In Three Images

So first my screen was all like…

And then it was all like…

BONUS typo in the error message!

And then I was all like…

Here’s something you should know: I.T. is not frigging rocket science. It’s no cakewalk to create a system for a nationwide program based on a law so complex no one who voted for it ever read it, but it’s something that can be done.

I saw Kathleen Sebelius comparing the site to, leaving out the key difference: Kayak works.

The problem is that the companies who have the skills to do the work and the companies who have the skills to navigate government bidding and contracting hurdles are not the same companies. The job goes to whatever political crony managed to manipulate the system more efficiently.

I imagine Mad PowerPoint Skillz, rather than programming expertise, had a lot to do with who landed the contract.

I assume the project was pieced out to various contractors, with poor communication and integration among the various players, all of it wrapped around a thick, neugoty center of government malfeasance and incompetence.

I read today that the site cost $634 million. Blizzard Software probably could have made three or four different World of Warcraft games, each integrating millions of users in a live, graphically rich, and dynamic online environment, for about about the same amount of money.  And that $634 million was well in excess of the $94 million it was supposed to cost.

There is no reason–none, zero, zip, zilch–that this system should not work. Improper load-testing is just not an excuse. All major website rollouts have load issues, and some have rocky rollouts. I’ve never seen any rollout, however, done this poorly.

It doesn’t help that, according to this story, the system appears to be performing harakiri every time someone logs in:

 One possible cause of the problems is that hitting “apply” on causes 92 separate files, plug-ins and other mammoth swarms of data to stream between the user’s computer and the servers powering the government website, said Matthew Hancock, an independent expert in website design. He was able to track the files being requested through a feature in the Firefox browser.

Of the 92 he found, 56 were JavaScript files, including plug-ins that make it easier for code to work on multiple browsers (such as Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer and Google Inc’s Chrome) and let users upload files to

It is not clear why the upload function was included.

“They set up the website in such a way that too many requests to the server arrived at the same time,” Hancock said.

He said because so much traffic was going back and forth between the users’ computers and the server hosting the government website, it was as if the system was attacking itself.

Yes, you read that correctly: the site is performing DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks on itself.

It’s almost like a performance art piece, emulating in code what this administration is doing to the country in reality: swamping us with endless amounts of meaningless actions that plague and fatigue us until we keel over dead.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • MeanLizzie

    So you’re saying it has an autoimmune syndrome?

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Yoinks! I should have seen that analogy, since it’s the main cause of my pain.

  • Jared Clark

    My dad was making a big deal about how awesome Obamacare is, and how EVERYONE obviously loves it because the site went down from the traffic.

    My own experience as a programming student apparently wasn’t enough to convince him that it was awful coding that caused the website to go down. (Seriously? DDOS’ing ITSELF?)

  • victor

    That last paragraph was the best thing I’ve read all week.
    Ah, well. At least “Arrow” is off to a great start this season.

  • Donald Richards

    CGI Federal is the worthless govt contractor who built this totally useless piece of software – especially the back end server side transaction processing. Aquilent was the main contractor for the info-only front end content and they hired Development Seed – 12 guys in a garage in DC. The Dev Seed guys were actually looking to eventually use the site to buy insurance for themselves – but obviously could not since the site doesn’t work at all.
    HHS Secretary Sebelius would be fired by now if Pres Obama did not have to deal with a govt shutdown and debt ceiling. Her time to exit is coming though.
    She lied through her teeth on Jon Stewart’s show. For a launch like this, top management would be getting daily reports on the number of people who actually bought health insurance through the site. The number could very well be zero though.

  • Mary E.

    $634 million, and by the time the system is rebuilt, and rebuilt again (because the administration is DETERMINED to keep working away at the system in order to justify its existence), the total cost will likely be near a billion. Heaven help us.

  • John Barba

    Chicago school of politics.

  • Dan F.

    crap, i missed that it had started again.

  • victor

    You can catch it on Hulu or On Demand. I really like where they’re going with the Green Arrow character in that first episode.