Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When is a non-government a government?

As I've been observing the continuing skirmishes between the European Union and various business (notably technology businesses), something struck me.

On its simplest level, each of these skirmishes can be characterized as battles between a government and a business. We know what a business is, but I figured I'd ask myself what a government is - especially given the unique nature of the European Union itself.

As a starting point, I looked at Merriam-Webster's definition. This definition basically talks about persons or systems or processes that "control and make decisions" for a political unit such as a country or state. The definition doesn't say anything about elections or citizens or democracy, because many governments in the world don't have elections or citizen participation; North Korea comes to mind. So based upon Merriam-Webster's definition, the people/systems/processes associated with Kim Jong Un constitute the government of North Korea, and the people/systems/processes associated with Barack Obama and Paul Ryan and others constitute the government of the United States.

But are there other entities that "control and make decisions"?

Even if you don't completely subscribe to conspiracy theories, there are non-governmental authorities that control and make decisions in my country. It's open to debate whether the Federal Reserve is governmental or non-governmental, but the three credit bureaus are clearly non-governmental.

And those technical companies that are the bane of EU bureaucrats certainly make decisions that could be characterized as controlling. Take the "right to be forgotten." The EU government may proclaim that a certain person may be deleted from search engine results, but even if Google were to agree to delete those results for Europeans accessing (rather than or, the European can simply tunnel to a US domain provider and access to see stories of forgotten persons. And if Google were to choose to eliminate European forgotten people from ALL of its sites, then it would be taking a controlling stance against governments of the United States, which are (at least theoretically) committed to freedom of speech. Oh, and Brexit could complicate the situation.

So...what is a government?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Meatspace is still important

Exactly five years ago, on September 20, 2011, I wrote the following:

Even if you have the best videoconferencing equipment - and most of us don't - a virtual presence cannot substitute for a physical one.

This was borne out for me recently as I was taking my morning walk at work. I spotted a guy walking in a neighboring parking lot. One of his hands was holding a phone to his ear. As he talked, the other hand was pointing and making other gestures.

And in this case, the other people on the call literally did not know what the caller's other hand was doing.

You may object and say that the guy should have been on a video call rather than an audio call. But if he did that, he wouldn't be able to walk around the parking lot.

And forget about walking around the parking lot if you're wearing VR goggles.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Kmart, 1962-2017??? (the September 19 edition)

Remember my July post that included employee speculation that Kmart's "path to profitability" was really a path to store closure?

The speculation was that stores would close after the Christmas season.

Well, it turns out that speculation was absolutely and positively wrong, according to Business Insider.

On Friday, Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart, informed Kmart employees in at least 13 states that their stores would be closing in mid-December....

These stores aren't even staying open through the Christmas shopping season. Not a good sign...

Friday, September 16, 2016

Traveling fans - when the Rams (and the Raiders) move to another city

My buddies at the Orange County Transportation Authority have announced an easy way for Orange County football fans to attend the Rams home game in Los Angeles this Sunday.

Why would the OCTA go through this effort?

Because there was a period when the Los Angeles Rams, despite having "Los Angeles" in the name, were actually based in Orange County. (Rita Moreno of Arte knows the feeling.) Despite the two decades during which the Rams were in Missouri, apparently there are enough people in Orange County who still love the Rams, and are excited about boarding a Metrolink train that will take them to Union Station; the fans will then take Metro to the Coliseum to see their beloved Rams.

But Ram faithfulness has nothing on Raider faithfulness. I guess I never told the complete story about my trip to San Francisco for Oracle OpenWorld 2007. Oh, I alluded to it in a post at Ontario International Airport, and a follow-up picture post. In brief, that year I chose to fly to Oakland rather than San Francisco, and then take BART across the bay to the Moscone Covention Center area.

On a Sunday morning.

When the Oakland Raiders were playing on a Sunday afternoon.

You can guess who was on my Ontario to Oakland flight - it was me and the Raider Nation. This flight was a little more boisterous than your average airline flight, but it was fun.

Of course, this raises the question - if Orange County fans are taking the train to Rams games, and if Inland Empire fans are (or were) taking the plane to Raiders games, are any fans from St. Louis also making the trip to Los Angeles?

Probably not:

A year ago, a San Francisco 49ers touchdown run against the Rams would have been cause for despair at the Hot Shots Bar & Grill in suburban St. Louis. On Monday night, it was cause for celebration.

About 50 or so patrons cheered every Rams mistake and every 49ers success during the Monday Night Football game, the first since Rams owner Stan Kroenke took his football team back to Los Angeles after a 21-year stay in St. Louis.

And Brooklyn residents probably don't fly to Chavez Ravine either.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Living wages and prison worker strikes

I have previously noted that the "living wage" discussion does not extend to prisoners. Prisoners perform work, such as farming tilapia and fighting fires. And sometimes they get as little as 74 cents an hour for the work.

(Not including housing.)

Needless to say, the prisoners are not happy about this, and today prisoners in 24 states are participating in a strike.

One of the issues - "slave labor." Here's part of what the organizing groups said back in April:

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

As even this call to action notes, sub-minimum wages for prisoners - or no wages at all - are Constitutional - at least in government prisons. Private entities have different rules sometimes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Eight years after the education president left office, post-secondary education is hurting

For-profit universities aren't having the best time of it. ITT Technical Institutes is shutting down, Marinello Schools of Beauty shut down earlier this year, and (in case you haven't heard) Trump University has issues.

So why aren't people fleeing to the relative security of non-profit educational institutions?

Because they have their own problems.

I've already talked about Mount St. Mary's University's issues - partly due to privatization efforts, partly due to angering the faculty.

But one way to take care of faculty issues is to close down a program, just getting rid of troublesome faculty.

Six days before the start of the fall semester at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), a group of Master’s candidates and professors received an email from the dean of students informing them that their program was suspended and they would not be teaching or studying as planned. As a result, 17 accepted students and two longtime professors teaching in PNCA’s Critical Theory and Creative Research (CTCR) program were left disillusioned — and, in the case of the professors, unemployed. The college says the program was suspended because of under-enrollment and a delicate financial situation, but students and teachers claim CTCR was eliminated unethically and possibly in retaliation for expressions of dissent against recent changes in the school’s administration.

Here is how PNCA framed the issue:

The June 17 contract written for the co-chairs of the program required 13 qualified students enrolled with deposits by August 15, 2016 for the program to go forward. As of August 15, while 17 students had been admitted into the program, just five of those students committed to the program with deposits, and only one student actually enrolled.

But even the PNCA's press release hints at disarray.

The MA in Critical Theory and Creative Research was originally ​ launched in 2012. At the time, the founding co-chairs of the program were hired with a three-year contract.

In 2015, in response to feedback from students about the accelerated nature of the program, the Graduate Curriculum Committee (a standing committee of Faculty Senate), re-envisioned the MA in Critical Theory and Creative Research as a two-year program and as a dual MA/MFA degree.

Once the Graduate Curriculum Committee approved a two-year CTCR program, a search committee was formed to hire a chair for the new program. The founding co-chairs did not reapply. A chair was hired but withdrew in spring of 2016.

In brief, the program started as a one-year program. After moves were made to change it to a two-year program, the incumbent heads decided not to apply, and the person who was hired to run the two-year program then had second thoughts.

But Hyperallergenic notes other issues:

In April, Hyperallergic reported on a series of protests by PNCA students and staff after a group of adjunct professors was unceremoniously left without work for the coming school year.

Perhaps Mount St. Mary's and PNCA are outside the norm, but all universities, whether for-profit or non-profit, are faced with the task of getting enough money to keep the doors open. Sometimes this means that the college president is pretty much a fundraiser and that's it. Sometimes it means that the schools use adjunct professors and teaching assistants to keep costs down. And sometimes it means grade inflation.

So, what's the solution?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

#empoexpiire An opposing view in praise of password expiration

If you know me, you know I'm not a fan of forced password expiration. However, I figured that I'd share this argument from a discussion of the 2012 Dropbox breach. After recommending that people not use the same password on multiple accounts, author Warwick Ashford said:

The breach only affects those Dropbox users who have not changed their passwords since 2012. By changing passwords regularly, even if breaches occur, they will be useful to hackers only for a limited time.

Businesses that force employees to change passwords regularly will also have reduced their exposure if any employees had used the same password for their Dropbox account, as well as any internal or other business-related accounts.

According to a TeleSign report, 47% of online account holders rely on a password that has not been changed for five years.

This does not negate what I've previously noted - people who are forced to change their passwords end up choosing simple, bad passwords - but it is something to consider.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

It's almost time for #ebimara16

I announced this last Monday, but perhaps you missed the announcement.

So what is this? Basically, I'm hosting something on my Facebook page - a retrospective of posts from the early years of the Empoprise-BI business blog. Now I know that when I originally announced this on August 29, I didn't limit myself to the early years. But once I began going through old posts, I pretty much tuckered out after selecting a few posts from 2009 and 2010 (plus a few more from 2011 and 2012).

So if your favorite Empoprise-BI post was written last year, it won't be part of #ebimara16 - unless I change my mind.

So what's going to happen? Roughly an hour after this post appears, or a little after midnight Pacific Daylight Time, links to old posts will start appearing at Some are serious; some are funny; some are out there; and there's one about baseball.


P.S. As of now, #ebimara16 is not a 24 hour event. It will only last part of the day...again, unless I change my mind.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I finally revealed the Empoprises Rule of Fair Food!

I've been hinting at it for a long time.

A long time.

But I finally wrote down the Empoprises Rule of Fair Food in a comment on Google Plus.

My "Empoprises Rule of Fair Food" (never officially written until today) consists of (1) taking any food, (2) putting the word "fried" in front of it, and (3) putting the word "stick" after it

Actually I meant "on a stick," so make your own manual correction. Example: fried Pop Tart on a stick. (And yes, fried Pop Tarts have been done.)

Why did I reveal it now? Because Cara just shared a link to Eater's State Fair Food Generator.

Try it out. (The generator, not the food.)

But mine is easier.

Beeping oven probe ports - KitchenAid, Dacor, whatever

Unless you're Louise Hay, you've probably had problems with your appliances at some point. Luckily, there are people that can help, such as those at Just Answer.

Someone recently had this problem:

Dacor Oven model ECS2275 PRB - probe is flashing and beeping. I was wiping down the oven with a damp (not wet) sponge and PRB started flashing and beeping on the display. How do I turn this off?

Now most people are stumped when they see a problem like this.

But not you, the Empoprise-BI business blog reader. Perhaps you saw my 2009 post on the topic. (I just might include that post in #ebimara16.) Or maybe my 2010 post. Or my 2011 post. Or my other 2011 post. That one appeared near Thanksgiving. Or my 2012 post. Or my 2013 post.

Well, since I've taken a couple of years' vacation from talking about oven temperature sensor probes that beep, it's understandable that the person above turned to Just Answer for help.

Power the unit off and take and airduster can and blow out the probe port really good and then power the oven back on it should clear.

You'd think that after years of this issue, they'd come up with a probe port that isn't sensitive to humidity.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Police cams and public entertainment, revisited

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a supposedly fictional piece in my tymshft blog entitled "When mandatory police cams become public entertainment." Back then, as the demand for police body cams was just beginning to ramp up, I speculated about the unintended consequences.

While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.

As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.

Fast forward (or backward, if you treat my 2014 post as a message from the future). While we don't have 24/7 camfotainment just yet, we're getting there.

Country singer Randy Travis cannot stop the release of dashboard video from his 2012 DUI arrest, a Texas appeals court ruled.

Police found Travis naked and apparently drunk at the scene of a one-car accident in August 2012 near the town of Tioga, which is 60 miles north of Dallas.

Now some might say that the police were going out on a limb here. Just because a guy is involved in a one-car accident and is naked, does that necessarily mean that he was intoxicated? To these objections, I point out that his BAC was measured at 0.15.

However, it seems that the state of Texas is preserving some decency here.

The Attorney General ruled that any parts of the video that showed Travis naked from the waist down were exempt from disclosure.

So if you want to know if Travis truly is forever and ever, amen, you won't find out from the state.

There are some legal issues here, which have been present ever since the initial demands for all body cams, all the time were initially heard. And the appeals court considered them.

[Chief Justice Jeff] Rose also stated that Travis's privacy was not protected under the Fourth Amendment.

"What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection," he wrote, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court's 1967 decision in Katz v. United States.

I am not a lawyer, but this summary of Katz v. United States asserts that the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. In short, while Katz was in a public phone booth, he was engaged in a private conversation and thus protected from "unreasonable searches and seizures." If I follow Chief Justice Rose's reasoning properly, Travis was not engaged in a private conversation, and thus was afforded no such protection.

Travis is appealing - and I am using "appealing" as a verb, not an adjective.

And since some mashed up a David Hasselhoff video with a burger commercial, perhaps Travis can hook up with a hot dog seller.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Announcing #ebimara16

I have written over two thousand and six hundred posts in this Empoprise-BI business blog. I could have written this in numeric form, but just seeing the word "thousand" spelled out gives me pause.

My very first post to this blog was written on January 29, 2009. Its title? Test post.

This was followed by other test posts. It wasn't until my sixth post, Why Harlan Koch needs to run Starbucks, that I began hitting my stride. And in those 2,600+ posts, I've covered a lot of ground - ground that many of you have missed.

I guess that I could republish every single post in the blog again. That would increase the number of posts to 5,200, but could get messy for other reasons.

Or I could just retweet links for the posts at the empoprises Twitter account, but that's not a good idea either.

The best idea that I came up with was to (a) only share a very small subset of the historical posts, and (b) share it in a location where you have to opt-in to see the comment.

Thus was born next week's Empoprise-BI Marathon 2016 - #ebimara16 for short.

As you can see, the marathon will take place on the United States Labor Day on Monday, September 5.

And the marathon will take place on the Empoprise-BI Facebook page. If you visit that page throughout the day on Labor Day, you'll see reposts of some of the old content from Empoprise-BI. Some of it is no longer relevant - FriendFeed? Some of it, however, is still extremely relevant.

So be sure to pop in throughout the day. After all, you won't be watching Jerry Lewis.

Monday, August 22, 2016

If a university is a business, then it has to respond to its stakeholders

I am really bad at following up.

On February 10, I wrote a post about Mount St. Mary's University and its president, Simon Newman. I noted that President Newman had done some controversial things at the time, including the firing of a tenured professor for "disloyalty." If you know anything about how faculties operate, the faculty was not going to let that go by quietly.

In my post, I wrote:

How will this issue be resolved? Will dedicated faculty throughout the globe unite in an effort to champion academic freedom?

Perhaps...but it would have no effect.

The one way that Mount St. Mary's issues will be resolved will be by a method that President Newman clearly understands: money. If critical donors decide that the environment at Mount St. Mary's is so toxic that donations dry up, rest assured that President Newman will be asked to seek other employment.

So I wrote and posted this on Feburary 10...and failed to follow up.

So what happened? By the end of the month, Newman was gone. But not just because of the firing and the bunnies (oh, yes, the bunnies). He was running into other issues.

In February, the situation for the university worsened when its regional accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, asked the university to provide answers on a series of issues on which Newman's policies and actions may have violated the agency's rules.

But it's one thing to get the ire of the Middle States Commission. It's another thing to get the ire even higher authority.

[Newman] was quoted criticizing the liberal arts emphasis and promoted recruiting efforts that downplayed both liberal arts and the Catholic tradition.

Among the most surprising developments was when several Mount St. Mary's employees and ex-employees confirmed reports that he asked colleagues, "Why are there so many crucifixes?" on the campus. Answer: Mount St. Mary's has a seminary and is among the nation's oldest Catholic colleges.

Well, perhaps Someone contacted the Board or the President or both, because by the end of the month, Newman resigned and made a nice statement that someone else wrote for him, and the Board made a nice statement that someone else wrote for them.

Today, the school has an interim President - Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor. But don't call him that.

He’s asked people not to refer to him by his rank, but rather “Dr. Trainor” (his doctorate in industrial engineering comes from North Carolina State University) or “President Trainor” — titles he feels are more appropriate for his role.

Oh, and before he attended North Carolina State University or West Point, he attended a Catholic high school in New Jersey.

So presumably he doesn't object to the crucifixes around campus.

P.S. According to LinkedIn, Simon Newman has been unemployed since February. But boy did he do a good job in his last position:

Mount St. Mary's University
December 2014 – February 2016 (1 year 3 months)Emmitsburg, Maryland
Unanimously elected the 25th President of MSMU. Hired as a change agent to reposition the University to grow, improve its financial position, strengthen its Catholic identity, raise its academic reputation and be more student centric.

Developed Mount 2.0 - a new Vision for the future of the University, following a rigorous internal and external review of its market position, capabilities, finances, operations, and operating principals. The Mission: double enrollment within 10 years; become a top 10 regional school; top 25 nationally ranked Catholic University.

Achievements included:
- Reduced costs by $3MM; eliminated $10MM of liabilities.
- Initiated and negotiated pending $100+ MM donation/JV.(largest in history)
- Proposed pending $500MM JV with FEMA for an int’l center for Emergency Management (incl. moving I-15)
- Invited Pope Francis, and welcomed President Barack Obama to campus.
- New summer program at Cambridge University; JV with Cambridge Security Initiative.
- Rebuilt management team; hired new Rector, Provost, CTO and VP Student Affairs.
- Introduced new technologies including Workday accounting system, student system and CRM; tripled internet bandwidth; 4 new student lounges; new state-of-the-art classrooms; new learning management system; new athletics training technologies.
- Initiated new academic offerings - appealing to students based on market research:
o New degree programs in growth areas such as forensic accounting, cyber-security, entrepreneurism, and PP&E; plus new courses in high-interest areas.
o Reduced core from 68 to 49 credits.
o Initiated development of a center for student success and leadership.
- Doubled faculty development budget; largest faculty salary increase in years.
- Started Career Pathways Initiative; increased students' access to better career options.
- Added programs in diving, swimming, athletics and rugby.
- Started Presidential Lecture series including largest media event ever held on campus - Justice in America

Unfortunately, none of his colleagues saw fit to give him a reference for that job.

Compare this to the biography of the man who served as President of Reed College when I attended there. Paul Bragdon doesn't have a LinkedIn profile, so this is taken from another source.

Reed’s trustees...were looking for a leader to navigate Reed out of the financial doldrums into which the college had drifted. Inheriting a meager endowment—which had been reduced to about $4.4 million—Bragdon assured a wary faculty he was committed “to improving the resources of the college as a means of sustaining quality and enriching our programs.”

Reed, he counseled, should improve fiscal prospects not at the expense of quality but as a result of it. He was true to his words. As annual giving tripled to $2.4 million in four years, eventually reaching $24 million in a single year, frugality gave way to prudent investment in academic expansion, enriched student life, and structural maintenance. Departmental status for Spanish, majors in Asian studies along with art and history, restoration of the senior symposium, new visiting professorships and faculty chairs, enlargement of Hauser Library and establishment of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, construction of Vollum College Center and a studio arts building, and pioneering programs in computing and educational technology were all achievements of the Bragdon years.

Bragdon’s “Campaign for Reed” raised $65 million in his final five years—putting Reed’s first capital campaign $20 million over goal—and he left the college with a 16-fold increase in endowment and a $2 million reserve. When he departed, Bragdon had handed diplomas to 40 percent of all Reed graduates.

Fifteen years after leaving Reed, Bragdon served as interim President as crosstown school Lewis & Clark College. (Have I told the joke about Watzek's donations to Reed and Lewis & Clark?) At the time, he made the following observation:

First, any president anywhere should be devoted to saying the same thing to each constituency of the College. The emphasis chosen and the language used might vary based on the interests of the listener, but it should be the same essential message.

Second, the College’s constituents are entitled to some straightforward statements about what the institution is and where it hopes to go—what its problems are, what its strengths are, and the plan for moving forward.

Third, you can assume that one who is or wants to be a college president is an ambitious person. I think we should be looking for someone who will tie that ambition to this institution—someone who understands that personal ambition is achieved by aligning it with institutional interests.

Overall, the president serves an educational role, but not in the classroom. It’s necessary to enlist the support and cooperation of a lot of people to get things done over a long period of time, which means a lot of consultation, a lot of testing of ideas, and a lot of listening.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

When governments violate minimum wages AND the 24th Amendment

In the past, I have written about minimum wage laws, living wage laws, and exceptions to the same for prisoners in Colorado and California. In those two cases, the argument is that prisoners do not deserve minimum wages because they are criminals, so therefore the state is justified in paying sub-minimum wages.

But what of law-abiding citizens? A recent court case in the state of Washington (hotbed of living wage activity) makes an interesting argument:

King County's $10-per-day reimbursement for mileage or travel hasn't changed since 1959, lead plaintiff Ryan Rocha says in the complaint in Pierce County Court.

He says the low pay effectively prevents minorities and poor people from participating in jury service.

A Seattle worker earning minimum wage would make $104 for an eight-hour day, and all minimum-wage workers in Washington earn at least $75 for eight hours....

The other named plaintiff, Catherine Selin, served on a jury for 11 days last year, and also worked for an employer that did not compensate her. She says King County violated the state's minimum wage act by not paying her.

So basically law-abiding citizens are denied minimum wage if their employer doesn't pay for jury duty. (It should be noted that government employees usually get paid for jury duty, so they themselves don't suffer.) Basically, it would be a financial hardship to employers if the state mandated that all employers offer paid jury leave - just as it would be a financial hardship to the state to pay living wages to jurors.

But that's not the interesting part.

Their attorney Jeffrey Needle said in a statement: "Citizens aren't required to give up their incomes in order to vote, and they shouldn't have to do so with jury service either."

But what does voting, an activity that takes less than an hour, have to do with jury service, an activity that could take a week or more?

A lot, actually, according to The Straight Dope:

[T]he Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems...argues that because most states link voter registration with jury service, jury duty basically constitutes a poll tax: it’s effectively a fee for casting a ballot. Citizens know they’ll be put on a jury list if they register to vote; some know they can’t afford to miss work to sit on a jury; therefore they don’t register, and subsequently can’t vote.

OK, a poll tax - so what? It's not like that's illegal or anything. Well, in this U.S. election season in which we're paying attention to the 1st, 2nd, and other amendments, let's take a look at the 24th:

“Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.”

“Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

In a classic example of unintended consequences, the amendment gained passage because of the disenfranchisement practices of evil southern states that conspired to deny the vote to blacks.

But if the Columbia Journal's argument is correct, the amendment could also be used against the disenfranchisement practices of all states that discourage voting by paying low jury duty rates.

Yes, even in the state that has a county (re)named after Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

In card transactions, the chip (and the machine) are not enough

In the United States, many bytes have been devoted to the transition to "chip and PIN" (or, in some cases, "chip and signature") credit and debit cards. While much has been said about the financial motivations of banks and retailers, one underlying assumption has been that the chip card, when paired with a compatible card reader, is secure.

However, Robinson + Cole cites an NCR study that points out one other significant factor - a factor that some are choosing NOT to implement.

NCR says that the problem is that while retailers are encouraging the use of chip cards, they are upgrading their payment machines but they are not encrypting the transaction. Retailers would need to pay extra for the encryption. So while they are spending money on the new payment machines for chip cards, the transaction is still not all that secure.

As an aside, I should make a note that this is not a failure of the technology; it's a failure of the implementation of the technology.

Of course NCR presumably has its own motivations - it wants the retailers to spend money on encryption - but the argument makes sense. If you're going to spend all this money to install readers to reader the new chip cards, why not follow through with implementing the software change? Without encryption, all of that money is wasted.

And it's not like the encryption issue is anything new; the Smart Card Alliance was discussing end-to-end encryption in 2009.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Maintaining customer focus

Too often when we're selling something, we think that the focus is on us and our needs, and forget that the customer doesn't really care about our needs. The customer cares about his or her needs.

I was reminded of this when viewing a page that was intended to help me learn about wearable cameras.

But the first sentence of the page ruined it for me.

We spent 24 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki.

The writer forgot that I don't care if the writer spent 24 hours, 24 weeks, or 24 seconds assembling the material. I just want a kewl Dick Tracy camera.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

In related news, political candidates rate themselves as highly qualified

I recently reviewed the results of a survey. The results themselves can only be shared with members of a specific organization, so I am forced to speak in generalities.

However, one of the questions asked whether the respondents agreed with the statement that customer decision-makers had "poor knowledge" about products.

Suppliers of the products thought that this percentage was high.

Customers themselves thought that this percentage was low.

Monday, August 8, 2016

#nbcfail NOT - The only Olympic number that matters (and no, it's not viewership or digital downloads)

There are a certain vocal number of people, me included, who do not care at all for the way that NBC covers the Olympics in the United States. As Dave Barry noted as far back as 1996, NBC concentrates on tape-delayed snippets of Olympic activity featuring Americans.

Tape delays, restriction of GIF posting, and other things have caused The Pundits to declare NBC and the International Olympic Committee brain dead anachronisms that will be swept away by kewl social media stuff that bypasses the tired old bla bla bla.

The network's coverage of the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro was typically clueless and counterintuitive, cutting away to a commercial every few minutes, inserting "expert" commentary in a window in the lower left-hand corner, and interrupting the spectacle to show us images of U.S. athletes preparing to enter next-door for the Parade of Nations (as if we didn't already know that we were going to see American athletes if we stuck around). The entire thing was delayed, as is tradition whenever the Games appear in another time zone — an increasingly ridiculous practice in the age of social media, which makes it possible to at least partially follow events live, even if television does not deign to cover them that way.

However, people who pursue this line of thinking are confused about NBC's true customers. They somehow have the impression that viewers matter to television networks. They don't. Old stodgy NBC is just like newfangled Google/Alphabet in one important respect - NBC's customers are not the people who turn on the TV and watch NBC's show offerings. NBC's customers are the ADVERTISERS that pay for the eyeballs of the people who turn on the TV.

Thus, NBC doesn't care about number of viewers or number of Facebook likes. NBC cares about profits. And guess what? NBC has been. and will be, profitable.

NBC paid the IOC nearly $1.23 billion for the rights to televise these games. For that money, the IOC will do whatever NBC wants.

Meanwhile, advertisers have lined up and bought ads to the games - and are especially anxious to buy prime time ads. And despite naysayers such as myself that think that NBC's Olympics aren't worth watching, there are apparently many people who think the Olympics are worth watching. Even before the Olympics began, NBC had sold $1.2 billion of advertisements, which is actually faster than the ads are usually sold. With another couple of weeks of selling ads, NBC will realize a tidy profit - possibly higher than the $120 million they made in 2012.

And that final profit is the ONLY number that NBC cares about.

For NBC to shatter that profit margin, they'd have to do something extremely drastic that would cause advertisers to pull out - like they did for the Republican National Convention. And I don't think that NBC is about to name Donald Trump as Chairman of the Board. (Although a fake announcement to that effect would be a good prank to pull on Rachel Maddow.)

We want you to listen to us...and shut up

There was an interesting little episode buried in a Courthouse News Service article.

As part of the article, Courthouse News Service paid a visit to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, and listened to a presentation by a court employee. Note that the court provided this employee for the presentation.

During a visit to the Stanley Mosk court last week, Courthouse News saw how the service works in a civil filings office lit by honeycomb fluorescents and lined with warm, brown sugar-colored panels.

The room reverberated with the electronic garble of receipt machines, the disembodied voices of clerks, and the bureaucratic click-clack of staplers fastening court papers.

A court employee at a filing window explained that when visitors who don't speak English arrive, he shows them an "I speak" card that allows them to identify their first language.

From his counter, the employee can dial through to a professional interpreting service. He said that he stays on the line with one handset and passes another handset beneath his window so that visitors can explain the nature of their inquiry through an interpreter.

Nice presentation, right?

But then the Courthouse News Service reporter did something that the L.A. County Superior Court apparently didn't expect.

The reporter asked a question.

When the reporter asked the employee his name and how many visitors on average use the service each day, an accompanying public information officer interrupted the interview and told the reporter he could not ask such questions.

"We generally do not allow staff to be interviewed directly," court spokeswoman Mary Hearn clarified in an email. "It is the role of the public information office to provide information to the media."

As you can see, Hearn's response was quoted in Matt Reynolds' resulting Courthouse News Service article. It's unclear whether Reynolds was the reporter who dared to ask a question, but obviously Reynolds believes that the question was not out of line.

So how could a public information officer conceive of a situation in which a court employee would give a presentation, but would not have to ask any questions?

Simple. Too many reporters don't bother to ask questions. Many publications are content to merely parrot whatever the news sources tells them, which is why Narrative Science is so successful.

Lesson learned: if you are going to stick someone in front of a bunch of reporters, be prepared for the possibility that the reporters may ask questions.

And if that person isn't prepared to answer questions, then perhaps Mary Hearn should have held up the "I speak" card and the handset.

Friday, August 5, 2016

You are not a customer, August 2016 edition (Pandora, Peter Deacon, and Michigan's Video Rental Privacy Act)

I have made a certain point ad nauseum. If you are a user of a service that provides wonderful things to you, then you are probably not a "customer" of the service provider.

Back before Google became Alphabet, its investor website contained the following question:

Who are our customers?

Think of all the services that pre-Alphabet Google provided - search capability, video watching, blogging, et al.

Now forget about all of them.

Our customers are over one million of advertisers, from small businesses targeting local customers to many of the world's largest global enterprises, who use Google AdWords to reach millions of users around the world.

Perhaps things have changed a bit with the creation of Alphabet, but for the most part, Alphabet exists to serve advertisers. The people using Alphabet services are merely providing data and eyeballs.

Which brings us to Michigan's Video Rental Privacy Act. Going back a decade or two to the time when videotapes were popular, people would go to a video store, choose a video tape to rent, pay some money, take it home, watch it, BE KIND REWIND, and return the tape. This worried privacy advocates, who were afraid that someone's recorded rentals of hot sex action and/or Pauly Shore movies would be revealed to the public. Hence, the Video Rental Privacy Act was born.

Peter Deacon, Pandora user, was subsequently disturbed at what Pandora was doing:

Plaintiff Peter Deacon brought a class action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against Pandora, claiming that the music-streaming company violated Michigan’s video privacy law by posting his music preferences on Facebook and making his preferences available via an internet search.

As far as Deacon was concerned, Pandora's sharing of this information with Facebook was a privacy violation. I don't know whether Facebook revealed that Deacon loved Morris Albert's "Feelings," the collected works of Britney Spears, or what. But Deacon felt that the Michigan Video Rental Privacy Act would protect him.

It wouldn't.

In a unanimous decision, the seven members of the Michigan court held that Deacon was not a “customer” under the VRPA because he neither rented nor borrowed anything from Pandora. The act is “intended to preserve personal privacy with respect to the purchase, rental, or borrowing of certain materials,” and prohibits the release of any information that indicates the identity of a customer. Accordingly, only customers can sue under the act. A customer is “a person who purchases, rents, or borrows a book or other written material, or a sound recording, or a video recording.”

Now perhaps this is a case in which the law has not caught up with technology. Or perhaps not. But regardless of how we may feel today, current law assumes that the sound recording was purchased, rented, or borrowed.

Would the legalities have changed if Deacon was paying for his Pandora service? That I do not know.

P.S. My music listening habits are revealed for all to see. And yes, you can find Wham! in the list.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The First Amendment does not extend to private enterprises - or Bermuda (another Ayo Kimathi story)

Large companies often conduct anti-harassment training, and my employer is no exception. Our session, moderated by an outside attorney, made the important point that the First Amendment to the Constitution can be misinterpreted. Yes, an employee has a right to freedom of speech - but the employer has the right to terminate the employee if it doesn't like the speech.


As I noted back in 2013, things are a little more complicated if your employer is the U.S. federal government. In that year, it was revealed that Department of Homeland Security employee Ayo Kimathi had advanced the following opinions about his boss, President Barack Obama:

a treasonous mulatto scum dweller … who will fight against reparations for Black people in amerikkka, but in favor of fag rights for freaks in amerikkka and Afrika

Because "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech," Kimathi (in effect, an agent of Congress since DHS was authorized by Congress) was not separated from government employment immediately. I never did learn how he left his job; he may have resigned rather than been fired.

But Kimathi has learned that the First Amendment doesn't do a lot of good when you leave the United States.

Washington speaker Ayo Kimathi has been placed on Bermuda’s stop list by the Minister of Home Affairs in light of a speech he gave condemning homosexuality and interracial marriage.

Kimathi was invited to Bermuda to give a lecture on African history - but veered off on to another topic. (For those who have followed Kimathi, this sounds familiar.)

...the subject veered off to include claims that homosexuality originated from white Europeans along with other forms of “sexual deviance” including child molestation, bestiality, rape and interracial marriage.

In this election year, it appears that we've found one thing that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, John McCain (Jack's dad), and Ted Cruz can all agree on.

They're not with Ayo.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Kmart, 1962-2017???

Normally I put these types of stories in my tymshft blog, but since this story hasn't officially ended yet, I'm sticking it here.

Kmart, which sprung out of S.S. Kresge in 1962, had hit hard times by 2002. This was not a good time for merchandisers - the venerable Montgomery Ward had gone out of business. Kmart's solution was to merge with Sears, under the theory that if you put two faltering companies together, the resulting company would be absolutely wonderful.

For some odd reason, it didn't work out that way. The combined company is still faltering.

Now comes news that Kmart is undergoing a "path to profitability" plan at its stores, and that store managers are being encouraged to move inventory out of the stock room and on to the sales floor.

Some employees, however, suspect that Kmart is doing something entirely different:

"If you go to the purging stock rooms then that means the store will be closing soon no matter what they tell you," one person wrote. "Could be a month, maybe six, but they are already in the process of planning for it to close once they put it all out on the sales floor."

Other employees are speculating that bankruptcy and store closings will begin after the Christmas 2016 season, with one saying:

I have no doubts at all that SHLD [Sears Holdings] will cease to exist by 2020 at the very latest.

Note that Sears Holdings not only includes Kmart, but also Sears itself. According to that noted business publication Infowars, Kmart and Sears are but two of the retailers that are closing stores; even Walmart is affected. The steady minds at Infowars are referring to a "retail apocalypse."

Not surprisingly, the National Retail Federation takes a different view. However, neither Sears nor Kmart appear on the NRF's Hot 100 list.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#empoplaaybizz PokeSTOP! Or, I am not a marketing genius either

Remember my morning post that suggested generous use of Pokemon Go incense to attract people to a business?

Well, both Kevin Hagan and Lars M. Hansen have detected a tiny problem with my idea. As Imore puts it:

It only works on you.

So a business could buy gallons of incense, but it wouldn't benefit the customers at all. Unless there was a way to gift incense to other players - which, as far as I know, does not yet exist. So if your restaurant isn't near a REAL Pokestop (that can support lures), my idea's a dud.

In related news, I found James Kim's trademark application. And Pokestop itself commented on my original post, noting that the PokeStop idea was one of severa.

#empoplaaybizz PokeSTOP! Or, James Kim is NOT a marketing genius

PYMNTS and Uproxx and TMZ are reporting that "branding genius" James Kim has a revolutionary idea.

1. Trademark the term Pokestop.
2. Reach a licensing agreement with Nintendo, the Pokémon Company, and/or Niantic.
3. Open a chain of cafes called Pokestops to cater to the Pokémon Go-loving public.

So assume that Nintendo et al are extremely happy with the idea of giving Kim a cut of the money, and that the trademarks are approved, and that locations are selected. In a best-case scenario, we'll start seeing these "Pokestops" in...

...well, in 2017 if everything goes perfectly. If things get bogged down with litigation and zoning restrictions (imagine your average city council approving a restaurant that is designed to have a bunch of people milling around), the process could take years.

By which time the Pokémon Go fanaticism may have faded just a little bit.

Now I am not world-renowned like James Kim is, but I have a way to use Pokémon Go to drum up business at your establishment that does NOT require trademark battles, licensing agreements, franchise agreements, or anything else. Sit back.

1. Open a restaurant or café.

That's actually the hardest part in this whole thing. Opening food establishments is hard, and keeping them open is harder. But once you've done that, you can move on to step 2.

2. Buy incense by the gallon.

Now I'm not talking about any kind of incense. I'm talking about Pokémon Go incense, a purchasable game item that attracts Pokémon to the location for 1/2 hour.

Note that I said incense, not lures. Lures can only be used in certain locations called Pokestops, and if you're restaurant isn't a Pokestop, you're out of luck. But incense can be used anywhere, even if a Pokestop is kilometers away. (This is a Niantic worldwide game. Niantic doesn't use miles.)

To buy incense, you need 1,250 PokeCoins to buy 25 units of incense. Since each unit of incense lasts 30 minutes, 25 units will last for just about a full day at a restaurant. And in real money, the 1,250 PokeCoins can be had for a little over $10.

Spend $20 over a weekend, and potentially attract customers who will spend much more than $20. Sounds like a winner to me.

But how do the players know to come to your restaurant or café? Do you have to engage in activities that bring Nintendo lawyers down on you? Not necessarily.

3. Put up a sign in your restaurant/café that says, "We buy incense."

Now I've actually seen huge banners with official Pokémon Go logos on them, and perhaps the lawyers will even let those stay up. But if they don't, a simple "we have incense" sign - coupled with word of mouth - will serve the same purpose.

And if Pokémon Go turns out to be a fad that dies before Christmas, your restaurant can quit buying the incense every weekend and move on to the next idea. And you've saved all the trademark and licensing and permit fees that James Kim is going to be paying.