Thursday, July 30, 2015

Banks: Protecting Yourself From the Invisible - Ignorance is Bliss But Only For the Moment

Knowledge is power – Francis Bacon

Knowledge is power only if man knows what facts not to bother with. - Robert Staughton Lynd

Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility. - Robin Morgan

[Important updates are at the bottom of this blog post]

Some years ago, I attempted to use my US-bank issued credit card in NYC and was surprised to discover that it had been disabled.  Calling the bank, I discovered that copies of the card had been used in Germany, the US and Brazil within a two-hour span the previous day.  In the argument that ensued on the phone, where the call center person insisted that I must have been in Germany the previous day and just didn’t remember it, I reminded them that it was physically impossible to have gotten to three countries that far apart in two hours and she finally agreed and told me a new card would arrive in two days.  I didn’t understand the argument anyway since it was their suspicion of fraudulent use that had caused the card to be killed in the first place.

The next day I received a call from the bank telling me that when the new card arrived I was to destroy it because it had already been compromised and that a third card would be sent.

I naturally assumed it must have gotten lost in the mail (thereby creating an opportunity for compromise) and so you can imagine my surprise when the now-dead replacement card arrived the next day with the envelope security seal still in place.  The card had not been intercepted and so it was obvious that it had been compromised at point of origin.  When I called the bank to understand what was going on (part of my profession is in the area of technology security architecture on Wall St), I was told it was an internal matter and that the details were none of my business.

A few years later, I had a considerable sum of money drained out of an account of a US bank, had it replaced and then had the same cycle of events repeated a short time later.  When I asked the bank what was happening, I was told it was none of my business.  However, when I informed them that I was calling the police, they relented and explained what was happening.  It was sweet, simple and frightening.

Here’s how it works.  A person presents the teller with a group of bogus payroll checks written out to a bunch of people.  The checks are knowingly drawn against a valid account in the bank that is known to be empty.  The teller, who is in on the scam, processes all the checks and pays out cash to the person.  When the bank reconciles the checks at night, they realize that all the checks are NSF and they reach into each person’s account to take the money back (since they assume they have already paid THAT person cash earlier in the day and are therefore taking the bank’s money back and leaving it to that person to deal with the NSF check that they allegedly cashed but in reality have no knowledge of).

The bank wouldn’t explain this until I brought the police in and secured bank surveillance video.  Until that moment, what was happening was none of my business according to the bank, even though it took a couple of weeks of hassle, paperwork and affidavits every time to prove that I hadn’t taken the cash and wasn’t  trying to defraud the bank.  During the first incident, one of the bank support people even suggested “Maybe your wife is taking the money and not telling you.  How strong is your marriage?”

I and a number of other people in that bank were guilty until proven innocent every time one of these incidents occurred.

In the investigation, the bank manager admitted that this happens a lot but “It’s ok, the customer always gets their money back”.  This may be so from their perspective but in addition to the inconvenience, someone is paying for the reimbursement of my money since the bank doesn’t eat the loss.  Eventually, despite CDIC, FDIC and other insurance vehicles, the responsibility for paying for it eventually trickles back to the customer.

Meanwhile in Alberta …..

A few days ago, I received two calls from my bank in Alberta.  I ignored the calls initially because the caller ID said “Alaska”, so I assumed it was a scam call or a wrong number.  When I finally played the voicemail, it said “I needed to get to a branch immediately”.  It sounded like a scam so I called the bank and they confirmed that “yes, it is imperative that you get to your branch immediately”.  When I asked “why?”, I was told politely that it was none of my business.

I went to the branch which was filled with people getting their cards replaced so I knew this wasn’t a one-off incident affecting just me.  When I asked the teller what was going on, she told me that she wasn’t allowed to tell me and that all cards (debit or credit) I had with the bank should be replaced immediately.

I asked if the cards were being skimmed (since such information would help me  avoid certain vendors or locations), if my online account had been compromised (requiring me to change my login credentials), if the bank had been compromised by an outside entity or if an internal miscreant had gotten up to no good.

I was politely told it was none of my business but as a precaution, I should change my PIN daily.  “Daily?”, I asked, “What is going on that you are recommending this?”

“I can’t tell you”, she replied.

Since I had been out of province the previous week, I asked the teller “How could I have gotten to a branch last week when this bank has none where I was?  What would happen then?  Can you kill my cards and get new ones to me where I was?”

Her answer was “No – we can’t do that.  We would try to figure something out.”

How comforting.

I asked on Twitter what the issue was and was told very politely that “We take security seriously and for this reason, we can’t tell you”.  My email to customer support politely asking for details went unanswered.

The bottom line from the bank:

“Be vigilant against a threat that we won’t tell you about.  It doesn’t matter – you always get your money back so why do you care?”

It reminds me of all the times Homeland Security would tell us to be very careful in a certain part of Manhattan.  When we would ask “What are we looking for?” we’d be told that we can’t tell you but let us know when you see something unusual or abnormal.  It’s NYC – what do you define as “normal”?

It also reminds me of the time when a bank that I was consulting to was allowing its consultants to host a porn site on the same servers as our customer-facing websites.  I reminded senior officials that not only was this not legal, ethical or moral, a compromise of the porn site (since porn sites are favorite targets for attacks) would reveal a smorgasbord of client information from the bank.  The bank indicated that “what customers don’t know won’t hurt them”.  They finally took the porn site down when the threat of a public leak became apparent.

So security wasn’t the issue – public relations was.

The Bottom Line

Security in our society, whether it be our physical safety, the safety of our bank accounts or anything else, begins when we are informed and when the institutions we work with are transparent, forthcoming and honest.  We can’t make intelligent choices if we don’t know what threatens us.

The suggestion that revealing some “secret” to the public would enable the criminal or tell the criminal that “you are onto him / her” doesn’t hold water.

Here’s a newsflash – the criminals already know how to do whatever they want.  In fact, they are likely thinking about compromises that we haven’t even thought of yet so they are actually ahead of the people and organizations that they are targeting.  They also know that the likelihood of getting caught these days is slim, making what they are doing very lucrative and risk-free from their perspective.  For every large-profile case proudly trumpeted by law enforcement as “solved”, many more are not solved in time (or solved at all) until the damage done is significant.

Groups like Anonymous and groups backed by other governments hack into government agencies like CSIS, the NSA and other groups at-will.  It’s time to be honest with people that total security doesn’t exist.  Even things like air gaps within technology architecture have been compromised.

The reality is that revealing cracks in security is very bad for business and for consumer / public confidence.  The first institution that can openly demonstrate that they are secure will be able to garner quite a bit of business from their competitors.

Well …. maybe – the reality is that security of anything is impossible.  We accept freedom and flexibility and in exchange, we trade away privacy and security.  Since this is our reality, society would be more secure if we worked together instead of the organizations who are charged with protecting us and our “stuff” forgetting about who works for whom.

As for my bank, all of my cards are chipped and yet banks insist that chipped cards have not and cannot be compromised.

Uh huh.

Here’s another newsflash – the chip technology was compromised before the banks finished rolling it out. Not only does the chip not protect you from anything, but technology exists to allow people to lift your card info from your pocket, wallet or purse without them ever seeing your cards (read Flaw in New “Secure” Credit Cards Would Allow Hackers Steal $1M Per Card).

When we can have an honest, transparent conversation, maybe then we can start working together towards a better society, each of us protecting ourselves and the other as a result of this dialog.

Until then, we will dance around security and privacy until something really bad happens.

And then we will all act surprised, angry, indignant, outraged or anything else.

But we will only have ourselves to blame, having accepted “none of your business” as a perfectly valid response to “What is happening?”, “Why did it happen” or “What are you doing to prevent it or mitigate my risk or exposure?”

What do you think of that?

With all of the enhanced technology, processes, methodologies and frameworks in the IT industry, you would think that we would be safer now than ever before but the reality is that we are less secure today than we were 20 years ago.

I’d tell you more but it’s none of your business. Smile

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – A Response – July 30, 2015

In all transparency, the financial institution in question sent me a note after this blog post was published:

Thank you so much for reaching out to us, I truly value the time you put to send us this note.

We’ve identified that there may be a compromise in an area that you’ve used your debit card. For this instance we’ve reached out to many clients to be proactive and have their cards replaced with a new pin number.

I apologize for the lack of information around this because we’ve also recognized that the areas and stores affected are victims as well. This is a precautionary measure as we want to protect our direct clients as much as we can.

Hope this sheds some more light.

I appreciate the note but have a few observations regarding it which I sent back to the bank:

  1. It would be useful if the tellers, people on the phone and on social media could have explained this – it would have avoided some confusion.
  2. It still doesn’t explain why I need to continue to change my PIN daily even though I have a new card.  It is as if they are anticipating that I will have new transactions in compromised areas.
  3. I was told that all debit AND credit cards need to be replaced.  This references debit cards only.
  4. Pursuant to the previous point, they don’t tell me where the issue is.  I understand protecting “other victims” including businesses and areas but if we are destined to conduct other transactions in known compromised areas, I and other customers will merely recreate our problems since we don’t have enough info to avoid problem areas.
  5. The teller did admit that a specific range of card numbers was affected.  A specific range of card numbers is not the same as a random selection of customers and so the information is not consistent and potentially suspect until clarified.
  6. The person on the phone said that if I didn’t receive notification of compromise for other cards, then I shouldn’t change them.  The person at the bank said I must change them regardless.  Erring on the side of safety is important but clarity and consistency in message promotion is equally important and less confusing, especially when no other details are being offered.

Knowledge is only power when sufficient knowledge is provided AND it is applied.

One of the key ways to acquiring knowledge is through asking questions that matter.  We tend to focus on asking questions about the unimportant while not asking them about the things that matter (or we accept an answer that we know is insufficient but we don’t want to press the point).

Accountability, transparency and knowledge are created and shared when the right questions are asked and appropriate answers are demanded.

Do you ask questions or do you not care?

Does it matter?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

Addendum 2 – Insider Update – July 31, 2015

In speaking to my sources in banking and law enforcement, they have indicated that a sweeping federal investigation encompassing at least 5 Canadian banks is in progress.  I was given the names of the banks but cannot reveal them here due to the nature of the investigation.

It is because the federal investigation is in progress that the institution noted here cannot reveal the areas / vendors involved, etc.  Sadly, because of this constraint, the problem has a slight risk of spreading to new victims while the investigation is going on (or ensnaring original victims).  There is some concern also about whether the losses will be covered under CDIC or not but that is a subject for someone else to debate.

That being said, secrecy around such investigations while they are in progress makes perfect sense and is often essential for the successful conclusion of the investigation.

What makes better sense for this institution in this case is to just tell the truth.  By doing so, they don’t reveal any secrets, they don’t endanger or compromise the investigation and they can assure customers using facts that the right people are looking at the issue effectively and appropriately.

Transparency works a lot better than avoidance and when done effectively, intelligently and strategically, provides the information necessary to maintain the strength of a business / customer relationship.

It just requires a little effort and resonates better than “none of your business”, especially when it’s your money, security, privacy, etc. Smile

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Too Many Questions–Not Enough Answers

Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions - Why am I doing it, What the results might be and Will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead. – Chanakya

I don't pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about. - Arthur C. Clarke

The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions. - Claude Levi-Strauss

We have no right to express an opinion until we know all of the answers. - Kurt Cobain

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

He stared at the mind map before him, an encapsulation of more than 45 years of unusual events in his Life and in the lives of people close to him.  For years he had sought answers to the mystery contained within these events and despite asking as many people as he could, their answers were fleeting, sparse, questionable and lacked any kind of supporting evidence.  As someone grounded in the 21st century who had built his entire life around information, he needed irrefutable data to accompany their answers and there was none.

He sought clarity to all of the events and so he had drawn a mind map to help him obtain the clarity.  After he had drawn it, he realized the enormity and complexity of the mystery.

“Now I see why this bothers me as it does”, he thought to himself as he stared at the mind map in front of him.

Mind Map

He allowed his eyes to roam randomly over the mind map as each bubble in the map triggered a memory for him.

He thought of the face he saw through his bedroom window when he was four years old.  The face was not human and stared at him coldly as the only thing between the 4 inches of space between himself and the face was the pane of glass itself.  He had leapt from his bed then and run for his bedroom door, screaming for his parents.  As he ran from his bedroom, he turned and looked towards the window.

The face stared at him unsmiling.

His parents went outside, searching around the house, but had found nothing.

Another bubble reminded him of the time he found himself getting out of bed in the middle of the night, looking through the window for “something” and seeing someone outside press up against the outside wall as if desiring not to be seen.  Suddenly, “others” were in the room with him and despite his struggles, proceeded to carry him outside through the closed window.

He woke up standing on the front lawn watching a group of lights retreat into the night sky.

Another bubble brought back a memory of driving down a highway in the rural town where he had grown up and as he came around a turn, he suddenly stopped his car when he thought he saw an accident blocking the road.  He was blinded by bright flashing lights and stopped quickly when he realized that a group of people were spread across the road and slowly advancing towards him.  They approached slowly and methodically and it wasn’t until he realized that someone was standing by his car that he became aware that something was wrong.  The figure beside the car started to bend down as if to look into the car window and his awareness of the event suddenly stopped.

He awoke two hours later parked on the side of the road and the “accident” and the people on the road were gone.

And yet another bubble reminded him of the night he and wife were sleeping with their newborn child asleep in the crib.  He had had a disturbing dream that night and over the course of breakfast the next morning, began to relate the dream to his wife and she interrupted him by completing the dream.  They were startled by the realization that they had both dreamt the same dream, of a group of “people” standing around their child’s crib while they were unable to get up and find out what was going on.  Later hypnosis would reveal that they both had experienced an event where they had been prevented from getting up by someone with its face in theirs telling them repeatedly “don’t be afraid” as “others” stood around their child’s crib for a reason unknown to them.

His eyes flicked randomly over the mind map again.

He remembered the time when his child was two and they were reading a Dora the Explorer book together.  For reasons unknown to him, there was an image in the book of an alien in the middle of the jungle and his child pointed to it, unprompted, and said “friend”.  He remembered with a chill that his child said “friend” every time the child saw that image.

And then about a year later, while reading that same book, his child pointed to the alien image and said “scary”.  Shortly after that, the child began having nightmares about “the invisibles” that came into their room to do “bad things”.  The child, while obviously frightened, could never remember details.

Then there was the time he was driving in the White Hills of New Hampshire about 11pm one midsummer’s night when suddenly the inside of his vehicle was bathed in an intense blue light.  Assuming that it was from a police helicopter above him, he looked through the windshield and couldn’t see anything nor was there anything shining a light in through any of the windows.  He also realized that the light inside the vehicle had no shadows, as if emanating from many sources simultaneously.  He shivered and thought, “I’ve been driving too long today – I need to find a hotel and get off the road.” and at that moment, the light winked out.  His wife slept in the passenger seat beside him, not stirring, and as he reflected on how fatigued he must be to be imagining such things, his son, sitting in the car seat behind him, asked in a quiet voice, “What was that blue light, Daddy?”

Another bubble brought back a memory of one morning when his child, at the age of four, came screaming into his bedroom that “an ugly man” was staring at him through his bedroom window.  He shivered when memory of that morning triggered another thought, that his child had experienced other unusual events at the same times in his Life and in the same order as he had when he was young.  He had never told anyone about them but had written them down.  He had checked them off one by one as his child experienced them in the same order.

He never told his child anything, preferring to observe rather than feed the potential imagination of a child who might make up things to make a father happy.

Their parallel lives and the shared events continued for years.

The mind map represented decades of a mystery that he had accumulated and that had accompanied his family wherever he went.

Unusual events, unusual dreams and even physical evidence left on his body that had been questioned and examined by doctors – all which yielded no answers to the many questions asked.

It tormented his mind – a mind driven to understand the “why” of things.

And yet no answers of any credibility came.

People offered theories of aliens, guardian angels, demons and practically everything else, each suggestion based on their Life experiences and their personal biases but to his frustration, were always presented without evidence to support their theory.  Some had suggested mental illness of some form or perhaps a brain tumor but opinions expressed by some of the best doctors in the arenas of psychiatry and psychology had strongly rejected any such suggestion.

And now he sat in front of his keyboard, burning with a desire to share his experiences while cognizant of the impact of possibly being lumped together with the mentally unwell, the faker looking to make a quick buck or the person whose life was so empty that they would do anything to claim their 15 minutes of fame.

He wanted nothing to do with any of them.

He only wanted answers.

Why had these things happened?

Why were they still happening?

Was his family in danger?

The bubbles on his mind map each contained a story – stories that ranged from the odd to the unusual to the terrifying.

The stories described events that had been experienced by others in addition to himself - events that intrigued him, frightened him, annoyed him and made him angry.

He had been frightened by it as a child but now he was concerned for the safety and well-being of his family.

And besides, he didn’t like mysteries in his Life.

Now this mystery burned in his mind, insisting on being shared and demanding to be solved.

He had no idea where to start.

And so he stared at his screen and wondered, “What do I do now?”

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


This piece of “fiction” actually describes personal experiences that I have lived with for my entire Life.  What is the origin of the events described here and the many other events not described?  I have no idea.  Many suggestions have been made as previously noted – I have dismissed them all without data and had my sanity corroborated by people who know more about such things than I do.

I have subjected myself to hypnosis which terrified those present during the session.  I have no recollection of the events described in the session but occasional flashbacks from the session have not been pleasant.

I have subjected myself to analysis by some of the best minds in the psychiatry / psychology industry and all have come to the same conclusion – I am normal (whatever that means), have no physical or mental illnesses of any type and they believe that I have experienced the events as I described them.

Why I am sharing these events now?

Again, I have no idea – perhaps my mind believes that someone out there can provide the data that answers the questions I have asked for decades.

Perhaps my sharing will help others understand that they don’t need to hide from others who suggest that they have lost their mind.

And maybe it just feels good to get it off my chest.

Or maybe it’s all of the above.

Some have told me that it takes great courage to share such a story.  Maybe although I disagree.  Why is courage required to share a personal truth when many people fill the world with negativity, misinformation, hate or confusion without a second thought? 

People often fear what they don’t know or understand and are often uncomfortable around people who act in a courageous manner while they secretly wish they had the same level of courage to share their own story or pursue their own dream.  Lack of courage on their part then becomes their MO to discredit or disparage the alleged courage of others since it is often easier and “safer” to attack the courage of others than it is to exhibit one’s own sense of courage.

I know posting this will attract the crazy people – that’s what spam filters are for.  Some people are so crazy that merely saying “good morning” can launch them into a diatribe that demonstrates their insanity so I’m not concerned about them.

But perhaps someone out there can offer a nugget of knowledge to someone who requires data for practically everything he does.


Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Weapons of Mass Distraction

Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists. - Cornel West

America is addicted to wars of distraction. - Barbara Ehrenreich

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

September – 2000 – New York City

In a nondescript, 12-story building on Madison Avenue in New York, the CTO of a fledgling start-up finished his presentation.  His audience, a mix of suits from Washington, DC and a few senior military officials, eyed him carefully as he walked towards his seat and sat down.

“These results are impressive”, said the military officer at the head of the table.  “It is extraordinary that the algorithms your company has developed can predict human behavior as it does.  What I am more impressed with, however, and what we need are the algorithms that allow you to calculate the value of someone’s Life, whether they are capable of surviving an event of immense proportions, what people could contribute after the event and whether they are worthy of being saved at all.”

He paused for a moment and then looked at the report before him again before muttering “extraordinary” under his breath.

The CTO, his nerves finally settling down after having completed his presentation, nodded in acknowledgement.  “The only thing missing”, he said, “is data.  All of our subjects for the demonstration provided us with the data necessary for the algorithm.  The data needed to predict the necessary factors for the entire American population does not exist in the form we need it in and possibly doesn’t exist at all.”

“So”, replied the officer at the head of the table, “If we could provide you with the data, you would be able to calculate what we need?  Will the algorithm ever get stale where it has no meaning or applicability if we can’t get the data to you quickly enough?”

“The algorithm will always be relevant”, replied the CTO, “Whether you provide me with data now or in 15 years, it’s all the same to the algorithm.”

The officer pursed his lips, nodded silently and then stood up.

“This has been quite helpful”, he said, “Some day we will have an opportunity to test your theory. Until then, your corporate focus will be on human productivity and not human survivability.  Got it?”

Without waiting for an answer, he strode out of the room as everyone else stood up to say goodbye to each other.

July – 2015 – Camp David

The leaders of the G8 sat around a conference room table and listened intently to a voice emanating from a telephone on the conference room table.  It had been a week since the urgent communiqué had been sent to them and now a week later, they found themselves gathered at Camp David to receive an update on project Copperfield.

“As we explained to you and your predecessors more than a decade ago”, the voice continued, “The many difficulties your nations are experiencing are far too complex to solve and our solution to you thus remains as relevant today as it did when it was first recommended.”

“That may be so”, said the President of the United States, “but we are starting to find the plan harder to execute as more of our citizens are becoming unhappy with the results we are producing and the message we are giving them.”

“Do you really think it is getting harder to execute?”, asked the voice.

“Damn straight”, replied the President as he leaned in towards the phone, “The explosion in social media has enabled too many people with too many opinions to swirl around us.  Message containment is not what it used to be.  Between conspiracy clowns coming closer to the truth than they realize and a plethora of other idiots out there, sooner or later someone is going to figure out what is going on.  There are too many unsolvable problems out there – hunger, disease, wars with no purpose, GMO foods, terror, climate change, sluggish economies.  You name it and we are dealing with it and yet we know that there are no answers to any of these issues.  We are more or less just public relations mouthpieces keeping the people fat, dumb and happy while assuring them that we have answers to all of their concerns while the reality is that we are just killing time waiting for your solution.  For all of your promises, it is me and my colleagues around the table who are being forced to deal with this stuff every day with no help from you.  The so-called attraction of distraction strategy that you outlined years ago is no longer effective, which is why I feel that we are not getting any help at all.”

“No help from me?”, echoed the voice on the phone, “What exactly do you think is going on here, Mr. President?”

The President sat back and said nothing, feeling the sting of the sarcastic question.

“All we promised”, continued the voice on the phone, “is a means of separating those who are worthy from those who contribute nothing.  Having done this, as we agreed, we will divide the people, with you keeping those whom you can build your future on while we get the rest.”

“And how will that be done?”, asked the Prime Minister of Canada.

“Some years ago”, the voice replied, “A small software company in New York devised algorithms that could predict human behavior based on specific events.  They went on to develop algorithms that could calculate the value of each human Life, whether each Life could survive specific events and whether each Life could contribute to a new world after the events occurred.  We helped the software company create the algorithms, with our assistance unbeknownst to them at the time .  At the time, all they needed was data on each person, data which was not available to them.”

The room was silent.

“Good”, said the voice, “I have your attention.  Now I am pleased to announce that we have the data that we need to evaluate practically every human being on the planet by running that data through this algorithm.  The Holy Grail is how to convert soft, fuzzy data into mathematical data, something else we taught this software company how to do many years ago.”

The voice paused for a moment.

“With the data in hand, the algorithm is being run for a specific event as defined by our part of the agreement.  Now you must do your part to make that event happen as we agreed upon.  Only those who contribute to humanity in a measurable, significant way as determined by the algorithm will survive and will be at your disposal to rebuild humanity.  The rest of them, the so-called chaff of society, will be given to us to use as we see fit. So in fact, we are actually doing you a favor by culling out the useless and the worthless.”

“How many will survive?”, asked the President.

“Our current rough estimates suggest about 500 million people”, said the voice, “Breakouts by nation are not available yet.  I have my best people working with people who have the raw data.  Once we have everything we need, we will be able to provide a better estimate.  Of course, as agreed, you and your families will be safe.”

The voice paused before speaking again.  “So, ladies and gentlemen, are we agreed that execution can begin?”, it asked.

The leaders around the table looked nervously back and forth.

July – 2015 – Menlo Park, California

“And so”, concluded the presenter, “As agreed, we will provide your organization with the data described in the report before you in exchange for the data elements we require.  We are prepared to sweeten the deal financially if required.”

He knew that the deal was done by the greedy looks on the faces of the men and women before him.

Meanwhile, similar presentations were wrapping up in Mountain View, California, San Francisco and other key cities that were the homes of various social media giants.

Fifteen minutes later, the presenter in Menlo Park stepped out of the conference room and walked down the hallway for privacy.  He pulled out his phone and sent a single text message:

Data acquired – the algorithm has what it needs.

The recipient of the text message looked at the message and smiled.

Now all they needed was the event to take place and those plans were already in place.

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


The nervous CTO described at the beginning of this post is yours truly.  In the company that I co-founded that was subsequently involved in a very complex, blended M&A / IPO, we eventually became known for our work measuring human productivity.

The meeting around human survivability took place as described, with the meeting being set up by my former father-in-law (now deceased), then a retired Colonel in the USAF and an investor in my company.  The algorithms created to measure the worth of a human Life, pre-emergency, during an emergency and in the rebuild that occurs after an emergency, were designed, created, tested, approved and put on a shelf as we were told to do.  A copy of those algorithms was put into escrow in case our company went defunct.

While the productivity algorithms were ours from inception to implementation, my former father-in-law provided a coarse design for the survivability algorithms.  Being a pilot and not a technical person, he did not create it and while he dropped hints as to its origin, he did not officially disclose its source although I believe I know where it came from.  My company took the coarse design and implemented the algorithms from it.

The key tester for that software, Narender Nath, was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11.  I have written about him often, including in Yellow Shirt Day – The Importance of Tradition.

The rest of the story?

Well, that’s up to you to figure out.

Who would want such a thing to take place?

Who would benefit?

Who would be considered worthy or not as defined mathematically by a mere algorithm?

What if the algorithm is wrong?

What if the algorithm separated families and loved ones, some being deemed worthy and some not.

Who could provide the data that the algorithm requires?

As always, follow the breadcrumbs to answer all your questions. 

Most of the breadcrumbs are right here in this post.

But then again, it’s only “fiction”, right?

Background Addendum – July 19, 2015

A number of people have asked me about the results of the testing of the survivability algorithm.  While I no longer have the results of those tests in front of me, having returned all documents when I moved on, I recall that of approximately 2,000 people who were evaluated, approximately 135 were considered worthy of preserving.

Is that a lot or a few?  I guess it depends on your perspective, your outlook on Life, your mood for the day, which side of the test results you and your loved ones fall on and whether you and your loved ones fall on the same side (worthy or unworthy).

The test subjects were never given their test result.

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Values – More Than Lip Service

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. - Edmund Burke

Do you want to know who you are?  Don't ask.  Act!  Action will delineate and define you. - Thomas Jefferson

Action expresses priorities. - Mahatma Gandhi

When I first came to Calgary from out east a few years ago, I was often given a lecture on the importance of values – specifically of how western values trump eastern values, how Canadian values trump American values, how Calgarian values are superior to New York City values and the usual verbal diarrhea presented by people who feel insecure or inferior and therefore seek to diminish the person who makes them feel insecure.

It’s usually not worth my time to argue with such people as their poorly formed and poorly presented opinion often does not reflect the majority of people that surround them and so it is not worthy of analysis or discussion.

However, imagine my surprise today in the middle of a busy day in Calgary when my focus was suddenly interrupted by two words:

“Help me”.

I looked up to see if someone was just horsing around or if I had misheard something when the cry for help came again …. repeated …. insistent …. and with a raw edge of fear wrapped around it.

I looked around for the source of the plea and began to run towards it and as I did so, I ran past people who were not reacting to the screaming child at all.  As I ran past them, some stared, some moved out of my way and others simply looked quizzically at the mad man running towards them who said “A kid is screaming for help” as I ran towards the source of the screaming.

I pushed past several dozen people who seemed indifferent to the cry for help and I identified the source.  A ten-year-old girl was in trouble and as the first and only person on the scene, I was able to render the assistance necessary.

Shortly after, her parent arrived and we were able to bring resolution to a situation that could have been much worse.

Where I come from, when a child screams “help me” “help me” “help me” in raw terror, we react.  For all we know, a child is being taken against their will, is being attacked by a human or an animal or some other situation is unfolding that requires immediate action.

Today, a lot of people took no action at all.

As I left the scene and walked past the same people, some of them stared at me.  Others asked “what happened?” and I assured them that the girl would be ok but I didn’t stop walking.

Walking helps flush out the adrenalin and besides, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of adding “no thanks to you” or “why didn’t you do something – you were closer than I was”.

It was tempting but offered little if any value to their Life or mine.

The Bottom Line

I’m not tarring all Calgarians with the brush of “no values exist here”.  There are many great Calgarians (likely the majority) who answer the call when the word for help goes out.  We have seen many examples of this, including the flood of 2013 and other examples.

However, claiming to have superior values, having the courage to do something as a result of possessing them and actually taking action when called upon requires more than a pat on the back that comes from politicians and other public officials who proclaim that western values are unlike anyone else’s or a false sense of superiority is assumed “just because”.

I can point to several dozen people today who presented an example of the lack of values that I was told are common in “people from away” and which people in Calgary would never be known for.

Values are more than what we think, what we say or how we verbally compare ourselves to others in an effort to establish some sense of superiority.

They are not a western thing or an eastern thing.

They are not a Canadian thing or an American thing.

They are not a Calgarian thing or a New York City thing.

They are a human thing and are demonstrated in what we do when we are called to do so.

I think that events like this are a reminder that we all can and must do better when the call for help goes out.  It makes a difference and the next time a call for help is made, it might be from someone important to you.

Talking about it is easy.

Unfortunately, merely talking about it offers no value nor does it make a difference.

Let your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


Saturday, July 11, 2015

To Demand Better of Your Politicians, Demand Better of Yourself

Those who stand for nothing fall for anything. - Alexander Hamilton

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. - Plato

What is tolerated today becomes accepted tomorrow. - Various Attribution

An interesting conversation this week on the Facebook page of a member of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta reminds me of why we have the politicians we have.

It’s because we accept anything they give / tell us.

And while we like to rant and rave about what politicians allegedly do to us as we claim victimhood at the hand of their alleged incompetence or corruption (as some people claim), the reason politicians do what they do boils down to one thing.

It’s because we accept anything they give / tell us.

On the previously mentioned Facebook page this week, there was a discussion around the right-leaning parties of the Alberta political sphere and the possibility (or impossibility) of the two primary parties, the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party, reuniting against the left-leaning NDP Party currently in power.

While the conversation was interesting and mostly respectful, I asked a couple of questions, specifically around whether people can come to an agreement regarding the definition of the words “progressive”, “conservative” and “values”, since failure to come to an agreement on what these words mean would prevent any such alliance from happening.

This sparked a healthy exchange until a former member of the Alberta government proceeded to give their views.  The individually waxed poetically about such concepts as principles, values, forgiveness and acceptance and the need “to do better and be better for, and, to each other.”

I thought it was a pretty cool, unifying message although one thing remained stuck in my craw from the previous election loss, a rumor that had been attached to this MLA and which suggested or implied unethical or potentially illegal behaviour and so I asked if the rumor were true.  There was no issue with stating it publicly since it had been rolling around in the public space anyway.

[Background Note] In my world and in the public-facing role I have, questions come in my direction every day, some friendly and inquisitive and some accusatory / confrontational.  When one accepts a public-facing role, one does one’s best to answer every question respectfully and as fact / data-based as possible.

When I asked for clarity on the rumor that was already in the public space, the former MLA and others supporting this person immediately demanded that my question be removed and made the demands in such a way that the person who owned the Facebook wall felt threatened as exhibited in this text exchange between the Facebook wall owner and myself.

Screen Shot 1

Screen Shot 2

The reason he gave for deleting my request for clarity was also intriguing.

Screen Shot 3

So the mere act of asking for clarification on something being discussed about a former politician (who has a desire to be re-elected) in the public space provides people with a reason to feel fearful of asking for clarity or for allowing the request to stand.  This is especially intriguing given that the person being questioned had just cited the need “to do better and be better for, and, to each other.”

Meanwhile an executive within the PC Party texted me this message as he observed the events that unfolded.

Screen Shot 4

I wonder how a Party can expect to rebuild itself on values, transparency and the like when people who request clarity on same are threatened or an effort is made to intimidate them into silence.

The Bottom Line

While many tout our democracy as the greatest form of government on the planet, they forget that the key elements of it need to be constantly, consistently and vigorously earned, re-earned, defended and championed.

One of the tenets of our democracy is the right to request transparency in the actions of those who claim to represent our best interests in our legislatures.

However, a dual crime of democracy occurs when someone who claims to serve us dares to shout us down instead of providing a response to requests for clarity AND the person being shouted at acquiesces without resistance or reason.

When these things happen, our democracy is in danger of producing a result that is not as ideal as that which we desire or deserve.

In such situations, if our democracy or the results it produces is tarnished in any way, we can’t blame the people we put in office nor can we criticize their actions because the reality is that we put them in office and if we accept their actions and keep re-electing them anyway, we have only ourselves to blame.

After all, when we have high expectations of our government and its elected representatives and they appear to be disappoint us consistently, maybe we need to re-examine our expectations of ourselves before criticizing the people we elect.

Unfortunately, I think it is always easier to hold others to a higher standard rather than ourselves since dodging responsibility and accountability requires much less effort when we expect both to be exhibited by others and not ourselves.

What do you think?

Does it matter?

What are you doing about it?

Forget asking what a politician stands for – what do YOU stand for?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum For the history buff who wondered if I chose the Alexander Hamilton quote deliberately on the 211th anniversary of his death in a duel, I can assure you that it was pure coincidence. Smile

My friends at the Bank of New York used to joke that on the day he died, he told employees of the Bank that he founded not to do anything until he got back.  Hey .. it’s their joke … not mine!  Great people over there with a great sense of humor. Smile

Addendum 2 – Things That Make You Go Hmmmm – July 12, 2015

I received a cease and desist letter from a legal firm representing an unrelated person who thought I was writing about them.  Oooops – guilty as charged for a crime as of yet unknown by anyone except the perpetrator.  I guess there are more skeletons present than people are aware of.

As a friend of mine pointed out today, Israeli police sometimes offer something of interest to see who takes the bait, referring to the process as the integrity test.  The party drawn out is clearly guilty – one just needs to figure out the crime.

In the spirit of offering to help people as much as I can, I offer politicians the quick reference guide to lying as shown below.  Click on the image for a larger version.

Politicians Quick Reference Guide to Lying

Addendum 3 – Closing Thoughts – July 18, 2015

What I find interesting about the party in question is that many people who blocked progress before and who fought openness in order to prevent embarrassing truths from coming out are now the same people writing blogs about the importance of truth and openness while simultaneously still blocking the truth.

They wanted to be the hero then by preventing the truth from coming out, they want to be the hero now by pretending to offer enlightenment that is allegedly unknown to everyone else and they are attempting to be the hero of the future by keeping skeletons buried in the closet.

You can’t have it all.

Addendum 4 – I Guess I’m Not Done – August 12, 2015

With a by-election being called in Calgary-Foothills, I dared to ask what the strategy was to win the hearts, minds and votes of the people after the devastating loss by the PC party in May.

Here is one person’s response (click on the images for larger versions):



I guess the PC party (or at least the loudest people within it) have some learning to complete.