Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Working Around Software

For the project I am currently working on, there is a large document that defines what software is allowed to be used for what tasks. (It also defines what the other companies working on sub-parts of the project must use, what they can use, and what they can pick independently of the main project.) There are certain programs that have been specifically banned from that list. In many cases, there are good reasons to keep certain kinds of software off the list; the inability to put the documents created by the software into a revision control system, inability to maintain appropriate security infrastructure, or simply cost of the software.

What is interesting though, is that there is a relatively simple way to get around this restriction. There are already a fair number of home-grown applications on the list, some of them built on top of existing software. This provides the way to get around the restrictions. The underlying application that is wanted (e.g. MS Access) is packaged into a larger application with a new name (e.g. "OPTIK"). There's an interesting blurring here between an application, customization, and the documents produced. In many ways, it reminds me of legacy systems, where the dividing line between the application and the data was often fuzzy.

I'm interested if similar sitations happen in other tightly controlled environments. I know Zuboff talked about "deviant" use of existing technologies, but this isn't so much deviant use as actually introducing banned technologies in an effort to get the job done. I'm trying to figure out appropriate places to look for this kind of behavior. My current best guess is medical environments may provide similar examples of this kind of technology usage.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Morally Bankrupt Business Plans, Part IV

I'm not sure this is morally bankrupt. It might be illegal, but I doubt it. The real question is whether it would work. There has been much speculation that we're in a housing bubble right now. I tend to agree that we are, and am betting a certain amount of money on it.

The business plan is to see if a small group of dedicated people can pop the bubble. What's needed is a group of dedicated home-buyers. I am guessing that there are several types of home-buyers, e.g. "single unmarried," "growing family," "empty nesters," and so forth. I'm going to need about 4 people from each group, all of which are in a single geographic market. These people will need to be serious about buying a home. They will need to be pre-qualified for mortgages, etc. These people will be motivated to buy, but not overly so.

Then they go home shopping. They go to open houses, look at homes, talk to agents, etc. What's important is what happens when they make an offer. The offer will always be ten to twenty percent *less* than the asking price, with some sort of statement about there being a bubble, and this is a much more serious price.

Is this legal? Definitely the group of buyers are colluding for a lower price. But the question is, in a large enough city (say, Seattle), with a fairly liquid housing market, 15-20 people shouldn't be enough to influence the market. It might be a clearer case of collusion if the buyers were all hitting the same property, but they are not. And it's still a free country. The sellers are free to reject any offer.

In a skittish market though, a group like this could wreak havoc. I hope.