Category Archives: Sailing

Eventually Navies Take Over

I attended a “keynote” talk at a security conference a few years ago with this title as a key premise. You know how I love history, so I was excited. The speaker, a well-regarded mathematician, told us “eventually, navies take over” because they will “perform tight surveillance of sea lanes and ensure safety for commerce”.

That sounded counter-factual to me, given what history tells us about rigid empires trying to oppress and control markets. So while I enjoyed the topic I noted some curious issues with this presentation perspective.

Common sense tells me authorities have historically struggled to stem a shift to nimbler, lighter and more open commerce lanes. Authoritarian models struggle for good reasons. Shipping routes protected by a Navy basically are a high tax that does not scale well, requiring controversial forms of “investment”.

This comes up all the time in security history circles. A “security tax” becomes an increasing liability because scaling perimeters is hard (the same way castles could not scale to protect trade on land); an expensive perimeter-based model as it grows actually helps accelerate demise of the empire that wants to stay in power. Perhaps we even could say navies trying to take over is the last straw for an enterprise gasping to survive as cloud services roll-in…

Consider that the infamous Spanish navy “flota” model — a highly guarded and very large shipment — seems an expensive disaster waiting to happen. It’s failure is not in an inability to deliver stuff from point A to B. The failure is in sustainability; an inability to stop competitive markets from forming with superior solutions (like the British version that came later trying to prevent American encroachment). The flota was an increased cost to maintain a route, which obsoleted itself.

Back to the keynote presentation it pointed out an attacker (e.g. the British) could make a large haul. This seems an odd point to make. Such a large haul was the effect of the flota, the perimeter model. There was a giant load of assets to be attacked, because it was an annual batch job. The British could take a large haul if they won, by design.

In defense of the flota model, the frequency of failure was low over many years. If we measured success simply on whether some shipments were profitable then it looks a lot better. This seems to me like saying Blockbuster was a success so eventually video rental stores (brick-and-mortar) take over. It sounds like going backwards in time not forward. The Spanish had a couple hundred years of shipments that kept the monarchy running, which may impress us just like the height of Blockbuster sales. To put it in infosec terms, should we say a perimeter model eventually will take over because it was used by company X to protect its commerce?

On the other hand the 80-years and the 30-years wars that Spain lost puts the flota timeline in different perspective. Oppressive extraction and taxes to maintain a navy that was increasingly overstretched and vulnerable, a period of expensive wars and leaks…in relative terms, this was not exactly a long stretch of smooth sailing.

More to the point, in peacetime the navy simply could not build a large enough presence to police all the leaks to pervasive draconian top-down trading rules. People naturally smuggled and expanded around navies or when they were not watching. We saw British and Dutch trade routes emerge out of these failures. And in wartime a growth in privateers increased difficulty for navies to manage routes against competition because the navy itself was targeted. Thus in a long continuum it seems we move towards openness until closed works out a competitive advantage. Then openness cracks the model and out-competes until…and so on. If we look at this keynote’s lesson from a Spanish threat to “take over” what comes to mind is failure; otherwise wouldn’t you be reading this in Spanish?

Hopefully this also puts into context why by 1856 America refused to ban “letters of marque” (despite European nations doing so in the Paris Declaration). US leadership expressly stated it would never want or need a permanent/standing navy (it believed privateers would be its approach to any dispute with a European military). The young American country did not envision having its own standing navy perhaps because it saw no need for the relic of unsustainable and undesirable closed markets. The political winds changed quite a bit for the US in 1899 after dramatic defeats of Spain but that’s another topic.

The conference presentation also unfortunately used some patently misleading statements like “pirates that refused to align with a government…[were] eventually executed”. I took that to mean the presenter was saying a failure to choose to serve a nation, a single one at that, would be a terminal risk for any mercenary or pirate. And I don’t believe that to be true at all.

We know some pirates, perhaps many, avoided being forced into alignment through their career and then simply retired on terms they decided. Peter Easton, a famous example, bought himself land with a Duke’s title in France. Duke Easton’s story has no signs of coercion or being forced to align. It sounds far more like a retirement agreement of his choosing. The story of “Wife of Cheng” is another example. Would you call her story the alignment of a pirate with a government, or a government aligning with the pirate? She clearly refused to align and was not executed.

Cheng I Sao repelled attack after attack by both the Chinese navy and the many Portuguese and British bounty hunters brought in to help capture her. Then, in 1810, the Chinese government tried a different tactic — they offered her universal pirate amnesty in exchange for peace.

Cheng I Sao jumped at the opportunity and headed for the negotiating table. There, the pirate queen arranged what was, all told, a killer deal. Fewer than 400 of her men received any punishment, and a mere 126 were executed. The remaining pirates got to keep their booty and were offered military jobs.

Describing pirates’ options as binary alignment-or-be-executed is crazy when you also put it in frame of carrying dual or more allegiances. One of the most famous cases in American history involves ships switching flags to the side winning at sea in order to get a piece of the spoils on their return to the appropriate port. The situation, in brief, unfolded (pun not intended) when two American ships came upon an American ship defeating a British one. The two approaching ships switched to British flags, chased off the American, then took the British ship captive switched flags back to American and split the reward from America under “letters of marque”. Eventually in court the wronged American ship proved the situation and credit was restored. How many cases went unknown?

The presenter after his talk backed away from defending facts that were behind the conclusions. He said he just read navy history lightly and was throwing out ideas for a keynote, so I let it drop as he asked. Shame, really, because I had been tossing out some thoughts on this topic for a while and it seems like a good foundation for debate. Another point I would love to discuss some day in terms of cybersecurity is why so many navy sailors converted to being pirates (hint: more sailors died transporting slaves than slaves died en route).

My own talks on piracy and letters of marque were in London, Oct 2012, San Francisco, Feb 2013 and also Mexico City, Mar 2013. They didn’t generate much response so I did not push the topic further. Perhaps I should bring them back again or submit updates, given how some have been talking about national concerns with cyber to protect commerce.

If I did present on this topic again, I might start with an official record of discussion with President Nixon, February 8, 1974, 2:37–3:35 p.m. It makes me wonder if the idea “eventually navies take over” actually is a form of political persuasion, a politicized campaign, rather than any sort of prediction or careful reflection on history:

Dr. Gray: I am an old Army man. But the issue is not whether we have a Navy as good as the Soviet Union’s, but whether we have a Navy which can protect commerce of the world. This is our #1 strategic problem.

Adm. Anderson: Suppose someone put pressure on Japan. We couldn’t protect our lines to Japan or the U.S.-Japan shipping lanes.

The questions I should have asked the keynote speaker were not about historic accuracy or even the role of navies. Instead perhaps I should have gone straight to “do you believe in authoritarianism (e.g. fascism) as a valid solution to market risks”?

On Kristallnacht: Tom Perkins Edition

This is not exactly a post I wanted to write. I watched a general reaction to Tom Perkins, however, and felt a serious gap emerging in the news. I started to wonder who would respond with a detailed take-down of his letter.

Tom Perkins is obviously wrong to compare himself to Jews persecuted under Nazi rule. He obviously is wrong to characterize Kristallnacht as an event where a poor majority persecuted a prosperous minority. How can he be so misinformed? Then again, I have not seen anyone offering us specific details or explaining why his wrongs are so obvious.

Typical Mistake of the 1%?

Some have bothered to compare him to the many other rich Americans who depict their critics as Nazis.

Tom Perkins’ letter to the editor is not, as the enraged commentary around it implies, some isolated or anomalous incident. Rather, it is a fairly standard example of a pervasive system of propaganda attempting to paint the world’s wealthiest oligarchs as victims.

Perkins is trying to convince us his great power and influence has made him a victim of persecution. Odd.

Consider for a minute how Perkins explained the hundreds of millions he spent on a luxury yacht for himself.

“I could give you some technical reasons why it really has got to be big to work right,” he said. “But I just wanted the biggest boat.” He added: “Do I have an ego? Yes. Is it big? Yes.” […] Mr. Perkins says it didn’t cost $300 million, but he declined to give a number, beyond saying “I’m embarrased about how much it cost. There’s the homeless and charity and a lot of things you can do with that money that would improve the world.”

I read this as, “I could improve the world with my mountains of money. I am not. Instead I do what I want, when I want and how I want.” Does this sound like a victim to you? Perhaps this cartoon explains it best:

Chairs Must be Elephants Because Both Have Legs

Kristallnacht victims were NOT victims because they were a numeric minority.

Population size is a horribly inaccurate and misleading way to describe the Nazi tragedy. Perkins, nonetheless, tries to pretend that because Jews were 1% of the population and because he is one the richest 1% of America, therefore he must be like a Jew in Nazi Germany.

Perkins’ misrepresentation of Kristallnacht is not only obviously stupid, it actually turns out to be completely backwards. Victims of the Nazis were those who had no power to defend themselves; those who lacked representation and had no options.

The Nazis, however, were 1% of the population with immense power…

Abraham Lincoln once said “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Perkins is in the driver seat with the amount of power he wields. He is the opposite of an un-emancipated and un-represented victim of a powerful and violent authority. He can go anywhere at any time.

Even if mobs wanted to harm him there are many ways he can have others stop those mobs on his behalf. He probably has a lot of insurance. You know who was prevented from collecting their insurance? Jews who had everything destroyed by Kristallnacht saw all of their insurance money stolen by the powerful Nazis who just destroyed everything.

Perhaps some basic review of events with clear analysis will convince him to stop comparing himself (in his powerful luxury position) to those violently attacked and actually denied the most basic human rights.

If Not Me, Then Who?

Not sure I am the person to take on this job. Some of my reason for not wanting to write this post is related to the risk of having to explain myself and my bias as well as perspectives. I realize personal details are the sort of thing people like to read about. It probably makes my story meaningful or more relevant than the average response.

Perkins revealed some personal details such as “some of my family are poor” and “some of my best friends are Jewish” to defend his ideas. I’ll try to avoid that annoyingly illogical kind of statement. Never mind his friends and family, his arguments are bogus. Same for me, I would rather the facts stand on their own, regardless of who I am or who I know.

Nonetheless, in terms of full disclosure and because I know people will ask anyway here are some key points.

My family fought against the Nazis, as I’ve written about before here (“ran telephone wire behind enemy lines”) and here (“shot down over France on this day in 1944 during mission #148”).

My family also suffered directly, extensively and horribly under Nazi rule (also mentioned briefly before) despite having lived in Germany for nearly 500 years and being decorated in WWI as soldiers and working many, many generations as rural agrarians (anti-Semitic propaganda accused Jews of being too lazy to fight or work the land).

I have spent more than 30 years, including the time I spent earning a postgraduate history degree from LSE, studying details of my own family story as well as trying to make sense of the wider tragedy.

Through the years I have had access to many first-person accounts and original documents. Relatives told me in great detail about their life before, during and after Nazi rule. If you want to hear the horrible and harrowing experiences of 1930s life-and-death OPSEC, let me know. I have many, many stories heard directly from the people who experienced Nazi terror.

I also hitch-hiked my way through Germany and listened carefully to stories of strangers. I have met face-to-face with survivors in America, Germany, Czech Republic, England, Israel, France, Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland. And when I say survivors I mean from all sides of the conflict.

A lot of what I studied also has happened more recently. Unlike Perkins’ speculation about a rise of present-day Nazism, I have spoken with actual neo-Nazis. I ended up trapped one frigid winter night in an old unheated train car with drunken Bulgarians, for example, as they jovially discussed the importance to the world economy of killing Jews — removing the Jew-tax, as they called it.

In the 1990s my house was trashed by neo-Nazi groups who drew swastikas, left scrawled notes with death threats and tried to light everything on fire (stupidly and unsuccessfully). And even very recently in San Francisco a neighbor told me she was adopted by a neo-Nazi family in Sacramento that had sent her to the city to make money to support their “operations” after several members ended up in jail.

Perhaps I’m prone to looking into shadows of risk more than others, or perhaps shadows cast over all of us naturally and I just choose to stick around and understand instead of heading for the light immediately. Curiosity is dangerous yet insightful. Either way, I have accumulated a significant amount of first-hand stories as well as my own experiences with Nazis in the past and the present.

So that’s me. Hopefully the points below stand on their own, but now you know more about who is making them.

Here We Go

As I said earlier, I had hoped a debunking of Tom Perkins’ idiotic letter should already have been done somewhere by someone. I have not seen it. Rather than just say “what an fool” or “how dare he” I want to see some historic accuracy showing how he invoked Kristallnacht incorrectly.

I will take his letter step-by-step, although not necessarily in order, to write my response.

Error 1: Kristallnacht was unthinkable, and progressives are like Nazis

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

Who believes Kristallnacht unthinkable in 1930? That is completely false. Not only was this type of event thought of prior to 1930, it was publicly discussed and described for at least 40 years prior in government and even taught to children in a song/poem released in 1923.

Can we call today’s “progressive” radicalism a descendant of Nazi violence? Completely backwards. Progressives then, like today, were pushing for change and more representation. Conservative radicals are more likely a descendant of Kristallnacht; taking action to halt change and to force exclusion.

Consider that short periods of success by the Progressive party in Germany, along with Social Democrats, meant a Kristallnacht-like event was delayed. Progressive gains in government actually may have delayed Kristallnacht by 15 years (e.g. Hitler was jailed in 1923).

Of course the Nazis tried to appropriate terms like “progressive” for themselves to win support in their rise to power but today it is obvious their words were never to be taken at face value and require further research before believing.

And finally, why does Perkins call out 1930? It’s a strange and unexplained year. I am not sure how this year was chosen for his letter. Perhaps he thinks everything in Germany was rainbows and unicorns for Jews before 1930?

Germany’s Dangerous Drift

Here’s what I would offer you instead as a more accurate depiction of actual events. Take a look at this simple timeline of a “very dangerous drift” in Germany and see if you would agree that Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930 or that today’s Progressive radicals could in some way descend from it:

  • 1890, Antisemitische Volkspartei calls for “repeal of Jewish emancipation” and “placing Jews under alien legislation”; runs a successful campaign called “Liberate yourself from the Jewish middlemen!”
  • 1892, Conservative party tries to emulate the AV campaign success and demands “Christian authority” in government and schools: “We fight the multifarious and obtrusive Jewish influence that decomposes our people’s life”
  • 1894, Bund der Landwirte, led by a few big landowners, declares itself “opponent of Jewry, which has become altogether too mighty in our country and has acquired a decisive say in the press, in trade, and on the exchanges”
  • 1895, Bund der Landwirte advocates boycotting Jewish stores, banning relations between Germans and Jews and the expulsion of all Jews from Germany
  • 1895, Reichstag anti-Semitic speech calls upon Germany to “exterminate those beasts of prey”
  • 1900, “tens of thousands of anti-Semitic pamphlets are sent free to all officials of the state and members of the upper ten thousand” (elites who run the government)
  • 1911, Germany tries to maintain influence in Morocco. Negotiations fail with France sending stock market down 30% in one day and aligning France with UK against German expansionism
  • 1912, Progressive and Social Democrat parties win a majority of Reichstag seats, reducing Political anti-Semitism
  • 1914, WWI starts, Jews included in calls of nationalism and “brotherhood”
  • 1916, WWI loss imminent, anti-Semitic propaganda explodes. Jews blamed for war loss
  • 1918, WWI lost, Versailles treaty and proclamation of a German republic
  • 1918, Far-right Deutschnationale Volkspartei (DNVP), successor to Bund der Landwirte, founded with intent to destroy the republic
  • 1920, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (Nazi Party) issues 25-point program defining “Volk” as German blood – no Jew can be a citizen of Germany
  • 1920, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, sells 120,000 copies translated into German
  • 1920, A commonplace political slogan is Deutschland erwache, Juda verrecke! (Wake up Germany, Exterminate Jews!)
  • 1921, 2/3 of votes in Berlin student elections go to anti-Semitic candidates (warning sign for general elections 4-8 years later)
  • 1923, French occupation of the Ruhr. Similar to 1911, economic crisis results with rampant inflation. Reich government gives anti-tax and “end of passive resistance” speech against France. 800,000 votes go to the Nazi Party
  • 1924, Economic and political stability return. Nazi Party loses followers. Hitler consolidates power to elite group – uses the lull in crisis and follower loss to exert power over all the other anti-republic parties through “legal revolution”.
  • 1928, Hitler formally makes all large and loosely affiliated far-right groups report directly to him, controlled by strict command structure with armed and violent enforcement guard. Total Nazi party membership is only 1 million (1% of Germany)
  • 1929, Stock market crash, Nazis campaign for control of the crisis by stoking fear of a Communist take-over. Rapid growth of anti-Semitic acts and propaganda
  • 1930, German political system heated by radical groups trying to split votes; intellectual communism versus ultra-nationalism. 6.5 million vote for Nazi Party, which had promised an impossibly integrated and idyllic Volk (nationalist) community based on small-business rights and lowered taxes to vastly different and heterogeneous groups
  • 1932, End of the republic, the last free vote. Despite heavy propaganda and violent threats still only 14 million vote (37%) for Nazi Party
  • 1933, Dictatorial emergency power taken by Hitler. Nazi Party promises made to voters from 1928-1933 are are reneged
  • 1934, Hitler purges the Army to eliminate chance of armed resistance and legalizes violent control by an elite few over the many with a brief new law “…attacks are justifiable acts of self-defense by the state”
  • […]

  • 1938, Kristallnacht, 1,000 places of public worship completely destroyed (in Vienna alone more than 90 Synagogues were burned; later taken over for redevelopment by wealthy investors to be private apartments)

Hopefully it is clear why Perkins is not only wrong about the facts, he is backwards in his analysis of victimization.

The anti-Semitic mob violence of Kristallnacht in 1938 was not about a minority. The Jews could have been majority in number and still victimized. The risk of mob violence by Nazis went up over time but even more important was the fact that Jews lost all ability to defend or have rights to protect themselves.

Defense became non-existent as their identities were deleted (emancipation was revoked even for decorated war veterans and successful farmers) and replaced with one word: Jude. What they lacked was power to defend themselves; Perkins has no right to claim in 2014 as 1% of the wealthiest Americans he is being denied authority, denied identity, or denied the right to defend himself.

Violence against Jews easily was thinkable in 1898, yet Perkins is trying to claim no-one thought about repression of Jews in 1930?

What perhaps was not thinkable in 1930 was that a dictatorship and loss of representation, transfer of so much power to so very few, would happen so quickly.

Error 2: Nazis murdering Jews without accountability is a parallel to Americans criticizing the 1% wealthiest

I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

Here’s a shocking fact. Who also was a 1% in 1930? The Nazis. Achieving more than 6 million votes in the 1930 election was a political coup given how small they were prior. Despite being a 1% minority however, they actively influenced all state and local governments and were on a path to transfer 100% of national power to 1% of the population 3 years later (when Hitler took dictatorial power).

Given widespread Nazi mob violence against Jews was thinkable in 1930, was anyone leaving prior to 1938? Actually, yes! About 50% of the German Jewish population, hundreds of thousands, left the country from 1928 to 1938.

Despite a few years of progress and signs of tolerance in government (shift during short periods immediately following the foreign policy and economic crises of 1911 and 1923) the run up to 1930 was a terrible time for Jews.

I have a poster of the Hitler Jugend from January 1929 that says “Sturm! Sturm! Läutet die Glocken von Turm zu Turm“, which was a Nazi propaganda poem (from 1923) that advocated extreme violence against Jews (as well as anyone else who believed in a republic democracy or representative government).

In other words, a poem from 1923 was taught to German youth with a call for a Kristallnacht-like event. Note the specific words of this line:

Läutet, daß blutig die Seile sich röten,
Rings lauter Brennen und Martern und Töten

(Ringing, until ropes run red with blood,
Ring louder with burning, torture and murder)

Do not forget that teachers had been directed since 1892 by far-right parties in government to have a “Christian Authority” preside over school to ensure proper lessons, which by the 1920s meant anti-Semitic ones.

By the 1930s the schools shifted from some general far-right anti-republic lessons to a decidedly pro-Nazi agenda. Here is an actual sampling of books compiled by a 1934 German teacher’s association as a guide for the core of school libraries:

  • Grades 1-4: Hitler as No One Knows Him
  • Grades 5-7: The Hitler Book of the German Youth
  • Grades 5-7: Steel Cross on the Ruhr
  • Grades 5-7: Youth Gathered About Hitler

Grades 8 and above are even worse titles.

I would therefore like to return for a moment to the question of people thinking about a Kristallnacht in 1930:

When the market crashed and the economy tumbled in 1929 the Nazi party actually was well-financed, violent and extremely powerful as small splinter group leading an entire anti-republic movement. The 1% in power in 1930 had been on a path to seize control for many years before the 1929 market crash. 1930 was arguably the third major attempt to put violent anti-Semitic Germans in control of the country; following attempts that failed to capitalize on economic disasters in 1911 and 1923.

The third attempt was so successful that by 1933 Hitler’s SA and SS were regularly invading apartments, offices and stores of Jews, arresting Jewish professionals, physically torturing them and then forcing everyone to sign lies that they had been treated well.

How could Nazis get away with this surge in violence after 1929? Again, the issue was related to disproportionate power held in very few hands. It also was related to the ability to avoid responsibility and block interference with actions.

Hitler argued his small Nazi Party was just a dispatch system, a meta-organization that helped direct the larger numbers in violent mobs to their destination. I leave it to you to figure out who often uses this type of logic today.

Uber Alles

Since Nazis were a powerful minority oppressing many segments of the general public, including Jews, I really hope Perkins issues an apology. I hope he sees himself not as a numeric minority, but rather in terms of his amassed power, influence and his ease of avoiding accountability.

Who can build a boat of any size, for any reason, in any way, shape or form that he sees fit and for any cost? A German Jew in 1930, let alone 1938, would have no such opportunity. Perkins already has proven he has no obstacles, not even guilt.

Majority and Minority

The German republic was dissolved under Nazi rule using a premise of protection from Communists/Democrats/Foreigners/Jews. Yet the Nazi Party still held less than 40% of votes.

Technically we can say Hitler led a minority party to forcefully take over control of an entire country. Deception and force was needed precisely because he knew true representative majority was impossible. Hitler hated representation and wanted to do whatever he wanted without having to answer for it. He played upon false fear and false victimization to consolidate more power than normally the Nazis could have achieved — dictatorship is, by definition, a numeric minority holding majority power.

A 1933 boycott gives another interesting example of how Perkins is backwards in his view. It shows how far-right anti-Semitic campaigns of the 1920 were a reality of daily life in the early 1930s, yet still did not reflect a majority view:

Hitler claimed Germany was a victim of Jewish economic aggression and so in 1933 called for a boycott of all Jewish businesses. The plan failed to interest a German majority, as the American consul in Leipzig noted: “In fairness to the German people, it must be said that the boycott was unpopular with the working classes and with the educated sections of the middle classes”.

This surely had an impact on Nazi strategy; lack of voluntary control over remaining large segments of the population meant forced violent control by the 1% was necessary to get the majority to follow their orders.

So a minority group wielded a disproportionate amount of power to their actual size. Given Perkins’ position I feel that I have to emphasize this and make it abundantly clear. Simplifying Nazi politics down to a minority/majority headcount is ridiculous; historic examples completely backfire on Perkins when you look at facts.

The 1% today have far more in common with 1930 anti-republic far-right radicals claiming themselves victims than they do with the actual 1938 victims — people stripped of their citizenship and who saw their public and free places of worship burned to the ground.

Berlin Synagogue after Kristallnacht
Synagogue in Berlin after Kristallnacht

Error 3: Hate for the 1% is because of success and it is rising

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.

Perkins is trying to use the old line “don’t hate me because I’m successful”.

Counter-point: I just read a story in the SF Chronicle the other day with very nice things to say about Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, and all the great things he’s doing for the city. Rich, yes, successful, yes. Demonized, no. He’s well-liked and the papers give him lots of positive statements. My guess is that success is not demonized when it is linked to community involvement and concern for others. This is a complex problem, of course, but Perkins claiming to be a victim and hated because he is successful…well, that’s not why people hate Perkins.

It looks to me more like being an unapologetic egomaniac has a lot more to do with why people are demonized in the news.

Error 4: Google buses are just about successful workers going to work at successful companies

There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them.

I wonder if Perkins has ever ridden public transportation in SF. My point to Perkins here is just that regulatory protections are weakened by Google’s private buses; it is like the long-standing debate regarding rights in a mall versus streets. Free speech, for example. Gone. Privacy protections. Gone.

Waiting at a public bus-stop and having a Google bus roll-up and deny access to the public is not exactly a happy moment. Perhaps Perkins can’t relate because he is never denied anything he wants or needs?

The bigger issue is why Google refused to invest in a system that everyone can use and instead built a competing one to pull riders away and reduce investment. Why reduce ridership on public transportation, reduce contributions, and instead build a tightly-controlled private system? Perhaps like GM pushing buses onto Los Angeles and killing trolleys, it’s about the money that can be made once power and control over transportation options is amassed by an elite few who can’t be voted out?

Take the train to Mountain-view sometime and look at the transportation options. There are private buses from Apple, Microsoft, Google…waiting to take riders to offices only a few miles from each other. It’s monumentally stupid that tech companies can’t figure out how to build a public system than they contribute into and that is managed with representative governance. Why is only Cisco able to see this and use public-private partnerships to build lasting infrastructure?

Google initiatives are like someone building the Cliff House. Cisco initiatives are like someone building Golden Gate Park. When you can’t get to Golden Gate Park because someone builds Cliff Houses on it that deny you access…that’s where the outrage comes from.

Error 5: Real-estate prices are just about successful workers buying what they want

We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay.

Whoa, there. Even techno geeks can’t pay now.

The outrage is not just about rising real-estate prices. It’s about urbanization, transparency and distant unaccountable investors setting local agendas; it’s about power. Actually it gets quite confusing. Look at the polls on these issues and we have the lowest turnout in years. Recent documentation shows “those who did vote tended towards self-interest; ‘no’ votes on Proposition C were significantly higher by percentage in neighborhoods near the project site and with desirable views”.

Perhaps what is happening is that wealthy investors are trying to manipulate the real-estate market for personal gains. Anyone ever look into, for example, how banks could buy foreclosed properties at $300k, put them “on the market” yet immediately de-list them and then put them on the market for real at $1.2m a few weeks later? My guess is manipulating inventory is happening, selling at a loss to themselves and then at a profit to the street. There have been a whole lot of fishy behaviors that indicate a few very powerful people will push through loopholes for unsavory and unapologetic results. This manipulation and opaqueness is what tends to generate outrage.

Here’s an interesting example: a Florida developer raises millions to build a huge condo building and also to soak up all housing inventory in areas around a SF project to reprice everything at a level that will give x% profit in 2 years for the entire investment. Thus all properties within walking distance to a new development project suddenly go off market and jump from $900k asking to $1.3m paid by agents of an all-cash buyer. Then, surprise, units in the development are listed at a “market determined” $1.3m.

Even techno geeks have no chance in a market where home prices increase 40% over 3 months. When investors inject $300k-400k over asking price, buying a house is an outrageous experience. Realtors I have spoken with say they do not meet anymore with people actually buying the properties because the buyers do not even come to look at the properties before they buy them. Representatives of wealthy elite Chinese, Brazilian, Russian and Saudi investors are looking for assets to acquire for a 2-year profit. Without outrage and push-back, they will push SF in whatever direction suits a singular objective of short-term returns on investment rather than what would make it worth living here longer.

Error 6: No one should be allowed to criticize Perkins’ ex-wife because she is very famous and the local homeless and mentally ill have been given a lot of her money

We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

What does he mean “our” celebrity? In terms of himself and his family? Does anyone else agree Steel is “our” number-one? More popular than someone like Steve Jobs? Or Bruce Lee? Clint Eastwood? Or even Benioff or Ellison? Perkins must realize his ex-wife isn’t number-one to the general public because he actually prefaces her name with the author.

When a celebrity is number one, they come without preface: Bruce Lee.

And “snob” can’t really be a source of his outrage. Who in their right mind conflates bring called “snob” to 150 years of anti-Semitism in Germany, or to Nazis attacking, torturing and killing Jews? There must be something else. Terrible example on Perkins’ part.

Errors Upon Errors

Perkins follow-up explanation “I don’t regret the message” also is bad.

“Jews were only one percent of German population, yet Hitler was able to demonize the Jews.”

Yet? Is it hard to demonize something that is only 1%? That is logically and historically wrong. Hitler found it easy to demonize the Jews and it had nothing to do with their numbers. He also demonized Communists, Socialists, Gays, Catholics…he demonized basically anyone of any size population. And the more power he consolidated into his tiny elite fascist cabal, the more he could demonize with impunity.

Furthermore, look at towns like Krakow, Poland or Miskolc, Hungary where Jews were demonized, yet they were 30% of the population.

“It’s absurd to demonize the rich for doing what the rich do and getting richer by creating opportunities for others.”

Because that is ALL that the rich do with their money, create opportunities? The rich never get richer by reducing opportunities for others? This is really just sad. Perkins does not seem to realize that “doing what the rich do” part actually includes doing some very unsavory things to others. Creating opportunities for others is not what people are demonizing. Again, look at the Benioff example.

I also offer you for consideration that when the Nazis originally laid out their plans for concentration camps they described them as making Germans richer by creating opportunities for others. Too extreme an example? It is a fact. Perkins’ argument parallels Nazi propaganda. It is not enough for anyone, rich or poor, to give only platitudes about creating opportunities and expect to avoid criticism.

“I think the solution is less interference, lower taxes, let the rich do what the rich do.”

Do you know who else talked about a “solution” with less interference and lower taxes? I already have pointed out that the Nazis often lied and made false promises. They manipulated people. With that in mind, however, I have to point out their platform clearly stated in the 1930 Volkisher Beobachter (Nazi party newspaper) they hated taxes: “Those who speak of new taxes should first free the administration of those parasites…. The National Socialist movement will, through its victory, seek to guarantee the utmost protection for the individual German even in economic matters…any further tax increase represents a small-scale criminal act.”

Here is an example of what Perkins must really mean by doing what the rich do: show indignation even when convicted for manslaughter. “I was arrested and tried in a foreign court in a language you don’t understand, by judges indifferent – or worse – to justice, represented by an inappropriate lawyer with the negative outcome preordained.”

Perkins killed an innocent man and then portrayed himself as victim? Killing someone innocent shows HE was indifferent to justice. Sailing his yacht in foreign waters meant HE was the one speaking a language that could not be understood.

If he did not want to be tried for murder, perhaps he should not have killed someone innocent? And if he did not want to be tried in French court, perhaps he should not have killed someone in France?


Does Perkins realize how similar his arguments sound to the propaganda used on the path to a German dictatorship? Less interference is exactly the wrong advice if anyone wants to stop the accumulation of power by a dangerous elite that refuses responsibility for harmful actions and plays victim while in a position of power. Perkins asks for less interference. It is a fundamental question of trust.

Perkins need to think hard about why so many people let Hitler do whatever he wanted to do, and whether they should have done something else.

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.