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James Bond is Not About What You Think November 10, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I have always been a James Bond fan. There is certainly an element of tech, charisma, adventure, and even comic absurdity in his character and roles, and I’ve always appreciated that.

But there is more to Bond than that. To fully understand, you have to at some point read the original Ian Fleming novels and stories. Some of them are laughable; after an intimate encounter with Pussy Galore, called out as a lesbian in Goldfinger, Bond asks about her sexuality. “I’ve never been with a real man before,” was her irrational response. Even in my youth, I laughed out loud at that one.

But Bond was always about duty and country. He was violent, just as much so as his adversaries. It’s not always clear who the good guy is. What made him believable, and even in some ways likeable, was that he carried out his violent duties in the realm of Queen and country. His loyalty was never in question (“When do you sleep, Bond?” “Never on the Queen’s time, sir”).

Granted, there was a time when we trusted in our superiors, and our country, more than we do today. And he has certainly questioned authority, more often than not.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the US. I served, though not particularly well (my DD-214 does say “honorable”), but I remain proud of that service. Today, I have to ask, what would we sacrifice our lives for? Thousands of servicemen have done so over the last decade, and millions in the past. I would like to think that, beyond our political and religious beliefs, upbringing, or world view, we serve something greater than ourselves.

An Open Letter to The Epicurean Dealmaker November 10, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I doubt you will read this. My own readership is a few dozen; yours seems to be several million. I am not of your industry; I’m about as far away as anyone can be. I enjoy your writing, and it provides me with a window into a world in which I will never be, but remain mildly curious about.

But over the last 5-plus years of reading your blog, the fact is that you seem to be little more than a shill for the financial industry. Perhaps that is why you are so well-read. In most of what I have read, you seem to opine similar versions of “That’s just the way it is; deal with it.” Whether we are discussing discrimination (race or sex or otherwise), turnover, promotion, financial crimes (real or perceived), double-dealing (once again), or any other topic, your ultimate take is that it is because it is. You offer no critical analysis, criticism (except to the outsiders opining otherwise), rationale, or possible solutions. It seems that you believe no solutions are warranted, even when there is clear wrongdoing. Yes, I know, define wrongdoing.

I’m sure you make a great living in the financial industry (better than I do in tech, certainly). And I’m also sure that you make no money or notoriety off of your blog (I believe you have been outed, but I won’t recognize the name so I really don’t care), so there is some question as to why you do so. I think I might half-like you in real life, because you care enough to write without attribution. Maybe ego? I simply don’t know.

But. Your industry has issues, which may ultimately be fatal to its ongoing way of life. You could be a force for change, or at least for introspection. I realize that financial people tend not to introspect, but they have to know that they (you) are the first up against the wall when the revolution comes. I would like to think that you introspect enough to question some of the fundamental values (?) of your industry, but you end up always concluding that it’s other people’s problems, not yours.

Of course, the revolution may never come. I do believe that is what you (they) are counting on.

Old Versus New October 5, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture, Uncategorized.
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Amtrak, you suck.

I am attempting to perhaps book a train trip to New York, from Boston, as opposed to flying. Amtrak is mostly inconvenient and time-consuming unless you are in the city center, or in a relevant close suburb. In Boston, that means either South Station, or Westwood. Maybe Worcester if you’re not picky about getting the Acela. Either way, it’s 3 hours 20 minutes to get to Penn Station on the Acela from Westwood, or over four hours on the regular run. Plus at least another hour for me to drive to Westwood, or South Station, or Worcester. And that’s non-rush hour. It might work, under the best circumstances, but it mostly doesn’t.

But. When I’m trying my level best to consider the train as an alternative, the Amtrak website is down. On a Sunday. All of the day, so far.

I’m sorry, Amtrak. My airline has never done this. If you are trying to get the American public to consider you as an alternative to air travel, even in the Northeast corridor, this is the absolute wrong way to do so. Regrettably, I don’t even think you realize that there is a problem being down “for maintenance” for just about all of a day (so far, it may turn out to be even more).

You get subsidies from the US government. You don’t deserve them.  It’s as simple as that.

Amtrak, if you at all cared about making rail a viable travel option, especially in the Northeast where distances are feasible, here’s what you would do. You would provide (reliable, do I even have to say that?) transportation to the stations from outlying locations. You would make your schedules available elsewhere.

And you would not let your website fail like this.

I have no confidence that you even care about doing any of this. You get your government subsidies to cover your operational losses, and you are fine with that.

But you are dead wrong. I will never consider you as a travel option again, and I will encourage everyone else not to do so. This is entirely on you.

More on the NFL, Because I Was There September 16, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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Mr. Goodell, I had the opportunity to hear you speak several years ago, as the keynote at a large university graduation.  You spoke passionately about your father, representing New York in Congress.  He spoke out against the Vietnam War, an unpopular position at the time, and sacrificed his political career for his stand.

Contrast that against your lack of speaking out today.  You shame  your father’s memory.  You are apparently doing so to protect your $40 million a year paycheck.  You are clearly bought and paid for, and don’t care about the ethics of what you are doing.  What does your father think of you today?

Off the Rails on Social Commentary With the NFL September 14, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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On this beautiful fall Sunday afternoon, I simply can’t watch or otherwise follow US professional football any more. The reason, of course, is domestic violence, and the billionaire team owners’ response to it.

I am no more than a casual fan, and am certain that I am not in the league’s target demographic. I don’t buy grossly overpriced apparel, and it’s been a long time since I’ve actually attended an overpriced game. So I’m sure that no one who matters cares at all what I think here. Still, unlike the owners, I feel compelled to take a stand.

I am especially appalled by commentators on TV and on various fan websites. As near as I can tell, these fall into one of three broad categories.

First, I want my team to win, and I don’t care if they employ the Mean Machine to do so. Grow up, it’s a game, dammit. You don’t live or die over who wins and loses.

Second, he made a mistake, and he should be entitled to due process or a second chance. Um, no. There is no entitlement here. Where did that idea even come from?  Second chances are not automatic get-out-of-jail free cards. You earn your second chances, through knowledge that you did wrong, honest and heartfelt contrition, a determination to set things right, and a track record of enlightened understanding and a better life.  I don’t see much of that going on.

Third, the perpetrators are Bad Men, and should be treated accordingly. Perhaps, but there are a lot of highly paid and presumably competent people involved in evaluating their behavior and effects. I fear they are driven mostly by the profit motive, but I hope there is some semblance of a conscience in most of them.

But my special disgust is reserved for the National Football League bureaucracy. Simply put, those highly paid denizens are either lying or incompetent.  There is certainly no conscience here.

But the bottom line is that our multimillion dollar athletes, those that own their contracts, and those that manage them have let this get completely out of control over an unconscionable need to win above all else. If sports are a microcosm of society, this is society at its very worst.

No matter what happens, I don’t think I can go back and be a fan of any sort again. Goodbye, NFL.

On This Eve of 9/11 September 11, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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On this eve of 9/11, I once again remember Graham Berkeley and Myra Aronson, fellow Compuware employees on the planes that hit the Towers.  Please join me.  Thank you.

Reuters, Get Your Act Together Now September 6, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I like the Reuters website as an alternative new source. But for the last several weeks, my visits to Reuters have been redirected to various phishing sites, to install Java or Flash. Wrong. I am up to date on all. They are simply getting hijacked. I would imagine this is happening to others, too.

I’ve sent multiple emails to the site, asking that they address this. They have not. I don’t understand why not, but I can’t continue visiting this site under these circumstances.

Goodbye, Reuters. I imagine many others will react the same.

On or About Labor Day September 1, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I was born and raised in a company town. I suspect that most don’t know what that means. In this case, it means that the town was surveyed, laid out, built, and run by the company, in this case, a steel mill. The steel mill extended several miles along the Ohio River, until it was torn down in the 1990s. I lived outside of the town, where my parents built their own home (and I mean largely with their own hands).

The town still exists, after a fashion, but is a shell of its former gritty but vibrant self.

The town was built in the early 1900s, and by the time I was born, 50 or so years later, most of the houses and businesses had reverted to private ownership. Still, my family shopped in the company store into my preteen years, which at six stories remained the tallest building in town. Neighborhoods were laid out as “plans” – Plan 6, Plan 7, Plan 12. I never knew what that meant until I understood the meaning of the company town. They were company-planned and built neighborhoods, with no character other than that designation.

I grew up in a union household. Pete was a steelworker, and Ann was a housewife. My mother learned to drive the same time I did. There was always food to eat, and I was never wanting for basics, but there were never extras. As I grew older, the balance of power shifted to the workers, and my father’s pay increased enough for my parents to send me to college, with the help of grants and the occasional loan.

But that ultimately meant that the jobs were uncompetitive, and more economical steel mills were built elsewhere. And I don’t necessarily mean lower cost areas; today, the US produces more steel than it did in the 1970s, with fewer than half as many workers. Technology changes everything.

In high school, the average career track was fairly simple. Men graduated (or not) and sought middle-class jobs in the mill. Women looked for husbands who worked in the mill. It sounded sexist even then, but ultimately didn’t work out for any of them.

Dad, incidentally, died when it was no longer feasible not to see a doctor. He went to a doctor for the first time in 40 years, when he could no longer stand the pain of the cancer. Today, I have a colonoscopy once every few years. I will die someday, but it will not be of that form of, well, stupidity.

This is nothing other than noting where I came from. I like to think that I’m not political. But I do accept that things change. Labor has changed, and we need to recognize and adapt too.

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