Technical Nirvana



What has been my favorite software project?

They’re all good, but as they say, … some are even better than others.



My favorite project has been a fruit-fly robotics project. At some of the genome companies they do their research on the short life-cycle fruit flies, so the researchers can see results quickly as they manipulate the fly genome.

Fruit fly genetics diagram


The company we supported has some PhD grads working full time, transferring fruit flies from one set of vials to another. We helped develop the robotics and control to …

  • Pick up a vial from a rack and read the barcode
  • Put the vial on its side
  • Shoot CO2 through the stopper of the vial, which knocks the flies out for 30 seconds
  • All the dead fruit flies are in the plug of banana on the bottom of the vial, the live fruit flies are alive, but knocked out on the side of the vial



fruit-fly-experiment - vials - 4


  • The robot pulls off the cap and blows the comatose fruit flies into a new vial with a “U” shaped blower
  • The new fruit fly generation gets a fresh plug of banana, a new barcode and cap, and is gently put back in new rack for further experimentation and storage

This, … to someone with an electrical engineering degree like me, … is as good as it gets.


We at STG live for the project: to create a solution that exceeds expectations and to be brought in on support that improves the quality, health, well-being and ROI of our clients.

We are a company of programmers and people with engineering degrees with the ability to move in most any direction: web development, portals, mobile, embedded systems, application development, robotics, biomedical systems, nanotechnology, QA ….  We very much look forward to working with you.

Software Technology Group: Supporting technology and web development


Jay Abramovitz, President


FruitFly Robot2





Successful Failure: The Destination and the Journey


Apollo 13images

apollo-13-patch - 2

“Houston, We had a Problem Here”

Two and a half days into the third mission to land astronauts onto the surface of the moon, the crew of Apollo 13 experienced what could arguably be the defining moment in the heroic events of space exploration.

The event became classified as a “successful failure,” that strengthened the image of a technologically advanced United States, which could handle great events and overcome great adversity.

Astronauts are considered the epitome of a life devoted to learning, exploration, and adventure.  An astronaut embodies our noble aspirations to be better than we are and to search for meaning in great deeds and selfless acts.  And the astronaut was the face of the space effort, but the individuals supporting the space program run wide and deep.   Even the casual viewer, taking part in the viewing of the event feels a part by seeing themselves, even peripherally, as supporting something so much bigger then themselves.

Spaceflight is a momentous event sandwiched between a controlled explosion and a fiery re-entry.   The image is doing the impossible through the accomplishment of a seemingly infinite series of smaller tasks.    This is not a lost art or a technique unique to aerospace.    In fact it is not a practice founded solely in science.




Through the act of thinking beyond one-self, through thinking that one’s own efforts can allow someone else to reach beyond their own reach, through becoming the instrument that enables others around you, … that is the full connotation of success.

Only few become astronauts, but I argue that it is equally the breadth of effort to make this a better place for others that truly defines what is good.   The path to success does not always allow us to reach the moon.   We wish to achieve material wealth, to acquire items, to live well, but truly some very simple acts are all that is truly required.   Our days are filled with an infinite series of small tasks that get us through our day.   And it is through these acts, by becoming self-less, by thinking beyond oneself, by allowing those around us to reach a little farther … that is truly humanity at its best.


The world needs astronauts.

But more so, the world needs those who think beyond themselves and who, for some time during their day, seek their own means of being there for those around.

Software Technology Group: Supporting technology and web development


More on the Apollo Program

Apollo 1 was a sad tragedy.  The launch rehearsal changed the course of NASA when on January 27th, 1967 a flash fire swept through the command module.  Within minutes of the fire the hatch was opened with the sad realization that all three had died of toxic gas inhalation.  From the book Calculated Risk, it appears that Gus Grissom had worked to depressurize the cabin and broke two of the valves in his unsuccessful try to deprive the fire of oxygen.   The astronauts worked, but unsuccessfully to open the hatch and affect their escape.  

It is sad but telling that amid lethal conditions the astronauts bent to their training and died being the professionals and heroes that astronauts are.


The Accident Review Board determined the cause of the fire was an electrical arc in a wire harness in an equipment bay.  The crew cabin was filled with pure oxygen that was a design option that saved weight by not producing a more complex system to mix oxygen and nitrogen.  The wire bundles were wrapped by machine and had potential for fraying and shorting.

On the day of the launch rehearsal the communication was intermittent to which Gus Grissom responded, “How are we going to get to the Moon if we can’t talk between two or three buildings?”.   That was 60 seconds before the 1000 degree fire burned through the command module.


  • Moments after a significant electrical short was recorded.
  • Moments after an astronaut message was garbled as “Hey”, “Break” or “Fire”.
  • And then “I’m reporting a bad fire …. I’m getting out …” and a final scream.


The tragedy led to an extensive redesign and a focus on further redundancy and astronaut safety.   In the words of Gene Krantz, an Apollo Flight Director, “From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘tough’ and ‘competent.’ ‘Tough’ means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do, ‘Competent’ means we will never take anything for granted.”

And from tragedy we build.   In the words of Lead Flight Director Chris Kraft, “Unless the fire had happened, I think it’s very doubtful that we would have ever landed on the Moon, … And I know damned well we wouldn’t have gotten there during the 1960s. There were just too many things wrong. Too many management problems, too many people problems, and too many hardware problems across the whole program.”


The best in mankind comes from the recovery from tragedy.






The Politics of Projects



(Title shared by a book of the same name by Robert Block)

The average software engineer takes politics in the same light as the zombie apocalypse: no good will come of it and if you see it coming, … run away … leave no trail. The issue is that projects are a combination of tasks to complete and stakeholders to be taken care of. A successful project can fail though all the components are working. A project that ends with an unhappy client is not a successful project.

The task of a mature Project Development firm is to set expectations, to involve the stakeholders in the process, and to deliver a product that hits on all the required functionality. This may sound as though exceeding expectations fails the process, but from the side of the Project Development firm, exceeding expectations should be a considered component of the delivery: icing on the cake to entice follow-on work from the client.

So how does a Project Development firm take care of the zombie apocalypse and ensure all engineers starting a project are amongst the living when the project ends? It’s a product of engaging the client, navigating personalities, setting process and ensuring communication.

Common traits of zombies that are interesting but have very little to do with politics …


  • Zombies smell bad and their fragrance of choice is blood and gore
  • Zombies suffer from poor personal hygiene although they maintain a full set of teeth
  • Zombies don’t die easily and they don’t heal
  • Activity ranges from a slow walk to a slow walk with arms extended
  • Zombies are very self centered although self preservation does not seem to apply
  • Zombies are very diligent and single minded, although single minded is food
  • Zombies enjoy each other’s company but keep low on dialog
  • Their clothes transcend super strength: no changes and they last for years
  • Zombies must excrete some bodily substance that keeps shoes on and laces tied
  • There are no good looking zombies
  • Zombies do not dance


And back to the story. The best way to ensure success is to have traveled the road before. The successful Project Development firm must develop process for the engineering and business expectations and understand how to alleviate issues with both. There are many documents and processes available: we at STG support Agile process, CMM, Rational Unified Process and IEEE.

The Software Technology Group is a project oriented software consulting firm, established in 1992, in the generation when body snatchers were common and zombie infestations were unheard of.


And to summarize, we understand the zombie apocalypse, we have seen the zombie apocalypse, and to date we have a stellar track record of successfully averting the zombie apocalypse.


And we’re more enjoyable to work with than other companies.


Software Technology Group: Supporting technology and web development










The Slippery Slope of the Who vs the What

Many of us contend on a daily basis of winning or losing based on “who they know” over “what we know”.  It is at the very least, tacit acknowledgement that relationships matter, and at the worst, that relationships trump knowledge.

There is a dichotomy of training this behavior in college, and even before that, the selection process of professional direction. Many engineers might see the image of Mr. Spock as the culmination of all that is good:

  • That facts and knowledge win
  • That emotions are best minimized
  • That Dr. McCoy really should have been a plumber
  • That truly the best job is one that sees only black and white in this multi-colored world.




The other side of the spectrum is a social approach to support.   Marketing and Sales take the perspective of drawing a prospect in based on relationship and connection.   The cold call is the bane of the salesman since it lacks the rapport of an association.   The client sees only:

  • That the clutter of messages they receive do not add clarity of the offering
  • That the facts of the deal seldom guarantee a sale
  • That the constraints to start a new relationship often overcome the details of a good offering
  • That they already have enough friends … and few salesmen are truly their friends





The best strategy of approach is the combination of:

  • The Ego and the Id
  • Of the science and the religion
  • Of fact and fantasy


The successful offering will not win by fact alone or respond by gratitude and appreciation. The successful business combines the rapport with the accomplishment, and the offering with the indebtedness.  It is walking the line between pounding the engineering hammer and wearing the business hat.

Few sales are won without substance, and few projects succeed without communication.   It is this combination of business and engineering skills that truly allow a project to start, and ultimately allow a project to succeed.  And it is training the engineering staff to look up … and the business staff to follow the details … that wins the day.


Paraphrasing the Latin “Cui Bono? Forest fortuna adiuvat”.


Who benefits? Fortune favors the brave.











Lost On the Road to Success or …

How Many Engineers Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb and Why is it so Damned Expensive

by Jay Abramovitz, President


Images courtesy of cooldesign,and Scott Chan at



How many times have you been given a proposal and your immediate response is to start from the end, wherein lies the omnipresent table of price and schedule. No manner of training can prepare you for appreciating the journey. You search only for the destination, and damn it, if the destination doesn’t match your expectations, the journey is dead.

  • Where does the fault lie?
  • How can a meticulous proposal be differentiated from excessive profiteering?
  • How can you see the worth of a proposal through the forest of trees?

The Consulting Company wishes to describe the journey, to name the apparatus that allows the travel, to define the road that led to the destination, and to put the parts together into a comprehensible vehicle. All this while trying to second guess the client’s cost sensitivity and determining whether choosing the color red dooms the project to the recycling bin. One issue is the proposal response is a negotiated response. The client feels the project is fully vetted, and all important aspects of the project have been fully articulated. But the proposal response tries to nuance the parts of the project that have not been expressed. Even on a Requirements Document that has seen repeated review, the actual implementation will absolutely differ from paper design**.




As a resume does not fully describe the person, so the proposal does not fully define the Consulting Company.

All these questions and no answers. Let’s start with …

Engineering Lightbulb Answers


  • If it’s a Software Engineer, … none, … Redirect the issue as a bug in Hardware … unless it’s a bug lite
  • If marketing is involved, … did the software guy say Bud Lite?
  • If it’s a Microsoft Engineer, … none, … redefine DARK as the industry standard.
  • If a Requirements Document is not created, … one to design a nuclear-powered light bulb that never needs changing, one to figure out how to power the rest of the USA using that nuked light bulb, …
  • If HR is involved, … one but it should want to be changed
  • If QA is not involved, … fromally deside on eror and sitting darken
  • If Documentation is not included …


And back to the core question, choosing is never as simple as ensuring all the checkboxes are selected and the final number is within range. The proposal, no matter how meticulous, is never the full answer. For as important as the documents defining the project, equally important is ensuring the structure is solid, that the proposer looks you in the eye, that you kicked the tires.


And lastly, don’t get in the car if the journey can not be both profitable and enjoyable.


Software Technology Group: Supporting technology and web development