Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

The value of experience

August 25th, 2014
Filed under: Internet, Politics, Society | Huibert @ 9:13 am

Michael DanielIn an interview with the Information Security Media Group publication, White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel admits to having no practical experience with the subject matter. Daniel claims that “being too down in the weeds at the technical level could actually be a little bit of a distraction” to his job of advising the president about ongoing and emergent information security issues.

The White House filled the position with Daniel in May 2012, having previously served as the intelligence branch chief in the White House Office of Management and Budget. He believes that the lack of practical experience in the field is offset by masters’ degree in national resource planning and public policy degree. He also credits previous government experience for success in the position, augmented by his martial arts experience.

As the Electronista article states, Daniel isn’t responsible for the technical details of a fix or solution to a country-wide issue. Rather, his job is to assess the situation, and report to the president, and bring other agencies into the fold and “on the same page” about an issue. Senior fellow Jim Lewis at the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies claims that the lack of experience doesn’t hinder Daniel’s role in the position, claiming that “Computer scientists were in charge and they did a terrible job, being lost in the weeds and largely clueless about policy. You need someone with a strategic point of view and policy skill to make progress.”

Every time I read something like this, I get extremely upset. This theory mostly assumes that there are only two types of persons in any organization, the leaders who can handle any kind of situation and the specialists whose only responsibility is to execute the master plan. This is great for many executives, because unless they are found to be personally responsible for a major screwup, it shields them from any accountability. If something goes wrong, it is never because the plan was flawed in the first place, it is due to poor execution, which can almost always be blamed on managers who are lower on the organizational chart. The problem of course, is that this is simply not true. Most issues in a company, specially in high tech, can be directly traced to a lack of a clear vision that can be communicated to the employees for proper execution. Execs who do not understand their product or market in detail are unable to produce a winning growth strategy, it is that simple. In this context, former GE CEO Jack Welsh is often mentioned as an example of a leader who didn’t need to be an expert in washing machines to turn around a very complex, diversified company. However, there are few Jack Welshes in the world and it is easy to find many examples of successful leaders who were experts in their markets, specially if we only consider fast growing markets, like cyber security. My personal opinion is that Jack Welsh, who undeniably achieved great success at GE, is now used as an example by mediocre executives to try to justify why not knowing anything in their respective fields is not a problem, and this is simply wrong.

MBA programs from prestigious universities are in large part to blame for propagating this idea that lack of experience is not a problem. Business professors usually tell their students from the beginning that they are destined for greatness and that they will learn how to make decisions by learning from the experience of great company leaders. However, unlike what many execs seem to believe, leadership is not about taking decisions by choosing one of the options presented to you by your team. It is about setting a direction and executing on a plan that you have designed. That requires both experience and guts. I don’t know about Daniel’s guts but he clearly lacks experience in cyber security, a skill that is extremely hard to acquire, and that will significantly hinder any attempts he makes to define a “strategic point of view”. Therefore, from my point of view, he is clearly a poor choice for the job. That doesn’t mean that his government experience is not important, it clearly is, but he should at the very least have recognized this shortcoming and explained how he planned to address it, instead of simply dismissing his critics. President Obama is accountable for having chosen Mr. Daniel for this position, but he also shares part of this responsibility. Leaders, to be successful, need to have zero tolerance for mediocrity and that includes their own. Those who accept a leadership position need to be convinced that they are a good fit for the job and that they will be able to deliver results. Integrity begins with an honest introspection exercise to find out if you are the right choice for the position. 


December 20th, 2013
Filed under: Politics, Society | Huibert @ 12:39 pm

Phil Robertson You cannot imagine how glad I was to see the controversy that has followed the indefinite suspension of Phil Robertson from his show, Duck Dynasty. For those who are not aware of what happened, A&E, the network that produces the show, decided to remove Phil, after learning that he had given an interview to GQ magazine where he made a number of statements against gay people and also said a couple of things that can be perceived as racist. This is standard procedure and we have seen this happen in multiple occasions. However, this time, something different happened. People started to rally behind Phil, criticizing the decision, defending his right to free speech. Let me be clear, I do not share any of those beliefs, but I am sick to live in a world where those who mean well, try to stifle the freedom of speech of those who think differently.

Back when I was in High School, we had debates on a variety of topics. We discussed the role of prisons, the death penalty, abortion and many other controversial topics. I remember a girl, raised by a well intentioned hippy family, who had a big heart and was wicked smart. We had nothing in common and clashed many times, but we had very interesting discussions and I was really interested in trying to understand her point of view and where she was coming from. It wasn’t just about arguing and winning a stupid debate, it was about trying to understand each other and address the issues. The debate worked because everyone was free to speak their mind, without consequences.

In our modern world, liberty of speech is recognized in most countries, but there can be serious consequences if you say something that is not politically correct. Careers can be destroyed, companies shut down. This is the equivalent of a crime that cannot be tried in penal court, but can be accepted by a civil court. It doesn’t make any sense. Freedom of speech should mean exactly that, freedom to express what you believe, with no restrictions or consequences. Look, I am not naive, I understand why we are trying to muffle some opinions, we want to avoid going from hate speech to violence, and I understand this is a risk. That said, I do not believe that problems are solved by avoiding speaking about the issue. We need to hear what the people have to say, listen actively and act decisively to solve the problems. Yes, some of those problems are very complex, but avoiding the issue will not make it go away, the pressure will keep mounting and eventually we will face an explosion.

Right now, pressure groups are effective because there are few targets that they need to monitor, basically tv and radio networks, large advertisers, etc. I had hoped that the Internet would change that by increasing the number of content providers and making control much harder. However, I may have been too optimistic. Now that we know that the NSA is monitoring all that is said on the Internet, we are all compelled to share politically correct views if we want to avoid trouble.

Maybe it is just the troll in me speaking, but I really would like to live in a world where there is true freedom of speech.


August 14th, 2008
Filed under: Politics, Society | Huibert @ 7:56 pm

Barak ObamaAmericans love to forgive those who have sinned, as long as they repent. It is probably because of the way christian evangelists interpret the Bible. That is why televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart were forgiven for their sins after appearing repentant in front of the public.

The same happens in politics. In the 2000 elections, everyone knew that then candidate George W. Bush had abused alcohol during his youth. He was never known to be a hard-working person either. However, because he was repentant and claimed to have changed, everybody seemed ready to forgive him.

Today we find ourselves in a similar position. Barak Obama has recognized that, as an adolescent, he “experimented” with marijuana and cocaine. The question is, should he be forgiven for his errors?

The fact is that it is very easy for me to forgive all the mistakes made by politicians like George W. Bush, Barak Obama or John Edwards. After all, none of them did have direct consequences on me or my loved ones. Truth is that it is really up to the people they have hurt, not us, to decide wether they deserve being forgiven or not. However, from a voter point of view, it is a totally different matter. It is our duty to elect the best person for the job. Past mistakes, specially if extremely serious, are a clear proof of bad judgement. This is something that we have to take into account when choosing a candidate. We can forgive but we cannot forget.

We all have flaws, it is part of human nature, but many of us don’t lie repeatedly, aren’t unfaithful to our spouse and haven’t abused controlled substances. I believe that our society deserves to have candidates that do not need to be forgiven and that we can be really proud of. Is it really too much to ask for?

Lost memories

July 11th, 2008
Filed under: General, IBM, Internet, Society | Huibert @ 1:52 am

bususer3.jpgI was promoted a couple of weeks ago. This was something totally unexpected but it turns out that I am now just a step away from becoming a Distinguished Engineer at IBM, which just a month ago seemed like an impossible goal to achieve. It won’t be easy but I will certainly do my best to try to reach that position.

The best part of the promotion is that I got a larger, closed office. When you spend as many hours as I do at work, you want to feel at home at work. I therefore decided to decorate the walls by hanging pictures of all the tech luminaries that have left their mark on the computer industry as well as the products they brought to market. In a way,this is my personal Computer Hall of Fame.

Well, it turns out that this is much easier said than done. If you look on the web you will not easily find many pictures or stories from our recent past. Try for example looking for images of Sir Clive Sinclair (the man who brought us the ZX 81 and the ZX Spectrum computers) and you will be disappointed by the results. Same story for Sir Alan Sugar, the founder of Amstrad, who brought us the CPC 464 back in the eighties. You may think that this only happens to brit aristocrats, but you would be wrong. I tried to find a picture of former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner and could only find a small picture on IBM’s corporate site. Even worse, I could only find two poor quality pictures of Adam Osborne, the man who brought us the first commercially available portable computer, and passed away just five years ago. There isn’t much information about him in Wikipedia either.

In general, most companies will carry current pictures of their top executives but except for a small number of honorable exceptions (IBM and H-P mainly) they don’t seem to care much about preserving their history. The situation is obviously much worse for dead companies like Netscape, Amstrad or Atari which do not have curators interested in preserving their legacy.

With the Internet focusing mainly on recent events, if we are not careful, in a couple of years we will have lost a large part of our recent history. There are a couple of nice sites that deserve praise, for example which extensively documents the history of how the original Macintosh was built, but that is obviously not enough. It would be nice if there was a place for all of us to collaborate on preserving the exciting stories of the computing revolution. On wikia there are 28,586 Star Trek articles, but there is nothing comparable for the computer history. That is really sad.

Political storm in Argentina over a MacBook Air

May 24th, 2008
Filed under: Apple, IBM, Politics, Society | Huibert @ 12:56 pm

apple-macbook-air-2.jpgSeveral argentinean newspapers (link in Spanish) have reported on a MacBook Air gifted by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to Argentina’s president Cristina Kirchner. This is apparently creating a large controversy as the product is perceived as a luxury item. As a result, the presidency will create a public official gift registry to avoid any suspicions of corruption. This is certainly a good initiative implemented in many countries rocked by similar scandals in the past. However, in general the controversy was created over much pricier gifts like the diamonds that African dictator Bokassa gave to French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing back in the 70’s.

What really surprises me is to see how Apple products have become a symbol of luxury recently. I am sure that everyone remembers for example the gold plated iPod that David Beckham received from his team mates. I have seen many CEOs of large enterprises be the single Mac users of their company. For example, I know that Ricardo Salinas Pliego, CEO of Grupo Salinas and one of the wealthiest men in Mexico uses a Mac. At Banorte, one of the large Mexican banks, and probably the fastest growing one, there are only two Mac users. However, those users have a lot of weight as they are the CEO and the Director of Marketing.

What does that mean for the future of the Mac in large companies? Well, it means that the IT staff has no option but to learn how to use those computers and support them. That opens a new market for Apple. It also means that it is becoming harder for IT departments to adopt solutions that exclude the Mac. This is not good news for Microsoft and it could help companies like IBM or Oracle that have developed collaboration solutions that are truly platform independent. Many open-source advocates have long criticized Apple for their proprietary approach to computing. It is time for them to recognize that Apple is helping their cause very strongly by forcing the adoption of open standards.


May 13th, 2008
Filed under: Internet, Politics, Society | Huibert @ 9:43 am

logo_en.gifEveryday you hear about globalization. It just seems that every single day our earth is becoming smaller and smaller. Global brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Starbucks are found everywhere. People all over the world are complaining that nations are losing power and independence. They claim that all important decisions are now taken at a supra-national level (this is specially true in the EU). But is it really true? Sometimes I wish it were. You see, I am Dutch but I was raised in Switzerland, attended college in France and Spain before getting my first job in Canada. I now happen to live in Mexico, but as many other things in life this is due to circumstances, and circumstances may change. That means that for me, as well as a growing group of people who have become used to live all around the world, the nation system doesn’t make much sense anymore. It simply places too many artificial barriers that make life ridiculously complex when it doesn’t need to be.

Despite all the talk about globalization, most of the changes that have happened over the last decades have mainly impacted corporations. At the individual level there are still many barriers protecting nations which make the life of people like myself difficult. I think that these barriers can easily be grouped in three kinds, commercial, financial and legal.

The commercial barriers are starting to crumble. It is becoming very difficult to limit the sale of a product to a single country or region or use differentiated pricing policies around the world. The gray market which quickly appears when artificial product availability and pricing is introduced by the manufacturer is taking care of the problem in most cases. However, there are still important issues impacting global consumers where I feel totally unprotected. One case is for example DVDs. The introduction of regions makes it impossible for me to buy a Spanish Blu-Ray disk because it will simply not play on my American PlayStation 3. The same happens with console games. Music is another sector that needs to be liberated. It doesn’t make any sense that I can easily buy a French CD from but that I cannot buy from the French Apple Store. The problem is that I do not feel that anyone is fighting for the global consumer. We really need someone to pick that fight for us. These issues should be discussed at an international level, for example by the WTO.

On a financial level, I strongly believe that individuals deserve more freedom. We should be allowed to easily open a bank account anywhere in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to avoid paying taxes, I just want to move my money where I can get the best returns. I would love to invest in the US through online brokerage companies like e-trade, but I can’t. It doesn’t matter if I have access to all the required information to find interesting investment opportunities. Because of all the legal barriers imposed to individuals, there is no way for me to invest in Serbia for example, now that they are moving closer to joining the EU. I would love to sell Euros and buy Dollars now that it is clear that the current exchange rate is taking a terrible toll on the European industry and that the ECB will have to lower rates, but that is not going to happen either because I cannot have an Euro denominated account in Mexico, despite being a customer of a global bank based in Europe. That drives me crazy. I do understand that if we liberalize the financial system this could be a great opportunity for drug lords and other evildoers to abuse the system, but I still believe that something needs to be done to help individuals take their financial decisions freely. Moving exclusively to electronic currency could be the solution to start eradicating crime and allow for more (supervised) financial freedom.

The legal front is the most complex and where more work is required. Taxation and retirement benefits for example are regulated by law and represent a major issue that countries have been trying to solve through bilateral agreements. However, if there is no such agreement in place you may be out of luck. Say for example that you worked 40 years in total, 20 in one country and 20 in a different country. You may qualify for retirement in any of those countries after working for 30 years, but if there is no agreement to recognize the years worked in the other country you may end up not qualifying for benefits in neither country. In general laws are still designed to protect citizens who live and die in their home country. This simply does no longer represent the current situation of an increasingly large population group and inadecuate laws are reducing worker mobility. If countries are serious about attracting talent they must make sure that situations like the one I described are avoided.

The problem is in many ways cultural, people are not used to this new situation. Most people still expect your nationality to describe you. However, those traveling to France will be very disappointed if they expect to only see white people wearing bérets and carrying baguettes under their arms on the streets of Paris. The world has changed. You would expect large Internet companies like Yahoo or Google to understand the problem, after all their reach is global, right? Wrong. They still assume too often that because someone connects from a certain country they are citizens of that country and that they behave in a predictable way. For example, when I connect to the US Yahoo main page from Mexico I get an ad for the Mexican soccer section (I couldn’t care less for Mexican soccer). When I connect to Google from Brazil, I get my search results in Portuguese. When I try to see the goals scored by Real Madrid on, I am denied service because I am connecting from outside of Spain. All this is simply ridiculous. Of course, I have the option to fight back, I can use a proxy server in the US or in any other country to fool the system, but why should I have to? This happens to some degree even in the US. That is why a device like the slingbox has become popular. People want to see their home team games while on travel. Consumers demand freedom and they will ultimately get it, even if they have to bend the rules.

I do not expect changes to happen quickly. Politicians do not have any incentive to help people like me. For starters, we do not live in our home country and too often we do not vote or represent a political force. Besides, the issue is complex and international cooperation is needed to solve the many problems that I have briefly outlined. As usual, governments are playing catch-up with the social issues that are grappling the world. Globalization is happening and not just at the corporate level. Governments need to adjust to a new reality and they need to do so very quickly because the amount of people who are becoming global citizens is growing exponentially and we are increasingly asking for solutions to our new problems. However, this issue needs also to be tackled by corporations who need to work with a new kind of customers who expect truly global service from global companies.

Joyeux Anniversaire, Collège Calvin

April 2nd, 2008
Filed under: General, Society | Huibert @ 4:28 pm

CollegeCalvin3.jpgFounded by John Calvin, the Collège Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, will soon turn 450 years old. On February 24, 1428, the Conseil Général of Geneva decided to establish a collège in Rive (now downtown). In it was taught the liberal arts and universitary studies, which Genevan people had previously had to go abroad to study. After the Protestant Reformation, school was made obligatory as well as free for poor people. However, it wasn’t until May 29, 1559, after the enactment of the Leges Academiae Genevensis (Order of the Collège de Genève) that work actually began on building a new official Collège de Genève. When it was finally inaugurated, students didn’t have much time for fun, working generally for sixty hours a week or even more. But then, nobody should really be surprised, Protestant theologians were not famous for their sense of humor. What they appreciated was hard work and dedication which is why they started a tradition of excellency by recognizing every year the best students at a ceremony called “Promotions”

The Collège de Genève was renamed the Collège Calvin in 1969. Many things have changed since the school was founded, theology and latin are long gone, but the school still provides great education, free, now to everyone and the “Promotions” still reward the canton’s best students every year and have grown into a significant festivity in a town not exactly known for being fun (clean and safe yes but fun, certainly not).


I didn’t stay very long at Calvin, just under two years, from 1981 to 1983, because my father was transferred to Spain. I must say though that those years were probably among the most productive of all my student years. Sure, we had some excellent teachers, like Mme Lejeune, who I will always remember because she was able to inspire us with mediaeval literature (which was no small feat), but that wasn’t the only reason. There is just something about old schools that inspires a level of respect that modern buildings simply cannot easily reproduce or even replace with technology. It may have been the mystery of what may have been hidden behind the old doors or the implicit pressure to be up to the legacy of a school that has produced some great alumni like Jorge Luis Borges or red-cross founder Henry Dunant. Who knows? It doesn’t really matter. Whatever it was, I could sense it and that is why my short stay at this school will always be one of the most important parts of my life.


Speaking of old schools, I must say that I feel very lucky to have attended two other schools loaded with history. I attended elementary school at the École des Cropettes, also in Geneva, surrounded by a large park where kids could feed the squirrels that lived on the trees. Later on I went to Sécheron, a school housed in a large 19th century building next to the park bordering Lake Geneva.

It is easy to say that good students can learn at any school, but the truth is that a good environment can make the process much easier. Buildings like those really make it easy to love going to school. When I see some of the public schools here in Mexico I cannot avoid thinking that in order to improve education there is still so much work needed, better teachers, smaller classes, improved security and last but not least, much better buildings that make schools much more compelling to kids.


March 29th, 2008
Filed under: General, Politics, Society | Huibert @ 11:49 am

232px-Fitna_surah_4_verse_56.pngFitna is a short movie created by a Dutch politician and lawmaker about the threat Islam poses to the Western World.

The movie basically reminds people of many of the brutal unacceptable acts performed by radical fanatical islamists over the years. It is not a strong reminder of the dangers of religion. In some ways this movie reminds me of the attempts of many Europeans to warn against the thread posed by Hitler in the nineteen thirties. Nobody listened and people preferred to ignore the problem thinking that it couldn’t be as bad as these pesky protesters claimed. We all know what happened.

The Western world cannot accept threats to his citizens who are just exercising their free speech rights. We must also openly fight for the rights of dissidents, women, gays and all those who live in fear in Islamic countries. It is great to denounce Scientology for being a business or express outrage at China because of what is happening in Tibet, but the truth is that all this is just peanuts compared to what is happening daily in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or even Saudi Arabia. It is our obligation to denounce human rights violations everywhere in the world, independently of what caused them (a ruthless dictator, historical neighbor hate tread or a holy book), and clearly state them as morally unacceptable. This has nothing to do with liberty of cult.

Fitna was originally posted on liveleak where it was viewed by millions, but it had to be removed because of serious threats to the company workers. However, it can still be found here. It is also available on Bittorrent.

Beijing 2008 boycott

March 25th, 2008
Filed under: General, Politics, Society | Huibert @ 5:29 pm

Picture 1.pngThe recent events in Tibet have prompted some world leaders to discuss the possibility of boycotting the olympic games next summers. So far only French President Sarkozy seems to consider the idea seriously but if the situation worsens I see more European countries starting to consider that option.

I personally think that at the very least the topic should be discussed. After all, the Chinese track record on human rights has been historically extremely poor and this is a good opportunity to show our dissatisfaction with this situation. I do not believe though that this decision should be taken by governments, it is up to the athletes themselves to decide. They are the ones who have spent at least the last four years training and they would be making the sacrifice, not the officials.

A couple of days ago, Haile Gebrselassie, who has asthma and is the world’s record holder in the marathon, announced that he would not risk his health by taking part in the 26.2-mile race in the Chinese capital, which is notorious for its poor air quality. This decision was widely discussed in the media and as a result many eyes turned east to examine the environmental situation in China. This clearly shows how individual decisions can have a significant impact on society and raise awareness about social problems.

A formal boycott is a political decision by a government that too often does not have the moral stature to chastise others. On the other hand, individual decisions made by people who make real sacrifices to send a message are much more powerful.

Objectivity on Digg

March 21st, 2008
Filed under: Internet, Politics, Society | Huibert @ 3:36 am

Picture 1.pngDigg has bothered me for quite a while. It is a good source for news as I do not have to scour the web for interesting stories. However, if you are looking for objectivity you will have to look somewhere else.

This is probably not a problem for those who only visit very specific Digg sections like Technology/Apple you or Gaming/XBox. You know what you are getting into. Those sections have fanboy written all around them. I don’t think that anyone reading the news posted there have any objectivity expectations whatsoever.

On the other hand, if you enter a more general section such as World & Business/US Elections 2008 you may think that all positions will be equally (or at least proportionally) represented. If you think so, you may be in for a big disappointment.

Today I tried to submit a story published on the Yahoo front page about how Hillary Clinton was now leading the polls among Democrats. I don’t really want Clinton to be elected President but I wanted that particular news to get posted on Digg since Obama suporters have clearly hijacked that section of the site (previously Ron Paul supporters had done the same on the Republican side). I was just trying to get some balance into Digg because I naively though that the problem was that only positive news for Obama were being published. I was wrong, dead wrong.

It turns out that the news had already been submitted by someone else. That should have made me happy, right? That is what I wanted, a positive note for Clinton in an ocean of notes favoring Obama, providing some well needed balance in my quest for objectivity. Well, let’s say that I was deeply disappointed (this is probably the understatement of the year). The person who actually submitted the story first is obviously an Obama supporter. Instead of titling the story “Clinton leads the polls” or something similar based on the actual content of the article, he decided to name it “The Media Is Already Gearing Up To Justify Clinton Winning”. With such an absurd title it is likely that most Digg readers will never read the actual note, which probably was the intent of this person from the beginning.

Since the same article cannot be submitted twice, it is easy to play the system. A partial solution would be to have Digg automatically use the original article title. However, this is hard to implement from a technical perspective. The problem here is that as long as some of those who submit stories are more interested in publishing their point of view than in hearing all the facts, a site like Digg will never become a trusted news source. While traditional media has its own share of flaws, it still beats hands down unmoderated web sites. That is why I do not see established newspapers going down anytime soon.