Mama’s always right.

If you ever felt like a drunken waste of time who used to care but doesn’t anymore, just remember what Mama said. While we’re on the subject of drinking, I always recommend young people not to drink too soon, alcohol abuse is so much more meaningful when you have a family and kids.

The internet has to be the biggest disappointment of our lifetime

I know, that’s an ironic statement from a guy who writes a blog, has a couple of web sites and makes his living developing web applications, but just hear me out.

The other day I saw a young lady crossing the street, nervously carrying a big birthday cake. I’ve always envied waiters who effortlessly carry 7 plates, I’m kind of a klutz, I probably would’ve been nervous carrying a big cake like that as well. However, despite her obvious nervousness this young lady was carrying the cake with just her left hand and part of her right forearm, wedged firmly in her right hand was her smartphone.

Crossing the street in any major Peruvian city is dangerous even for a careful, healthy adult but there she was, in the middle of the street, eyes fixed on her phone, cake wobbling on her hand, her mind blissfully lost in a virtual world.

This had me thinking about the promise the internet once held. The median age in Peru is about 26, many Peruvians don’t remember a world before the internet and few know much about the first internet stock boom of the 1990s, the days of Henry Blodget’s infamous $400 target. There were so many lofty promises in those days, the internet was about to change the world. For sure the internet has changed the world but the noble promise academics and business leaders envisioned back then is nowhere to be found today.

There would be no more hunger

The thinking was, if we are able to freely share enough information about crop status, weather patterns, warehouse inventories, market prices, household incomes and the like we could solve world hunger. If the internet allowed us to see or predict where there is food and and where there is hunger, with that information we could take measures so there would be no more hunger.

According to the World Food Program about 1 out of every 9 people goes hungry in the world today.

Democracies would flourish

The internet would enable free and open discussion. No longer would voters have to rely on media or other intermediaries to know a candidate’s thoughts or track record. Constituents would be able to share their experiences and views of elected officials. With so much information available to everyone in real time, voters would know candidates better than ever. We would elect our representatives based on merit, experience and vision.

It’s hard to find an objective measure of this, you could argue that today’s populist sentiment shows this is happening but I would counter that when more than $1 Billion flows into a single US election cycle, we are far removed from the promise of democracies based on open sharing of information.

We would be able to solve the most complex problems

In the old days of the original Napster, you could often see or hear your computer “wake up” to share a file over the P2P network. This was an easy way to visualize all the dormant computing power sitting around homes worldwide. The thinking was, if Napster could access idle computers around the world, surely major computer companies would similarly be able to apply all this unused computing power to solve some of the world’s most complex problems in fields such as genetics, cancer research, environmental research, etc.

Instead, cancer rates are up, Greenhouse Gas emissions are up and we still can’t accurately predict earthquakes.

Everyone would get their fair share

The internet was supposed to be the great equalizer. If you needed a new job, surely the internet could match your skills with the right opening. Online education, work from home, the internet was supposed to open up opportunities everywhere. If anybody could sell their products or services over the internet, big corporations would no longer rule the world. Outsourcing meant small businesses didn’t need big factories or warehouses, just a great idea for a product or service and a web site.

While the internet has certainly changed the economic landscape, income inequality has become a defining issue of our time, in the industrialized world the middle class is shrinking and the global middle class is still only a promise. As for the internet itself, while there are perhaps billions of web pages by now, the internet is dominated by a few large, mostly US based, multi-nationals.

There would be no more wars

If information about governance around the world was openly available and citizens could express their concerns to any audience worldwide, there would be no more wars. All of the pretenses that were ever used to compel people to go to war would be easily debunked before any war ever started. The internet would reveal any threat of conflict and global powers would be able to act accordingly to prevent any wars.

Instead, perpetual overseas war has become the new normal in the industrialized world, accepted even by so called progressives.

You might say these are all highfalutin ideas that won’t ever come true but even on a smaller scale, you wonder where all the promise of the internet has gone? For example, my own developers and I could easily make a geocoded database of all traffic fatalities in Peru and local infrastructure engineers could take corrective measures to reduce traffic fatalities. We could build the database and deploy the application to every police station, insurance agency and transportation department in the country within 12 months. You could probably reduce traffic fatalities by 50% in 10 years but it won’t happen. There’s no will to do it.

The road to Quillabamba (and Machu Picchu)

I’d like to tell you a long story about airplanes to help describe the road from Cusco to Quillabamba and Machu Picchu.

Two important concepts in airplane design are stability and control sensitivity. There are 2 kinds of stability: static and dynamic. Static stability means when a pilot lets go of the controls during normal stabilized flight, that the airplane will maintain its attitude – so the pilot can grab a map or cup of coffee and the airplane will continue on its merry way. Dynamic stability means when an airplane is disturbed from stabilized flight that it will eventually return back to its stabilized flight path. For example when a pilot yanks on the controls to avoid hitting a bird, an airplane with good dynamic stability will enter a slowly decreasing porpoising motion and eventually return to its steady state flight path. Finally control sensitivity means how quickly the airplane responds to the pilot’s control inputs and how much force the pilot needs to exert on the controls to fly the airplane.

In the early days of aviation these concepts were not well understood, for example, in a Ford Tri-Motor you could slam the controls completely back and forth on approach but the resulting airplane movement was almost indiscernible, the controls were very ineffective at slower speeds. I never flew a Ford Tri-Motor but I knew a guy who did, he flew for an outfit that smuggled liquor in Tri-Motors during prohibition. The Piper J3 Cub was one of the first mass produced airplanes that had these concepts figured out, it’s the nicest flying little plane. Of course airliners nowadays are all controlled by computers, their flying characteristics are programmed in, not achieved only by aerodynamics.

At the end of the day, there is an acceptable range of stability and control sensitivity. For example, a training airplane typically has less stability because the designers want to force the student pilot to be attentive at all times. In another example, I flew with a pilot who liked to barrel roll fully loaded Convair 240s and Gulfstream G1s but he swore to never try the same in a Convair 340 or 440, its roll rate is too slow.

In this acceptable range of stability and control sensitivity, if an airplane is not very stable but has sensitive controls, a pilot might say it’s a “touchy” or “squirrelly” airplane.

Legend has it that one of the early pilots to fly the Pitts Special was a bit shook up after landing by the airplane’s power and handling, telling Curtis Pitts “that’s one squirrelly airplane you built!” To which Curtis Pitts famously responded “I’ve never known a squirrelly airplane but I’ve met a lot of squirrelly pilots!”

* * *

I drove the road from Cusco to Quillabamba for the first time last week, Quillabamba is the closest town to Cusco on the edge of the jungle, it’s nice to take the kids there for a swim in the pool. The road to Quillabamba is the same road tourists take to go to “Machu Picchu by car” as you see advertised everywhere in Cusco, I believe it’s less expensive than taking the train. The road goes via Ollantaytambo up near Nevado Veronica at an elevation of just over 4,300 meters (about 14,000 feet) and then back down to 1,100 meters (about 3,500 feet) by the time you reach Santa Maria. From Santa Maria you can continue on to Quillabamba or take the detour to Santa Teresa, then via the Hydro-Electrica to Machu Picchu.

Locals say it’s a dangerous road. If you want my advice, take the train to Machu Picchu. I’ve never met a dangerous road but I’ve sure met a lot of dangerous drivers, and the road to Quillabamba is very unforgiving of dangerous drivers.

Antonio Olave Palomino, QEPD

Antonio Olave Palomino was laid to rest at the Almudena cemetery in Cusco this past Thursday. Fittingly for one of the most influential Cusquenian artists of his time, he was laid to rest on Peru’s national holiday (July 28).

Antonio Olave Palomino was the creator of the contemporary “Niño Manuelito”, a wooden sculpture of baby Jesus in the image of a traditional Andean boy. In the San Blas area of Cusco you can find the “Niño Manuelito” in every souvenir store but the “Niño Manuelito” is actually one of the few authentic Cusquenian souvenirs you can buy. I literally don’t know any Cusquenian family that does not have a “Niño Manuelito” in their home.

I’ve heard a few variations on the story behind the “Niño Manuelito” but the contemporary “Niño Manuelito” was created when Antonio Olave traveled to Vilcabamba around 1975 to help restore a church that had been damaged by a mudslide, there he heard the legend of Q’alito which inspired him to create the “Niño Manuelito”.

According to one version of the legend, ushers in the church would find the image of baby Jesus in their church with dirty feet because baby Jesus would leave the church and play with the local kids. One day a local boy stepped on a thorn and hurt his foot. Another boy, named Q’alito, was hearding his sheep and purposely stepped on a thorn to console his friend, telling him: “don’t worry, I’m hurting too”.

I think the “Niño Manuelito” is so popular here in Cusco because he personifies the themes of “Jesus is one of us”, and that Jesus is hurting for the ordinary Cusquenian.

* * *

I didn’t know Antonio Olave personally but in passing I heard the family talk at his funeral, they didn’t talk about what a great artist he was, they talked about what a great father he was. That’s good enough by me.

Niño Manuelito

Back in the days of the Spanish conquistadores, the traditional Quechua culture was blended into the Catholic religion in Peru, you can still see evidence of that today in the “Niño Manuelito”.

(Spanish) link to article on the “Niño Manuelito” in La Republica.

Arriba o Abajo?

When you’re standing on the North Pole, any direction you take is due South. You and your best friend can be standing back to back on the North Pole, step away in opposite directions and both of you will be walking due South. I recommend doing this in the summer. The same is true if you’re standing on the South Pole, any direction you step away from the Pole is due North.

In a city like Cusco, high up in the Andes mountains, the locals have the same kind of directional system. Everything is either up or down. Arriba o Abajo? The only variations are if some place is way up or way down from where you’re at than it’s Arriiiiiiba o Abaaaaaajjo?

The other day Mamacita Linda was going to the market to buy fresh groceries. I ask “which market”.

“The one arriiiiiba”

There’s about 4 or 5 markets “arriba” from us but since she said “arriiiiiiba” that narrowed it down to either the main market in downtown Cusco or the Huancaro market.

A while back we took the kids to a birthday party at a friend’s house. I’d never been to the house before so I ask where it is.

“Abaaaaaaaaaajo todavia”

That describes an area of probably 100,000 people, maybe more.

Sometimes you don’t know if they mean “arriba/abajo” in the immediate sense or in the long run. For example, the main avenue coming into Cusco, Avenida Cultura, generally slopes up towards the city center and down towards the outlying areas of San Jeronimo and Saylla, but there are a few stretches where the slope is opposite. Whenever we’re out and about I’d give my earthly kingdom for some left/right directions once in a while!!

* * *

The farthest North I’ve been is Qikiqtarjuaq, 68 degrees North latitude.

Runway at Qikiqtarjuaq CYVM

The runway at Qikiqtarjuaq (CYVM) is marked to TRUE North, not magnetic North.

Mooney Acclaim on ramp at Qikiqtarjuaq (CYVM) airport.

Mooney Acclaim on ramp at Qikiqtarjuaq (CYVM) airport.

The stunning Brexit vote

Is only stunning if you know nothing about European history and culture.

I’m already wore out from seeing stunning Brexit news everywhere. All the talking heads telling you how stunning this is and what it means to you (hint: nothing)

While it may be stunning how wrong the pollsters were and how badly the Remain camp miscalculated their political moves, the actual outcome should come as no surprise to anyone who knows European history.

Since when do the Brits consider themselves an integral part of Europe?

They never have and probably never will, and that’s perfectly well and within their right.

* * *

Peace in Colombia. Largely overlooked amid all the Brexit noise is the great news out of Cuba that the Colombian government is now formally at peace with the FARC rebels. Real news that affects real lives.

To be a fly on Mrs. PPK’s cellphone

In a stunning electoral comeback it’s now virtually assured that Pedro Pablo Kuczynski Godard or “PPK” will be the next President of Peru.

We already knew the next “first spouse” of Peru would be an American, since both PPK and his opponent Keiko Fujimori are married to US citizens. I know the US well and I can just imagine some of the conversations Mrs. PPK must be having with old friends:

Friend 1: “You’re gonna be a First Lady!!! Is that true? How exciting!!!!”
Mrs. PPK: “Isn’t it great?! I’m so proud of Pedro! OXOXOXO”

Friend 2: “Now, is Peru like a real country?”
Friend 2: “Where is Peru at? Is it like by Belize? ‘caus I went there on a cruise last year.”
Mrs. PPK: ………

Friend 1: “Is Peruvian hard to learn? Is that what they speak there?”
Mrs. PPK: ………
Friend 1: “Oh, so Spanish and, how do you say the other, Quechua?”
Friend 1: “Is the food a lot like Mexican food then? I just love the enchiladas from that little Mexican place downtown.”
Mrs. PPK: ………

Friend 3: “So are you gonna live in their Whi…”
Friend 3: “Wait? Do they have their own White House? Is it white like ours?”
Mrs. PPK: ………

Friend 2: “Do they celebrate the 4th of July in Peru?”
Mrs. PPK: ………
Friend 2: “OK, so the 4th of July is on the 28th of July in Peru?”

Friend 3: “Do I need a passport to come and visit you guys?”
Friend 3: “A Peruvian passport or my American passport?”
Mrs. PPK: ………

Before my American friends get all offended, I like how main street America is very unpretentious, not like Europe for example. I’ve known quite a few Americans who’d never left their home state and had no problem telling you that. They’ll ask simple questions because they don’t know the rest of the world but when they meet a foreigner they are curious, they want to learn. On the other hand many Europeans think they’re so worldly because they’ve stayed at a few 4-star resorts around the world. Knowing what you don’t know isn’t ignorance, when you think you know more than you really do, that’s ignorance.

Having said that, when you live in the US you do live in a very USA-centric world and talking to an American about other parts of the world can be pretty comical.

Come on Mrs. PPK, if you have a sense of humor please share some screenshots. Pretty please!

What a Keiko Fujimori presidency means for Peru

Keiko Fujimori is favored to be elected President of Peru this Sunday June 5. Peruvian presidential elections are notoriously fickle and an 11th hour momentum swing is not impossible, but it doesn’t look likely.

In my opinion her opponent in the runoff election, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski or “PPK”, hasn’t run a very strong campaign but I don’t think it would have mattered. When Keiko Fujimori wins the election it will be largely for 3 reasons:

She represents change in the minds of the voters.

Since Keiko Fujimori’s father, Alberto Fujimori, got run out of the country 15+ years ago, Peru has had typically center-right, business friendly government and conservative fiscal policy. While macro indicators are generally good, a significant portion of the electorate feels sidelined, they feel that the government cares only for the business/political establishment. Peru isn’t the only place in the world with this sentiment, look at Scotland, the Brexit, the US elections, Dilma’s impeachment in Brazil, it’s a global trend. People want change and here in Peru, Keiko Fujimori represents change from the status quo.

People believe she will get things done.

Peruvians remember the era of Keiko’s father more nuanced than what is reported in English language media. For some background, read Colin’s article on Fujimorismo in Peru. Bottom line: Peruvians feel that under Alberto Fujimori the State did function but in the years since then essential government services have been entirely inefficient, paralyzed by political infighting, corruption and incompetence. Peruvians appear to be willing to accept a degree of autocracy (considering Keiko Fujimori has an absolute majority in parliament) in return for basic government services.

Keiko Fujimori and her inner circle relate well to all Peruvians, including the urban poor and the rural populations.

Although the latter may be in appearance only, appearances matter. PPK seems to relate well to all Peruvians but his team clearly is most comfortable in the business/political establishment of Lima. PPK’s people are not the type of people who would appear comfortable eating cuy in Pampa Wasi. Peruvians feel that Alberto Fujimori’s regime – for better or worse – was a government for all of Peru but the governments since then have been largely a government of wealthy districts in Lima and other big cities.

Barring a last minute PPK comeback, what does a Keiko Fujimori presidency mean for Peru?

In the short term you’re likely to see stronger government and more efficient public institutions. Crime will go down and critical infrastructure projects will advance. Some levels of bureaucracy will get cut and political infighting will end. Tourists won’t notice any significant differences.

However there’s a flip side: Keiko Fujimori has been working methodically since the end of her father’s regime to restore her father’s movement, rebuild her congressional delegation and gain strength in local/regional government. All of this support comes at a cost, especially in a country like Peru where political support is historically based on a direct “quid pro quo”. For example: when you support a local mayoral candidate, it means you’ll get a job in his or her administration when they are elected. There is a “civil service” system in Peru but it’s relatively minor, a very large degree of public employment is politically motivated, as are government contracts.

In a Keiko Fujimori government, anything from justice to building permits will be issued based on who you are (or not) in the regime. Business owners, local and regional government officials will be richly rewarded for their support with contracts, kickbacks, personal favors, etc. Infrastructure projects will advance but they’ll be executed by regime loyalists with generous “extra” compensations and tailored to the needs of government supporters.

Government will be tough on small criminals but big drug traffic rings and other criminal mafias will be allowed to operate within certain confines. Crime is likely to go down nationally but those who support Fujimorismo will have free reign in things like illegal mining, illegal logging, land invasion, etc.

For big foreign investors little will change. However, you’ll have to make that decision as to what legal and ethical confines you’re willing to work in. No matter how many layers you put between yourself and your operation on the ground, you have to be able to sleep at night.

It will be interesting to see how Keiko Fujimori will handle big mining investments, her rhetoric to foreign investors and to her local supporters is somewhat conflicted. While I don’t think she will substantially restrict foreign mining investment, it will be difficult to reconcile the formal mining industry with giving carte blanche to informal miners. Also, expect any big mining project to pay dearly for the approval of the local authorities. Whenever a big mining project comes to town, you can rest assured the local powers that be will come to Keiko looking for their reward for past support.

You could argue none of this is limited to Fujimorismo and I would agree to an extent. All of these issues are part of the culture and only the complete disregard of past governments for the needs and sentiment of ordinary Peruvians have made a return to Fujimorismo possible.

I’d like to believe that government is a noble enterprise, public institutions serve the greater good but sadly I think that’s naive here in Peru, and it’s only going to get worse. Just like I used to think of middle class in a noble kind of way, nurses, teachers, police officers, etc. Upper middle class maybe a doctor or an honest judge. You want to know who’s upper middle class in Peru nowadays? Corrupt mayors, illegal miners, illegal loggers, land invadors, illegal construction etc. Just look for any Toyota Hilux with a Keiko bumper sticker.