Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What I said about Cuba 13 days ago

On December 4, I wrote a post about Cuba, having no idea that President Obama would soon take executive actions to increase connections between the United States and Cuba.

I'd like to reiterate something that I wrote 13 days ago.

Actually, relaxation of the U.S. embargo would be the worst thing that could happen to Cuba. For decades, Fidel and Raul Castro have been able to blame all of Cuba's problems on the evil Yankees to the north. If the U.S. suddenly relaxed sanctions, what would Cuba do then? Who could they blame? And what would they do with the influx of Americans, with their connected cell phones and their wild capitalist behavior?

Watch out, Cuba. The Simpsons, bacon, and cat pictures are headed your way.

You can't refuse to own an Oscar. You don't really own it.

Ownership is an odd concept. When you buy software, you don't own it; you receive a license to use it. That license usually doesn't let you mucky about with the source code.

And even if you truly "own" something, there may be substantial restrictions on its use which effectively mean that you don't really own it.

Take a particular statue that is manufactured by R.S. Owens & Company in Chicago - the statue that goes by the nickname "Oscar," but is formally known as the Academy Award of Merit. You see people getting the award, and carrying it off the stage. But what happens after that?

Let's say that a few years have elapsed. Let's say your grandfather actually won the award. Let's say you're short on money. What then?

Take the case of Cyrus Todd, the grandson of late producer Michael Todd. In 1989, Cyrus Todd found himself nearly broke, so he reportedly decided to sell his grandfather’s 1956 Best Picture Oscar for Around the World in 80 Days. For help, Todd turned to Malcolm Willits, a movie-memorabilia expert and owner of the Collector’s Bookstore in Hollywood, Calif.

However, there's a teeny complication. When Michael Todd won that Oscar in 1956, he signed an agreement.

Since 1950, the Academy has required Oscar winners to sign an agreement stipulating that neither they–nor their heirs–will sell their statuettes without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for a buck. Refuse to sign, and the Academy keeps the statuette. “They’re not tchotchkes to be bought off of a shelf,” sniffs an academy spokesman.

In the case of Cyrus Todd, the Academy got a court order to block any sale.

And the Academy keeps on fighting Oscar sales, although apparently the resale price of the Oscar has gone up.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sued an heir of cinematographer Robert Surtees, claiming the right to buy Surtees' 1953 Oscar for $10, not the $40,500 for which it was offered on eBay.

Of course, the whole thing doesn't matter if you never win an Oscar in the first place - or if you win an Oscar and refuse it.

On March 5, 1973, Marlon Brando declined the Academy Award for Best Actor for his gut-wrenching performance as Vito Corleone in "The Godfather"....

On the evening of March 5, when Liv Ullman and Roger Moore read out the name of the Best Actor award recipient, neither presenter parted their lips in a smile. Their gaze fell on a woman in Apache dress, whose long, dark hair bobbed against her shoulders as she climbed the stairs.

Moore extended the award to Littlefeather, who waved it away with an open palm. She set a letter down on the podium, introduced herself, and said:

"I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you ... that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry —"

Obviously Brando's refusal was not a rousing endorsement of capitalism, but I'm waiting for the day when someone - either someone who portrays a businessperson on film, or someone who is a businessperson in real life - ascends the podium and gives the following Best Actor/Best Actress speech:

While the Academy makes a big show of giving these Oscars away, the truth is that they retain the right to purchase the Oscar back in the future for a mere ten dollars. I will no longer participate in this cover-up, which represents the way in which the film industry continues to rip off the actors and actresses who make billions of dollars for them.

Of course, anyone who rejected a Best Actor or Best Actress award would never work in the town of Hollywood again.

Unless said person had the heft of Marlon Brando.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Remember my pictures of the mall at Pentagon City? Treasure them while you can.

I've always told myself, "Someday I'm going to take pictures of an area, so that when it changes, I'll remember what it used to look like."

Unintentionally, I have done just that.

Back in 2005, I was in Arlington, Virginia, and took pictures of the interior of a mall in Pentagon City. They were posted in the Ontario Empoblog.

(The Audioblogger service, incidentally, closed down years ago.)

As you can probably guess, Pentagon City is close to the Pentagon, and like everything else in Arlington, it's on prime real estate.

Well, the long-range plan for that area has been released, and that mall will go away. Eventually.

Kimco Realty Corp., owner of Pentagon Centre, has released its revised phasing plan for the site's redevelopment, ahead of a meeting Thursday with Arlington County's Long Range Planning Committee. While the enclosed mall (currently anchored by Best Buy and other big boxes) will disappear in roughly 20 years, Costco sticks around at least until 2050.

Hey, Costco can outlast just about everything.

Perhaps Weiss Law LLP should sue its webmaster

I ran across a press release that said that Weiss Law LLP was beginning a legal investigation into the acquisition of PetSmart, Inc. Weiss Law is specifically concerned about two things:

Notably, the offer price represents a mere 6.8% premium over the Company's December 12, 2014 closing price. Additionally, Longview Asset Management, PETM's second largest shareholder, has committed to voting in favor of the acquisition while simultaneously participating in the consortium.

So I went to Weiss Law LLP's website,, to find out more. The top of the website includes links to a number of areas of interest, ranging from cases to FAQs.

I tried the "Cases" link...and got an error.

I tried every other link...and got an error.

Then I poked around and realized that the link buttons directed people to very specific addresses - for example, the "Cases" link goes to When I manually typed in, I was fine.

It looks like Weiss Law LLP should sue its webmaster for improper link coding.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sydney hospitality manager Tori Johnson - some things just aren't taught in school

Tori is a dedicated, committed person who puts everything into making sure the job is done right.
James Makarewicz, recommendation on Tori Johnson's LinkedIn profile

The recommendation was given based upon Johnson's work as the restaurant manager at the Adria Rybar & Grill. He left that position in 2012 to become the store manager at the flagship location of the Lindt Chocolate Café...on Martin Place in Sydney.

Looking over his LinkedIn profile, it appears that Johnson had a number of positions with increasing responsibility. Starting as a hotel porter and valet, he secured more responsible positions in Australia - taking a brief break to come to the United States to get a degree (a bachelor of arts in hospitality business management from Washington State University).

I'm sure that Johnson learned a lot of things in the classroom, and at his various positions. But there's one topic that he probably never came across - what to do when you, your staff, and your customers are confronted by a gunman intent on taking hostages.

At the time I'm writing this, one story has been neither proven nor disproven.

There are unconfirmed reports he wrestled with the gunman in the cafe as other hostages tried to flee.

Johnson died in the final minutes of the hostage situation.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why national borders will survive longer than personal privacy

(Before I start this post, I wanted to mention something. My posts often contain links to information, either previous posts written by myself, or things written by others. This particular post has a lot of the latter category, including a Louis Gray tweet of a Valleywag article, a list that Tad Donaghe wrote on Medium, and a number of articles from sources such as CNN and CNET. If a particular topic interests you, I strongly encourage you to follow the link and explore it further. And of course, the trackbacks to this blog post don't hurt me either...)

Even if you don't personally own a smartphone, it's quite possible that many of your movements are being captured. Maybe your city has installed cameras that are watching you. Maybe your friend performed a "check in" and mentioned that you were at the same location. Maybe you've filed a required legal document that is now part of the online public record. Maybe someone has hacked into some private information and revealed secret things about you.

Because of this, many people are saying that the whole concept of privacy is a thing of the past.

Personal example: I had resisted installing Waze on my smartphone for several reasons, one of which was that I didn't necessarily want to have my every move tracked in a server. Then one day, I discovered that Google Now was able to inform me exactly where I had parked my car. (It hypothesized, based upon smartphone movements, the time when I got out of my fast-moving automobile and started slowly walking away from it.) Despite my supposed care, my location was being tracked pretty well anyway. When you combine (insert B-- D--- buzzword here) from a multitude of sources, it's possible to figure out what you're doing.

But technology doesn't just impact privacy. It also impacts national laws.

Let's use export laws as an example. Country A, for national reasons (security, economics, whatever) decides to restrict exports of a product to Country B. However, it's a lot easier to break national export laws today than it was a few hundred years ago.

In the 1700s, if someone in Philadelphia wanted to flout national (British) export law, he'd have to get a hold of a ship, journey to a territory outside of British rule, and then smuggle the goods back to Philadelphia. This took a lot of time and a lot of money.

Today, that same person could sit in his (or her) home and flout the law much more easily, perhaps requiring something no more complex than an anonymizer. The whole process might take mere seconds, and you wouldn't get seasick in the process.

So it's possible for individuals to flout the laws of nations. The nations, however, are fighting back. Spain has passed content laws that are forcing Google to shut down Google Noticias in Spain. Swedish laws have brought the Pirate Bay offline. Russia is enacting laws that are forcing Google (again) to take its engineers out of Russia.

The starry-eyed among us may predict that, in the same way that privacy is going away, the whole idea of national laws will go away. Companies such as Google and Microsoft will eventually be able to do business without regard to borders or those pesky national laws. (Except, of course, when we like the national laws in question.)

But the starry-eyed forget that the same technology that can be used to flout national laws can also be used to enforce them. Sure, it's possible to get around the Great Firewall of China, but you'll get in trouble if you do, as this October story demonstrates.

Wang Long has been held in custody in Longgang district for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, his former lawyer Fan Biaowen told the South China Morning Post....

Wang reposted at least six photos from Twitter and Facebook on Weibo showing thousands of Occupy Central supporters and students protesting against Beijing’s decision to set strict limits on the 2017 Hong Kong elections....

At the same time, Microsoft (headquartered in the United States) is fighting a United States government request to provide access to data stored on an Irish server. Microsoft's argument is that the U.S. request is a violation of Irish law, and Microsoft asks how the U.S. would react if the shoe were on the other foot:

Imagine this scenario. Officers of the local Stadtpolizei investigating a suspected leak to the press descend on Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. They serve a warrant to seize a bundle of private letters that a New York Times reporter is storing in a safe deposit box at a Deutsche Bank USA branch in Manhattan. The bank complies by ordering the New York branch manager to open the reporter’s box with a master key, rummage through it, and fax the private letters to the Stadtpolizei....

The U.S. Secretary of State fumes: “We are outraged by the decision to bypass existing formal procedures that the European Union and the United States have agreed on for bilateral cooperation, and to embark instead on extraterritorial law enforcement activity on American soil in violation of international law and our own privacy laws.” Germany’s Foreign Minister responds: “We did not conduct an extraterritorial search – in fact we didn’t search anything at all. No German officer ever set foot in the United States. The Stadtpolizei merely ordered a German company to produce its own business records, which were in its own possession, custody, and control. The American reporter’s privacy interests were fully protected, because the Stadtpolizei secured a warrant from a neutral magistrate.”

Regardless of the outcome of the Google, Pirate Bay, Wang Long, or Microsoft cases, it is clear that national borders - and national laws that conflict with the laws of other nations - will be around for a very long time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Uber and Lyft are so last week. Here's the new taxi model - not.

I just posted a comment in a private thread on a leading social media service, and I wanted to transfer my thoughts to my own blog before Mashable or Buzzfeed or whoever rips off my revolutionary idea. My original comment is in my usual bold italic style, and I'll insert comments as I go along.

I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm about to reveal my solution for hired car customer satisfaction - rather than having a booking company arrange things with independent contractor drivers...

Note that this pretty much applies to both the new model (Uber/Lyft) and the old model (your average taxicab company). For example, here's how one company organized its workforce:

USA Cab owns a fleet of about 45 taxis that it leases to drivers, and it operates a taxi dispatch service. At issue in the case was whether USA Cab’s classification of the drivers as independent contractors was proper. The Plaintiffs’ brought a putative class action alleging that due to the misclassification, USA Cab failed to provide workers’ compensation insurance, failed to pay minimum wages, improperly required drivers to pay security deposits and other fees, and denied them meal and rest breaks.

When you call a cab company, you think of the cab company as a single the same way that you think of McDonalds as a single entity. In reality, however, the cab company contracts with other people, but imposes all sorts of regulations on what those people can do. Here's another example:

Every time I use my [credit] card to pay, the [taxi] drivers ask if I would mind giving them cash, notwithstanding that just about every major cab company advertises that they gladly accept cards. So I finally started asking what the difference was....The answer came in two parts.

First, the cab companies charge the driver a percentage of the fare in order to process the cards. That fee can run up to ten percent according to some drivers that I spoke with. The drivers are getting ripped off but they do not fully understand it because they are unaware of what the cab companies are actually paying their credit card processor to handle the transaction....

The other problem with accepting credit cards, according to many drivers, is the delay in payment by the cab companies. They can take up to three weeks to remit the money back to the driver, according to a cabbie I spoke with in New York. So that means that when you pay by credit card, the driver is not getting the money at the end of the shift, has to pay a premium to get paid, and may have to wait until the cab company gets around to settling with him.

Now I don't know how fast the newer companies such as Uber and Lyft pay their contractors, but the fact remains that they are contractors, not employees.

Which brings me back to my original comment in the private thread.

...what would happen if a company actually owned the taxicabs and used salaried employees? Then they could control quality and roll out service improvements more easily...

Think about it. I am an employee of a large company, and if the company wants to roll out a quality initiative, it can persuade its own employees to do what needs to be done. Granted that firms have similar control over independent contractors (or franchisees), but it all works a little better if you have a boss who reports to the boss who reports to the boss that wants the change made.

...nah, it would never work.

This is how I concluded my private comment. Why won't it work? Because the entire economy is moving away from big firms with many employees. The trend is more toward franchising, independent contracting, anything that keeps the employee numbers down and reduces cost. Remember my "page 462" post, in which a store (the Empoprisorium) is a literal shell, contracting with major companies such as Vizio to provide goods and employees, but making sure that all of the profit goes to the shell store.

Which reminds me - on about page 383 of the guide, you'll see that all sales that you conduct in our store have to pass through our cash registers. None of this booking sales on the floor that go some other way. If we catch you making sales that don't go through our cash registers, we will kill you. Literally. See page 462.

So you'll have more and more cases where you'll deal with a "company" that in actuality is a lot of independent firms, all being ripped off.

In which I reveal Illuminati secrets on Quora

Ever since I installed the Quora app on my personal tablet, I've been more active in Quora - reviewing questions, spouting off answers, and the like. There aren't a lot of items posted about my business interest (biometrics), but there is certainly a lot of traffic on other topics that interest me.

Including, of course, the Illuminati.

Not too long ago, someone asked this question:

How would one know if one is being recruited by the Illuminati?

How can I avoid missing the signals. How do I convince myself that I am not being pranked upon? How is one assured of the genuine-nature of the request (approach?) if at all?

This is obviously a major concern for a lot of people, and many respectful Quora members gave the question the serious answer it deserved. One excerpt:

The first rule of the Illuminati is that no one talks about the Illuminati.

I also answered the question, but my answer needs to be placed into context. A few days before seeing this particular question, I had read two accounts of the joys of working at Radio Shack. I am unable to find either of these now, but I can summarize both of them as follows: working at Radio Shack, especially during the holidays, stinks. One account described how a mall Radio Shack had to open really really early on one holiday, but that no shoppers arrived for an hour or two. A couple of employees just up and quit during the long day, and corporate eventually authorized the store to close early, after it had sold hardly anything.

Anyway, with these in mind, here is how I answered the question about Illuminati recruitment.

Let me guess. You thought "Radio Shack" was an electronics retailer. I will admit that the displays in the temples - I mean the stores - can be convincing, but the fact that there were no customers should have given you a hint that the "cashier job" was not what it seemed.

Yes, I know that I've revealed terrible secrets there, but how do you think that I was able to join the Radio Shack Battery Club in the first place? They didn't just hand those memberships out.

Friday, December 5, 2014

An opposing view - why people like big rooms (obeya)

I hate cubicle hell, and I a continuously thankful that I don't work in one of those kewl places where everyone sits at a table. I like to think, and it's hard to think when people are chattering all over the place.

But my view is not the only view, so I figured I'd give equal time to someone who believes that walls hamper productivity.

That "someone" is Jon Miller, who was writing about lean thingies back in 2010. He started by telling the rules that were imposed on him for one project.

Early in my career as a lean consultant the client gave my project team "free rein" to direct a business transformation, with three disclaimers: don't fire any customers, don't discontinue any products, and don't move any walls.

The client was not talking about processes with that third disclaimer - the client was talking about real, physical walls.

When someone defines restrictions - barriers, as it were - it is the natural inclination of some people to challenge those restrictions. And Miller wanted to challenge all of them. In the post, he talked specifically about walls, noting the an obeya (big room) could solve five problems. Here's the second benefit of a big, wall-less room:

Fewer meetings. When walls come down, the need for meetings is reduced. More time can be spent in small but timely bursts of communication. More progress is made on issues within an obeya than within the traditional meeting room due to the information displayed there and the fact that it is a working area for a cross-functional team; they want the meeting over and you out of their space so they can get back to work. Multiply the man-minutes of meetings reduced times the cost and this is another concrete way that removing walls increases profit.

For the other four, see Miller's post.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Requisite storage - two very important words in President Obama's Body Worn Camera Partnership Program

I've previously talked ad nauseum about the issues involved in getting police agencies to use body worn cameras. In the past, I've discussed societal costs. But there are also monetary costs.

President Obama has proposed to help local agencies meet these costs.

The President has proposed a three-year, $263 million investment package that will:

•Increase police officers’ use of body worn cameras
•Expand training for law enforcement agencies (LEAs)
•Add more resources for police department reform
•Multiply the number of cities where the Department of Justice facilitates community and local LEA engagement

Part of the proposal is a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program, which would provide a 50 percent match to states and localities that purchase body worn cameras and requisite storage. In fact, the proposed $75 million, three-year investment could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras.

As noted in a recent report released by Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), evidence shows that body worn cameras help strengthen accountability and transparency, and that officers and civilians both act in a more positive manner when they're aware that a camera is present.

As you can see, the cost to implement body worn cameras could be $150 million or more - $75 million from the Federal government, and $75 million from states and localities. However, if you read the statement carefully, it doesn't just cover the cameras. Note the following two words:

requisite storage

Extremely important words. When you're using these cameras, you're amassing a large amount of video. PoliceOne's Tim Dees attempted to calculate the costs involved.

Here’s a calculation based on a 50-officer agency: say 60% of your cops work on a typical day, and each produces an average of four hours of video. If the video is encoded at 640x480 VGA (the format stored by the TASER AXON system, one of the more popular models) it’s going to take up 15-20 MB of space per minute (TASER may compress the video better than that— this is just an estimation). That’s just over 1 GB per hour, times four hours, times 30 cops, times three shifts: 360 GB per day, more than a terabyte every three days, ten terabytes per month.

How long do you want to keep that video on file before you delete it? If you say “forever,” get ready to write an increasingly large check each month. If you can live with, say, three months, that’s about 30 terabytes worth of storage, plus whatever you keep around for open cases.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is one of the largest cloud storage services in the world. Netflix uses them for their trove of streaming video. There are a lot of variables, but the figure I got for keeping this volume of video online with AWS, creating a new volume at the end of each sift, is $6260.79. Apply whatever multiples you might need for more cops or a longer retention interval.

As Dees notes, the cost of storage far outweighs the initial costs of the cameras themselves. And Dees notes that while the cameras themselves are one-time purchases (until they break), storage is an ongoing cost. What happens when the Body Worn Camera Partnership Program runs out of money? Will the states and localities fund the whole thing at 100%, or will they shut the whole thing down due to lack of funding?

Dees has a solution:

If the federal government was to provide archiving services for bodycam-generated video, the storage costs for local agencies would disappear.

Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason - or, if this Yaser Abdel Said ad is correct, Silicon Valley CAN replace the government

As I've noted before, there is a small group of people in Silicon Valley who believe that governments are irrelevant, and that the wise ones of the Valley can do things much better than governments can.

Based on something that I saw today, either these visionaries are correct, or the famed technology just made a very big blunder.

Earlier today, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation added Yaser Abel Said to its well-known Top Ten List of fugitives. Said is accused of murdering his two teenage daughters in 2008.

While searching for information on Said and his alleged crime, I encountered this advertisement on the search page.

Heck, law enforcement has been looking for this guy for years, and a web company knew where he was all along?

Obviously, this is an example of unintended consequences. Both the advertising firm and the advertiser figured that if someone were using a search engine to get information on "John Doe," it would be a wonderful idea to let the searcher know that the advertiser could provide information on anyone - including "John Doe."

What could go wrong?

Why isn't the world investing in Cuba?

I've often wondered about something.

Whenever Cuba is described, it's portrayed as a place populated by decrepit cars from the 1950s, a backwards place that hasn't seen any real growth since Batista was kicked out and Fidel Castro took over.

Why is this?

Yes, the U.S. maintains an economic embargo against Cuba, but the rest of the world does not. Why aren't Canadians and Germans and French selling modern cars and other things to Cuba?

As it turns out, this is Cuba's own fault. Cuba is actually begging people to invest - it would like to see over $8.7 billion in investment in nearly 250 potential projects. But Cuba's focus on central planning has resulted in so much inefficiency that it's at cross-purposes with itself.

Chinese executive George Yan said he asked in May for permission to build a $1 million plant at Mariel that would employ 100 Cubans to assemble energy-saving LED lights. Despite receiving initial approval three months later, he has not been shown potential sites for the factory or received other indications the project can proceed.

Note that Yan is Chinese, and China, like Cuba, is a single-party state under control of the Communist Party. So what would happen if Yan were to request such an investment at home?

In China, he said, "this would take 24 hours."

Actually, relaxation of the U.S. embargo would be the worst thing that could happen to Cuba. For decades, Fidel and Raul Castro have been able to blame all of Cuba's problems on the evil Yankees to the north. If the U.S. suddenly relaxed sanctions, what would Cuba do then? Who could they blame? And what would they do with the influx of Americans, with their connected cell phones and their wild capitalist behavior?

It's already bad enough that Italians want to - horrors! - check their email. When one traveler asked about getting a SIM card to check her email during a planned vacation in Cuba, someone provided this response.

The email app has to be added by Etecsa to your phone.. As a tourist you cannot buy a SIM card, only Cubans can and they are only permitted one per person. You can, however, rent a sim card.

My understanding is that, unless you know someone, the email app is now only added to a mobile phone purchased in an Etecsa shop. The only way I managed to get the app on my phone is that I had a friend who knew someone that worked in the Etecsa office.

If enough American tourists show up and start demanding the same things that they can get an any other destination, the Cubans would beg the American government to restart the embargo pronto.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Broadcasters and cable/satellite providers, don't forget that the consumers may take action against you

I've been talking about this for years.

Let's say that you're a customer of Super Cable Satellite Company, a cable/satellite provider that offers a number of channels, including the Watching Paint Dry Channel. One day you're watching your favorite channel, and the following message appears:

Do you love the Watching Paint Dry Channel? After September 30, the Super Cable Satellite Company may refuse to air the Watching Paint Dry Channel! Tell SCSC that you want them to keep paint programming on the air!

A little while later, the Super Cable Satellite Company airs its own message:

We at the Super Cable Satellite Company strive to provide entertainment services at an affordable price. However, the Watching Paint Dry Channel is asking us to pay exorbitant fees - fees that we would be forced to pass on to you. Tell the WPDC that they should be reasonable!

And they fight and fight and fight...until they reach a secret agreement that they don't discuss. And who loses? The customer.

I haven't talked about these battles recently, just because I've gotten so tired of them. The latest incident that I discussed occurred back in February, when DirecTV actually removed the Weather Channel from its channel lineup. By April, the two entities kissed and made up.

A brief item in Courthouse News Service, however, reminds everyone that consumers have power also. Although details are not provided, a class action suit has been filed against Dish Network for its month-long refusal to provide Turner Broadcasting channels to its subscribers.

The Washington Examiner provides additional information:

Plaintiff Craig Felzien is seeking class action status for all DISH Network customers between Oct. 21 and Nov. 20. During this period of time, the satellite company blacked out broadcasts on some stations, including CNN, Headline News, the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, Boomerang, The Hub and CNN en Espanol.

Felzien had two problems with Dish, according to the Washington Examiner.

First, despite the fact that Dish had effectively reduced its service offering, it continued to charge Felzien the same price.

Second, during the month in question, "DISH Network continued to advertise that it carried the channels in its TV packages available to customers despite the programs being blacked out."

Dish will presumably argue that Felzien signed a contract that allowed Dish to reduce service without compensating subscribers, and will presumably come up with some legal argument against Felzien's other contention.

But this introduces an interesting wrinkle to future disputes between content providers and cable/satellite companies - if programming actually gets pulled for a day, or a month, or three months, will a consumer class action lawsuit follow?

Sales hunting, farming, and compensation

The November/December 2014 print issue of Sales & Marketing Managment includes an article entitled "Sales suffer from too much farming and not enough hunting." It references the thoughts of Mike Weinberg, but those thoughts aren't new to 2014 - he actually shared them in May 2011.

But before we get to Weinberg's observations, we need to define the terms "hunting" and "farming." Here's how Steve Martinez defines them:

We essentially have two ways to generate business. One is through the process of hunting for new business and the other is farming our existing clients for new business....

Hunting is when we seek out new business and try to take business away from another company. The other method is to use our existing client base for referrals and references and grow through client share and vertical markets....

When it comes to hunting or farming, I think hunting is harder. You might liken it to chasing rabbits.

All other things being equal, hunting truly is harder. When you farm (in a sales sense), you already know who to talk to - just talk to the same people that you've been talking to all along. When you're hunting, it may take some time to find out who to talk to, and it will take additional time for your prey (in hunter terms) to figure out who YOU are.

So if you recognize that hunting is harder than farming, and that human nature causes us to gravitate toward easy things - when was the last time you personally slaughtered an animal to put meat on your dinner table? - then you can guess what happens when someone is supposed to hunt and farm - the focus of Weinberg's May 2011 post. Of course, Weinberg has to get our attention first:

The single biggest problem I see contributing to lack of new business development success is the hybrid hunter-farmer sales role.

Toward the end of his discussion, he asks the following question:

Is your sales compensation structured in such a way that a dollar sold to an existing account pays the same commission as a dollar sold to a new account? Year after year?

Eliot Burdett agrees:

If the strategy is to enter new markets, the commissions will need to be sufficiently high to justify the additional effort required to break new ground – otherwise reps will stick to what they know will put commission in their pockets.

Conversely, if your chief goal is to service existing accounts, you'll flip your commission structure the other way. But if your commissions are flat regardless of the type of customer, you may not get the behavior that you want.

Monday, December 1, 2014

All hell is about to break loose - in court

Earl the Black Pearl sounds like one bad...

...(shut your mouth!)

Actually, Earl the Black Pearl was the main character in the book Street Players, written (by convict turned author Donald Goines) at about the same time as Shaft. The 1973 book was recently re-released in a new edition by Kensington Publishing.

With ice in his veins and a stable of women to keep his money rolls thick and plenty, Earl the Black Pearl has every intention of staying at the top of the brutal empire he created. But when someone starts picking off his crew, all hell is about to break loose--because Earl isn't letting anyone threaten what he's worked so hard to build. With the streets about to blow up into a violent free-for-all, Earl knows what he has to do--get the enemy or die trying. . .

If you look at the cover of the 2014 release of the book, you can see that Earl is bad.

Well, actually you can't, because Earl the Black Pearl is a fictional character. So who is on the cover?

[Charles] Christian, a black entrepreneur and Nashville church deacon, took part in a private photography session as a gift to his wife in April 2013....

He was then told by friends and family that his picture was on the cover of Donald Goines' book "Street Players."

Christian has acquired legal representation (Howell O'Rear of McInteer & O'Rear in Nashville) and is suing Kensington Publishing. However, there is no discussion of the contract that Christian signed with the private photographer, and who retained the rights to the pictures.

Predictions are hard - how fast will the facial recognition market grow?

Perhaps you're under the impression that by reading free news sources such as the Empoprise-BI business blog, you can get all of the information that you need.

But to get quality information, you have to pay money - sometimes thousands of dollars.

Take the whole business of industry analyses. There are a number of firms that provide information, analysis, and future predictions for various vertical industries. For example, I am employed in the biometrics industry, and there are firms that examine that industry and try to predict where it is headed.

One of these firms, Research and Markets, has announced the availability of a new study on the facial recognition industry.

The global facial recognition market was valued at USD 1.17 billion in 2013 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.5% from 2014 to 2020. Currently, the market is primarily driven by robust technological advancements for development of efficient surveillance systems required by civil and government agencies.

At the same time, another firm, TechNavio, has announced its own study.

TechNavio's analysts forecast the Global Facial Recognition market to grow at a CAGR of 25.7 percent over the period 2014-2019.

They can't both be right - unless the industry suffers a MASSIVE collapse between 2019 and 2020.

Incidentally, if you're interested in facial recognition and the artistic world, keep an eye on my tymshft time blog. You may see something of interest there in the future.

Did Black Thursday redden Black Friday?

You may not have seen my Thursday post that predicted a time when no one would shop on Black Thursday because they were all working.

Well, one thing already happened this year - Black Thursday adversely affected Black Friday, according to Fortune.

The National Retail Federation’s estimate that retail sales fell 11% over the key four-day Thanksgiving-Black Friday shopping weekend was a disaster....

“The consumer has gotten a lot smarter. Retailers created their own pain and suffering by bringing a lot of deals into the week before Black Friday. It diminished the excitement,” David Bassuk, managing director and co-leader of the global retail practice at AlixPartners, told Fortune. “It’s made Black Friday a non-event.”

Oh, and Cyber Monday - today - may have also been harmed.

The entire psychology behind event marketing takes a tumble when the things that were supposed to happen on the day after Thanksgiving, or the day that we all returned back to work, are instead spread out over several days. While Forbes may postulate that you CAN extend the Black Friday psychology over several days - or an entire year - by emphasizing things such as scarcity and anticipation, you're not going to get the crowds out there in droves by spreading things out. Let's face it, if Disney kept its movies on the market all the time, it would lose a ton of marketing opportunities.

I (Heart) ... who, exactly?

Back in the 1970s, Milton Glaser created a famous logo to advertise New York. The logo caught on so much that it has been parodied and has been the subject of trademark infringement lawsuits (3,000 as of 2005). The intent of all of this activity is to make it very clear - the "I [Heart] New York" campaign belongs to New York.


which one?

The work was originally done for the STATE of New York, and if you go to the website, it is very clear that the logo can be used to promote the entire state.

But what if you go to the SWEDISH site,

Those aren't the Catskills, I don't think.

To confuse things further, there's a little fact that many people don't realize - there is a New York COUNTY. (Here is the page for the New York County Clerk.) New York City is unusual inasmuch as it is a single city that has five counties within it. One of those counties, New York County, is the area that we commonly know as Manhattan - and, coincidentally, the place that many people think of when they think of "New York."

So do you love New York County, New York City, or New York State? Or the community in Kentucky? Or perhaps the places outside of the city walls of the City of York in England?

Ah, forget it.

With apologies to Frank Black.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Holding, but not for effect (a future Black Thursday)

Yes, I know that I was supposed to run another post today, but circumstances dictate that I hold that previously written post for a while. And no, I'm not holding for effect.

So to fill the time, I figured that I'd tell a story about the future.

It was before dawn on Thanksgiving morning, and Kent was excited. Sure, it was going to be a long day, but there was still a sense of excitement about it. Kent lived in the United States of America, and all Americans knew what Thanksgiving morning meant.


Not that Kent was going to do any shopping himself, of course, but to Kent this day meant a steady paycheck, because he worked in retail. And when you worked in retail, everyone got a chance to work on Thanksgiving day, whether they wanted to or not.

Kent's father had told him about the old days, back in the 20th century, when stores would actually close on Thanksgiving Day. Back in those days, Black Thursday happened on Friday. (They called it Black Friday, of course.) In those days, Thursday would be the day that you'd relax in anticipation of Friday shopping. Eventually, however, some stores figured that there was no point in waiting for Friday to start the Christmas selling season. Why not start Thursday, when everyone was off of work anyway, and make a bigger splash?

This was Kent's third year of working at Spenacy's - his father remembered when Spenacy's was actually four separate stores, Sears, KMart, J.C. Penney, and Macy's - and Kent had the routine down pat. Get to work early in the morning, before the sun came up, for the very important Black Thursday launch meeting. This was when the store manager provided last minute instructions to the staff on security procedures, sale hours, and the like.

This year, there was a little twist. In past years, there was a marked difference between the Spenacy's "suits" and the people who did the real work. Employee clubs (there were no unions at Spenacy's) often berated the corporate office people who took it easy while the employees were managing the holiday crowds in the stores. Well, that changed this year. The corporate employees, rather than having Thanksgiving Day off, were required to go to a nearby store and help out. Kent's store even had a special guest, a senior vice president from Spenacy's Shanghai headquarters. His English wasn't all that good, but the employees knew what he meant when he said, "Make good sale!"

At 5:55, someone gently reminded the senior vice president that he had to quit speaking. Security left the meeting immediately and rushed to the front doors, ready to manage the crowds. The rest of the Spenacy's employees followed, getting into their positions in their departments. Most of the suits went to the special returns section - the store knew from experience that if the store opened at 6:00, the first returns would start coming in around 7:00, either because the shoppers bought duplicate gifts, or they were able to secure a better deal at one of Spenacy's competitors (Waltareleven was a fierce price competitor).

Kent was in position in automotive when the loudspeaker announced, "Welcome to Spenacy's! The store is now open!"

Then, nothing.

Kent kept looking at the aisle that led toward the front of the store, but there were no shoppers running up the aisle.

After two minutes of no customers, Kent realized that something was seriously wrong. Perhaps security couldn't unlock the doors. Perhaps the shoppers rushed the doors and were being held back while injuries - or even deaths - were being attended to.

Kent was about to ask his supervisor if he could leave his position and go up front to see what was happening, but then his supervisor walked up herself to check things out. Kent followed.

As the employees left their positions and walked toward the front of the store, they saw - nothing.

Not a single shopper had come to the store. The lot was empty except for the employee and corporate cars.

If nothing else, Kent expected to see his neighbor Brandon there. Brandon's kids all had their own cars, and Kent had told Brandon about the 6 AM sales on automotive products. Brandon expressed interest in some of the products, so Kent figured that Brandon would be at Spenacy's bright and early.

Kent snuck back to his locker, pulled out his personal cell phone, and called Brandon's house.

One of Brandon's daughters answered.

"Hey, is your father there?" Kent asked.

"No," answered Brandon's daughter. "He had to go to work early today. He'll probably be working until about 8."

"So he has to go into work for two hours on Thanksgiving?"

"No, fourteen hours. He gets off at 8. Oh, I meant to say 8 pm."

Kent put his phone back in his locker. Then he remembered that Brandon said he'd be having a busy week at work. He worked for a software company that provided a payment application for mobile devices, and his company wanted all employees to be available on Thursday to assist in case there were any payment app problems at the retailers.

As Kent walked back to automotive, he did see a stray customer or two wandering around the store. A mother with a crying baby who was looking for formula. A guy with dirty hands who needed four quarts of oil right then. A couple of kids on their way to school (schools were open that day) who just wanted some candy.

As the day wore on, and as the employees and corporate help spent most of their time standing around, it slowly dawned on the corporate vice president and everyone else:

Everyone was so busy working on the Thanksgiving Day sales, or supporting the Thanksgiving Day sales, or supporting the supporters, that no one had any time to shop.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Offensive Football League, for real

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we rarely talk about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was hoping for Chris Brown.


No, ConocoPhillips is not suing itself

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

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

So who's reportedly buying CITGO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you done for me lately?

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grover Jackson, Carlton Easton, and the intricacies of racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or is it not a relevant part of this story?

Monday, November 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, right.

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


"Yes, honey?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My unfortunate mashup of the day

Original tweet here.

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

Ethics in crowdsourced taxi journalism (Uber buzzes Lacy)

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

(Pink Floyd, "Us and Them")

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or can you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full case here.

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Management by fear

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

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

Why do companies install so many stupid rules and policies?

Her answer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

The problem with being Big Data-Driven

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

This is probably a good thing.

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

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

And here's another one:

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

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

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

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

Read more of Wilson's comments here.

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

More on Just (Not?) Mayo

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

Therefore, Just Mayo contains no eggs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Source: PETA)

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

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

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

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

Sounds like hell, man.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

An explanatory note to Europeans

Dear Europe,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, there are other studies....

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

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

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

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

OK, so what is it?

Soylent is a convenient powder that is mixed with water.

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

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

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

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

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

Here's how Impossible Foods describes the process.

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

The result?

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

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