Sunday, June 14, 2015

Last Call For Fly By Night

Remember when airlines told us that high fuel prices and high overhead costs meant they had no choice but to start tacking on fees and jacking up fares in order to stay in business?  That was then, and in 2015 with oil prices low and airlines more efficient, you'd think they'd lower prices.

You'd be out of your mind.

Don't expect your flying experience to be pleasant, or cheap this summer.

At a meeting of top airline executives this week in Miami, the word on every airline executive's lips was "discipline."

Translation: few seats, pricey tickets, bigger profits.

Despite plummeting fuel costs, the airlines' single biggest cost, few of those savings are getting passed along to passengers.

Instead, record profits. The International Air Transport Association increased its profit outlook for the industry to $29.3 billion, a new high, up nearly 80 percent from last year.

Meanwhile, passengers only saw a $.66 reduction in average airfares last quarter
. And they'll soon have more fellow passengers to rub elbows with in the security line and bump into in the aisles.

Airline for America, an industry trade group, predicts 2.4 million passengers per day will fly on US airlines from June 1-Aug 31, up from 2.29 million during the same time last year. To accommodate the 4.5 percent increase in passengers, airlines say they're increasing the number of seats by 4.6 percent.

In other words, the flying experience will remain roughly the same. Cramped, crowded, and with no price breaks in sight

The airline industry, once in dire trouble after 9/11, is now reaping record profits with more passengers than ever. And all indications are you'll pay even more at the ticket counter as greed controls the industry.  Did you actually think the airlines would start investing in better service and more competition when treating people like cattle makes them tens of billions?

Working as intended, folks.

The Ultimate Snow Job

Yesterday I talked about how hackers most likely working for the Chinese had gotten their hands on the crown jewels of federal personnel files, damaging US intelligence operations badly.  Now the other shoe has dropped, with our British allies across the pond saying that Chinese and Russian hackers have decrypted the treasure trove of NSA files stolen by Edward Snowden two years ago and that the damage is so bad that ongoing British and US intelligence operations have been compromised and agents put in danger.

RUSSIA and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.

Western intelligence agencies say they have been forced into the rescue operations after Moscow gained access to more than 1m classified files held by the former American security contractor, who fled to seek protection from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, after mounting one of the largest leaks in US history.

Senior government sources confirmed that China had also cracked the encrypted documents, which contain details of secret intelligence techniques and information that could allow British and American spies to be identified.

Indeed, the story suggests that Snowden's info compromised methods and sources as well.

The government source said the information obtained by Russia and China meant that "knowledge of how we operate" had stopped the UK getting "vital information".

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said the problem for UK authorities was not only the direct consequence that agents had been moved, but also the opportunity cost of those agents no longer being in locations where they were doing useful work.

Intelligence officials have long warned of what they see as the dangers of the information leaked by Mr Snowden and its potential impact on keeping people in the UK safe - a concern Prime Minister David Cameron has said he shares.

According to the Sunday Times, Western intelligence agencies have been forced to pull agents out of "hostile countries" after "Moscow gained access to more than one million classified files" held by Mr Snowden.

"Senior government sources confirmed that China had also cracked the encrypted documents, which contain details of secret intelligence techniques and information that could allow British and American spies to be identified," the newspaper added.

Needless to say, the pushback from privacy advocates has been immediate.

Privacy campaigners questioned the timing of the report, coming days after a 373-page report by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, which was commissioned by David Cameron. Anderson was highly critical of the existing system of oversight of the surveillance agencies and set out a series of recommendations for reform.

A new surveillance bill, scheduled for the autumn, is expected to be the subject of fierce debate.

Responding to the Sunday Times, David Davis, the Conservative MP who is one of the leading campaigners for privacy, said: “We have to treat all of these things with a pinch of salt.” He said the use of an anonymous source to create scare stories was a typical tactic and the timing was comfortable for the government.

“You can see they have been made nervous by Anderson. We have not been given any facts, just assertions,” he said.

Anderson recommended that approval of surveillance warrants be shifted from the home and foreign secretaries to a new judicial body made up of serving and retired judges, which Davis supports but towards which the government appears to be lukewarm.

That British surveillance bill is a nasty piece of work from what I understand, making the Patriot Act look tame in comparison, so if this is a hair on fire scare attack by our friends across the pond, I wouldn't be surprised.

On the other hand for this kind of news to leak out, a major intelligence player to admit they have been compromised and have changed operations as a result, that's a very serious charge.

We'll see where this goes, but as I have said time and time again, if your chief goalis to damage western intelligence as badly as possible, Edward Snowden's playbook is the route you would use.

Sunday Long Read: Code Monkeys

This week's SLR is a gargantuan piece from Bloomberg Business about "code", computer programming languages and how they are used to craft the 21st century and beyond, written from the perspective of the people who have no idea what code is.

You are an educated, successful person capable of abstract thought. A VP doing an SVP’s job. Your office, appointed with decent furniture and a healthy amount of natural light filtered through vertical blinds, is commensurate with nearly two decades of service to the craft of management.

Copper plaques on the wall attest to your various leadership abilities inside and outside the organization: One, the Partner in Innovation Banquet Award 2011, is from the sales team for your support of its 18-month effort to reduce cycle friction—net sales increased 6.5 percent; another, the Civic Guidelight 2008, is for overseeing a volunteer team that repainted a troubled public school top to bottom.

You have a reputation throughout the organization as a careful person, bordering on penny-pinching. The way you’d put it is, you are loath to pay for things that can’t be explained. You expect your staff to speak in plain language. This policy has served you well in many facets of operations, but it hasn’t worked at all when it comes to overseeing software development.

For your entire working memory, some Internet thing has come along every two years and suddenly hundreds of thousands of dollars (inevitably millions) must be poured into amorphous projects with variable deadlines. Content management projects, customer relationship management integration projects, mobile apps, paperless office things, global enterprise resource planning initiatives—no matter how tightly you clutch the purse strings, software finds a way to pry open your fingers.

Here we go again. On the other side of your (well-organized) desk sits this guy in his mid-30s with a computer in his lap. He’s wearing a taupe blazer. He’s come to discuss spending large sums to create intangible abstractions on a “website re-architecture project.” He needs money, support for his team, new hires, external resources. It’s preordained that you’ll give these things to him, because the CEO signed off on the initiative—and yet should it all go pear-shaped, you will be responsible. Coders are insanely expensive, and projects that start with uncomfortably large budgets have an ugly tendency to grow from there. You need to understand where the hours will go.

It's a fascinating piece and well done, explaining the business of software development cycles, hardware upgrades, licensing, integration, and the whole nine yards.  As somebody who works in this industry it's a nice new perspective and a reminder that the people running the show where you work may not be tech geniuses, but they can be pretty smart too.
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