% fortune -ae paul murphy


I'm Canadian, we celebrate Thanksgiving in October -but I'm always happy to claim two holidays where one would do and wish my American friends all the best on this second go-round.

We don't think enough, in IT, about history: it's always tomorrow's gadgets that fascinate, never yesterday's and yet most of what we actually do is dominated by what we, or our bosses, learned yesterday.

We also don't think enough, in IT, about the role national and international politics plays in the work we do, the tools we have, and the constraints under which all of us operate.

In Monday's blog I talked about the inevitability that national government information management will become separate from the authentication and and authorization functions much of that information is used to support.

Imagine, therefore, that we had a technology such that we could issue an authentication token to someone in the full confidence that the thing would only work if in that person's possession - for example a simple color coded card that only generates an interpretable color if the bearer's fingerprints and DNA both match that of the person to whom it was issued.

Provided that the issuing process was equally trustable such a token could function in lieu of the identification documentation we use now. With it the passport control officer would see you simply as someone authorised to board an airplane or enter the country, not as Joe Blow the former pot activist. The traffic officer would see someone authorised to drive a highway passenger vehicle - not the deputy police chief's son and not as someone with a previous DUI conviction. Almost all processes involving "civilian"/functionary interactions would be faster, cheaper, less intrusive, and fairer.

The realities are today that you are who you are, the present system of confusing identification with authorization helps the bad guys, and change is inevitable - but being fought every step of the way by governments eager to avoid change by automating what they already know through poorly thought out national computerised identity verification systems.

Costs, direct failures, and privacy problems with those systems will skyrocket and when they do we'll be there with better answers - and by the third or fourth round some of them may listen.

Meanwhile it's Thanksgiving and we all ought to give thanks for things that work - and for change processes that eventually bring an end to things that don't.

On a personal basis one of things that works for me has nothing to do with IT -it's a Stokke chair I bought for our little boy last year. This thing is great on its own, but the company that made it has another - and marginally IT related - claim to my heart. Look at the "about us" section on their US website and you'll find this:

Georg Stokke, established the company in 1932 in Norway. As a member of The Furniture Manufacturer's Association in Oslo, Norway, Georg Stokke made a trip to the U.S. in 1951 made possible by the Marshall Plan, an American initiative to bring Europe back to its feet after WWII. His son, Kaare Stokke, took over in the early 1960's and developed it into an industrial leader in its field. The Stokke Group is still a family owned business, employing over 500 persons in 14 European countries, Japan and the U.S.

That's a graceful, and grateful, acknowledgement - not something the Europeans are generally noted for but certainly a model to think about this weekend.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specialising in Unix and Unix-related management issues.