Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Offensive Football League, for real

Back in early September 2013, I wrote a parody futuristic post about a mythical sports league called the Offensive Football League. The post consisted of the supposed commentary by sportscaster Marv Albert during the inaugural OFL game. As part of that commentary, Albert explained the rules of the new league.

Now for those of you who haven't paid attention to all of the OFL talk, you'll immediately notice a couple of major differences between the OFL and the NFL. The first is that the Enlightened is not lining up to receive a kickoff from the Resistance. That's because in OFL football, there IS no kickoff. The offense simply lines up at their own 20 yard line.

Now you've also noticed that San Francisco has not yet taken the field. Again, this is because of an OFL rules change. In the OFL, there is no defense. Other than that, it's the same as the NFL. The offense gets four downs to advance ten yards. If they are unable to do so, the opposing team takes the ball at its own 20. This resulted from the wisdom of the crowds, who wanted to see more offense. In that case, why bother with a defense? And the team owners like the arrangement also, since their personnel costs were cut in half. Actually, more than half, since there are no punters and no kickers. Extra points after touchdowns were eliminated because two point conversions bring more -

At this point, Albert interrupted his commentary to provide play-by-play for the first official OFL game. You can see the results of the first play here.

Ha ha ha. As if football would ever switch to an offense-only configuration in real life.

Since I wrote that post, 1 1/2 NFL seasons have gone into the books. And yes, defense still exists in the NFL.

But we rarely talk about it.

Back in 2013, the Philadelphia Eagles played their first games under new coach Chip Kelly, and we're talking about what Kelly is doing. You can bet that Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News is talking about it - Dallas is facing Philadelphia tomorrow.

This isn’t an ideal time in the Cowboys’ schedule for a short week of preparation.

And it has nothing to do with all the earthquakes around Dallas these days.

What has more magnitude for the Cowboys this week has wings.

The energized Philadelphia offense challenges defenses like no other team in the league because of the Eagles’ up-tempo style of play.

Many NFL teams use a hurry-up offense at times. The Eagles do it every play.

P.S. Yes, events in 2014 have conspired to give the title "Offensive Football League" a whole new meaning - such that when Katy Perry was officially announced as the Super Bowl halftime entertainment, one comment thread included the following:

I was hoping for Chris Brown.


No, ConocoPhillips is not suing itself

Another Courthouse News Service piece looks at the dispute between ConocoPhillips and Venezuela from ConocoPhillips' point of view. It begins as follows:

Venezuela's national oil company is selling CITGO to move the money back home and prevent ConocoPhillips from collecting an impending billion-dollar arbitration award, ConocoPhillips claims in court.

So who's reportedly buying CITGO?

CITGO is shopping its assets to energy heavyweights Valero, Chevron, Marathon and Phillips 66

Uh, wait a minute. Isn't Phillips 66 by definition part of ConocoPhillips? So if Phillips 66 buys CITGO, does ConocoPhillips have to sue itself?

No. It turns out that Phillips 66 was spun off from ConocoPhillips and is now an independent company. So the former family members are now separated.

I've run across this myself; after my current company was sold by Motorola, there were obviously questions about why we were using Motorola hardware devices (although those hardware devices have also been spun off by Motorola).

And sometimes it happens the other way. Years ago I was hearing a sales pitch from a company - I won't mention the name of the company, but they like yachts and the color red a lot - and the company salespeople were telling us to buy one of the company's products, and not to buy Product X from a competitor because it was inferior.

Well, next thing you know, this particular company acquired the provider of Product X. (The company also likes acquisitions.)

In my next encounter with the salespeople, they were suddenly singing Product X's praises and saying that it was obviously the superior product.

What have you done for me lately?

P.S. If you couldn't figure out the acquisition deal involving the red yacht-loving company, it's this one. And if I had followed the ORIGINAL sales advice, I would have had to do a migration later.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grover Jackson, Carlton Easton, and the intricacies of racism

When Courthouse News Service runs articles such as this one, they are usually told by one side of the dispute. This obviously leads to an incomplete or possibly skewed version of the legal issues involved.

Grover Jackson sued Policemen's Benevolent Association Local No. 105 on Nov. 10 in Essex County Superior Court.

The complaint comes in the wake of a June 2013 grievance that Jackson filed against Newark's Northern State Prison while he was working as a senior corrections officer there.

That October, Jackson allegedly met to discuss the status of that grievance with Carlton Easton, PBA 105's institutional vice president. Easton is not a party to the action.

Jackson says that Easton "responded in an unnecessarily aggressive and demeaning manner to plaintiff's comments about his grievance" during the meeting.

I won't explicitly identify the demeaning manner that Courthouse News Service documented, but suffice it to say that a word that rhymes with "trigger" was reportedly used about 15 times.

Courthouse News Service then identifies the lawyer representing Grover Jackson and concludes its piece.

Wanting to hear the other side, I went to the Policemen's Benevolent Association Local No. 105 web site. It had no statement on the controversy, but it did identify the union leadership, including Carlton Easton (one of several institutional vice presidents).

If you look at his page, you'll notice something that was not stated in the Courthouse News Service piece.

Is Easton's race a relevant part of this story?

Or is it not a relevant part of this story?

Monday, November 24, 2014

When testimonials don't ring true (so our Flavia coffee machine has Windows registry errors?)

As long-time readers of this blog know, our office has had Flavia coffee machines for years. In fact, we're on our second generation of Flavia machines.

If you're not familiar with a Flavia coffee machine, it is an automated machine based upon the same principles as the Keurig and Nespresso machines. The Flavia machine has a small display screen with buttons that allow you to make your selection - coffee, tea, latte, or whatever. You then put the appropriate packet (or packets) in the machine, and your drink is prepared for you with 21st century technological charm.

Our new generation Flavia machines like to display a particular error code every once in a while, and in an effort to find out more about the error, I turned to the wisdom of the Internet. I ran across this:

Incidentally, I was not getting error 328 on our Flavia machines - I was getting another error - but something about this text struck me as odd. I have no idea what operating system platform is used to run the Flavia software, and it's quite possible that some form of Windows is running behind the scenes. However, errors on devices such as a Flavia coffee machine usually indicate a hardware problem, not a software problem, so I'm not certain that a Windows registry error fixer is the type of tool that I need.

(Incidentally, I am intentionally NOT linking to the page in question - which is NOT - because, after spending a few seconds on the page, I received a suggestion to download some software. While I'm certain that the software is wonderful and free and will never cost you a dime, others may disagree with my opinion.)

My misgivings were only amplified as I continued to read the page and ran across some testimonials for the software, describing the customers' pleasure at its ability to fix Windows Flavia Coffee Machine Error 328.

Yeah, right.

I can just picture the scene now, very early on the morning of September 25.


"Yes, honey?"

"I can't get any coffee from the coffee machine!"

"Why are you getting coffee at 2:47 in the morning?"

"I was thirsty. Erick, maybe it wasn't a good idea to install a corporate coffee machine in our house."

"Now honey, don't worry. I bet it's just a registry error. I heard about some software that can fix those. I'll download it and fix your coffee machine within the hour!"

"Oh, Erick, you're the best husband I ever had!"

"But honey, I'm the only husband you ever had!"

"No, I told you about Jimmy, the Xerox copier repair technician. And before that there was Charlie, the Boeing aircraft engineer. And in high school I dated Fred, who worked after school at the machine gun factory. He's the one who died in that tragic accident. Erick? Erick?"

P.S. After composing this post, I found a 2008 Flavia error codes handbook on Docstoc (downloadable here). Error code 328 is a "pack eject timeout" error (the packet of coffee or tea or whatever is jammed in the machine). I couldn't find the error code that I was looking for, but our current machines were probably manufactured after this 2008 book was published.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My unfortunate mashup of the day

Original tweet here.

If you missed it, my somewhat more serious post on Ubergate is here.

Ethics in crowdsourced taxi journalism (Uber buzzes Lacy)

Up and down.
But in the end it's only round and round.

(Pink Floyd, "Us and Them")

Everyone has weighed in on "Ubergate," including Loren Feldman, but I have kept with my usual non-trendiness and am just now catching up on the brouhaha.

Then again, 99% of the world's population doesn't care about Uber or Sarah Lacy, so I'm not alone.

If you're part of the 99%, here's a quick catchup, starting with Buzzfeed:

Over dinner, [Uber's Emil Michael] outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.

At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

Talk is talk, but Lacy was not amused when she heard about the conversation:

I first heard of this when [Buzzfeed writer Ben] Smith called me for comment over the weekend. I was out late at a work dinner in London and stepped out into the cold to take the call. A chill ran down my spine that had little to do with the weather, as he described the bizarre interaction. I immediately thought of my kids at home halfway around the world, just getting out of their baths and groggily pulling on their pajamas, and how the new line that this company was willing to cross would affect them.

This is not the first time that someone has compiled an "enemies list," of course, and it won't be the last. The question is what you do with that enemies list.

To be frank, there will always be an enemies list - or, at a minimum, a frenemies list. Uber and Lyft may have similar views about overturning the old taxi cartel, but they're obviously going to fight each other - at least until the merger talks begin. (You can't be Sirius, John, suggesting a merger?)

Perhaps Uber would be better off if it took a more positive approach toward its critics, or perhaps not. But negative publicity can't really help your company, unless for some reason you're intentionally courting it.

On the other hand, based upon an admitted reading of only a single article, it appears that Pando Daily (Lacy's outfit) has a longstanding animosity toward Uber. As a writer, I'll admit that I love nothing better than to return to a cherished battle and fire yet another salvo at a particular target. But repeated volleys have diminished effectiveness over time.

Years ago, TechCrunch weighed in on women who complain and complain and complain about sexism.

Are more women not in management decisions by choice or because the chose not to be or because of a glass ceiling? Until we have some new way to look at this issue, I’m done discussing it because the discussion doesn’t ever get us anywhere new. Bloggers saying this needs attention are playing to a crowd or just haven’t been doing their homework....

But suffice to say for all those people who jump up and down about the problem in the Valley: Statistically you are the envy of the world. Statistically, women have enough leadership roles at lower levels that you should be able to move up if you are talented and you want to....

One of the best speakers I’ve heard at Summer Davos was also one of the most successful people, and he came from a far more challenged background than the average American. His advice in an off-the-record mentor session was this: “The most successful people in the world never complain. I’m tired of people saying their opportunities were taken away from them by others.” Amen.

Now I'll grant that this is a different issue than digging up dirt on someone. Which is just as well, because the 2010 TechCrunch article wasn't written by Emil Michael or Michael Arrington or Bill Cosby. The article was written by someone else.

You can't claim employment discrimination if you're not employed, part two

This is a follow-up to my earlier post about two people who were fired from volunteer jobs, possibly because of their religious beliefs.

In this new story, Gary Vander Boegh was a landfill manager employed by Weskem.

During that time, he reported that the uranium enrichment plant had been illegally dumping radiological waste, contaminating the groundwater. This revelation qualified Vander Boegh for whistleblower protections.

In 2005, Weskem lost that particular contract to a new company, EnergySolutions. Vander Boegh applied for the landfill manager job with the new company, and was not hired. He claims that he wasn't hired because of his previous whistleblower activities, and that the failure to hire him was employment discrimination.

But the 6th Circuit (we saw this circuit earlier) disagreed.

The 6th Circuit affirmed Tuesday that Vander Boegh cannot sue EnergySolutions for employment discrimination because he was just an applicant - not an employee.

"The plain meaning of 'employee' does not plausibly extend to Vander Boegh because he never worked for EnergySolutions," U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Griffin said, writing for the three-judge panel.

Now there are legal protections for job applicants - if a particular company continuously refuses to hire black women, the applicants have a case.

However, it doesn't appear that whistleblower protections apply here.

You can't claim employment discrimination if you're not employed

There is often a lot of misunderstanding about the protections that we have. For example, as I noted in an August 2013 post, there is no Constitutional or Federal protection that prevents a private employer from firing an employee because of his or her political views.

Michael Italie was fired by Goodwill Industries in 2001 because he was running for mayor of Miami on the Socialist Workers Party ticket. Italie quickly discovered that while he couldn't be fired for his religious views, and while a government employee couldn't be fired for his or her political views, a private employer could very easily be fired for political views.

So if you're a passionate Republican who wants to work for George Soros, don't bother.

However, religion is clearly protected by Federal and state law, and you can't fire someone because of his or her religious beliefs.

Or can you?

Take the case of Michael Marie and Mary Cabrini, two nuns who are members of the Order of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. If you think that all Roman Catholics have identical beliefs, think again. These nuns believe that Vatican II was a mistake, and that the Mass should not have been changed.

Anyway, these two sisters volunteered with both the Red Cross and the Ross County Emergency Management Agency. In both of these organizations, a woman named Mary McCord holds high executive position. McCord is Catholic, but is not a traditionalist Catholic.

The two nuns claim that McCord not only prevented them from being promoted, but also fired them from the Ross County Emergency Management Agency.

Assuming that McCord orchestrated these job actions for religious reasons, this initially sounds like a clear case of religious discrimination, where two people suffered employment discrimination because of their religious beliefs.

Well, there's only one little problem - since the two were volunteers and not employees, there was no such thing as employment discrimination, according to the 6th Circuit:

"The Red Cross and RCEMA not only did not provide a regular salary to the Sisters, but they also did not provide them with traditional benefits such as medical, vision, or dental insurance. As these types of benefits are often present in the employment relationship, their absence also weighs against a finding that the Sisters were employees," U.S. Circuit Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove said, writing for the three-judge panel....

"Even if RCEMA and the Red Cross would have threatened to sever their volunteer relationship with the Sisters upon their refusal to adhere to a set schedule or to accept the tasks given them, this does not necessarily show that the agencies exercised any real control over the Sisters. Unlike most employees, the Sisters are not economically reliant on RCEMA or the Red Cross in any real or measurable way," since they receive all living expenses from their order, the 28-page opinion states.

Full case here.

Now it's quite possible that this could be overturned on appeal, or that a different court may reach a different conclusion in a similar case. But for now, it appears that you have to actually be an employee to suffer employment discrimination.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Management by fear

Management by fear. The image that is conjured by those words is one that is, to put it mildly, unpleasant. I remember a consulting job that I had decades ago, where the supervisor was making one of his subordinates physically ill. Several months later I ran into the subordinate, who was now smiling - her fearful supervisor had left the company.

But there's another management by fear that is much more common than the verbally or physically threatening hothead. In the course of her article Ten Stupid Rules That Drive Great Employees Away, Liz Ryan asks the following question:

Why do companies install so many stupid rules and policies?

Her answer?

Fear is the reason. Fearful managers don't trust themselves to hire people they could trust to do the right thing. There is a tremendous amount of fear in many corporations, institutions and startups. Small companies are not immune to fear.

The fear often manifests itself when the firm sets a policy to avoid a past mistake. Here's one of Ryan's examples:

There are still employers that require their employees to bring in funeral notices in order to be eligible for a few days' paid bereavement leave. That's shocking and horrifying.

No doubt some employee way back when falsified a family death to get some time off, and ever since then the company has been writing its policies to prevent such a fraud from re-occurring.

Bad employment policies are like bad laws - long after the threat has gone away, the policies are still there, and thirty years later, you still have to get manager approval to replace your name badge.

Can you think of any examples of management by fear at your company?

Monday, November 17, 2014

The problem with being Big Data-Driven

I don't talk about BIG DATA all that much - not because I am not trendy, but because I rarely have anything to say about it. Occasionally the topic will come up, but it's not a major theme in my business blogging.

This is probably a good thing.

Why? Because the term BIG DATA is, on its own, a tool in search of a benefit. Not that you could tell this from the literature:

After transforming customer-facing functions such as sales and marketing, big data is extending its reach to other parts of the enterprise. In research and development, for example, big data and analytics are being adopted across industries, including pharmaceuticals.

And here's another one:

Research firm Gartner said that big data analytics will play a crucial role in detecting crime and security infractions. By 2016, more than 25 percent of global firms will adopt big data analytics for at least one security and fraud detection use case, up from current eight percent.

But if we focus on BIG DATA, we may miss something. Qvidian's Amanda Wilson makes this point in a blog post geared toward sales operations professionals, but applicable to many of us.

One section of this post is entitled "Less Data Driven, More Driving of the Data." This is an important distinction, as Wilson notes:

Data is being captured at almost every point in the marketing and selling process, so the amount of information we can gain on what’s going on is at an all-time high. But the key is to not just look for the new analytics tool of the month, or dazzle your leadership with pretty dashboards and visualizations. Because data doesn’t make decisions, people do.

Read more of Wilson's comments here.

And don't forget Sujatha Das' point that data is just the first step to wisdom.

Friday, November 14, 2014

More on Just (Not?) Mayo

On Monday, I wrote a post that discussed various foods - or not foods, depending upon your point of view. One of the items discussed was a product from Hampton Creek Foods called Just Mayo. As I noted on Monday, the innovation of Hampton Creek Foods is that their products are produced without using animals.

Therefore, Just Mayo contains no eggs.

As I wrote that post, I did not realize the implications of this on the product name. However, as Keith Wilson notes, there are certainly implications:

I have to agree mayo contains eggs. If it doesn't contain eggs it shouldn't be called mayo, it's a mayo-like substance.

Now Hampton Creek Foods may not care what Keith Wilson thinks, but they'll probably have to pay attention to Unilever:

Unilever, the parent company of Hellmann’s, sued a San Francisco-based Hampton Creek for false advertising over the company’s use of the word “mayo” in its eggless sandwich spread’s name.

According to the suit, Unilever claims that the name of the Just Mayo spread misleads consumers because regulators and dictionaries define mayonnaise as a spread that contains eggs.

According to Consumerist, Hampton Creek agrees that mayonnaise is a spread that contains eggs - which is why its product is not called Just Mayonnaise.

However, Hampton Creek could do a lot more to stop Unilever. In fact, Hampton Creek could boldly pronounce that its product is NOT mayonnaise, and if you want to buy true chicken-based mayonnaise, Unilever would be happy to provide it to you.

(Source: PETA)

Of course, Hampton Creek's message would only be effective if it partnered with the (so called) People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. As you may guess, PETA is not a fan of chicken eggs:

The 346 million chickens used each year for their eggs, called “laying hens” by the industry, endure a nightmare that lasts for two years.

At just a few days old, a large portion of each hen’s beak is cut off with a burning-hot blade, and no painkillers are used. Many birds, unable to eat because of the pain, die from dehydration and weakened immune systems.

After enduring these mutilations, hens are shoved into tiny wire “battery” cages, which measure roughly 18 by 20 inches and hold five to 11 hens, each of whom has a wingspan of 32 inches. Even in the best-case scenario, each hen will spend the rest of her life crowded in a space about the size of a file drawer with four other hens, unable to lift even a single wing.

Sounds like hell, man.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Now this is serious. It has a serious name - Photonic Fence.

Back in March 2009, I wrote about some people, including Nathan Myhrvold and Dr. Lowell Wood, who proposed to combat the spread of malaria by killing mosquitoes with lasers. I commented at the time:

I'm sure [that] Dr. Wood acted all serious in the meetings, talking about combating malaria and saving the world, but once he got away from the money people, he jumped up in joy and started talking about really kewl laser action!

Well, the idea has continued to evolve, and now it's no longer a hand-held laser. The new prototype is called the Photonic Fence.

The device creates a virtual fence that detects insects as they cross its plane. Once detected, the photonic fence uses the insect’s wing beat to determine if it’s a mosquito, identify if that mosquito is female (only females bite humans), and then shoot the mosquito out of the sky with a laser. Photonic fence devices could be set along the perimeter of villages or buildings to control mosquito populations without interfering with human traffic.

A fence that kills females - at first I wondered if I was reading about #GamerGate.

But the Wikipedia article on the technology links to criticism of the idea from Dr. Bart Knols. Among other things, the requirement for a stable power supply to operate the Photonic Fence makes the whole idea a non-starter in those areas of Africa that are worried about malaria.

Monday, November 10, 2014

An explanatory note to Europeans

Dear Europe,

Some, but not all, businesses will be closed in the United States on Tuesday, November 11 for the holiday that we call Veterans Day (and that we used to call Armistice Day, back when we thought that the World War was the war to end all wars).

Yes, I know that you call it Remembrance Day, but we do our remembering in late May, on the day that we call Memorial Day.

This gives us a holiday in May. No, most of us don't celebrate May Day, because we're not a bunch of Commies.

What is food? (Just Mayo, GMOs, Soylent, the Impossible Cheeseburger, and good bugs)

Back in March 2009, right about when this particular blog was starting up, I wrote a post that referenced another post in a blog called Small Business Labs. I haven't looked at Small Business Labs in years, but I peeked at it recently, and saw a post entitled The Future of Food.

I've previously discussed Beyond Eggs in a post in my tymshft blog. The product, provided (or should I say manufactured?) by Hampton Creek Foods, has subsequently taken a back seat to two other products, Just Mayo and Just Cookies. The common theme of the new products? Both are considered "sustainable," inasmuch as there aren't any of those chickens laying those messy eggs. Just Mayo, for example, includes the following ingredients:

Non-GMO Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Filtered Water, Lemon Juice, White Vinegar, 2% or less of the following: Organic Sugar, Salt, Pea Protein, Spices, Modified Food Starch, Beta-Carotene.*

Note that Hampton Creek Foods makes a big deal out of the non-GMO nature of its ingredients. There are those who believe that it is important to avoid genetically modified organisms. There are those (such as I do) who would like to be informed whether my food in GMO or non-GMO. And there are those who believe that it doesn't make a hill of beans ("natural" or otherwise) whether a food is a GMO food or not; in fact, Tad Donaghe characterizes anti-GMO people as 21st century Luddites. Donaghe's view is based upon the scientific evidence:

Every major scientific body and regulatory agency in the world has reviewed the research about GMOs and openly declared crop biotechnology and the foods currently available for sale to be safe. GM crops are as safe–and in the case of nutrtionally enhanced varieties, such as Golden Rice, healthier–than conventional and organic crops. The consensus over the health and safety is as strong as the consensus that we are undergoing human induced climate change, vaccines are beneficial and not harmful and evolution is a fact.

Of course, there are other studies....

And I haven't even brought up the food (or "food") that was intentionally given the unfortunate name of Soylent.

Put simply, Soylent 1.0 is healthy, easy, affordable food.

Soylent 1.0 is a simple, efficient and affordable drink that possesses what a body needs to be healthy.

Soylent 1.0 is a new option for maintaining a balanced state of ideal nutrition, just like traditional food.

OK, so what is it?

Soylent is a convenient powder that is mixed with water.

Some tout Soylent as the future of food, but David Tao (who experienced bloating and who aggravated his throat in an admittedly short three-day test) is less enthusiastic.

Soylent may revolutionize nutrition for some, but as my experiences indicate, it’s definitely not for everyone. Yes, there are numerous examples of people who switched to an all-Soylent diet and felt great doing it — including its inventor. But while my three-day trial wasn’t enough to draw conclusions about consuming Soylent long-term, the early side effects have scared me off for now.

I seem to have strayed from my original purpose, which was to discuss the recent Small Business Labs article. It starts off by talking about Impossible Foods, a company that is creating meat (or "meat") out of biomass. As Small Business Labs' Steve summarized it:

We've traditionally used cows as our technology for converting plants into meat. Impossible Foods is replicating this process in a lab, eliminating the need for cows.

Not only is this potentially cheaper, but much better for the environment. Raising cows requires a lot of energy and water. Lab made meat would greatly reduce the use of both of these as well as eliminating the need for land for grazing.

Here's how Impossible Foods describes the process.

We looked at animal products at the molecular level, then selected specific proteins and nutrients from greens, seeds, and grains to recreate the wonderfully complex experience of meats and dairy products. For thousands of years we've relied on animals as our technology to transform plants into meat, milk, and eggs. Impossible Foods has found a better way.

The result?

Well, at least it looks better than Soylent. But how does it taste? According to, a Wall Street Journal taste test (behind a paywall) characterized the taste of the Impossible Cheeseburger as "something like a cross between a turkey burger and regular beef burger."

Small Business Labs also talked about food made from bugs, but hey - I'm about to eat.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What do you do?

We think that it's easy to describe what we do for a living, but is it? I'll use two examples - Gregg Popovich, and myself. (See if you can tell us apart.)

The essence of Popovich's job is to encourage other men to amass four numbers - the San Antonio Spurs' scores in four NBA final games - and ensure that those four numbers are higher than the scores of the other team in the NBA finals. The NBA finals is a best of seven series, so if you win four games - or have four higher scores than the other team - you win the championship. If Popovich can only amass three higher numbers (meaning that the other team has four higher numbers, or four wins), then Popovich didn't do his job. If the Spurs don't even get to the NBA finals, then Popovich didn't do his job.

Incidentally, this is why I was never bent out of shape when Popovich sat his stars during the regular season. His goal is to win four NBA finals games. His goal isn't to make people at a Miami Heat regular season game happy. Heck, his goal isn't even to make his own fans happy during the regular season. His goal is to win the finals.

My job is slightly different from Popovich's job, but it can also be boiled down to its essence - something that I did in a comment on a Colleen Jolly post.

I take contributions from many people and create a pile of paper. Sometimes, the "judges" think that my pile of paper is better than the other piles of paper.

Now you can also extrapolate jobs into abstractions. Popovich makes San Antonio citizens happy. I save lives by keeping dangerous criminals off the streets.

What do you do?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Spending Thanksgiving morning at Kmart

In the course of a post detailing how Kmart will be open for 42 hours straight, beginning Thanksgiving morning, the Consumerist wrote:

Maybe if they keep the doors open for that long, someone will wander in.

While Kmart's early opening hours elicited complaints in 2013, the company is apparently making money by doing it:

Officials decided to open the stores earlier this year after customer feedback indicated shoppers wanted more flexible shopping hours during the holiday, Kmart spokeswoman Shanelle Armstrong wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.

But, according to Forbes, MasterCard has identified another reason for the earlier and earlier shopping hours.

A Black Friday spending analysis from the credit card giant shows a whopping 70% of consumer spending happens at the first two stores a shopper visits.

Every big box chain is therefore competing to be the first port of call for shoppers as they battle long lines, cold, fatigue, and sharp elbows — not to mention dwindling funds.

So even if few people are truly going to Kmart these days, think how many wouldn't show up if Kmart opened Friday, and the customers had already gone to Walmart on Thursday evening.

(Oh, as an aside for MY previously announced Thanksgiving plans - it's still uncertain whether I'll be able to run the post or not. I may be "holding for effect" a little while longer.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Russia may develop a technological center, but it won't be a "Silicon Valley"

Fortune has discussed Russia's annual Open Innovations Forum with the headline "In Russia, an attempt to build its own Silicon Valley on the Moskva River."

But by the time you've finished reading the first paragraph, a quote from Dmitry Repin illustrates the error in the headline.

“There’s foreign media, there’s industry, there’s government—it’s all here.”

While Silicon Valley in the USA certainly includes a confluence of people, government is (at least outwardly) absent. Remember my post from last year that quoted Chamath Palihapitiya?

If companies shut down, the stock market would collapse. If the government shuts down, nothing happens and we all move on, because it just doesn't matter. Stasis in the government is actually good for all of us. It means they can neither do anything semi-useful nor anything really stupid.

Would YOU want to be the Russian startup head that tells Putin that things would be better if he did nothing?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Do we really want authenticity? (the 2014 edition)

Another tragedy.

Another case in which a leader steps before the cameras after the tragedy.

Another case in which the leader's stature is enhanced as a result.

The latest example of such a leader is Richard Branson, responding to the tragic loss of life in a Virgin Galactic test flight last week. A sample:

I am writing this as we refuel on one of the most difficult trips I have ever had to make. I will be in Mojave soon to join the Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composite teams involved in the SpaceShipTwo flight test program. Mojave is also where I want to be – with the dedicated and hard-working people who are now in shock at this devastating loss.

And as a result, people are using this as a teaching moment to suggest how leaders should respond in the future.

Michele Lutz's first derived lesson?

Be human.

Lutz goes on to explain what she means, but her explanation doesn't match her initial two-word statement.

Why not? Because often when we are truly human, we not only expose our greatest strengths, but also our weaknesses and our warts.

I've already talked about my favorite example of a leader who was honest - and human - and who received a ton of negative press as a result. BP's Tony Hayward was certainly human and honest when he said, "I want my life back," and I would probably have done the same. But that response, to put it mildly, wasn't popular.

Another example was exhibited by someone who is usually in control in front of the cameras, Paul McCartney. It must be wonderful to be McCartney's publicist, since the man is gifted in staying on topic and saying the "right" thing.

With one notable exception.

When his long-time songwriting partner John Lennon was murdered, a shocked McCartney was questioned about it. When one looks at his human response, it doesn't seem "right."

It's a drag.

In this case, McCartney's brain was on overload, and he was unable to come up with the right thing to say. Decades later, even McCartney fans debate the topic.

It sounds like we don't want our leaders to be human, but to be superhuman.

Online B2B vertical marketing - a cogent analysis of how some are getting it done

2007 and 2008 were a long time ago.

Part of my reluctance to "twitter" the IAI back then was due to the fact that the online services at the time seemed more targeted to individuals than to companies. With some notable exceptions, the trendy part of the tech industry was focused on consumer rather than enterprise business.

While this persists even today, there are more and more examples of enterprise use of social media. Even my vertical market, the automated fingerprint identification system industry and related industries, is starting to use hashtags. In addition to #99IAI (mentioned here), one of my company's esteemed competitors used a hashtag for its own user conference. Well, sort of - the company used the hashtag once, and a participant used it twice. But that's better than many other companies, I guess.

The big boys, of course, are using hashtags more effectively. Take Grainger, who gets it done:

How did we capture the excitement of the conference? We utilized social media to communicate with event planners and attendees. The Grainger Show hashtag (#GraingerShow) had more than 56,000 impressions on Twitter.

Interestingly enough, the "we" in that passage was not Grainger, but Bags Inc., who supplied bags to the Grainger Show; Grainger's own press release didn't mention the hashtag. Grainger gets it outsourcing to the nimble.

But an online presence will become more important. At about the same time (early 2014) as #GraingerShow, Alex Kantrowitz was discussing future B2B trends.

When compared to editorial content and vendor-created content, social media is currently the least critical source of information for IT buyers, the [IDG Connect] study found. But in two years, buyers expect that equation to flip as they increase the weight given to social media from 31% to 37% for influencing investment decisions. In the same period the weight given to editorial and vendor content will drop to 31% and 32%, respectively.

Kantrowitz further noted that even then (January 2014), 86% of all IT buyers were referring to social media, even if it wasn't a major impact on their decisions - yet.

But if you're in a small vertical, how do you find your B2B information needle in the online haystack?

Monday, October 27, 2014

And the silos hit the mobile payments market (or, CurrentC isn't)

In the ideal world, you should be able to go to any merchant and use any form of payment - cash, check, credit card, debit card, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, yuan, whatever.

We do not live in an ideal world, as some are discovering. Take Julio Ojeda-Zapata, who went to a CVS pharmacy and tried to pay with Google Wallet. He posted a picture of a terminal stating that another form of payment is required.

While Google Wallet is affected by CVS' move, the real news is brewing for the users of the just-released Apple Pay - and it seems that it was Apple Pay that prompted the recent payment denials.

Earlier this week, Rite Aid took steps to shut down support for Apple and Google’s digital wallets. While the pharmacy chain was not an official Apple Pay partner, consumers were able to use the payment system with existing NFC payment terminals until a short while ago. But now, CVS is following suit.

CVS sent an email to its stores saying that NFC support is supposed to be turned off and that the company will not accept Apple Pay. The email went on to say that cashiers should be instructed to apologize to the customer, explain that CVS does not accept Apple Pay, and then inform the customer that it will have its own mobile wallet next year. Through Twitter, and various media outlets, consumers are confirming that NFC support has been turned off at CVS stores today.

Why? Because CVS and Rite Aid, along with several other retailers, are members of the Merchant Customer Exchange - and they are rolling out their own mobile payment system, CurrentC. Why? Because their system cuts out the middlemen (banks and credit card companies) and gets money directly from the consumers' bank accounts.

There's only one problem. If you go to a Rite Aid or a CVS and try to pay with CurrentC, you can't use that either. Not until 2015.

Which gives the enemies of CurrentC plenty of time to gather their ammunition. TechCrunch isn't sold on the technology, as noted below. (It's appropriate to note that John Gruber really really likes Apple, but that doesn't negate his basic premise.)

The problem with the CurrentC system, as John Gruber points out, is that it’s based more around solving the retailers’ credit card fee problems than the consumers’ payment friction problems. Users have to open their phone, open CurrentC, open the scanner, scan the code from the cashier, and wait for the transaction to be confirmed. That may present more friction than simply paying with a credit card, and it’s certainly harder than a quick Touch ID verification and tap of Apple Pay.

Of course, CurrentC does have some advantages, including the fact that the technology doesn't require the latest and greatest phones to work. However, the fact remains that Google Wallet and Apple Pay will be available during the holiday shopping season, while CurrentC won't. That probably won't have a big financial impact on the retailers that won't accept any mobile payments, and the hubbub may be confined to the tech-weenie circles.

But when you're talking about something that you want early adopters to champion, it may be hard to find early adopter champions for CurrentC.

Yes, there is Ebola insurance now

And here's another insurance item.

I haven't written about Ebola all that much, since I'm spending 25 hours a day expressing my concern about ethics in videogame journalism.

But I guess there are a few people here and there talking about Ebola, especially since the news media airs EBOLA UPDATES at every possible opportunity.

And others are paying attention to the potential impacts of Ebola.

Peter Reilly, WGA’s Healthcare Practice Leader ... noted, “Insurance for lost revenue arising out of a non-physical damage event like a voluntary or involuntary quarantine of facilities and medical professionals is not available on most Business Interruption coverage forms."

So what's the solution?

Miller Insurance Services, an independent specialist insurance broker, and William Gallagher Associates (“WGA”), a U.S. retail insurance broker, jointly announce the availability of Pandemic Disease Business Interruption Insurance, provided by the Ark Syndicate at Lloyd’s. Coverage responds to loss of income arising directly out of shutdowns of healthcare facilities as well as diminished revenues in the aftermath of a quarantine. The coverage is available through highly-rated insurers in London that are licensed in the US and in other world markets.

When insurance shakes you up

Insurance. Technically and legally it's not gambling, but it still involves the placement of a bet. You put down a specific amount of money, but if something happens to the insured item - your home, your car, or your own body - you'll get some money.

A key component of most insurance polices is the deductible. If I get in an extremely minor fender bender and my car suffers a whopping five dollars worth of damage, my auto insurance policy won't pay me anything. Now if the car suffers five thousand dollars worth of damage, it's a different story.

Deductibles can be very low, or very high. Oddly enough, the most valuable thing that we insure - our own bodies, in the form of health insurance - often has low deductibles. Auto insurance has higher deductibles, depending upon the policy you select. Homeowners' insurance also has deductibles at a particular level, but homeowners' insurance does not include all of the possible things that could happen to your home and its contents.

Which brings us to earthquake insurance:

[Tom] Fuller, a public relations consultant [in Napa], said the repairs from last month’s magnitude-6.0 quake won’t come close to his $48,000 deductible — the amount of structural damage his home must suffer before the insurance company becomes liable for major repairs.

Yes, that's right. You need to suffer somewhere around $48,000 in damage before the earthquake insurance policy (managed under the auspices of the California Earthquake Authority) pays a single penny. Even on a less expensive home - not that there are many of those here in California, even with the housing bubble burst - you're looking at $10,000 or more of earthquake damage that you have to cover on your own.

What does this mean?

Only 6 percent of Napa County homeowners have earthquake insurance, compared to 10 percent of all Sonoma County and California residents, according to the California Earthquake Authority, the public entity that works with private insurers to offer residential coverage.

Only 9 percent of state businesses had quake insurance last year, according to the state Department of Insurance.

The number of residential policies has declined statewide from 1.2 million in 2004 to 1.1 million last year.

In California, auto insurance is mandatory; other types of insurance, including earthquake insurance, are not. This may be unique to California - we really, REALLY love our cars. And I'll admit that I don't know the details of other types of catastrophic insurance, such as tornado insurance in Kansas, hurricane insurance in Florida, or marijuana intoxication insurance in Colorado.

But in essence, the vast majority of Californians who don't have insurance are engaging in a bet of their own. They are betting that if an earthquake does damage their homes, the amount of damage will be LESS than the deductible.

Of course, there's always a chance that the bet can be lost.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Are Ello investors crazy? And will the anti-Ello get tsued?

While a few people are already yawning about Ello and saying that it's so last week, others are starting to take notice.

If you've managed to avoid all talk about Ello, this is a software service that espouses principles similar to the marketing-free folks that I complained about several years ago.

Basically, Ello is defining itself in the negative, by saying that it will not do things that Facebook does.

Does Facebook clutter your feed up with advertisements? Ello won't do that.

Does Facebook sell its data (it's not YOUR data, it's FACEBOOK'S data) to others? Ello won't do that.

In fact, the BBC notes that Ello is really serious about this.

A social network promising never to sell user data or incorporate advertising ... has also become a Public Benefit Corporation, which prohibits its current and any future owners from breaking that promise.

However, that's not the main point of the BBC article. The main point of the article is to note that Ello has received US$5.5 million from investors.

But if Ello isn't selling ads or data, then how are the investors going to make money?

"There are 'freemium' successes like Linked In and in gaming. Ello is taking a unique spin on this," said Lee Bouyea, of Fresh Track Capital, one of the platform's new backers.

And while Bouyea also notes that Fresh Track Capital is in this for the long haul, you still have to wonder if micropayments alone can fund a company.

Take LinkedIn. Yes, LinkedIn is able to raise revenue from a freemium model. In the fourth quarter of 2013, it had $88.1 million in revenue from premium subscriptions. However, that was only part of its $447.2 million in fourth quarter revenue. $113.5 million of LinkedIn's revenue came from ads - something that Ello has said that it isn't going to do.

So where did the rest of LinkedIn's revenue - $245.6 million - come from?


From LinkedIn's perspective, "recruiting" refers to people who are offering jobs, and people who are looking for jobs.

From Ello's perspective, what does "recruiting" mean?

This is where the people who are yawning about Ello may perk up their ears, because there's an even newer service that is on the horizon - launched two days ago.

Tsu, which launched on October 21 with $7 million in funding from Sancus Capital Prive, is divvying up its advertising proceeds with its users. Yes, you heard it right. Their model is predicated on paying YOU for actively posting on their platform and inviting your friends to do so as well.

Note that "inviting your friends" part. Over the last couple of days, I've seen a couple of Google+ users urging me to join Now THAT'S recruiting. I guess you could say that Tsu is the anti-Ello.

And Ron Callari is not impressed:

To understand the payouts a user is supposed to receive on Tsu, it’s kind of analogous to a multi-level-marketing model, sometimes derogatorily referred to as a “pyramid scheme” a la Bernie Madoff.

Perhaps I'm reading a little too much into Callari's attitude, but when you mention Bernie Madoff in connection with a business, it's usually not a compliment.

However, Callari does note that users don't have to make any investment themselves. They just agree to split the proceeds between themselves, Tsu, and the people who recruited them in the first place. Whether this will pass legal muster I don't know; tsu's FAQS are silent on legalities, and I couldn't find Tsu's terms of service.

And for what it's worth, Callari is on Tsu himself. But I'm not going to link to him, because I'm not getting a cut.

Wonder if Callari is on Ello...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ottawa - should we let fear change us?

In the middle of the morning out here in California, I heard about the attacks in Ottawa, Canada. Having made several visits to Ottawa, and having stayed near the Parliament Hill area (once I visited an ice sculpture competition on Parliament Hill - yes, Ottawa can get cold), the news was especially upsetting.

But it was more upsetting to those who have spent significant time in Ottawa. Jon Krier, a dual Canadian-American citizen, spent two years living outside of Ottawa. Those two years were 2004 and 2005, so they occurred after the September 11 attack on the United States, and (obviously) before today's attack in Canada. Krier observed the difference between the two countries in 2004-2005:

I moved to Canada in large part out of anger at the fear driven changes in America following September 11, 2001. I hated the evisceration of the US Constitution and the poorly planned aggression of the only country I had ever called home (I was born in Canada, but had never lived there before 2004). I decided that I would take advantage of my Canadian citizenship and move to a country that had not abandoned its values and founding principles out of fear.

The thing that made me most happy to be in Canada while I lived there was the openness of Parliament. Even before 9/11 the US Capitol was extremely secure. The seat of American power is locked and walled away from the people of the US. Walls and guards separate the White House from its subjects. Before I moved to Ottawa it never even occurred to me that there could be a different way of doing things. It blew me away when I moved to Canada that I could just walk right up to Parliament anytime I wanted.

Even in Ottawa, Krier could notice a difference in attitude between the US and Canada.

The US Embassy in Ottawa is a post-modernist interpretation of a submarine, surrounded by neo-classical buildings and castles. After 9/11 the US embassy blocked off a lane of traffic surrounding the building in the middle of downtown Ottawa with jersey barriers. Inside of those Jersey barriers was a row of pylons with steel shafts that extended underground designed to stop tanks. Inside of that row of pylons is a tall fence made of pointed metal and concrete. The walls look to be several feet thick and the glass appears to be bulletproof, and there is no evidence of any windows that can be opened. The entire structure is surmounted by a brooding turret.

In his post - "Dear Ottawa: Don't Let Fear Change You" - Krier hopes that today's attacks don't cause Canada to be less open, or for its government to become insulated from its citizens.

Sadly, I suspect that Krier's wish won't be granted. Experience has a way of modifying your behavior. I obviously am not Canadian, so I don't know if Canadians have been walking around with a sense of innocence. However, I suspect that a desire for safety will cause changes in Canada.

I'm going to tell a story about my own country - a story that predates 9/11 by several decades.

Gerald Ford was President at a time when there were concerns over his predecessor's "imperial" Presidency, so it behooved Ford (as it behooved his successor, Jimmy Carter) to be as open as possible. Thus, on September 5, 1975, President Ford was walking down a street in Sacramento, California. As Ford later recounted, he was walking by the crowds when he suddenly saw a gun pointed toward him.

Luckily for Ford, the gun didn't go off.

However, the threat of a Presidential assassination, with all that would happen to the country, was a sobering thought. This was decades before the coordinated, multi-city attacks on 9/11, but even in 1975 there was significant worry about the threat to our country. Ford couldn't have been blamed if he decided to hunker down behind a security perimeter and keep away from everybody. Above all, one would expect that even if Ford didn't take such a drastic step, he wouldn't take unnecessary risks in California. We're all crazy here, you know.

However, as many of you recall, less than three weeks later - on September 17, 1975 - Gerald Ford was walking down a street in San Francisco, California. There he met a woman named Sara Jane Moore, and, as Moore herself recalls, she pointed a gun toward Ford.

This time, the gun did go off, but the shot was deflected away from the President.

Several years later, someone did manage to hit a President (Ronald Reagan) with a bullet, and as a result our Presidents live their lives behind a security perimeter, walled off from the outside world.

While this obviously has its disadvantages, it helps to make sure that the President doesn't die in office. And since no U.S. President has died in office since 1963, I guess that the increased security has served its purpose.

But at a cost.

And I suspect that the people in Canada are about to go through the same process.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why I love the AFRSBPPAG

I love acronyms - especially when they are tied to incomprehensible buzzwords. When I changed jobs back in 2009, I had to ditch a whole set of acronyms and buzzwords and learn some new ones.

Does this mean that I'll never listen to a PMV webinar again, or that I will quit tracking what IBM does with its Rational product line, or that I'll purge my mind of all of the acronyms that I've gathered over the years - since, due to my change in duties, I am no longer involved with the CCB, FEC, NSDB, or SEPG; no longer write MRs; and no longer read TRSes, SAUs, PSCMPs, or other CIs?...

I already have some new acronyms that are creeping into my vocabulary (WIP it into shape!).

But I am not alone. Back in the 1960s, Philip Broughton declared his love for buzzwords also.

In 1968, Newsweek magazine published a short, but humorous article, How to Win at Wordsmanship. It described the "Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector," a concept developed by Philip Broughton, a (then) 63 year old worker in the US Public Health Service.

Now that computers can accept input rather than paper tape, the folks at Acronym Finder have recreated Broughton's work in an "Acronym Finder Random Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector Acronym Generator." The AFRSBPPAG can generate 1,000 different buzzword phrases, and their corresponding acronyms. Three examples:

Synchronized Organizational Programming (SOP)
Total Third-generation Projection (TTP)
Balanced Reciprocal Mobility (BRM)

So go play with it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Does FirstNet illustrate the deficiencies of "ready, fire, aim"...or does it illustrate the advantages?

One of the principles in the Peters/Waterman book In Search of Excellence is a bias for action - probably derived from the way in which the book itself was written.

Peters and Waterman were both consultants on the margins of McKinsey, based in the San Francisco office. In 1977 McKinsey director Ron Daniel launched two projects; the first and major one, the Business Strategy project, was allocated to top consultants at McKinsey's New York corporate HQ and was given star billing. Nothing came of it. The second 'weak-sister' project (as Peters called it) concerned Organisation - structure and people. The Organisation project was seen as less important, and was allocated to Peters and Waterman at San Francisco. Peters travelled the world on an infinite budget, with licence to talk to as many interesting business people he could find about teams and organisations in business. He had no particular aim or theory in mind.

This aimless wandering, which eventually resulted in the best-selling book, is an illustration of a principle that Peters and Waterman attributed to then-EDS head Ross Perot:

“Ready. FIRE! Aim.”

This technique sometimes works, and it sometimes doesn't. Martin Zwilling has characterized the failures as "the dreaded premature execution syndrome." Zwilling asserts that different techniques are called for in different situations.

I believe that many ... have benefited from [the ready-fire-aim] approach, especially in early startup stages. If your product is highly innovative, and speed to market is critical, you won’t get it right the first time anyway, no matter how cautiously you plan.

The ready-aim-fire traditional approach works best in more mature markets, where your strategy is to add features and value to competitive products, or address an underserved new segment of the marketplace. These are the environments where you really need extended planning to ensure proper positioning before launching the product.

Let's look at an example.

After Sept. 11 exposed huge holes in the country’s public safety communications capabilities, Congress passed a law on Feb. 22, 2012, creating the First Responder Network Authority (better known as FirstNet) to build a nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety and emergency response. The nation’s 5.4 million first responders would no longer have to rely on commercial carriers to communicate and transmit critical information during major emergencies.

So how should such a problem be approached?

One could argue that because this is a critical initiative affecting thousands of public safety agencies, the development of FirstNet should be carefully managed to ensure that the system is designed correctly - the "ready-aim-fire" method.

Alternatively, one could argue that a delay in the initiative could result in catastrophe and loss of life, should an emergency situation occur while first responders were still trying to get their communication devices to work. Better to get the work done now - the "ready-fire-aim" method.

The chair of FirstNet's Board of Directors, Samuel Ginn, decided on a course of action that clearly favored "ready-fire-aim":

The board’s first chair, Samuel Ginn, a long-time industry executive with experience at Vodofone and AirTouch Communications, faced two problems: First, how to staff FirstNet with enough expertise to build a reliable nationwide wireless broadband network using the latest technology; and second: how to do it fast.

Ginn decided to do it fast, quickly hiring nearly three dozen technical consultants without going through a competitive bidding process. The technical consultants were people that Ginn and his private sector associates knew and trusted - people who could quickly build a reliable wireless broadband network.

Unfortunately, some did not agree with Ginn's course of action.

In April 2013, a FirstNet board member, Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald criticized the consulting contracts and raised the possibility of “conflicts of interest” in the hiring process. In September of this year, an investigative article by Greg Gordon of McClatchy News Service raised serious questions about FirstNet’s hiring process and whether or not the authority broke rules or violated laws. One thing was clear: In the board’s rush to find technical expertise, it ignored the most important constituency: the EMTs, firefighters and police who were actually supposed to use the system.

At which point you could ask, so what? Firefighters aren't experts in creating networks, so is there really a need to consult them? (I'm playing devil's advocate here.) After all, as long as Ginn and his people can get a network rolling, the firefighters and police officers can provide suggestions after the fact, and those can be included in version 2.0. The private sector does this all the time.

Unfortunately for Ginn, one aspect of the FirstNet project gave the ignored firefighers and police officers some significant bargaining power.

[P]ublic safety agencies aren’t mandated to use the network. “Once the network is stood up, there’s no requirement in the law that any public safety agency has to use it,” said [former Seattle Chief Information Officer Bill] Schrier. "If FirstNet doesn’t consult with its anchor customers at the beginning, it’s going to be harder to market later on.” And if too few public safety agencies use the network, it becomes less effective and more costly to run.

This happens in government - and in business - all the time. Several years ago, I was trying to improve an internal company process by championing adoption of a particular tool. If this tool were adopted, I believed, we could realize significant cost savings. A wonderful concept - until one of the stakeholders told me that there was no way that he would use the tool. The effort died.

As for FirstNet, the Commerce Secretary (FirstNet falls under the Department of Commerce) said some wonderful things in a May 2014 press release - or, more accurately, some communications analyst claimed that Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said these things:

“Sam Ginn’s leadership and experience building an organization from the ground up has been invaluable to FirstNet over the past two years, and we greatly appreciate his service,” Pritzker said. “As FirstNet enters the next phase in its development, Sue Swenson brings to this start up effort seasoned management experience in the telecommunications field to carry out this important mission.”

Tammy Parker worded the news a little bit differently.

Las Vegas bookies probably would have calculated pretty strong odds against Sam Ginn staying on as chairman of the First Network Responders Authority once his term expires in August. And that's exactly why Las Vegas bookies make money.

Parker went on to quote from incoming chair Swenson:

"We are working toward several important roadmap milestones--including consultation with the states and territories and the development of a comprehensive network request for proposal (RFP) and an RFP for network equipment and services."

Did you catch that word "consultation"?

For more of this, see the Government Technology article entitled FirstNet: Scandal and Resurrection. (Strong words, especially since the Inspector General's report still hasn't been released, so there may not be a "scandal" per se.)

So, is this a failure of "ready-fire-aim"? Should Ginn have spent more time consulting with stakeholders? Did FirstNet effectively waste its time for two years because of the controversy?

Or is this a success of "ready-fire-aim"? Did Ginn's tactics serve to jump-start FirstNet so that new leadership could, in the words of the anonymous communication flunky, enter "the next phase in its development"?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

¿Cómo se dice en español DRM?

Juan Valdez was content as he sat in the main room of his house. The windows were open, the air was crisp, and the aroma of coffee beans filled the air. Valdez had tended his family's coffee plantation for many years, but today he was relaxing and enjoying the peaceful morning.

As he sat, he realized that he only lacked one thing to make it a perfect morning.

"I need a cup of coffee," Valdez said to himself.

Juan arose from his chair, went to his kitchen, and turned on his coffee pot.

Nothing happened.

"My old coffee machine no longer works," said Valdez to himself. "I must purchase a new one." So he went to the barn, saddled up, and rode down to town.

I would like a coffee maker," said Valdez to the friendly sales associate. (Whether you are in rural Colombia or in Atlanta, Georgia, the sales associates are always friendly. Usually.)

"I will be happy to help you," the sales associate replied. "In fact, we just got a new coffee maker in the shop that I know that you will love!"

The sales associate asked Valdez to go to the appliances area, and she gestured at a store model of a shiny new coffee maker. "This," she said, "is the latest Keurig coffee maker."

"It looks very different from my old coffee maker," said Valdez as he carefully examined the strange device. "Where do I put the filter?"

"This is the latest technology, and a filter is no longer required," replied the perky sales associate as she opened up a small door in the coffeemaker. "You just put your coffee pod into this little area here, close the door" - she did so - "then you press a button and you get a single cup of coffee!"

Valdez was amazed. "So," he asked for clarification, "I can just take my coffee, put it in a pod, and brew a single cup?"

"You don't need to supply your own coffee," the salesperson clarified. "Keurig can provide coffee for you!"

"But I like my own coffee. I am Juan Valdez, the greatest coffeemaker in the world. People all over the world talk about my coffee. I do not want Keurig's coffee. I want my own beans, that I have lovingly grown in the Colombian climate. I can use my own coffee, can I not?"

The sales associate became less perky and less friendly.

"Keurig cares for you," she said in measured tones. "Keurig does not want you to have a bad coffee experience with inferior coffee. Therefore, Keurig has taken steps to ensure that only the best Keurig-authorized coffees can be used in your new Keurig coffeemaker."

Valdez stood there for what appeared to be an eternity.

"I give up," Valdez said. "I will sell cocaine instead."

The salesperson replied, "Have you heard about Keurig's new crack pipes? They use authorized Keurig cocaine from the finest growers. Would you like to become a supplier?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wait for it... (another Thanksgiving post status update)

November 27, 2014.

This date is circled in red here at the Empoprises headquarters on the 25th floor of a Guasti, California skyscraper. Or not.

Why is this date circled? Because, as I've said ad nauseum (most recently in September), that is the date when a long-anticipated post is TENTATIVELY scheduled to appear.

I say tentatively, because I cannot publish this post until something else happens, and that something else - originally expected to take place in October 2013 - has not yet happened.

So, as I've previously stated, there is still a chance that my Thanksgiving post may not appear on Thanksgiving. I am continuing to monitor the situation, however.

However, I am now going to give you a sneak peek into a small portion of the contents of that post. The statement below was not written by me, but was said by...someone else.

I'm holding for effect.

And so am I.

(Unrelated postscript: nine years ago, when I began publicizing the address "1 Empire Way Suite 2525, Guasti, CA 91743," it was meant as a huge joke. Back in 2005, the idea of a 25 story building in Guasti, California was ludicrous. Well, time marches on, and while there aren't any 25 story skyscrapers in Guasti yet, there are some pretty tall buildings around there these days.)

Why do you think they called it "The Giver"?

Moviemaking is a very complex endeavor.

If Katie Holmes wants to make a movie, she doesn't just go somewhere and say stuff. There are a lot of people involved in making a movie, and you need a bunch of scriptwriters and key grips and people like that to actually make a movie.

And the work isn't done when the movie's complete. You then have to market the movie so that people will come and see it. For movies, that often means that you have to hold a gala premiere.

Last summer, a movie called "The Giver" was released, and Katie Holmes and a bunch of people worked on the movie and associated marketing. In fact, the great cinematic publication known as Mashable discussed the preparations for the premiere, which itself had to be marketed:

Like Jonas in the colorless tale, however, the Weinstein Company wants fans to experience more, feel more, when it comes to The Giver premiere in New York City. The film studio is giving people the chance to battle for 100 open seats to the Aug. 11 red carpet event....

To earn a spot, people must enter Weinstein's "The Giver Movie Premiere for Good" contest, which tasks participants to launch a simple fundraising campaign on Crowdrise....

"Through the seating map, we're creating a gamified fundraising experience — and a competition — for fans to raise as much as possible to sit close to their favorite star," Rob Mishev, head of business development at Eventbrite, told Mashable.

The Weinstein Company, Crowdrise, Eventbrite - and that's just for the premiere. But they weren't the only companies involved in the premiere. A company called Live Media Group also says that it helped out:

The Giver Premiere

Live Media Group worked with The Weinstein Company and Fathom Events to bring the Live Red Carpet Premiere of The Giver to fans in theatres around the country!

What We Did
Graphics Build
In-Theatre Broadcast
Live Directing
Live Event Coordination

That's a lot of stuff. Unfortunately for Live Media Group, the company alleges that it did all the giving...and the Weinstein Company just took away.

According to the complaint, LMG and The Weinstein Co. had deals for the plaintiff to provide services for the New York City premiere of the studio’s film “The Giver” and the Los Angeles premiere of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”

The Weinstein Co. failed to pay the $137,640 owed for “The Giver” premiere and $94,617 owed for LMG’s work on the “Sin City” sequel, the suit states.

The Weinstein Company hasn't made any statement on the lawsuit.

Perhaps they just forgot to pay.

Bay Area female executives - who makes what?

I'm going to list four women who were executives at Bay Area firms in 2013. Your task is to guess which of the four made the most money.

Safra Catz, (then) President/COO of Oracle
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard

The answer? Safra Catz, who made almost twice as much as Mayer, with a 2013 income of $44.3 million. According to the San Francisco Business Times, this was actually less than she made in 2012.

(source: Wikipedia)

This was reported by the Business Times back in July, but its headline - "Highest paid female executive in the Bay Area isn't a CEO" - is now outdated, since Catz and Mark Hurd were promoted from co-presidents to co-CEOs.

To some, these compensation figures seem obscene, but they are not unusual in the highest levels. Consider that basketball player Kobe Bryant makes more than all of these female executives, with the exclusion of Catz.

Perhaps Catz's boss Larry Ellison, who has been unsuccessful in becoming an NBA owner, had something to do with ensuring that Catz makes more than Bryant...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Um...chief OPERATING officer?

I was recently forwarded a copy of an article, and the top of the article told us a little about the author. While I have changed some of the personally identifying information, the substance of the blurb remains the same.

Mark Markson is chief operating officer at WidgetCorp, where he leads the company's worldwide sales team. Prior to becoming chief operating officer he was senior vice president of worldwide sales.

Now I have no problem with most of the statement above. Markson was a senior vice president, in charge of sales. Presumably Markson was doing a good job, or else he would have been fired. In fact, he was doing so good of a job that he deserved a promotion. While he was still running worldwide sales, Markson was elevated from the senior vice president level.


Chief Operating Officer.

Yes - Chief OPERATING Officer.

Now some of my best friends are salespeople, and I myself am involved in a sales role.

But I'd be reluctant to add "operating" to my title.

Even if everyone in WidgetCorp is truly part of one company, there's probably a clear divided between the salespeople and the "operating" people. When you think COO, you think of stuff in the plant, not out on the road. Take this COO:

Yesterday, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) opened the 2014 Retail Asset Protection Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana with a keynote address from Rick Damron, Chief Operating Officer, Lowe’s Companies Inc. Addressing a crowd of almost 1000 asset protection professionals in attendance for the yearly educational and networking summit, Mr. Damron shared his perspective on the critical role of asset protection in delivering the overall customer experience, driving sales and customer satisfaction while mitigating risk.

Keep the doors locked and the cameras on to make sure our assets are protected. That kind of stuff.

Then again, perhaps I'm wrong. It turns out that my "Mr. Markson" isn't the only sales-oriented COO. Here's another one.

As Microsoft’s chief operating officer, Kevin Turner leads the company’s global sales, marketing and services organization of more than 47,000 employees in more than 190 countries. Under his leadership, the sales and marketing group delivered more than $78.6 billion in revenue in fiscal 2013. Turner oversees worldwide sales, field marketing, services, support and partner channels as well Microsoft Stores and corporate support functions including Information Technology, Worldwide Licensing & Pricing and Operations.

And another:

Su, 44, joined AMD in 2012. As chief operating officer, she handled product strategy, execution, sales and operations.

Well, if they would just promote Markson to CEO - or maybe have two CEOs like Oracle - then there wouldn't be any confusion about what he does.