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And This is Why Government Has No Business Dictating Computer Security March 4, 2015

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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Governments can do an incredible amount of good. They provide services for the public good, such as law enforcement, transportation management, a legal framework, and so much more.

But government as an institution, or set of institutions, can also be incredibly stupid, especially where foresight is required. Especially in the realm of technology, which changes far more quickly than any government has the will to adapt.

So now we have a security hole in our web browsers, courtesy of the U.S. Government, which mandated that software products (such as web browsers) couldn’t use strong encryption

This is the same battle that Phil Zimmerman, author of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption, fought years ago after open-sourcing his algorithm and in doing so made it available to the world. It turned out that Zimmerman was right, and the government was wrong. In this case, wrong enough to cause potential harm to millions of computer users.

At this point, the government doesn’t seem to be interested in enforcing this any more, but some web browsers are still delivered with weak security. It was a vestige of their intent to comply with the law, and never removed as the law became, well, more flexible. But now it is doing some significant damage.

I am reminded, in a reverse way, of Frank Herbert’s science fiction character Jorj X. McKie, a card-carrying member of the Bureau of Saboteurs, a multi-planet government agency whose role was to, well, sabotage government. In this hypothetical future sphere, it needed to do so because government had become too fast, too efficient, and less deliberative in passing and enforcing laws. The Saboteurs threw a monkey wrench into government, slowing down the process.

But today we need to speed up government. Defining the boundaries of government is a debate that will continue on indefinitely. I generally agree that government should be a participant in this process. But it needs to be an informed and active participant, and not a domineering old grandparent.

Are We Focusing on the Wrong Airport Experiences? December 2, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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Unlike many people, I enjoy traveling, especially by airplane. We have no other service that can get you to almost anywhere in the world within a day, and usually within a few hours.

Certainly there are some less-than-comfortable aspects of this process, but it’s generally just for a few hours, so it’s not usually onerous. And I am experienced enough so that I do some of the little things that make it easier. I am a Delta Platinum Medallion (for the next year anyway), and get to choose seats with better legroom, and board early. Thanks to a long term investment years ago, and a free offer by my bank, I have entry to many airport lounges.

I’ve experienced plenty of delays and cancellations for various reasons in my travels, and all I really need is help in rescheduling. If I get ready service, I can tolerate delays.

So I’m always interested when articles talk about the future of air travel, especially from the standpoint of the airports. This particular article talks about the future of airports. In this case, CNN Money talks about a prospective airport under early development in Mexico City.

Many say that the US has lagged in building major infrastructure such as airports. While it’s true that the US hasn’t built a major airport since Denver International (and before that DFW and IAD, back in the 1960s), many of the major cities are land-constrained, more so even than their counterparts in Europe.

And that’s not to say that major construction hasn’t been occurring – new runways in Atlanta, new terminal buildings in Detroit, Las Vegas, JFK, and much more. But it is true that some airports are emotionally depressing, including all of the NYC airports, Midway, O’Hare, and LAX, to choose a few. Some people don’t care for security lines, but it is a sign of the times.

But airports, even major international airports, aren’t intended to be destinations in and of themselves. If everything goes right, you shouldn’t be spending more than 3-4 hours total in airports, even when making connections. The goal shouldn’t be to build architecturally majestic shopping destinations, but rather to move people in and out quickly.

There are some really great new airports in the world. From all accounts, Hong Kong and Incheon look really nice. I’ve been to Zurich multiple times, and I think they have modernized very well. But that’s not really the purpose of an airport. Give me something that gets me in and out fast, and I will be happy with dour surroundings and limited shopping opportunities.

Mother Nature Will Win, But Sometimes Has a Little Help November 28, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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In my case, this week, that help is coming from my so-called public utility, Public Service of New Hampshire.  (otherwise known as three lies in one name) As I noted earlier, I do believe that there is little we can do when Mother Nature comes to do us harm. Mother Nature’s destructive forces are always more powerful than our attempts to mitigate them.

But my public utility is aiding and abetting. Three years ago, we had “Snotober”, the massive wet snowstorm at the end of October, just prior to Halloween. It was about a foot and a half of snow. In the city I live, there were approximately 30 utility poles down, including one across the street, a block from my house.

That was a monster. And while I was inconvenienced for five full days without power while I made my living at home (the bigger problem was that Comcast Internet was down by about the same time), I worked around it, convinced that this was truly Mother Nature at her best.

This pre-Thanksgiving storm was no such monster. It was less than a foot, just a couple of years after the utility engaged in a massive tree-clearing campaign, vowing that it wouldn’t happen again.

PSNH, I call you out. You are a fraud and a waste of my money. Because you are a public utility, I have no choice in the matter, but you do. You can do better; if you don’t, it’s because you as a company and a culture choose not to.

Prove me wrong. I know you won’t.

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.


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