Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Your money? Yeah, we'll get around to it.

There are a number of people who hate Walmart, and who really want it to fail. In their minds, the demise of Walmart will result in an environment in which kinder, gentler companies will treat employees and customers with respect.

Guess what? Walmart WILL fail - every company fails at some point or another. However, Walmart will fail because a newer company will emerge that makes more money than Walmart does. How? By being even more ruthless.

By definition, the road to success for a company is to maximize profits. In addition to cutting costs - for example, paying low wages and benefits - you can maximize profits by optimizing your cash flow. When you're owed money, get that cash as quickly as possible. When you owe money, hold on to that cash as long as possible.

We all know that large companies such as Walmart have significant purchasing power over their suppliers, and in some cases the suppliers have no choice but to agree. As Bloomberg recently noted, Walmart can take over 30 days to pay its suppliers. And they just have to grin and bear it.

But it could be worse for the suppliers. They could be suppliers for Amazon, who takes over two to three times as long to pay its suppliers. Since 2011, it's taken Amazon over 90 days to pay its suppliers.

Of course, this could lead to trouble for companies in the long run.

Years ago, I knew someone who was an employee at a company (while the company no longer exists, I will not name it). The employee happened to be a musician, and when the local company office hosted a special event, he rounded up a group of musicians to play for the event. The employee paid the musicians, billed his employer...and waited. And waited. After waiting a very long time to get paid (after paying off HIS suppliers), the employee vowed never to play an event for his company again.

Of course, the company didn't care. It just found other musicians to stiff.

And if someone doesn't want to wait three months to get paid by Amazon, Amazon will just find someone else.

And people will long for the good old days, when companies like Walmart ruled the world.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Living wages and family-owned tilapia suppliers, the sequel

Remember my post from July about Quixotic Farming, a family-owned supplier of tilapia to Whole Foods, HyVee, and other grocers? In their heartwarming story, they kinda sorta didn't really promote the fact that their tilapia were farmed by Colorado prison labor.

According to WTOP, Whole Foods has decided not to carry the product (or a similar product, prisoner-produced goat cheese) any more.

Whole Foods will stop selling products made using a prison labor program after a protest against the practice at one of its stores in Texas.

The company said the products should be out of its stores by April 2016, if not sooner. Whole Foods said it has sold tilapia and goat cheese produced through a Colorado inmate program at some stores since at least 2011.

But will this satisfy the prison reform advocates? After all, when Whole Foods was buying the product, prison labor was getting as little as 74 cents an hour. But if everyone discontinues using the product, the prisoners will get zero dollars an hour - which doesn't really help decrease recidivism rates.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The fiction of brands - how Apple, Hilton, McDonald's, Uber, and others are not single entities, but thousands of independent companies and contractors

"Repetition," Jeena Paradies. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Apple. Hilton. McDonald's. Uber.

Four well-known brands that work very hard at protecting their brands.

Except in one significant respect.

I'll illustrate this by taking some information from a Neil Nisperos article that appeared in my local paper, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, on Friday.

According to Nisperos, four housekeepers who worked for - and were fired by - an Inglewood company named Pro Clean have filed a lawsuit. The suit alleges that they were fired for engaging in protected union organizing activities.

So they filed the lawsuit - against Doubletree Hilton Ontario Airport.

But if they were working for Pro Clean, then why did they fire the lawsuit against a Hilton-branded entity?

Because Pro Clean is a staffing agency that assigned the four to work at the Doubletree, where things were allegedly not all that great.

We wear the same uniforms, have the same supervisors, and eat in the same cafeteria. We also suffer under harsh working conditions,” said Maria Sanchez, one of the subcontracted housekeepers fired from the DoubleTree by Hilton.

(Nisperos noted, precisely, that the four were not fired BY the Doubletree, but FROM the Doubletree.)

The Doubletree itself has provided a response to the allegations.

“The Doubletree Ontario Airport Hotel complies with all local and federal labor laws and is an equal opportunity employer. The hotel is committed to providing a positive and supportive environment for all of its employees.”

The general manager who provided that response was also very precise. Note that the response states that the hotel provides a good environment for its EMPLOYEES.

Maria Sanchez and the other three, of course, were not employees of the Doubletree. They were employees of Pro Clean.

But the Doubletree is not the only establishment that has non-employees providing services. A year or two ago, someone that I know went to an Apple Store for a training course. Apple's brand image relies not only on the quality of its products, but the quality of the services that it provides. Thus Apple Stores have Genius Bars, training courses, and the like.

The person who provided the training course - a course upon which Apple's brand image is highly dependent - was not an employee of Apple.

Which brings us to McDonald's, which is kind of a mixed bag. Fast food outlets are a target for the living wage folks, who berate McDonald's and other employers in the industry for their low wages. McDonald's recently responded as follows:

On July 1, 2015, starting wages at McDonald’s company-owned restaurants in the U.S. will be one dollar over the locally-mandated minimum wage. The wages of all employees up to restaurant manager will be adjusted accordingly based on tenure and job performance. By the end of 2016, McDonald’s projects that the average hourly wage rate for McDonald’s employees at company-owned restaurants will be in excess of $10.

Also on July 1, full- and part-time crew employees at company-owned restaurants, with at least one year of service, will begin to accrue personal paid time-off. For example, an employee who works an average of 20 hours per week will be eligible to accrue approximately 20 hours of paid time off per year. If these employees don’t take the time off they’ve earned, they will be paid for the value of that time.

These two benefit enhancements apply to McDonald’s company-owned restaurants, which represent more than 90,000 employees and about 10 percent of McDonald’s restaurants nationwide. The more than 3,100 McDonald’s franchisees operate their individual businesses and make their own decisions on pay and benefits for their employees.

Another precisely worded statement, with repeated mentions of the words "company-owned" - as well as a note of the fact that 9 times out of 10, that so-called "McDonald's" restaurant that you are visiting is not owned by McDonald's.

Last but not least, this brings us to Uber. Uber clearly has a brand, and Uber has an app that allows you to obtain a ride from over 160,000 independent companies in the United States alone.

Yes, 160,000. That's roughly the number of Uber drivers in the U.S. as of last December - and as you've probably heard, Uber drivers are not employees of Uber, but independent contractors. So that "Uber driver" isn't an Uber driver, but just someone who has agreed to take requests from the Uber app.

Of course, that's not the way that Uber - or Apple, Hilton, McDonald's, or other large companies - want you to see it. When you get a ride in an Uber car, or take a training course at an Apple Store, or pick up a cookie at a Doubletree hotel, or get a Big Mac at a McDonald's, the companies want you to think about the Uber, Apple, Hilton, or McDonald's experience. And the companies lay down strict rules for their independent contractors and franchises - the age of the car that you use for "Uber" trips, the quality of the parts assembled for your "Apple" phone, the number of "Hilton" rooms that have to be cleaned, the size of that "McDonald's" Big Mac.

But when push comes to shove, these companies - and most others - say that the entities providing those products and services are legally distinct entities. We're not responsible for the criminal record of the driver, or the working conditions that the Chinese factory worker encounters, or the number of rooms that the room cleaner must clean, or for the wage that the Big Mac assembler makes.

But the companies aren't the only beneficiaries of that brand fiction. The four Doubletree workers could have only sued Pro Clean for firing them, but they saw an advantage in going after the Doubletree itself. Living wage proponents don't want to deal with all of the 3,100+ independent franchisees - it's much easier for them to pressure one entity, McDonald's, into mandating that franchises pay a particular wage.

Where does this leave the consumer? There are countless other examples of cases in which we think we're dealing with Company A, but instead are dealing with some other company that we've never heard of.

The answer is to stay educated. Some things are not what they appear to be.

Oh, and by the way, that Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California is owned by the Blackstone Group. So do you deal with Pro Clean (no website), the Blackstone Group, or Hilton Worldwide if you have a problem with your room?

Monday, September 28, 2015

On unsavory name associations, part two

In mid-July, I wrote a post entitled On unsavory name associations that mentioned an upsetting incident involving the corporate parent of my own employer, as well as George Lucas' upsetting time when both opponents and proponents of the Strategic Defense Initiative referred to the initiative as "Star Wars." (I don't know if you've heard of "Star Wars," but it's a series of movies. There may be another one coming out some time or another.)

Because of our tendency to abbreviate things and make them into acronyms, those unsavory name associations keep right on coming.

Many of you are using Intel products at this very moment. Intel is only one of the most significant companies of the 20th century. Founded in 1968, Intel helped to spur the personal computer industry - and unlike other chipmakers such as Motorola, Intel is still around under its original name.

But bad guys have been around much longer than Intel has. And for the good guys to fight the bad guys, they need intelligence about the enemy. Since these fighters are from the U.S. federal government, "intelligence" is often shortened to "intel."

You see where this is going. Specifically, it's going here.

In case you're confused, ISIS has not hacked American chipmakers.

Of course, this one' a double whammy, since the term "ISIS" itself more accurately refers to an Egyptian goddess - something undecidedly non-Muslim by any stretch of the term.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Content blockers block content. As @danprimack notes, that means that they block content.

It sounded like a really great idea at the time - whether the time was now, when iOS 9 now supports ad blockers, or perhaps when the time was before, when you added that ad blocker to your Internet Explorer web browser back in the day.

Ads and other unwanted content pop up on your phone, or your laptop, or your desktop, causing you irritation. So you decide to install an ad blocker or content blocker to free yourself from the anguish.

But guess what? I hope you're sitting down for this.

Content blockers block content.

Now perhaps I sound like Captain Obvious - and if you're actively using a content blocker, I need to explain to you that I'm referring to a hotels.com ad campaign - but any action that you take can have unintended consequences.

Dan Primack of Fortune has noted that someone with an active content blocker could be on a mobile phone, intending to buy something, and then be unable to buy it, or even see it.

After hearing initial reports from Chris Mason of Branding Brand, Fortune went and replicated the issues. First, it used an iPhone to go go the Bass Pro Shops mobile website, and looked at a picture of a boot, with the accompanying price.

Then Fortune visited the same mobile site, but this time did so with the Crystal content blocker enabled. Guess what? No boot, and no price, was visible.

You can see this example and other ones here. Fortune described a number of cases in which the content blocker blocked content. Maybe individual pictures won't load. Maybe the entire web page won't load. Or maybe the web page will load, but you can't load anything into the shopping cart.

However, there are "benefits" to the technology. Many websites, including the one that you are reading now, incorporate Google Analytics or similar analytic code to measure what you, the reader, are looking at. Content blockers can helpfully block this code from executing. Yes, you preserve your privacy...

...but at the same time, because the website doesn't know about your preferences, 60 year old men are unable to figure out why the websites that they visit serve up an endless array of Justin Bieber and Tampax news. Contextual ads are imprecise enough when they do know about you; what happens when they don't?

Fortune notes that Crystal is working on the specific issues that it reported, but also notes something else:

The trouble for retailers, of course, is that Crystal is just one ad-blocker. Another, Purify Blocker, currently sits at #5 in the App Store, and all of this is just one week after Apple unveiled its new operating system. Even if retailers reach out directly to one, they may be playing whack-a-mole.

It won't happen, but the advertising world is imagining a worst case scenario in which people try to use their phones to shop at mobile websites, give up in frustration because the mobile websites "don't work" (when in reality it's the content blocker that is causing the problem), and then eventually decide that the smartphone is pretty much worthless and that there's no need to buy that latest insanely great smartphone after all.

The more likely scenario is that people will buy the content blockers, hear about the problems they cause, turn them off, and then forget to turn them back on again.

Or maybe this is just this weekend's tempest in a teapot, and a blip - or a Blippy - on the landscape.

What a difference two months makes - the VW Golf goes from eagle to double bogey

Hindsight makes us all experts, but frankly you can't fault the people in the past for not anticipating things.

In March 1865, no one at Ford's Theater in Washington was agonizing about the protection of important patrons.

In August 2001, no one in a tall building was worried about a passenger plane ending up in his or her office.

And back in August 2015, no one was thinking that a Volkswagen diesel engine was a bad thing.

Take this August review of the Volkswagen Tiguan SUV:

The Tiggy cries out for diesel power.

Well, I cry out for it.

Why not? The Golf — which is kin to the Tiggy — is available with VW’s superb TDI four cylinder turbo-diesel, which returns 30 city and 42 highway in the Golf wrapper. In the heavier Tiggy, the TDI’s numbers would probably be lower. But they’d still be spectacular — probably best in class. As would the tow rating. The gas Tiggy’s 2,200 pound max is good — better than the typical 1,500 pound rating of many small crossovers (both the Kia Sportage and the Mazda CX-5 max out at 2,000 pounds). But with a high-torque diesel up front, the Tiggy could probably pull at least 3,500 pounds; maybe more.

Arguably, a diesel in the Tiggy makes more sense than in the Golf. It — the Tiggy — is a crossover SUV, after all.

The Golf is a car.

Diesels are nice in cars. But they’re useful and in SUVs. They endow the vehicle with the capacity to do real work — and they notch up the fuel efficiency to acceptable levels, a critical thing these days. It’s going to be tough enough for cars to make Obama’s 35.5 MPG average mandatory minimum that goes into effect come 2016. It’ll be even tougher for heavier, less aerodynamically efficient crossovers and SUVs to get there.

Diesel power would help.

Well, that Tiguan is looking pretty good right about now, as this report from Hawaii indicates:

Dealers of Volkswagen vehicles in Hawaii say they are cautiously optimistic as the German-based car manufacturer addresses allegations that it installed illegal software into millions of diesel cars that was designed to manipulate the results of U.S. emissions tests.

Tony Group President Stan Masamitsu, whose holdings include Tony Volkswagen, said the manufacturer has instructed his dealership to stop sales of all diesel vehicles with model years ranging from 2009 to 2015 that may have had the software installed on it.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Does the Speaker of the House have to be a Member of the House?

Now that John Boehner has announced his resignation, there is an uproar regarding the selection of the next Speaker of the House.

Which raises the question - does the Speaker of the House actually have to be a Member of the House of Representatives?

In a word, no. Even the House itself says as much:

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states, "The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers."

Although the Constitution does not require the Speaker to be a Member of the House, all Speakers have been Members.

Given the current climate in the country, in which many outside the Beltway are literally rejoicing over Boehner's departure, there is always the possibility that a true outsider could gain the Speakership.

But who would want to do a thing like that?


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Macrobreweries and micromarketing

After reading Trevor Carpenter's comment about Anheuser Busch's acquisition of Golden Road Brewing, I was not only reminded of Anheuser Busch's recent macro brew Super Bowl ad, but was also reminded about the company's worst advertising stumble - its efforts to rally patriotic fervor in the USA vs. Belgium World Cup match, despite the fact that Anheuser Busch is owned by the Belgian company InBev.

But the advertisements work. While a few laugh at the hypocrisy, most people go ahead and buy the beer based upon the resonating message.

But Anheuser Busch and its competitors have even more potent advertising campaigns at the local level - the very local level.

If I were to dare to wear Google Glass into Shotwell's Bar in San Francisco, I would presumably run into some neon signs touting Budweiser and the San Francisco Giants, or Budweiser and the San Francisco 49ers. If I were a San Francisco resident, this would make me feel good, knowing that that brewer guy in Belgium - I mean St. Louis - was rooting for my teams. So I'd order a Budweiser. And another.

(Tangential note: for certain products, including alcohol and casino gambling, the best customer that you can have is an addict who has not yet been diagnosed. He or she will cheerfully run up the bills buying your products, and since the addiction hasn't been diagnosed, the banks and others will do nothing to stop the spending.)

Imagine for the moment that a man somehow grew up in San Francisco and never left the city limits for the first 31 years of his life. This man would have spent some time in bars, with these comforting messages about how his American beer company really loves his team.

Then, one day, the man makes a wrong turn, boards the wrong BART, and ends up in the faraway mystical land of Oakland. Shaken up by the experience, he pops into a bar for relief and is shocked to discover neon signs touting Budweiser and the Oakland Athletics, or Budweiser and the Oakland Raiders.

Heaven help the guy if he stumbled into an airport and ended up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Actually, according to Rodger Sherman, he'd be safe in Dallas, at least from the NFL perspective. Anheuser Busch does not sponsor the Dallas Cowboys (or the Bears, Packers, or Vikings). But they are the official sponsor for the other 28 NFL teams, and have created advertisements about 1972 (for Miami) and shoveling snow (for Buffalo). As the Buffalo ad indicates, the marketing staff began running out of ideas after a while.

Indianapolis Colts: The perfect beer for horsing around with the boys in blue.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In case you forgot, technological displacement occurred in the 1870s also

There are many people - Tad Donaghe among them - who are certain that present technological advances, coupled with changes in the business environment, will result in major disruptions to the economy. Donaghe even postulates that there may not be enough work for everyone to do, and that governments will have to pay living expenses to people whether they work or not.

When discussing these and other potential changes, Donaghe is fond of using the following phrase:

We live in interesting times.

With all due respect to Donaghe and others, while the times are indeed interesting, they are not unique.

The Twitter account @in1876 recently shared a UK Post Office publication from 1879 that talked about the American telephone. Now this may be a surprise to some of my younger readers, but back in the day Post Offices were thriving operations. And they certainly were popular in 1879, when that odd invention was starting to take hold across the Atlantic.

As a marketer working with engineers, I am well aware that certain engineering inventions, outstanding though they may be, will not take off if there is no market for them. This is something that the Post Office also realized:

Before you laugh, take a moment to think - with an open mind - about what the Post Office was saying.

In those days before child labor laws became the vogue, you had all sorts of errand boys who could carry messages, and they could do so in a reasonable time. With the "superabundance" of such people, why would anyone make the huge capital investments required to establish a telephone service? In those pre-wireless days, this required the establishment of huge cable lines going to every house, installation of devices in every house to send and receive telephone calls, and dedicated staff to route the telephone calls from one telephone to another.

Wouldn't it be easier to just give a local message to an errand boy - or send a message via the Post Office?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lifeboat - no longer a classroom exercise (more on refugees)

Years ago, an elementary school student noticed something in class:

When I was a kid in elementary school, I remembered the teacher having us play a game called "Lifeboat". In it, we were informed that a big ship had just gone down, and that there were five people left onboard a lifeboat built for two. After hearing a description of the five, it was our job to decide which three would be tossed overboard.

The game is still being played in various forms in public schools today in order to teach a concept called "values clarification". It occurred to me how absurd it is to teach children that it is their responsibility to decide who is going to live and die, and how at odds that is with the Christian ideal that all human life is created in God's image and therefore sacred.

Many students played that particular game, but that one particular elementary school student grew up to become Steve Taylor - well, actually he was Steve Taylor as a kid also, but when he was a kid he didn't have a record contract. Taylor, who later ran into trouble in Australia when people misinterpreted "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good," put his feelings into song.

But even in the worst cases, the classroom game was just a classroom game. Now it's real.

Last month I wrote about the history of passports in a post at tymshft.com, noting that one of the main purposes of a passport is to protect you when you leave your home country.

Which brings us to the refugee crisis in general and Italy in particular. Italy, unlike countries such as Hungary and Germany, has a number of refugees that arrive by sea. In the course of an interview about the refugee crisis, Laura Boldrini, the president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies and a former spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, said the following:

We have to continue to save human lives at sea. Not everyone agrees with this. But it’s inhuman to think that if you have a passport, you get saved, and if you don’t, you drown. But there are people who say that.

Values clarification devotees, discuss.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Was there @The5PointCafe in the 1890s? @ITIFdc describes the history of the @Kodak fiend

Back in February 2013, I wrote a post about the Shotwell's Bar controversy. If this has escaped your memory bank, this arose during the heady days of Google Glass version 1.0, when a San Francisco bar - yes, a San Francisco bar - made fun of people wearing Google Glass. As I noted in the post, this displeased Robert Scoble at the time.

However, the people at Shotwell's didn't react negatively to Google Glass solely because it made people look goofy (even if they weren't having a naked conversation with themselves in the shower). There were also privacy implications.

Dave Meinert, who runs the 5 Point Cafe in Seattle, said those wearing the spectacles will have to remove them if they want to come in.

He has put up a sign on the wall which reads: ‘Respect our customers’ privacy as we’d expect them to respect yours.’

These privacy concerns are nothing new, as the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation points out.

(At this time I should point out that I have a vested interest in this conversation, since my employer sells facial recognition systems, secure documents, and all sorts of things that are controversial to some.)

Anyway, back to the ITIF. The organization documents something that it refers to as the "privacy panic cycle":

If you download the ITIF's PDF document from the link, you can read the story of a previous technology that caused panic up to the Presidential level.

The Kodak camera.

In 1888, George Eastman invented the Kodak camera, the original portable camera. Unlike with other cameras at the time, subjects no longer had to maintain a pose for upwards of one minute. This small, handheld contraption cost $25, a large amount of money at that time, but still less than the cost of the older wet-plate cameras. It offered simplicity and reliability....

In the summer of 1888, one newspaper, the Hartford Courant, wrote the following: “Beware the Kodak. The sedate citizen can't indulge in any hilariousness without the risk of being caught in the act and having his photograph passed around among his Sunday school children.”...

Privacy fundamentalists, buoyed by newspapers of the day, built up the idea of the “Kodak fi end,” a person who took unflattering pictures or pictures without permission. The Hawaiian Gazette described the Kodak end this way:

“Have you seen the Kodak end? Well, he has seen you. He caught your expression yesterday while you were in recently talking at the Post Office. He has taken you at a disadvantage and transfixed your uncouth position and passed it on to be laughed at by friend and foe alike. His click is heard on every hand. He is merciless and omnipresent and has as little conscience and respect for proprieties as the verist hoodlum. What with Kodak fiends and phonographs and electric search lights, modern inventive genius is certainly doing its level best to lay us all bare to the gaze of our fellow men.”...

Even President Theodore Roosevelt upbraided this use of the technology, telling a boy who tried to take his picture during his first week in office, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

The paper then talks about other new technologies that were controversial back in the day, such as transistors.

The ITIF's editorial view is that we have survived Kodak fiends, phonographs, and electric search lights - even if Kodak and phonographs themselves aren't as popular as they once were - and therefore we will survive mobile phones and supermarket loyalty programs and facial recognition and RFID tags.

I realize, of course, that there may be opposing views.

P.S. As for the 5 Point Café, its website links to its Yelp page. And if you want to see photos inside the café, just look at its Facebook feed.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

On refugees

When I was in France, the topic of Syrian refugees was obviously a topic of discussion on the news, as it still is today. While Germany has been more than willing to take in refugees, other countries have not been so eager.

Several of the countries were called out by name by Faizullah Muradi.

On the surface, it can strike someone as odd. Why would Muslim countries with immense wealth refuse to take in other Muslims as refugees?

I figured that there had to be a reason for this, so I dug deeper.

The Gulf countries, the wealthiest states among the Arab world, are among the largest donors to Syrian refugees. But they do not take in refugees to their own countries: none of them officially recognize the legal concept of refugeehood. This is not a specific issue of hostility to Syrian refugees: the six Gulf monarchies have never signed the international conventions on refugee rights and statelessness, which began to be established after the Second World War.

This is true - all of these nations, as well as many other nations such as Barbados and (interestingly) Syria, have never signed the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Yet these countries have taken in Syrians - just not as refugees:

Thousands of Syrians fleeing the war have been accommodated in the Gulf, and many provided with benefits not usually available to migrant workers, like free access to healthcare and education. But they are on visitor or work visas because there is no legal category of refugeehood.

And this is not just an issue of semantics, since visitor and work visas are by nature temporary, meaning that any Syrian would eventually have to leave the country. And as sports fans know, a work visa in the Gulf is not necessarily a wonderful thing.

But forget about governments for a moment - what of the duties of a Muslim? While you really cannot separate "church" and "state" in the Muslim world, the Uhited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (admittedly not an authoritative source on Islam) argues that it is the Muslim's duty to take in refugees:

Islam requires believers to assist and protect vulnerable people and offers a number of mechanisms for their care and support. According to Islamic migration law (hijrah), individuals have the right both to seek and to be granted asylum in any Muslim state. Furthermore, it is the duty of Muslims to accept and protect refugees for as long as they seek protection. In comparison to modern refugee law, hijrah offers a broader definition of a refugee, and gives individuals, rather than states, the right to determine asylum. However, despite its significance in Islam, hijrah is rarely invoked by Muslim states today. The promotion of Islamic teachings on refugees could encourage Muslim states to widen their acceptance and protection of refugees.

Unfortunately for the UNHCR, there are two problems with this argument.

First, it is doubtful that the leadership of Saudi Arabia, guardians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, are going to let some pencil-pushing bureaucrat in New York or Geneva tell them what the truth is in Islam.

Second, we can't really cast stones at Muslims for not taking care of their own, when the inhabitants of many Christian nations are unwilling to do anything either.

We cannot help everybody through the world. Europe should help. Russian should help. China, they're not doing anything. The Gulf states are doing nothing. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, any of the gulf states, they're doing nothing. They should all help. And then maybe we could do something.

There is an opposing view:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Friday, September 11, 2015

Briefing the boss - when economy and precision of words are important

Have you ever had to brief a Chief Executive Officer, or some high official? If you have, you know that your briefing has to be succinct, since the CEO is concerned with all sorts of stuff.

Let's go one better - have you ever had to interrupt a Chief Executive Officer during some other event to convey a very important message? At that point, you have to use extra care.

Which brings us to an elementary school in Florida at the beginning of the school year in 2001. It's a big event - the President is visiting a classroom. And since this is the Education President, this photo-op is a very important one. Both the school and the White House want this to go off without a hitch. The kids are going to read, and the President is going to observe.

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card has a little problem. You see, before the kids started reading to the President, the White House party had heard about a plane crash at the World Trade Center - a tragic accident, or so it seemed. But after Bush went into the classroom, Card learned that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center.

And believe it or not, my first thought was UBL, Osama Bin Laden. And I knew that I had to tell the president.

You know, that is one of the difficult tasks that a chief of staff has - does the president need to know? This one was easy to answer. Yes the president needed to know.

But how? The kids were in the middle of their reading drill, and regardless of what was going on, a Chief of Staff can't just pull the President out of the room. Card decided what he would do.

...I made the decision to send in two facts and make one relatively obvious editorial comment. And I wanted to do nothing to invite a question or start a dialogue.

Now if Bush had been sitting in the Oval Office and Card was down the hall, Card could have just presented the facts and let the President editorialize to his heart's content. But due to the particular situation, that wouldn't work in this case.

I opened the door to the classroom. And I walked up to the president and leaned over and whispered onto his right ear. "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."

Card then left the President. Under the circumstances, Card couldn't exactly unfurl a banner saying "Mission Accomplished," but he could have.

But even with the care that Card took to convey the news, the other people in the room sensed something:

Teacher Kay Daniels was sitting next to Bush and knew something was amiss when Card came out of the adjoining classroom and approached the president. Everything about the day was so choreographed, and that wasn't supposed to happen.

Even the second graders sensed something.

One kid described his face as (like) he had to use the bathroom.

But there was another element that was present - some people in the back of the room. While the students and the teacher didn't know what was going on, the people in the back of the room did.

"At the back of the room, reporters were on their cell phones. They were getting the same message I got, which meant a lot of people would be watching my reaction to this crisis," [President Bush] said. "So I made a decision not to jump up immediately and leave the classroom. I didn't want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm."

So the kids read, Bush listened, and the nation watched. Eventually the reading ended, the photo op was done, and Bush left the classroom and barked an order.

"Get the FBI director on the phone."

Card knew that he'd ask that.

Now it is extremely unlikely that I will ever have to convey such a message to a Chief Executive Officer. But the dramatic episode does remind you that economy and precision of words are of the utmost importance.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Île Saint-Germain

Since I had already made a trip to the Eiffel Tower area on Saturday, I had to figure out what to do with my first Sunday in Paris. In the end, I decided to take it relatively easy and stay in the Issy-les-Moulineaux area.

On my previous trip in January, I had stayed closer to the Porte de Versailles. On this trip, I was staying near the Issy Val de Seine train station, and I took a bit of time to explore that area of town.

The train station is very close to the Seine River, and there is an island in the river that is within walking distance - the Île Saint-Germain. When you leave the apartments and railroad tracks and cross the bridge to the island, you are transported to a different world.

Sunday was just as hot as Saturday, and there were many people on the island who were enjoying the day, just as there were on the Champ de Mars on the previous day.

But as I walked past the picnic people (or whatever you call them in French), I kept on heading toward the ominous tower that could be seen from portions of the island.

For people visiting the island, a sign describing the tower had been helpfully placed nearby.

This didn't do me much good, but I was able to pick out the basics.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My fourth trip to France, and all I got was an absolutely wonderful bottle of water

I guess I neglected to mention (again) that I was in France last week.

This was my fourth trip to France. The first was a personal visit in 2000 (this is when I saw the auto museum in Mulhouse). The second, third, and fourth trips to France were all work-related: a 2010 trip to Osny (including encounters with a hippopotamus and a hippodrome), and a trip earlier this year (during which I dined on a French delicacy).

That third trip was the first time that I was staying near Paris, and before I went, I was thinking about seeing some of the sights. However, by the time that I actually flew to Paris, the whole Charlie Hebdo event had transpired, and the Sunday that I had originally planned to go to Paris turned out to be the day of the massive rallies in the city. I probably would have been fine, but I figured that I'd play it safe and watch the proceedings from my hotel TV.

As this trip (my fourth) approached, I figured that I'd try to see the sights again. Yes, a major incident occurred right before my departure, but in this case, the whole thing was resolved without loss of life. So I planned to go into the city on Sunday and walk around the Eiffel Tower area.

But then, a couple of hours after arriving in Paris on a hot Saturday afternoon, I figured, why not do it that day?

So I bought a 10-pack of t tickets, boarded the tram (I had already figured out the tram on my last trip), which took me to the Porte de Versailles Metro stop. After a bit of confusion (I thought the turnstiles would automatically open), I successfully took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower area.

In mid-afternoon.

On a very hot day.

With my late arrival, and with the lines that were already present, I figured that there was no point in trying to actually go up the Eiffel Tower that day, so I walked around the area a little bit. Rather than buying a souvenir or anything like that, I figured I'd just get myself a liter of water.

That's probably the most valuable purchase that I made on my trip.

As I walked away from the Eiffel Tower, down the Champ de Mars toward the École Militaire, I had to take a selfie.

But that's not my favorite picture from my trip.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Many, many sides to every story (SEIU-UHW vs. Prime Healthcare revisited)

A year ago, I wrote a post about a conflict between the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) and Prime Healthcare. The issue, as SEIU-UHW saw it:

Prime has a shameful history of buying struggling hospitals, then laying off large numbers of staff and reducing patient services in order to increase profits. Prime’s business model has been bad for patients, bad for taxpayers, and bad for workers.

Prime, of course, has a different take on the matter.

But as I followed up on some of the bits of the story, it's clear that this isn't a two-sided issue...because there are more than two parties involved.

One of those partners is the Daughters of Charity Health System (DCHS), which could be characterized as a group of "struggling hospitals" (in SEIU-UHW terms). When you're running a struggling health system, you want to become UN-struggling, and DOCHS figured that a sale to Prime would accomplish that.

Enter another party - California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris holds statewide office in California, which in recent years pretty much means that you're a Democrat. (Even the last Republican to hold statewide office, Arnold Schwarzenegger, used to be married into a Democratic family, and many California Republicans think he's a danged Commie anyway.) While Harris approved the acquisition, she included some tough conditions:

[S]he made the decision with conditions Harris called "strong" and the hospital systems are likely to consider onerous, including a requirement that five of the six facilities stay open for at least 10 years. Earlier, the seller said such conditions could potentially scuttle deal.

Within this backdrop, a few days later DCHS sued SEIU-UHW. (You'll recall from my previous post that Prime Healthcare had already sued the union.)

“By using extortionist threats and bid-chilling tactics to frustrate this sale as leverage for other commercial gains they seek, the defendants have cost DCHS at a minimum tens of millions of dollars in continuing operational losses and professional fees,” Daughters wrote in the suit filed in Superior Court in Santa Clara County. “DCHS continues to face the possibility that the sale will not close, with potentially catastrophic consequences for DCHS' six California hospitals, thousands of employees and retirees of those hospitals, and the patients and communities whom the hospitals serve.”

As the backdrop got dustier and dustier, a new announcement was issued a few weeks later:

Prime Healthcare Services, the for-profit system seen by many as the deep-pocketed savior of the financially ailing Daughters of Charity Health System, has pulled the plug on the $843 million deal.

Prime told the Daughters of Charity system late yesterday it has decided not to pursue the deal, after California's attorney general attached tough conditions to the deal late last month.

The next party to speak was DCHS itself - and it wasn't happy:

We are disappointed that Prime Healthcare has decided not to go forward with the purchase of our hospitals. We strongly disagree with Prime’s position on the Attorney General conditions. We are confident that Prime could successfully turn around the DCHS hospitals.

And SEIU-UHW weighed in also, saying the DCHS should get it right this time.

Healthcare workers today urged Daughters of Charity Health System to immediately designate another buyer for its six financially ailing hospitals now that Prime Healthcare has opted out of purchasing the facilities in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

According to SEIU-UHW, there were a number of entities that were willing to buy individual hospitals in the chain, and one company prepared to buy the whole thing.

So we have a bunch of parties involved: Prime Healthcare, the SEIU-UHW, the DOCHS itself, the California Attorney General, and these various other purchasing entities. (And I'm not even getting into the whole Blue Wolf Capital Partners thing, an alleged ally of SEIU-UHW that was also sued by DOCHS.)

A month later, one other party became very interested in this whole affair - 280 DCHS employees.

The Daughters of Charity Health System, which saw its proposed sale of six hospitals to Prime Healthcare fall apart early last month, is slashing 4 percent of its workforce, officials told me Tuesday morning.

That works out to approximately 280 jobs out of about 7,000 at the Catholic hospital system, based in Los Altos Hills, said spokeswoman Beth Nikels. Some of the jobs have already been eliminated, she said, while others will be eliminated over the next few months.

The workforce reductions are part of an effort to reduce expenses, stabilize finances "and better position our hospitals while we search for a new buyer," officials said April 21 in a statement to the Business Times.

Now perhaps those 280 people would have been laid off anyway if Prime Healthcare had come in. But that was small comfort for the people who were being laid off.

I checked the SEIU-UHW's archive for reaction to this turn of events - and found none. But the California Department of Managed Care reacted to the entire situation:

Meanwhile, the California Department of Managed Care has filed a cease and desist order requiring 10 insurers to stop sending new patients to Daughter’s affiliated physician group. Regulators are concerned that the DCHS Medical Foundation is not meeting minimum solvency standards for partial-risk contracts with HMOs for about 20,000 patients.

This is yet further evidence of my contention that "Big Brother" will never happen because government agencies are at war with each other - in this case, the Attorney General's office and the Department of Managed Care. While you may disagree with her tactics, the Attorney General pursued polices that she believed would continue to provide health care to as many people as possible. Meanwhile, the Department of Managed Care was moving in the opposite direction. In both cases, DCHS was the victim.

Until a few months later, in July, when a new announcement was made.

The Daughters of Charity Health System (DCHS) Board of Directors has selected BlueMountain Capital Management (BlueMountain), a private investment firm to recapitalize its operations. BlueMountain is contributing over $250 million of capital and is sponsoring Integrity Healthcare to manage and operate the six California hospitals and medical foundation, thus assuring the communities served by the hospitals a continuance of care.

The SEIU-UHW's reaction?

SEIU-UHW health and legal experts will analyze the agreement as soon as possible to understand its effect on staff and quality care in our facilities.

We will be meeting directly with BlueMountain as quickly as possible to make sure members jobs and benefits are fully protected.

Our early analysis indicates that BlueMountain is a much better fit with Daughters than the previous bidder, Prime Healthcare.

However, the San Jose Mercury News claims that this deal may also be scuttled, since it appears to be the same as the deal that Attorney General Harris didn't like:

Desperate for a deal to save its beleaguered hospitals, Bay Area-based Daughters of Charity Health System was left at the altar this spring when California's Attorney General told its prospective new owner it must keep most of the hospitals open for at least 10 years.

Yet, newly released documents show, the New York City hedge fund that is the nonprofit chain's latest suitor is guaranteeing to keep the hospitals open for half that time. That five-year promise is exactly what Southern California-based Prime Healthcare Services offered last year in a highly controversial $843 million deal rebuffed by Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office must approve hospital sales....

Whether or not Harris will impose similar 10-year requirements on the latest proposal by BlueMountain Capital Management is unknown. Her staff declined to comment

But DCHS did comment:

"None of us can do anything to derail this process, including the SEIU. Failure is not an option."

That could be posturing, since Harris could impose the ten-year condition, in which case BlueMountain may or may not pull out - or Harris could refuse to impose the ten-year condition, in which case Prime Healthcare may complain about unfairness.

At least the lawyers are making money over this whole deal.

But the most amazing thing about this - I have just completed a long-winded post in healthcare that does NOT involve Barack Obama.

Friday, August 21, 2015

On background checks, taxis, and Uber/Lyft


As of the city of Los Angeles and other cities go back and forth regarding the legality of Uber, Lyft, and similar companies, I became interested in the whole "background check" part of the deal. The DISCLOSURE at the top of the post gives you a clue regarding my personal interest in this matter.

A couple of points need to be made at the outset. First, as far as they are concerned, Uber and Lyft are not taxi companies. They are rideshare companies which just happen to have a lot of people who "share" rides rather than hailing taxis. While some of us say that if it looks like a taxi and (gag) smells like a taxi, it's a taxi, Uber and Lyft maintain differently. (Perhaps with reason: I could fly to Las Vegas, or drive to Las Vegas. If I drive to Las Vegas, I do not go through a TSA security process. Isn't that unfair?)

The second point: obviously my interest is in Live Scans. But a Live Scan is just a tool - and, as we will see, the use of this particular tool is not the most important difference between taxi background checks and Uber/Lyft background checks.

For my comparison of the background checks performed by taxi companies vs. the background checks performed by Uber and Lyft, I relied upon a December 2014 GigaOM post. Author Carmel DeAmicis researched this thoroughly, and outlined the differences between the background checks. DeAmicis started by stating the following:

Background checks come in all shapes and sizes. You can pay a private investigator more than $1,000 to dig into every aspect of a person’s life. You could drop $15 on a dirt-cheap consumer agency that gathers their records from the internet. Or you could spend $60-$90 on Live Scans, which go through official Department of Justice and FBI databases.

If you are a taxi driver, and your local jurisdiction requires you to perform a fingerprint-based background check, you go to a service provider, pay a fee, and have your fingerprints collected. Those fingerprints are then forwarded to the Department of Justice. Yes, this allows your fingerprints to be compared against criminal fingerprints to make sure that you're not Charles Manson. If the FBI has a criminal record for someone, and your fingerprints match that someone, then you've been caught - and depending upon the charges, your career as a taxi driver is over before it starts.

What does Uber do? Well, in California, Uber drivers aren't taxi drivers, so they don't have to do the fingerprint check.

Uber uses a private background check company called Hirease. Without fingerprints, Hirease runs drivers’ social security numbers through the type of records databases held by credit agencies.

Those aren't official government records, however, and are legally prohibited from listing things that happened more than seven years ago. I guess that means that Charles Manson would turn out OK, since he hasn't committed a crime in the last seven years. Of course, he hasn't bought anything in the last seven years either, so his credit probably isn't that good.

So Uber checks are always worse than taxi checks, then? Not exactly. For one thing, not all jurisdictions require taxi drivers to conduct fingerprint-based background checks, a point that DeAmicis notes. In addition, DeAmicis notes that government records themselves aren't always perfect.

Uber argues, and rightly so, that the DOJ and FBI databases are flawed. Counties don’t always regularly report their records to the state, so information gets outdated. Hirease sends runners in person to pull court records of each Uber applicant in the counties they’ve lived in.

In short, you can poke holes in either background check system, and the requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so you can't say that taxi drivers are always checked more thoroughly than Uber/Lyft drivers, or that Uber/Lyft drivers are always checked more thoroughly than taxi drivers.

And even if a taxi driver or ridersharer passed a background check with flying colors, perhaps he or she may decide during YOUR ride that it's time to commit a criminal act for the first time.

No system is 100% secure.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Living wages and government-owned ember coolers

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Living wages and family-owned tilapia suppliers. It was about a company called Quixotic Farming and its wonderful, environmentally friendly products that you can buy at your local semi-politically correct store chain. Quixotic Farming's wonderful prose, however, never mentioned that fact that their products were provided by people who don't get minimum wage, much less living wage.

Why? Because they're prisoners.

While there are certainly arguments in favor of such programs, Quixotic Farming didn't publicly address them, since it didn't even make an explicit mention of who their quixotic farmers actually are.

Well, I can't stand on my high horse and stick my tongue out at the evil people of Colorado. My own state of California is doing something similar, according to Mother Jones.

Between 30 and 40 percent of California's forest firefighters are state prison inmates.

However, this fact is not hidden; it's publicly known. And you aren't going to see Charles Manson out on the fire lines; the people on the fire lines are low-level felons. (People convicted of arson are obviously excluded from the program.) And Mother Jones notes the positive aspects of the program (as does Governor Jerry Brown):

At its best, the program is a win-win situation: Inmates learn useful skills and spend time outside the normal confines of prison, and the collaboration with Cal Fire saves the state roughly $80 million a year.

We'll return to that savings in a minute. But there are other benefits:

One benefit of the program is that it often breaks down racial barriers: "When people are incarcerated they tend to segregate by race," says Hadar Aviram, a law professor and criminologist at the University of California-Hastings. "The fire camps are not like that. People who do not associate with each other inside a prison are willing to be friends when they're at a fire camp."

However, like any program with specific financial benefits, the money can often skew decisions. There are people who believe that many of these low-level felons shouldn't really be in prison in the first place, but those who would usually champion reduction of sentences - specifically, just about any person who gets elected to statewide office in California - realize that prison reform causes other problems.

The concern was magnified last fall, when lawyers for state Attorney General Kamala Harris argued that extending an early prison-release program to "all minimum custody inmates at this time would severely impact fire camp participation—a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought."

This is why it's always important to follow the money. If our anticipated El Niño doesn't wipe out our drought this winter, expect firefighters (but not firefighters' unions) to advocate increased low-level felony prison sentences to keep our homes from burning up.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why @a_greenberg probably likes (some) bicycles right about now

Businesses are always looking for ways to advance in the market, and one business - Metromile - hit upon the idea of innovating car insurance. Rather than basing car insurance rates on self-reporting of miles driven, Metromile decided to charge on the exact number of miles that a person drove. Of course, Metromile would need precise data to do this, so it sourced a tool for this purpose.

The key to per-mile insurance is the Metromile Pulse, a free small wireless device we send you that plugs into your car’s diagnostic port. Plugging in the Pulse is easy, doesn’t require any tools, and once in place it securely counts your miles with every trip. Per-mile insurance doesn’t consider other driving factors such as how fast you drive, how suddenly you turn, or how hard you brake, just how many miles you drive.

Let's take Metromile at its word and assume that it only records the number of miles that a person drives. Sounds like an innovative idea, right?

If you've followed the news lately, you know where this is going. Wired reports that this dongle was (emphasis on "was") capable of being hacked:

[T]he researchers demonstrate their proof-of-concept attacks on a 2013 Corvette, messing with its windshield wipers and both activating and cutting its brakes. Though the researchers say their Corvette brake tricks only worked at low speeds due to limitations in the automated computer functions of the vehicle, they say they could have easily adapted their attack for practically any other modern vehicle and hijacked other critical components like locks, steering or transmission, too.

Yes, you have to worry about what you plug into your car - or, as the recent Jeep hack shows, what comes over the wireless network to the car.

Hmm...Andy Greenberg was the report for both of these stories. If I were Greenberg, I'd quit driving cars and take the bus...provided it's a really old bus.

Or perhaps a bicycle is the ticket...um, maybe not.

You're connected, why shouldn't your bike be?

Um, scared Luddites can think of a bunch of reasons to keep one's bike off the grid...

Friday, August 7, 2015

On iterative performance reviews

Since everyone's talking about lions lately, let's look at a story from a long time ago about a lion called Scar. Scar wanted to usurp the throne, and this got some hyenas all excited because they thought that there would be no king.

Scar informed the hyenas otherwise.

This has a direct bearing on one of last month's big stories. No, not the one about the dentist and the lion in Zimbabwe. The one from Accenture:

As of September, one of the largest companies in the world will do all of its employees and managers an enormous favor: It will get rid of the annual performance review.

Lillian Cunningham, who wrote this article for the Washington Post, wrote her words with care. She did NOT say that Accenture was getting rid of the performance review.

She said that Accenture was getting rid of the ANNUAL performance review.

It will implement a more fluid system, in which employees receive timely feedback from their managers on an ongoing basis following assignments.

This is only part of what's going on - Accenture is also (theoretically) downplaying the idea that people get slotted into a bell curve - but the iterative nature of review is a significant step. Among other things, it provides more timely and useful information:

[P]erformance management had to change from trying to measure the value of employees’ contribution after the fact. It needed instead to regularly support and position workers to perform better in the future.

At this point, few companies have transitioned from the annual performance review cycle. Has yours?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

On iterative work products

Most of you probably already know this, but here's a so-called secret that writers use when possible - if you write something, try to repurpose it somwhere else.

So I'm going to go back to something that I wrote back in 2010. Back at the time, Red Hat's Jim Whitehurst made some comments about bloated software development cycles.

The main problem, according to Whitehurst, is a commercial development model under which executives, programmers, and marketers get together in an effort to predict what their customers want-and then take five years to build it.

At the time (2010), I weighed in on this, and wondered if iterative cycles could work for everyone.

My initial impression - and please correct me with facts if I'm wrong - is that a more iterative development process works better when your customers are technically savvy, or if the iterations are managed in such a way that the customers are never exposed to them....

But imagine if Microsoft Word were on a more iterative development process, and Microsoft was releasing new versions of Word daily. And let's say that the October 22, 2010 version introduced a new menu item. (Forgive me for my dated references to "menu items," but I use Word 2003 more than I use the later versions of Word.)

What does this mean?

It means that if I walk into a store on November 26 and look at the Word packages available in the store, chances are that I won't know whether the package includes the new menu item or not.

So I go ahead and install it, and I'm asked if I want to get the latest software updates, and I say yes, and the software (and the on-line documentation) is updated. Problem solved?

Well, I need a little more help sometimes, so I go to the Barnes & Noble in Montclair, California (I'm trying to become the mayor, you see) and look at the Microsoft Word books on the shelf. I select the book written by Steven Hodson, which happens to have a publication date of November 2010. What I don't know, however, is that Hodson wrote the book in July, using a beta copy of Word that included some features that made the August 12 release, some that made the August 14 release, and one that was dropped and never released - yet.

After searching in vain for an answer to my menu item question, I do what I should have done in the first place - phone a friend who's more knowledgeable about such things.

Can you tell that I wrote this in 2010? (For one thing, why did people go to these "bookstores" to learn stuff?)

Part of what was going through my head was something that I acknowledged in the 2010 post - I had just completed nearly a decade of product management for a product designed for cops. And the way that I managed the product was to write a marketing requirements document, which was then handed off to people who wrote a technical requirements document, who then handed it off to other people who wrote more detailed documents, and so forth.

Things have changed a bit since 2010.

Now we talk about short stories that evolve as we prepare for short sprints. We're not waiting a year for the next set of features.

And what of the Microsoft Word that I talked about in 2010? Well, that's changed too:

"We have had to change the way we build our software," [Jake] Zborowski says. "Before, we forked our code, packaged in for on-premises, then figured out how to do the changes in the cloud. Now we no longer branch the code – we enhance the live (Office 365) code that people are running on."

As a result of this change, Microsoft has moved from a model of releasing updates once every three or four months to small, incremental updates every day.

So I guess this is another Jim Bakker "I was wrong" moment on my part. I'm getting really good at these.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

No, the Amazon Raid does not involve drones

My employer is a subsidiary of the French company Safran, and our parent participates in a number of philanthropic activities. Employees get a newsletter on this from time to time, and the cover of one such newsletter confused me in its reference to an "Amazon Raid." I pictured some type of European Union activity against an Amazon warehouse in Europe - or, alternatively, an Amazon activity against someone in which armed drones were used.

I was (yet again) wrong. "Amazon Raid" is a translation of the name of a French reality TV show, which will be based in Bali this fall:

Indonesia will become the host of France’s popular reality show, Raid Amazone, in October this year.

The program -- which is another version of the US travel show Amazing Race, except that all contestants are women -- will take place in Bali.

Our newsletter mentioned this because one of the teams is from Safran:

Toutes les trois salariées Safran, nous avons à cœur de représenter les valeurs de notre Groupe sur le Raid Amazones 2015 !

Notre équipe a reçu le soutien du Mécénat Safran, ainsi que le soutien de nos sociétés respectives, Safran Tech et Aircelle. Nous allons donc porter fièrement les couleurs Safran à l’occasion du Raid Amazone 2015 à Bali, du 6 au 16 Octobre 2015.

Did I mention that Safran is headquartered in France?