX or Chicago?

They're in the same ballpark.

http://www.fraport.com/online/news/showNews.do;jsessionid=o7pjzgkbg1?id=3437623030633a663033653936646538333a31623265 says 32 million passengers at Frankfurt in the 8 months Jan-Aug 2002.

http://www.eltoroairport.org/issues/lax-use.html implies 34 million at LAX in the 12 months of 2000.

Christopher Wells
Friday, September 27, 2002

> http://www.eltoroairport.org/issues/lax-use.html implies 34 million at LAX in the 12 months of 2000.

Thanks for the link. I'm a little confused as that page says explicitly:

"From 1993 to 2000, LAX traffic increased from 47.8 million to 67.6 million passengers, including connecting passengers."

I wondered if Frankfurt had the same situation with many nearby airports as well with traffic to be coordinated; probably it does.

Seems the numbers are not so different that if a menu/trackball/QWERTY interface (instead of real-time single purpose knobs) can work safely in Frankfurt, it can work in LA. I guess if the Controllers would just learn to use the European interface and stop complaining, the system would already be done.

X. J. Scott
Friday, September 27, 2002

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