Monday, August 22, 2016

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

I am really bad at following up.

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

In my post, I wrote:

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

Perhaps...but it would have no effect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

When governments violate minimum wages AND the 24th Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that's not the interesting part.

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

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

A lot, actually, according to The Straight Dope:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

Maintaining customer focus

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

In related news, political candidates rate themselves as highly qualified

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

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

Suppliers of the products thought that this percentage was high.

Customers themselves thought that this percentage was low.

Monday, August 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nice presentation, right?

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

The reporter asked a question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 5, 2016

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

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

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

Who are our customers?

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

Now forget about all of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wouldn't.

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 1, 2016

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They're not with Ayo.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Kmart, 1962-2017???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

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

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

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

It only works on you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Open a restaurant or café.

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

2. Buy incense by the gallon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

#empoplaaybizz From Farmville to Pokemon Go - is exercise sociopathic?

On June 30, I wrote a post about my return to the old Niantic game Ingress. As I wrote that post, I was completely oblivious to the fact that Niantic was preparing a new game - its first in several years.

By July 10, I had joined that new game. It's called Pokemon Go. Perhaps you've heard of it.

One of the reasons that I joined Pokemon Go was the same reason that I returned to Ingress - to encourage myself to walk more. And Pokemon Go encourages walking even more than Ingress; it's very hard to "catch them all" from a car, and you definitely can't hatch eggs while driving around; you have to actually walk 2 kilometers, or 5 kilometers, or even more.

Yet in some respects, Pokemon Go is like many other games. It includes repetitive actions - throw the ball, walk, throw the ball, walk, spin the wheel, swipe. And to advance, you have to continue to throw the ball, walk, throw the ball, walk, spin the wheel, swipe. Although you can buy things to reduce the amount of throwing, walking, spinning, and swiping that you have to do. Because, let's face it - some people get tired of having to throw the ball, walk, throw the ball, walk, spin the wheel, swipe.

To truly advance in the game, you have to work with other members of your team. You need to train, or be trained, to defend your "gyms." You need to work together to take over gyms from the other teams.

Ah, the social obligations.

If you're wondering why the word "sociopathic" appears in the title of the post, it's in reference to a speech and article given by A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz over six years ago. Excerpts:

The secret to Farmville’s popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics. Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies. As the French sociologist Marcel Mauss tells us, gifts are never free: they bind the giver and receiver in a loop of reciprocity. It is rude to refuse a gift, and ruder still to not return the kindness. We play Farmville, then, because we are trying to be good to one another. We play Farmville because we are polite, cultivated people.

(And yes, he used the word "cultivated.") But these actions are not healthy, according to Liszkiewicz:

As cultivated citizens, we are obligated to one another. We care about one another. As Cornel West has said, democracy depends upon demophilia, or love of the people. Unfortunately, sociopathic companies such as Zynga depend upon this love as well....

[C]ultivated citizens must constantly look around and examine what they’re doing, because there is a fine line between being a cultivated citizen and being someone else’s crop.

Which raises the question - is Niantic a sociopathic company?

There has already been controversy about all of the user data that Pokemon Go was initially grabbing. (Niantic claims it was unintentional.) And as I've noted, this game uses the same repetitive actions as other games, which encourages some people to buy things so that they don't have to play the game that much.

But what of the benefits?

Unlike Farmville, which required you to sit at a chair, the Niantic games encourage you to move around. (Granted, you could move into oncoming traffic if you disregard Niantic's warnings to be aware of your surroundings.)

And there are other benefits also, as this story from the mother of an autistic child shows. Excerpts:

He never wants to go to the playground at night, because it’s out of his usual routine. He is normally so rigid about his routine.

But tonight he was happy to change things up, and do it. We were in shock!...

When we got to the playground, other kids ran up to him to hunt for Pokémon together.

He was interacting with other kids. Holy crap! I didn’t know if I should laugh, or cry.

MY AUTISTIC CHILD WAS SOCIALISING. Talking to people. Smiling at people. Verbalising. With total strangers. Looking up at them.

Sometimes even in the eye. Laughing with them. Sharing something in common. This is amazing.

Now Pokemon Go is just a tool, and it's conceivable that someone could devise a sit-down Farmville-like game that could encourage similar interactions by autistic people.

But there clearly are some good things going on here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The meaning of cars

OK, so I've been on a car kick lately.

On Monday I posted Elio (it's a car) has its fanatic fans and outraged detractors. Incidentally, I subsequently discovered that I have a higher Klout score than Elio Motors (59 at the time vs. 57 at the time). Then again, I also noted that Klout may not be an accurate indicator of...klout.

Then, on Tuesday, I posted Does a fatal crash mean the end of young adult driving?, which noted that the death of one young adult from driving could be sufficient reason to ban all young adults from driving. Made sense to me at the time.

Since I seem to be on this car kick, I initially thought that I'd spend Wednesday on a musical post in my Empoprise-MU blog, addressing the topic of Gary Numan...

...Guitar Hero. After all, "Are 'Friends' Electric?" is as much a guitar song as a synth song, and even "Cars" has some guitar elements, according to George Chesterton:

Cars has an electro riff that would not be out of place on Jimmy Page's Les Paul....[T]he force of the multi-layered Moog synthesiser parts is almost overwhelming. Using effects usually associated with heavy guitars – reverb, flanging and phasers – Numan drenched the gliding synth lines so they flow over you like wave after wave of ice water.

But before I started fleshing out my Empoprise-MU post, I was struck by something else that Chesterton said:

But Cars contains a bit of futurology that was rather sophisticated. Numan positions the car not as a mode of mechanical transport, but as a fetishised, abstract interface with the rest of the world. This is – in a pop form – what the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard had been writing about a few years earlier. To be fair to Numan, this notion of the car in relation to individuals and society has only deepened in the decades since.

What does that have to do with Bowie or Kraftwerk? So I looked up a summary of Baudrillard's early thought:

The early Baudrillard described the meanings invested in the objects of everyday life (e.g., the power accrued through identification with one's automobile when driving) and the structural system through which objects were organized into a new modern society (e.g., the prestige or sign-value of a new sports car).

Now I am used to the idea of infusing an automobile with deep meaning - after all, I have lived in the Los Angeles area for over 30 years. But to realize that this thought resonated a continent away was a revelation to me. It shouldn't have been - back when Numan had his greatest popularity, "Rolls Royce" had a particular meaning to the British, whether they were punkers or aristocrats.

Of course, if I may paraphrase the philosopher Virginia Slims, we've come a long way baby. Now we infuse inanimate objects with deep meaning.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Does a fatal crash mean the end of young adult driving?

Would you ride in a car driven by a young adult?

Source, license

As cool as the idea and concept of young adult driving sounds, there are still many people who feel uncomfortable with such a notion or who argue that it will never truly be 100 percent safe.

Arguments that were thrust back into the spotlight after it was revealed that a driver under the age of 25 was killed on a Florida highway in May after the vehicle drove into a tractor-trailer.

The incident is now under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a result of the crash, an investigation that could have a far-reaching impact on the future of young adult driving.

Both of the major party candidates have responded to voter outrage over the affair. In a late-night tweet, Donald Trump stated,

Obama permits drivers under 25, and now someone is dead as a result! Shameful!

Hillary Clinton, trying to win over Sanders supporters, shared similar sentiments in a speech in Cleveland, Ohio:

We cannot put our young people into dangerous situations like this. If I am elected President, I will ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.

And, as anyone who has read the Empoprise-BI business blog has already figured out, all of the preceding paragraphs were made up.

Sort of.

The first four paragraphs and the title were taken ALMOST verbatim from an article entitled Does A Fatal Crash Mean The End Of The Automated Driving Industry?. As you may know, a Tesla vehicle using Autopilot did crash, killing the (non) driver.

However, the PYMNTS article goes on to state that while automated driving resulted in this death, non-automated driving is also dangerous.

More than 30,000 people are killed in auto accidents each year on American roads...

So a knee-jerk reaction to ban automated driving will not necessarily make the roads safer. In fact, an argument could be made that such a ban could make the roads more dangerous.

Oh, and one more thing - the picture above was taken from a State Farm photo album dedicated to safe teen driving and education.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Elio (it's a car) has its fanatic fans and outraged detractors

Quick - name a brand new car that isn't quite in production yet, but promises huge energy savings.

I'd bet that most of you thought of a car whose name rhymes with "dressla."

I'd bet that most of you didn't think of a car that rhymes with "elio."

Or, correction - a car whose name is Elio.

If you ask the National Motorists Association (DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A FAN OF THE NATIONAL MOTORISTS ASSOCIATION), the reason that you didn't think about Elio is because the press is bigoted and enthralled with another car:

You’d think the media would be chomping at the bit to let the public know that there is a car on the verge of production (with 41,000 of them already spoken for via cash-down reservations) that — according to Paul Elio — will cost well under $10,000 (under $8,000 is the target) and go well over 80 miles on a gallon of gasoline.

Ah, but it’s not electric — and so the Elio gets no love (much less coverage) from the media.

Electric cars (and other such cars) do because they lack the thing the media finds abhorrent — an internal combustion engine.

And after I read all of these wonderful things about the Elio, I ran across another article that had a slightly different take on the car.

Since the company doesn’t want to narrow their market down, by their own criteria, I’ve taken it upon myself to write a description of the person who would likely buy one. This person:

·Has another car
·Has a motorcycle license and helmet
·Has no desire to drive other people/has no friends
·Has no family
·Has a maximum of one child, NO BABIES.
·Doesn’t care about performance
·Doesn’t care about refinement/noise level
·Doesn’t care about ride quality/comfort
·Doesn’t know the difference between emissions and fuel consumption
·Desperately needs attention/female companionship
·Has the disposable income to donate thousands to vaporware on a second car, but cheap enough that they can’t afford to buy anything else
·Has AAA, because there’s no spare

That’s an awfully small window.

Actually this wide divergence of opinion on the Elio is a good thing - at least this indicates that people care about the product.

If you're interested, here's the Elio Motors website.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

When the big boys take over the haute cereal market

All over the world, insane geek hippies and the like come up with new business ideas. One of three things happens:

In the first, case, the market never takes off, the business dies, and everyone forgets about it.

In the second case, the market takes off, and the business becomes insanely successful. The companies formerly known as Apple Computer and Micro-Soft are recent examples.

But there is a third case, in which the market takes off, but the company that establishes the market ends up losing out to an established firm that muscles in to the industry.

Cereality appears to be the third case.

As I previously discussed, back in 2004 the Cereality chain of restaurants - places where you could eat cereal in various forms - was supposed to be the next hot thing. By 2015, Cereality was reduced to a spot at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and a second location at a Richmond, Virginia hospital.

As of today, the locations remain the same.

But there's a competitor coming to a major city, New York City. While New York City may not be suitable for salsa, it's certainly suitable for fancified cereal.

With white-painted brick walls and chalkboard art, this is not your mother’s cereal or your grandmother’s porridge. Forget hot cereal, this is haute cereal with big name talent, locally sourced ingredients served fresh.

And your way, of course. The build-your-own option exists for the discerning cereal eater, meaning that if you just don’t feel like you’ve had breakfast until almond butter and green tea powder are part of the lineup, you’re all set.

In some respects, this is really really similar to the Cereality concept, although I don't recall Cereality going into locally sourced ingredients and the like.

But there's one big difference between the new place in New York, and the existing Cereality places in Texas and Virginia.

One of the backers of the New York location is Kellogg's. Perhaps you've heard of them. Anyone who passes by Kellogg's NYC will certainly know what's being sold there.

Which leaves Cereality bobbing in its (non-locally sourced) milk.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Is Britain an island...or a lake?

It is a holiday in the United States today, so I'm making an effort to write something of interest to my non-U.S. readers. But rather than targeting India as I did on U.S. Memorial Day, it's fitting to look at something that is affecting the United Kingdom - and the rest of the world.

And yes, I know that I already looked at Brexit, but I'm going to look at it from a different perspective.

I took a college course on British history in the early 1980s. One of the first things that we learned in that course is that Britain is an island. It sounds like a throwaway statement - Clifford is a big red dog, Joan Jett loves rock and roll, Britain is an island. However, those four words hold great significance. Or held great significance, since there is a raging argument over whether Britain is still an island.

Back on May 13, when the failure of Brexit was a possibility, historian Peter Ghosh advanced the idea that Britain was no longer an island. Certainly at one time it was an island - not only with geographic isolation, but with a parliamentary system that was dramatically different than those political systems prevalent on the Continent.

There was no despotism in 18th-century Britain; no revolution after 1789; and no dictatorship in the 20th century. There was instead a uniquely successful combination of liberty and order. And if this was not enough, there was also a unique prosperity. The nation of shopkeepers despised by Napoleon was the most affluent in Europe.

But by World War I, and certainly by World War II, the British system was not enough to protect it, and the Americans and Soviets had to help out. Ghosh argues that today's world is global, and that even the Victorian world was global. The British have second homes on the Continent, and actually choose to do so. Ghosh concludes:

We have to decide what form of regional and global connections we want today, unless we wish to be little Englanders. But anyone who thinks like this should remember that even in Victorian Britain, “little Englander” was a term of abuse. The most important contribution history can make is what any teacher tries to achieve through historical education: that is, training the eye to look at big issues with a cool, sober, and well informed gaze.

As I mentioned, Ghosh wrote this in May. By June, a majority of UK voters had endorsed Brexit. While it is uncertain what the future holds, it is apparent that one of the factors in the endorsement of Brexit was the desire to keep refugees out of Britain, and that at least some Brexit supporters were willing to risk a political and economic divorce from the Continent in order to keep the foreigners on their side of the English Channel.

In the worst case scenario, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, but will NOT be able to negotiate any special (Nordic, Swiss, or whatever) access to the countries within the Union. British working abroad will need to get special visas, and foreigners (including a Frenchwoman that I know) who are working in Britain will have to do the same.

Ironically, this means that the United Kingdom - whose national interests in the 19th century clearly put it in the free trade camp - would have to deal with trade restrictions when dealing with countries just across the Channel - or, in the case of Ireland, right across a land border.

Could the island become a lake - a lake in which the British economy will drown?

Time will tell.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

#empoplaaybizz Revisiting Ingress - much has changed

It has been years since I have written about the Niantic Labs game Ingress. Several things have happened in that time.

First, after a brief rally playing Ingress in downtown Ontario, I drifted away from the game again.

Second, phone technology improved, allowing you to track exercise without using an app such as Runkeeper - rendering my Ingress-Runkeeper compatibility issues moot. But I didn't know that, because I had drifted away from Ingress.

Third, the Ingress application became available for iPhones. But I didn't know that, because I had drifted away from Ingress. And, after all, I didn't own an iPhone.

Fourth, within a couple of months of my Android phone upgrade (to a Galaxy S 5)...I got an iPhone from my work.

Fifth, at about the time that Google morphed (heh) into Alphabet, the Google subsidiary Niantic Labs announced that it would be independent of both Google and Alphabet.

Sixth, my office moved about three miles east of where it used to be. The relevance of this will become clear later.

Seventh, I loaned my Android phone to a mouse for eight months. But after the mouse left us to seek better cheese, I obtained possession of my Android phone again and thought, "Why not install Ingress on this phone?"

So I did, and immediately noticed that there appeared to be more portals than there were three years ago. In fact, there are at least a half dozen portals within walking distance of my new office. When I was last playing, there was only one portal within walking distance of my old office - now there are three.

After playing on my Android phone for a bit, I belatedly discovered that Ingress is now available for the iPhone, and installed it on that phone also. Since I'm using Apple Health (and Jawbone) to track steps, using Ingress on that phone provides the nice gameplay/exercise tracking combination that I've desired for years.

I'm slowly remembering how to play the game (while continuing to play it on my own terms), and so hopefully I will eventually progress in it. (My current level is level 4.)

Oh, and another thing changed; Ingress now has sixteen levels, not just eight. So I'm now twelve levels away from the top.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

#brexitubi Empoprises Rule of Brexit Ubiquitousness

There's one Empoprises Rule that I haven't gotten around to finishing yet. I got really close last December:

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.")

But I'm ignoring that now because I want to work on another rule, suggested to me by my RSS feeds. (Thanks Winer.)

Early this morning I was reading one of my RSS feeds, and three articles in a row were of the "What does Brexit mean for..." ilk. This sort of analysis, conducted after the United Kingdom's Brexit referendum, meets the need of all of us to understand what the heck Brexit will do.

I am forced to conclude that Brexit, like chaos theory, will affect everything. And I mean everything.

Hence, my latest copyrighted rule (copyright 2016 John E. Bredehoft):

The Empoprises Rule of Brexit Ubiquitousness

When the phrase "What does Brexit mean for" is followed by ANY word or phrase, the resulting question will be meaningful and worthy of serious consideration.

Perhaps a few examples may be helpful.

What does Brexit mean for...fair food?
What does Brexit mean for...Kim Kardashian's personal assistant?
What does Brexit mean for...Nickelback?

Have fun...and use the #brexitubi hashtag with abandon.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Why I don't fear Big Brothersky, late June 2016 edition

In my previous posts in the "why I don't fear Big Brother" vein, I've pretty much concentrated on U.S. organizations. Because I live in the United States, I know that the FBI-CIA-DHS is not this one monolithic agency. But when I am looking at governments that I don't know a lot about, that knowledge goes out the window.

Take Russia. Back in the day when Russia was part of the Soviet Union, we thought of it as an "evil empire," controlled by Darth Vader-like forces, and always working together under control of the Soviet king. The rules of bureaucratic infighting apply just as much in Russia as they do in the United States, as the two recent hacks of the Democratic National Committee demonstrate.

Yes, two hacks.

One group, which [security company] CrowdStrike had dubbed Cozy Bear, had gained access last summer and was monitoring the DNC’s email and chat communications, Alperovitch said.

The other, which the firm had named Fancy Bear, broke into the network in late April and targeted the opposition research files [on Donald Trump]. It was this breach that set off the alarm.

In passing, it should be noted that the hacker groups are probably really upset that they are now known as "Cozy Bear" and "Fancy Bear." But who are they?

The two groups did not appear to be working together, Alperovitch said. Fancy Bear is believed to work for the GRU, or Russia’s military intelligence service, he said. CrowdStrike is less sure of whom Cozy Bear works for but thinks it might be the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the country’s powerful security agency, which was once headed by Putin.

So these hackers were from separate parts of the Russian government. Well, why didn't they just work together? Because it is rarely in the interest of separate bureaucracies to work together.

“There’s an amazing adversarial relationship” among the Russian intelligence agencies, Alperovitch said. “We have seen them steal assets from one another, refuse to collaborate. They’re all vying for power, to sell Putin on how good they are.”

And now things will get even worse, since Fancy Bear - Putin's ex group - is the one that ruined the party for both groups. Cozy Bear will now call Fancy Bear a bunch of incompetents, while Fancy Bear will ask Putin to exterminate Cozy Bear just because.

And what did Fancy Bear learn about Donald Trump? The Post article doesn't say, but presumably there's a Fancy Bear report somewhere that says that Trump likes women and likes shooting off his mouth.

(An aside for my regular readers - the deeplinks in this post will probably result in a follow-up post in the Empoprise-MU music blog - even if I didn't work Bob Dylan or Doris Day specifically in there somehow.)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hewlett Packard All in One Printer Wasn't All in One for a time (on scan and copy power)

Although I didn't advertise it at the time, I recently left my home for a one-week vacation in Washington DC. (Actually more than one week, including an overnight stay in a cot at DFW, but that's another story.) Before leaving the house, I dutifully turned off and/or unplugged various electronic devices, thinking nothing of it...

...until, after our return, we were unable to scan a picture on our HP 8600 All-in-One printer - the kind that prints, copies, scans, faxes, shines floors, and improves desserts.

The printer still printed, but the scanning part wasn't scanning. And then we discovered that the copying part wasn't copying either. Time to visit the HP Customer Support website, where I found a page that specifically addressed my error message:

Scanner failure. Unable to scan, copy, or send a fax

So I proceeded to solution one, resetting the printer. This was a simple solution that required me to unplug the power cord at the printer end, unplug it at the surge suppressor, and then replug the cord at the surge suppressor and printer ends. After this I was able to successfully copy - but couldn't scan, and then was unable to copy again.

Time for solution two, which definitely merited consideration.

The surge protector, extension cord, or power strip you were using [may] not allow enough voltage for the printer to work properly.

I then remembered that when I went on vacation, I ended up unplugging a few things. By chance did I unplug the printer from the wall, and then plug it in to the surge suppressor?

On to executing solution two. I tried to turn the printer off, couldn't, and then proceeded to step 2 to unplug the printer from the surge suppressor. After plugging it directly into the wall outlet, everything worked fine, including both copying and scanning. (I haven't had the fax set up for years.)

I then remembered why I probably didn't have the printer plugged into the surge suppressor in the first place. I was probably afraid that I'd overload the surge suppressor. And after all, new printers can be bought for a couple of quarters these days (the old "sell the razors cheap and razor blades dear" strategy), so it really didn't matter if an electrical storm fried my printer.

Now I just have to replace my ancient Windows Vista computer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

#empotuulwey In which Chris Brogan, Jesse Stay, and I use the "B" word

WARNING: While I will try to redact a particular offensive word that begins with the letter B, there is a chance that I may slip up and forget to redact it on one or two occasions. Sensitive people should avoid this post.

Not too long ago, I made a change to my LinkedIn profile. My profile lists my Empoprises work in addition to my day job, but the profile does not describe me as a Freelance [REDACTED]ger. Instead, it describes me as a Freelance Writer/[REDACTED]ger.

Why is writing listed before [REDACTED]ging?

Well, duh!

I was reminded of the [REDACTED]ging controversy earlier this month when I saw this item (note that I saw it on Facebook). It's something shared by Chris Brogan.

Brogan's original written product, found at, makes the point that content is still being created. It's just that people aren't going to the [REDACTED]s directly, but getting there via avenues other than direct visits or Google Reader.

Going back to the Facebook share of Brogan's written content, Jesse Stay offered the following comment:

It's not what it used to be though

This reminded me of something - namely, the fact that the [REDACTED]ging is dead debate has been going on for years - possibly even BEFORE Google Reader starting pining for the fjords. In fact, I wrote about it back in 2012, back when Chris Brogan was writing "Never Fall in Love With the Medium" and Jesse Stay was writing"My Official (and Obligatory) 'Traditional [REDACTED]ging is Dead' Post."

It's important to note that Brogan and Stay are NOT disagreeing with one another. This excerpt from Stay's 2012 written product illustrates a point that Brogan would heartily agree with:

Does that mean that personal opinion and citizen journalism is dead? Does that mean that sharing is dead? Does that mean engagement is dead? In fact, it’s even greater than ever.

The one change, as Brogan notes:

Gone are the days of “Just write something because we were told to have a blog by some ‘guru.'” Instead, you have to have created something of value.

What is value? Is this particular post one that I'm going to immediately rush and share on LinkedIn, Instagram, terrestrial radio, and fake scientific journals? Probably not. I'd be willing to bet that the majority of people don't even realize what word I'm consistently redacting throughout this written product, and therefore would be confused by the content.

But perhaps it's something that I can refer to later. After all, when you have a [REDACTED] of sequential written products (this [REDACTED] alone has over 2,600 of them), it's a resource that I - and you - can dive into at will as needed.

P.S. It has occurred to me that by redacting the offensive word, I have shot myself in the foot regarding search engine optimization. So if you are a sensitive individual, stop reading now. Because I am going to use the offensive word.

Like a true so-called "SEO expert."

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