Sunday, July 29, 2007

Outsourcing For Fun and (Especially) Profit

(Via many sources, but particularly Michelle Malkin)

The latest in data mismanagement is epitomized by the outsourcing of DMV-related information to a company that has a facility in Mexico. The Superior Court in Orange County contracted with Cal Coast Data Entry, Inc, which has a facility in Nogales. Apparently, information from traffic tickets is encrypted and transmitted to the Mexican facility where it is entered into Court databases.

This story bothers me on numerous levels. First, there's our ever-tender relations with our southern neighbor. Mexico loves our tourist dollars, generically speaking, but considers us (following the European Model) to be arrogant pigs, politically speaking. They dislike our economic effects on the peso, our attempts to kill their drug pipelines, and our unreasonable desire to build fences along the border. Of course they'll protect our data.

Accountability becomes tricky. We have little legal recourse should there be criminal negligence or fraudulent use of that data. To whom do we appeal? The World Court? Well, our history with that august body has been every bit as sketchy as our relationships with Mexican politicos. I can't see them getting too fussed about someone misusing a few hundred thousand of our driver's licenses.

Secondly, I wonder what about recent data protection fiascos the Superior Court hasn't learned. A major aerospace company loses control of personal data on thousands of employees — not once, but twice — and has to pay big bucks for credit protection for the affected employees; not to mention the cost of new mandatory training for all employees. In one case the data was proven not to have been used illicitly, but the damage to internal controls was already done and the costs already incurred for correcting the situation.

I'm also a little sensitive about living in the jurisdiction of the Orange County Superior Court and having my own personal data transcribed by a foreign country. Any foreign country. Something about that scenario just doesn't feel right. This coming from a life-long capitalist who has never minded outsourcing certain things to foreign countries in the name of competitive pricing and reasonable trade. However, I have to admit feeling a bit queasy about having personally sensitive data being handled by other nations.

Perhaps it would help if, instead of harping about "infotainment" and feeling generally picked upon, Court officials would instead move to reassure us as to exactly what safeguards are in place so that we might feel better about this situation. Granted that certain things need to remain confidential, helping us understand how our data is protected shouldn't be among them. (Please don't use the word "Microsoft.")

'Fess up, folks. There's another election just around the corner.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Books, Newspapers, and Blogs

So I'm back from vacation, and looking over my poor ol' blog. Thing looks dehydrated; sort of like my lawn, but not quite as desolate. The comments have predictably dried up over the last couple of weeks because there's been nothing talked about here that would set off another flame war (like I've ever really had one of those).

Thus the Woundup looks stagnant. Unused. Somehow lacking. It doesn't have that hectic look of multiple posts in an hour, especially within minutes of the latest John Kerry gaffe ("We have 60 votes!"). It has the feel of an old English manor that's been boarded up because its lord can't keep up the utility costs and has draped sheets over all the furniture.

[/Lileksian Moment]

Upon my return to "civilization" (I am, after all, a red-state boy living in a blue-state world), I hastened my way through the news feeds to see what on earth the mind-shattering news of the day would be. The winner?

Harry Potter.

Killings in Iraq? Sure. Political shenanigans in Congress? Check. Unrest in Sandusky, Ohio? Thanks, Dave Barry. But the number one news item so far as my pitiable research can determine is HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS IS OR ISN'T BEING LEAKED THREE DAYS PRIOR TO ITS OFFICIAL RELEASE DATE, WHICH IS (DID WE MENTION?) ONLY THREE DAYS AWAY!

Well, gee, thanks for that. I'd allowed myself to forget that we had pre-ordered our copy back a few months ago and that we will likely be waiting by our front door, breathlessly listening for some noise that sounds like a box from® being dropped on our front porch as if we were with the Resistance and the wireless was just announcing the landing of the Marines at Normandy.

Or not.

Truth is, we've been feverishly reading Book Six out loud throughout our vacation and into this week, in the vain hope of finishing it before Book Seven turns up. We will, of course, cease to live on Saturday and will be cloistered in our living room as Daddy cranks up his multiple voices (and bags of throat lozenges) to read Book Seven from cover to cover, resisting all the while the urge to TURN TO THE LAST BLAMED CHAPTER AND FIND OUT WHO, FOR PETE'S SAKE, DIED. I mean, the entire time I was reading Book Six two years ago, it killed me not to be able to sneak a peek at the last chapter for fear that Mrs. Woody would decapitate me, or at least censure me severely. When we got to the scene where [WARNING: SPOILER ALERT IF YOU'RE ONE OF THREE ESTIMATED PEOPLE WHO HAVEN'T YET READ BOOK SIX] Snape sends Dumbledore to his own portrait on the Headmaster's wall, I knew about it three sentences before anyone else in my family! And what's more, I was proud of that.

Anyway, Mrs. Woody really wants to finish Book Six one more time before we embark on Harry's last adventure. She hasn't read that one since it first came out, and her memory of certain key features of the book is decidedly rusty. I myself had finished it just a week or so prior to our vacation, but volunteered to read it out loud as Mrs. Woody really, really likes it when I do. However, she may have to finish it on her own if she wants it done before Saturday, as reading it out loud takes considerably more time than simply reading it to yourself.

So, given my confessed love of the Potter series, I was heartened to learn that the publishing industry — the book portion, anyway — seem rather optimistic about life post-Harry.

I say this because (and it's a disease that runs deep in my extended family) I love a good book. Always have, always will. When no other form of entertainment can capture my imagination, a good book will always come to the rescue. I just read "The Da Vinci Code" again for, what, the fifth time in the past several months. Not because I believe one word of it, but rather because it's a well-crafted yarn and I simply enjoy it. Same with "Red Storm Rising" by Clancy. It's wordy, but it's plausible, and I enjoy reading it. I have been this way since my own Dad first gave me a copy of "Tom Sawyer" to read one year on vacation. While growing up I even enjoyed reading books that had holes in the spines where my little brother (a real corker in those days) shot them full of BBs, which, we understand now, is a crime worthy of death in the form of listening to one of Joe Biden's plagiarized speeches.

This got me to thinking about the similarities and, especially, the differences between the various forms of media that I peruse on a regular basis. Books are my drop-dead faves. I enjoy reading them. I enjoy owning them. It gives me no small comfort to be surrounded by them in my home. I imagine myself as the Lord of my own manor, sitting in my expansive library and selecting from one of the ancient masters to satisfy my thirst for knowledge. (Clancy satisfies a thirst for knowledge?? Hardly; but, hey, it's my metaphor.)

Compare this with modern newspapers. Years ago I bought a coffee-table book that contained over 100 years of Los Angeles Times front pages. They offered fascinating snapshots in time, weaving the history of the City of the Angels with earth-shattering events that have shaped the course of modern history. For many, many years that was precisely how I viewed newspapers. Snapshots in time. Living history.

Not anymore. Nowadays, a newspaper in my house is destined for one thing, and one thing only: packing material. Otherwise, it's destined for the recycling bin. Assuming, of course, it makes it into my house at all. The modern newspaper has become a shill for whatever political philosophies its editors find most endearing, and they have tried to create their own version of the Bully Pulpit to ram those views down our collective throats. I don't like that, and I refuse now to have them in my house. Yes, I occasionally miss locally significant news or events that way. But on balance, I find that I no longer care. I'm getting along quite nicely without them cluttering my home.

Then there are blogs. Or, really, any electronic medium that carries news stories to my curious mind. Oddly enough, those same papers that I just figuratively trashed contribute to my amassed base of knowledge every time I browse through the news readers and aggregators scattered throughout the web. Often times, of course, I am merely incensed by what those liberal fish-wrappers are spouting. But they can occasionally enlighten, when they put their minds to the task. For the rest, I rely on the judgement of people I have found throughout the Blogosphere whose opinions I have come to trust and who seem to do a fine job of filtering whatever blather the traditional media crank out.

But such knowledge is fleeting, even temporary, compared with books. Books are tangible, generally permanent containers of someone's perceived wisdom. And while some might argue that newspapers can also be permanent, who, really, keeps a library of them to be perused years down the road? Libraries? Newspapermen? Probably. Ordinary citizens like me? Not a chance.

So I celebrate the arrival of Harry Potter's final book. It will not, as some industry "insiders" seem to fear, be the last book I ever purchase. Shucks, industry insiders who harbor those kinds of fears have never met my brother. He alone will send certain publishers into retirement with very comfortable pensions.

When I retire, on the other hand, I'll probably do so with a chair, a comfortable quiet moment with my sweetheart, and a good book.