Monday, May 25, 2015

What happens when you protect yourself from email spam

As an angry English woman would say, I don't like spam. Therefore, I am quite happy when my email services incorporate a mechanism to auto-detect spam, place it in a junk mail folder, and allow you to review the junk mail to make sure it's not legit (if you're quick enough; the junk mail folder is emptied automatically).

However, there are other systems to keep spam out of your email folder, as I discovered one day.

That day, I was responding to an email that someone - let's call him Clark Kent - sent to me. In his original email, Kent cc'ed several people, one of whom I will refer to as Jimmy Olsen.

When I sent my reply to Clark, I immediately received something from Jimmy - sort of.

I'm protecting myself from receiving junk mail.

Please click the link below to complete the verification process.
You have to do this only once.

I clicked on the link, which sent me to an external spam protection service, and was asked to do two things.

1. Promise Scout's honor that I would never ever send unsolicited email to Mr. Olsen.
2. Enter a response to a CAPTCHA test.

Sounds simple - except that I entered the CAPTCHA response incorrectly (gray letters on a gray background can be hard to read), and therefore had to do it again.

What if I had chosen not to enter it again? What if I had decided, "To heck with Jimmy Olsen, I'll just deal with Clark Kent"?

Jimmy, relieved that he wasn't getting any more 419 scam emails, would never know the difference.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trademarks, the Redskins, the Slants, and the NAACP

As a former resident of the Washington, DC area, I have a natural interest in following the brouhaha over the football team's name, which some consider to be disparaging. In one skirmish, the trademark of the Redskins name has been invalidated, although that decision is under appeal. The ramifications? If the trademark is invalidated, then anyone and everyone has the right to produce Washington Redskins products, and the team can't do anything to stop them. Opponents of the name believe that this financial pressure will cause team owner Dan Snyder to change the team name to something that can be trademarked.

But this issue goes beyond football. As Courthouse News Service notes, this can also affect music trademarks.

Simon Shiao Tam had applied with the U.S. Trademark Office to register the mark "The Slants," which is the name of the Asian-American dance-rock band for which he is the front man.

The application included images of the band name set against Asian motifs.

Finding the mark disparaging to people of Asian descent, the examining attorney refused to register it.

The Lanham Act provides that the trademark office may refuse to register a trademark the "may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute."

Never mind the fact that Simon Shiao Tam is a member of the race that is being disparaged. The trademark office is color-blind. If Dan Snyder can't do it, Simon Shiao Tam can't do it, either.

So, what other trademarks could be lost by their current owners? Take a trademark that has been around longer than the name of the Boston/Washington Redskins. Details here:

There may be a number of proprietary logos, service marks, trademarks, slogans and product designations found on this SITE, including but not limited to: The NAACP name and seal.

This language does not clarify whether "the NAACP name and seal" comes under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Trademark Office. However, other language indicates that "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People" is a trademark - and the trademark has been defended in court.

Color me not surprised.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Why I dumped Vlade Divac in Waze

I have adjusted to the idea of my phone talking to me. (That's a post for tymshft.) And one of, avenues that my phone uses to talk to me is the Waze app, an app that provides driving directions and information.

I've never really thought about the voice that is used by Waze to give me information, until Waze sent me a message this morning informing me that Vlade Divac could provide that voice. (Story here.)

From the perspective of someone who's been in Southern California for a while, Vlade Divac is a fomer Los Angeles Lakers center who smoked up a storm, but left the team before the Lakers' two most recent runs at titles. (Yes, the Lakers used to contend for NBA titles, not lottery picks.)

I figured I'd try it, so I downloaded the Vlade Divac voice files, and planned to use Vlade as my assistant for this afternoon's commute home. I ended up leaving the office at lunch, though, so I figured, "Why not have Vlade take me back to work?"

And Vlade guided me back to the office.

However, there was something missing, as I soon noticed as Vlade gave me directions.

In one mile, turn right.
In zero point one miles, turn right.
Turn right.

Then I realized it - Vlade wasn't saying the street names. Since all of his statements were pre-recorded, there was no way that he could say every single street name - even every single street name in Serbia.

It turns out that my regular Waze voice, Samantha, is a synthesized voice, and is one of the few Waze voices able to pronounce - or mis-pronounce - street names.

So while Vlade's voice is a novelty, technological limitations ensure that it cannot give me all of the information that I need while navigating.

So after getting to work, I switched Vlade's voice to another voice - one that does support street names.

No, not Samantha.

Tonight, Monica will guide me home, and we'll see how good my Spanish is.

I can guarantee that it's better than my Serbian.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Then it makes it hard to find the door - Eaze and #WaaS

For a generation raised on Cheech & Chong record albums and movies, the changing legal and business landscape can look...pretty rad.

The latest hit to our collective consciousness? The existence of a service, Eaze, that facilitates the delivery of products to medical marijuana patients.

As PYMNTS.COM notes in an article on Eaze's latest funding round ($10 million), the market is ready for this "given the Uberization of everything and the general lack of enthusiasm for going outside typical among marijuana connoisseurs."

However, the man is still around, narcing. Banks are reluctant to get involved in this business because banks are often Federally chartered, and the possession of marijuana is still a Federal offense.

However, momentum continues. A friend of TechCrunch writer Sarah Buhr has already come up with an awesome acronym - WaaS (Weed as a Service).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

So you want to interpret for the deaf? There's just one thing...

I do not know American Sign Language, and therefore cannot judge another person's proficiency in it. However, this page seems to indicate that John Krpan is knowledgeable in the topic.

John Krpan has taught American Sign Language most of his life. His professional teaching licenses include Virginia Postgraduate License and certifications for Administration and Supervision PreK-12, ASL and English, Maryland Advanced Professional Certificate and certifications for Administrator I & II, ASL PreK-12, English 7-12, reading and special education.John interprets ASL-English and foreign languages/gestures-English. Specializes in legal interpretation.

ASL is his native language.

We'll get back to that last sentence in a minute, because it is key to this entire post.

You can see from the text above that Krpan has various certifications attesting to his ASL abilities. Certifications are not necessarily a guarantee - heck, I could provide you with an ASL certification myself - but if the organization providing the certification is trusted and respected, then the certification allows certified people to pursue their professions - somewhat.

One of the organizations providing ASL certification is the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. And they have a mission...statement:

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. promotes excellence in the delivery of interpreting services among diverse users of signed and spoken languages through professional development, networking, advocacy, and standards.

Let's take a look at one of the certifications that RID offers, the National Interpreter Certification.

The NIC certification process begins with a multiple-choice NIC Knowledge Exam. Candidates are eligible for the NIC Knowledge Exam if they are at least 18 years old. Candidates who have passed the knowledge exam within 5 years and meet RID’s educational requirement may then take the NIC Interview and Performance Exam. The NIC Interview and Performance Examination is a vignette-based assessment using video to deliver and record the assessment.

Sounds rigorous, doesn't it? You start with the written exam, meet some educational requirements, and then have an interview.

An oral interview.

Remember that statement from Krpan that said that ASL is his NATIVE language?

You can see where this is going.

It's going to court:

Despite his experience and ability to do his job "with or without an accommodation," as defined under Americans with Disabilities Act, Krpan claims that the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Inc. discriminates against deaf interpreters because its certification process includes an oral test that a deaf person cannot possibly complete.

Obviously there are two sides to every court case, and presumably RID would argue that it is not a "reasonable accommodation" to allow deaf people to serve as interpreters.

But the irony in this whole situation is delicious. It's great for someone to desire to go out and help deaf people - as long as the helper is not deaf. You need to, able-bodied to help the deaf, I guess.

Of course, the deaf community is no stranger to political controversy. In 1988, Gallaudet University was temporarily shut down as protestors deplored the appointment of a new president for the university. The problem with the new president? She could hear. She resigned after a few days, and then was banished to Moscow. (Idaho.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Simple solutions to tough problems (or, #NigeriaDecides card readers don't read through protective film)


Various types of biometrics - face, finger, iris, vein, voice, etc. - are used in a variety of vertical markets, including elections. While the use of biometrics in elections is controversial in my country, it's a little less controversial in other countries.

A little.

There is a spirited debate about the use of thumbprints to identify legitimate voters in Nigeria. Some argue that this can reduce fraud, while others argue that the technology doesn't work, and may disenfranchise qualified voters who are falsely rejected.

But it turns out that some problems are very easy to solve.

One of the tools used in Nigeria's voting process is a card reader that needs to read a special card that stores the features of the voter's thumbprint. Premium Times reports that at one polling place, the card readers just wouldn't work. A citizen observer approached a woman who worked for the election authority.

(She) inspected the reader only to find the protective film on the lens of the reader had not been removed.

That's right. When the readers were shipped to Nigeria, they had the type of protective material that all electronics have when they're shipped. And in this case, someone apparently failed to remove the protective film that protected the card reader.

You can guess what happened next.

An argument.

Yup, there was an argument between the observer, who was trying to tell the election worker to remove the film, and the election official, who initially refused to do so.

She eventually relented...and the card readers worked much, much better.

In defense of the election officials, this is the first time that they had worked with such a device, so they wouldn't have necessarily known that the protective film was only a temporary measure.

If only all problems were that easy to solve.

More here.

P.S. For those who like to follow the links, here's another one.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cereality. It's NOT what's for dinner. (At least for me.)

Back in December 2004, someone at Blogging LA wrote a post entitled "Oatmeal is the new two-martini lunch." When I saw the post, I added the following comment:

Speaking of oatmeal, have you heard of the new Cereality restaurant concept? It’s premiered in Philadelphia, and could be in Los Angeles within a year.

Cereality - a restaurant that sells cereal morning, noon, and evening - was supposedly going to be the next big thing. However, I guess I lost my initial enthusiasm for the idea, since I never wrote about Cereality in any of my own blogs.

I was at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport recently, looking for a place to grab dinner between flights, when I ran into my first Cereality in the wild. (It's in Terminal C.)

And I walked right on without even looking at the place. I just wasn't in the mood for dinner at 6 pm local time.

And if you're going to look for Cereality, there aren't many places to look.

I guess Philadelphia didn't care for it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Did I forget to mention that I changed jobs last month?

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

An example of this occurred in a hotel room in Costa Mesa, California on Thursday, October 22, 2009. You weren't there, but I brought you there via the miracle of blogging.

And now our user conference has had its final sessions and its closing banquet. So, for all intents and purposes, my last duties as a product manager ended at 10:00 pm on Thursday, October 22, and I'm embarking on proposals duties.

To save you the effort of reading through the entire post, I'll just say that I found out late in the summer of 2009 that I'd be transitioning to Proposals, but I had several product management duties that I had to fulfill before I could transfer to Proposals full-time.

If you happened to see my recent update to my LinkedIn profile, you now know that I just revealed (several weeks after the fact) another job transition. If I were to go to the trouble of identifying a time when this transition was complete, it took place at 3:00 pm on Wednesday, February 4. Rather than sitting in a hotel room at the conclusion of a sumptuous banquet, I was sitting in an office cubicle at the completion (or, more technically, the transfer) of my final proposal.

I will not go into the details of the length of this transition, other than to say that it was shorter than my 2009 transition. Neither will I reveal the reason why I did not announce this transition until over a month later; suffice it to say that there was a good reason for this. And I will not reveal the internal corporate moves that resulted in this transition, other than to say that my job transition was one of several that occurred.

I will, however, note how I ended up in a position to be transitioned - because, unlike 2009, I had some role in shaping what happened to me.

When I rejoined Proposals in 2009, one of my first moves was to reactivate my lapsed membership in the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP). I have derived a number of benefits from my APMP membership, some of which I've discussed in this blog. (Here are all blog posts that include the #apmp hashtag.) But in my case, one of the key benefits that I derived was the knowledge that much of the work for a proposal occurs long before the proposal is written.

Specifically, a proposal is (often enough) a response to a document called a Request for Proposal (RFP). While there are proposal writers and others who become engaged after the RFP is released, much of the work to respond to a proposal comes long before an RFP is ever issued. Companies try to influence the scope or content of the RFP. Even before this, they work to ensure that they have product offerings that can satisfy the needs of any potential RFP.

With all of this work, key proposal practitioners who illustrate the proposal development process place the majority of the work on the left side of the graph, before the RFP is issued. Now I would show one of the graphs that key proposal practitioners use, but they're all copyrighted. Therefore, I am going to display my own copyright-free version of the presales/proposal development process; I hope that this version doesn't violate any copyrights.

If you want to see an example of a REAL presales/proposal development process, go here.

After a few years of exposure to these kinds of things, this got me thinking - do I want to work on the right of the graph, or do I want to move over to the left side?

Now at first glance, it may seem ironic that the knowledge that I gained in the Association of Proposal Management Professionals would lead me to want to get a job outside of Proposals. But despite its name, the APMP is devoting more and more of its efforts to capture management and business development. For example, here's a press release that the APMP issued in June 2013:

APMP®, the global association of record for bid, capture and business development professionals announced the formation of its new Center for Business Development Excellence (CBDE), a community for senior-level BD professionals throughout the world, at last week’s Bid & Proposal Con 2013 in Atlanta, GA.

The CBDE is enabled by APMP’s merger with the Business Development Institute International, which provides the industry’s best research, benchmarking and education for sustainable results in winning business. The resulting CBDE offers organizational accreditation, knowledge management and best-practice guidance using fact-based research.

Perhaps some day the APMP will change its name to something that reflects its expanded mission.

And now that I've talked about this, I can also talk about something that I mentioned in a recent blog post.

I've mentioned [Colleen] Jolly in this blog several times (twice in 2014 alone, in September and November). Jolly's company, the 24 Hour Company, has done business with my own, and Jolly has also been personally inspirational (I'll talk more about that at a later time).

This "personal inspiration" occurred at last year's APMP Bid & Proposal Con in Chicago. My general rule at such conferences is to ensure that my primary purpose at the conference is to the company that sent me (MorphoTrak, Motorola, whoever). However, as long as that primary purpose is achieved, I'll certainly look for things that benefit me personally.

Bid & Proposal Con had several morning keynotes, and Jolly delivered one of them. She spoke about work and passion, including the times when one is working without passion. For example, Jolly started college as a computer science major because she felt it was what she was supposed to do, but she found that she had no passion for computer science and eventually changed her major.

At one point she used the phrase

Write your personal story

This is something that is...well, I guess you can say that it's strategic. Sometimes it's expressed as the standard job interview question "Where would you like to be in five years?" Of course, the implications of a "personal story" go well beyond career.

Then, toward the end of the keynote, Jolly used the phrase

Rewrite your story

I will not go into the specifics, but about three months after that keynote, I took the opportunity to start rewriting my story.

And nine months after that keynote, I started writing a new chapter...which, in a couple of months, will include time in a hotel room in Costa Mesa, California.

P.S. I never got around to the flying pigs story. I still owe that to you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Abandoned or non-abandoned brands? This isn't a movie

I am not a movie person, but there are some movies that I've seen, including a 1947 one with this subplot:

In the 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street, the man hired to play Santa at a Macy’s Store in New York City readily told Macy’s customers where to go to find that certain toy Macy’s was out of or where to buy a toy at a lower price. Those at the top were angered at first, but in the long run the idea was an awesome promotional tool with newspapers boasting headlines, “Macy’s Sending People to Other Stores!”

I wasn't around back then, but Macy's obviously got a lot of free publicity from that plot twist.

However, that was just a movie. Reality is slightly different.

But in a new lawsuit brought by the company that echoes a suit from 2011 that was slated to come to trial soon, Macy’s says the California company behind the resurrection of Hydrox and Astro Pops is infringing on trademarks it held for many of those recognizable brand names.

Macy's claims that it properly acquired the trademarks, and that Strategic Marks is infringing. Strategic Marks, however, claims that Macy's no longer holds the trademarks:

Strategic Marks has countersued, claiming that Macy’s had abandoned the trademarks, and citing the Lanham Act again. Under that act, a mark is considered abandoned if it isn’t used in the three years. In fact, claims Strategic Marks, Macy’s is the one doing the infringing on the marks it obtained, by selling vintage brand T-shirts and tote bags on

The International Trademark Association explains the legalities:

In the United States, if a trademark owner ceases use of a trademark without intent to resume use of the trademark in the future, the trademark will be deemed abandoned. Under the Lanham Act, non-use of a trademark for three consecutive years creates a rebuttable presumption of abandonment of the trademark (whether registered or at common law). Temporary or seasonal non-use of a trademark, particularly when such cyclical use is typical in an industry or market, generally does not constitute grounds for abandonment under U.S. trademark law. Rather, periods of non-use must be accompanied by the “intent not to resume use.”

I figured that Macy's would take some action to preserve the trademarks of companies that they have acquired, but this legal page only mentions Macy's:

Macy’s, Inc., as well as page headers, custom graphics, buttons, images and other content on this web site, are subject to trademark, service mark, trade dress, copyright and or other proprietary or intellectual property rights or licenses held by Macy’s, Inc. or its subsidiaries. Other trademarks, product names and company names or logos used on this web site are the property of their respective owners. Except as expressly authorized, the use or misuse of any trademarks, trade names, logos, images, graphics or content from this web site is strictly prohibited.

Not that I'm about to open The Broadway, or any other Macy's (actually Federated) acquired brand. But I guess I could try.

Monday, March 16, 2015

In the retailer/credit card provider relationship, the retailer is winning (Costco, Walmart)

Hot on the heels of Costco's announcement that it would cease its designation of American Express as Costco's exclusive credit card provider and partner with Citi/Visa instead, there's news that the exclusive deal between Green Dot and Walmart may be unraveling.

At the end of its current contract with Green Dot, Walmart is expected to either not renew or vastly restructure the arrangement to cut Green Dot’s commission rate. Either outcome, Seeking Alpha reported, is likely to be quite damaging to Green Dot, which in 2013 relied on Walmart for 64 percent of its total operating revenues and more than of 82 precent of its total units sold.

PYMNTS.COM speculates that Green Dot may continue the deal at a reduced commission, or perhaps some other company may step in as an exclusive or non-exclusive credit card provider. American Express was mentioned. Even if a competing company can't get an exclusive deal, Green Dot would lose some portion of its revenue.

There are some differences between the Costco and Walmart cases. The Green Dot card is a prepaid card, most beneficial to people who do not have bank accounts (Walmart is actively courting this market). Walmart, however, accepts all sorts of other cards - it's just convenient to buy your prepaid card from Walmart. Costco, on the other hand, accepts only one credit card - the American Express card - although you can use any debit card in Costco.

Despite the differences, there is one similarity. In both of these cases, the retailer (Costco, Walmart) is calling the shots, even when dealing with a large company like American Express or Citi.

Or Apple or Google.

Eric Dahl, B.B. King, Toyota...and Camry Effect II: Stolen Guitar!

If you follow me on Google Plus, you may have noticed my October 23, 2014 post:

You know that heartwarming commercial? According to a lawsuit, it's based on a copyrighted book.

The heartwarming commercial in question is this one, in which a young woman finds a guitar, gets in her Toyota Camry, and returns the guitar to its rightful owner - B.B. King.

Eric Dahl didn't find the commercial to be particularly heartwarming. In an extremely bizarre coincidence, Dahl himself (who, for the record, is not a young woman) happened to find a guitar, which he returned to its rightful owner - B.B. King. Dahl recorded the story in the book B.B. King's Lucille and the Loves Before Her, well before Toyota Motor Sales USA, advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi North America, and ad producer Smuggler created the commercial above.

As I noted in October, Dahl took Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Smuggler to court.

Courthouse News Service was the source for my October post, and it has published an update.

You see, Toyota argued that the entire case should be thrown out:

Fatal to his claim, Mr. Dahl conflates the concept of the expression of the story (protectable) with the basic idea of the story (not protectable). The concept of a musician who loses a musical instrument which is later found and returned is not unique to plaintiff nor can he claim copyright protection over all such stories. Nor does the fact that the musician in both stories is Mr. King change that result; as a matter of law, plaintiff must point to the expression of his own story in the ad, not some common facts, to make out a claim.

Perhaps a valid argument in some cases - if I happen to write a story about a ring, that doesn't automatically mean that the Tolkien estate will chase me down. However, Toyota's argument to dismiss the case entirely was rejected. U.S. District Judge James Mahan:

"Defendants misapply this rule of law to plaintiff's complaint. Although general themes and ideas are not copyrightable, parallels to more specific elements of a particular expression are protected," he wrote.

He found that Dahl "adequately alleges similarities between the plot, characters and sequence of events, among other factors, of the two works."

This does NOT mean that Dahl won; it merely means that the case can proceed. Dahl may win at trial, Toyota may win at trial, or perhaps the parties will settle.

This is yet more bad news for Toyota Camry marketing efforts. Remember the 2012 Super Bowl brouhaha, when any mention of the game on Twitter would result in a response tweet regarding "the Camry Effect"? This turned out to be another promotion involving several parties: Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi, American Pop, and other companies.

In both the 2012 case and this case, Toyota itself may not have been directly responsible for the bad thing (tweet-spamming, adapting Dahl's book), but in both cases Toyota stood up front and center rather than pointing fingers at Saatchi & Saatchi or some other partner.

But we don't know what's going on behind closed doors.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My October 2007 impressions of FriendFeed, and what I didn't understand at the time

I have always maintained that your view of the online world is greatly governed by your lircles (lists, circles, whatever your service calls them).

While 7 billion people of the world were spending Monday paying attention to a computer watch, or simply trying to survive, a significant portion of people in my lircles were talking about FriendFeed's final month.

I've already written about it. Twice. Others have weighed in, such as Louis Gray. One thing old FriendFeed users have in common - we DON'T. SHUT. UP.

I could theoretically write a history of FriendFeed myself, but there are other people who are much better equipped to do that. But I got to wondering - when did I first hear about FriendFeed? I had to go back - way back - to find out the answer.

Cue up a post that I wrote on Sunday, October 28, 2007. Back then, my online presence was under a pseudonym (Ontario Emperor). And under that name, I wrote a post called "Experimenting with FriendFeed."

It turns out that Dave Winer was tweeting about creating something called a "FriendFeed page." Winer's first observation:

Friendfeed doesn't seem to support RSS which makes it more or less useless

Little did Winer realize at the time that many people would (unfortunately) conclude that RSS itself was useless.

But back to me. These mentions from Winer piqued my curiosity, so I created a FriendFeed page under my Ontario Emperor pseudonym. My Empoprises FriendFeed page would come later. I'm not going to bother to link to either of them, since if you're reading this post a couple of months from now, those two pages (probably) will not exist.

So what was the first thing that attracted me to FriendFeed? Its initial killer feature, aggregation.

I've linked Friendfeed to a few of my services, including a page that I rarely touch.

Well, I touch that page much more now. Sort of; I actually touch Spotify, which scrobbles to But I digress.

This whole idea of aggregating services seemed fascinating from a theoretical standpoint, but I didn't know whether it was anything more than that.

Not sure if it will prove useful in the long run, but we'll see.

What I didn't know at the time was that there were people like Mark Krynsky - whom I would meet at a FriendFeed meetup later - who were actively looking at something called "lifestreaming," anticipating the moment that every aspect of our lives would be recorded online. And FriendFeed was, in some respects, the beginning of that.

Although I didn't realize it, since my final comment on that first post compared FriendFeed to...MyBlogLog.

I've already observed that the list of services supported by Friendfeed is shorter than the list of services supported by MyBlogLog (my page for the latter service is here). However, MyBlogLog only provides links to the individual services; Friendfeed aggregates their content.

While myself and certain of my noisy friends will rave about the FriendFeed community - witness my semi-random mention of "19,000 likes" and "10,000 comments," something that will cause a few to shed a tear - the real power of FriendFeed was that it caused some very influential people to spend some time lifestreaming, paving the way for many of our interactions today.

Think about it. What if you never paid attention to sharing where you've been, how many steps you've taken, or how many books you've read? I'm not saying that FriendFeed directly resulted in Foursquare, Runkeeper, Goodreads, and the like, but it certainly opened the eyes of many people to lifestreaming possibilities.

But I'm going to give the aforementioned Mark Krynsky the last word - something that I've taken from a blog post that he wrote a few months after chowing down at Five Guys with me - and a couple of days after Facebook acquired FriendFeed.

FriendFeed chose to pave a new path beyond solely being a Lifestreaming service. They quickly became a differentiating service when they decided to go down the SocialStream path and focus on creating conversations around the items that made up people’s Lifestreams. They did this by launching two features that would become their defining ones to achieve this. First they created a very quick and simple way to allow people to create comments on items. Then they changed the logic of just displaying a reverse chronological stream of items by introducing the “like” feature. As users of the service would click on the like button (or comment on them), that item would re-appear withing peoples streams. These two features (which were both subsequently copied and implemented by Facebook) are what propelled them to become a very powerful conversational platform that I feel has to this day not been matched in another service.

So even if you aren't the Foursquare or Runkeeper type, consider that a billion-plus Facebook users are liking and commenting on things - a feature that Facebook borrowed from FriendFeed even before the acquisition, and a feature that is all over the place today.

And it all started on FriendFeed, including the guy who amassed 19,000 likes and 10,000 comments. Damn him.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Business has also changed since Facebook acquired FriendFeed in 2009

In addition to some of the changes that I mentioned in my last post - there's no Google Reader output to aggregate any more - Kurt Wagner has pointed out two other things that have changed over the years.

First, Wagner noted that Facebook's acquisition of FriendFeed - "considered a big deal at the time" - was a $50 million acquisition. Compare that to the $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp last year.

Another difference? At the time of the acquisition, Facebook had 250 million users. It's grown a bit since.

FriendFeed, October 2007 - April 2015 R.I.P.

Fittingly enough, I learned about this on Facebook. I can't remember when I last logged into FriendFeed.

Benjamin Golub to Benjamin's feed, FriendFeed News

Dear FriendFeed community, We wanted to let you know that FriendFeed will be shutting down soon. We've been maintaining the service since we joined Facebook five years ago, but the number of people using FriendFeed has been steadily declining and the community is now just a fraction of what it once was. Given this, we've decided that it's time to...

Oh, and because of character limitations, Benjamin had to continue in a comment:

start winding things down. Beginning today, we will no longer accept new signups. You will be able to view your posts, messages, and photos until April 9th. On April 9th, we'll be shutting down FriendFeed and it will no longer be available. We want to thank you all for being such a terrific and enthusiastic community. We're proud of what we built so many years ago, and we recognize that it would have never been possible without your support. - The FriendFeed team - Benjamin Golub

Not only does the service have a character limitation, but apparently there's no easy way to export data from the service - something that, say, Google has allowed for years.

Of course, these limitations are not surprising, nor is the announced closure of FriendFeed. After all, save for one feature revision that I know of, no new development has taken place at FriendFeed since Facebook acquired FriendFeed and its people in August 2009. In a way, FriendFeed is kind of like a time machine. Look at the services that you can incorporate into your FriendFeed - Google Reader, anyone? - and the services that aren't even listed.

I'm sure that a Louis Gray or a Josh Haley or a Johnny Worthington or a Mark Wilson will wax prosetic on the significance of FriendFeed, but it's fair to say that FriendFeed profoundly influenced how we share and interact with each other today.

Let the tributes pour in. Heck, even MG Siegler might have something nice to say.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

If ISIS created its own Twitter-like service

You may recall one of my posts from last Friday, which noted that different countries and cultures have different standards for what is considered objectionable content. This causes problems for multinational corporations that have to somehow comply with all of the local standards at once.

An example cited in that post is the prevailing law in Saudi Arabia. The intent of the Saudi law is to prevent the "publishing or accessing" of online data that is "damaging to the dignity" of the nation. For example, this is one action that is prohibited in Saudi Arabia:

Anything damaging to the dignity of heads of states or heads of credited diplomatic missions in the Kingdom, or harms relations with those countries.

In other words, if you're in Saudi Arabia, you can't insult the President of the United States. Which is odd, because here in the United States, it's almost a civic duty to insult the President of the United States. The current President doesn't love his country. His predecessor is a literal idiot. His predecessor's predecessor is a deviant sexual predator. And all of them are enslaved to the Illuminati.

(I guess the Empoprise-BI business blog just got banned in Saudi Arabia.)

But the Saudi example pales in comparison to another recent example of a conflict between local standards and the standards of a multinational corporation.

Before I discuss this recent example, let's take a look at Twitter's Twitter Rules. Specifically, let's look at two of them.

Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others....

Unlawful Use: You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.

You can see the potential conflict right there. Twitter establishes a whole bunch of rules, but then says that users "agree to comply with all local laws."

What if the local laws conflicted with the Twitter Rules?

Specifically, what if Twitter's prohibition of violence and threats violated a local law?

Welcome to the wonderful world of ISIS. From last August:

Supporters of the ISIS terror group tweeted thousands of messages on Friday bearing the hashtag #AmessagefromISIStoUS featuring gruesome photos and threats to U.S. soldiers and citizens after American airstrikes took out terrorist targets in Iraq for the first time.

Some tweeted photos depict dead U.S. Army soldiers, U.S. marines hung from bridges in Fallujah, decapitated men, human heads on spikes, and the twin towers in flames on September 11, 2001.

'This is a message for every American citizen,' read one message sent with the hashtag. 'You are the target of every Muslim in the world wherever you are.'

Obviously these messages and many others like them violate the "Twitter Rules," so Twitter has been shutting down these accounts.

You can guess what happened next. Yup, now ISIS is threatening violence against Jack Dorsey.

Isis supporters have threatened Twitter employees, including co-founder Jack Dorsey specifically, with death over the social network’s practice of blocking accounts associated with the group.

In an Arabic post uploaded to the image-sharing site, the group told Twitter that “your virtual war on us will cause a real war on you”. It warned that Jack Dorsey and Twitter employees have “become a target for the soldiers of the Caliphate and supporters scattered among your midst!”

“You started this failed war … We told you from the beginning it’s not your war, but you didn’t get it and kept closing our accounts on Twitter, but we always come back. But when our lions come and take your breath, you will never come back to life.”

I'm sure that the whole episode has gotten some people in ISIS talking. These aren't dummies; many of them are well educated. And it probably drives them crazy that they have to use their hands to type tweets that are hosted and managed by a Crusader atheist social media service like Twitter.

The answer, of course, is for ISIS to create its own social media services, that operate in full accordance with their narrow beliefs. (This, of course, is several orders of magnitude above what True Vine does. True Vine has never proposed to host its own content- although Family Friendly Edited DVDs did.)

Of course, if ISIS creates its own social media outlet, it will need to create its own terms of service. Somehow I suspect that they would be very different from Twitter's "rules." While the ISIS TOS would presumably be written in Arabic, I have taken the liberty of creating an English language version of what some of those rules would look like.

Private information: If a person has insulted the Caliphate, you must publish and post the person's private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address or Social Security/National Identity numbers, even if you do not have the person's express authorization and permission.

Violence and Threats: You are required to publish and post direct, specific threats of violence against those who insult the Caliphate.

Of course, we know what would happen. The Great Firewall of China, which prevents objectionable words like "democracy" from entering China, would be replicated in every other country, ensuring that no one could see ISIS-authored content.

Unless someone retweeted it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

AutoZone really wants to talk to you - no asynchronous feedback, but I can #cleanfish

I tend to prefer to do things asynchronously, except when I don't. While there are things that require synchronous activity - kissing, for example, is not fun if the two people aren't kissing each other at the same time - there are things that can be handled either by synchronous or asynchronous means.

I recently had to visit the AutoZone website - my tail light needed replacement, and I wanted to find an AutoZone near my work. As I entered the website, I was asked if I wanted to take one of those surveys about my experience. I was in a survey answering mood, so I gave my assent.

After leaving, I completed the survey, and then was asked if I would be willing to be contacted about my responses. I decided that I would be willing to be contacted - on my terms. I gave AutoZone an email address that it probably already had (I'm a member of their club), but I left the phone number blank. While I'm willing to take calls at work or at home about a variety of subjects, I don't really want my life interrupted with a phone call about a retail website.

However, it turns out that AutoZone didn't like my response.

Yes, the phone number is a REQUIRED field.

In other words, if you want to do AutoZone a favor and provide additional feedback about its website, you MUST give them a phone number.

I aborted that survey.

However, I do have a good thing to say about AutoZone. When I bought my tail light later that day at the AutoZone in east Fullerton, I also bought one of those 12-in-1 tools. (I don't carry a toolbox in my car, and I needed a tool to change the tail light.) Because it is a 12-in-1 tool, it provides me with features above and beyond what I requested. For example, now I can clean fish!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Let your belly be your business guide

As I have mentioned before, I work for MorphoTrak. While there is a rather involved hierarchy of parent and child corporations, when you trace to the top, MorphoTrak is part of a worldwide conglomerate called Safran.

I recently needed to find the address for Safran USA's DC area office, so I went to a trusty search engine (in this case, Bing) and entered some search terms.

What is a search engine? Search engines are designed not to find the information that you REQUEST, but the information that you WANT. People are not perfect, and sometimes they misspell a word when typing it in the search engine - or they don't know how to spell the word in the first place. Frankly, we'll probably come to the point where dictionaries will be obsolete - people will just type a word in a browser, and the browser will self-correct. (My "qualtiy" mistake will never happen again!)

But what happens when you type a word correctly, but the web page thinks that you misspelled it?

My employer "Safran" has a distinct name, but there are often cases in which Bing or Google or whoever is convinced that I obviously meant to type "saffron" instead.

This is what happened when I conducted my search. Rather than providing me with the address of Safran USA's office in the Washington DC area, here was the first result in the search listings.

Now my employer Safran IS a worldwide conglomerate that is involved in a number of businesses, but belly dance is not one of them.

However, this search engine mistake led me to a valuable business lesson - one in which Colleen Jolly is involved. I've mentioned Jolly in this blog several times (twice in 2014 alone, in September and November). Jolly's company, the 24 Hour Company, has done business with my own, and Jolly has also been personally inspirational (I'll talk more about that at a later time).

But she, like anyone else, also needs to be inspired, as she detailed - not in her own blog (although she's probably discussed it here), but in Todd Nielsen's International Leadership Blogathon. She started with a story.

[T]hree years passion for my business and life in general was at an all time low....

I am a leader in my primary business, and serve as a leader for multiple non-profit organizations. Losing my “mojo” was not just bad for business—it was making me physically ill and emotionally depressed. A leader needs to always know where they are going, or at least be happy and positive trudging through the difficult jungles of economic uncertainty. I was neither happy nor positive and it was starting to show, affecting the morale of my team and our ability to provide true value to our customers. I had to do something to dramatically change my outlook.

So what did Jolly choose to do? Pole dancing!

(Before we go further, it's appropriate to remind people that there is a movement trumpeting competitive pole dancing, and these competitions do NOT involve dudes thrusting dollar bills toward you.)

For Jolly's explanation of how pole dancing benefited her personally, read the post. But how did her business and nonprofit activities benefit?

[M]y outlook has [gotten much rosier] and my passion for providing excellent service wearing all my many professional “hats” has improved dramatically. I’m bothered less by the little things that used to easily derail my optimism and I’m not afraid of what others think about how I live my life and run my businesses. If I could swing my entire body upside down, I could do anything!

So there's possible benefits in removing yourself from your comfort zone, facing a brand new challenge, and then extrapolating that experience to your day-to-day affairs.

But I don't think I'll be flying to Arlington, Virginia for belly dance classes just yet.

Friday, February 27, 2015

An opposing view - or is it an opposing view? - on allowing objectionable content

The underlying assumption behind Google's decision to NOT filter certain types of objectionable content is that if a particular person is offended by the content, the person can decide on his or her own to not view the content.

Louis Gray can decide that he doesn't want to view pictures of people sleeping.

I can decide that I don't want to view any positive comments about the Depeche Mode song "Pleasure, Little Treasure."

But what of the filtering companies, who allow you to ensure that content entering your home is "family-friendly"? Here is part of what True Vine says about its service:

Since 1999, we have provided a Christian Internet Filter to families, making their internet experience safer and more enjoyable. True Vine Online is proud to offer our Internet filter and filtering service that allows you and your family to check email, browse your favorite sites, and view that funny new clip without having to worry about inappropriate material. Our filter software works with your current provider or you may order our own high speed DSL, which includes our award winning software for fully protected surfing.

You want your kids and family to enjoy all the advantages of today’s high-speed internet, and have information readily available. But what you may not realize is that they are logging into a battlefield every time they sign on. With pornography, lewd material and sites that hack your computer bombarding from all sides, it can be hard to sift through the trash. Luckily, True Vine Online is here to help.

Don’t let the trash of the internet undermine your family’s values. Get an Internet Filter from True Vine Online and start surfing safely!

More telling is the company', justification (sorry, inside joke) regarding the benefits of a Christian Internet filter.

Why a Christian Filter is a better idea.

We filter from a Christian perspective.

Christian families need to use a Christian Internet Filter. Secular filters often try to be "politically correct" and may tend to block conservative Christian sites. Our Christian Internet filter is designed and programmed with Christian families in mind.

The world has become overly liberal and doesn't get offended very easily. We get very offended and do our best to filter Internet adult sites before they enter your home.

So, whether you choose the True Vine filter, the Anti-Fascist Filter, or whatever, the filter is actually installed in the home, not farther upstream.

Before you advocate that Google implement the True Vine filter to keep all that porn out of your house, consider what would happen if Google implemented some secular filter instead - perhaps a Mozilla filter that would prevent Brendan Eich from making objectionable political contributions.

So perhaps it's better that these decisions be made at the home, rather than upstream.

Why this blog can still feature pictures of women driving

Louis Gray shared something from the Blogger team, which I will reprint in full.

Hello everyone,

This week, we announced a change to Blogger’s porn policy. We’ve had a ton of feedback, in particular about the introduction of a retroactive change (some people have had accounts for 10+ years), but also about the negative impact on individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities. So rather than implement this change, we’ve decided to step up enforcement around our existing policy prohibiting commercial porn.

Blog owners should continue to mark any blogs containing sexually explicit content as “adult” so that they can be placed behind an “adult content” warning page.

Bloggers whose content is consistent with this and other policies do not need to make any changes to their blogs.

Thank you for your continued feedback.

The Blogger Team

Gray, who happens to be an employee of Google, added the following comment when he shared the link. While the "our" in Gray's comment presumably refers to Google, the "I'm" is presumably a personal comment.

This reversal is actually a very important stance that highlights our belief in supporting free speech and keeping the web open. I'm very happy this has been reversed. It's the right thing to do.

Why is this the right thing to do?

Because Google, like many multinational companies, has to operate in different countries and in different cultures.

Such companies have to tread a very delicate balance between the company's own principles, and the principles of each country in which the company operates. Some of these are cultural - for example, there are certain people in the United States who are culturally offended by the sight of a woman's exposed breasts. Of course, others are offended by attendance at movie theaters.

Some of these principles, however, are legislative. Men wearing skirts in Italy (what does the Scotsman do?). Doing bad things on the Internet in the United States. Doing bad things on the Internet in China.

And doing bad things on the Internet in Saudi Arabia - specifically, violating the Council of Ministers Resolution from 12 February 2001, reproduced at the end of this post.

Looking at the Saudi example, what if someone wanted to speak about the problem of porn in the United States? And what if that person was Sarah Palin? And what if she wrote this?

Jesus Christ the Son of God says that porn is bad, and I'm going to drive my car to Washington DC and tell that to that idiot Obama!

...that statement (which infringes the sanctity of Islam, promotes the subversive idea of female drivers, and damages the dignity of a head of state) would never be seen in Saudi Arabia.

But this goes well beyond morals. Multinational firms have to comply with the laws of each country in which they do business. As a result, a current visit to the Spanish Google News page - - yields the following result (this is the English version):

We’re incredibly sad to announce that, due to recent changes in Spanish law, we have removed Spanish publishers from Google News and closed Google News in Spain. We understand that readers like you may be disappointed, too, and we want to share the reasons behind this decision.

Google News is a free service, loved and trusted by hundreds of millions of users around the world and available in more than 70 international editions, covering 35 languages. It includes everything from the world’s biggest newspapers to small, local publications and bloggers. Publishers can choose whether or not they want their articles to appear in Google News -- and the vast majority choose to be included for very good reason. Google News creates real value for these publications by driving people to their websites, which in turn helps generate advertising revenues.

But sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we had to close Google News in Spain. This legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach was not sustainable.

We remain committed to helping the news industry meet challenges and look forward to continuing to work with our thousands of partners globally, as well as in Spain, to help them increase their online readership and revenues.

So while Louis Gray probably doesn't want to see naked handcuffed women sleeping (the "sleeping" part would really be offensive to Gray), he understands that it is better than the alternative in which all "objectionable content" is removed.

Here is the Saudi resolution that governs Internet use:

All Internet users in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shall refrain from publishing or accessing data containing some of the following:

1.Anything contravening a fundamental principle or legislation, or infringing the sanctity of Islam and its benevolent Shari’ah, or breaching public decency.

1.Anything contrary to the state or its system.

2.Reports or news damaging to the Saudi Arabian armed forces, without the approval of the competent authorities.

3.Publication of official state laws, agreements or statements before they are officially made public, unless approved by the competent authorities.

1.Anything damaging to the dignity of heads of states or heads of credited diplomatic missions in the Kingdom, or harms relations with those countries.

2.Any false information ascribed to state officials or those of private or public domestic institutions and bodies, liable to cause them or their offices harm, or damage their integrity.

4.The propagation of subversive ideas or the disruption of public order or disputes among citizens.

5.Anything liable to promote or incite crime, or advocate violence against others in any shape or form.

6.Any slanderous or libellous material against individuals.

Furthermore, certain trade directives stipulate that all companies, organisations and individuals benefiting from the service shall observe the following:

1.Not to carry out any activity through the internet, such as selling, advertising, or recruitment, except in accordance with the commercial licenses and registers in force.

2.Not to carry out any financial investment activity or offer shares for subscription, except when in possession of the necessary licenses to do so.

3.Not to promote or sell medicines or foodstuff carrying any medicinal claims, or cosmetics, except those registered and approved by the Ministry of Health.

4.Not to advertise or promote or sell substances covered by other international agreements to which the Kingdom is a party, except for those with the necessary licenses.

5.Not to advertise trade fairs or organise trade delegations visits or tourist tours or trade directories except with the necessary licences.

All private and government departments, and individuals, setting up websites or publishing files or pages, shall observe and ensure the following:

1.Respect commercial and information convention.

2.Approval of government authorities for setting up websites or publishing files or pages for or about themselves.

3.Approval of the Ministry of Information for setting up of media-type websites which publish news on regular basis, such as newspapers, magazines and books.

4.Good taste in the design of websites and pages.

5.Effective protection of data on websites and pages.

6.All government and private bodies, and individuals shall take full responsibility for their websites and pages, and the information contained therein.

The Resolution refers to a set of regulatory and technical procedures aimed at ensuring the safety of the constituents of the national network (the internet inside the Kingdom) through effective programming and mechanical means. These include the following:

1.Service providers shall determine internet access eligibility through access accounts, user identification and effective passwords for the use of the access point or subsequent points and linking that through tracing and investigation programmes that record the time spent, addresses accessed or to which or through which access was attempted, and the size and type of files copied, whenever possible or necessary.

1.The use of anti-virus programmes and protection against concealing addresses or printing passwords and files.

2.Endeavour to avoid errors in applications that may provide loopholes that may be exploited for subversive activities or to obtain data not permitted for use for whatever reason.

3.Restriction of the provision of internet services to the end-user through the internet service unit at King Abdulaziz city for sciences and technology.

1.Keep a manual and electronic register with comprehensive information on end-users, their addresses, telephone numbers, purpose of use, and private internet access accounts, and provide the authorities with a copy thereof, if necessary.

4.Not to publish any printed directories containing subscribers’ and end-users’ names and addresses, without their agreement.

Al-Watan newspaper 21/11/1421

Friday, February 20, 2015

When your browser acts differently from other browsers

There is a particular online service - I will not name the online service, but its name rhymes with Racehook - which derives its revenue by strongly encouraging you to do things that you would rather not do otherwise. Frankly, all services do this. For example, they all want you to make all information as public as possible, and provide as much information as possible, so that they can target you with specific ad content. Some people are very comfortable with this, while others are not.

To meet its financial objectives, the "Racehook" online service has implemented a particular feature related to videos. When a video shows up in your newsfeed, it automatically starts playing. Yes, the sound is off, but the video is playing. The idea is to lure you to watch the video, and if the video just happens to be from a Racehook advertiser, then that advertiser will make money (provided its video is compelling), you'll get a wonderful product, and everyone - Racehook, the advertiser, and you - will be happy.

There are drawbacks to this idea, but I'm not going to get into them right now. For my purposes, let's just note that I was approached by a Racehook user who asked me how to stop those videos from automatically playing on her Macintosh computer.

It's relatively easy to find out how to stop video auto-play on mobile phones, but it's a bit harder to figure out how to do this on desktop/laptop platforms. However, using my Windows computer running Internet Explorer, I was able to figure this out, and sent the woman an illustrated email that showed how to select Settings in Facebook, how to then select the settings for Videos, and finally where to find the specific control that governs auto-play video settings. I was pretty danged proud of myself as I sent this email, which included three pictures. Here's the third picture, the one that shows the "Auto-Play Videos" control.

What could go wrong?

Well, I'll tell you what went wrong. When the woman opened up her browser on her Mac - the browser happened to be Safari - no such control appeared. There was just the "Video Default Quality" setting, and then...nothing.

The problem was eventually solved when she opened Facebook on Firefox, found the setting, and then set it to her desired preference.

I'm not completely up to speed on Mac stuff, and I don't know whether this is a Facebook issue, an Apple (Safari) issue, an Adobe (Flash) issue, or something else. But it boils down to this - something that works on one browser doesn't work on another.

As I've noted before, this is a complex issue, and developers (Facebook developers, Adobe developers, Apple developers, whatever) incur additional costs as they support additional platforms. As you define every new configuration that you want to support - for example, to support videos on today's version of Facebook on Internet Explorer 11.0.15 on a 64-bit Windows 7 Enterprise Service Pack 1 operating system - every new configuration supported adds to the time required to deliver the product. We're talking about planning time; coding time; testing time; implementation time; sales, marketing, and proposal time (this category is near and dear to my heart); support time; and probably some other times.

The user, however, doesn't care. All that the user knows is that he or she has a perfectly good version of Oracle PowerBrowser 1.5, and the computer won't play the latest Taylor Swift video.

Of course, if you're still running Oracle PowerBrowser 1.5, watching Taylor Swift videos may not be high on your list of things to do. Maybe you watch Grateful Dead videos on PowerBrowser. Or you THINK you're watching Grateful Dead videos on PowerBrowser.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Software test

This is a test of the Blogger app on my tablet. Obviously this is an old picture. Now I will ask to drink my java.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

We'll just work around that restriction - why the "Berlin Firewall" of Cuba may - or may not - soon fall

There are certain people in the Miami, Florida area who live in a delusionary world.

They believe that the best way to free Cuba from decades of dictatorship is to continue every embargo imaginable against the country. Then, when these embargos finally force Cuban Communism into the dustin of history, the exiles of Miami will triumphantly head south and guide their oppressed brothers and sisters toward freedom.

And yes, some of them really believe that.

Jorge Mas Canosa [was] a co-founder and the chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation and a man who under certain circumstances might have returned to the island as president of a post-Castro Cuba.

The elder Mas died in 1997. It was around 1995 or 1996 that he realized that there would not be a sudden collapse of the Castro government...

Meanwhile, as Cuban-Americans dream of going back home, the actual Cubans are thinking, "Hey, McDonald's breath. You haven't lived in Cuba in a half century. Stick to your Estados Unidos ways and we'll run our country ourselves, thank you very much." Or, as a Netherlands website puts it:

The anti-Castro groups, such as the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), today concentrate on influencing politics to bring change to Cuba. Most ... probably would not be willing to pay for the continued existence of the social progress made by the Revolution, should they take power. Most people living in Cuba don't like the prospect of the exiles' return. Most Cubans believe that these wealthy citizens will continue to provide them with free education, health care, housing and other essential needs. These groups, which say they want to bring democracy to Cuba, would not stand much of a chance of winning an election.

Meanwhile, there are other delusionary people who are very happy right now, because the United States has unjustly punished the brave people of Cuba by imposing a fascist embargo upon them. Now that there are moves to lift that embargo, Cuba will be able to govern itself as a model socialist state.

Well, that ain't gonna happen either.

As I previously observed, the lifting of the embargo will not immediately solve Cuba's problems. Frankly, some of Cuba's problems are CAUSED by its own government. As I noted, Chinese executive George Wan has been struggling for ALMOST A YEAR to get the approvals necessary to build a manufacturing plant in Cuba that could provide employment to Cubans, and hard currency to the Cuban government. Wan noted that in China, the whole approval process would have been completed in 24 hours. (If you forget, China is also a one-party Communist state, but they've figured out how to encourage business while simultaneously oppressing their people.)

Now that things are opening up between the United States and Cuba, more and more of these business proposals will be opening up. I previously talked about Americans who would come to Cuba and demand unfettered phone service.

But now, Cubans themselves will be asking similar questions.

(Source: Wikipedia)

You see, an American company will soon be offering services to Cuba - sort of:

[Netflix] on Monday announced it is finally available in Cuba. Those in the island nation with an Internet connection and access to international payment methods can now subscribe to Netflix and watch a "curated selection of popular movies and TV shows."

Notice all of the caveats that Netflix (and writer Angela Moscaritolo) included in that paragraph above.

First, you have to have an Internet connection. Cuba, unlike other countries such as Finland, does not believe that Internet access is a basic human right.

Second, you have to have, as Moscaritolo put it, "access to international payment methods." Again, this isn't something that everyone in Cuba is going to have.

The third item, from Netflix's statement itself, is the use of the interesting word "curated." Among the starry-eyed in Silicon Valley, "curated" was a powerful word a year or so ago, suggesting that wise people would work to bring the best content to you. But what exactly does "curated" mean when, say, applied to the Cuban government? Will Netflix be offering "The Interview" to its Cuban customers? Somehow I think that particular movie will be "curated" right out of Netflix's Cuban offering.

So what do all of these caveats mean? Netflix wasn't going to spell it out in its own press release, but Angela Moscaritolo was not reluctant to do so:

On the downside, however, most Cubans probably won't be able to enjoy epic House of Cards marathons — for at least the time being. Just 5 percent of Cubans currently have unfiltered Internet access, according to a CNN report citing data from watchdog group Freedom House.

So as Penny Progressive walks down the streets of Havana on our now-legal non-educational vacation, she might get a surprise.

PENNY PROGRESSIVE: I am so happy for the people of Cuba now! You can get Netflix!

CAROLINA MARTI: What is this net flicks?

ROSARIO CASTRO: That is the American movie computer service. I hear that the Ortega family has it.

CAROLINA MARTI: Of course the Ortega family has it! They've received all sorts of privileges ever since they were Elian Gonzalez's babysitters when he was a kid.

ROSARIO CASTRO: Hey, Elian might have it also.

CAROLINA MARTI: So what? Why can't WE have it?

Many years ago, the slight loosening of similar restrictions in East Germany led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall, a physical wall that separated the people of East Berlin from the people of West Berlin. Is it possible that the slight loosening of restrictions in Cuba will eventually lead to the destruction of Cuba's electronic firewall?

Or will Cuba follow the lead of China, and manage to keep its firewall intact? As it turns out, China's firewall is growing harder to breach, according to Sara Rose:

The Chinese government has reinforced its digital censorship platform, hence making it more difficult to use services called virtual private networks to circumvent the country’s blocks to the U.S. services like Google and Facebook.

China has seen some of the most burdensome internet restrictions, but until now the presence of VPN’s had made life tolerable for the people (yet irksome for the government). The move to disable some of the most widely-used VPNs has provoked a torrent of outrage among video artists, entrepreneurs and professors.

And yes, she DID use the word "torrent" in that last sentence.

As for me, I'm going to adapt something that I said last December. If visiting Americans - or resident Cubans - demand the same types of services in Cuba that they can receive outside of Cuba...

...the Cubans would beg the American government to restart the embargo pronto.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

We'll just work around that restriction - why a Radio Shack only had a cash register

The slow expiration of Radio Shack is resulting in unusual behavior. For example, take the desire of Radio Shack management to close stores.

It announced plans last year to close 1,100 stores, but lenders blocked the move.

The lenders dictated that Radio Shack could only close 200 stores during last fiscal year, which ended up January 31, 2015. So Radio Shack closed the 200 stores, and no more. Well, sort of.

This past Sunday, RadioShack (RSHC) quietly closed 200 more stores, according to multiple employees. Staff at several of those stores say they were given only hours notice last week before rental trucks arrived to haul away remaining inventory.

At one of those stores in Pennsylvania, the last item left was the cash register. That remained so that the store could perform a single transaction on Sunday morning, allowing the store to technically make it into the new fiscal year that started February 1.

So now Radio Shack has closed all of the stores that it can close for the NEW fiscal year. Will the remaining Radio Shacks sit with cash registers only until February 1, 2016?

Many people are saying that Radio Shack won't survive into 2016. But I wonder if THE SHACK, zombie-like, will continue to exist forever and ever.

Heck, this reminds me of a business version of my short story "Nine." A hundred years from now, these stores with the name "Radio Shack" will be sitting around, and some business executive will be shocked to discover that they've existed since the 20th century.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Telling a culinary story - my andouillette dinner

I was tidying up my cubicle one day and ran across this receipt from my recent business trip to France.

The observant person can tell a few things from this receipt.

First, it's obvious that I didn't entirely adapt to French culture during my stay. After all, I received my dinner bill before 7:15 pm. That's early in France.

Second, you can tell that any vestiges of my Methodism (and the old Methodist lifestyle of abstinence) have, washed away.

Third, you can see that I have some interesting food choices. There's a story behind that.

I should state that my command of the French language is EXTREMELY limited. (This was one of the reasons that I decided not to tour the sights of Paris on my own on Sunday, the same day as the massive pro-Charlie Hebdo rally.) Luckily for me, most of the people that I encountered had a much greater command of English than my command of French.

This was certainly true for my visit to Café Francais on Tuesday evening, where a helpful waiter took care of me. It also helped that the menu had English translations of most of the menu items. After perusing the menu, I decided I'd try the andouillette; after all, sausage with mustard sounded pretty good.

I gave my order to the waiter, and he paused for a moment.

"You know what that is, don't you?"

I didn't.

"It's intestines," he explained.

I went ahead and ordered it anyway, figuring that if it was really really bad, I had the Carlsberg to wash it down.

As it turned out, I didn't make a habit of dining on andouillette on my remaining nights in France, but I won't turn up my nose at it either.

Much later, I learned more about this dish from a blog post at the wonderfully named Things That Stink, and via Wikipedia. It turns out that this dish is primarily available in France; even the English don't care for it.

And I'll admit that I'm not rushing to join L'Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique any time soon.