Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Interview with author Roland Hughes

Today we're excited to talk with Roland Hughes, author of Infinite Exposure.

FQ: With your background in VMS platforms and writing technical books for various computer technologies, how/why did you make the jump to writing a novel?

Blame it on an interview much like this one. Literally. About a year or two ago I was being interviewed and received the question "Where do you see IT in 5-10 years?" That's a standard question a lot of interviewers toss out when they are talking about technical things. I guess they weren't really prepared to receive the answer "The off-shoring of IT jobs will lead to the largest terrorist strike the free world has ever seen, and ultimately nuclear war."

The interviewer was quite stunned since they expected me to do like most IT vendors do and pitch some upcoming product. They didn't know that in my youth I used to do work which required clearance and still had quite a few friends working on systems requiring low-astronomical clearance levels. Even though I no longer do that kind of work, I still design systems which can survive having the primary location being taken out by either a nuclear strike or a 9/11 style plane crash, without missing a single transaction or slowing down for more than 10 minutes. Every publicly traded corporation should be required to have such a system, virtually none of them do, as 9/11, Katrina and a host of other disasters have shown.

Given my background, it was pretty easy to see where the off-shoring of IT jobs and data centers were going to take us. The real challenge was explaining it in a way Joe the Plumber could understand. The question isn't "if" something like this will happen, but when. Some of the follow up things talked about in my novel have already happened:

FBI Uncovers Worldwide $9M ATM Card Scam

FBI seeks 2 Chicago-area suspects in ATM scheme

RBS WorldPay Hacked; 1.5 Million Cardholders at Risk

FQ: Infinite Exposure deals with off-shore IT storage and how that practice could lead to a terrorist plot. Even with your technical background, did you have to research the various aspects of the plot?

No. No, my career requires that I know such things off the top of my head, much like a roofer can glance at your house and know how many square of shingles to order without ever getting out a tape measure.

When this story broke:

Gunfire heard at two Mumbai hotels

It wasn't a surprise to me that a terrorist attack happened in India, or that it seem quite well coordinated. Terrorists play a game of "follow the money". when their ability to get operatives into this country from Pakistan and the other "middle east" countries dried up, they followed the IT market to another country where there were extremists ripe for recruitment.

FQ: When reading Infinite Exposure I was first struck by the character of Nedim, a “good Muslim." I believe it was the first time I'd read about a possible terrorist from his point of view and it was quite interesting. Was there a specific reason why you wrote sections of the story from his point of view?

Yes. There has been too great of a tendency in the media to focus on "extremists" and "religious fanatics willing to die for their cause." The media focuses on them because what they do creates other headlines. Until the media understands that those people are nothing more than pawns in this game, we won't have an affective terrorism policy in this country or around the world. The really dangerous ones are the ones who aren't terrorists, just facilitators. Eliminate them and you eliminate 98% of all terrorism. Yes, there will still be extremists ready to die for a cause, but they won't have anyone to fund, teach or coordinate that death.

The character of Nedim was actually loosely based on a real life character. I'm sure some of those reading world news events had memories of a similar story.

FQ: Margaret, the First Global Bank employee was my favorite character. I enjoyed reading about a strong woman with a rather bumbling male boss. She's not the only strong female character in your book. Had you made a decision early on to have strong female characters?

Not really, or at least not consciously. While this may sound chauvinistic, I don't really respect or find interesting women that have as much backbone as a soap bubble. Men like that, on the other hand, are utterly hilarious. You know exactly how they are going to screw up a task before they are even assigned it. Sadly, most of them tend to hold MBAs and work in upper management.

Believe it or not, Margaret's boss was based (far less loosely than Nedim) on managers I've encountered in real life.

FQ: Using off-shore companies to store data seems to be a growing problem. What are your thoughts about the practice?

Like all really bad practices, it won't be stopped until there is a massive disaster. We have lived through the Clinton era bank deregulation which gave us (in large part) the current mortgage fiasco. Who could forget the DOT COM (DOT BOMB) Clinton era Ponzi scam unleashed during an election campaign? There have been dozens of other large scale debacles (the Carter grain embargo of Russia?) which were only dealt with after the fact.

We do not have a pro-active government, we have a fill-my-campaign-war-chest based government that doesn't bite the hand feeding it unless the body count gets really high. Take a good look at the credit card companies. They have been running amok for decades. When did the government finally take action? This week.

FQ: Do you see the events of Infinite Exposure as merely science fiction or a wake-up call?

I expect them to actually happen in less than five years. The actual location may not be India as several large financial institutions have moved their data centers to other countries with even lower paid workers, but everything is in play. Sadly, if the government would wind down most of the banks we've given TARP money to, the bulk of the off-shore data centers would be eliminated and the world would be shielded from this problem. I don't expect anyone from "The Fed" to read this book and making paying back of TARP contingent upon having all of their data centers located in a NATO country where security background checks can be accurately carried out.

To learn more about Infinite Exposure , please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.