City of Oakland, Space Age Computers

There is a new site called The Public Agency, and it posted something that was kinda mind-boggling:

Addresses an Unglamorous Problem

Unglamorous problems often require backstory. This is the least glamorous problem I’ve encountered, and one that still needs fixing. Please enjoy this tale of horrible city and technology practices from the not-so-distant past.

The specifics, emphasis mine:

Assuming they were just refusing to cooperate, I managed to arrange a meeting with someone in the Building Services Department. He agreed to sit down with me at his computer and help me look this information up myself. I expected a sort of “search, select all, print” process, and walked in confident I could use my magical technology skills to show this poor city employee how to do his job.

The computer was as old as I was. We’re talking trackball mouse and at least an A: drive. The monochrome screen was green on black. Thankfully I remembered a little DOS from goofing around with my dad in the early 90s, or I would have been totally worthless. We navigated to the property records database, and fired it up.

Whoever wrote this program, literally a generation ago, assumed it would only ever be used to search by address. That’s it. Oakland is a city of almost 400,000 people. There’s no way any human could manually enter every address and create a comprehensive list. I considered sampling, but if you only type in 1462 Laurel Street, you’ll never know what’s happening at 1462 1/2 Laurel, or even 1462 Laurel Apartment B. The presence of sub-units correlates inversely with wealth, so this approach wouldn’t have been statistically sound. Flummoxed, I looked up the few addresses I knew to have liens, verified their information, and conceded.

Think the city you live in is any better? This seems like an uphill battle…