The Ever Shrinking Definition of Fully Equipped

As a traveling consultant I spend a lot of time in extended stay type hotels. Unless I’m traveling to a client site where I’ve worked previously I tend to spend the first month or more at these types of places. It is best to leave both yourself and the client an escape hatch. Sadly many of these types of places either don’t bother to read the IRS per-diem publications or believe the combined food and lodging amount is what they can charge. As a general rule one has to calculate $3K/month into their billing rate at a minimum. You need roughly 3 times that when working in California or most places along the east coast. An increasing number of corporate housing companies will not return either phone call or email when you are looking to spend less than $7K/month.

The sad turn of events here has been the trend I’m seeing in the lower cost extended stay places. I used to stay at Extended Stay Deluxe places exclusively. While they might not have been “the Ritz” they always included an actual stove. With the recent re-badging of all locations as simply Extended Stay America “fully equipped” has come to mean a microwave oven and two electric burners. There is no way to pick up a frozen pizza from Kroger and cook it.

Actually a good many of the “frozen meals” found in the freezer isle at your local supermarket may have microwave instructions, but they really only cook well in an oven. In particular the sirloin tips and noodles from Boston Market fall into this category. I don’t blame them. Microwave ovens are all over the map when it comes to power. The cheaper ones tend to be the lowest power. Even a cheap oven gets reasonably close to 425. The electric ovens many of these places used to have are quite good because their sensor can provide feedback which directly controls the current. With a microwave you set it to high and hope for the best. Of course that frozen pizza has to stay in the freezer.

We’ve been seeing vendors try to sell less as more for quite a while now. It is indicative of a downward spiral in ethics and business acumen. Car makers have been trying to trim the list of “standard features” for years. Some foreign car brands have been making hay with this in their commercials by pointing out the competition makes you purchase lots of expensive add on packages to get the same features they include by default. They did the math correctly.

It is cheaper to build one wiring harness for all cars of a given model than to build different harnesses for different options. I remember back in my 20s hearing guys talk about how easy it was to put a different stereo in their Honda because it already had all of the wiring for higher end features. I seem to remember someone I know buying a Toyota pickup truck with rear wheel drive to find out they could easily make a 4wd out of it by bolting in the transfer case and different drive shaft. The front axle was already there as well as the wiring for the shifter. When your production run is hundreds of thousands it is cheaper to buy lots of one part than smaller quantities of many parts, not to mention the reduced inventory and warranty hassles.

The ever shrinking definition of “fully equipped” has even invaded the IT world. We’ve all seen the migration of systems from robust platforms to “fully equipped” “business ready” systems which are either a joke or feeble. The only thing which seems to matter to the MBAs involved is the short term gain, not a lasting business model. If it runs on a $300 PC sold as an $8K+ blade, they want it.

Of course we have all seen the tragedy brought on by these decisions. Massive outages at blade farms and hosting sites. Absolute zero planning or testing of Business Recovery Plans. Few if any companies have backup data centers or hosting sites in not only different locations but on different linked power grid sets.

Quite possibly the worst consequence of this ever shrinking definition is the ever increasing volume of identity theft and communications spying. Opting for cheap instead of good has put not only the purchasers of low end products at risk but their customers and national security as well. Proprietary communications were pricey, but they were also a bitch to hack. People were shocked to learn the TJ Maxx identity theft was accomplished by sitting in a van in the parking lot snagging unsecured transactions between card readers and routers.

Of course, 2 million victims seems tiny compared with the Target breach. Some reports put it around 40 million customers. Even if you allow for some small percentage of those to be kids under 18 and foreign nationals with stateside credit, that is still a lot of registered voters.

In Europe they have been using smart credit cards for years. In America, because MBAs have this ever shrinking definition of “fully equipped”, we have the easiest to steal identities. Banks and credit card companies don’t have to invent anything, they simply have to implement what many of them are already using in other countries, but it won’t happen here until the government steps in.

The timing of the Target breach could not have been more perfect. The last holiday season before mid-term elections. For at least 20 million, if not north of 30 million, registered voters identity theft and credit card fraud is not something they simply hear about on the news, it is a reality. I’m willing to be the final analysis will turn up the thieves exploited one of many security holes on one of these “fully equipped” “ready for business” x86 based jokes. What remains to be seen is if any candidates will make this a plank in their platform or if another, even bigger breach, has to happen before laws and regulations change.

We won’t see significant change until the CEOs and boards of directors look at jail time when their products and services enable identity theft. As long as they can simply buy a couple months of credit monitoring services for victims and insurance to cover the losses due to theft nothing will change in the business world. The thought of serving 7-10 without hope of early parole because they bought a cheap operating system or didn’t upgrade credit card technology will suddenly making fixing both things “in the best interest of the company.”

Probably the saddest part of this entire story is HP. Many of you reading this won’t know it, but OpenVMS (formerly called VMS) is the only operating system publicly banned from “Black Hat” conferences. At least it is the only one I’ve ever heard of. “Black Hat” conferences are where both good and bad people bring computer systems then play a game quaintly called “Capture the Flag.” they are all given a file with some unique ID but a known name and told to put it on their systems. All of the other teams try to hack into each other’s systems to “Capture the Flag.”

I’ve never been to one and only read reports so I do not know if they are given all of their flags at once or given a new flag file each time another team turns in their specific flag file. I did read one story where a team needed another capture to advance so they turned in their own flag file and since there weren’t any rules against it they were allowed to advance. Odd that a conference like this has rules, but apparently they do.

What does this have to do with HP? They currently own OpenVMS and have announced end of development to occur in 2015 with end of support in 2025. They own the one operating system that every intelligence community and every “sensitive” business unit wants and they are shutting it down to sell more blades and ink jet cartridges. Thanks to all of the leaker reports and the identity theft the world is their oyster and they are casting it back into the sea.

You may be neither technical nor business savvy, but every one of you reading this older than 16 has heard the stories about $12 wooden pencils, $800 toilet seats and multi-billion dollar planes. You’ve heard the news reports about the George Bush era wars costing the economy roughly a trillion dollars per year. From that it should be a very short put to conclude the defense world has deep pockets. If they both want it and can show need they can pay for it.

Next we look at all of the NSA eves dropping and reported Chinese hacking attacks. Even if one tosses out half of the reports as false or inflated, the rest are more than enough to realize this isn’t smoke, it’s an actual fire. What corporation or intelligence organization wouldn’t want the one operating system hackers gave up on? They may need some additional security for around the world communications but they can rest assured nobody is getting into their data center content unless they physically enter the center. The long distance hacking will be stopped cold. How do we know this? The black hats tossed it out because it wouldn’t give up the flag.

Even a management team which was repeatedly dropped on its collective head as infants should be able to figure out the hard part about selling something that secure in this environment is filling all of the orders. Even the sorriest putz with ears should be able to close the sale, assuming they don’t get confused when multiple buyers talk at once.

Roland Hughes started his IT career in the early 1980s. He quickly became a consultant and president of Logikal Solutions, a software consulting firm specializing in OpenVMS application and C++/Qt touchscreen/embedded Linux development. Early in his career he became involved in what is now called cross platform development. Given the dearth of useful books on the subject he ventured into the world of professional author in 1995 writing the first of the "Zinc It!" book series for John Gordon Burke Publisher, Inc. A decade later he released a massive (nearly 800 pages) tome "The Minimum You Need to Know to Be an OpenVMS Application Developer" which tried to encapsulate the essential skills gained over what was nearly a 20 year career at that point. From there "The Minimum You Need to Know" book series was born. Three years later he wrote his first novel "Infinite Exposure" which got much notice from people involved in the banking and financial security worlds. Some of the attacks predicted in that book have since come to pass. While it was not originally intended to be a trilogy, it became the first book of "The Earth That Was" trilogy: Infinite Exposure Lesedi - The Greatest Lie Ever Told John Smith - Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars When he is not consulting Roland Hughes posts about technology and sometimes politics on his blog. He also has regularly scheduled Sunday posts appearing on the Interesting Authors blog.