Thursday, May 11, 2017

The reality of Sears?

Last Friday, I shared two posts - one that talked about cost containment, and another that talked about employee views about their employers.

Let's revisit both of those, because one of the employers discussed was Sears, and Sears is somewhat involved in cost containment. Although, according to Sears CEO Edward Lampert, cost containment isn't the overriding priority at the company.

Six shareholders questioned Lampert. One, who said he had sold men's clothing at a Sears store many years ago, asked if Lampert was in denial about the company's losses.

Lampert said his reluctance to close more stores was not about denial, but about caring.

"I'll fight like hell" to fix stores, he said, adding: "We don't want to destroy value, we want to create value."


So, how is Sears creating value?

He predicted people will look back and wonder how they missed the Sears' turnaround, which he said would be driven by the Shop Your Way loyalty program.

Last year Sears teamed up with ride-services company Uber Technologies to give members loyalty points for trips. Lampert said he was trying to strike more such partnerships to boost overall sales.


So Sears is instituting a loyalty program AND partnering with Uber. Stop the presses! Perhaps Shop Your Way has outstanding features that no other loyalty program has - perhaps not. And while an Uber partnership might have seemed really cool a few years ago, the continued bad press at Uber (DISCLOSURE: I WORK FOR A COMPANY THAT PROVIDES SOFTWARE FOR FINGERPRINT CHECKS) makes that seem like less of a coup these days.

But these points are not the primary points that Lampert wants to make. According to the Reuters article that I've been quoting, Lampert feels that the press has been picking on Sears.

Sears Holdings Corp (SHLD.O) Chief Executive Officer Edward Lampert blasted the media on Wednesday for "unfairly singling out" the company over the past decade and blamed "irresponsible" coverage for the retailer's woes.

Yup, the media has been irresponsibly singling out Sears over the last several years. I was easily able to confirm this, by finding this Guardian article that talked all about Sears. Oh, and I guess Macy's was also mentioned. Oh, and JC Penney was mentioned too. And yeah, there were a few paragraphs on Urban Outfitters. And mentions of The Limited, BCBG Max Azria, Guess, American Apparel, and Abercrombie & Fitch. And the rent is (too damn) high. Yeah, the media is really picking on Sears, aren't they?

And once you anger the media, don't be surprised if the media says unflattering things about you. This lesson doesn't only apply to Sears, but there are enough things in the Reuters article that might have not been as prominent if Sears was nicer to those that cover it. A few examples:

Sears, once the largest U.S. retailer, warned investors in March there was a chance it may not be able to continue as a going concern after years of losses and declining sales.

Lampert, a hedge fund investor who is rarely seen in public, kicked off his appearance at an annual shareholders' meeting at Sears' headquarters in Hoffman Estates with a slideshow of headlines about the company's financial distress, dating back to 2008....

The company has not reported a profit for six years, which Lampert compared to Amazon.com Inc's (AMZN.O) early unprofitable growth....


That was a good one. Because when you think Sears, you think Amazon. Let's continue.

The bulk of Lampert's 90-minute appearance focused on news coverage, which he said had been "deliberately unfair."

Media coverage was "meant to scare our vendors" who then tried to negotiate better terms with the company....

Five journalists in attendance were not allowed to speak with Lampert or ask questions.


Perhaps Lampert should have scheduled private meetings with those five journalists beforehand. But (for the most psrt) he didn't.

I'll grant that I only have two data points on Lampert (here's the other), but it appears that Lampert doesn't have media savvy. Even when he did grant an exclusive interview to the Chicago Tribune (in advance of the shareholders' meeting), he didn't choose his phrases carefully.

I could argue that this transition phase is taking a lot longer than it should and that may be a fair argument. If we were making a meaningful amount of money it would enable us to move much faster in our transformation. But we've made a lot of decisions we would rather not so we can make those pension payments, so we can make vendors more comfortable when they're questioning, 'Are you going to be able to pay or not pay,' and why are they questioning it? Because there are a lot of articles that are speculating, and there are elements of truth, but they're certainly designed to scare people....

We're fighting like hell to change the way people do business with us. And my view is, we're the customer. If you're a vendor, and want to do business with us, then you have to treat us like a customer, you don't treat us like a pariah.


Luckily this was a Chicago Tribune article and not a New York Daily News article. Building upon the past, the headline might have been "Sears to Pensioners and Vendors: Drop Dead."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jill Donovan and Jon Schmitz were embarrassed on national TV - Donovan (eventually) recovered, Schmitz didn't

I saw a story on Forbes last week, and I thought I'd dig into the details.

Today Jill Donovan is the Chief Executive Officer of Rustic Cuff, but back in 2004 she was a practicing lawyer, with a lot of hobbies, and with one overwhelming desire - to get onto the Oprah Winfrey show. From Donovan's perspective, the whole thing sounded like a fun time.

But Donovan didn't realize how TV works. TV's idea of fun might not be the same as a potential guest's idea of fun.

Donovan didn't realize this when she discovered a sure-fire way to realize her dream of being on Oprah.

One day, while working on a divorce case, Donovan’s mind began to wander, and she checked Winfrey’s website, where the producers were looking for people who re-gifted. Donovan happened to have a closet at home filled with slippers, purses, hats and bracelets — years’ worth of stuff from birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, all ready to be re-wrapped. In a habit she got from her mother, she had been a self-described “chronic re-gifter” since childhood.

“It’s perfect,” Donovan thought. “That’s my backdoor.”


So she contacted Oprah's show, and her story must have impressed the producers, because she was invited to be on the air. And I'm sure that Oprah's people were really really nice to her. The day came, and she was in the studio, chatting with Oprah, and things were going great.

Then Oprah said something that would change the next several years of Jill Donovan's life.

“Let’s ask the etiquette experts.”

All of a sudden, Oprah and Jill were joined by several other people who expressed their views on Donovan's regifting practice. Here's the way that Oprah described what happened next.

What the Experts Say

Kim Izzo, etiquette columnist: Well I hate to say it, but, yes, it is rude. It seems like a twisted form of recycling. You can absolutely pass it on, but be open about it. Do it in the moment. Don't reroute it! I would just never pretend that I bought something.


After that, another expert chimed in, saying that the practice was not only rude, but also tacky.

The producers got their wish, and ended up with a compelling show that people would talk about. And to be fair, Oprah isn't the only one who does this - there are a ton of shows that are really, really nice to potential guests until they surprise them on the air. But after the taping was done, Jill Donovan left Oprah's studio and went home, embarrassed in front of a national audience. I have never been embarrassed in front of a national audience, but I doubt it is a fun experience.

It certainly wasn't for Jill Donovan.

Four or five years went by, and Donovan didn’t quite seem like the same person. She didn’t smile as often. Didn’t crack as many jokes. The old gift closet sat empty, everything thrown away or given to charity after she got back from taping the show in Chicago.

And somehow, deep inside Donovan, there was a place that felt as empty and bare as those shelves — a place that believed what the experts had said about her. She was rude and tacky and ashamed.

“I went into hiding creatively,” Donovan says.


As it turned out, JIll Donovan snapped out of it, and today is a successful entrepreneur. And Oprah Winfrey herself has been photographed wearing Jill Donovan's Rustic Cuffs.

Scott Amedure wasn't so lucky.

Scott Amedure wasn't a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show - he was a guest on the Jenny Jones show. He was obsessed with daytime talk shows, and agreed with Jenny Jones' producers to appear on a "secret crush" show, in which he would confess his love for his secret crush.

That's when Jenny Jones' producers contacted Jon Schmitz.

A gregarious waiter at the Fox and Hounds restaurant in the tony Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Schmitz, 24, had been told by producers that he had a secret admirer who would step forward on the syndicated Jenny Jones Show. Although he had balked the first time a Jones staffer had called, coworkers persuaded Schmitz to take a chance: Last fall he had split with his fiancée (a woman whose name has been withheld by his family), and he was eager to start a new relationship. Before leaving for Chicago, he spent $300 on new clothes in hopes of impressing his admirer.

Again, I'm sure that Jenny Jones' producers had been very nice to Schmitz as he prepared to meet the woman of his dreams. But Schmitz wasn't prepared for the fact that his secret admirer turned out to be a man.

No, Schmitz was not prepared for this at all.


Three days later, Jon Schmitz murdered Scott Amedure.

Amedure was dead, Schmitz ended up in prison (and could be released some time between August 2017 and December 2037), and Jenny Jones wasn't smiling when she had to testify in court.


So that's the story with televison - you never know what the producers are planning.

If you'd like to read a behind the scenes account of these shows, read this piece from someone who once lived in Chicago and attended both Jenny Jones AND Oprah Winfrey tapings.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Time Zone!

As I previously noted, I was recently working on a marketing project that required cooperation with several people within my company.

Now I'll say what the project was - it was a social media campaign related to a recent trade show. I was part of the team that was executing the campaign, which not only included mentions on my company's official social media channels, but also reshares of this content by others, including myself.

So because of my participation in the campaign, I was well aware that an official post would appear on Twitter at 10:00 am Eastern time, referencing an event that would take place at 11:25 am Eastern time.

At the time that this tweet would appear, I would not be in the Eastern time zone. I would be in the Pacific time zone. But I still wanted to retweet the item.

So a few minutes after 7 Pacific time, I had my mobile phone out, Twitter app open. I found the tweet in question and reshared it, along with a comment encouraging people to attend the event in fifteen minutes.

A couple of minutes later, my phone buzzed with an email on my corporate email account. It was from an employee in the Eastern time zone, who gently conveyed the following message to me:

Good morning, John. Heads up re: your recent tweet: – it’s 10:14 in the East, not 11:14.

So I deleted the tweet and replaced it with a corrected one.

The affair irked me because I usually pride myself at my mastery of time zone differences - not only between the opposite ends of my own country, but between my workplace and the parent company headquarters in France. Granted there are a few weeks in spring and fall when that California-to-France calculation fails, but for the most part I can keep my 9-hour time difference straight, and my 3-hour time difference. Obviously I failed in that instance.

But that isn't the important part of this post. The important part is that I get to steal thunder from one of my other blogs and post the video of this song.



Friday, May 5, 2017

The "pre-existing condition" of maximizing short-term shareholder value

Now that the House of Representatives has passed a healthcare bill and forwarded it to the U.S. Senate, there is a lot of talk about the effect of pre-existing conditions on future individual health care costs.

Why? Because of the MacArthur Amendment which, with some tweaking, was retained in the final bill. Here's a summary:

Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-New Jersey, wrote the new language on pre-existing conditions in the current iteration of the GOP health care bill as part of his eponymous amendment to the current legislation. A legislative summary declares, "Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting health insurance issuers to limit access to health coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions."...

Under the new Republican bill, states have the ability to apply for three different waivers from regulations under Obamacare if they can prove that doing so will reduce average premiums, increase enrollment, stabilize the health insurance coverage market or increase the choice of health plans in the state. One of those waivers applies to pre-existing conditions, allowing insurers to use "health status" -- that is, current health, health history and other risk factors -- to set insurance premiums.

While the MacArthur Amendment expressly forbids insurers from turning down people with pre-existing conditions, they could, based on your health status, "offer you a policy that could end up charging you thousands," said Karen Pollitz, Senior Fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation.


So how many people could have their insurance rates jacked up due to pre-existing conditions? Well, last year the Kaiser Family Foundation addressed that:

Before private insurance market rules in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect in 2014, health insurance sold in the individual market in most states was medically underwritten. That means insurers evaluated the health status, health history, and other risk factors of applicants to determine whether and under what terms to issue coverage....

We estimate that 27% of adult Americans under the age of 65 have health conditions that would likely leave them uninsurable if they applied for individual market coverage under pre-ACA underwriting practices that existed in nearly all states. While a large share of this group has coverage through an employer or public coverage where they do not face medical underwriting, these estimates quantify how many people could be ineligible for individual market insurance under pre-ACA practices if they were to ever lose this coverage....

At any given time, the vast majority of these approximately 52 million people with declinable pre-existing conditions have coverage through an employer or through public programs like Medicaid.


So some people are drawing the conclusion that 52 million Americans will have their insurance rates jacked up.

I call bull.

First off, to assume that 52 million people will have their insurance rates jacked up, you have to make two underlying assumptions. First, you have to assume that the insurance companies will decide to jack up rates for every pre-existing condition on this list. Second, you have to assume that every single state will ask for the waivers allowed in the MacArthur Amendment.

This is, on its face, ludicrous. I live in California, and I can state with certainty that the Democratic legislature in California will never allow pregnancy to be treated as a pre-existing condition. And I doubt that any insurance company who does business in California would even think of approaching customers (individuals or corporations) and saying, "If you want to cover newly-hired pregnant employees, that costs extra."

So while it's quite possible that while some states may grant these waivers, not all states will. The populous blue states on the coasts won't go along with this - therefore, while insurance rates could be jacked up for some, they won't necessarily be jacked up for 52 million people. That 52 million figure could be a gross OVERESTIMATE of the number of people affected.

Or is it? Because there's a second factor at work here - another set of "pre-existing conditions." Not pre-existing health conditions, but pre-existing conditions regarding the way that business works.

As I noted earlier today, shareholders and investors are fickle folk. When American Airlines tried to retain talented people by jacking up wages, investors such as Kevin Crissey wailed like hurt children.

If you think that corporations are primarily interested in providing great products and services, you're ignoring what's going on in the corporate world, which is so heavily focused on short-term gains (at least in this country).

The primary goal of corporations is - COST CONTAINMENT. This explains all of the rightsizing and other steps that corporations are taking. It's all an effort to increase short-term gains to make the investors happy.

And, if the House bill were to survive basically intact in the Senate and obtain the President's signature, short-term investors would have a great tool to drive cost containment.

And in closing, I want to assure our shareholders that Megacorp will continue to expand. We will do so due to the talents of our dedicated employees. Now I'll take questions from the floor. Carl?

YES, VIRGINIA, I HAVE A QUESTION REGARDING YOUR EXORBITANT EMPLOYEE COSTS.

Um...proceed.

AS A SHAREHOLDER WITH A TWO PERCENT STAKE IN THE COMPANY, I AM DISTURBED BY MEGACORP'S LAVISH SPENDING HABITS. MEGACORP ONLY MADE ONE BILLION DOLLARS IN PROFIT THIS YEAR, WHERE IT EASILY COULD HAVE BEEN THREE BILLION. YOU'RE TAKING MONEY OUT OF MY POCKET.

Carl, I can assure you that we don't have lavish spending habits. Heck, I flew United Economy to get to this meeting. We're not lavish here.

YOU SHOULD HAVE TAKEN A GREYHOUND. IS IT TRUE THAT YOU'RE COVERING THE HEALTHCARE COSTS OF EMPLOYEES WHO ALREADY HAVE OVARIAN CANCER WHEN THEY ARE HIRED? AND SLEEP APNEA? AND SICKLE CELL ANEMIA?

Um...yes, I've confirmed that we are covering those.

AND HOW MUCH EXTRA ARE YOU CHARGING NEW EMPLOYEES FOR HEALTHCARE WHEN THEY HAVE THESE CONDITIONS?

All employees are charged the same rate regardless of these factors.

AH, SO YOU ADMIT IT! YOU ARE GOING WAY ABOVE THE MINIMUM THAT THE GOVERNMENT REQUIRES, AND BLEEDING THE COMPANY DRY! IT'S TIME TO REPLACE EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS! WHO'S WITH ME?

(torches are lit)


So if the short-term shareholders have their way and force companies to "rightsize" their healthcare costs, the 52 million people figure may end up being an UNDERESTIMATE.

What? Employees are supposed to LIKE their company?

I've commented on this story, but wasn't moved to post something about it until now.

The story ISN'T about how American Airlines decided last week to offer higher wages to its workers roughly two years in advance of scheduled contract negotiations.

The story IS about how Wall Street reacted:

“This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first again. Shareholders get leftovers,” Citi analyst Kevin Crissey wrote in a note to clients.

And Crissey wasn't the only investor who was disturbed. American stock fell after the announcement.

I'd like to share two relevant items. The first is something that I originally shared in January - a debate about whether companies should strive to satisfy customers, or should strive to satisfy employees. (No, Mr. Crissey, putting shareholders first didn't enter into this particular conversation.) Let's return to what Richard Branson said on the topic:

"It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy."

Well, I recently ran across another article that made a similar point. This particular story resonated with me because of what I've been doing over the last week for my day job. I may say more about this at another time, but for now I'll just say that I was involved in a marketing effort that required cooperation from my coworkers - not just in marketing, but in other departments within the company. And I got that cooperation, which paid dividends.

Back to the article that I found. It is entitled "3 Reasons Why Your Employee’s Personal Brands Are Your Biggest Untapped Resource." Now I'm not going to discuss all three reasons - check the original article for that - but I'd like to mention the first one - word of mouth. Let me quote a bit:

According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, employees are the most trusted source of information when it comes to how companies treat both their staff and their customers. If employees are excited about the work they’re doing and align with your office culture, they can be your biggest advocates.

And the reverse also applies - if employees aren't excited, they're not going to advocate for you at all, regardless of what you do. This is something that American Airlines CEO Doug Parker noted last year.

American is spending $3 billion on customer service improvements and buying hundreds of new planes to replace its aging fleet. But Parker said the investments will be meaningless if employees aren’t proud of the airline.

“If we don’t have our employees engaged and excited about being at American Airlines, it’s all for waste,” Parker said.


Time well tell whether Parker's pay raise move last week will affect American Airlines' culture. Just about all of the major airlines, including American, have made the news over the last few weeks because of poor customer service issues. But let's look outside the airline industry. Here's an example:

Bank of America has the worst customer satisfaction score of any bank in the ACSI. In a 24/7 Wall St.’s annual customer satisfaction poll, about 44% of those surveyed said they had a negative experience with both BofA’s banking and credit card operations, among the worst of any company surveyed. In addition to unhappy customers, the company has also has dissatisfied employees. The bank agreed to pay to settle a racial discrimination case involving 700 employees in August 2013 as well as a gender discrimination suit the following month.

"Uh, John," you may be saying, "people probably hate banks more than they hate airlines. Well, unless you're Dr. David Dao." OK, let's look at retail. While retail is certainly impacted by new competitors such as Walmart and Amazon, retail usually isn't passionately hated. Unless you're Sears.

Sears department stores are disliked by both customers and employees. Sears has nearly the lowest customer satisfaction rating of any department store reviewed in the ACSI. Additionally, Sears employees give the company far lower than average marks on workplace review site Glassdoor, and fewer than one in three Sears employees would recommend a job with the company to a friend. Multiple reviews cite low wages and unprofessional upper management as major drawbacks of working at the company.

Think about that one in three statistic. If you're company isn't recruiting the best and brightest, it's recruiting the worst and dumbest. And how do you think THAT will affect profitability, Mr. Crissey?

I can also cite anecdotal evidence. I've written about Sears in the past, and I don't think I've ever found anything good to say about the company. Not surprising, since the people who actually work at Sears apparently don't have good things to say either.

Even some people in the investment community realize that Sears has a toxic culture and isn't a good place to work.

So why are some on Wall Street angered over American Airlines' moves to spend money on happy employees?

I guess everyone on Wall Street flies Spirit Airlines. Or WestJet's newly-announced budget offshoot.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Two transgender goats walk into a Luna bar

It's May Day, but rather than talking about Samuel Gompers or Finnish sailor hats or whatever, I'm going to talk about other stuff.

You see, I recently hopped into a Sprouts grocery store on my way to work one morning. Because I am a bigly health nut (because I said so), I needed to get stuff from Sprouts that was bigly healthy. After finding some carbonated water and some unsalted cashews, I figured that I'd go whole (soy) hog (substitute) and get a chocolate protein bar, because nothing screams health like a chocolate protein bar.

Because this was Sprouts, and Sprouts caters to bigly health nuts like me, the store had a whole row of protein and other bars. Heck, they probably have every bar imaginable. The gluten free ones. The ones with fiber derived from pine trees grown in wild boar fertilizer. The ones made by Pakistani women who don't cover their heads and who only use environmentally friendly open source smartphones. The ones with milk from transgender goats. It's all bewildering.

So I just grabbed a brand I recognized - a Luna bar.

I did this knowing full well that I would probably earn the condemnation of bigly health nuts who are biglier on health than I am.

And sure enough, the Organic Authority (because he/she said so) has condemned these bars for a variety of reasons. Among them:

One of the most common ingredients in energy bars is isolated protein. Whether soy or whey, protein isolates are often extracted with chemical solvents like hexane—a polluting toxin linked to cancer. Soy, often genetically modified, contributes to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and can have negative effects on hormone levels. Many conventional whey proteins have been found to contain heavy metals and toxins resulting from antibiotics, hormones and other drugs routinely fed to dairy cows.

And in addition to all the toxins (note: when a bigly health authority starts yammering about toxins, my B.S. antenna immediately goes up), the Organic Authority does note that these bars are often filled with sugar. Did my Luna Mint Chocolate Chip bar have any sugar? Oh, just 14 grams of it.


(Incidentally, I had to search the web for that nutritional information. It's not printed on the individual bars.)

But basically, it's a triumph of marketing, as CLIF Bar & Company (yes, CLIF and Luna come from the same company), aligns its marketing messages to the aspirational goals of their potential customers.

And that protein bar is probably better than a bag of fries.

Maybe.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

I guess tech isn't an organic joke (the Twitter analytics of @empoprises and what this means for Ontario Emperor's "Salad")

I thought I'd peek into the analytics for my @empoprises Twitter account, and I spent a bit of time analyzing the audience insights. Insights are available for, among other things, a Twitter account's followers and its organic audience. SHIFT Communications explains the difference:

Currently, you can broadly look at all Twitter users or your own Twitter account’s followers and your organic audience. What’s the difference? When someone retweets you, their followers – who may not be your followers – are counted in your organic audience.

The reason that I was interested in this definition is because, for the "Interests" category, my followers and my organic audience are significantly different.


In essence, while my followers are a tech crowd, the people who actually see my tweets are more interest in politics, business, and comedy (?) than tech.

Sadly, neither my followers nor my organic audience is significantly interested in music, which makes it a bit harder to hawk my Ontario Emperor album "Salad."



But I'm working on it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On controlled obsolescence - compatibility doesn't have to be hard - or does it?

Over the weekend, Dave Winer shared a post that Peter N. M. Hansteen wrote in 2013. The title of Hansteen's post? "Compatibility Is Hard." Specifically, Hansteen was discussing the lack of compatibility between different versions of Microsoft Word. He found a Word file that had been created in 1989, and was unable to open it using a 2003 version of the program.

What happened? Between 1989 and 2003, someone at Microsoft decided that it was not worthwhile to support the 1989 file format. After all, there are costs to supporting multiple platforms, or operating systems, or web browsers. For every previous version of an application, browser, or operating system that you support, you increase the planning time, coding time, testing time, and several other costly times.

But what if you just freeze the format?

Some of you are laughing now. So we'd use a web browser that doesn't support modern security strategies? Or use synth sounds that date from 1991?

Well, when Dave Winer shared Peter N. M. Hansteen's post, he offered a comment on compatibility:

We still get a lot of interop with the OPML format, designed in 2000, 17 years ago. And RSS 2.0 was frozen in 2002, 15 years go. Still going strong. So if interop is a priority and you are a hardass about it, as I am, you can have it for a long time.

So it looks like you have two choices - either evolve your offering and break things, or keep your offering static with no innovation.

Let me propose a third ground - controlled obsolescence, for lack of a better term.

I have frequently talked about the ANSI/NIST-ITL standard for exchanging biometric data. This standard has been around in one form or another for a very long time - in fact, the first version (1986) came out before the National Institute of Standards and Technology even existed. (It was the National Bureau of Standards in those days.) Since that time, new versions have come out every few years. As I write this, the current version of the standard is ANSI/ NIST-ITL 1-2011:Update 2015.

There have been a lot of changes between 1986 and 2015.

A lot.

Most of these changes have been additions of functionality. Back in 1986, the standard had no way to support irises or DNA; today those types of data can be exchanged. Other additions have been in format; back in 1986, there was no way to change data via the use of XML; now you can.

But some of these changes have been SUBTRACTIONS of functionality. If you look at Table 3 in the aforementioned 2015 update of the 2011 standard, you'll see a listing of all of the record "types" that are supported by the 2015 update...and some that aren't.


Yup, that's right. If you have some software that generates a NIST record in accordance with the 1993 version of the standard, and that NIST record has Type 3 data, or Type 5 data, or Type 6 data...and if you then send that NIST record to some software that supports the 2015 update to the 2011 standard...THE NEW SOFTWARE WON'T BE ABLE TO READ IT.

So why doesn't the Peter N. M. Hansteen of the biometric world complain about the time that he found a low-resolution binary grayscale record, or a low-resolution or high-resolution (500 pixels per inch!) binary image record, and his new software wasn't able to read it?

Because the Peter N. M. Hansteens of the biometric world actually had a say in deprecating Type-3, Type-5, and Type-6 records.

When someone at Microsoft decided that the 2003 version of Microsoft Word didn't need to open 1989 files, that was that. Microsoft didn't poll all of its customers to see if they were OK with removing 1989 compatibility.

The evolution of the biometric standards is a bit different. If you look at any of the ANSI/NIST-ITL standards, you can see a list of people who were consulted regarding changes to the standard, and the organizations that they represented.

For the 2015 update, dozens of people were contacted - not just in NIST, and not just with the biometric vendors, but with a number of agencies that depended upon the standard. Jeffrey Carlyle of the FBI was consulted. Charles Schaeffer of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) was consulted. Mark Labonte of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was consulted. So all of these people, including vendor representatives such as Peter Lo and John Dowden, were all very aware of what was in the standard, and what had been taken out.

In fact, some of these same people were around in 2011 when Types 3, 5, and 6 were yanked from the standard. I have no idea what the internal discussions were like, but my guess is that all of these people were in agreement that these three types were not needed any more. I'd be willing to bet that absolutely nobody was sending Type-5 records to FDLE in 2011.

So here's the question - how often can people execute this balancing act between keeping standard compatibility while still advancing the standard? And how often can the stakeholders reach agreement on controlled obsolescence?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What does "putting employees first" mean? (United, and Richard Branson)

In the aftermath of the United brouhaha, there's been some comment that United has failed to put its customers first.

But guess what? One noted businessman has proclaimed that his customers are not first - his employees are first.

But does United's decision to give boarding priority to its employees on a Chicago - Louisville flight indicate that Richard Branson is in complete agreement with the move?

Not necessarily.

Take a close look at how Branson defines his "employees first" concept:

It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy.

This is not exactly the same as "giving employees priority over paying customers in all instances."

Are United employees 100 percent proud of the brand? Undoubtedly some are, but there are probably some who would not dare announce in a public gathering who their employer is.

Do United employees have the tools to do a good job? That's debatable. As one of my friends noted, the whole fracas could have been avoided if United had just loaded the four employees into a limo and sent the limo to Louisville (which isn't that far away from Chicago, relatively speaking).

Are United employees treated well? I'll give them credit on this one. In his original statement to employees, Oscar Munoz literally stood behind them.

Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.

Of course, he then went on to say this in the next paragraph:

Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.

Um...

Monday, April 17, 2017

Don't stress out over stress reduction

So I signed up for a 28 day "stress reduction" challenge, because I certainly could use some stress reduction techniques. Plus, if you amass 700 points over the 28 days, you get a small financial reward.

To earn points you do things such as get enough sleep (you can track this), participate in a hobby, and refrain from consuming caffeine after 3:00 pm.

For the first ten days I dutifully logged my points for the things that I was doing, and tried a couple of new things, but not many. Day in and day out, I logged stuff.

By mid-afternoon of day 10, I realized that I was NOT on track to earn the 700 points. Therefore, why bother tracking?

So I celebrated my liberation from stress reduction by going to the Flavia machine, making a hot chocolate, and adding a shot of espresso.

Despite the fact that it was 3:05 pm.

I wasn't going to stress out about it.

P.S. The morning after I effectively quit the stress reduction challenge, one of my financial institutions completely botched a travel notification. Guess I shouldn't have had that shot of espresso after all.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The oven temperature probe issue, eight years later

So tonight, I heard a constant beeping in the kitchen and went to investigate. Our oven was asking us to enter the probe temperature.

As my wife was wondering what was going on, I assured her that I was the expert in oven temperature probe issues.

But by the time I looked up my 2009 post and was about ready to search for a hair dryer, the beeping stopped.

Not sure why it happened, since we didn't even use the oven today. Maybe our oven was showing solidarity with other ovens that DID cook an Easter dinner.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Why you will soon see a formal press release for Ontario Emperor's "Salad"

If you saw my post from earlier today, you know that early on Saturday morning - approximately 4:30 am Eastern Daylight Time - I submitted a press release to PR.com for approval.

Well, I just received this in my email.


So in this instance, my free press release was approved approximately 18 hours after I submitted it, and it is now in the queue to be formally released early Monday morning.

What happens then?

Well, my press release may or may not get traction similar to the paid press release that ObservaMĂ© released earlier today (Saturday). This press release showed up at a variety of sources. OK, it didn't make Elle or Men's Health, but you can see it on Benzinga, SAT PR News, and some other sites.

I don't think that the Ontario Emperor press release will land me on the cover of the Rolling Stone, but I'm curious to see where it does end up.

Of course, this is just a small part of a marketing campaign. If "Salad" were on physical media, I'd be ringing up Rhino Records and doing what I was doing in the late 1980s with my Shuffleboard! zine.

Why you haven't seen a formal press release for Ontario Emperor's "Salad"

A little over a decade ago, one of my coworkers at Motorola got extremely disenchanted with all of the Fortune 500 corporate red tape. So he left Motorola and started his own company where he could do things the way that he wanted to do them. His new business competed against Motorola, and still competes today against my current employer MorphoTrak. Obviously I have no insight into this competitor's financial situation, but the fact that he's been going at it for this long indicates that he's doing something right.

In the course of doing business, my former coworker found the need to issue press releases. Here's the first one that he issued, back in 2008. He didn't use PR Newswire or any of the big boys for his press releases; he used a much smaller company called PR.com. This allowed him to get the word out about his company's products and services.

Fast forward to 2017, and I've been working on my side project. As I wrapped up the last song for the Ontario Emperor album "Salad," I had to think about how I was going to publicize the release. Obviously I have social media capabilities that weren't really available in 2008, but I began thinking about issuing a press release also. So I thought, "Why not use the PR outlet that Edward used for his company?" After all, they do have a free tier, where if you adhere to certain restrictions, they'll host and issue your press release for free.

So very late on Friday night (actually, very early on Saturday morning), just after arranging for the Ontario Emperor album "Salad" to go live on Bandcamp, I went to the PR.com account that I had previously created and entered my press release. Now I will confess that part of my motivation was to parody some of the characteristics of typical press releases, such as the ones that I help to review in my day job. For example, take this sentence:

"It's been a while since I've released a full-length album," said the marketing flack who is pretending to speak for Ontario Emperor.

There's some more of that in my press release, along with the not-flattering history of previous Ontario Emperor releases. Basically, every website that has hosted Ontario Emperor music (mp3.com, GeoCities, last.fm) has either closed down or has shuttered critical features. I guess I'm the curse of musical websites. Sorry in advance, Bandcamp.

So it was early Saturday morning, my press release was finished, and I was just waiting on PR.com approval.


Every few minutes I'd recheck the PR.com website to see if my press release was approved, until I realized that even if PR.com has people working in India on Saturday afternoon India time, they probably don't have people reviewing press releases within five minutes - especially since I haven't paid them a single penny to issue the press release.

So I started by issuing the press release via my own devices - namely, my Empoprise-MU music blog. And because it was on my own blog, rather than PR.com, I was not only able to insert a picture of the album cover (something that would cost extra money on PR.com) and use real clickable links (something that would cost extra money on PR.com), but I was also able to embed a player to play the album tracks themselves (I don't even know if I can do this on PR.com).

So the press release was now out, but it wasn't necessarily where people were going to find it. That's when I started leveraging my own network to get the word out. Over the last twelve hours, I have announced the availability of "Salad" at the following locations:

The aforementioned Empoprise-MU blog.

The Ontario Emperor page on Facebook.

Other Facebook pages, including those for Empoprise-MU (my general music page on Facebook), Empoprise-BI (this is, after all, a business), and Empoprise-IE (since every single track on "Salad" was recorded in the Inland Empire).

My personal Facebook account.

The Empoprises Public Community on Google Plus.

My personal Google Plus account.

The Empoprises Twitter account.

My personal Instagram account.

And, last but not least, the Empoprise-BI business blog itself - via the post that you are reading right now.

And I'll probably announce it in other places over the next few days. (Except for Snapchat.)

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting on PR.com for approval. And when (if) I finally get it, I'm not sure how effective it will be.

But hey, I had fun writing the thing.


P.S. Now, because I care, here's a shameless reprint of the entire press release that I already posted on Empoprise-MU a little over twelve hours ago.


Ontario Emperor Releases First Full-Length Album in Over 17 Years


Ontario Emperor releases digital album "Salad" on Bandcamp


Empoprises announces that musical artist Ontario Emperor has released his first full-length album in over 17 years. The ten-song album, "Salad," is available electronically on the "ontarioemperor" page at Bandcamp (ontarioemperor.bandcamp.com).

Ontario Emperor's music was originally released on mp3.com in 1999 and 2000, including the full-length album "Digital Judge" that was released in November 1999. After mp3.com ceased operations, Ontario Emperor released a free track on GeoCities. After GeoCities ceased operations, Ontario Emperor released a free collection of songs on last.fm. After last.fm ceased hosting music files, it was on to Bandcamp, where the song "Bare Plate" was released last month.

"It's been a while since I've released a full-length album," said the marketing flack who is pretending to speak for Ontario Emperor. "I'm happy that 'Salad' is finally available, and those who love melodic synthetica will enjoy the songs on this album."

The marketing flack also put words in the mouth of John E. Bredehoft of Empoprises. "Empoprises has been primarily known for textual content, but we are happy to be associated with musical content also."

The ten songs can be previewed on Bandcamp. Purchase of the album, or of selected individual songs, allows unlimited streaming as well as download of the song files.





Friday, April 14, 2017

#empoexpiire Don't ask why when the 90 day password expiration policy comes up

A little over a year ago I wrote a post that included the following:

Some time last year, I ... tried to re-access a ... service that listed government business opportunities. I ran into hassles and dropped the matter until now.

I knew my login name for the service, but could not recall the password. I tried a number of possible passwords, none of which worked. So I went to the service's reset password option, which would email me procedures to reset my password. I would receive that email within a few minutes.

I never received the email.

After some thought, I realized why I didn't receive the email. Over the last eight years, I have had four different work email addresses, and three of those addresses are no longer operational....

So I went to the service's support website, which required me to set up a separate support account. (Did I mention that the first site listed government business opportunities?)

Once I had set up the support account, I contacted a person who was very helpful, and who confirmed that my account was linked to one of those three non-existent email addresses. The support person also noted that they were not authorized to modify email addresses on accounts, and that I would therefore have to set up a separate account with a new user name....

So why haven't [I] created a new account with a new user name for this particular service? Because of the sentence at the end of the support email.

"Passwords must be changed every 90 days or your account will be disabled."


As I've previously noted, others - most notably a (presumably now former) Federal Trade Commission official - think that 90 day password expiration policies are useless and dangerous.

So I never set up that account in 2016, but I did set up that account in 2017 because I had to.

How long ago did I set it up?

Oh, about 80 days ago.

So you can guess the email that I recently received. Yup, time to change my password.

When I went to the website in question, I was kinda sorta curious about WHY I had to change my password every 90 days, and perform all of the other rigamarole associated with this. It turns out that I - and you - have to go through this hassle because GSA Order CIO P2100.1 says so.

So what's GSA Order CIO P2100.1? I found a link to it here, downloaded the PDF from the link, and found the applicable section.

CHAPTER 5. POLICY ON TECHNICAL CONTROLS

This chapter provides the basic technical control security policy statements for GSA systems. Technical Controls provide specific guidance on security controls and technical procedures used to protect GSA IT resources. The policy statements are derived primarily from OMB Circular A-130 and are integral to an effective IT security program. The manner in which these controls are implemented depends on the risks, sensitivity, and criticality associated with the specific systems and data involved. In some cases, basic security policy controls may need to be modified or supplemented in order to address application-specific or system-specific requirements. The following paragraphs provide specific policy on controls for identification and authentication, access control, auditing, and others.

1. Identification and authentication. All GSA systems must incorporate proper user identification and authentication methodology. For mobile devices, refer to 1.b(4) below

a. Authentication schemes must include multifactors using two or more types of identity credentials (e.g. passwords, SAML 2.0 biometrics, tokens, smart cards, one time passwords) as approved by the Authorizing Official and in accordance with the security requirements in the subparagraphs of this paragraph.

b. An authentication scheme using passwords as a credential must implement the following security requirements:

(1) Passwords must contain a minimum of eight (8) characters which include a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Accounts used to access Federal Desktop Core Configurtion (USGB) compliant workstations (i.e. Windows XP and Windows Vista) must contain a minimum of sixteen (16) characters but do not have to contain a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.

(2) Information systems must be designed to require passwords to be changed every 90 days.


And so on and so forth.

So now the question is, WHY does GSA Order CIO P2100.1, Section 5, Paragraph 1.b.(2) require me - and you - to change our passwords every 90 days? Well, it seems like this is because OMB Circular A-130 says so.

So I began to search for OMB Circular A-130 - which was a bit difficult because since the OMB is effectively part of the White House organization, the whole website was jettisoned on January 20, 2017 when we got a new President. However, the old information was preserved at a site called obamawhitehouse.archives.gov, and that's where I found this page dated July 27, 2016.

Summary: Today, OMB is releasing an update to Circular A-130, the Federal Government’s governing document for the management of Federal information resources.

The page contained two helpful links with wording like this:

Today the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is releasing an update to the Federal Government’s governing document for the management of Federal information resources: Circular A-130, Managing Information as a Strategic Resource.

The Circular can be previewed HERE and is effective July 28, 2016.


So I clicked on both of the links...but I didn't get OMB Circular A-130. Instead, I got a PDF ANNOUNCEMENT about OMB Circular A-130's availability.

I then searched https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb, but couldn't find the elusive document.

Frankly, I question whether OMB Circular A-130 even exists. And I'm not the only one:


For those of you who believe everything you read, I generated that via the Fake Trump Tweet website. (Or did I?)

But I did change my password on the original subject website. I won't tell you the language that I used in the new password, but suffice it to say that the service would not want to hear me speak it out loud.



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Booth babes - they're not just for Comic-Con

Last week, I did a quick one-day turnaround to see the booths at the ISC West show in Las Vegas. While there, I shared the following observation:

Good news from the ISC West show in Las Vegas that I am attending today. I just took a quick first pass through the 1000 or so booths, and only noticed one that employed booth babes.

Subsequently I spotted another one, but the first booth really...um...stood out.

But I wasn't the only one who made this observation, and many more people listen to John Honovich than listen to me. This is (part of) what he said (I've deleted the company name, but click on the link to find it if you're interested):

The Sleaziest Booth Of ISC West - [Company]

Author: John Honovich, Published on Apr 10, 2017

The use of 'booth babes' is way down overall, but one company, [Company], continues to treat ISC West like its an HBO brothel documentary with a literal lineup of 10 of them:


And if you click on the link above, you can see the booth babes in a video. (See, I knew I could get you to click on the link.)

In the private discussion of this post on the IPVM discussion board (the post itself is public), there seems to be a division between "this is unacceptable" and "you're making a big deal out of nothing." In other words, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

And that seems true of this case. If you check the company's LinkedIn posts, which include several posts about ISC West, the booth babes somehow didn't make it into the pictures. Here's an example; insert your own "Executive's Club Tour" joke here.

It's quite possible that the company's employees, working away at the office in the northeastern United States, have no idea how their company is being marketed in Vegas.

Which raises the question that was posted on Honovich's board - how do you know that the women handing out bags AREN'T employees of the company?

Well, what kind of people does the company employ? Check its website:

At Rapid Response, our technology is extremely advanced and comprehensive, and our people are the most highly qualified and extensively trained in the industry. Employees are SIA-certified regardless of their current role. Technical Support personnel must have at least 15 years experience in the industry; most have over 20. Dealer Support Account Executives are all former Central Station Specialists, many having served on specialized teams or having held managerial or supervisory positions.

Our people undergo stringent screening, rigorous training, and then ongoing education to consistently improve and update skills.


I think that I can authoritatively say that the women with buxom cleavage and short skirts didn't have 20 years experience in the industry.

And in something that is probably no surprise, at least five of the sex - I mean six - members of the company's executive management team are male. (Update: all six.)

But that's OK, because I found this in one of the relevant executive profiles:

Exemplary business and professional ethics, a strong sense of urgency, results orientation, excellent presentation and written skills accompanied by astute financial and business acumen have earned me the respect of my clients, and colleagues.

OK, I'll give him a 10 on the presentation skills.

But I'm not sure about the business acumen.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Why the Google Glass "shower scene" lived longer than Google Glass

While I often write about technology, I realize that technology in and of itself is meaningless. Technology is only meaningful if it makes a difference in the lives of a group of people.

As I am fond of noting, the technologies that are developed for law enforcement applications are not useful unless you have dedicated police officers who seek to use them for the public good. When a technology is credited with solving a decades-old cold case, the truth is that a police officer successfully used the technology - perhaps after several instances of trial and error - to solve the case.

But that really doesn't have anything to do with Magic Leap and its patent applications.

Before we get to that, though, let's go back to May 2013. Larry Page, who was CEO of Google at the time, was appearing at Google I/O when he was approached by Robert Scoble. Page jokingly (maybe) said to Scoble, "Robert, I really didn't appreciate the shower photo."

Which shower photo?

This one.


When Scoble's wife took the picture, the idea was to show that (a) Google Glass was waterproof, (2) Scoble really liked Google Glass, and (3) the co-author of Naked Conversations really meant it. However, there was a negative reaction to the photo, and it was subsequently characterized as "one of the single weirdest bumps in Glass' grinding trainwreck of a life." (Oh, and it was parodied.)

Yes, life. Because Google Glass - at least as a consumer product - is dead. Time will tell whether Google Glass is/was a Lisa that led to the Mac, or if it was an Amiga that led to nothing. Or if it's yet another example of Google introducing a product and then killing it.

But the picture lives on, and will live on in the electronic files of the U.S. Patent Office. If you look at patent application US 2016/0109707 A1, at figure 2E, you will see this:


A description of the picture is found in paragraph [0005] of the patent application. The short version is that Google Glass and other existing devices at the time of the application "fail to address some of the fundamental aspects of the human perception system."

But that isn't why Google Glass failed. Google Glass failed because there wasn't a consumer market for it.

And ironically, there was more of a market for the Scoble picture than the product. Hey, I've reprinted the picture...

P.S. I didn't know about this patent application at the time, and only learned about it because Scoble reposted some information about the patent application, along with this update:

UPDATE April 2017: I still am hearing good things about Magic Leap. The next couple of years are gonna see a ton of new mixed reality glasses for us to try.

Shared without comment








Monday, April 3, 2017

How the Gate Guard in "Friday Foster" affects my personal privacy (and yours)

I'm going to tell this story backwards.

The entire "Friday Foster" movie can (as of now) be found on YouTube, although I'm not THAT dedicated to my privacy to watch the whole thing.

One of the roles in that movie, Gate Guard, is played by Mel Carter. The danged role doesn't even have a name. And if you check IMDB's verified full cast and crew for this movie, Carter's role is the last one listed.


The role is just fleetingly mentioned in Carter's Wikipedia biography.


Of course, if you check my last.fm stats for Monday April 3, you'll see that I listened a lot to Carter's most well-known work, the song "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me." It turns out that this WAS a song that I've heard before. And you've probably heard it also.



The song was number 14 on Billboard's Year-End Hot 100 Singles of 1965. The number five song in the year-end hot 100, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," is one that I know well (both in the 1965 version and in the Human League's subsequent cold, detached version).


But why was I initially interested in the #5 song of 1965? Or the #14 song?


Or an obscure blaxploitation film?

Well, because it was all an attempt to manually obfuscate my search data. Now that I've expressed great interest in Mel Carter's minor role in a 1970s blaxploitation flick, all of the search engine companies and ISPs will be at least a little bit confused about my real interests.

But why do this manually?

Because automated obfuscation systems can be detected:

The problem with these tools and strategies—which are undoubtedly well-intentioned—is that it’s actually pretty hard to generate convincingly realistic-looking noise. After all, most of our online searching doesn’t happen on a rigorously timed schedule of one search every 10 seconds.

What tools? (In hindsight, telling this story backwards is really a pain.)

Dan Schultz, a programmer...[created] a tool called Internet Noise to help people seed their online activity with “noise,” or random web searches and sites that obscure their true browsing habits.

Noisify, a Chrome extension, performs a similar function by generating random searches on your Facebook page, so Facebook knows a little less about what you’re actually looking at or interested in. AdNauseam, another browser extension, will click on lots of ads for you, so any insights about your behavior of buying habits gleaned from these clicks will be largely worthless. Another browser extension, TrackMeNot, generates random web searches, so “actual web searches, lost in a cloud of false leads, are essentially hidden in plain view.”


And why are all of these tools of sudden interest? (I promise you, we're now at the end - or the beginning.)

The House of Representatives has gone along with the Senate and voted 215-205 to overturn a yet-to-take-effect regulation that would have required Internet service providers — like Comcast, Verizon and Charter — to get consumers' permission before selling their data.

And in the view of some, this Congressional action is...

...going backwards.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The @FCC , ISPs, and zip code #20515

All of the nervous nellies have been complaining about the recent vote that, if approved (as expected) by President Trump, will allow Internet Service Providers to sell personal data that goes through the Tubes.

As a marketer, however, I recognize the opportunity provided here.

Specifically, this will give me as a marketer the ability to research data from any zip code I desire.

Such, as, for example, zip code 20515.


This will give me the opportunity to view the interests of the people who surf the Internet from zip code 20515. Maybe they like to use certain banks. Maybe they like to use certain foreign banks. Maybe they send a lot of emails to certain "consultants."

This will be fun.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Get set for @WhatsApp vs. @AmberRudd_MP

So let's catch up. First, we'll note that WhatsApp touts its security:

WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption is available when you and the people you message use the latest versions of our app. Many messaging apps only encrypt messages between you and them, but WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you're communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. This is because your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them. For added protection, every message you send has its own unique lock and key. All of this happens automatically: no need to turn on settings or set up special secret chats to secure your messages.

So you can imagine how WhatsApp felt in January when the Guardian said that WhatsApp WASN'T secure:

A security vulnerability that can be used to allow Facebook and others to intercept and read encrypted messages has been found within its WhatsApp messaging service.

Facebook claims that no one can intercept WhatsApp messages, not even the company and its staff, ensuring privacy for its billion-plus users. But new research shows that the company could in fact read some messages due to the way WhatsApp has implemented its end-to-end encryption protocol.

Privacy campaigners said the vulnerability is a “huge threat to freedom of speech” and warned it could be used by government agencies as a backdoor to snoop on users who believe their messages to be secure.


WhatsApp took the article seriously, and Brian Acton wrote a piece on Reddit that included the following:

The Guardian’s story on an alleged “backdoor” in WhatsApp is false.

WhatsApp does not give governments a “backdoor” into its systems.

WhatsApp would fight any government request to create a backdoor.


In passing, it should be noted that a number of security experts, including Bruce Schneier, agreed that that so-called backdoor wasn't a backdoor.

Now, after Khalid Masood used WhatsApp mere minutes before his deadly Westminster assault, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd is demanding that WhatsApp...give the British government a backdoor.

Ms Rudd also argued the use of encrypted messaging services by terrorists was "completely unacceptable".

She said: "I support end-to-end encryption; it has its role to play."

But she added: "We also need a system whereby when the police have an investigation, where the security services have put forward a warrant signed by the Home Secretary, we can get that information when a terrorist is involved.

"It is absurd to have a situation where terrorists are talking to each other on formal platform and it can't be accessed. I need to find a solution with [the social media companies] for that."


When Mashable contacted WhatsApp regarding Secretary Rudd's statements, and asked whether WhatsApp would build a British app to comply with Rudd's backdoor request, the WhatsApp spokesperson simply referred to the previous Reddit statement.

As far as I know, Rudd has not addressed how she would feel if the Chinese government demanded a backdoor to WhatsApp, and British "criminals" - such as people who like democracy and stuff like that - had their messages exposed by WhatsApp.

If this were the American West, it would be a showdown at the corral. But since this is in the United Kingdom, I guess it will be a disagreement over tea. (Despite what Matt Johnson said years ago.)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Turns out I was a pioneer in counteracting gluten deficiency

Normally I am not trendy, but I have found an instance in which I am actually a trendsetter.

Evidence: back in August 2014 I wrote the groundbreaking post Are you suffering from gluten deficiency? Excerpt from this very important article:

After consulting with authoritative experts, we have identified the major symptoms of gluten deficiency.

1. Tiredness and inability to sleep
2. Shortness of breath
3. An intense preoccupation with sex
4. Increased use of the Internet

If you are suffering from ZERO OR MORE of these symptoms, then you probably have gluten deficiency, and you need to take immediate action to avoid risk of death.


Over a year later, in July 2015, The Science Post picked up on the theme. Now some people would claim that gluten deficiency is an obvious topic to write about with all the gluten-free fadsters running around, but I assert that the Science Post would never have thought of writing about gluten deficiency if I hadn't written about it first. This is part of what the Science Post said:

According to Nutritionist Dexter McFadden, low levels of certain naturally-occurring proteins are responsible for a variety of health problems.

“I take detailed dietary surveys all my patients. These patients had a multitude of health problems including: GI distress, dizziness, headaches, insomnia, hay fever, rash, palpitations, and sunburn. A common feature was low intake of barley, rye, and wheat.”


Now the Science Post refused to endorse my EmpoSuperGlut solution, and instead offer a different product.

McFadden has written a book “Gluten of the Gods” and produces his own line of “McFadden’s Gluten-Enhanced Dietary Supplements” which he sells on his webpage.

But they aren't the only people who were inspired by me. Just this year, The Turunn Tribune offered its own product.

The Turunn Tribune has partnered with Scrottfroght’s (Sweden’s brand leader in herring-related products) to create a new gluten supplement. And here’s the clever part: to ease social acceptability the product is labelled as a “Gluten-Free Diet Support” allowing it to be eaten freely in any situation without fear of stigmatization....

If you are currently experiencing any of the symptoms of gluten deficiency–weariness, itching, gastrointestinal discomfort, heartburn, hair loss, unusual involuntary verbal outbursts, swollen wrists, red blotches, or a pronounced limp–don’t bother about asking your doctor, just buy this supplement and reclaim the missing zest in your life!


So I wonder what the Swedish version of the "not evaluated by the FDA" disclaimer looks like.

P.S. I guess I need to point out that (1) the so-called EmpoSuperGlut website is actually a Snopes spurious article stating that Mr. Ed was a zebra; (2) The Science Post includes the word "satire" in its site description; and (3) the Turunn Tribune also offers an audio edition for deaf readers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The second silly season of social media adoption - dumping EVERYTHING for...Snapchat?

This is an update to a post that I originally wrote in 2013, back when I could barely remember the name of "that service that sends a message and immediately erases it."

In 2013, reference to such a service was exclusively a reference to Snapchat. Of course today, disappearing messages are a kewl feature of every service, including Instagram, Facebook, Microsoft Outlook, and Oracle Database. (I'm kidding regarding the latter two. I think.)

My 2013 post concentrated on a January 2013 experiment by a frozen yogurt company with the amazingly original name 16 Handles. In the company's experiment, customers could get Snapchat coupons for use at 16 Handles - but the coupons would disappear within 10 seconds after being opened. While everyone wrote about the experiment, including Ad Age and Mashable, it appears that 16 Handles itself didn't do anything with Snapchat coupons after the experiment was over - or if they did, they deleted all mention of it (within ten seconds).

A lot has happened since 2013. Everyone uses disappearing messages, Snap is now a publicly traded company (not that the new stockholders have any say in how the company is run), and 16 Handles has continued its "innovation."

I just ran across this January 2016 article. It mentions 16 Handles' amazing 2013 experiment, and then talks about some things that happened since then.

16 Handles was one of the first brands to get onto Kik in late 2014 in a bid to reach teen customers where they were. The brand generated 27,000 interactions with a small amount of paid media behind it in the first few days, but then the app waned — and with it, the brand’s traction. “That was one of our possible failures,” admits [marketing manager Lara] Nicotra.

But they were ready to recover, designating Snapchat as "their 2016 thing." In that year,

...the brand [planned] to focus on Snapchat Stories — longer Snapchats that stick around for 24 hours — that will work hand-in-hand with the company’s refurbished content calendar. “In the past, it was just ‘let’s give people cool access to our brand’,” said Nicotra. “Now, it’s a commitment.”

An amazing commitment - keep your marketing material in front of your customers for an entire 24 hours. But such a commitment comes at a cost.

Nicotra declined to disclose how many followers the brand has on Snapchat, but as it focuses on the platform, she said, 16 Handles has decided to stop using other platforms, including Tumblr and Pinterest. Her interest in using Twitter as a paid platform has also waned.

Since I don't have Snapchat, I ended up going to the 16 Handles website. If you go to the bottom of the page, you can see icons for all of their social media outlets.


Notice anything missing?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

AT&T outage not affecting Ontario, California - now, not affecting anyone

After seeing reports from WTOP and elsewhere of a nationwide AT&T outage, I successfully placed a call from Ontario, California with my cell phone. I don't have AT&T Internet service, so I can't test that. Here's the current outage map (click here for updates):


And after that, WTOP tweeted this:

ALERT: AT&T says nationwide outage has been resolved. A hardware issue caused some calls not to connect Saturday.

Even Newer Mexico

This is another of those posts that was written well in advance of its publication date, because...well, because I couldn't publicly talk about the subject matter at the time that I originally wrote it. But now (March 11, 2017) I can talk about it, since the subject matter is now public (see the last paragraph).

Back when I wrote this post, a long long time ago, I was working on a series of letters from my company to the New Mexico State Police. (Yes, I was still in Proposals back then.)

One day, I was alerted that a request for a new letter to this customer was coming.

My boss wasn't in the office at the time, so I sent her an email to alert her of the upcoming request. The title of my email? "Even Newer Mexico."

While the title itself may (or may not) merit a smirk, there was one thing that I neglected to tell my boss.

You see, this was not the first time that I had used the phrase "Even Newer Mexico."

Several years before this, long before I had ever written a proposal letter to this particular customer, I was intermittently continuing my world-famous music career as Ontario Emperor, and composed a MIDI file (part of a particular collection) entitled "Even Newer Mexico."

Trust me, the MIDI file wouldn't have helped us get the business with this customer.

P.S. Obviously, I am not the first person in the entire universe to come up with the phrase "Even Newer Mexico." For example, Texas Twisted was using the phrase in 2003.

P.P.S. It's interesting that this post about an old MIDI file could be published this week. If you've read my recent posts on my Empoprise-MU music blog, I've been talking about my world-famous music career as Ontario Emperor a lot lately. But no, I don't plan to convert "Even Newer Mexico" to MP3 format.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#empocali1pay California and single-payer health insurance

While "states' rights" is sometimes perceived as a conservative thing, in reality it can be used by conservatives, liberals, or whoever. For example, the state of California maintains that the legalization of marijuana is a "states' rights" issue.

And sometimes the concept of states' rights transcends the political spectrum.

Take health insurance. In this country, there are two ways that health insurance can be offered - by having the federal government control everything about health insurance, or to have state governments exercise the control. Despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act and its possible Republican replacement were implemented at the federal level, they clearly fall on the "states' rights" side of things. For example, under the ACA, each state decided whether or not to set up its own state exchange. Under the newly-proposed bill, it appears that another task will be tossed onto the states:

President Trump and Republicans in Congress want to convert federal funding for Medicaid to block grants.

What does this mean?

While this probably would reduce funding for covering low-income people, it presents the unintended benefit of giving states more latitude in how the money is spent.

If Assemblyman Ricardo Lara has his way, California will exercise extreme latitude:

California State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced a bill Feb. 24 that would create a state-based, single-payer health care system. His plan envisions covering everyone in the state: Employees would no longer have employer-provided coverage, and those currently on Medicaid and Medicare would get their coverage from Sacramento.

Of course, single-payer proposals in the United States have been proposed before, and have died. Vermont's proposal faced a number of challenges, including this one:

The Shumlin administration, in its white-flag briefing last week, dropped a bombshell. In 2017, under pre-existing law, the state of Vermont expects to collect $1.7 billion in tax revenue. Green Mountain Care would have required an additional $2.6 billion in tax revenue: a 151 percent increase in state taxes. Fiscally, that’s a train wreck.

It's not necessarily a train wreck because single-payer would cost more than the current or pre-ACA system - I'm not sure if it would or not. The important thing is that it would cost something in TAXES. Employees and their employers could pay tons of money for private health insurance, but that is not PERCEIVED as a cost. An increase in taxes, though - even if it results in lower overall costs - is perceived as catastrophic. (Remember, that's how Bill Clinton became President, because of Bush 41's "read my lips" statement.)

In addition, as both the Los Angeles Times and KFI talk radio host Bill Handel have noted, there are different flavors of single-payer.

There are three basic approaches, as outlined by T.R. Reid in his excellent book “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care.” Each has pluses and minuses:

Beveridge Model: Named for British social reformer William Beveridge, this is the system established in postwar England, Spain, New Zealand and most Scandinavian countries. Under this model, the government finances coverage through tax payments and also runs hospitals and clinics.

Pro: No doctor bills. You show up, get treated, leave. Con: Choices may be limited and certain costly treatments may be unavailable.

Bismarck model: Named for Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who originated the idea in 1883, this approach relies on payroll deductions to fund nonprofit insurers and requires that they cover everyone. Coverage and medical pricing is strictly regulated by the state.

Aside from Germany, you’ll find variations of this system in France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Japan.

Pro: Plenty of flexibility in choosing insurers and healthcare providers. Con: Doctors may seek higher fees through private clinics.

National Health Insurance model: Combining elements of both Beveridge and Bismarck, this is the system Canada started rolling out in 1947. All citizens pay into a government-run insurance program that deals directly with doctors and hospitals.

Pro: Costs are greatly reduced by administrative savings and efficiencies. Cons: Some treatments may be limited; long wait times for some patients.


So there's obviously some work to be done before Lara's bill can become law.

Most importantly, we have to see whether the federal government will actually provide that block grant that's being discussed.