CTO of the United States?

So Obama wants a CTO for the United States. The job description:

Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.

So that’s a reasonably traditional, large company definition of CTO. It’s like a CIO on steroids. It’s very different than a startup CTO, where a lot of my experience lies, and I’m not sure if it’s what the US needs. There are a couple of larger jobs which may need doing. Scoping broader and broader:

Information Technology policy leadership for the government. I think there are three key issues for US technology policy right now, and they’re scattered across organizations:

  1. Innovation and rewards. As the economy moves from atoms to bits, how do we reward people who create new things? When copying costs approach zero, how do we reward people for creating? (This is often called intellectual property.)
  2. Access to networks, including simple access and what ISPs may or may not do. Broadband access in the US, even in large cities, is far slower than in other countries, and far more expensive per megabyte/second. These are results of government policy and we should do better.
  3. Privacy and security. I suspect most readers of this blog don’t need a primer here.

Technology Policy leadership need not be constrained to information technology. There is a tremendous amount going on in clean energy, in nanotechnology, in biotechnology including genomics, protonomics and pharma. Some of the issues that an information technology policy CTO would need to take on impact on these industries.


The trick, of course, is finding someone who can handle a job this large. Many names that have been floated would be great at one of these things. Very few people could take on all of them.

But there’s one person who’s been put forward who I think has disqualified himself. Before I get into the details, I want to be clear, I have huge respect for his early technical achievements. As someone who cut their teeth on BSD Unix, I was tremendously influenced by Bill Joy’s work. So it’s hard for me to opppose John Doerr’s suggestion, except his most famous work recently is “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us.” I believe that Joy raised great concerns, but his ways of addressing them, I think, raise real questions of should we have him as CTO of the United States.

Joy hasn’t shown an ability to get people excited about an obscure topic like copyright in the way that Lessig has. He hasn’t shown a talent for explaining complex issues simply the way Schneier has. I don’t think he’s qualified for the CIO-on-steroids job, nor for any of the CTO jobs.

On the other hand, there are other founders of Sun Microsystems who have shown an interest in politics, innovation and liberty, who I think would be great. I have huge respect for his intellect, his morals and his integrity. I’m speaking, of course, of John Gilmore, who helped found Sun, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and was a major force behind Cygnus. So why not fly him out for an interview?

Regardless of who we pick, I think the key for that role is to embrace the value of innovation, and to create a level playing field which encourages the chaos of invention and a willingness to believe that given a chance, good solutions will emerge.

After I wrote this on the plane, I landed and discovered that News.com and Slashdot are covering the same question.

Chaos, My Desk and Dilbert

The Wall St Journal covers the latest management fad in “Neatness Counts at Kyocera and at Others in the 5S Club:”

5S is a key concept of the lean manufacturing techniques that have made makers of everything from cars to candy bars more efficient. The S’s stand for sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain. Lately, 5S has been moving from the plant floor to the cubicle at hundreds of offices around the country, adding desk cleaning to the growing list of demands on employees.

That means companies like Kyocera Corp., Mr. Scovie’s employer, are patrolling to make sure that workers don’t, for example, put knickknacks on file cabinets. To impress visitors, the company wants everything to be clean and neat. Meanwhile, doctors in Seattle are relearning where to stick their stethoscopes. And output from the printer at Toro Co., a Bloomington, Minn., lawn-mower maker, is sorted daily and tossed weekly.

In a hospital, I can see value in neatness in shared space, and knowing where the tool is in the nearest cube. For a hospital, crash carts are always bright red, and are organized pretty much the same everywhere. That doesn’t mean you have to forbid pictures on the wall. For a knowledge worker, if you make the environment lifeless, you get lifeless output. World leading design companies like Ideo have offices which are personalized, chaotic and emergent.

The value of anything is the foregone alternative. These companies are spending money on, well, I’ll just use this neat little anecdote:

When [Mr Brown of Kyocera] got to the accounting department, he discovered a hook on a door and told cash-management assistant Deanna Svehla that doors are supposed to be free of such accouterments. “But that’s where I hang the Christmas decorations,” she said.

“C’mon, like there aren’t plenty of places to put decorations,” he said, nodding at the orange and black Halloween tinsel strung along the outside of her cubicle. That’s OK, it turns out, because it isn’t permanent.

They do try to defend it a little:

While that may sound authoritarian, it’s not the initiative that’s important, it’s how managers communicate it, says Gary Hayes, managing partner at Hayes Brunswick & Partners LLC, a leadership advisory firm in Bronxville, N.Y. “If managers clearly explain why they’re doing something, I think most people will understand the rationale. But if you say, ‘We’re doing this because 14 efficiency experts say it increases productivity,’ then it becomes kind of Dilbert,” he says, referring to the comic strip of satirical office humor.

No Gary, it never becomes kind of Dilbert. Dilbert-ness is the very core of 5S. 5S advocates, please call the outsourced layoff call center. Your 3 approved desk items will be sent to you.

(I was going to tie this to security, but I have to go change my password.)

I Was On NPR, An Unmasking of Sorts

headshot-sunglasses-frame.jpg
Okay so for a long time now, I’ve been blogging as Arthur. It all started as an excuse to blog without the company I worked for at the time having to worry about anything I said being a reflection on them. Almost three years ago they were acquired by Oracle and I have long since moved on to other pastures. Many of you already know who I am and since I really want to share the story below, I am no longer to going to hide who Arthur really is. Listen to the audio linked below if the picture hasn’t already given me away completely.
On Monday I went to early vote. Well, I live in Columbus, OH where there was a big push to vote early. Since I was driving to Chicago the next day to speak at Information Security Decisions, I figured I’d knock it out a day early and get it over with. What I didn’t expect was that I would be standing on line for four hours to cast my ballot.
What I also didn’t expect was to be interviewed by Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation. So there I was, three and half hours into my wait, when I was approached by Mandy Trimble of WOSU, the local NPR affiliate. Anyways, to make a long story short (I know, too late!), I ended up on the air nationwide talking about how to pass time in line at the polls. My bit is about 4:00 minutes in.

Confirmation Bias and Newspaper Endorsements

We’ve been talking a lot lately about confirmation bias. It turns out that newspaper endorsements are more influential when they are unexpected.

The degree of this influence, however, depends upon the credibility of the endorsement. In this way, endorsements for the Democratic candidate from left-leaning newspapers are less influential than are endorsements from neutral or right-leaning newspapers…

Via the Economist Free Exchange blog, after the newspaper credibly endorsed Obama.

Previously on confirmation bias: “Things only an astrologist could believe,” “No evidence the data was misused,” and “More on confirmation bias.”

Checking in on the Security of Chequing

I remember a conversation back in 1995 or 1996 with someone who described to me how the Automated ClearingHouse (ACH) for checking worked. He explained that once you had an ACH merchant account, you sent in a message of roughly the form (src, dest, amount, reason) and money got moved. I argued with him that this was inconceivable (yeah, yeah), and he must be mis-understanding. He assured me that no, he was right, and that the reason they ran this way was because it was cheaper, and because only trustworthy people could get ACH merchant accounts.

Fast forward a few years, to a fellow who sends out cheques for bugs:

Leading banks and investment funds have been foundering, because of bad debts and lack of trust; and other, less well-known kinds of fiscal chaos are also on the horizon. For example, due to an unfixable security flaw in the way funds are now transferred electronically, worldwide, it is no longer safe to write personal checks. A criminal who sees the numbers that are printed at the bottom of any check that you write can use that information to withdraw all the money from your account. He or she can do this in various ways, without even knowing your name — for example by creating an ATM card, or by impersonating a bank in some country of the world where safeguards are minimal, or by printing a document that looks like a check. The account number and routing information are all that international financial institutions look at before deciding to transfer funds from one account to another. (Donald Knuth, “Financial Fiasco.”)

It’s Morning in America

It’s hard to know what to say after an election that feels so momentous in so many different ways. So, I’ll start from the simple: congratulations to Obama on being elected the 44th President of the United States.

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Next, let’s add some chaos here and see what emerges. So what’s on your mind?

And please, keep it civil in this election open thread.

The Purple States

As we go into what may well be another very long day of elections for the Presidency of the United States, I wanted to reprise two images from 2004:

Click on either for more details and the context four years ago.

Despite the electoral college, America isn’t a red country or a blue country, and few states are red or blue. Most of the country is a gloriously chaotic mix, where the elections are usually reasonably close.

Both of the candidates want what they believe is best for the country, and both of the candidates have millions of supporters. Let’s hope for a clear decision on election night, in an election which is sufficiently free of chicanery that we all accept the winner, and move on to addressing the very real and serious problems which confront the world.

You talk like a delinquent

This is interesting. Not sure how robust the finding is, but according to an analysis of LendingClub data on all past loans, including descriptions of the use for the money, applicants using certain words in their descriptions are much more likely to default.

For our purposes define a Delinquency as either being late in your payments or having defaulted completely. The 10 words with the greatest p-values are below. […]

Word Loans With P(Delinquency|No word) P(Delinquency|Word) p-value
also
215
0.067
0.140
0.0004
need
608
0.062
0.105
0.0015
business
233
0.069
0.116
0.0038
live
91
0.070
0.154
0.0057
already
64
0.071
0.156
0.0059
other
285
0.068
0.112
0.0081
bills
223
0.067
0.135
0.0082
bill
279
0.066
0.125
0.0117
interest
660
0.081
0.053
0.0136

“Words and Credit Scores”, Social Science Statistics Blog
Not something I’ve studied, but I wonder if a neural network could successfully classify these loans?

Thoughts about Democracy in America

There’s a place in de Tocqueville where he talks about America’s civic strength coming from the way we organize: those voluntary organizations which come together to solve a problem as a community. He pointed out that what we got from that was not merely that particular problem solved, but a sense of community and a willingness to solve problems without the heavy hand of government.

I am tremendously inspired by stories like “Daughter of slave votes for Obama.” There’s real progress for our country, within the course of a lifetime.

I’ve watched as a number of my friends have gone all out for Obama, some traveling on their own dime to knock on doors in states less blue than their own. I’m glad to see that level of enthusiasm: a politics of petty attacks is very likely to lose tomorrow, where a McCain who had been “the McCain of 2000” might well have won.

I worry about Obama’s views on national service, including his goal of 50 hours of community service from every middle and high school student, and his goal of federalizing non-profits. I think that the value of non-profits comes from their volunteer nature, and from their diverse goals. Federal dollars will be alluring for their sheer scale. They will also be distracting for many non-profits, forced, like many churches to strangely bifurcate their activity to allow for federal dollars to flow in. As de Tocqueville understood, much of the value of volunteerism — including volunteering for a political candidate — is that it brings us together as a civic society.

As I watch the outpouring of enthusiasm and of hope, I am hopeful that Obama is smart enough to understand that the real strength of our nation is not in Washington, and it’s not in directives from Washington. It’s from hundreds of millions of people pursuing their hopes and dreams. America is a diverse set of people with different hopes and different dreams, and the value of our democracy is that is has embraced and promoted the freedom of each of us to pursue our own dreams, chaotic though that may be.

It was twenty years ago today

It was twenty years ago today
Sgt. Morris taught the worms to play
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to last a while
So may I introduce to you…
the bug you’ve known for all these years
Sgt. Morris Lonely worm club band


We’re Sgt. Morris’ lonely worm club band,
We hope you will enjoy the show,
We’re Sgt. Morris’ lonely worm club band,
Sit back and let security go.
Sgt. Morris’ lonely, Sgt. Morris’ lonely,
Sgt. Morris Lonely worm club band


It’s wonderful to be here
It’s certainly a thrill
You’re such a lovely fingerd
We’d like to take you $HOME with us
We’ve love to take you home

I don’t really want to stop the show
But I thought you might like to know
that the sendmail’s gonna sing a song
and you’re all gonna sing and sing along
So let me introduce to you
the one and only wiz mode bug

and Sgt. Morris Lonely worm club band!

Don’t Stay at the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel

Renaissance Amsterdam.jpg

The night of September 29th, I had a room at the Renaissance Amsterdam hotel on Kattengat street. Actually I had two rooms, not that I slept in either of them. The first had too much street noise, and windows that didn’t block out the sound. The second, well, I woke up at 7.30 AM from construction noise inside the hotel.

I want to be clear: this was not construction near the hotel, this was work being done on the hotel itself. In other words, management had made the call that starting construction at 7.30 in the morning was ok.

After 4 emails, first to my travel agency, then to the Marriott guest experience manager, then twice with Horst Wittrich, the hotel manager, they have failed to satisfy my request to have my bill cancelled, much like my sleep was cancelled.

Over those 4 emails, they offered me 30,000 Marriott points (roughly a one night stay at one of their hotels) and a 50% reduction in the billed rate for the room. They apparently didn’t care about my satisfaction when they decided to have construction come in at 7.30 AM, and they have failed to ask once “would this satisfy you?” when emailing back and forth.

I suppose I could continue to state and re-state my request, but it is obvious that their management doesn’t care about customer satisfaction.

So do yourself a favor: stay anywhere else. And while we’re being all consumerist: read Halvar’s story before buying a Volkswagen.

Photo: earplugs provided by the management of the Renaissance Amsterdam hotel. (I’d meant to post this a few weeks ago.)