Category Archives: Sailing

AC34 Finals: Notes of Interest

I’ve noticed several things in the current America’s Cup finals that keep my interest. While others in San Francisco seem completely oblivious to the racing, and it’s hard to drag them out and watch, I’m still excited about watching these points:

  1. Overall performance (energy transfer) engineering: ETNZ has the best boat design engineers in the world. It’s clear. They’re getting 4-5 knots more speed upwind. That is a huge factor for match competition where getting on top of the other boat means controlling the finish — the deciding factor in several races so far. I’ve seen far more twist at the top of the ETNZ sail compared to Oracle. Basically, Oracle spent more than double yet ended up with a slower boat. A straight run speed delta also tends to have a serious psychological effect on the sailors, forcing other errors, because it’s hard to stay positive when side-by-side you fall behind.
  2. Reduced drag: Both teams position sailors further and further below deck level. One of the team engineers told me that one single sailor standing up causes enough drag at 25knts to impact performance by several seconds a kilometer. The boats are only a few seconds apart in the races so over a 1500m course a boat with less drag from sailors themselves will have a measurable advantage. ETNZ seems to have the more aerodynamic deck and cowlings. It also hurts when water hits you at 25knts (like cold nails) so working lower is probably welcome relief.
  3. Turns: As the boats jockey for dominance they carve incredibly fast turns. A 72ft boat that can pivot at speed within its own waterline is a phenomenal engineering achievement. The wind and water generate massive loads yet the captains clearly transfer the energy and shift quickly while keeping speed. ETNZ has an advantage in this area as they clearly make smoother turns and maintain more of their speed, which further capitalizes on straight-line speeds.
  4. Team fitness: These people have trained non-stop for three years, every day and often twice a day. They are at the peak of physical shape. Yet when I watch the videos with sound on I hear them wheezing and coughing as if they can barely catch their breath. Turning and tuning the boat completely maxes them out. And they can’t go anywhere. Unlike football, soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball…there is no relief or substitution possible. The Round-the-World Ocean races once were described to me as playing rugby without any option of leaving. That is why professional sailing could perhaps be seen as one of the top physically demanding sports in the world.
  5. Tactics: I’m completely shocked at the errors a usually ultra-aggressive Spithill has made. I expected to see Oracle try and force errors, play dirty and get in Barker’s face at every chance. Instead Spithill has made repeated unforced errors and been charitably giving away races. Perhaps he is not in sync with his team, or the speed delta is getting into his head. When the match-racing heat is on high, Spithill starts melting and makes moves painful to watch. Meanwhile Barker, always the quiet gentleman, sails away confidently and cleanly.
  6. Team Nationality: Spithill almost made me spit up when I first saw him tell an audience Oracle is the “home team”. This man is an Aussie through-and-through. Nothing wrong with that, but he has stated in interviews that ever since 1983 (when he saw Australia win the cup) he has dedicated his life to Australia keeping the cup. In the post-race interview a few days ago he repeated his “home team” nonsense and said ETNZ is trying to “take the cup far away”. Barker, in a beautifully accurate retort said “if we win we’ll bring it closer to your home”. Indeed, Spithill might prefer a NZ win.

    Spithill thus comes across as awkward as if forced to ask for support now from the country he has loved to hate as a sailor. In addition, despite being in America, Oracle also has a reputation for disdain towards its home country and especially the cities lived-in by Ellison. A real-estate agent just told me the Oracle CEO bought a house in SF to watch the races and immediately demanded the neighbor, an elderly lady in retirement, cut down her trees so he could get a better view. She said no at first, since they were clearly on her property. Then Oracle lawyers promptly arrived and asked her if she really, really wanted them to wipe out all her retirement money in a messy legal fight and leave her for dead. With a home team like that who needs enemies?

    ETNZ, in stark comparison, has used a large percentage of funds direct (kick-started) from their government and held discussion about how the money spent will benefit taxpayers (jobs, business, trade, etc.).

  7. Boat Nationality: Both boats were built in New Zealand, which if advertised more might help recoup some of the national investment. More interesting than that, however, is the ETNZ boat was designed by the American team that won the cup back from NZ in 1988 with a catamaran. So the ETNZ boat is essentially a successor American boat to the 1988 campaign, while the Oracle boat is apparently not American at all. It may even be French, since they have boasted about finding their initial wing designer in France. Whatever the Oracle boat is or isn’t, to me ETNZ is really sailing the American boat design.
  8. Waterfront access for dinghies: Perhaps the most annoying fact of the entire event is that it is inaccessible to the common person. Super-yachts need more berthing space about as much as anyone needs a hole in the head. Those who aren’t billionaires, on the other hand, really REALLY need a place to launch a performance dinghy in San Francisco. Basically if you’re a kid in an Optimist you’re ok because clubs will support that but once you graduate to something fun where do you go? And if you’re a young professional ready to splash down some money and go for a hot ride…you basically can’t unless you go far away. The waterfront has no facilities and no support. None. That is perhaps the biggest oversight of this entire event. Even rockets are more accessible than high performance dinghy sailing to people who live in SF.

Those are some of the major notes. In summary, ahead I see a sea-change in the boat-building industry and very little change in the American sailing community. Globally we’ll get more efficient, faster and more fun boats of all sizes yet unfortunately this will not lead to any more American kids rushing to get into sailing.

I have a bunch more items I’m tracking but just wanted to share the biggest and most recent ones. Let me know if you have others to add or discuss.

AC34: ETNZ Bows Down…and Survives

Several people have suggested I explain the ETNZ crash. Usually it comes up casually. I get all animated and start describing the details of the event and then people say “that’s interesting, others need to hear this”…and I think why didn’t the America’s Cup put someone on the commentary team who actually races catamarans?

Just one source of reporting would be OK if it was amazing and insightful. Tell a few war stories, life in the trenches stuff, pepper it with math and science, and I’d be glued to the tube during the Louis Vuitton races.

Instead search the entire Internet and you will find only one video, one set of boring empty perspectives. Here it is. Notice how lame the comments are during the action at Gate 3:

The announcers mention a puff, and basically having nothing to say other than what happened after the bows dive down. Men overboard, damage on the front. Duh:

This all has to do with the pitch. The bows went down. […] They stuffed the bows for some reason…that wave hit them.

Thank you captain obvious!

Unfortunately this is not far from the official statement language of ETNZ, as reported by Sailing World. At least they provide some detail such as shift in speed:

The team’s AC72 Aotearoa popped up onto its hydrofoils rounding the mark and then a gust of wind hit. The port (left) bow of Aotearoa buried up to the main crossbeam, reducing the boatspeed from 40 knots to 13 and flicking two crewmembers, Rob Waddell and Chris Ward, overboard. The two grinders were recovered unharmed by the team’s chase boat, but the rush of tons of water tore the port side fairing off the main crossbeam and left the crew shaken.

“In this sort of racing, the boats are incredibly powerful. You see how quickly the speed rockets up as you make the turn around the top,” said skipper Dean Barker. “We came in there with good pressure. Through the turn we were always going to pick up a decent increase in speed; I’m sure there are a few things we could’ve done better.

Dropping from 40 to 13 knots in seconds feels like what, exactly? Unless you’ve been on a boat that stuffs the bows into a wave it’s hard to imagine. That’s why an announcer should be someone who has lived the danger, experienced the excitement, and can relay the feelings to a general audience.

So allow me to try. Here is the scoop (pun not intended) on what happened and why, and what it feels like.

This kind of event is all too common in catamaran sailing. This is what failure usually looks like:


But not this:


Not yet, at least. Those crazy cats in the last photo (pun not intended) are burying their entire hull and managing to avoid pitch-pole (tripping).

So the biggest risk of crashing in catamaran racing is actually when you turn to go down wind at the windward mark. It’s really quite simple and expected, which means ETNZ was about to crash in the area most likely to cause a crash.

If you’ve raced catamarans you simply know that when you approach the windward mark in a big wind, you might be experiencing a bowel movement as you turn the boat away from the wind. When the catamaran does not oppose or release power that builds in the sail it dives the bows. A big puff hitting ETNZ as it bore away (turned after the mark) certainly fits that equation.

But this isn’t the first time a puff has hit a boat in this critical moment. Catamaran sailors know puffs happen at the windward mark all the time. So why didn’t the team just handle it? Actually, like the last photo above, they did.

First of all, the wave-piercing design of the AC72, which some say look like inverted hulls, is meant specifically to allow the boat to survive a dive. From that perspective, they came out of the dive instead of crashing because they knew it could happen. Amazing risk engineering.

The announcers should have been all over the fact that a 72ft boat with wave-piercing hulls can survive a deep dive at 40knts. That was an unbelievably beautiful and planned graceful exit, unlike the Oracle incident where the boat flipped up and eventually broke apart.

Here is a clever comparison of the Oracle and ETNZ boats from CatSailingNews


The article is mostly pointing out that Oracle has been copying ETNZ to stay competitive. Notice something else, however. The bows of the two boats are both inverted and designed for wave-piercing yet still quite different. The Oracle boat appears to have far less ballast (float) than ETNZ.

Could Oracle have survived such a dive? My experience on the A-Class catamaran over four generations of design is that a clever buoyancy model in the bows makes a MASSIVE difference. Oracle, like the current platform I sail (an A3.5), looks anemic in the front end. It would likely have had a harder time even with the re-design after their crash.


This is what an announcer could have mentioned. Bow design. They also could have mentioned the effect of the T-shaped rudders, and L-shaped foils. And they could have mentioned the aerodynamics of the carbon relative to fluid density (wind above versus water below). Saying a crash is related to “pitch” simply isn’t good enough.

Second, a turn in puffs and big wind is scary business because of pressure for rapid decision-making. When Barker turned the corner he made a critical error by taking the turn too tight at the wrong moment. Bad luck, perhaps you could say.

It is a lot like turning a car into a hairpin curve. You know in your mind the speed you need to stay in control as you reach the apex. But in sailing you don’t get to take your foot off the gas or hit the brakes. There are no brakes. And a puff is like someone pushing your gas pedal to the floor.

Instead of smoothly turning you suddenly find a huge boost of power pushing you in a direction other than where you anticipated. Fractions of a second are all you have to decide how you’re going to handle all the excess power that threatens to toss you over.

Barker could have headed up, accelerated in a straighter line to keep the bows from diving. This actually compounds the danger if it doesn’t work, which I won’t go into here. His team also could have dumped power from the sails by stalling them. Stalling or luffing can be very complicated to do in extreme conditions at high speed, especially as it can cause the boat to lose stability.

The bottom line is Barker had several options and he turned a surprise into a strategy by keeping the boat flat enough that he could blast out of the water with speed after a dive instead of careening sideways. Fantastic boat handling married to fantastic engineering. Sideways would have been a disaster. Here’s what happened to Artemis in an AC45 race last year. Watch at 1:10

So we’ve covered some of the engineering and some of the boat handling (and trim) involved. What about feelings? The sensation of a pitch-pole is absolutely terrifying. It happens so fast you can barely process what is going on. Here’s an ETNZ team member recollection on SailingWorld

“I’m on the forward pedestal and was holding on for dear life,” McAsey said. “I was the second guy under water, with Jeremy Lomas in front of me. I was holding on as hard as I could. It all was a blur, everything’s wet and white, you come up, there’s a bit of broken carbon around the place and we’re two guys short. From there on it was just a matter of trying to cover the two guys lost.

Exactly right. One second you’re dry, flying and focused the next second you are blasted in the face by icy frothing salt-water and have no idea what is going on. The key to his story is probably the pedestal. My guess is he held that thing with a death grip as soon as the first drop of water touched his skin.

Keep in mind these sailors are the peak of professional athlete fitness. They train twice a day in the gym and have the strongest grip strength you can imagine. But things happen so fast, things get so slippery and cold, and everything can get turned around in tons of water hitting you at 40knts.

One time on my boat in a race I buried the bows so hard, so fast into the back of a giant wave that I was fired like a missile straight off the boat. I was sailing smoothly one minute and then BAM I’m three feet under water and trying to figure out which way is up.

A catamaran going from fast to slow quickly means it stops and you keep moving. There are no seat belts because you have to be able to move around. And that can mean you bounce off hard and often sharp carbon parts and line, and end up totally disoriented without vision or hearing…and dealing with the shock of rapid temperature change.

It hurts A LOT. I don’t bruise, ever, but one time I hit a wave so hard the boat stopped and I slammed into the back of a razor-sharp windward foil. It gave me a giant green, blue and black bruise on my thigh for weeks. Hanging on to a pedestal is far better option than getting catapulted, washed away or sliced into pieces.

So much to talk about. This tiny little snippet of sailing in the Cup could instantly bring up a ton of background and detail. Yet the “official” and only announcers just repeated “oh my gosh” and statements of the obvious.

Where is our John Madden of sailing? Can’t the organization find a seasoned and colorful catamaran sailor to fill in the commentary? I can think of so many, I have to wonder how the current announcers were chosen.

AC34 Team Oracle Caught Cheating…Again

This is the third incident, as far as I can tell. The first incident, spying on competitor designs, resulted in a penalty for Oracle. The second incident was when Oracle tried to use the Artemis incident to force competitors to change their design, and was rebuffed. Now Oracle is accused of yet another design-related incident.

Skipper Max Sirena of Italy’s Luna Rossa is the latest America’s Cup competitor to accuse defending champion Oracle Team USA of cheating in what potentially could be one of the biggest scandals in the regatta’s 162-year history

As I’ve said before it’s obvious Oracle’s design is inferior. Team New Zealand has out-innovated the American team and Oracle is cheating to try and catch up.

There is irony in these incidents. The Oracle captain recently said in an interview that their design changes were done, they were focused on sailing. In fact, he emphasized that making design changes at this late date could interfere with his ability to focus and become a better sailor; arguing that design change could actually have a trade-off or hurt their chances.

There also is a question of what Team Oracle management is going to do about being caught cheating on design, yet again. Here’s how their CEO has responded:

“I don’t think it’s right that if a few people break a rule on a team of 130 people, that the whole team gets branded as cheats,” Coutts said in his first public comments in the week since Oracle announced that it was forfeiting its overall championships from the first two seasons of the ACWS after the violations were discovered.


Coutts used the latest performance enhancement drug scandal in Major League Baseball as an analogy, saying that if certain players were suspended, “does that mean the whole team are cheaters? I don’t think that’s right to draw that conclusion.”

That is an interesting ethical question for the CEO to pose. I would rather hear him say “I take responsibility for the actions of my team” or “I am in charge and this is unacceptable, this will not be tolerated and will not happen again.”

Instead, we hear that Team America is going to play victim to their own team? In risk management terms, that should be a giant red flag. This is precisely why the U.S. government moved forward the Sarbanes-Oxley regulation. Too many CEOs had claimed they had no idea about fraud under their watch and objected to “the whole team” being branded cheaters.

It is possible that some rogue member of the team was acting independently. That seems unlikely given that it is not an isolated incident. It also seems unlikely, given the response from the CEO is to play victim and tell other teams to stop pointing fingers.

I don’t think it’s right that other teams should use this as an orchestrated PR campaign to slander another team when there’s a jury process going on and the facts haven’t been established.

Strange perspective. Cheating doesn’t require PR orchestration. Fraud doesn’t require PR orchestration. When it’s discovered, when an investigation begins, the expectation and the norm is negative press. It would require orchestration to do the opposite, for competitors to be complimentary and supportive; to say “don’t judge” or “don’t blame management, everyone has bad apples”.

More to the point when the CEO of UCLA tried to say that patient privacy breaches were the result of isolated staff it turned out to be exactly the opposite. A sting operation by Farah Fawcett and her Doctor proved that management wasn’t taking responsibility. Widespread and systemic security failures continued despite firing “isolated staff”. Eventually outside investigators were brought in and not long after the state of California passed two new laws to hold executive management accountable.

The sad fact is Team Oracle management is not talking about how they abhor cheating or how they will stake their reputation on a fair game. They are most likely trying to cheat their way through a design failure. They’ve tried spying, they’ve tried blocking the other designs, and now they’re accused of making unauthorized changes.

After decades of Americans trying to hold top management accountable for the actions of their entire team, it is the statements by the CEO of Team Oracle that are making America look bad.

Coutts admitted last week that someone with the syndicate illegally placed weights in the bows of three 45-foot catamarans without the knowledge of the skippers or management. One of the boats was loaned to Olympic star Ben Ainslie, who is sailing with Oracle Team USA this summer in hopes of launching a British challenge for the 35th America’s Cup.

Coutts said then that it was “a ridiculous mistake” because the weights “didn’t affect the performance.” Oracle forfeited its results from the four ACWS regattas in question, and its two overall season championships.

Someone made a mistake. Don’t blame the team. There was no real need to cheat. These are not phrases that engender trust. Quite the opposite, they lead to distrust of management.

Coutts’ risk approach does not sound far from what the utility industry once used to skirt regulations — hire a “designated felon” to the team. A CEO could claim she/he was “without the knowledge” of violations and basically pay someone else to go to jail or take the fall on their behalf.

#AC34Fatigue “Look at My Penis Go”

Seems like most people I run into lately in SF ask me what I think of the America’s Cup. Maybe it’s a generic conversation starter. I take it as a serious question. Usually the conversation centers around the lack of public interest, the huge amount of money…

I thought it was hard to sum up the event until a friend described it like this:

It’s a “Look At My Penis Go!” event

That, in a nutshell, is what we have now. Who wants to watch? Oracle seems to have created a giant embarrassment.

But seriously, the sailing community has left the show, the general public isn’t coming. Some members of the teams even tell the public the event for them is “like being in jail”…so what is going on? Here’s a few guesses based on recent experience.

Sailing community

Ellison told the esteemed St Francis Yacht Club many years ago he wanted to take over and run the Cup his way. When the local club balked at total-control negotiation, he walked a few steps to the next club. Golden Gate actually heard the fight and invited him over. Golden Gate openly admits they did it for the money; Ellison could do whatever he wanted if he gave them enough money to stay open.

Some have tried to describe this union as a poor guy and a rich guy working together, or the community working with a big company; but everyone knows Oracle doesn’t play that way. They took the place over and run it their way.

Oracle’s split from the St Francis community could have been a chance to pressure an old stodgy club to become more relevant to experimentation and innovation, becoming more inclusive. That would have been interesting. Instead, it looks like Ellison fell out with them for the opposite reason. St Francis is not exclusive enough — it has people he doesn’t want to listen to!

It’s perhaps worth adding here that when the AC45 were racing in front of the St. Francis clubhouse I walked up to the entrance with my reciprocal membership card in hand. A old man at the door stopped me and said “sorry, when the America’s Cup is here we don’t honor reciprocal membership status.”

Annoyed but not dissuaded I walked 100 feet away and sat on the rocks by the water with 100s of other people gathering. Soon I became the unofficial announcer for the shoreline. I explained why China’s roundings were slow and uncoordinated, people asked me for blow-by-blow sports-casting…it turned out to be an amazing experience helping the public understand what was happening.

The strangest part of all, perhaps, is when a guy I had sailed with on long-distance coastal races walked up (he was rejected from St. Francis also) and started to ask me about the dynamics of multi-hull speed and handling. I realized at that moment the most experienced, seasoned mono-hull racers didn’t see what I could see after years of racing an A-Cat. We became a sort-of sports-cast team, he would ask general sailboat racing questions and I would color with specifics and stories. The crowd loved it.

Who is the Steve Madden of sailing? We need one. Someone funny, who gets the game, who speaks at the common person’s level; someone who can’t be and doesn’t want to be locked up inside some exclusive club for hat-less VIPs. The club commodore since then (perhaps after realizing there was low demand) has sent a letter inviting us lowly reciprocal members to come visit during the races.

After the club denied me access I had a great time sharing the Cup experience outside with the unwashed, the uninitiated, the non-sailors. There was no sailing community connection. Even professional sailors I contacted to come watch at the club were off sailing in other events, unimpressed with the AC34 races.

General public

Number 3 (just behind LA and Muni) in the list of Things SF Love to Hate is Larry Ellison:

There really aren’t many beloved billionaire CEOs out there, but the Oracle one takes the booby prize. If his lavish lifestyle and conspicuous mansions weren’t enough to sour his standing in the city, Ellison’s campaign to bring the America’s Cup to town has done the trick. There’s been more headache than economic benefit from the Cup so far.

I walked down to the waterfront recently. A very active and respected member of the local sailing community asked me to have lunch. As I arrived, an AC72 ambled in the water nearby. There was no crowd. The general public simply didn’t come.

He was looking out across the empty water when I asked “what happened to race day”. He laughed and said “We hoped for twelve boats but with only four total and three working…nobody wants to watch a race of one. Today is no different than any other day — there you see a boat sailing on the Bay. The crowds won’t come. So let’s eat…”


To put it bluntly, I was invited to the America’s Cup backstage. I brought with me someone instrumental to America’s Cup history and present success — a legend in sailboat racing. I was honored to be there with him. In fact, I couldn’t believe this was happening.

For 30 seconds it was momentous, as if my entire life of sailing had led up to this moment. We arrived and shook hands with an official of the AC34 sales team. And then we were asked…”have you ever heard of the America’s Cup before?”

*screeching record needle*

Awkward. We then were told by this used-car salesman looking guy with a giant diamond ring and popped white collar that the Cup is under new management and they’re doing things right now — they are lining up a target audience of “generic sports enthusiasts who can pay $40K for exclusivity seats and don’t really care what they’re watching.”

*car driving off cliff and exploding fireballs*

I flew out of that meeting like an AC72 downwind in the Bay on an August afternoon. St Francis seemed quaint and community-focused compared to this nauseating group that stood for what? Where did the love of sailing go? Who was this idiot talking with me (I still have his card) and his sidekick (she later turned her back on us, literally, to give us the sign we should leave).

Don’t get me wrong, I love the America’s Cup, I love sailing. In fact, my entire house has been decorated for decades with the history of America’s Cup contenders (Tommy Sopwith’s 1934 Endeavour, Vanderbilt’s 1903 Reliance, the amazing Enterprise of 1930). And I’ve grown up sailing, and been fortunate enough to have sailed with and raced against many of the people working on the current campaigns.

In fact, I may still write up a detailed explanation of how the boats work, the amazing transformation in technology and teams, or do some impromptu race commentary. There’s so much to talk about.

But WTF Larry? We’re losing the audience, including me.

#HeavyD and the Evil Hostess Principle

At this year’s ISACA-SF conference I will present how to stop malicious attacks against data mining and machine learning.

First, the title of the talk uses the tag #HeavyD. Let me explain why I think this is more than just a reference to the hiphop artist or nuclear physics.

The Late Great Heavy D

Credit for the term goes to @RSnake and @joshcorman. It came up as we were standing on a boat and bantering about the need for better terms than “Big Data”. At first it was a joke and then I realized we had come upon a more fun way to describe the weight of big data security.

What is weight?

Way back in 2006 Gill gave me a very tiny and light racing life-jacket. I noted it was not USCG Type III certified (65+ newtons). It seemed odd to get race equipment that wasn’t certified, since USCG certification is required to race in US Sailing events. Then I found out the Europeans believe survival of sailors requires about 5 fewer newtons than the US authorities.

Gill Buoyancy Aid
Awesome Race Equipment, but Not USCG Approved

That’s a tangent but perhaps it helps frame a new discussion. We think often about controls to protect data sets of a certain size, which implies a measure at rest. Collecting every DB we can and putting it in a central hadoop, that’s large.

If we think about protecting large amounts of data relative to movement then newton units come to mind. Think of measuring “large” in terms of a control or countermeasure — the force required to make one kilogram of mass go faster at a rate of one meter per second:


Hold onto that thought for a minute.

Second, I will present on areas of security research related to improving data quality. I hinted at this on Jul 15 when I tweeted about a quote I saw in darkreading.

argh! no, no, no. GIGO… security researcher claims “the more data that you throw at [data security], the better”.

After a brief discussion with that researcher, @alexcpsec, he suggested instead of calling it a “Twinkies flaw” (my first reaction) we could call it the Hostess Principle. Great idea! I updated it to the Evil Hostess Principle — the more bad ingredients you throw at your stomach, the worse. You are prone to “bad failure” if you don’t watch what you eat.

I said “bad failure” because failure is not always bad. It is vital to understand the difference between a plain “more” approach versus a “healthy” approach to ingestion. Most “secrets of success” stories mention that reaction speed to failure is what differentiates winners from losers. That means our failures can actually have very positive results.

Professional athletes, for example are said to be the quickest at recovery. They learn and react far faster to failure than average. This Honda video interviews people about failure and they say things like: “I like to see the improvement and with racing it is very obvious…you can fail 100 times if you can succeed 1”

So (a) it is important to know the acceptable measure of failure. How much bad data are we able to ingest before we aren’t learning anymore — when do we stop floating? Why is 100:1 the right number?

And (b) an important consideration is how we define “improvement” versus just change. Adding ever more bad data (more weight), as we try to go faster and be lighter, could just be a recipe for disaster.

Given these two, #HeavyD is a presentation meant to explain and explore the many ways attackers are able to defeat highly-scalable systems that were designed to improve. It is a technical look at how we might setup positive failure paths (fail-safe countermeasures) if we intend to dig meaning out of data with untrusted origin.

Who do you trust?

Fast analysis of data could be hampered by slow processes to prepare the data. Using bad data could render analysis useless. Projects I’ve seen lately have added weeks to get source material ready for ingestion; decrease duplication, increase completeness and work towards some ground rule of accurate and present value. Already I’m seeing entire practices and consulting built around data normalization and cleaning.

Not only is this a losing proposition (e.g. we learned this already with SIEM), the very definition of big data makes this type of cleaning effort a curious goal. Access to unbounded volumes with unknown variety at increasing velocity…do you want to budget to “clean” it? Big data and the promise of ingesting raw source material seems antithetical to someone charging for complicated ground-rule routines and large cleaning projects.

So we are searching for a new approach. Better risk management perhaps should be based on finding a measure of data linked to improvement, like Newtons required for a life-jacket or healthy ingredients required from Hostess.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Sailing Safely after the America’s Cup Death

I would like to write about the America’s Cup as I have not yet found a good source of information on recent events.

I am by no means an insider although I admit I’ve been racing high-performance catamarans for over a decade that are similar to AC boat designs and I work in risk management.

Perhaps there’s someone out there who can provide a more authoritative perspective, but in the meantime here’s my amateur and unqualified opinion on what recent accidents may mean for sailing in America.

It is too easy to say loss of life is a reality in high-risk events. Likewise it is too easy to say precautions are the obvious answer. The difficult question is whether the America’s Cup authority, known for bias and gerrymandering for self-serving victories, should be trusted with assessment and decision on risk.

Are multi-hulls dangerous?

For as long as I can remember sailors in the Bay have discussed that multi-hulls capsize ungracefully and permanently. Trimarans and Catamarans were banned in some of the large coastal races I’ve done (Monterey Bay) specifically because event sponsors and support wanted to minimize risk. Believe me, I would have sailed a multi-hull if the option were allowed; we would have cut our race time in half and less time on the water is arguably more safe. Subsequently, over the past three years at least, there has been discussion of whether someone will die when a 72ft carbon platform flips over.

Don’t get too worked up about multi-hulls, however. Speed is an essential ingredient in survival (boats can run from danger) and amateurs on multis in heavy weather have proven they can fare better than monohulls. We also have to admit boats with one hull are statistically more deadly. There are many, many years of data on monohulls involved in tragic and fatal accidents; not least of all was the recent and local Farrallones Tragedy.

Mining the data on events like the 1979 Fastnet disaster (15 deaths, 69 monohulls retired) and the 1998 Sydney-Hobart disaster (5 boats sank, 66 boats retired from the race, 6 sailors died, and 55 sailors were taken off their yachts, most by helicopter) has taught us a lot about risk.

One lesson is that chances of survival in difficult weather are significantly higher for boats over 35 feet long. This is related to the engineering. Larger boats are typically made to handle off-shore conditions and more continuous use than day-sailors.

If we dig a little deeper into lesson one, we find lesson two: pushing boats into heavy weather conditions creates unfair or at least unintended competition. Survival conditions impose a completely new set of criteria for success. Sailors of any experience know this well. I can think of at least a dozen hair-raising experiences I have had on boats and even some near-death moments. Here are a few relevant examples:

In 2003 a storm blew through Louisiana that decimated the A-Class Catamaran North American Championships. It was my first major race on a new boat and suddenly I found myself sitting among the top ten competitors in America. Why? I had grown up sailing so it was natural for me to drop into survival mode — get my boat across the line and to shore in one piece. It was sad for me to watch far better sailors, even Olympic medalists, crash and burn. They pushed on with their prior competition as I pulled back, sailing through an asteroid field of broken boats. Only 11 of us finished among more than 40 boats. It was a victory I didn’t want.

Similarly, I found myself crossing the finish line in 17th place at the 2005 A-Class Catamaran World Championships after the wind disappeared. Nearly 100 boats drifted. Again I switched into survival mode, pegged a line of breeze and swooped to a bitter-sweet victory over sailors usually far better than me. Although very exciting to be just seconds from top 15 in the world, it still was not a wanted victory.

First Place at SCYC
Me sailing an International A-Class Catamaran in light wind

I have many more examples but in 2012 I took a different role. I rode a rescue jet ski at the A-Class Catamaran North American Championships. I could barely operate the jet ski the sea state was so rough. Within just a few hours I had I rescued one of the best sailors in the world, who had become separated from his boat, as well as towed four capsized, dismasted and exhausted top-tier international competitors to shore. From this experience I wrote a detailed explanation on how to use tow lines and a power-boat to carefully rescue turtled (upside-down) high-performance catamarans.

Perhaps you can see why I want to articulate my thoughts on what is happening after the Artemis catamaran disaster. I’ve been thinking about multihull risk management for a long time.

Why does baseball stop when it rains?

Sailing has weather guidelines. Don’t sail when it’s too windy, don’t sail when it’s not windy. It should be as simple as canceling a tennis match or a baseball game. Instead it’s a complicated debate about who can “handle” risky conditions.

People talk about the Artemis accident in terms of boat sea-worthiness yet that’s not the correct focus of inquiry.

Here’s what I believe to be the real story on the America’s Cup accident. Team Artemis made a critical risk calculation error early in their campaign related to structural design. The boat was compromised when they tried to work around the rules. This led to an eventual critical failure and death.

What was the error? AC rules specify a limited number of days sailing on the water for the first 72 foot platform. This could in theory reduce research and design costs. Instead it created control evasion as teams wanted to source design data.

To get around the “sailing” rule Artemis put their AC72 “big red” on the water without a wing attached. They set out to accumulate data on hulls. Although this avoided using up precious days “on water” it required a different power source. Powerboats were attached by line to pull the platform at speed.

Preparation and study of load is where things went awry; the design of the boat was for wing strain, not arbitrary tow lines. As some might have expected the introduction of intense power loads damaged big red’s structure — the main beam that was designed to sit beneath a wing was cracked. The ultimate failure of “big red” on its last day on the water was related to the main beam failing…again.

Thus I think the Artemis accident should be seen as an unfortunate design failure, but not directly related to sailing. It was a failure to anticipate tow line strain coupled with continuing to sail on a damaged structure. It had nothing to do with abilities of any sailor on board (unlike the Oracle capsize, which was the result of pilot error during extremely difficult weather).

In fact it is easy to see how a wing, due to stiffness and subsequent efficiencies, actually puts less load on the structure than the cloth sails we used to use. So I hope people see why it is important to see that beam damage from being under tow should not be misrepresented as wing load risk or even foiling risk.

If we want to avoid a structural failure risk in future we must consider the Artemis disaster in terms of load edge-cases. Whether it is a tow line or a force 10 gale, applying unanticipated amounts of stress on untested structure is a recipe for surprise. You could say the same for airplanes or any structure. A massive storm, a line tied to the end of a wing…these are dangers to face outside normal operating conditions.

Tragedy and leverage

This leads me to the most controversial aspect of what has happened since the incident. There is a conflict of interest with a competition authority that is paid by the defending competitor. When they rule on design changes we have to ask if they are making decisions based on competitive advantage.

Plus we know that Oracle has been playing catch-up with their design. Their boat clearly was not designed to foil above the water. That is my guess why every time you see Oracle 17 in pictures they’re flying a hull, yet the other AC boats are flying level. If you’re foiling you don’t need to sail at any angle, right? You already have your hulls out of the water.

Oracle Hulls Unbalanced
Oracle Hulls Unbalanced

ETNZ Hulls Balanced
ETNZ Hulls Balanced

This is not to say the Oracle design team is entirely off target. I see some design innovation advantages (i.e. the giant pod beneath the mast assists with flow, effectively extending the force of the wing). The fact remains, however, that a defender playing catch-up to challengers is going to be under pressure to eliminate the gaps. Oracle already has demonstrated they are not above cheating to catch up.

It appears to me at first look that findings, supposedly related to safety, are aimed at eliminating challenger technology that Oracle sees as a threat to their victory. Safety is in danger of being used as an excuse to help the defender win instead of directly addressing real risks.

If Oracle plays a corruption card to win they deserve not only to lose the cup, they should be ashamed for doing exactly what they promised would end with their leadership. The cup has been steeped in a history of cheating and spying for advantage. Using the Artemis tragedy and safety for competitive leverage will take us to a new low.

The burden therefore is upon the defender and their race authority to transparently and clearly explain any required changes in terms of real risk. This is a critical moment of big data analysis of risk for Oracle; it can help or seriously hurt American sailing. I hope they use it wisely.

It’s the Googles! North Korea Edition

Sophie Google’s new blog post, ahem, whoops I mean to say Sophie Schmidt‘s new blog post on her trip to North Korea is a fantastic study in culture clash. What a great opportunity she had to travel into a country few Americans get to see.

“In the land of the blind, close one eye” — my Mother

As an aside, I don’t understand why it’s ok for everyone to refer to Sophie as Eric Schmidt’s daughter. Must we put her in that shadow?

In comparison, have you noticed that NO ONE one ever mentions that Audax Health’s CEO (Grant Verstandig), a 23 yr old given $21 million to socialize healthcare, is the well-heeled son of Republican politician (Lee Verstandig)?

Served in the Administration of President Ronald Reagan as Assistant Secretary for Government Affairs at the Dept. of Transportation; Acting Administrator of the Environment Protection Agency; Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs; Under Secretary at the Dept.of Housing and Urban Development; and Chief of Staff to the First Lady.

That Verstanding power and money connection seems more than just a little bit relevant yet NO ONE ever mentions it. However EVERYONE qualifies poor Sophie as the daughter of Eric.

The only Verstandig reference I have seen is this: “the son of two government employees“.

Why the vague “son of two gov’t employees” statement? I don’t unverstandig.

Does the family have some reason to hide or downplay the rather obvious father-son link related to US national policy? You probably know where I’m going with this…

Son of a gov employee
Kim Jong-un, the “son of a government employee”

But back to the Googles…Sophie’s perspective is totally fascinating to me. She starts off boldly telling us she is sorry that we may have problems and that she’s not doing anything about it:

…blame Google Sites (and this two-column structure idea of mine) for limited functionality…Apologies to folks with f’d up layouts

I could just end my blog post right here. You probably know where I’m going with this…

Son of a gov employee
Kim Jong-un says “…blame my father…Apologies to folks with f’d up experiences”

That’s the short version. But I can’t just leave it there.

When Sophie apologies for Google I feel better about the “limited functionality” delivered to me. In fact, I feel downright lucky to have anything at all so I guess I will just put up with whatever I can get from them. Hey, after all it’s cloud, right? You don’t get to be picky…

And here really begins our journey together with her into North Korea.

While top information security professionals in the US rant about how unsafe it is to take anything into China, Sophie says she was advised to not only take her technology to China but to leave it there to keep it safe:

We left our phones and laptops behind in China, since we were warned they’d be confiscated in NK, and probably infected with lord knows what malware.

North Korea gets bashed for being so far behind, back in the dark ages, that Google is worrying about “lord knows what malware” being placed on the most advanced mobile devices? Nah, no way. More like the US would WANT the North Koreans to put some malware on a device so we can bring it home and study it.

There is little you can really do with a mobile device in North Korea, right? No connectivity means it probably wouldn’t get pulled out of its bag. Hopefully it doesn’t have anything sensitive on it anyway. Other than writing a blog post about how much you hate it there…what would you use it for? So it’s not really a risk of infection that leads one to leave behind mobile devices in this scenario. Confiscation and/or loss of IP are the true risk. Don’t bring anything you do not want to be forced to leave behind in North Korea or expose to them.

On the flip side do not leave behind in China anything you do not want read by various spies from the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Asia who float around. After all, China does not exactly protect you from being spied on by agents of foreign countries when you are in China.

I find few people realize the ironic reality-twist that US citizens in foreign countries are spied on by US agents because protection from surveillance is reduced compared to back home; it’s something to seriously consider when you’re a US citizen out for a non-sanctioned and very public jaunt into North Korea.

Those devices you left in China? Potentially bugged by agents of the US, for your own good of course.

Back to the story, Sophie gives us a quick summary of how things felt…well, in-authentic:

Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.

This, in a nutshell, is the ultimate insult by American standards. To be real, to be authentic is to achieve maximum value in our culture; an in-authentic experience is the opposite of what many of us want. That’s why it’s so easy to bash the hipster. How can you trust someone walking today in downtown Mountain View who dresses like a 1890s steam train engineer?

Google New Hires
New hires at orientation, Google 2013

When I read Sophie’s summary of her trip I see a giant warning shot fired across our bow:

Prepare for fake. Prepare to be disappointed. North Korea trips are full of stuff that is not real. The horror.

It was only due to the instruction/vision/guidance of Our Marshall/the Respected Leader/ Awesome-O wunderkid Kim Jong Un that we were able to successfully __________ (insert achievement here: launch a ballistic rocket, build complicated computer software, negotiate around US sanctions, etc.). Reminded me of the “We’re Not Worthy” bit from Wayne’s World. Just another example of the reality distortion field we routinely encountered in North Korea, just frequently enough to remind us how irrational the whole system really is.

In other words you have to suspend belief if you are going to follow the story you supposed to be watching. You want rational? Come to America.

After all we have the Kardashian phenomenon, Disneyland, and the fact that the US leads the world in total cosmetic procedures performed. Yeah! Take that you North Korean distortion fielders.

Although we Americans are quick to look at others from the outside and criticise their foolish lack of authenticity, we also love to show off with our fake and highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings…

American Reality Show
Nothing unusual here. Nothing staged or tightly-orchestrated. Not at all.

The difference in who can be most inauthentic and get away with it, of course, is relative to power.

Kim Jong-un, like Lance Armstrong, makes use of extraordinary power and direct influence to keep an inauthentic story running even after people stop believing and want to talk openly and express their doubts or challenge his story.

Power to shut down naysayers and disbelievers is a very real problem in political science, which I don’t want to minimize here. My point is that if you realize America also has a lot of problems from inauthenticity relative to power, you are one step closer to finding the authenticity even in places that try hard to keep you from seeing it. It’s a problem very, very familiar to auditors, let alone anthropologists.


Perhaps I’m being too indirect and this could go on forever, given the material Sophie provides, so let me cut to the chase.

Sophie displays a very strong cultural bias in her perspective but no awareness or caution of that bias.

Why do we need an alarm clock to wake up? Why do we need soft beds and rugs? Why do we need to heat every room of every building? What is wrong with empty spaces? Why do we need street lights? Seriously, street lights are stupid abominations of sailing codes (starboard and port, green and red) never meant for roads that give engines a wasteful and unfair advantage over other forms of transportation. We need a better system. Now tell me again how strange it is to see streets without signals for sailboats.

Here’s an example of how things were said in Sophie’s perspective:

My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open.

And here is how they might be said if she had looked at it from a more North Korean view:

No need to lock your door. Simply leave it open. There’s no crime risk.

Incidentally (pun not intended) if you’ve ever been to the Google campus headquarters you may know that they spent many years and a lot of money to cover the outside and inside with surveillance, and yet they STILL do not leave their doors open. Eric apparently feels safer in North Korea than within his own castle. (Full disclosure: I’ve been inside the Google SOC several times and it’s very impressive. North Korea probably would be jealous.)

If we play her blog post from an outsiders view, in other words, it could be read like this:

America is great because it is crowded, polluted, wasteful, unhealthy, unsafe and people looked stressed/busy all the time.

Doesn’t it sound strange when you use an inverse of her criticism of North Korea to describe America? With this different perspective in mind take another look at what she presents us with:

North Korea is empty, clean, efficient and people are fit, safe and have idle time.

Perhaps somewhere in-bewteen is a truly authentic experience and a hint as to why closing one eye in the land of the blind is sound advice.

Cannon Accidentally Fires Real Ammo, Damages Bill of Rights

You may remember when I wrote about the tragedy of an endangered polar bear killed after live ammunition was “accidentally” fired by BP. A re-enactment of a sea battle between old tall ships off the coast of southern Orange County, California just went awry when one of them fired a real round.

Law enforcement officials said a crew member made an unfortunate mistake when the Amazing Grace cannon ran out of blanks that were to be fed into it and fired in the direction of crew members aboard the Bill of Rights, the other tall ship taking part in the reenactment.

The crew member mistakenly grabbed a box of buckshot ammunition. (The boxes apparently look similar, authorities said.)

The spray of pellets left two people aboard the Bill of Rights injured and stunned.

Can anyone answer why an historic tall ship with cannons is carrying actual buckshot ammunition? The LA Times doesn’t raise the obvious question.

“The plan is never to shoot live ammunition,” said Bentley Cavazzi, chief operations officer for the Ocean Institute, which has hosted the festival in Dana Point Harbor for 28 years.

Here’s what would make more sense, do not carry live ammunition if you never plan to shoot it. Then audit for compliance; confirm no ammo on board before taking passengers. And of course hold someone at the top level like the COO liable for mistakes.

When an historic ship absolutely must carry the live ammunition (there must be a reason somewhere) make sure it is clearly labeled and separate (e.g. requires authentication and authorization). Lock and label the ammo.

Note, the Amazing Grace is harbored in San Diego where another infamous mis-fire happened recently. Of course the ship’s cannon technology is too old to use the computer virus excuse.

Below is a video from last year of the re-enactment. Shots are fired at 1:55, when you can see the tiny/mock cannons (which use shotgun shells) on the Amazing Grace.

Wind Predictions for AC45 Races

An America’s Cup meterologist has posted his weather prediction on the team blog

The strong w-sw sea breeze that caused the damage on Saturday moderated early in the week, but by Thursday – first race day for Dean Barker and crew – it will be back to its boat-breaking best.

Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) meteorologist Roger (Clouds) Badham says that at this time of the year San Francisco weather comes in three to five day cycles. Locals say the best weather is in September/October.

I completely agree with his statement on the best weather months, but I guess I qualify as a local. Spring and Fall offer dry warm weather and moderation while the summer months bring humidity with chilly temperatures and big afternoon breeze.

As “Clouds” rightly suggests the driver of the big summer breeze is a temperature differential between the Bay Area getting cooled at night by the ocean and the heated inland area during the day.

I’ve heard it referred locally (among sailors) as proof how much Sacramento really “sucks”.

A quick look at forecasts shows nearly perfect conditions later this week, yet that’s not what ETNZ is predicting on their blog. So I downloaded a GRIdded Binary (GRIB) file to see if I could verify what “Clouds” sees.

GRIB is a format for meteorological data specified by the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission for Basic Systems. There are many choices of free software that will download, manipulate and display GRIBs. I tend to use zyGrib.

Below is a small subset of the latest images, which shows a solid wall of 30+ winds off-shore (!) but light winds of 10 knts around the Bay Area from 11am to 5pm on Thursday and on Friday. The problem when looking at these charts, however, is trying to factor in the dominant local/shore effects. The Golden Gate, for example, tends to be a funnel or convergence zone and that is where the races will be held.

Thursday morning:

Thursday afternoon:

Friday morning:

Friday afternoon:

A solid yellow can be nasty (25+ knts) to deal with. Turquoise (10 knts) is generally what you want to see. Great day to go for a sail, right? Not quite. The race venue will see some kind of variation from this high-level map. As I mentioned there’s a convergence near the Golden Gate Bridge.

When I sail in the Bay Area I know how dangerous it can be to rely on a GRIB view alone. A single day around the Bay can involve a dozen or more micro-climate areas with extremely variable and dangerous conditions at places like the “Slot” near Alcatraz, or the aptly named Hurricane Gulch and the unpredictable river of Raccoon Strait.

Fortunately there are many localized data sources. Last Saturday the wind sensor near Crissy Field (just inside the Golden Gate Bridge) posted rather high wind readings compared with the overall area. You can review it on

The AC45s will definitely be crashing if they see spikes into the 30 knt range like that. No wonder teams saw some major breakage this past weekend.

Since the Team NZ crew of six arrived in California late last week, the Bay has been dishing up 30 knot wind gusts and choppy seas, which have already claimed three of the 11 boats out practising.

Team NZ have come through the practice days unscathed, but not without a few hairy moments. Their training partner, Luna Rossa Swordfish, was not so fortunate – suffering a spectacular end-over-end capsize, destroying their AC45 wing. The Italians will need to use another wing if they are to be on the startline when racing begins in earnest on Wednesday (NZ time).

The strong sea breezes and wind against tide also flipped Artemis and Team Korea, and could cause more carnage in this first event of the 2012-13 World Series.

Photos from the team site show the boat bearing away downwind with hulls flat but the bows under heavy pressure. When you have so much spray in your face that you can’t see the sails, it’s time to reduce sail area.

ETNZ in wind
Source: ETNZ

The same Crissy Pier wind sensor predicts 7-12 knts in the morning on Thursday and 10-20 knts in the afternoon. That typically means it will blow 15 knts by noon and 25 knts by 2pm. As you can see a localized prediction can be quite different from the high-level area map view that indicates 10 knts.

Too Close for Comfort
Source: Team Puma. Look out Jimmy! Keep clear when an AC45 has to steer in 20+ knts. You definitely don’t want to meet a carbon blade doing 30 mph.

On top of wind predictions, racers also have to factor the tide. They should see a 1-2 knt flood tide (slack at noon on Thursday, 1 pm on Friday). Given that the races start when tide is almost slack, it seems someone was planning the event date with an eye on the tide charts (Bay water can flow over 5 knts).

Sailing obviously is a sport where Big Data analysis (e.g. many sensors reading variable data in real-time) has always been an essential part of success. A team simply can’t be a top performer without a mastery of wind and water instruments.

Events this week should be a great time to see the world’s best sailors on the world’s best sailing technology racing in fast conditions, right on the edge of control.

Sailing's New Look
Source: ETNZ. Helmets with radios and camera mounts, dry suits, low-profile life-vests, knives…ready for teamwork in any condition, it’s the look of high-performance sailing.