Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Process exceptions - when a building evacuation occurs and you're not in the building

If you work for a small company, you've probably encountered some processes here and there. They may be simple processes (last person out the door on Friday turns on the alarm), but they are processes nonetheless. And if you work for a large company, you've definitely encountered processes.

Now formal processes don't cover everything; some behaviors are learned outside of process. Take the MorphoTrak Anaheim walking around the building activity. Whether we were at the old triangular building or at the new rectangular one, you can observe MorphoTrak Anaheim employees walking around the building during breaks. It's even been mentioned on Glassdoor, although I'm not linking to that particular Glassdoor review because it wasn't complimentary.


So last Friday, I took a quick mid-morning break and decided to walk around the building. Not that I truly walk around the building; for me, walking around the building is mind-numbing, and I prefer to walk around other buildings, such as the building of my good buddy Liz Wescom. But that morning I actually started my walk by my own building, crossing the front parking lot on the way.

I ran across a few people as I started my walk. They were carrying big bags that I knew were associated with our official building evacuation process. We had recently received an update to that process, which I had carefully studied. So when I passed the evacuation employees, I removed my headphones (I can't remember whether I was listening to Kim Komando, Darren Marlar, or Kevin Austin) and joked to the employees that since I was the only one in the gold group who was outside, my immediate coworkers must not have made it out of the building.

And I continued my walk - not around my own building, but out to Liz's parking lot and the truck that still hasn't handed out free money yet.


And I continued to listen to Kim, or Darren, or Kevin, or whoever on my headphones. Eventually I turned around and headed toward the back end of my own building, where I encountered another member of the building evacuation team who asked why I wasn't out front.

It turns out that the other members of the evacuation team were out front because they were preparing for an evacuation drill. (California employers look here.) And since I wasn't in the building, I was blissfully unaware that the evacuation drill had actually taken place, and that all of the MorphoTrak employees were standing out front. The two gold team captains were going over the roster of everyone on our team who was supposed to be there, and I wasn't there.

So I walked - quickly - from the back of our building to the front, checked in with the gold team (who did make it out of the building after all), and stood waiting for the all clear.

But the all clear was delayed a bit because there were other people who weren't standing in the parking lot.

"[REDACTED]? She works from home on Fridays."

"[REDACTED]? She's traveling."

Eventually everyone was accounted for, and I resumed my walk with Kim, or Darren, or Kevin, or whoever it was.

But this pointed out an interesting but unavoidable gap in the process. Most employees were in the building, and presumably knew to get out. If I had delayed my walk by five minutes, I would have been part of that group; instead, I was temporarily out of the building. Now some people like me were temporarily away for a few minutes; others were away for the entire day; and for all I know there may have been people who were out for weeks or months due to maternity leave, catastrophic illness, or whatever. And what if someone left the company the day before the drill, never to return, but his or her name was still on the rosters?

Now I'm pretty sure that our process has ways to handle this. As I mentioned, my gold team has two captains, so that can help account for people if Captain 1 didn't know that [REDACTED] was traveling.

But it's all an inexact science...which is true of any process, I guess.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Stolen credit card information? That's so last year.

Recent security service commercials are emphasizing the fact that stolen credit card information is a valuable commodity. If a thief skims information from a credit card, people are willing to buy it. A recent article notes that such information can be purchased at a rate of 22 cents per stolen credit card.

But if you really want to make money fraudulently, you'll steal other stuff:

They also found the following accounts for sale at these average prices per account; PayPal — with a guaranteed USD 500 balance — (USD 6.43), Facebook (USD 3.02), Google Voice (97 cents) and Netflix (76 cents).

Why are thieves getting such low payouts for credit cards? Because the banks that issue the cards are getting more sophisticated in catching fraud.

Other companies, including Uber (or, more accurately, the many completely independent contractors that jointly market themselves as Uber), are catching up in fraud detection, but the market prices for stolen credentials don't reflect this yet.

Monday, January 18, 2016

If your business gets smaller...your business gets smaller

"We're going to get leaner and meaner."

"We're going to rightsize."

There are times when cost-cutting measures actually work. You may remember that Starbucks closed approximately 600 stores in 2008 and 2009, including two in my area. Since then, Starbucks has opened a number of stores, including one just on the other side of the freeway from the south Upland store that they closed in 2008. The difference? The new stores have better locations and better facilities, such as drive through windows.

But there are other times when cost-cutting DOESN'T result in a dramatic improvement in fortunes. I was writing about the poor health of Sears (previously Sears plus KMart) two years ago, and last I checked, Sears had not suddenly become the dominant retailer. In fact, I wrote about a future store called "Spenacy's" - a theoretical merger of Sears/KMart, J.C. Penney, and Macy's. A few years ago, such a combination would sound outlandish. Today, it's quite possible.

And even when retailers aren't merging with each other, they are "rightsizing" by closing some of their locations. Part of this is dictated by the mergers themselves - when my local Montclair Plaza had Broadway and Macy's as anchors, and Broadway was acquired, Macy's didn't see fit to have two anchors. However, some of these store closures are dictated by other factors.

Presumably the stockholders (these are normally publicly traded companies) are ecstatic, because the company's costs go down. But a reduction in costs itself doesn't necessarily lead to better corporate health. PYMNTS.com:

CNBC...points out several examples of retailers — including Sears, Aeropostale and JCPenney — shutting down locations in an attempt to reduce sales losses, only to find their sales not improving as expected or even continuing to worsen.

The trend, the outlet attests, cannot be encouraging for Macy’s as it prepares to close 36 of its stores in the wake of a 4.7 percent sales drop during November and December.


The theory is that if you close the store that is two miles away, customers will happily drive to the store that you didn't close that is ten miles away. Um...no. (Note to Albertson's: since you closed the store down the street from my house, you don't need to send advertisements to my door any more. I'm not going to drive several miles to buy milk and bread...especially when there is a Walmart just a quarter mile away from your previous location.)

But perhaps the biggest issue with rightsizing is this:

Anjee Solanki, national director of retail services at Colliers USA, shared with the outlet yet another reason why retail chains ought not rush to shut down stores to solve their problems: Doing so can signal to consumers that the business is in trouble.

“If you start closing stores very quickly, what does that do from a perception standpoint?” posited Solanki.


Two words: Radio Shack. But hey, things were sounding great after the holiday season and after the takeover by new owners:

Without providing figures, [Chief Marketing Officer Michael] Tatelman asserted that holiday sales had been “good.”

“We aggressively filled stores with inventory and staff, and we are happy with the results,” he said. “We are pleased where we are.”


Of course, the new owners have to overcome the perception of the company:

“People go in there, but it’s cheaper to buy things someplace else,” said Ashanti Harper, 23, who designs and makes children’s party clothes, including custom tutus. She noted that kiosks throughout La Gran Plaza offer cellphones, tablets and accessories, one just a few feet from RadioShack’s door.

“When I think of RadioShack, I think electronics, but I don’t think cheap,” Harper said. “ I think old-fashioned.”


At least the company has substantially cut its costs.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Benford's Law and fraud detection

I could have majored in mathematics, but it's probably just as well that I didn't. I've forgotten most of the calculus and matrix stuff that I once barely knew. But I still have a healthy respect for mathematicians, and it turns out that the science - while abstract - has true practical benefits.

Steven J. Miller of Williams College recently wrote an article about Benford's law. The law, which did not originate with a person named Benford but with a person named Newcomb, states (in simple terms) that "often the first digits of numbers in a data set are not distributed equally." Miller provides this example:

One particularly nice illustration is the example of a geometric process, say a stock that increases 4% a year. If we start with US$1, then after one year we have $1.04. After two years, we have $1.0816, and so on, finally reaching $2 after about 17.673 years. It would take approximately 58.708 years to reach $10. If we increase by a constant multiple each time, it’ll take more time to go from 1 to 2 than from 9 to 10 because the magnitude of the increase is larger at 9 than at 1 and the distance to cover is the same.

So if you visualize the first digits of all of these numbers from each year, there are a lot of 1's (17 of them), fewer 2's, fewer 3's, and so forth.

But Mark Nigrini of West Virginia University has a more practical example: detecting fraud in financial transactions. If you have a monthly credit card statement, Nigrini expected that the charges would exhibit Benford's Law: most of the numbers would start with a 1, some would start with a 2, etc.

Fraudsters don't follow Benford's Law when they enter fraudulent transactions. Miller describes how one such fraudster was discovered:

An investigation at one bank turned up many more stolen card totals starting with a 4 than Benford’s law would predict. Eventually they found that a large number were around $4,800 or $4,900, and attributable to one agent who was having friends run up debts just below the threshold before reporting the card stolen! Fraudsters discovered, thanks again to Benford’s law.

I can personally attest to this. One of my credit cards was compromised in the past, and the credit card company asked me to confirm whether certain purchases were truly made by me. Ignoring the fact that all of the purchases were made at one store chain in one geographic area, and all were made on the very same day, the pattern of the numbers probably gave the credit card company a clue. Here are some of the dollar values for the transactions that the credit card company questioned:

$1.52
$43.22
$49.20
$49.49
$49.99
$49.99
$49.99
$49.99
$49.99


This is not the complete number of transactions that were questioned, but I think you get the idea.

So if you were to graph these, you would see that one transaction begins with the number 1, none begin with 2, none begin with 3, a whole bunch begin with 4, and none begin with the digits 5 through 9.

Now that's an unusual pattern.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Anchors aweigh - will mall department stores be replaced?

A PYMNTS article linked to a Tampa Bay Times article that quoted retail analyst Jeff Green. Green was speaking about the diminishing relevance of department stores to shopping malls. Department stores such as Sears and Macys were traditionally known as "anchor stores" for malls, but as the department store chains have consolidated and Amazon takes over the world, there are a lot of empty spaces in malls these days.

Within his quote, Jeff Green said something that I didn't know:

[Anchor stores] don't pay rent, so they're costly to a center if they don't bring in shoppers.

Perhaps you already knew about the rent benefits to anchors, but I didn't.

Why would an anchor store pay no rent, or reduced rent? Because of the benefit of having the anchor store associated with your mall. Back in the day, Joe Mallman was building his mall out in Suburb City, and Montgomery Ward would come up to him and say, "Joe, if you want to get people to your new mall, then you have to have Montgomery Ward at your mall. And if you're really nice to us, then perhaps we'll place one of our stores in your mall."

Well, the landscape has changed now, and malls don't necessarily need the few remaining department store chains to survive. Who do they need? Ask Laura Northrup:

I only go to the mall when one of my Apple products breaks or I want to test makeup.

So guess who gets the rent breaks at malls these days?

The WSJ interviewed mall business insiders who explained that putting an Apple Store in a mall can raise total sales by as much as 10%, even though the store fits in only a tiny part of the mall’s retail space.

However, Northrup notes that this is a macro view of the mall - the numbers look really good to the people who operate the mall. However, the numbers may not make a lot of difference to other stores within the mall. Just because someone spends $1,500 on a new Apple Computer, that doesn't necessarily mean that the person will walk down the hall to the clothing store next door and buy stuff there also.

But perhaps the person will go to Ulta and test some makeup.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In which I leave the #apmp...again. Farewell, @APMPConnect

I am a secret - OK, not so secret - lover of spectacle, and have been known to attach Ultimate Importance to things that are, frankly, not all that important to many people.

The most recent example of this occurred on a couch in the family room of my home last Saturday evening, when I received an email from the Association of Proposal Management Professionals - and didn't act on it.

The title of the email? "Your APMP membership expires tomorrow. Don't delay, renew today!"

Actually, the moment of Ultimate Importance occurred several days before that, on the preceding Wednesday morning, when I sent an "FYI" email to two people informing them that I wouldn't be renewing my APMP membership. One of them, the head of marketing, is my boss. The other, the head of proposals, is NOT my boss.

While researching this post, I realized that the moment of Ultimate Importance occurred well before that - I don't even remember when, but I edited my LinkedIn profile to add a terminal date of 2015 to my APMP membership.


This of course ties in to other Moments of Ultimate Importance - my transfer from Proposals to Marketing earlier this year, my transfer from Product Management to Proposals in 2009, and my transfer from Proposals to Product Management in 2000. (No link for the oldest one; I wasn't blogging in 2000, so I didn't get the chance to write about my sitting in a cubicle on the opposite side of the building from Proposals, wondering what I had gotten myself into with this whole product managing thingie. Oh, the acronyms that I was about to discover...)

Obviously, my leaving the Association of Proposal Management Professionals is not a reflection on the group itself, which I have found to be extremely helpful during both of my membership stints - not only with proposal issues, but with issues that occur before a proposal is even conceived. (As any APMP member will tell you, much of the work on a proposal SHOULD occur BEFORE the Request for Proposals is released.)

So why didn't I renew? It was just that after my recent job change, the APMP membership, while helpful, was no longer EXTREMELY helpful.

So I've moved on.

Although the way my career has been going over the last quarter century, I wouldn't be surprised if I find myself sending an email to the APMP in 2022 asking, "Hey, can you reactivate that membership from 1999?"

If you are directly involved in proposals, capture management, or business development, I encourage you to visit http://www.apmp.org/, or follow the group on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apmpconnect.

Monday, December 14, 2015

XaaS

I have yet to formally publish the Empoprises Rule of Fair Food that I have previously mentioned, but I will reveal that part of the rule involves the universal use of the suffix "on a stick." (At this time I am not prepared to reveal the prefix that can be universally used - suffice it to say that it rhymes with "lied" and "died.")

Yet this universality is found in something else - another rule that I'll have to write that will probably be called the Empoprises Rule of Service.

If I ever publish this rule, the word "service" will be used in its technical sense. And the rule will discuss the universality of the phrase "as a service."

I'm not sure whether Software as a Service (SaaS) was the first use of this phrase, but it clearly wasn't the last. I myself claim to work in the Identity as a Service industry, and I'm sure that absolutely everyone - even people who produce physical products - are now referring to themselves in an XaaS way just to be trendy. Do you make cars? Then you can claim that you're in the Transportation as a Service (TaaS) industry, although technically that term may be more correctly applied to car leasing companies, or all of the individual private contractors who are associated with Uber BUT ARE CLEARLY NOT EMPLOYEES OF UBER WINK WINK.

I seem to have digressed.

In fact, the "as a Service" phrase is so widespread, people are coming up with new as a services to replace the old as a services. Combine this with an acronym-loving government agency - I won't reveal the name of the agency, but its acronym is DHS - and you have pandemonium.

The purpose of this procurement is to obtain funding for the transition of Information Technology Systems Management as a Service (ITSMaaS) previously referred to as Raas ( Remedy as a Service) support service...

Of course, since Information Technology is a service that facilitates other business operations, I'm sure that someone will eventually refer to this as Service as a Service. SaaS?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why I don't fear Big Brother, December 2015 edition

Because so much of this affects my industry, I'm going to focus on just a single issue regarding the cybersecurity bills that are presently before Congress. The sticking point - if a business enterprise encounters a cybersecurity threat, which government agency or agencies should be informed? Representative Mike McCaul, who crafted the version of the bill that designates the Department of Homeland Security as the receiving agency, said the following:

"We want DHS to be the lead civilian agency — not the FBI, who can prosecute you; not the NSA, who can spy on you."

Erin Kelly of USA Today explained the distinction between the agencies:

Specifically, coalition members worry that the final bill will be stripped of the requirement that any cyber threat information from the private sector be sent to the Department of Homeland Security, a civilian agency that has stricter privacy regulations than the Pentagon's National Security Agency. The NSA has generated controversy for its mass surveillance of Americans' phone data.

As Kelly's article notes, there is no such thing as a unified Big Brother. In this instance, there's a fight between various factions of Congress to decide which U.S. government agency should get cyberthreat notifications. And presumably people within the agencies themselves are fighting with each other over that data.

Kelly schooled me on one thing - I had always thought that the NSA was an independent agency. It turns out that it IS part of the Department of Defense.

But that doesn't stop Pentagon-NSA fights. Take this one from 2012, which happened before the Snowden revelations:

In the midst of an ongoing turf battle over how big a role the National Security Agency should play in securing the nation’s critical infrastructure, a Defense Department official asserted on Wednesday that the military’s controversial intelligence agency should take a backseat to the Department of Homeland Security in this regard.

When even the Department of Defense is fighting with the Department of Defense over something, comparisons to a monolithic Orwellian supersecurity service fall flat.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Let's get personalized!

So how do you correct all of these "Dear Bredehoft" messages that I've been getting? By creating a personalized video:


Show your audience they’re not just one of the herd. With personalized video, they’re not just a number, and they’re certainly not a farm animal.
Connect with each person by weaving unique details into a video. Include text and images like their:

Name
Company name
Email address
Home page
Phone number
LinkedIn picture


I will confess - when I first read this, the first thing that came to my mind was those personalized childrens' stories that you used to be able to buy. You know, the ones that go something like this:

Who can save our town from the evil dragon? The only person that can do this is xxx BRIAN xxx!

But then I thought that it may be better than that. Vidyard itself points out:

This isn’t just some flashy trick to get noticed. It can have real impact on Empoprises' results.

As you can probably figure out, I entered the requested information at the top of the page. Unfortunately, when I went to play the video, I ran into the bane of all video existence - limited bandwidth.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Keurig 3.0?

Bad news travels faster than good news, and sometimes it prevents the good news from traveling at all.

Remember the Keurig 2.0 DRM brouhaha from 2014 and early 2015? This February article will remind you.

Late last year, Keurig announced a new machine, the 2.0, calling it the "future of brewing" and touting its ability to make both small cups and large carafes. But another, less-publicized feature has been getting most of the attention: the brewer’s advanced scanning system that locks out any coffee pods not bearing a special mark. It’s essentially a digital rights management system, but for coffee, and it’s proving to be the brewer’s downfall.

On an earnings call Wednesday the company announced that brewer sales fell 12 percent last quarter, the first full quarter for which the 2.0 was on sale. "Quite simply our 2.0 launch got off to a slower start than we planned," said CEO Brian Kelley.


The CEO was speaking euphemistically. A more honest statement would have been "Our customers hate our guts."

And frankly, my brain shut off any mention of Keurig after that, so I didn't even realize what Keurig did a few months later:

The one retaliation that seemed to effect change most efficiently, though, was financial. Keurig machine and accessory sales plummeted 23 percent in the first quarter, year over year, thanks in large part to unease over Keurig 2.0.

To help reverse course, Keurig CEO Brian Kelley this week announced the return of My K-Cup. It’s welcome news for those who dislike needlessly tossing hundreds of small plastic containers into the trash every year, but love freedom of choice and competitive business practices.

“Quite honestly, we were wrong,” explained Kelley on a call with analysts to discuss earnings this week. “We underestimated the passion that consumer had for this… We shouldn’t have taken it away.”


For those who are not familiar with all things Keurig, the My K-Cup allows you to use your own coffee with Keurig. However, Keurig didn't take away the DRM, and a number of people (such as myself) didn't even hear of Keurig's minor about-face. The damage had already been done.

And this was confirmed this week:

Keurig Green Mountain Inc. will be acquired by a JAB Holding Co.-led investor group for about $13.9 billion in cash.

This should please stockholders, since the premium on the purchase price should help make up for the money that the stock lost in the last year. But what does this mean, since JAB apparently plans to keep the existing management in place?

It probably means that JAB doesn't plan to keep the existing management - or structure - in place.

JAB owns a controlling stake of Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee, Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Espresso House and Baresso Coffee....JAB’s goal is to be the Budweiser of coffee, Pablo Zuanic, an analyst at Susquehanna International, said on Monday. The conglomerate may follow with other deals, such as a takeover of Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., he said.

Perhaps Kelley will exit within a few months, and JAB will go for a rebranding. Your donut shop, your coffee shop, and your in-home system will be all under a single name. (Unless Starbucks and Tim Hortons merge and copy the idea first.)

So what will the new brand be? Not JAB - that name wouldn't play well here. Unfortunately, "Beatrice" is NOT available.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Let's get data!

I am occasionally the recipient of extremely personal emails that are addressed "Dear Bredehoft." In most if not all cases, the negative reaction to the email greeting is not repaired by the content of the actual email.

For example, I recently received a "Dear Bredehoft" email that was advertising an event entitled "Take Your Marketing Campaigns from Blah to Wow Using Data."

My reaction?

Blah.

Now I'll grant that, despite the fact that the emailer displayed personal knowledge of my last name, the emailer probably wasn't aware that I consider data to be the lowest form of stuff. Data is not information, data is not knowledge, and data is certainly not wisdom.

However, even if you don't subscribe to a data/information/knowledge/wisdom model or a similar model, you need a little more specifics before you start using "data" for a marketing campaign. Based upon the description of the event, it appears that the "data" in this case will be used to identify "new, targeted contacts similar to your best buyers."

Forget for the moment that I am selling to a very small market of thousands of entities, not millions of entities. How many of us have access to data that will precisely target similar potential customers who will actually buy?

Even Facebook, which does have access to lots and lots of data, seems to get it wrong more often than not. One of my Facebook friends is a graduate of Aalto University's school of business administration in Mikkeli, Finland. I have never been to Mikkeli. I have never been to Finland. The closest that I have ever been to Mikkeli is Paris, or perhaps Zurich. Yet Facebook, in its infinite wisdom, advertised "proud to be from Mikkeli" clothing to me at one point.

Occasionally I respond to these suggested posts with the words "Facebook, you're drunk." Of course, now Facebook will probably start advertising breathalyzers to me.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Even Newer

You know how I sometimes schedule posts way in advance?

Well, I had a scheduled post that was supposed to appear on this day, but it can't be published yet.

Perhaps you will see it in another year.

Maybe.

P.S. The title of this post, and the title of the post that I couldn't publish, do NOT have anything to do with an old Weird Al Yankovic album.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Unintended consequences - right after worldwide terror attacks, let's decrease power plant security!

(DISCLOSURE: MY EMPLOYER PROVIDES SECURITY SOLUTIONS THAT CAN BE USED BY POWER PLANTS.)

The California Public Utilities Commission is a regulatory agency. As is the case with all regulatory agencies, the people who have the greatest financial stake in the agency's activities are the people who are being regulated - in this case, the public utilities. There have been claims of corruption, including allegations that "PUC officials, including the former president and executive director, had overly cozy relations with executives at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and other regulated power companies."

The CPUC itself has decided that it needs legal representation. But this causes an issue:

Spokeswoman Terrie Prosper ... said, "our in-house lawyers are not criminal attorneys."

Additionally, in this case, the PUC cannot rely on its regular legal representative, state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, because Harris has launched her own probe into the PUC, Prosper said.


So the CPUC hired outside attorneys - which didn't please the legislature.

“Is the commission too big to succeed?” committee staff wrote in the hearing agenda. “Change is very necessary at the CPUC.” Among their recommendations are a $5 million reduction to the PUC’s budget and requiring legislative approval if the commission directs any ratepayer funds toward outside programs.

The $5 million budget cut was adopted, and legislators presumably congratulated themselves on a job well done. "We showed them!" they chortled to themselves.

So the time came to cut the budget, which was cut in several areas. One in particular:

Last week, commission Executive Director Timothy Sullivan told the agency’s five-member governing panel that he would slash $350,000 needed to implement the security plan as part of the $5 million in cuts that the Legislature ordered.

Um, what security plan?

[The plan], proposed by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, ordered the state’s power providers to draw up security plans to harden the electrical grid against saboteurs. The law was prompted largely by an April 2013 incident in which gunfire knocked out 17 transformers and inflicted $15.4 million in damage to PG&E’s Metcalf substation near San Jose.

Although the FBI said the attack was not the work of terrorists, it raised concern among some experts that it exposed vulnerabilities in the power grid.

There was a second security breach at Metcalf in August 2014, just days before the Legislature approved the law that took effect this year. In that attack, burglars cut through a fence and stole construction equipment. PG&E officials did not notice the breach for hours, prompting the utilities commission to fine the company $50,000 for failing to carry out promised security upgrades.


Now this specific cut probably wasn't decided last week - it takes an agency weeks or months to do anything - but unfortunately it was announced last week - right after ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/the fanatical boobyheads successfully attacked people, buildings, and planes in multiple countries.

Talk about bad timing.

#empotuulwey Nothing is free - if you want Yahoo Mail, you get the ads too

Yahoo isn't getting great press right now. A recent Forbes piece asserted that Yahoo's operations will be scrutinized more closely as time goes on, and that Marissa Mayer may suffer as a result. (Aside: before Yahoo dumps Mayer, is there anyone who can run the company better?)

And now a story comes out saying that Yahoo Mail is blocking some users from reading their own mail.

Which ones? Apparently, the ones who are using ad blockers.

This move of Yahoo, which may just be a limited test, is something that I completely support.

Since the 1940s, there have been a number of "free" services - over-the-air radio, over-the-air television, and Yahoo among them - for which the users of the service have not had to pay a penny. (At least in the United States.) How can these large corporations just give their stuff away? By having other people (advertisers) pay the corporations for the privilege of providing advertisements to the users.

As I have said in the past, tools are tools. Ad blockers in and of themselves are not immoral, but they can certainly be used in "immoral" ways.

Owen Williams argues that ad blockers can serve a purpose - when set correctly, they can block against malicious content delivered by selected ad networks. However, Williams believes that the ad blockers should allow users to see non-malicious ads. He provides an example:

I eventually went back to using an ad blocker, but instead using it thoughtfully and defensively, giving publishers my trust until they abuse it. I’m using uBlock right now, because it’s the easiest to set up this way.

All you need to do is grab uBlock and head to the “third-party filters” tab in the settings. Un-check everything, except the “malware domain list” and “malware domains” then enable the auto-update feature toward the top.


Well why not be really safe by blocking everything?

If you’re blocking every advertisement, you’re stealing from those who rely on them. You’re taking something for free and removing the only way to give back.

Let's say that you're a Yahoo Mail user, and you decide that AdZ sUx and that you don't want to see them. One of two things will happen:

In case number one, not only do you decide to block the ads, but all of the Yahoo Mail users decide to block the ads. Yahoo therefore does not get any revenue for its mail service, and shuts Yahoo Mail down (since Yahoo is required by U.S. securities law to make money).

In case number two, you decide to block the ads, but the unwashed masses don't. Win win, right? Yahoo still gets it money from the dolts, and you the intelligent one get an ad free experience.

Which won't do you any good when everyone in your neighborhood jumps on your wi-fi after getting your password. Wi-fi unblockers, after all, are just as moral as ad blockers -aren't they?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cause-effect on employee engagement

In a post that will appear shortly, I will make brief reference to Miguel Helft's piece The Last Days of Marissa Mayer. The future post will talk about another aspect of Yahoo's business, but there is one thing that struck me about Helft's piece. Since he writes for Forbes, I assume that Helft crafted this sentence very carefully.

But on day two, when the topic shifted to employee engagement, and with CEO Marissa Mayer in and out of the room, things went downhill fast.

For those who haven't read the Forbes piece, the sentence was taken from a paragraph that described an offsite meeting of Yahoo senior executives. In other words, the top people of the company.

And the company CEO couldn't even stay in the meeting. When the top executive is not engaged, how can the employees be engaged?

This issue is not specific to Mayer. There are countless CEOs, presidents, and bosses who talk the talk about "employee engagement," but are absent doing "important stuff" at critical times.

But wait - it gets worse. The employee engagement session was followed by another session, and it appears that Yahoo (and other companies) aren't walking the walk in other areas.

Those murmurs of discontent erupted into outright heckling when another session—billed as an opportunity to improve communication—turned into a lecture from Yahoo’s top brass that many found patronizing. Vice presidents started calling out their superiors for “not listening,” “not understanding” and “not being interested in changing.” Some cursed.

Now perhaps the situation wasn't as cut and dry as Helft described it. I could not find an independent description of the Yahoo offsite meeting, so perhaps the results of the "employee engagement" session and the "communication improvement" session weren't as stark as described.

But, as I said, this is not unique to Yahoo.

And what of the cases in which people become disengaged because of an immediate manager, rather than the CEO? Well, that can be traced to the CEO also:

In a study of 190 organizations, Gallup has found that executive leaders influence front-line employee engagement indirectly and directly. Primarily indirectly through their influence on the people they directly manage, and directly through specific performance management elements, including clear expectations, discussions of progress and a mission or purpose that people can identify with.

The Gallup findings indicate that when executive teams are highly engaged, the organization's managers are 39% more likely to be engaged. When managers are highly engaged, employees are 59% more likely to be engaged.


Apparently, the Yahoo vice presidents who "started calling out their superiors" were not engaged - which means either that the superiors were doing a poor job, or the superiors had hired the wrong vice presidents.

Or perhaps someone else was to blame - and it's not just the CEO, according to Mike Myatt:

Much of my personal practice deals with CEO succession, and the misadventures of Mayer represents the classic case of picking the wrong CEO, and then compounding the error with a poor transition into the role....

I actually don’t fault Mayer for the Yahoo debacle as much as I do the Yahoo board for not recognizing what type of leader they needed for this assignment.


Although, as I will note shortly (and as Helft and Myatt also noted) - if Mayer is canned, who can replace her and do a better job?

#empobld Not helpful

I'm continuing my series on Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption. If you missed the rule, here it is:

No single event is sufficient to disrupt a person's brand loyalty. Multiple events must occur.

This example also has to do with autos, but it's a little bigger than a headlight bulb. This has to do with an entire auto, a much more expensive item. And again in this case, I can't say with absolute certainty that I'd never buy a Honda again. But hear me out.

A little over a decade ago, I bought a Honda automobile. I had heard about Hondas for years - their reliability, their awards, their quality. Initially I was just going to get a used Honda, but I ended up buying a new one and not paying an incredible amount of money for it. And things went well for several years, and for well over 100,000 miles...

...when the transmission gave out. I was a little disappointed, since at the time I also owned an older Ford Taurus that was still humming along (and would continue to hum along for several more years). I sold the Honda for cheap rather than repairing the transmission, and drove the Ford for a while. And despite the failure of this particular Honda, I wasn't averse to buying a Honda again. Except that...

...those advertisements about Honda quality and reliability faded away, replaced with advertisements about the Helpful Honda Persons (at least here in southern California). These people, dressed in blue, would meet in secret locations and figure out ways to be helpful. Now I don't object to promoting the people associated with a company, and I understand that Honda was trying to erase negative perceptions about car salespeople, but Honda was doing it at the expense of the product. Any marketing messages about the quality of the automobiles were drowned out by cute stories about salespeople doing silly things.

But then Honda changed its advertising campaign - and made it worse. Rather than talking about secret meetings of helpful Honda people, the company began airing commercials in which real helpful Honda people (not actors) talked to real live customers and engaged in random acts of helpfulness. They sounded something like this:

HELLO?

Hello. Is this John?

YES.

John, I'm Sylvia. And I'm a helpful Honda person.

HI, SYLVIA.

John, I understand that you like Slim Whitman.

YES I DO, SYLVIA. I SAW SLIM IN CONCERT IN THE EARLY 1980S IN PORTLAND, AND THAT WAS THE BEST CONCERT THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN! EVER!

So John, I guess that you really like Slim Whitman.

SLIM IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MUSICIANS EVER!

So I take it that you were sad when Slim finally passed away.

YES. I'LL NEVER GET TO SEE HIM AGAIN.

Well, John, because I'm a helpful Honda person, I'm going to engage in a random act of helpfulness. Honda is giving you an all expenses paid trip to Middleburg, Florida, so that you can see Slim Whitman's grave!

THANK YOU HONDA! THIS MEANS SO MUCH TO ME!


OK, perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration. But not much. In essence, the ads are concentrating on everything EXCEPT the car that the helpful Honda people are supposed to be selling.

So now, when I think of Honda, I don't think of cars any more. I think of "who can help me get a cat down from a tree?"

And I don't own a cat.

And what of the Honda dealers elsewhere in the country, who concentrate their advertising on...oh, their cars?

Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System with voice recognition: the way to find the best spots to watch the #July4th fireworks.

They seem to be doing fine - even if they don't have marketing folks drooling over their every move. Like what happened when Coca-Cola came up with a really creative advertising campaign - so clever that one viewer thought that the campaign would do a lot of good for Pepsi. Whoops...

Monday, November 23, 2015

#empobld Zoning out

I promised that I'd continue to talk about the Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption. If you missed the rule, here it is:

No single event is sufficient to disrupt a person's brand loyalty. Multiple events must occur.

I'll start with a personal example that happened to me last week.

As an automobile owner, I need automobile parts from time to time, and for the last few years I have mostly gone to Auto Zone to get these parts. Auto Zone has my information stored under my phone number, and has records on multiple cars that I own or have owned. I can tell you where Auto Zones are located in Ontario, California; Fullerton, California; and even Long Beach, California. Heck, I even have a loyalty card!


Fast forward to one evening last week. Because of the change from Daylight Saving Time, I now drive home in the dark. As I was trailing a truck on the 57 freeway, I looked at the back of the truck, where reflections of my two headlights would be seen.

I only saw the reflection of one headlight, not two.

You can guess what I decided to do next. Go to the Auto Zone in Ontario and buy a new headlight bulb. So I got to the Auto Zone and walked in. I was greeted and asked if I needed anything. I told the employee that I was looking for headlight bulbs. He told me the aisle to go to if I knew what I was looking for. That was a silly question, I thought to myself. I'll just go to the aisle, find the book that lists all the headlight bulbs, and find the correct bulb for my car.

So I got to the aisle...and there was no book there. And no tablet or other electronic device in the aisle to allow me to look up the correct part number. (My car manual had been removed from the car recently when we cleaned the car, and I hadn't yet replaced it.)

Let's briefly return to the Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption. The lack of a way to look up part numbers was not, in and of itself, sufficient to send me fleeing from the Auto Zone. Why should it be? I knew from past experience that Auto Zone employees could look up part numbers on their computers. Plus, since they already had a record of their car, it would be very easy to look up the correct part number. I would just have to show them my card.


So I walked back to the counter and asked the helpful employee to look up the part number for me.

He went to his computer register...but the computer was down.

He walked to another computer...and it was also down.

It turned out that every computer was down except for one - and that one was being used by another employee to help another customer.

Let's briefly return to the Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption. The lack of working computers was not, in and of itself, sufficient to send me fleeing from the Auto Zone. After all, the employee had a helpful suggestion:

"Why don't you pull out the existing light and we can match it up?"

The employee didn't realize that I am not mechanically inclined at all. For me, the process of changing a headlight bulb in a car is an complex process that could take an hour or more. (Fast forward: when I finally did obtain a bulb, I had my father in law help me, and we pulled the old bulb and put the new one in within ten minutes.) In addition, even if I knew how to change a light bulb (how many bloggers does it take to change a lightbulb?), I wasn't sure that I had the proper tools to do so. After all, what was I going to use to remove the existing headlight assembly - my card?


"Uh, I don't have the tools," I replied. And then I said, "I'll come back tomorrow."

To put it bluntly, that was a lie. I tend to avoid conflict, and while I was saying that, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I had no intention of coming back to Auto Zone the next day. Instead, I was going to drive to the O'Reilly Auto Parts store that was just a quarter mile away.

Now those things, in and of themselves, won't particularly drive me away from Auto Zone permanently. But after I went to O'Reilly, got the bulb, and called my father in law to ask him to help me install the new light the next day, he happened to mention to me that he was going to O'Reilly more and more himself. And he had been with me to the Auto Zones in Ontario and Long Beach. In fact, he might have been the one who suggested that I get a card.


But what am I going to do the next time I need a part for my car? Frankly, I don't know.

Maybe I should see if O'Reilly has a loyalty card.

Friday, November 20, 2015

#empobld The Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption

Yes, it's time again to revisit the wonderful world of Empoprises rules. (See the previous one two three four five such rules.)

As you should know, Empoprises rules are statements of truth that are universally acknowledged by sentient beings in multiple galaxies. The one I'm about to state has to do with brand loyalty. You probably know people who are very loyal to a particular brand - the college guy who shouts "Bud for the stud!" and will never drink Miller, the football fan who will support the Dallas Cowboys no matter what, or the 110% Democrat who believes that Republicans are the spawn of Satan.

Yet even dedicated people will change their brand loyalties. Ronald Reagan was a committed New Deal Democrat who eventually became a staunch Republican. David Letterman loved working at the National Broadcasting Company, but eventually found himself at CBS. LeBron James remained in his home state of Ohio until he took his talents to South Beach...and then took them back to Ohio.

In each of these instances, and in others, events occurred that disrupted the individuals' loyalty to a particular brand. So let's look at my Empoprises rule:

No single event is sufficient to disrupt a person's brand loyalty. Multiple events must occur.

A "Damascus road" event, in which a person changes direction immediately, just doesn't happen. Even the original "Damascus Road" event didn't complete until after Saul blindly made his way to Damascus itself.

In my examples above, Reagan, Letterman, and James didn't wake up one day and suddenly decide to change their ways. Multiple events occurred, sometimes over a period of several years, that made the Democratic Party, NBC, and the Cleveland Cavaliers less attractive. Each of these smaller events built upon each other, until the three people involved decided to go to the Republican Party, CBS, and Miami.

To be continued.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The principle errors with an article that I read earlier this week

I have to read a lot of security industry material to keep track of trends. When I encountered one article, I made a point to read it because it touched upon two important topics - biometrics and privacy.

But as I got into the article, I ran across things that began to bug me. I myself am not perfect - after all, I am the "qualtiy" guy - but when enough of these little things build up, you become less interested in the good portions of the article.

The first thing wasn't really an error, but it was something that stuck in my mind. The beginning of the article discussed Alphonse Bertillon - his use of mugshots, his comparisons of fingerprint ridge characteristics...oh, and his use of measurements of the head to create "the science of Anthropometry." However, the author neglected to mention the case of William West and Will West. While Robert D. Olsen of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation notes that the significance of the story may have been exaggerated, the fact remains that West's and West's Bertillon measurements were similar enough to cast doubt that such measurements could uniquely identify an individual.

Second, I ran across this:

Since then, these two biometric markers have been the principle methods used to identify an individual.

Misuse of "principle" and "principal" is all too common - after all, there are a number of "principle engineers" running around. However, in this case the author is claiming that anyone who identifies an individual with an identity card, or even with iris recognition, is unprincipled. (The two biometrics that were being discussed were fingerprint and facial identification.)

At this point, I figured that I was being overly picky, until the author made this statement:

There is a deeply ingrained instinct in the British character that identity is none of your damned business - it’s their personal, private, closely guarded property. The issue is not to prove it, but to use it to identify myself. That’s a subtle but significant distinction.

Perhaps it’s because, as a Brit, legally you wouldn't be a citizen with rights but a subject with liberties. Not counting the Magna Carta incident, we’ve never had a revolution, so we have no constitution or bill of rights.


Now I'm an American, and Americans are woefully ignorant of things that are not American, but even I have heard of a couple of revolutions in Britain. While Cromwell's interlude was relatively temporary, the Glorious Revolution was more substantive, even producing...a Bill of Rights.

So can I trust this final statement that the article made? I'm not sure.

And so, as the science and the arts eye each other warily like two candidates for an arranged marriage, it becomes clear just how complex and all-pervading this topic will become, and how the idea of the individual - what it is and what it means to be one, will be every bit as important as the technologies used to identify them and the channels built to connect them together.

Perhaps that statement reveals the problem. It speaks of science and the arts, but does not speak of history. Is history a science, or is it an art? Or is it inconsequential?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

We don't know what tubes we are using

I can't remember if I told this story before, but years ago, when I was fresh out of Reed College, I was looking at a UNIX display at a trade show. The booth guy walked up to me and stated that he worked for the company that provided UNIX. I immediately assumed that he worked for DEC - Digital Equipment Corporation, the manufacturer of Reed's PDP-11/70 computer that ran an operating system from (the old) AT&T.

(Say along with me: "UNIX is a trademark of Bell Laboratories." But I digress.)

But I am not the only person who sometimes concentrates on surface things and ignores the plumbing underneath. Remember a few years ago when people couldn't log into Facebook? They'd go to their computer, type in "Facebook login," but instead of going to Facebook, they'd go to a ReadWriteWeb article. That's what happens when you go to Google and that ReadWriteWeb article (temporarily) becomes the top search result for "Facebook login." I have previously written about the system ignorance exhibited in that episode - not the ignorance of the people who thought that you could use Google to login to Facebook, but the ignorance of developers who design things that are intuitively incomprehensible.

And today, five years later, we still don't know what we're doing. Loic Le Meur shared this:

Indonesians surveyed by Galpaya told her that they didn’t use the internet. But in focus groups, they would talk enthusiastically about how much time they spent on Facebook. Galpaya, a researcher (and now CEO) with LIRNEasia, a think tank, called Rohan Samarajiva, her boss at the time, to tell him what she had discovered. “It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook,” he concluded.

Leo Mirani argues that this ignorance is a critical issue.

The expectations and behaviors of the next billion people to come online will have profound effects on how the internet evolves. If the majority of the world’s online population spends time on Facebook, then policymakers, businesses, startups, developers, nonprofits, publishers, and anyone else interested in communicating with them will also, if they are to be effective, go to Facebook. That means they, too, must then play by the rules of one company. And that has implications for us all.

One example, not from the developing world, but from the developed world:

Salix Homes manages government-owned subsidized housing in some the poorest parts of Salford, a deprived area in the north of England. Salix recently decided to accept complaints and rent payments from its tenants on Facebook.

“We took the view that let’s go where people are rather than force them to go to our website,” says James Allan, the firm’s marketing manager. As a result, interactions are up 90% while traffic on the website has fallen.

Allan is not in the business of deciding whether Facebook’s omnipresence among less affluent internet users is a good or bad thing. It is simply a thing.


Of course, if Facebook becomes a dominant platform over the next few decades, then the US, the EU, China, and others will eventually take action, and Facebook may be broken up (into "Face" and "Book," presumably).

It's happened before. The AT&T that provided my college with UNIX was broken up, Bell Laboratories became part of Alcatel-Lucent, and AT&T was eventually bought by one of the divested parts, SBC Communications, which renamed itself AT&T.

And all of these companies will deliver their services via - well, I'll let the late Senator Ted Stevens explain it:

The regulatory approach is wrong. Your approach is regulatory in the sense that it says "No one can charge anyone for massively invading this world of the internet". No, I’m not finished. I want people to understand my position, I’m not going to take a lot of time.

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck.

It’s a series of tubes.

And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Now we have a separate Department of Defense internet now, did you know that?

Do you know why?

Because they have to have theirs delivered immediately. They can’t afford getting delayed by other people.

Now I think these people are arguing whether they should be able to dump all that stuff on the internet ought to consider if they should develop a system themselves.


If you access Facebook via a drone, and you don't leave the Facebook ecosystem, perhaps Stevens hit upon the solution.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Who are the competitors of Staples and Office Depot?

In previous posts in this blog, my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog, and other outlets, I have tended to take a rather expansive view of the competitors for any given industry. For example, back when Amazon first emerged as a bookseller, perhaps all of us didn't realize that the bookseller would even be a threat to Borders and Barnes & Noble, much less Tower Records, Radio Shack, and Kroger. Yet as we moved away from the idea that you had to go to a bookstore, or a record store, or an electronics store, or a grocery store, it soon became apparent that Amazon could disrupt numerous markets - well, provided that the OnTrac issue didn't derail it.

Definitions of competition are important to Staples and Office Depot. If the two companies want to merge, they need to convince government regulators that there will still be healthy competition in the market.

Enter the American Postal Workers Union, which opposes the deal. According to the South Florida Business Journal, the APWU contests the companies' claims of healthy competition:

[I]f the FTC gives Staples the regulatory approval to buy Office Depot for $6.3 billion, the resulting company would have $14 billion in combined sales – 14 times greater than its nearest competitor in the office supply market....

It alleges that retailers such as Wal-Mart, Amazon and and Target are not true competitors as Staples implies.


At first glance, this seems ridiculous. Wal-Mart and Target sell basic office supplies, and Amazon sells every office supply known in the Milky Way galaxy. How can the APWU make such a claim?

Easily:

It says there will be "no reasonable alternatives" for large businesses who contract with Staples and Office Depot, and their costs will rise for office supplies.

APWU reminds people of how businesses operate. Let's say that you're at a medium or large size business and you need pens. Do you send your office assistant out to the store to get pens? Heck no, because then he or she has to record "Get supplies" on a timecard, drive over to the store, use a credit card or petty cash, bring the stuff back, charge the company for miles driven, fill out the appropriate paperwork, and then get back to real work.

No, what the businesspeople do is set up an account with Staples or Office Depot. Now the office assistant can stay at his or her desk, order the supplies online using the corporate account, and be done within a few minutes. Much more convenient.

Now you can certainly set up an online account with Walmart, Target, or Amazon, but with the exception of Amazon, they don't really market their online purchasing services for business customers. Walmart's Corporate Accounts allow businesses to purchase...Walmart gift cards. If Target has any type of corporate account, they certainly don't market it well because I can't find it.

So while I personally believe that Walmart, Target, and Amazon ARE competitors to Staples and Office Depot, I can understand the counter-argument.

Of course, the APWU's opposition to the Staples-Office Depot deal has nothing to do with promoting competition. In fact, the opposite is true:

The APWU is fighting a secretive deal between...the U.S. Postal Service and Staples that jeopardizes mail service and local post offices – along with thousands of living-wage jobs.

The Postal Service and Staples launched a no-bid, trial program in the fall of 2013 that established postal counters in 82 of the office-supply stores, which they planned to expand to locations across the country. The knock-off post offices were staffed with low-wage, poorly-trained Staples employees rather than USPS employees.

The APWU objected to the program, asserting that the American people have a right to post offices staffed by highly-trained, uniformed Postal Service employees, who are sworn to safeguard the mail and who are accountable to the people. The union offered to participate in the trial program if the postal counters in Staples stores were staffed with USPS employees, but postal managers and Staples rejected the idea. They also refused to provide the union with information about the deal.


Just modify "low-wage, poorly-trained Staples employees" with "low-wage, poorly-training, NON-UNION Staples employees" and the APWU's opposition to anything benefiting Staples becomes very clear. From the APWU's perspective, it would be best for the Staples-Office Depot merger to be rejected and for BOTH companies to declare bankruptcy, therefore ending any threat of non-union USPS offices - at least until Walmart, Target, and Amazon contract with the USPS.

Of course, Staples and Office Depot have their own economic motives. If the merger goes through, the combined company would love to get USPS money to operate postal centers in their stores, and to shut every existing USPS location down.

Follow the money.

And one more thing: after I started researching this post, I began seeing ads like this on my browser:


So far I haven't seen any such ads from Staples or Office Depot.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Does your company promote the inefficient people? Perhaps it's been infiltrated by the CIA.

Or, more accurately, the CIA's predecessor, the OSS.

The OSS wanted a way to destabilize enemy production during World War II, so it created a classified guide entitled the "Simple Sabotage Field Manual."

In a masterful move, the head of the OSS, William J. "Will Bill" Donovan, declassified the document and made sure it was distributed. Why was this masterful? Yonatan Zungar:

What's particularly brilliant is that revealing these methods can be even more destructive than concealing them: consider what happens when every time someone does something stupid and inefficient, the response is for people to wonder if that person is actually a saboteur.

So what was in this manual? Here is one of several examples:

Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

And you thought World War II ended in 1945. Obviously the battles are still being fought in some companies.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Those pesky passport questions - male or female or... (Dana Zzyzm and Alex MacFarlane)

Back in 2010, when Bruce Jenner was still Bruce Jenner, I wrote about a question in the United States in which the allowed answers were male, female, or both.

In 2013, when Bruce Jenner was still Bruce Jenner, I wrote about German birth certificates in which the allowed answers were male, female, or blank.

Now it's 2015, and Caitlyn is Caitlyn, but Dana wants to be honest when filling out a passport application. Is Dana male or female? Well...

Dana Zzyym...is claiming the State Department is violating [Zzyym's] constitutional rights by denying...the passport.

Zzyzm's lawyer:

"The State Department in effect is demanding that Dana use incorrect information on the passport application and choose either 'male' or 'female' when, in fact, Dana is neither."

In a prediction of Germany's future, the "sex" question on Zzyzm's birth certificate was left blank. Many years later, when Zzyzm applied for a passport to attend a conference in Mexico, a Joseph Heller situation arose. Here's the lawyer again:

It is against the law to 'willfully and knowingly' make a false statement on a passport application, and yet, in a classic Catch-22, the application itself and State Department 'policy' make it impossible for a person who is inherently neither male or female to list their gender.

If Zzyzm was a citizen of Australia, there would be no problem.

We can issue a passport to sex and gender diverse applicants as M (Male), F (Female) or X (Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified).

This is in part because of the work of Alex MacFarlane, who received an "X" passport in 2003.

However, I'm not sure what is stated on the visas issued by countries that MacFarlane visits.