Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dennis Woodside couldn't escape Apple's acquisition frenzy


Companies acquire other companies for a number of reasons - to acquire the people (FriendFeed's acquisition by Facebook), to apply technology in new ways (Google's acquisition of Neven Vision), and sometimes to keep the competitors at bay.

I left Motorola before it split into two companies, and before one of those two companies (the phone portion) was acquired by Google. Dennis Woodside headed Motorola Mobility during the Google years, and he recently revealed that Apple's acquisition of Authentec put a damper on Google's plans for one of the Motorola phones.

Indeed, the 6-inch Nexus 6, [Woodside] can now admit, was stymied by just one of those big players. A dimple on the back that helps users hold the device should, in fact, have been rather more sophisticated. “The secret behind that is that it was supposed to be fingerprint recognition, and Apple bought the best supplier. So the second best supplier was the only one available to everyone else in the industry and they weren’t there yet,” says Woodside.

When Motorola Mobility was itself sold by Google, Woodside went to Dropbox. As it turns out, Dropbox was also a target of Apple's acquisition team at one point - but this time Apple didn't get the company.

Dropbox was once dismissed by Steve Jobs as “a feature, not a product”, albeit after the company had rejected what has since been reported as a nine-digit takeover bid.

Presumably Apple didn't believe that Authentec's products were commodities - after all, they were successful in THAT acquisition.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A degree of religious interference, or not?

There are Bible colleges in Illinois, and they are not happy:

The Illinois Bible Colleges Association, three Bible colleges, the nonprofit group Civil Liberties for Urban Believers, and student Leigh Pietsch sued Lindsay Anderson, chairwoman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, on Jan. 16 in Federal Court.

There are 15 Bible colleges in Illinois, none of which are certified by the state to issue college "degrees" - they may offer only "diplomas" or "certificates."

The Bible schools claim that prohibiting granting of degrees to students who fulfill the requirements of their entirely religious curriculum violates the First Amendment.

"We don't think there can be state regulation of a religious program," the Rev. Jim Scudder Jr., president of plaintiff Dayspring Bible College and Seminary, told The Associated Press. "If there is, then the state is deciding 'which' religion and breaking the establishment clause of the First Amendment."

Is the Illinois Board of Higher Education interfering in religion? Here's what it says:

Are religious institutions required to obtain authorizations to operate and grant degrees in Illinois?

All degree-granting institutions, including religious institutions, are required to obtain authorization to operate in Illinois. If a religious institution plans to award an associate, bachelors, masters, advanced certificate, or doctoral degree in any field, it must obtain appropriate authorizations from the Board.

The rules provide a limited exemption for religious institutions that award only a “diploma” or a “certificate” and whose programs are solely devoted to religion and theology. For example, under this exemption, a religious institution could award a Certificate in Bible Studies of a Diploma in Christian Ministry without obtaining authorization.

And before one complains that the IBHE is interfering in religion, well, it's interfering in business also.

Are employers, employee groups, or professional organizations required to obtain authorization to provide training to employees?

If an employer, employee group, or professional organization plans to award degrees, they are required to obtain authorizations. However, training programs conducted by corporations or other business organizations designed only for their employees are not subject to regulation by the Board. Similarly, neither labor union apprenticeships nor education and improvement programs sponsored by businesses, trade organizations, or professional organizations only for the benefit of their members are required to receive operating authority from the Board.

But the biggest argument against the claim that the IBHE is interfering in religion is the fact that there are religious colleges in Illinois that are authorized to grant degrees. Lutheran Church Missouri Synod people are familiar with Concordia University Chicago, which is not in Chicago but is in Illinois. This university grants degrees; if it doesn't, then a lot of people that I know have been lying to me for many years. A much more famous religions institution in Illinois is Wheaton College, which also grants degrees.

But I'm not sure where the aforementioned Leigh Pietsch attends school. In fact, the only Leigh Pietsch that I could find in Illinois was not a student, but someone who has been practicing law since 1972. Perhaps this Leigh Pietsch is a relative.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bullying...BY the school districts?

I live in the United States of America, and in this country there is an ongoing tension between the rights that we enjoy as citizens - including the presumption of innocence - and the maintenance of public safety. We often state that we are a nation of laws, but all that it takes is the mention of an excitable word - such as "Communist" or "terrorist" or "Ebola" - and we kinda sorta forget the freedoms that we are supposed to be protecting.

One issue that is receiving a lot of attention is a new law that was passed in Illinois. The stated intent of the law is to protect people from cyberbullying. Obviously, no one likes cyberbullying, so if you oppose the law, then obviously you are scum.

So what does the law do? By the time one school district got a hold of the law, this is how it was interpreted:

School authorities may require a student or his or her parent/guardian to provide a password or other related account information in order to gain access to his/her account or profile on a social networking website if school authorities have reasonable cause to believe that a student's account on a social networking site contains evidence that a student has violated a school disciplinary rule or procedure.

Now there's a wide-ranging debate as to whether students have any rights at all, but if one believes that students have rights, this is troubling. This very issue was raised in nearby Minnesota:

Three years ago...12-year-old Riley Stratton sued her Minnesota schools district after she claimed she'd been coerced into revealing her Facebook password. Last year, the case was settled with the Minnewaska Schools District paying Stratton $70,000. In this case, Stratton was accused of writing nasty things about her hall monitor.

Oh, and there's one more thing, which I think was also pointed out back when Bozeman, Montana wanted to get employee passwords. If you give your Facebook password to a school district or city government, you're violating Facebook's own terms of service.

You will not share your password (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.

So in essence, school districts are forcing young people (who often can't defend themselves) to surrender private information, give up their rights, and break contractual agreements in the process.

Sounds like bullying to me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


So anyways, I recently found myself beyond security at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. As you can probably guess, I was there to board an international flight. Less than 24 hours later, I found myself on the outskirts of Paris, sitting in a restaurant that overlooked Aquaboulevard.

What exactly is Aquaboulevard? Well, it's the biggest indoor water park in Europe.

While people in my area of California go to the beach, or perhaps to one of several outdoor aquatic parks, people in Paris go to a huge indoor park with swimming and water slides. (There is also an outdoor area.) Here's a description (thankfully, in English):

You will find that Aquaboulevard has absolutely fantastic water slides and if you like long water slides then you definitely need to give the Aquaplouf a try at 80 metres, but for a far faster descent down a slide, the Aquaturbo may be just right, but personally a bit extreme for us.

There is also a wave machine in one particular pool that is turned on and off at different intervals throughout the day and we think it was about every half an hour, but there are lots of other pools as well, so all members of the family can enjoy themselves, plus there are some lovely and relaxing Jacuzzi's to enjoy as well.

While some people love the place, others are meh about it.

Visited the place recently. For 29 eur was expecting it to be a great experience and was rather disappointed. OK, it's an option to spend some time with friends or with family, but not worth its price. Acceptable level would be 15-20 eur but then probably too much crowd...

Few slides, most of them slow. The ones described as "difficult" in other places are no more than "medium". Rafting was even funny, did it couple of times. Some of the slides are going outside or ending outside, so during bad weather be ready to get bit cold....

I visited waterpark in Krakow (Poland) - it was cheaper and I had more fun there.

So while Paris might be nice, it's no Krakow.

Well, I had read about the place, primarily because I figured that I'd eat at the Hippopotamus restaurant at some point during my Paris stay. (No, I am not trendy, and yes, I've eaten at this chain before.) As it turns out, Hippopotamus overlooks Aquaboulevard itself, which gave me the chance to see the park firsthand.

As you can see from the picture, there is no water in the pool. It turned out that at the time of my visit, the park was closed for renovation. I guess Parisians aren't clamoring to go swimming in early January.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Two reasons why Route 128 may supplant Silicon Valley?

In my various ruminations on Silicon Valley, I have rarely dealt with the issue of sexism, only touching upon it once in a discussion of Goldieblox (back when the whole Beastie Boys thing was going on).

But Route 128 may have something to say about sexism.

Now some of you may not realize what "Route 128" means. Some of you may not realize what "Digital Equipment Corporation" and "Lotus" were. But the Boston, Massachusetts area has been home to technological innovation for a long time:

Massachusetts had a long history of technological innovation. The state could claim to be the birthplace of numerous industries, perhaps of the industrial revolution itself. In the early 1900s, many area scientists, inventors, businessmen, and investors were focusing on the new field of electrical sciences. Research labs at Harvard and M.I.T. pioneered technologies using electrical currents, magnetic fields, and advanced circuitry.

After World War II, when Route 128 was constructed in the Boston area and influenced the traffic of the region, several newer technology companies emerged, including Raytheon, Digital Equipment Corporation, Lotus Development Corporation, and many others. (And don't forget that Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and others were in Massachusetts before heading to New Mexico, Washington, and California.) It wasn't until the 1980s that people began ignoring the multiple technological centers in the United States and just focused on the one south of San Francisco.

But Route 128 is still chugging along, even if some of its most famous companies (DEC, Lotus) have been absorbed into other firms. And the Boston Globe (clearly not an unbiased source) claims that Route 128 has its advantages:

Could the Boston area become the more hospitable alternative to the Silicon Valley goliath, an innovation hub that supports women, values diversity, and champions work-life balance?

While the article bandies about words such as "superficial" - things that made me choke on my gluten-free organic alfalfa sprout sandwich - the article claims that Route 128 holds particular advantages.

Tech leaders say two factors are already working in Boston’s favor: The limited geography of its startup community makes close-knit networks inevitable, and experienced women have proved willing to extend a hand to younger peers.

And if you want to follow the money...

As the region works to differentiate itself from the Valley, more investors are noticing. According to the National Venture Capital Association, Massachusetts was the top VC fund-raising state in 2013 at $5.5 billion; California, usually the leader, came in at $5.3 billion.

When you consider the difference in population between the two states, that's significant.

Of course, if we all believe that we're moving toward virtual communities anyway, none of this should matter.

Or should it?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Eating your own dog food - why it is risky

Eating your own dog food, or dogfooding, seems like a no-brainer, provided that your company offers the product that you need. If you need to perform word processing at Microsoft, why not use Microsoft Word? If you're an Apple employee who needs a phone, why not use an iPhone?

But we often forget that dogfooding can be very risky.

Take the aforementioned Apple, which used to be known as Apple Computer back when they only made computers. And Apple President Mike Scott wanted to ensure that these computers were used:

EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!! NO MORE TYPEWRITERS ARE TO BE PURCHASED, LEASED, etc., etc. Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all areas. If word processing is so neat, then let's all use it! Goal: by 1-1-81, NO typewriters at Apple... We believe the typewriter is obsolete. Let's prove it inside before we try and convince our customers.

At first glance, it sounds simple. But remember that this was 1980, not 1984. The typewriter-less employees weren't using Macs, or even Lisas, to compose their letters. And they certainly weren't using LaserWriters. So what was Mike Scott's Apple using for its dogfooding?

Instead of typewriters, the several hundred employees involved in composing or disseminating letters, memos, documents, or reports use a typewritersized Apple II with built-in keyboard, a pair of add-on disk drives, a video monitor, and Apple Writer, the company's own disk-stored word processing software.

This is clearly no IBM Selectric.

During these years, I was working summer jobs with the U.S. Federal government. In most cases I was using the Selectric, but in one case I was using a dedicated word processor - not from Apple. It was a klugy device, and I saw no real advantage to it. (I didn't adopt word processing until 1982, when I began writing my thesis on a PDP/11-70 with nroff.)

Yet Apple Computer was able to run its company with those Apple IIs...and a few leftover typewriters...and a DEC minicomputer. And despite the lukewarm response to the latest Apple model - the Apple III - Apple's Ann Bowers promised new things on the horizon.

"If you think what we're doing is going to change the workplace, stick around -- this is only the first wave.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Eating your own dog food - literally

There are some things that I'd like to see.

The next time that a person exercises his or her freedom of religion by wearing a colander, I would like to see that Pastafarian wear that colander all the time.

And the next time that a person - or another person - or another person - sings the praises of the "Effortless Meals" from Walmart and Coca-Cola, I would like to see the person(s) commit to having Coca-Cola for dinner every single night.

What's for dinner, mom?


Coca-Cola again? Mom, couldn't we have prune juice or something?

The examples above are tangentially related to the concept of "eating your own dog food," although the phrase apparently did not originate in religion or retail. According to Investopedia,

The term is believed to have originated with Microsoft in the 1980s. While it was originally used in reference to software companies using their own internally-generated tools for software development, its usage has spread to other areas as well.

Bill Gates believed in eating your own dog food as late as 2011, when discussing gadgets for his children.

Has he succumbed to the inevitable pleas from the children for an iPad, iPhone and iPod? His face hardens: ‘They have the Windows equivalent. They have a Zune music player, which is a great Windows portable player. They are not deprived children.’

But with all deference to Mr. Gates, the best example of someone eating his own dog food was Jeff Ginn of Lucky Dog Cuisine.

Bluffton resident Janice Elenbaas started Lucky Dog Cuisine using her own recipes of all-natural ingredients. She makes meals that could be found on a plate or a dog dish -- grass-fed beef with brown rice and a tomato and vegetable.

As a fundraiser for Canine Cancer Awareness and For Paws Hospice, her husband, Jeff Ginn, will eat Lucky Dog for dinner in various concoctions every night through October. They'll record their culinary adventures and share them on their website, where visitors also can contribute to the charities.

The video documentation of the 30 day challenge can be found here.

But Ginn wasn't risking his health of anything. He wasn't drinking Coca-Cola.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

One hopes that the consequences were unintended - IMF policies in the 1990s and subsequent response to Ebola

When you are spending beyond your means and have to get a loan, the loan officer may impose some restrictions on your spending. While the intent of these restrictions is to encourage better financial behavior, these restrictions may have negative side effects.

Over the last twenty five years, three West African governments - those of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia - have been receiving financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As several authors note in a paper that was recently published in Lancet, this assistance had three major strings attached.

First, economic reform programmes by the IMF have required reductions in government spending, prioritisation of debt service, and bolstering of foreign exchange reserves. Such policies have often been extremely strict, absorbing funds that could be directed to meeting pressing health challenges.

Lancet, for those who have not heard of it, is a medical publication, and thus is sensitive to "pressing health challenges." A loan officer commonly tells the borrower to get his or her affairs on a sound financial footing before spending money on other things. The loan officer - in this case, the IMF - is worried that the borrower (in this case, the three governments) will spend money foolishly. Regardless, the governments ended up concentrating on debt service, to the exclusion of other issues.

This was complicated by the second restriction.

Second, to keep government spending low, the IMF often requires caps on the public-sector wage bill—and thus funds to hire or adequately remunerate doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals.

There is often a feeling that "government bureaucrats make too much money" and that "a Congressman or Senator should make the minimum wage, so that he/she knows what it's like to do so." And if there are restrictions on salaries for elected officials, then there are often corresponding restrictions on salaries for non-elected officials. After all, you don't want a football coach at the state university to be making ten times as much as the state governor.

Or do you?

Personally, I'm not bent out of shape when Congresspeople make $200,000 a year, a President makes twice that, and a football coach makes twenty times that. The market has determined that these people are worth that much, if not more, in salary. It may not be "fair," but it's necessary to attract people who could otherwise command huge salaries in the private sector.

If you spend less, you'll get lower quality. Even the staunchest Tea Partier would shudder at the idea of a President who is only worth the minimum wage, and even the person who hates football would be distressed if State U hired a 16 year old to manage the football team.

And then there are doctors - the particular concern of the people writing in Lancet. It's kind of hard to argue that you should go cheap on doctors, but that is the consequence of the types of financial restrictions that the IMF was imposing. "Maybe we can get some med students." Perhaps. "Hey, Pete here can bring up anything in WebMD." Great.

Then there's the third IMF restriction.

Third, the IMF has long advocated decentralisation of health-care systems. The idea is to make care more responsive to local needs. Yet, in practice, this approach can make it difficult to mobilise coordinated, central responses to disease outbreaks.

It often happens that the people with the money dictate the specific solution to be followed. The IMF dictates that health care must be decentralized. The Gates Foundation dictates certain things about condoms. The Commies in San Francisco dictate that all city services must be provided by transgendered short people at twice the living wage. The baby seal clubbers in Podunkville dictate that the schools must teach that Moses was the first President of the United States - and that he wasn't Jewish.

It's tough enough when these decisions are made by experts in their fields - there are certainly pros and cons to decentralized healthcare, for example. But when non-experts who have stayed in Holiday Inns are making the decisions, things can get worrisome.

Why all of this emphasis on what the IMF did with these three countries? Because of a severe case of Monday morning quarterbacking.

If you haven't guessed, the reason that the researchers concentrated on the past health systems in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia is because these three countries were ground zero for the recent Ebola outbreak. While noting that the IMF was pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into these countries to contain the outbreak, the authors asked:

Yet, could it be that the IMF had contributed to the circumstances that enabled the crisis to arise in the first place? A major reason why the outbreak spread so rapidly was the weakness of health systems in the region.

While the researchers do not claim that IMF policies were solely to blame for the countries' slow response to the Ebola outbreak, these past conditions apparently didn't help the countries prepare for this.

See the abstract from Alexander Kentikelenis, Lawrence King, Martin McKee, and David Stuckler, the accompanying press release from the University of Cambridge, and this item from Homeland Security News Wire.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Unintended consequences of throwing all the illegals out.

Over the weekend, I wrote an answer to a Quora question.

What will be the economic impact (long term / short term) if US government hypothetically deports all of the 12 million undocumented immigrants by the end of 2013?

Some anti-immigration group suggest that these jobs will be filled by 23 million US nationals, Is it really that simple? Common sense says that this will be a massive shock to the economy and it will likely go to a recession. But, will the economy be better off in the long run ? Do the illegal immigrants decrease the aggregate welfare of US as the anti-immigration groups claim?

Obviously the question has been around for a while, but it didn't start receiving traffic until recently.

Here's my answer.

The long term effects are the most interesting ones.

Due to the contraction of the labor market, wages for these jobs would go up...resulting in price increases... resulting in a short term lower demand.

But that is the short term.

In the long term, the jobs themselves would migrate out of the country, so that activities such as farming would move out of the US and to Mexico and China.

Those jobs that could not move, such as restaurant and car wash workers, would be replaced with automated processes.

Of course, the politicians would respond to pressure by repealing NAFTA and outlawing robots.

Meanwhile, Mexico and China would have problems of their own, as wages in those countries would rise dramatically. As wages rise to the equivalent of $5 an hour, even for unskilled work, product demand (already hit by restrictions on exporting to the US) would tumble as prices rose. However, they would still be better off, because at least there would be work.

Eventually, Americans would illegally go to Mexico and work, seeking better lives for their families.

Long-time readers know that my response reflects some of my previously expressed concerns. For example, I've written about the low minimum wages in other countries in 2008 ("Minimum wages in other countries - we never had it so good") and earlier ("The Solution to Illegal Immigration, But It Will Take Communist Action Over Baby Seal Clubbers").

I've also written about automation ("You will still take a cab to the doctor’s office. For a while.").

P.S. I haven't looked at minimum wages in Mexico in several years, but those minimum wages continue to increase. New minimum wages were approved for 2015.

The minimum wage in Mexico is based on two geographic areas. As of January 1, the daily minimum wage rate for Zone “A” will be MXP (Mexican Peso) $70.10, and for Zone “B” it will be MXP $66.45.

If you assume an exchange rate of 15 MXP to 1 US dollar, we're still talking about daily minimum wages that are lower than hourly minimum wages in the United States.

Be sure to read the article to see why minimum wages haven't risen even more dramatically.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Perhaps the U.S. mobile phone carrier market may be a TEENY bit non-competitive

Normally in tech markets, the competitors in the market are always trying to score competitive advantages against each other. For example, even though the operating system market is an oligopoly, you constantly have the operating system vendors coming out with new releases with new features to outdo the competition.

But when you go down the chain, sometimes the competition gets a little less competitive. For an example, look at the Android 5.0 Lollipop release. Google obviously really wants Android users to adopt it. And Google has gotten Samsung on board, and Samsung is reportedly heavily championing the new release, ensuring that its existing devices will support it.

So when will U.S. users see Google's new release on their Samsung phones? Well, there's one more player that has a say in that.

The rep shared that Samsung Galaxy S5 is the priority to get Android 5.0. That will be followed by the Galaxy Note 4, then the Note Edge. After those three, other models, including the Galaxy S4 and Note 3, will be next in line....

The rep noted that while he did not have any specific carrier timelines for an update, he was told that Samsung has been weighing heavily on the carriers to move updates out faster.

Think about it. This provides a possibility for Verizon or AT&T or one of the other carriers to score an advantage over the competition. "Sign up with us," they could say, "and your phone will have the latest updates!"

Yet from the perspective of the carriers, deploying an operating system update to their customers is a hassle, not an opportunity. They have to invest in additional customer support staff. They have to rework their carrier-specific ringtone purchase apps. Someone in advertising needs to redo the specs.

It appears that the carriers, despite being surrounded by technology, aren't really tech companies. They're utilities - an Edison, a General Motors 1.0 - that happen to deal with tech products.

Take Verizon Wireless. Yes, its "about the company" page talks a lot about technology and innovation and all that, but what are the first words that appear on the page?

We’re the people who keep you connected...

Yeah, Verizon keeps the network up. And Amazon keeps the servers running. And Apple puts the special glass and the plastic together.

There's a difference between connecting people and keeping people connected. Connecting people implies innovation, and a willingness to push boundaries. Keeping people connected does not.

Which is why mobile phones (except for Apple, which has more leverage) are basically bricks that are mostly unchanged and useless after 18 months.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Now there's speculation that the Streisand Effect could overthrow a country's leadership

A new film came out recently called "The Interview." Perhaps you've heard of it. I've mentioned it myself a couple of times - once in a serious way, and once in a not-so-serious way.

In case you haven't heard of the movie, "The Interview" is a comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong Un, beloved leader of North Korea.

Let that sink in.

Comedies about serious topics are bound to offend someone or another, even if they're done well. The movies "Dr. Strangelove" and "MASH" come to mind.

Well, I've just seen the official trailer for "The Interview," and maybe I'm in a "get off my lawn" mood, but based upon the trailer - which is usually supposed to showcase a film's best moments - "The Interview" is no "Dr. Strangelove" or "MASH."

And yes, if you just watched the trailer, one of the characters hid a missile in his body.

Perhaps it's useful to consider why this promo is being so widely shared, here and elsewhere. Ordinarily, the movie would have opened on Christmas Day, and probably would have been ignored as more Oscar-worthy candidates vied for Hollywood press time. But then, not surprisingly, the North Korean government raised objections to the film. Considering that the film depicted the assassination of its leader, that seems reasonable.

However, the leaders of North Korea are apparently unaware of the Streisand Effect. As I previously noted, the Streisand Effect is the exact opposite of the Scoble Effect (or the Oprah Effect). When Barbra Streisand demanded that a picture of her mansion be removed from public view, the previously ignored picture became very popular. In a similar fashion, every time that the North Koreans pressed Sony and the United States on the issue of "The Interview" movie, it merely brought more attention to the film.

Gizmodo commented on this by posting a picture of Barbra Streisand and Kim Jong Un, along with this comment:

One's an egomaniac whose violent temper and unpredictability strikes fear into the heart of world leaders. The other is Kim Jong-Un. I'm here all week, folks.

(It's a safe bet that Streisand's representatives won't sue Gizmodo over the picture or the statement.)

Of course, things really heated up when someone broke into Sony's computer systems and leaked embarrassing private documents. By that point, everyone was talking about "The Interview," along with the names that celebrities used to check into hotels and one executive's musings about the types of movies that President Obama would like.

And things heated up more when someone (perhaps the same party as the leakers) warned people not to see the movie - a move that caused the major motion picture chains (still smarting from an unfortunate incident in Colorado) to cancel showings of the movie. Within a few short days, Sony withdrew the movie entirely, was criticized by the President of the United States, and then un-withdrew the movie and found alternate ways to distribute it.

The result of all of this? A movie that North Korea didn't really want people to see is now being talked about by a bunch of people - with several results.

First, the movie made $1 million in theaters on its first day, despite the fact that only 331 theaters were showing the film.

Second, the movie was also available via paid digital downloads, unprecedented for a just-released film. In the long run, this could have even greater ramifications than the North Korean objections.

But in the short term, the third result is the most interesting one.

According to Free North Korea Radio, an online radio network made by North Korean defectors, demand for “The Interview” has been shooting up among North Koreans. It says people are willing to pay almost $50 a copy of the movie, which is 10X higher than what a regular South Korean TV show’s DVD would cost in the black market.

So what's North Korea doing? Trying to block the black marketers from getting the film into the country.

Of course, that will make the film even more desirable to those who can't get it. This is something that makes Rich Klein's claims, which sound ridiculous on their surface, sound more plausible.

Think of the movie as Chernobyl for the digital age. Just as the nuclear catastrophe in the Soviet Union and the dangerously clumsy efforts to hide it exposed the Kremlin's leadership as inept and morally bankrupt, overseeing a superpower rusting from the inside, so does The Interview risk eroding the myths, fabrications and bluster that keep the Kim dynasty in power.

Rogen and director Evan Goldberg intentionally did not avoid dangerous content. They could have fictionalized an authoritarian country and an egomaniac leader, they could have played Kim Jong Un as bland and one dimensional, or given him a life-saving epiphany. It would have been safer that way, but not credible, and critics who now see the movie as reckless would have seen a vanilla version as naive and apologist.

Meanwhile, North Korea, while not discussing the movie with its own people, rolls merrily along with its usual diet of Soviet-language influenced press releases.

KPA Taking Lead in Building Thriving Nation (3)

Pyongyang, December 26 (KCNA) -- The might of army-people unity has been fully displayed with the leading role of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in the era of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

Under the slogan calling for helping the people, the KPA has played a key role in building a thriving nation over the past three years.

After receiving the order of Kim Jong Un to build a service complex at a machine factory before the birth centenary of President Kim Il Sung (April 15, 2012), KPA servicepersons devoted their all to carrying out his order.

Kim Jong Un highly praised the soldier builders for completing the complex in time on the highest level during his visit to the factory on May Day Juche 101 (2012).

When the Kaechon and Komdok areas were hit hard by flood in 2012, servicepersons together with the people eradicated the aftermath of flood damage in those areas in a short span of time, demonstrating the might of the revolutionary soldier spirit and army-people unity.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of the army and people, the October 8 Factory took its shape only in 10 months as a model one in the age of knowledge-based economy.

During a visit to a newly-built foodstuff factory in November this year, Kim Jong Un highly praised it as an edifice of patriotic devotion built by the dint of the army-people unity and called upon all the units to fan up the flame of modernization by underscoring the need to follow the work attitude of KPA servicepersons.

The DPRK will surely win the final victory in building a powerful nation as long as there is the KPA which always remain loyal to the idea and leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea.

After reading this press release, and all of the others like it, I almost want to put a missile up my own butt.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The joy of public comment

This post was written in advance of its publication date. By the time that you read this, it will be Thanksgiving - but more importantly, it will be the two-year anniversary of a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Whoops, strike that - you DIDN'T read this on Thanksgiving 2014. For personal reasons I had to delay it for a bit. So this post deals with a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting that took place OVER two years ago.

On November 27, 2012, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors had a meeting. Item 20 on the Board's agenda was to approve a contract with some consultants to write a request for proposal on behalf of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Why do I know about this? Because several months later, the consultants would finish their RFP, the RFP would go to several vendors (including my employer), and I would be part of the team that responded to the RFP with a proposal.

Incidentally, back when I originally drafted this post in October 2013, I fully expected that the Board of Supervisors would actually award the contract well before November 27, 2014. As it turns out, government sometimes moves slowly. Since the contract hadn't been officially awarded, I intentionally withheld my post until after the award. It's a common practice of mine to refrain from discussing proposals in which I participated until after the proposal is awarded. And you thought I was just...um...holding for effect. By the time you finish reading this post, you'll know where I got that phrase.

For those keeping score, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors officially approved a contract with another vendor on December 16, 2014.

But back to November 27, 2012, when they were selecting the consultants who would write the RFP that would go to the vendors. If you look at the official minutes from that day, you will simply see that the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the contract with the consultants, and simply asked to receive a report every 60 days on the progress of the consultants.

But in addition to the official minutes, the Board of Supervisors publishes transcripts of every meeting. The 2012 meeting transcripts are here. And if you go to the November 27, 2012 transcript, and turn to page 77, you'll see what actually occurred when item 20 was discussed. And before the supervisors could consider the meat of the matter, there was a period of public comment on the item, during which two people spoke.

The public comment from the two was not all that illuminating.

The first speaker, Daniel Jones, was at least somewhat willing to stick to the subject matter - sort of. The County wanted the consultants to write an RFP for a multimodal biometric identification system, so Jones began by speaking to this. (The transcript was in all caps; I have taken the liberty of changing it to mixed case text.) This is part of what Daniel Jones said:

I wanted to speak on the fact of what's this multimodality, modal biometric identification system for the information system for the Sheriff's Department? What is that? Are you going to do some more special testing on human beings so you can identify us all over the planet? Are you going to use facial recognition systems? Are you going to use Department of Homeland Security funds to do all this? Are you going to make this into a Nazi state?

When Godwin's Law is exercised in the first bit of testimony, you know you have a winner here.

After some banter with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Jones continued.

DANIEL JONES: ...Guess what, ladies and gentlemen. You don't need to know who I am. You already know who that is, don't you. Everybody in the state does by now. There's a reason for that.

SUP. YAROSLAVSKY, CHAIRMAN: All right, thank you very much.

DANIEL JONES: I'm not finished. Thank you. I'm holding for effect.

And it went downhill from there - something about getting restricted DMV addresses from his mom's bridge partner.

Then John Walsh came to the stand. In a sense, it's appropriate for John Walsh to speak to this topic. As you know, Walsh has been involved with law enforcement for decades, and therefore it's natural that Walsh would have an interesting in crime-solving techniques.

Unfortunately, that isn't the John Walsh who showed up. This John Walsh was a blogger. And while he didn't talk about Nazis, he didn't talk about biometrics either. He spent his time talking about a crooked deputy sheriff who was caught by the Sheriff's Department, but who was not prosecuted by then District Attorney Steve Cooley.

Finally, after public comment was over, the Board of Supervisors began looking at the contract with the consultant. But that probably doesn't interest you.

This is just one example of the public comments that are addressed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors - and all such government boards. In fact, over two years later, on December 2, 2014, the Board of Supervisors specifically referred to these public comments. The occasion? Don Knabe was relinquishing his role as the chair of the Board of Supervisors (or, in Board terms, the "Mayor"), and Mike Antonovich was preparing to become the mayor of the County. As the baton was passed, Antonovich made the following comment:

Thank you, Don, thank you very much. Again, thank you for your past 12 months. I know you enjoyed the public comment the most of that time.

The audience laughed, and Antonovich continued.

And if you like, my first order will be to allow you to have exclusive rights to public comment.

Exclusive rights to hear illuminating comments such as the ones above? Knabe replied:

It's all yours.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Canan Canavan, marketing, (non-forensic) biometrics, and the reputed Obamacare-NSA alliance

(NOTE: There are a lot of links in this particular post, and only one of them is self-referential. If you're interesting in this topic, I strongly encourage you to follow the links to get significant additional information.)

Alex Perala alerted me to a TechCrunch article on biometrics and marketing, but before I share the article, I want to remind everyone that (here's the self-referential link) there are different definitions of the term "biometrics." While I personally use it to refer to ways to identify individuals, others use it to refer to crop yields and heart rates. TechCrunch's article falls in the latter category, as can be evidenced by this passage:

The new sensors on smartwatches and fitness bands will enable insight into a user’s heart rate, VO2 max, sympathetic nervous response, blood glucose level, EKG, temperature and more. We’re moving into a world where people will be wearing always-on body-monitoring systems.

What does this mean to TechCrunch author Canan Canavan?

This data fosters new insights and the development of new ecosystems allowing understanding of customers at a much more granular level and the ability to offer them new services.

Canavan notes that we already know WHEN something happens, as well as (thanks to location-based technology) WHERE it happens. A number of services, ranging from Foursquare to Waze, are based upon the "where."

Now, with the addition of the biometric sensors that can measure heart rate and other physical attributes, we can move into the HOW. One of Canavan's examples is illustrative:

[I]magine going on a date where both parties agree to share their biometric data after the date. You’d be able to read their arousal profile and understand that they weren’t as into you as you were into them – all without an awkward phone call.

Or on the other end, you might see a spike when they saw you and a pleasant glowing interaction through the night. We don’t know what love at first sight looks like biometrically, but maybe we’ll know soon.

In another example, when you walk into a retail establishment, the sensors can record your reaction to a particular store employee. (That can lead to some interesting end-of-year personnel evaluations.)

Canavan's reaction to this new world?

It feels predatory, and it is.

But isn't all advertising predatory? Doesn't your TV have a whole bunch of fast food commercials in the late afternoon and early evening, when the advertisers think the mass audience may be hungry? Didn't sugared cereal advertisers once show a whole bunch of advertisements during the Saturday morning cartoons - back when TV had Saturday morning cartoons? This is not a change in advertising behavior, but a much more precise method of the same advertising behavior. Before, McDonald's THOUGHT that some percentage of people might be hungry at 6:00 pm. Now, McDonald's will KNOW that the person in the car 1/4 mile away from the Marengo, Illinois McDonald's IS hungry. And they don't teach you THAT in school. (A few of you will appreciate that.)

But before you assume that your every mood will be recorded by Madison Avenue, or McDonald's, or Facebook, or the National Security Agency, you may want to read Canavan's thoughts on the evolution of something called "emotional fencing." These thoughts can be found toward the end of Canavan's TechCrunch article.

I won't get into that, because I'm still hung up on the question of whether this level of measurement - and personal exposure - is desirable. Will privacy advocates try to stop this via legislation? Will the private sector (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google) and the public sector (the FBI, and the CIA, and the BBC...) fight over the rights to our biometric data? Will misguided individuals try to skirt company terms of service agreements by emphatically declaring that they reserve the right to share their biometric data with others? Will conservatives blame Obamacare for all of this? Will progressives blame Dick Cheney for all of this?

The next few years are going to be fun - and all of the data recorders will know exactly how fun it's going to be for all of us.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Why I do not fear Big Brother, the DHS-CIA edition

I have repeatedly said that the nature of bureaucracy serves to prevent any concerted Big Brother event from happening. Conspiracy theorists imagine that Mossad and the CIA and Dow Chemical are all plotting against us from an underground bunker in Brussels, but the truth is that organizations don't want to cooperate with each other.

The latest example comes from the Schengen region in Europe, a group of countries that monitor people coming in an out of the region. In its efforts to secure the world from terrorists, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is assisting the Schengen region with biometric technology to identify people who are coming in and out of the area.



Unfortunately, the DHS initiative is causing potential problems for the CIA.

In 2015, a new entry-exit system that mandates fingerprint identification is scheduled to go live, the guidelines note: "The European Commission is considering requiring travelers who do not require visas to provide biometric data at their first place of entry into the Schengen area, which would increase the identity threat level for all U.S. travelers” – spies included.

So if you're a CIA spy trying to sneak into the Schengen area, the DHS tools can serve to reveal your real identity.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Outreach fails when you don't know who's reaching out

This is the nice warm fuzzy time of the year when companies send corporate holiday wishes. For example, I received a holiday message which, in part, read like this.

I have intentionally refrained from posting the name of the company that sent me this holiday message - not that it did me any good when I got the message. Because when I saw the name of the company that sent the message, I asked myself, "Who are they?"

The message basically said that "Company X will be closed on these days. Happy holidays!" It didn't identify what the company did. It didn't even include a link to the company's website, or the address of the company, or anything.

I sat there, looking at the message, and racking my brain to try to remember who this company was, out of the hundreds or thousands of companies that probably have my email address. What does this particular company do? Were they selling insurance? Did they manufacture optical components for fingerprint readers? No idea.

So I decided to perform a web search for the company...and it turns out that the company name is so generic that there are several companies with that same name. Luckily, the email that I received contained the logo of the company, and one of the companies in the search had that same logo.

So now I finally knew who this company was that had wished me holiday greetings.

And I also now knew what the company did.

It was a company that helps you increase your sales - presumably by making sure that your customers know what you can offer to them.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Has "The Interview II" been green-lighted?

I almost titled this post "Has 'The Interview II' been green-lighted? You won't believe the opening scene!" But that would have been too low.

Before detailing the news below, I should remind you that this is information THAT YOU WILL NOT FIND ANYWHERE ELSE. (Hint, hint.)

That having been said, I should quickly point out something from "The Interview I" that has concerned some people. According to multiple sources, including IMDB, famed restaurant "critic" Guy Fieri had a role in "The Interview." He was supposed to play the part of Guy Fieri. When all of the brouhaha ended up cancelling the Christmas release of "The Interview," no one was more upset than the world's number one Guy Fieri fan.


Well, Mark, if the spurious information that I have received is correct, you will be very happy in 18 months.

According to this information, financiers in Florida have promised to provide full funding for a sequel to the cancelled movie. In the sequel, entitled "The Interview II," the characters played by James Franco and Seth Rogen secure an interview with Raul Castro, leader of the island nation of Cuba. Based upon the source of the financing, I think you know how the movie is going to end.

But before that, the draft script for the film sets the scene with a very prominent role for Guy Fieri, who will again play Guy Fieri.

(A nearly empty street in downtown Havana. Guy Fieri is sitting behind the wheel of a huge 1950s automobile. A camera is pointed toward him.

GUY FIERI: Welcome to this special edition of "Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives!" In this special edition, I'm going to take this baby for a spin through the streets of Havana, Cuba! Now that it's easier than ever to come down here, I want to let you gringos know the best places to get some authentic Cuban food! So, let's go!


GUY FIERI: Hey, the car won't start! Can we redo that last line?

(The camera is pointed at Fieri.)

GUY FIERI: I want to let you gringos know the best places to get some authentic Cuban food! So, let's go! ... Damn! This car is a pile of crap! Go get another one!

CUBAN ASSISTANT: Mr. Fuego, there are no other cars.

GUY FIERI: Well, you just get Raul on the line and tell him that I can't film a drive in show if my car won't drive!

CUBAN ASSISTANT: We can get ten people to push the car for you, Mr. Fuego.

GUY FIERI: Forget it! We can just film this scene on a Hollywood back lot! I got to keep to schedule. Now how am I going to get to the first restaurant?

CUBAN ASSISTANT: Mr. Fuego, you have to shoot the opening scene here. Right now.

GUY FIERI: The hell I do! Now let's get-

CUBAN ASSISTANT: Excuse me, Mr. Fuego. You will shoot the scene now. Here.

GUY FIERI: Who's gonna make me? You and what army?


(Several Cuban military officers drag GUY FIERI out of the automobile and take him away.)

When Fuego - I mean Fieri - actually performs this scene, I think that we will see a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

On the MPAA and its purpose to protect creativity

If you go to the website for the Motion Picture Association of America, you will see some wonderful words on "protecting creativity":

The MPAA believes in protecting creative works and the people who make them. Whether you’re making a film, writing a book or recording a song, the amount of time, effort, and investment is more than a passion – it’s also someone’s livelihood. For America’s creative sector to thrive, intellectual property laws must protect the hard work of creators and makers while ensuring an Internet that works for everyone.

This desire to "protect creativity" has led the MPAA to endorse SOPA (remember SOPA?) and take other actions that some see as restricting creativity, not protecting it.

Fast-forward to the present day, and it seems that the movie theater chains and studios aren't all that eager to protect creativity.

And Hollywood caves, again.

Following Sony’s announcement to pull the plug on “The Interview,” Paramount Pictures is ordering theaters across the country not to screen “Team America: World Police” in its place.

Both movies poke at the country of North Korea, and both Sony and Paramount fear that showing these films may anger North Koreans and may result in virtual or physical damage to their companies. Sony, which has already suffered virtual damage, pulled the plug on "The Interview" after the major theater chains refused to show it. One independent theater, the Alamo Drafthouse (see this post), decided to...um...protect creativity by showing "Team America: World Police" instead. Paramount shot that idea down.

Now Sony and Paramount, as the owners of the media in question, have the legal right to do these things.

But the next time the MPAA wants us to pass a new law to "protect creativity," we can certainly ask when MPAA members are going to "protect creativity" themselves.

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, http://www.weisslawllp.com/, 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 http://www.weisslawllp.com/case/c/ongoing, 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 entity...in 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.