Great Service

A number of people have read my post on the Spafford/Spofforth/et al family history.  That was part of a longer trip to England that was part family vacation, and part graduation gift to my daughter.  Overall, we spent 10 days in England.  It was a first visit for my wife and daughter, and about my 8th or 9th so far.

We had a great time on the vacation, starting in London.  We saw a lot of the usual sights — The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Harrod’s, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the British Museum, the new Globe Theater….

Tower Bridge

Tower of London

Westminster Abbey

Houses of Parliament

We also enjoyed simply walking around, sampling the food, and seeing various sights.    After that, we took the train to York, and spent several days touring there, including the side trip to Spofforth Castle.  York is a wonderful place to visit — so much history in that city, and all within a short walk. We wish we had had several more days there.  If I get time, at a later date I may write up some of my recommendations for travelers on this blog.  However, I can highly recommend York as a place to visit for anyone interested in history.

The main point of this post, however, is how wonderful we found the service at the three Hilton hotels where we stayed.  In London, we stayed at the Hilton Metropole.  The hotel is in the latter stages of a major renovation, and we got some of the new rooms.  Travelers from the US often find European (and elsewhere) hotel rooms small and cramped, but the rooms we stayed in were “US scale.”  More importantly for us was the staff.  Everyone we met was friendly, helpful, and went “that extra kilometer” to answer questions.   The concierge did a fantastic job with his recommendations, including not only tourist sites, but pointing us to interesting pubs and providing us with tips on getting around.  (There is an Underground station almost across the street; with an Oyster card, it could hardly be easier to travel.)  In the restaurant at breakfast, one server got to know us so well that while I was in line waiting for a table she prepared a cup of “American coffee” for me before I even sat down!

Clifford’s Tower

Inside York railway station

In York, we stayed at the Hilton York.  These rooms were typical European size, but neat and clean.  The view was outstanding — I would look outside my window and see Clifford’s Tower across the street (although it was the side with the garderobe — thankfully, no longer in operation :-)).  The location was convenient to everything we wanted to see in the old city, and the restaurant was wonderful, too.

What really made our experience in York, however, was the above-and-beyond service by the concierge.  I had originally reserved a  car with National Car Rental for the Sunday we were there so we could travel to Spofforth.  I had a confirmation for a car with automatic transmission (driving on the left would not be a big challenge; working a manual transmission on the “wrong side” at the same time would have been too much).  The rental office was normally closed on Sundays, so I checked in at the office when we arrived Friday to see how we would get the car — only to be informed that there was no car.  A confirmation number made no difference (“They should have mailed you that we don’t have automatic transmission cars.”).  None of the other rental places at the train station had available cars for Sunday, either.  Had I shown up Sunday morning for the car, I would have been very rudely surprised — not that it wasn’t a rude surprise at the time.  When we arrived at the hotel, somewhat crestfallen at this news, I asked the concierge if he could suggest alternatives.   He said he’d get back to me.

Over the course of the next hour, he checked all the other major car rental locations in the immediate area (no cars available), then had checked with several local cabbies and services.  He found one willing to drive us out to Spofforth and back for a very reasonable charge, and who would pick us up at the hotel Sunday morning despite streets in the area being largely closed for a charity marathon; we’re still not sure how he managed to get a spot in front of the hotel to pick us up.   The driver entertained us with stories about the countryside to and from Spofforth, and the whole episode ended up being cheaper than renting the car — even when factoring in the train tickets to Manchester instead of the one-way rental.

Yes, that was our way back to the US.  From York, we went to Manchester.  We spent the night at the Manchester Airport Hilton (why break a streak?).  The rooms were great, and once again, the service was wonderful.  By this point, my wife & daughter were both a little fatigued from travel (I travel so much, I am used to almost anything) and were a bit picky about dinner.  Our server at the hotel restaurant, Masons, went out of his way to be accommodating, including getting the menu from one of the other venues in the hotel with an alternate selection for my daughter to choose from, and managing a list of substitutions for my wife’s meal.

Every traveler has a range of experiences when traveling.  Sometimes, the little things make a huge difference.  Our trip was made all the nicer because of wonderful service by the people at the Hilton hotels where we stayed; this has been our typical family experience with Hilton properties over many years.  In this case, they even helped avert a big disappointment caused by National Car Rental (boo!) — which, by the way, has never sent me any notice about the reservation cancellation, or any explanation, and certainly no apology (big Boo, Hiss!).  I will not rent with National again unless forced to (my employer has some rules for within the US), and you may wish to use my experience as a warning.  On the other hand, our experience with all the Hiltons was quite good, and we don’t hesitate to recommend them!


All you need to know for this Presidential election

All you need to know to vote for President: Every US voter — Republican, Democrat, and independent — can now make an informed decision by listening, with open minds, to only two speeches and really caring about the results of the election. Because now it really comes down to a contest between the two major candidates, each with some good points, and each with some flaws. The system doesn’t have a viable 3rd candidate. This is what we have — a system of compromises and choices.

You can stop reading this if you fall into one of several (hopefully, small) groups:

  • If you’re dead-set on voting based on one or two single issues, then you don’t have an open mind, and this won’t make a difference — you might as well stop now and move to a country where that single issue is supported (or not, as your biases dictate).  So, if everything you decide is based on whether the government can tell women what to do with their bodies or you hate homosexuals, you could (for instance) move to Iran where they also ban women’s choices and execute gay people, and voila!  Against government funded health care?  Move to Somalia  where even private healthcare is hard to find. Want strict border control?  Move to North Korea, where approaching the border from either side is a nearly certain death. Problems solved and you have a home for your one-issue biases!
  • If you always vote for the same political party no matter how incoherent or venal the candidates (e.g., you think Herman Cain  or Anthony Weiner are appropriate leadership material) then you really don’t care what happens to the country, so don’t bother reading further. Maybe move to China or Cuba, where there is only one party and everyone votes for it.  You’d be happier not being faced with a decision you don’t choose to consider.
  • If you’ve already decided you’re going to “Vote against the Mormon” or “Vote against the black Muslim,” then you’re an uninformed bigot. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re open minded or fair, you’re quite simply a bigot. Do the country a favor and get therapy; especially don’t pass it along to any children you might have.
  • If you are pathetically uninformed — you think New Mexico is not in the US, you ask questions like this in public, you believe that there is something called “legitimate rape,” you think evolution is false and shouldn’t be taught in schools, you think you can see Russia from your front porch, or anything else pathetically ignorant, then you are a danger to yourself and others.  You probably gave up reading this far, but please take advantage of any remedial education opportunities available to you.  And don’t vote — you are likely to hurt others, if not yourself.
  • If you are convinced it doesn’t matter because the world is secretly run by the Illuminati or extraterrestrials, or that a UN one-world government will soon send in the black helicopters to put us in FEMA-run death camps, then you might want to talk to a health professional about your convictions.  There are medications that will help you feel less isolated and threatened, and can actually make those nasty threats go away.  And please, please, we beg you, stop voting for Michele Bachmann!

But if you read this far (especially if you understood words like “pathetically” and “venal”), and you really care about the future of the USA, then this may help. (If you don’t like either candidate for various reasons, you are not alone.  We don’t have a “none of the above” in our elections.  But don’t stay away from voting because of this: not voting is the same as giving a partial endorsement to the eventual winner…who you may think is more odious than the other candidate.)

First of all, be sure you are registered to vote on November 6. Call or visit your elections board — especially if you are a member of a minority group or a naturalized citizen (in some states, there has been a concerted effort to disenfranchise your vote in the guise of preventing “election fraud”).  If you have any concerns or questions at all, contact the non-partisan League of Women’s Voters.  DO IT TODAY!  Some states have deadlines to register or protest not being on the voter rolls — don’t be left out!  Find out what ID (if any) your state requires to vote, and get it.  Again, call the League for assistance and details.  Get your friends and family to do the same.

Now to the part about helping you decide.

Think for a moment — who can provide deep insight about the office of President?  Who can talk to the challenges, the stresses, the tradeoffs, the incredible demands made in that office?  Who can provide the perspective of handling domestic and foreign pressures?  Well, if you want to know what it is like to be a pilot, you ask a pilot.  If you want to know what is involved in fixing a car, you ask someone who is (or was) a mechanic.  If you want to understand organic chemistry, you ask a chemist.

And if you want to know the minutiae about what it takes to be President, ask a former President.

Luckily, we have two former 2-term Presidents on hand.  Each served 8 years in office, with great approval and support of their respective political parties.  Each gained a lot of insight about what is needed to be an effective President.

So, listen, with an open mind, to Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC last night (9/5), about President Obama. The press described it in quite positive terms (e.g., the NY Times article).  What I’ve seen so far from Politifact and other fact-checking sites give Bill Clinton’s statements a mostly thumbs-up (unlike the large number of less-than-candid statements in Paul Ryan’s RNC speech, for instance, which even Fox News labeled as deceiving). If you don’t want to listen to the speech (which is really quite good) then at least read the transcript.  It’s full of good information and facts — definitely food for thought.

For comparison, we should contrast President Clinton’s remarks against those of his successor, President George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, I was occupied last week and didn’t get to watch the Republican National Convention.  However, Im sure that with George W. Bush a two-term former President (same as Clinton), who the GOP enthusiastically supported, he must have had a prominent place front-and-center at the Convention. I expect he must have given a spirited defense of the Romney platform — which would reinstate his own administration’s polices on taxes, regulation, trickle down economics, cutting support for public programs, and overseas military intervention. With those policies, President Bush helped turn a budget surplus into a $1 trillion deficit, got us into two wars with hundreds of thousands of casualties, and presided over a major economic downturn that led to millions losing their jobs. I’m sure he has compelling insights to share in support of why the country should bring those policies back, and he shared those with the rest of the GOP and nation.  And of course the proud GOP leadership would want to remind the world about the accomplishments of their party’s last President.  Right?

However, I didn’t watch all of the televised RNC, and I can’t seem to find anything archived of when President Bush spoke there to defend his policies and show his enthusiasm for Mr Romney. I’m sure it’s an oversight — the GOP couldn’t possibly be ashamed of their record and hiding one of their stars.   Maybe they had a rousing endorsement speech by Dick Cheney at the convention, too?  If so, I can’t seem to find that, either.

Hmm, maybe you’re better than I am at this Internet thing.  So, once you find President Bush’s speech about Romney at the convention — about how bringing back his policies will help the nation — please send us the URL.  I’m sure when we compare the two speeches, the conclusion about how to vote will be crystal clear.

(PS. It’s worth noting that the majority of Congressional candidates fall into line, generally, behind one candidate or the other, so this comparison can also help inform your decisions on them, but you should get more info about your specific candidates rather than vote a party line. But be informed — for instance,  about the Senate Republicans’ principal goal so important to them  in helping the nation during times of trouble should build strong opinions.)

Crowdsource comments on a talk

On July 18, I’m giving a keynote talk in Las Vegas at Worldcomp 2011 (the World Congress in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Applied Computing). I’ve enclosed the abstract of my presentation, below.  The talk will be in the Lance Burton Theater at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. I’m told that the audience is likely to be around 1000 people, so there won’t be much opportunity for comments from the audience.

I have most of the talk prepared, but I thought I would ask, ahead of time, if anyone has some thoughts on the topic/abstract that I should consider before I finish my preparations. I can’t share the talk ahead of my presentation — sorry. I may not be able to respond to every email, but I’ll try. Any and all comments will be appreciated.

If you have any comments or ideas you think I should consider, please share them with me by email.

My talk is partly informed by things I’ve written about in my CERIAS blog over the last 3 years, and by a JASON report, The Science of Cyber Security, from November 2010. (Many people hailed that Jason report, but I think they missed the mark in several places.) Of course, I also am applying 30 years in computer research and applied computing, but I don’t have a specific link for that!

The Nature of Cyber Security

Abstract—There is an on-going discussion about establishing a scientific basis for cyber security. Efforts to date have often been ad hoc and conducted without any apparent insight into deeper formalisms. The result has been repeated system failures, and a steady progression of new attacks and compromises.

A solution, then, would seem to be to identify underlying scientific principles of cyber security, articulate them, and then employ them in the design and construction of future systems. This is at the core of several recent government programs and initiatives.

But the question that has not been asked is if “cyber security” is really the correct abstraction for analysis. There are some hints that perhaps it is not, and that some other approach is really more appropriate for systematic study — perhaps one we have yet to define.

In this talk I will provide some overview of the challenges in cyber security, the arguments being made for exploration and definition of a science of cyber security, and also some of the counterarguments. The goal of the presentation is not to convince the audience that either viewpoint is necessarily correct, but to suggest that perhaps there is sufficient doubt that we should carefully examine some of our assumptions about the field.

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