Go Fly With Them

After spending three days going over a stack of redacted photocopies concerning some kind of aircraft, I finally met with a couple of shady fellows who ostensibly represented some organization somewhere that wanted my advice about avionics.  It surely wasn’t Deltana Associates, Inc. – no, DAI had “front company” written all over it.  We met in a windowless conference room in one of those glitzy buildings where anybody with the bucks can rent fully furnished office suites, no questions asked.  This particular one was in Rosslyn, but the whole DC metro area is full of buildings like that.
The two fellows I met with played it like they were DAI principal employees, bogus business cards and all.  Given that I had been paid in advance to review the background materials sent to me  – with a cashier’s check drawn on a bank in Bermuda, no less – I risked nothing humoring them.  According to those business cards, I was in the company of a Dr. Able Baker, Vice President, Technical Operations, and a Mr. Charlie Deltana, President, Deltana Associates, Inc.  According to my previous communications with them, they were supposedly consultants themselves, and had been retained by a large aircraft manufacturer to address a problem that company was experiencing with its cutting edge, state-of-the-art avionics.  As with those other shady characters at the IFAC down on K street, I made a recording of our discussion, using the same equipment I mentioned in that post:
Tom Collins: Good morning, I’m Tom Collins and I’m here to meet a Dr. A. Baker with DAI.
Receptionist: Ah… DAI… right… could you just have a seat while I let him know you’re here?
Tom Collins: Of course.
Receptionist: [Inaudible] and he’s waiting to meet with you now, at [inaudible].
[Three minutes, fourteen seconds.]
Dr. Baker:  Mr. Collins – we spoke on the telephone late last week.  I’m Dr. Able Baker, Vice President, Technical Operations, DAI.
Tom Collins: Thanks for the card Dr., ah,  Baker.  Here’s one of mine.
Dr. Baker: Please follow me to the conference room – it’s right down the hall here.  Did you receive all five hundred and twenty one pages by FedEx overnight delivery?
Tom Collins: Not only that, I also read every single one of them.  Which wasn’t has hard as I expected, given the amount of it that was blacked out.
Dr. Baker:  Mr. Collins, this is Mr. Charlie Deltana, President of DAI.
Tom Collins: Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Deltana.  Oh, thanks for the business card.  Here’s one of mine.
Mr. Deltana: Thanks, Tom.  Please, have a seat – we have a lot to discuss, I’m sure.
Tom Collins: Thanks, Mr. Deltana, Dr. Baker.  Let me start by giving you my initial assessment of the materials I have already reviewed in this matter.  Apparently, your client, a large aircraft manufacturing concern, has been conducting shakedown tests on a new twin-engine jet airplane that employs an innovative, state-of-the-art, bleeding edge avionics system…
Dr. Baker: Excuse me?
Tom Collins: Yes?
Dr. Baker: Did you say “bleeding edge?”
Tom Collins: Based on what I have reviewed up to this point in time, sir, no other description would, in my professional opinion, be as appropriate.
Dr. Baker: I see.  Thank you.  Please forgive my interruption.
Tom Collins: You are welcome, Dr. Baker.  Apparently, these tests were conducted sometime in the recent past, which, from various un-redacted parts of the materials I read, seems to be no more than a couple of months ago.  During the first test, a rather disturbing event occurred.  It seems that when one of these aircraft crossed over what the text describes as “an imaginary geographic demarcation limit,” the entire avionics system, including all of the redundant backup modules, failed completely, and the aircraft nearly fell right out of the sky.  Might I enquire as to a particular at this point?
Mr. Deltana: Yes.  Please go ahead, Tom.
Tom Collins: I’m just guessing here, of course, but by any chance could that “imaginary geographic demarcation limit” be the International Date Line?
Mr. Deltana: We are at liberty only to say that your question is remarkably perceptive, Mr. Collins.
Tom Collins: I will take that as a compliment, gentleman, thank you for responding to my question.  I note that the materials supplied recount that the aircraft became operable again when it “reversed course,” and that the problem was subsequently tracked down and identified as a software defect, or “bug” in the avionics program modules.  A “tiger team” of avionics software specialists was then convened.  It took them less than 72 hours to find the putative error and ostensibly correct it…
Mr. Deltana: Excuse me, Mr. Collins?
Tom Collins: Yes?
Dr. Baker: Is there a reason why you describe the software defect as “putative” and the tiger team’s correction of it “ostensible?”
Tom Collins: Yes, I most certainly have my reasons for that, “Dr. Baker.”
Mr. Deltana: Do I detect a note of skepticism or sarcasm in your address of Dr. Baker?
Tom Collins: If the shoe fits, sir, I suggest he wear it.  Shall I continue?
Dr. Baker: Yes, Tom, please do.
Tom Collins: Having become concerned about the effects of flying the aircraft over other “specific points of geographic interest,” the company subsequently conducted a number of other confidential tests.  Again, based on what I can piece together from the un-redacted parts of the materials supplied to me, I speculate that the next test consisted of flying the aircraft over the intersection of the Equator and the Greenwich Meridian at Latitude zero degrees, zero minutes, zero seconds; Longitude zero degrees, zero minutes, zero seconds; and that the aircraft likewise became inoperable due to complete failure of all primary and backup avionics systems, remaining so until maneuvered directly back in the direction it came from.  This, of course, caused it pass again over the zero/zero point, precipitating another failure which could only be resolved by reversing course back over that point again, and so on repeatedly; during which maneuvers the aircraft steadily and continually lost altitude.  Since the zero/zero point is located in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of West Africa, it apparently became necessary to catch the aircraft in a large steel net suspended between two larger tanker transports that accompanied it on the test flight.
Dr. Baker: I seems, Mr. Collins, that we must congratulate you on your insightful imagination.
Tom Collins: Thank you, “Dr. Baker.”  My further analysis of the un-redacted portions of the materials sent for review lead me to speculate that, after the aircraft manufacturer had another tiger team go through millions of lines of code to find and ostensibly correct the second putative software defect presumed to have caused the avionics to fail over the zero/zero point, a subsequent test was conducted in which the aircraft flew over the Equator at Longitude 180 degrees, zero minutes, zero seconds East.  It seems that the primary avionics and all backup avionics systems failed in a similar mode under those circumstances as well, requiring another retrieval of the aircraft using an airborne steel net, and another search through the avionics software to find and correct the software defect responsible.
Mr. Deltana: Your imagination is quite perceptive, Mr. Collins.
Tom Collins:  Thank you, “Mr. Deltana.”  My perceptive imagination goes on to speculate, based on the un-redacted parts of the materials I have reviewed, that the aircraft manufacturer then tested this twin-engine jet of theirs in flights over the North and South Poles.  It looks as though each time it was the same story – the primary and backup avionics failed completely, the aircraft nearly fell out of the sky and had to be rescued with a a steel net suspended between two fuel transport aircraft before it hit the ground.  Subsequently, in each case, the aircraft manufacturer’s software tiger team spent several days reviewing millions of lines of code to ostensibly correct the putative bugs presumed responsible for the software malfunction.  So, as nearly as I can tell, in what appears to have been no more than a couple of months at most, the primary and backup avionics on this twin-engine jet have failed completely when it was (a) flown over the International Date Line, (b) over the point Latitude zero, Longitude zero; (c) over the intersection of the Equator and Longitude 180 degrees East; (d) over the North Pole; and, (e) over the South Pole.
Dr. Baker: We are not in a position to confirm or deny any of those assertions, Mr. Collins, but we are very much interested in your observations concerning the materials we retained you to analyze.
Tom Collins: Thank you, “Dr. Baker.”  Now, based on my review, to date, of the un-redacted portions of the materials submitted, I will venture one last set of speculations.  Your client, this aircraft manufacturing company, is worried about three major issues.  I speculate that the first one is, how many other geographic points are there on the globe where this massive avionics failure might occur, and where are they?   I speculate that the second one is, what other combinations of avionic flight input parameter values, if any, might precipitate the same, similar or other catastrophic effects?  And thirdly, I speculate that they would very much like to know how a software system which, I am quite certain, was developed in accordance with ISO 9000, CMMI Level 5 and Six Sigma practices, processes and standards could possibly turn out to be such an embarrassingly inadequate, retarded, rotten piece of barnyard dung?
Mr. Deltana: I sincerely believe it is indeed possible that our client, the aircraft manufacturing company in question, may very well be entertaining questions concerning issues remarkably similar to, if not exactly the same, as those which you speculate they might.
Tom Collins: I find that to be very gratifying to hear, “Mr. Deltana.”
Dr. Baker: Would you care to provide us with your thoughts on the answers to those questions, Mr. Collins?
Tom Collins: I think our inquiry into the answers for those three hypothetical questions will proceed much more efficiently if we consider the last one first.
Dr. Baker: I agree that the third issue is certainly the most interesting one, and concur with the strategy that answering it should quickly lead us to explanations for the other two.  So, very well, let’s think about that for a while, then, if we may – how could a software system, which, I am pleased to say, I am indeed at a liberty to reveal was of course developed in accordance with ISO 9000, CMMI Level 5 and Six Sigma practices, processes and standards, possibly turn out to be such an embarrassingly inadequate, retarded, rotten piece of crap?
Tom Collins: Gentleman, I always say, do the easy stuff first and the hard stuff will take care of itself; and this is the easiest question I have had to answer for any client in at least the last six months.  The only way a piece of software developed in accordance with ISO 9000,  CMMI Level 5 and Six Sigma practices, processes and standards could possibly turn out to be such an embarrassingly inadequate, retarded, rotten piece of barnyard dung is that the design of that software is either embarrassingly inadequate, retarded, rotten barnyard dung, or something even worse.  I say that because no amount of the wonderful things that ISO 9000, CMMI Level 5 and Six Sigma practices, processes and standards can do for software quality will have the least quantum of impact on the usability, suitability, effectiveness or proper function of a software system if the design is totally hosed up the nose from square one; or, as I said, perhaps something worse.
Mr. Deltana: I’m sure Tom hit the nail on the head there, Abe.
Dr. Baker: Truer words were never spoken, Chuck.  But how could our client, which is a large and very experienced manufacturer, not only of aircraft in general, but also avionics software in particular, have created an avionics system design that is “totally hosed up the nose,” as you say?
Tom Collins: That’s an easy one, too – they could not possibly have done so.
Mr. Deltana:  They couldn’t?
Tom Collins: Nope.
Dr. Baker: I’m afraid we don’t follow you, Tom.
Tom Collins: Of course you don’t – I wouldn’t expect either of you to be able to follow that.
Mr. Deltana: Are condescending to us, Tom?
Tom Collins: Invoking here the highest degree of irony, sir, I am sad to report that, alas, I am not.  Your “client” didn’t create the avionics system installed in its fleet of twin-engine jets. 
Dr. Baker: How can you be sure of that?
Tom Collins: Because if they had, there would have been at least one or two engineers in the organization who retained enough decency and guts to point out, tactfully, diplomatically and persistently, that employing a data register architecture containing the potential for congruent modular rings across primary and backup versions of the avionics core is a suicidally stupid thing to do – it’s an open invitation to sabotage, if nothing else.  And, after those who had thought up, lobbied for, pushed through and bullied the prototype into containing that monumentally stupid design flaw were properly rewarded with big raises and promotions; and the one or two brave souls who stopped it from going into production were suitably punished, presumably to the utter ruination of their careers, the design would go forward to production without that flaw, with those who originally thought it up and lobbied for it now given credit for the corrected design.
Mr. Deltana: Why, of course.  That’s what anyone familiar with technological organization dynamics would predict.  Pure textbook reasoning, actually.
Tom Collins: That it is.  So, because the avionics system design got all the way through from initial vision statement to production deployment without one or two engineers who are, in fact, competent noticing the glaring, idiotic flaw sitting right in the middle of it, we can conclude that your “client” didn’t really design the avionics system.
Dr. Baker: Well, then, wherever did it come from, Tom?
Tom Collins: Simple.  Your “client” stole the design from their foremost competitor.
Mr. Deltana: That’s a pretty serious allegation, Tom.
Tom Collins: I can’t prove it – and I don’t want to know enough to be able to prove it, either.  But I will point out, the theory that your “client” stole the avionics certainly explains a lot of things that remain inexplicable otherwise.  You see, I speculate that your “client” was in competition for a contract to produce a large number of these twin-engine jets for some application or another, I don’t know what – it doesn’t matter, really, whatever it is, the jets have to navigate over the surface of the earth without falling out of the sky when they fly over or cross various imaginary points and lines in order to accomplish their purpose, don’t they?  And I further speculate that what happened was, your “client” threw more fancy dinners, cases of outrageously expensive wine and booze, free sporting equipment, cars, yachts, SUVs, exotic trips, extended five star hotel stays, call girls, buff young dudes and cash at the decision makers in their customer’s organization – let’s call them “the brass,” just for the sake of argument – than your “client’s” competitor did.  So your “client” has its customer’s brass in their back pockets and your “client’s” competitor realizes that and decides to throw in the towel, or even gets told, by the brass, that they might as well throw in the towel.  But your “client’s” competitor knows that their avionics system is actually far, far superior to what your “client” intends to put into the aircraft it will deliver to the brass, and furthermore, your “client’s: engineers know that, too.
Dr. Baker: Okay, supposing that might be true, what of it?  And why are you looking at me like that?
Tom Collins: I’m thinking about your “client’s” engineers.  Know any of them?
Dr. Baker: I can’t say as I do.
Tom Collins: “Dr. Baker,” I have a five year old niece who is a better liar than you are.  Your face is flushed, your left hand – controlled as it is by the right hemisphere of your brain – is in tremor, your lips are so dry your saliva is caked up at their corners, and your eyes are in nystagmus.
Dr. Baker: I can assure you, Tom, that those are simply the side effects of various prescription medications.
Tom Collins: I rest assured, “Dr. Baker,” in a pig’s eye.  Ahem.  Well, your “client’s” competitor has to close down their program.  But as they are doing so, the brass issue a routine modification to your “client’s” contract calling for your “client” to specify the latest designs to be used in the first deliverable prototypes, and to demonstrate that those designs meet or exceed the products of any competitor not selected to deliver these twin-engine jets.
Mr. Deltana: Agreed, that would be a fairly common thing.
Tom Collins: You bet it would.  And while your “client’s” engineers…
Dr. Baker: Mr. Collins?
Tom Collins: While your “client’s” engineers… are tearing their hair out… trying to come up with an avionics package that is even… half as good…. as the competition’s was, lo and behold… “Dr. Baker,” what lands on somebody’s desk?
Dr. Baker: Well, I, ah, uh… I’m sure I don’t know, Tom.
Tom Collins: Really?  You couldn’t guess in a million years, “Dr. Baker,” who swears he doesn’t know any of his “client” company’s engineers?  Why, it’s a stack of CD ROMs that contain complete copies of the source code, executable modules and documentation for what looks like the competitor’s avionics system!  Now, level with me, gentlemen, could that have happened?  Did that happen, “Dr. Baker?”
Dr. Baker: Anything is possible, I suppose.
Tom Collins: I also suppose so, “Dr. Baker.”  And I further suppose that your “client” went ahead and used that software, which it thought some disgruntled engineer in the losing competitor’s shop had decided to slip to them.  It makes sense, doesn’t it – some guy who knew he was going to get laid off when the program folded; maybe be out of work for months, maybe have to take a job for way less money, maybe lose his house, his girlfriend or wife and family; all because his company couldn’t match the bribes your “client” was laying on the customer’s brass?  Why not stick it to his stupid bosses?  Right?  But in reality, it was the vindictive bosses at your “client’s” competitor who were sticking it to your “client!”  Because that software is riddled with number traps that are going to make those jets fall out of the sky – a goose that lays golden eggs which blow up in your face – constructed by someone who truly understands the perils of fly-by-wire!  And bingo, what do you know – there’s the answers to Question Number Two and Question Number One!  They just fell into our laps without another moment’s effort.  How about that?  And what can your “client” do about this situation?  Well, it could admit that it stole, or thought that it had stolen, the avionics it sold with its aircraft, but that isn’t a viable way to stay in business, now is it?  Or, your “client” can continue to toe the party line that it has been pushing since it cheated out its competitor for this twin-engine jet contract – it can keep on claiming that it designed this hosed-up-the-nose piece-of-crap software, all the while continually testing and looking for bugs over and over at huge expense on one hand, and frantically trying to develop a replacement avionics system that actually works at huge expense on the other.  In summary, gentlemen, I speculate that your “client’s” history of dishonest business practices has finally caught up with them.  They went too far, blatantly cheating at what should have been a fair and open competition to produce the best product at the best price.  But your “client’s” competitor was so fed up they weren’t about to challenge the contract award; they weren’t about to bother suing anybody.  Your “client’s” competitor knew your “client” very well; they knew what size hook to use, where to sink it, and exactly what kind of bait to put on the barb.
Mr. Deltana: So, Tom, you’re saying our client got exactly what they deserved.
Tom Collins: I do not approve of dishonesty or corruption in business, gentlemen. 
Dr. Baker: Why no, ah, none of us do, of course.
Tom Collins: When I encounter reasons to suspect that a client is not honest, I do no further work for them.  You gentlemen claim to be consultants, too.  I suggest you do as I would and drop your “client,” this aircraft manufacturing company, immediately.
Mr. Deltana: We can’t do that, Tom.  What’s more, we need to deliver some useful suggestions to our client in consideration of the rather significant sum we have expended for your fees up to this point in time.
Tom Collins: The CD ROMs arrived in the customer’s shipping envelope with what appeared to be a genuine security cover sheet, didn’t they?
Dr. Baker: How would we know that sort of thing?
Tom Collins: Because my BS detector has been pegging all the way to the right since I walked into this building.
Mr. Deltana: Pegged all the way to the right?
Tom Collins: I have an old-fashioned d’Arsonval BS detector, with a needle, not a digital display, “Mr. Deltana.”  Okay, chumps, amateur hour’s over, so out with it – one of you guys is the chief engineer who was duped into thinking some disgruntled employee sent their company’s avionics software to your company.  The other one is the scumbag who was in charge of corrupting the customer organization’s brass so your company would win the contract no matter what.  I’d bet a C-note that the engineer is this bozo here who thinks I should believe his name is “Dr. Able Baker.”  Come on, you turnip-truck mamelukes, stop sitting there, staring at me with your hands down your pants and your thumbs up your butts!  You two, your company’s management and your company’s board of directors couldn’t knock over a Seven-Eleven in Alexandria without getting caught!  Out with it!
Mr. Deltana: There is no way you could have figured out what you are saying…
Tom Collins: There’s about a dozen ways, as a matter of fact!  And any advice I could give you on how to wriggle out of this mess you’ve made for yourselves would be a violation of FAA regulations at the very least; and Tom Collins isn’t going to jail for anybody, least of all a bunch of picket-fence-living, Wonderbread-eating, Saville Row wearing, hung-like-hamsters White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Ivy League A-holes who make jet airplanes!  You, on the other hand, are a different story – I strongly recommend that you both drive over to the J. Edgar Hoover Building right now, turn yourselves in to the FBI and beg for mercy.
Dr. Baker: That is not likely, Mr. Collins.
Tom Collins:  Well, in that case, I predict that your aircraft will fall out of the sky whenever various sets of input parameters are congruent in one of 4096 hexadecimal moduli designed into the storage registers of that avionics system your company thinks it stole from your losing competitor, and that therefore you will have to run down and re-write the software at least another 4091 times until you find all the combinations, and that until you do find them all, your customer will have to deploy all their jets with tanker escorts equipped with steel nets to catch the aircraft when their avionics fail.  Which supposes, of course, that the real designer of the software wasn’t so diabolical, each fix you make causes another bug involving a different modular combination, as, for example, would a trap-door public key code – so you better pray your nemesis didn’t cut his teeth on RSA encryption algorithms, because if he did, you and your twin-engine jet aircraft avionics package are totally screwed and your vaunted tiger teams are all going to drop dead from exhaustion trying to fix an infinite number of bugs!
Mr. Deltana: You’re saying that you think the person who constructed this code object was a black-hat hacker?
Tom Collins: He might have been one before – or he might have done some moonlighting – or he may have gotten into it after years of frustration working at an aircraft manufacturing company run by pitiful dorks like you two.  Now spill, rat-finks, or start thinking about a dignified way to commit suicide and make it look like an accident so your families won’t end up homeless.
Dr. Baker: Thank you for your time, Mr. Collins.
Tom Collins: You’re welcome, Dr. Rat-Fink.
Mr. Deltana: We will be… in touch with you again soon.
Tom Collins: Yeah, just you try it, scumbag, just you try it.  The only reason I live in Virginia is I’m allowed to keep an arsenal in my house – for just such occasions.  Besides, neither of you have the guts to hit me or know anybody else who does, either; none of you upper class WASPs do.  Send some Pinkerton and DHS rejects over to my neighborhood and the development rent-a-cops will detain them for questioning and arrest by the local police before they even get past the entrance gate.  I suggest you gentlemen fold the five hundred twenty one pages of this crap you sent me until its all corners and stuff it where the sun don’t shine.
Mr. Deltana: We can assure you of a large compensation package…
Tom Collins: Stugots, paisan!
Dr. Baker: We will see you pay for this.
Tom Collins: And I’ll see both of you in hell.
Mr. Deltana: We have a long reach, Mr. Collins.
Tom Collins: And I have a long memory!  A transcript of this conversation goes on my Internet blog tonight!  If you jerkoffs think you can kill me before then, go ahead and try!
Dr. Baker: Mr. Collins, please, wait!
There’s no point in billing Deltana Associates for the time I spent in that building in Rosslyn, I’m sure.  DAI will be long gone before COB tomorrow; it probably existed solely for the purpose of hiring me and possibly other consultants so those two crooks could get some ideas about how to save their scrawny necks.  The world is full of twin-engine jets, of course, and a little bird told me that I need not worry about ending up in the first class section of one of the twin-engine jets I discussed with “Dr. Baker” and “Mr. Deltana” today.  But even if they are only cargo aircraft, each one will still have a crew aboard when, for instance, it crosses Latitude zero degrees at Longitude 45 degrees, zero minutes, zero seconds West at an altitude of 16384 feet with an airspeed of 512 miles per hour and the damn thing falls out of the sky like a boulder – with no transports packing huge steel nets around.  GZPZ, I guess this could be serious if something isn’t done.  Well, OK, I posted about it in my Web log.  That’s something, isn’t it?