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.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Unintended consequences, when the West dies

Sheriff Stephen Haskell walked into the county offices for his meeting. Attired in black trousers, a tan shirt, black boots, and a black ball cap, he looked every inch the professional law enforcement officer. Because of his actions, Sublette County, Wyoming was well-respected in law enforcement circles. His deputies weren't a bunch of yahoos (sorry, Marissa) running around - they had THE LOOK.

Sheriff Haskell knew that this hastily-arranged meeting with the county executives was important, to him and to his future. As he walked into the room, he awaited the praise for his far-sighted vision, and the rewards that would accompany it.

"We're going to have to let go of half of your deputies," one of the county executives said.

The sheriff was speechless. This was not what he expected.

"You know the county's budget woes," said another executive. "Tourism has completely dried up here. All the people that are looking for the genuine Western experience are avoiding Sublette County and visiting other parts of Wyoming."

"Places where the sheriffs and deputies look like real sheriffs and deputies," said a third executive.

Sheriff Haskell slowly left the room, took his cap off, and walked out the door. A sagebrush blew across the dusty street as he got into his Ford Crown Victoria. "I probably won't have the budget to replace this with a Prius," he said.

You can't do everything in the cloud - Amazon brick-and-mortar stores, courtesy Radio Shack?

Radio Shack, or THE SHACK, or whatever they're calling themselves now, usually induces yawns.

Radio Shack isn't doing well. Yawn.

Radio Shack is considering liquidating its assets, selling some stores to Sprint and closing the rest. Yawn.

Radio Shack is considering selling some stores to Amazon WAIT A MINUTE THERE.

Bloomberg: Inc., aiming to bolster its brick-and-mortar operations, has discussed acquiring some RadioShack Corp. locations after the electronics chain files for bankruptcy, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

Amazon has considered using the RadioShack stores as showcases for the Seattle-based company’s hardware...

Now obviously you can't put every Amazon item in a Radio Shack-size store. Heck, you can't put every Amazon item in a Super Walmart-size store. But perhaps you can display some physical items, with kiosks or something to find out about the rest. well as potential pickup and drop-off centers for online customers...

Now THAT'S news.

If you do business with Amazon, or any online company, you end up having to have a personal relationship with some package carrier. Perhaps it's the US Postal Service. Perhaps it's United Parcel Service. Perhaps it's Federal Express. Perhaps it's (shudder) OnTrac.

But what if Amazon were to cut out the middleperson and just let you deal directly with Amazon and not with anybody else?

While Bloomberg emphasizes that none of this may happen - for all we know, Radio Shack may limp along for another decade as is - Bloomberg correctly notes that a brick-and-mortar presence for Amazon could help it compete with companies such as Apple.

So in essence, this would be a defensive move by Amazon. Everyone's trying to catch up with everyone else.

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.