Monday, August 31, 2015

Many, many sides to every story (SEIU-UHW vs. Prime Healthcare revisited)

A year ago, I wrote a post about a conflict between the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) and Prime Healthcare. The issue, as SEIU-UHW saw it:

Prime has a shameful history of buying struggling hospitals, then laying off large numbers of staff and reducing patient services in order to increase profits. Prime’s business model has been bad for patients, bad for taxpayers, and bad for workers.

Prime, of course, has a different take on the matter.

But as I followed up on some of the bits of the story, it's clear that this isn't a two-sided issue...because there are more than two parties involved.

One of those partners is the Daughters of Charity Health System (DCHS), which could be characterized as a group of "struggling hospitals" (in SEIU-UHW terms). When you're running a struggling health system, you want to become UN-struggling, and DOCHS figured that a sale to Prime would accomplish that.

Enter another party - California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris holds statewide office in California, which in recent years pretty much means that you're a Democrat. (Even the last Republican to hold statewide office, Arnold Schwarzenegger, used to be married into a Democratic family, and many California Republicans think he's a danged Commie anyway.) While Harris approved the acquisition, she included some tough conditions:

[S]he made the decision with conditions Harris called "strong" and the hospital systems are likely to consider onerous, including a requirement that five of the six facilities stay open for at least 10 years. Earlier, the seller said such conditions could potentially scuttle deal.

Within this backdrop, a few days later DCHS sued SEIU-UHW. (You'll recall from my previous post that Prime Healthcare had already sued the union.)

“By using extortionist threats and bid-chilling tactics to frustrate this sale as leverage for other commercial gains they seek, the defendants have cost DCHS at a minimum tens of millions of dollars in continuing operational losses and professional fees,” Daughters wrote in the suit filed in Superior Court in Santa Clara County. “DCHS continues to face the possibility that the sale will not close, with potentially catastrophic consequences for DCHS' six California hospitals, thousands of employees and retirees of those hospitals, and the patients and communities whom the hospitals serve.”

As the backdrop got dustier and dustier, a new announcement was issued a few weeks later:

Prime Healthcare Services, the for-profit system seen by many as the deep-pocketed savior of the financially ailing Daughters of Charity Health System, has pulled the plug on the $843 million deal.

Prime told the Daughters of Charity system late yesterday it has decided not to pursue the deal, after California's attorney general attached tough conditions to the deal late last month.

The next party to speak was DCHS itself - and it wasn't happy:

We are disappointed that Prime Healthcare has decided not to go forward with the purchase of our hospitals. We strongly disagree with Prime’s position on the Attorney General conditions. We are confident that Prime could successfully turn around the DCHS hospitals.

And SEIU-UHW weighed in also, saying the DCHS should get it right this time.

Healthcare workers today urged Daughters of Charity Health System to immediately designate another buyer for its six financially ailing hospitals now that Prime Healthcare has opted out of purchasing the facilities in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

According to SEIU-UHW, there were a number of entities that were willing to buy individual hospitals in the chain, and one company prepared to buy the whole thing.

So we have a bunch of parties involved: Prime Healthcare, the SEIU-UHW, the DOCHS itself, the California Attorney General, and these various other purchasing entities. (And I'm not even getting into the whole Blue Wolf Capital Partners thing, an alleged ally of SEIU-UHW that was also sued by DOCHS.)

A month later, one other party became very interested in this whole affair - 280 DCHS employees.

The Daughters of Charity Health System, which saw its proposed sale of six hospitals to Prime Healthcare fall apart early last month, is slashing 4 percent of its workforce, officials told me Tuesday morning.

That works out to approximately 280 jobs out of about 7,000 at the Catholic hospital system, based in Los Altos Hills, said spokeswoman Beth Nikels. Some of the jobs have already been eliminated, she said, while others will be eliminated over the next few months.

The workforce reductions are part of an effort to reduce expenses, stabilize finances "and better position our hospitals while we search for a new buyer," officials said April 21 in a statement to the Business Times.

Now perhaps those 280 people would have been laid off anyway if Prime Healthcare had come in. But that was small comfort for the people who were being laid off.

I checked the SEIU-UHW's archive for reaction to this turn of events - and found none. But the California Department of Managed Care reacted to the entire situation:

Meanwhile, the California Department of Managed Care has filed a cease and desist order requiring 10 insurers to stop sending new patients to Daughter’s affiliated physician group. Regulators are concerned that the DCHS Medical Foundation is not meeting minimum solvency standards for partial-risk contracts with HMOs for about 20,000 patients.

This is yet further evidence of my contention that "Big Brother" will never happen because government agencies are at war with each other - in this case, the Attorney General's office and the Department of Managed Care. While you may disagree with her tactics, the Attorney General pursued polices that she believed would continue to provide health care to as many people as possible. Meanwhile, the Department of Managed Care was moving in the opposite direction. In both cases, DCHS was the victim.

Until a few months later, in July, when a new announcement was made.

The Daughters of Charity Health System (DCHS) Board of Directors has selected BlueMountain Capital Management (BlueMountain), a private investment firm to recapitalize its operations. BlueMountain is contributing over $250 million of capital and is sponsoring Integrity Healthcare to manage and operate the six California hospitals and medical foundation, thus assuring the communities served by the hospitals a continuance of care.

The SEIU-UHW's reaction?

SEIU-UHW health and legal experts will analyze the agreement as soon as possible to understand its effect on staff and quality care in our facilities.

We will be meeting directly with BlueMountain as quickly as possible to make sure members jobs and benefits are fully protected.

Our early analysis indicates that BlueMountain is a much better fit with Daughters than the previous bidder, Prime Healthcare.

However, the San Jose Mercury News claims that this deal may also be scuttled, since it appears to be the same as the deal that Attorney General Harris didn't like:

Desperate for a deal to save its beleaguered hospitals, Bay Area-based Daughters of Charity Health System was left at the altar this spring when California's Attorney General told its prospective new owner it must keep most of the hospitals open for at least 10 years.

Yet, newly released documents show, the New York City hedge fund that is the nonprofit chain's latest suitor is guaranteeing to keep the hospitals open for half that time. That five-year promise is exactly what Southern California-based Prime Healthcare Services offered last year in a highly controversial $843 million deal rebuffed by Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office must approve hospital sales....

Whether or not Harris will impose similar 10-year requirements on the latest proposal by BlueMountain Capital Management is unknown. Her staff declined to comment

But DCHS did comment:

"None of us can do anything to derail this process, including the SEIU. Failure is not an option."

That could be posturing, since Harris could impose the ten-year condition, in which case BlueMountain may or may not pull out - or Harris could refuse to impose the ten-year condition, in which case Prime Healthcare may complain about unfairness.

At least the lawyers are making money over this whole deal.

But the most amazing thing about this - I have just completed a long-winded post in healthcare that does NOT involve Barack Obama.

Friday, August 21, 2015

On background checks, taxis, and Uber/Lyft


As of the city of Los Angeles and other cities go back and forth regarding the legality of Uber, Lyft, and similar companies, I became interested in the whole "background check" part of the deal. The DISCLOSURE at the top of the post gives you a clue regarding my personal interest in this matter.

A couple of points need to be made at the outset. First, as far as they are concerned, Uber and Lyft are not taxi companies. They are rideshare companies which just happen to have a lot of people who "share" rides rather than hailing taxis. While some of us say that if it looks like a taxi and (gag) smells like a taxi, it's a taxi, Uber and Lyft maintain differently. (Perhaps with reason: I could fly to Las Vegas, or drive to Las Vegas. If I drive to Las Vegas, I do not go through a TSA security process. Isn't that unfair?)

The second point: obviously my interest is in Live Scans. But a Live Scan is just a tool - and, as we will see, the use of this particular tool is not the most important difference between taxi background checks and Uber/Lyft background checks.

For my comparison of the background checks performed by taxi companies vs. the background checks performed by Uber and Lyft, I relied upon a December 2014 GigaOM post. Author Carmel DeAmicis researched this thoroughly, and outlined the differences between the background checks. DeAmicis started by stating the following:

Background checks come in all shapes and sizes. You can pay a private investigator more than $1,000 to dig into every aspect of a person’s life. You could drop $15 on a dirt-cheap consumer agency that gathers their records from the internet. Or you could spend $60-$90 on Live Scans, which go through official Department of Justice and FBI databases.

If you are a taxi driver, and your local jurisdiction requires you to perform a fingerprint-based background check, you go to a service provider, pay a fee, and have your fingerprints collected. Those fingerprints are then forwarded to the Department of Justice. Yes, this allows your fingerprints to be compared against criminal fingerprints to make sure that you're not Charles Manson. If the FBI has a criminal record for someone, and your fingerprints match that someone, then you've been caught - and depending upon the charges, your career as a taxi driver is over before it starts.

What does Uber do? Well, in California, Uber drivers aren't taxi drivers, so they don't have to do the fingerprint check.

Uber uses a private background check company called Hirease. Without fingerprints, Hirease runs drivers’ social security numbers through the type of records databases held by credit agencies.

Those aren't official government records, however, and are legally prohibited from listing things that happened more than seven years ago. I guess that means that Charles Manson would turn out OK, since he hasn't committed a crime in the last seven years. Of course, he hasn't bought anything in the last seven years either, so his credit probably isn't that good.

So Uber checks are always worse than taxi checks, then? Not exactly. For one thing, not all jurisdictions require taxi drivers to conduct fingerprint-based background checks, a point that DeAmicis notes. In addition, DeAmicis notes that government records themselves aren't always perfect.

Uber argues, and rightly so, that the DOJ and FBI databases are flawed. Counties don’t always regularly report their records to the state, so information gets outdated. Hirease sends runners in person to pull court records of each Uber applicant in the counties they’ve lived in.

In short, you can poke holes in either background check system, and the requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so you can't say that taxi drivers are always checked more thoroughly than Uber/Lyft drivers, or that Uber/Lyft drivers are always checked more thoroughly than taxi drivers.

And even if a taxi driver or ridersharer passed a background check with flying colors, perhaps he or she may decide during YOUR ride that it's time to commit a criminal act for the first time.

No system is 100% secure.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Living wages and government-owned ember coolers

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Living wages and family-owned tilapia suppliers. It was about a company called Quixotic Farming and its wonderful, environmentally friendly products that you can buy at your local semi-politically correct store chain. Quixotic Farming's wonderful prose, however, never mentioned that fact that their products were provided by people who don't get minimum wage, much less living wage.

Why? Because they're prisoners.

While there are certainly arguments in favor of such programs, Quixotic Farming didn't publicly address them, since it didn't even make an explicit mention of who their quixotic farmers actually are.

Well, I can't stand on my high horse and stick my tongue out at the evil people of Colorado. My own state of California is doing something similar, according to Mother Jones.

Between 30 and 40 percent of California's forest firefighters are state prison inmates.

However, this fact is not hidden; it's publicly known. And you aren't going to see Charles Manson out on the fire lines; the people on the fire lines are low-level felons. (People convicted of arson are obviously excluded from the program.) And Mother Jones notes the positive aspects of the program (as does Governor Jerry Brown):

At its best, the program is a win-win situation: Inmates learn useful skills and spend time outside the normal confines of prison, and the collaboration with Cal Fire saves the state roughly $80 million a year.

We'll return to that savings in a minute. But there are other benefits:

One benefit of the program is that it often breaks down racial barriers: "When people are incarcerated they tend to segregate by race," says Hadar Aviram, a law professor and criminologist at the University of California-Hastings. "The fire camps are not like that. People who do not associate with each other inside a prison are willing to be friends when they're at a fire camp."

However, like any program with specific financial benefits, the money can often skew decisions. There are people who believe that many of these low-level felons shouldn't really be in prison in the first place, but those who would usually champion reduction of sentences - specifically, just about any person who gets elected to statewide office in California - realize that prison reform causes other problems.

The concern was magnified last fall, when lawyers for state Attorney General Kamala Harris argued that extending an early prison-release program to "all minimum custody inmates at this time would severely impact fire camp participation—a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought."

This is why it's always important to follow the money. If our anticipated El Niño doesn't wipe out our drought this winter, expect firefighters (but not firefighters' unions) to advocate increased low-level felony prison sentences to keep our homes from burning up.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why @a_greenberg probably likes (some) bicycles right about now

Businesses are always looking for ways to advance in the market, and one business - Metromile - hit upon the idea of innovating car insurance. Rather than basing car insurance rates on self-reporting of miles driven, Metromile decided to charge on the exact number of miles that a person drove. Of course, Metromile would need precise data to do this, so it sourced a tool for this purpose.

The key to per-mile insurance is the Metromile Pulse, a free small wireless device we send you that plugs into your car’s diagnostic port. Plugging in the Pulse is easy, doesn’t require any tools, and once in place it securely counts your miles with every trip. Per-mile insurance doesn’t consider other driving factors such as how fast you drive, how suddenly you turn, or how hard you brake, just how many miles you drive.

Let's take Metromile at its word and assume that it only records the number of miles that a person drives. Sounds like an innovative idea, right?

If you've followed the news lately, you know where this is going. Wired reports that this dongle was (emphasis on "was") capable of being hacked:

[T]he researchers demonstrate their proof-of-concept attacks on a 2013 Corvette, messing with its windshield wipers and both activating and cutting its brakes. Though the researchers say their Corvette brake tricks only worked at low speeds due to limitations in the automated computer functions of the vehicle, they say they could have easily adapted their attack for practically any other modern vehicle and hijacked other critical components like locks, steering or transmission, too.

Yes, you have to worry about what you plug into your car - or, as the recent Jeep hack shows, what comes over the wireless network to the car.

Hmm...Andy Greenberg was the report for both of these stories. If I were Greenberg, I'd quit driving cars and take the bus...provided it's a really old bus.

Or perhaps a bicycle is the, maybe not.

You're connected, why shouldn't your bike be?

Um, scared Luddites can think of a bunch of reasons to keep one's bike off the grid...

Friday, August 7, 2015

On iterative performance reviews

Since everyone's talking about lions lately, let's look at a story from a long time ago about a lion called Scar. Scar wanted to usurp the throne, and this got some hyenas all excited because they thought that there would be no king.

Scar informed the hyenas otherwise.

This has a direct bearing on one of last month's big stories. No, not the one about the dentist and the lion in Zimbabwe. The one from Accenture:

As of September, one of the largest companies in the world will do all of its employees and managers an enormous favor: It will get rid of the annual performance review.

Lillian Cunningham, who wrote this article for the Washington Post, wrote her words with care. She did NOT say that Accenture was getting rid of the performance review.

She said that Accenture was getting rid of the ANNUAL performance review.

It will implement a more fluid system, in which employees receive timely feedback from their managers on an ongoing basis following assignments.

This is only part of what's going on - Accenture is also (theoretically) downplaying the idea that people get slotted into a bell curve - but the iterative nature of review is a significant step. Among other things, it provides more timely and useful information:

[P]erformance management had to change from trying to measure the value of employees’ contribution after the fact. It needed instead to regularly support and position workers to perform better in the future.

At this point, few companies have transitioned from the annual performance review cycle. Has yours?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

On iterative work products

Most of you probably already know this, but here's a so-called secret that writers use when possible - if you write something, try to repurpose it somwhere else.

So I'm going to go back to something that I wrote back in 2010. Back at the time, Red Hat's Jim Whitehurst made some comments about bloated software development cycles.

The main problem, according to Whitehurst, is a commercial development model under which executives, programmers, and marketers get together in an effort to predict what their customers want-and then take five years to build it.

At the time (2010), I weighed in on this, and wondered if iterative cycles could work for everyone.

My initial impression - and please correct me with facts if I'm wrong - is that a more iterative development process works better when your customers are technically savvy, or if the iterations are managed in such a way that the customers are never exposed to them....

But imagine if Microsoft Word were on a more iterative development process, and Microsoft was releasing new versions of Word daily. And let's say that the October 22, 2010 version introduced a new menu item. (Forgive me for my dated references to "menu items," but I use Word 2003 more than I use the later versions of Word.)

What does this mean?

It means that if I walk into a store on November 26 and look at the Word packages available in the store, chances are that I won't know whether the package includes the new menu item or not.

So I go ahead and install it, and I'm asked if I want to get the latest software updates, and I say yes, and the software (and the on-line documentation) is updated. Problem solved?

Well, I need a little more help sometimes, so I go to the Barnes & Noble in Montclair, California (I'm trying to become the mayor, you see) and look at the Microsoft Word books on the shelf. I select the book written by Steven Hodson, which happens to have a publication date of November 2010. What I don't know, however, is that Hodson wrote the book in July, using a beta copy of Word that included some features that made the August 12 release, some that made the August 14 release, and one that was dropped and never released - yet.

After searching in vain for an answer to my menu item question, I do what I should have done in the first place - phone a friend who's more knowledgeable about such things.

Can you tell that I wrote this in 2010? (For one thing, why did people go to these "bookstores" to learn stuff?)

Part of what was going through my head was something that I acknowledged in the 2010 post - I had just completed nearly a decade of product management for a product designed for cops. And the way that I managed the product was to write a marketing requirements document, which was then handed off to people who wrote a technical requirements document, who then handed it off to other people who wrote more detailed documents, and so forth.

Things have changed a bit since 2010.

Now we talk about short stories that evolve as we prepare for short sprints. We're not waiting a year for the next set of features.

And what of the Microsoft Word that I talked about in 2010? Well, that's changed too:

"We have had to change the way we build our software," [Jake] Zborowski says. "Before, we forked our code, packaged in for on-premises, then figured out how to do the changes in the cloud. Now we no longer branch the code – we enhance the live (Office 365) code that people are running on."

As a result of this change, Microsoft has moved from a model of releasing updates once every three or four months to small, incremental updates every day.

So I guess this is another Jim Bakker "I was wrong" moment on my part. I'm getting really good at these.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

No, the Amazon Raid does not involve drones

My employer is a subsidiary of the French company Safran, and our parent participates in a number of philanthropic activities. Employees get a newsletter on this from time to time, and the cover of one such newsletter confused me in its reference to an "Amazon Raid." I pictured some type of European Union activity against an Amazon warehouse in Europe - or, alternatively, an Amazon activity against someone in which armed drones were used.

I was (yet again) wrong. "Amazon Raid" is a translation of the name of a French reality TV show, which will be based in Bali this fall:

Indonesia will become the host of France’s popular reality show, Raid Amazone, in October this year.

The program -- which is another version of the US travel show Amazing Race, except that all contestants are women -- will take place in Bali.

Our newsletter mentioned this because one of the teams is from Safran:

Toutes les trois salariées Safran, nous avons à cœur de représenter les valeurs de notre Groupe sur le Raid Amazones 2015 !

Notre équipe a reçu le soutien du Mécénat Safran, ainsi que le soutien de nos sociétés respectives, Safran Tech et Aircelle. Nous allons donc porter fièrement les couleurs Safran à l’occasion du Raid Amazone 2015 à Bali, du 6 au 16 Octobre 2015.

Did I mention that Safran is headquartered in France?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Is your home computer safer than your local nuclear power plant?

There are times that I think that I may be better off putting my personal things into the cloud than maintaining them on my own hardware. After all, cloud professionals spend all day thinking about security, while it's not always in the front of my own mind.

Then there are times that I'm not so sure.

There are all sizes and types of computer systems that are out there. You can start with something as small (and powerful) as a smartphone, then move up to a laptop or desktop computer, then to a system that consists of several computers, and then move on up to the big iron - the stuff that runs critical functions such as nuclear power plants.

As you move up to the higher end of the spectrum, systems will use Industrial Ethernet Switches. I don't use an Industrial Ethernet Switch on my home computer. The term is meaningless for my smartphone. Yet these serve as the backbone of many an industrial system.

But what if there's a vulnerability in such a system?

Now if a home user has a vulnerability in his or her system, the home user will probably get a notification from Microsoft or Google or Apple or whoever to fix something. Or the home user may not have a choice; the OS provider may just patch that vulnerability without letting the user know until after the fact.

But the security issues at a large industrial site serve to preclude rapid fixes of problems. Patrick Howell O'Neill describes the timeline for an average fix:

Incredibly, it can take up to three years to fully fix any given problem. The process is slow and costly.

First, the researchers notified the federal government or another third party of the vulnerability and then the vendors themselves. Then, it took switch vendors like General Electric eight months and Siemens three months to issue patches that sometimes only fix a portion of the problem. While the patch then exists, research shows that industrial facilities don't actually implement the patches for up to 18 months afterwards.

Implementing a patch on critical hardware like the switch involves jumping through numerous hoops with management and then bringing the entire network down, which can cost thousands or millions of dollars every hour, according to the researchers. For that reason, many of these facilities are almost never patching more than once a year, and the timespan is often much longer.

O'Neill notes that researchers, in addition to figuring out how to patch a particular vulnerability, also have to spend time figuring out what to do for customers who are a couple of years away from implementing any such patch.

To be fair, companies that deal in customer data know that they can't wait years to fix patches, and are therefore more aggressive at it. But your local power plant may not be as aggressive.

And that's your comforting thought for the day.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The allure of the allure of doing nothing

Whenever someone is faced with a purchase decision, there is often an alternative of taking no action at all. For example, someone trying to decide between a 2016 Toyota and a 2016 Ford often has the option of purchasing neither and instead sticking with the 1996 Ford that is still running. One common way to express this alternative is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." (Of course, if that 1996 Ford is broke, you have to fix it. Or take the bus.)

I read Sales and Marketing Management, and this topic is obviously of concern to that publication. Sales and marketing managers need to overcome resistance from potential customers. SMM discusses this in an article entitled "The Allure of Doing Nothing."

This is an excellent article, by the way.

But it's a really bad title.

You're writing an article to a marketing guy like me, and you're trying to motivate me to perform option A (the good option), and then you describe option B with the word "allure"? The article itself talks about psychology, yet the psychology behind the title itself entices me to pursue the bad option.

I suspect that someone at Sales and Marketing Management came up with the title...and no one was motivated to change it.

Friday, July 31, 2015

So a link to this post will appear on WHICH Twitter account?

I have a long history with Twitter.

Back in September 2007, when my primary social media presence was under the pseudonym Ontario Emperor, I established the Twitter account @oemperor.

By May 2008, when I started to establish blogs under my own name under the brand Empoprises, I established a second Twitter account, @empoprises.

As I mothballed the last of the Ontario Emperor online properties and permanently switched to Empoprises, that first account was used less and less, and the second account became my Twitter interface to the world.

Until now.

As I just explained in a series of tweets, I now have two Twitter accounts - @empoprises for Empoprises stuff, and the new @johnebredehoft for - well, for John E. Bredehoft stuff.

If you don't follow either of my Twitter accounts, this is what I said.

This story won't fit into 140 character. Back in September 2007, I set up my first Twitter account - @oemperor

In May 2008, I set up a new Twitter account - @empoprises - in connection with my Empoprises blogging empire (currently 5 blogs)

Lately that account has become a mixture of Empoprises and non-Empoprises stuff, so today I set up the new @johnebredehoft account.

If you're interested in general business, music, the Inland Empire, NTN Buzztime, or time, go to @empoprises

For other stuff, go to @johnebredehoft - Note that neither account necessarily represents the views of my employer MorphoTrak

But in the future, you're more likely to find security, forensics, public safety, and biometrics stuff on the @johnebredehoft account

Or something. Like anything, it's all iterative. Perhaps I'll can all three accounts and tweet as a slug in September.

(But not next week. Stuff is going on.)

And I'll leave it right there for now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Make a run for the border

Just testing the embedding of Vine videos.

This particular video, by the way, is one of me at a trade show in Washington, DC in March. The product is my company's MorphoWay gate which reads information on a passport and confirms that the person passing through the gate is the person on the passport.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Overcoming illusory superiority

Are you an above average driver?

Do you think you're an above average driver?

Back in 2011, Allstate looked at that very question:

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of American drivers rate themselves as "excellent" or "very good" drivers.

So do we have a positive attitude about ALL drivers on the road? Not exactly.

American drivers' positive self-rating is more than twice as high as the rating they give to their own close friends (29 percent "excellent" or "very good") and also other people their age (22 percent).

In other words, Josephine thinks she's a great driver and Wayne is terrible...while Wayne thinks he's a great driver and Josephine is terrible.

They can't both be right.

Another example of this was found by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Its most recent survey of traffic culture attitudes repeated something that the AAA Foundation had observed in prior years.

As in previous years, the survey also highlights some aspects of the current traffic safety culture that might be characterized most appropriately as a culture of indifference, in which drivers effectively demonstrate a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude. For example, substantial numbers of drivers say that it is completely unacceptable to drive 15 mph over the speed limit on freeways, yet admit having done that in the past month.

Of course it's OK for us to speed, since we're above average drivers. The problem happens when all those other incompetent drivers speed. Right?

These are just a few examples of the phenomenon of illusory superiority.

Illusory superiority is a cognitive bias that causes us to overestimate our positive qualities and underestimate our negative qualities. People tend to think their memories are better than they are, that they're more popular than they are, or that they're healthier than they really are.

This can be a challenge in business, if you are offering a product that people desperately need...but the consumers themselves don't think that they need it. Sticking to the driving example, I've been to traffic school after receiving a traffic citation. The citation was a wake up call; after receiving it, I said to myself, "Hey, I'm a bad driver. I'd better go to traffic school."

Actually, I didn't do that. I went to traffic school because it was better than the alternative of not going to traffic school. In essence, I only went because I was forced to do so.

After all, I didn't need to go to traffic school. I'm an above average driver.

So if you're marketing a product, and you have to battle illusory superiority in your potential customer base, how do you overcome it?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Maybe Howard Schultz IS Harlan Koch

I love it when I'm wrong.

Way back in 2009, I took Starbucks' Howard Schultz to task after hearing that Starbucks was going to cut back on the types of fresh coffee that it was offering to its customers. In my post, I talked about people who were passionate about their products - Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken (not KFC) fame, Jim Koch of Samuel Adams fame, and a younger Howard Schultz, who was so passionate about coffee that he actually left Starbucks for a while and started Il Giornale. Since 2009, I have used the character "Harlan Koch" to emphasize someone who is really, really passionate about a product.

But you don't just have to be passionate about the product. You can be passionate about other parts of the experience.

Take one company head who recently made the following comments:

Two years ago I reported on the seismic shift in consumer behavior that would significantly impact traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers. I was not clairvoyant. Since then, many traditional retailers have responded simply by substantially increasing their digital advertising budgets — significantly driving up their customer acquisition costs and producing little to show for it. We, on the other hand, took a very different approach.

What did this company head do?

By further enhancing our already world-class digital technologies through the introduction of capabilities like Mobile Order & Pay — and soon to be delivery — and expanding our loyalty program, we are driving traffic as reflected in the 4 percent growth in traffic seen in Q3.

Basically, the company leader was passionate about the way that he was doing things, and everyone else be damned. His company wasn't going to offer deals on Snapchat just because Snapchat was cool. His company was going to do things that actually got his product to his customers, and he saw results from this.

You've probably guessed who the company head is, but if you haven't, these financial results from PYMNTS should clarify things.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has always said that Starbucks is an “undisputed leader in mobile commerce.”

And he uses the mobile stats that he presents each quarter as fodder to support his claim. And the company’s third-quarter earnings call yesterday (July 23) was no exception.

Schultz shared that Starbucks’ mobile transactions now account for 20 percent of all in-store sales — more than 9 million mobile transactions a week — and a 4 percent increase in foot traffic.

“Our mobile commerce platform is literally stronger than ever,” Schultz said, noting that the 20 percent figure was more than double the mobile transaction sales figures seen just two years ago.

You already know about my anecdotal experience. Since my first trial use of Mobile Order & Pay, I've used the service several additional times, with success. Frankly, it's convenient; punch in the order before I start the car, then pick it up a few minutes later.

And many people obviously agree with me.

So Howard Schultz appears to be reclaiming his Harlan Koch credentials. He's already passionate about what he drinks; now he just needs the white suit.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Living wages and family-owned tilapia suppliers

The news around here, as it probably is in your part of the country, is living wages. The unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County will be the latest areas that will eventually require a "living wage" of $15 per hour.

However, no living wage ordinance can fully affect wages. While the people who work in the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County will get the wage, people who work for suppliers outside the county will not.

And I'm not just talking about workers outside the United States.

(A little secret: if you want illegal immigration to the U.S. to dry up, just use NAFTA or some other vehicle to require Mexico to pay a living wage of $15 per hour. Of course, then Mexico will get all sorts of illegal immigrants from Central America.)

I don't know if Whole Foods Markets has any stores in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, but Whole Foods happens to sell tilapia. Yes, vegans are outraged, but Whole Foods sells tilapia. Whole Foods (at least in New York) sells tilapia that comes from a family-owned firm called Quixotic Farming.

Quixotic Farming is an environmentally conscious, family-owned company that raises Tilapia without the use of chemicals or hormones in Colorado and Missouri. The company began when its owner discovered the benefits of a fish raised in the United States that can be traced from our farms to your plate. Our fish thrive in an amazing filtration and recirculation system that gives our Tilapia a cleaner taste, and your family a safer choice for fish.

Warms your heart, doesn't it?

But there's a catch - some of the U.S. based workers who construct the fish tanks and raise the fish are sometimes pay $4 an hour...and sometimes $0.74 an hour.

How is that legal?

Simple. They're prison inmates:

Quixotic Farming, a family-owned tilapia farming company with farms in Colorado and Missouri, pays Colorado to have inmates construct fish tanks and then raise tilapia for it. The department gets 85 cents a pound for the tilapia. Quixotic then sells to vendors. Tilapia was being sold for $11.99 a pound at Whole Foods on a recent day in New York. Inmates are paid as little as 74 cents to as high as $4 a day.

The program is defended because it teaches inmates valuable skills, cuts the recidivism rate, and makes a little money for the prison system to boot. But others aren't happy.

Alex Friedmann of Prison Legal News and a prisoner rights' advocate said, "It's basically exploiting prisoner's labor. It's strictly exploitation from our perspective."

It should be noted that Whole Foods is not the only company that sells products from Quixotic Farming. HyVee also sells its products. And, of course, this isn't the only farming product that is produced by prison labor.

Do prison laborers deserve a living wage? Or should that be reduced because they have the "benefit" of free housing?

And if Jameis Winston ever gets in trouble again, will he end up working for a prison crab legs supplier?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Americans know nothing about "big data"

In Silicon Valley, Boston, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, you can hear a lot of us Americans prattling on about "big data," and about our expertise in big data.

But if you really want to understand big data, you have to go to a place where the total population isn't measured in the mere hundreds of millions.

China's not technologically there yet, but India certainly is.

Dataquest recently wrote about an Indian company that performed data analytics on 81.4 crore voters. And if you don't know about the crore unit of measurement, you'd better learn or be left behind (not in the dispensationalist sense).

The large numbers of voters weren't the only issue that Modak Analytics faced:

Some additional challenges were peculiar to India — voter rolls were in PDF format in 12 languages. Modak Analytics had to analyze over 9 lakh PDFs amounting to over 2.5 crore pages to be deciphered for any analysis. This data was mapped to 9.3 lakh polling booths across 543 parliamentary and 4,120 assembly constituencies.

“Every state had the data in their own vernacular language. For example, Tamil Nadu had the data in Tamil, Maharashtra in Marathi and Karnataka had this data in Kannada. To do any kind of data analytics, it was important to convert the data into a single language."

To overcome these and other challenges, Modak Analytics had to perform a lot of automation in its analysis.

Read the details here.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Hey, Zuck, how's the wife? Uh...why are you ignoring me? I THOUGHT YOU CARED!

One of the tiredest phrases in business is the phrase "we care." Now perhaps the phrase is believable when you're talking to a small business owner who is handing out free lemonade at the Fourth of July parade, but even in that case you know that there are ulterior motives behind the caring.

And when a multinational corporation posts pre-printed signs that include the phrase "Because we care," I immediately roll my eyes.

But a corporate person doesn't need a physical presence to demonstrate its "caring" attitude. Here's part of something that greeted me on Facebook this morning.

In this particular case, the picture was unremarkable. It was something that I found online that changed the word "music" to the phrase "the sound of music." Ha ha, I said to myself two years ago as I shared the picture and tagged my Facebook friend who is a complete "The Sound of Music" fanatic. Seriously. When she lived in California, and "The Sound of Music" came on TV, forget about communicating with her for the next few hours.

Now a few weeks ago, the caring company Facebook did share an old picture with me that was a little more memorable. So Facebook's old picture algorithms, like its suggested posts, are hit or miss.

So why did Facebook feel the need to dredge up this hopefully pleasant memory from two years ago? Read what appeared after the old picture.

Now there are two ways to read this statement. One, completely vetted by caring Facebook lawyers, is an assurance that this old memory is currently only visible to you, and not to anyone else. Facebook isn't just strewing your old memories around everywhere.

Of course, there's another interpretation of the statement - one that people (not me) would call the sociopathic interpretation.


Let', face it; in 2015, Facebook wants to keep you in the walled garden just like they did in 2009. I linked to a Steven Hodson post on that very topic.

It is this place that Facebook strives to give the illusion of openness while at the same time making sure that none of the potentially lucrative data they are collecting every minute after every second....

Already Facebook is in position to cause Google a lot of financial pain as more and more traffic is being driven blogs and websites from within the walls of Facebook. The battle of SEO supremacy may already have been lost without a shot being fired. Google’s big guns of SEO have come up against an enemy that doesn’t need to rank anything because its members are more interested in what their friends suggest rather than cold analytically produced results. To top it off Facebook is the biggest part of the web that Google’s spiders can’t crawl.

And the situation hasn't changed much today. Most tech companies have a short shelf life, but Facebook is not one of them. Example - CBS News has been around for almost a century, and is in the business of providing news to consumers via television and streaming services. A media company itself, CBS News has its own page on Facebook. Heck, even Google has its own page on Facebook.

So why would Google set up a page on its fiercest competitor?

Because Google cares.

Why I explicitly included "parbunkells" in this post's title

PYMNTS.COM has an interesting story about an artist and a billboard:

[Julia] Weist, a New York-based artist, was allocated unused billboard space belonging to outdoor advertising company Lamar by artist initiative 14×48. The latter organization’s very purpose is to temporarily re-purpose unused advertising real estate as a display for artists’ work, until such time as someone ponies up to lease the original blank canvas.

So what did artist Weist choose to do with the billboard space? Using Apple Garamond font, she put a single word on the billboard: "parbunkells."

Why that word? Because, at that time, the word could not be found on the World Wide Web. Weist found it in a rare book, and just threw the word up there.

So what happened?

Her personal website, which just happened to include that same word, got an increase in traffic.

As her personal website notes, she programmed a lamp in her residence to turn on when her webpage is visited. For her sake, I hope the lamp isn't in her bedroom.

Weist has been interviewed by the New Yorker.

Finally, and most importantly, Julia Weist's name has been mentioned in the Empoprise-BI business blog.

Talk about reach.

Oh, and a lot of businesses really want to see her website traffic analytics.

If you want to perform the experiment yourself, you don't have to go to the rare books library. You can just randomly create a word of your own.

Just don't use tymshft. It's been done.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On unsavory name associations

One of the duties of my new job - and, frankly, one of the duties of my old job, and of your job - is to keep abreast of ALL news that could positively or negatively impact your company. In my typical "I am not trendy" way, I was late to the party in one instance, because I did not discover this press statement from my corporate parent until some time after it was released.

Press statement - Morpho (Safran) has no link with the « Morpho » hacker group

Morpho (Safran), a global leader in identity and security solutions, learned yesterday that reports and associated articles are circulating within media and social media channels concerning the emergence of a corporate espionage group named “Morpho”.

To avoid any confusion with our customers and partners, we formally state that there is absolutely no connection with the aforementioned hacker group and Morpho.

Our activities are fully dedicated to ensuring a safer digital and physical world.

Needless to say, if your company's mission is to ensure a safer digital and physical world, it can be quite distressing to have a hacker group use the same name as your company's name. Luckily for us, by the time I finally heard about the whole affair, Symantec was now referring to the hacker group as "Butterfly.". Good - unless you're Crazy Town, Heart, or Bob Carlisle.

But my company isn't the only one to be hit with an association that we didn't like. Take this incident from the 1980s, chronicled by Peter Kramer. For those who weren't around in the 1980s, let me clarify one teensy weensy thing: U.S. President Ronald Reagan didn't like the Soviet Union. As Kramer notes, President Reagan gave a speech on March 23rd, 1983 in support of the defense budget that he had submitted to the U.S. Congress. As part of this speech, which referenced a then-unnamed program designed to defend the United States against a Soviet attack, Reagan referenced the following:

...a decision which offers a new hope for our children in the twenty-first century...

A new hope? Some of you can see where this is going.

The next day, on March 24, Senator Edward Kennedy was on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Now Kennedy had been known to work with his political opponents - he famously cosponsored a bill with fellow Senator Dan Quayle, and admitted long after the fact that President Gerald Ford did the right thing for the country when pardoning Richard Nixon. But Kennedy was also known as a fierce battler. And he didn't like Reagan's idea one bit, saying that the President was engaging in

...misleading Red Scare tactics and reckless Star Wars schemes...

So by March 1983, Reagan's program had a name. Actually, it got an official name a year later, when it was called the Strategic Defense Initiative. But everyone still called it "Star Wars."

This perturbed a certain resident of Marin County, California. Now it's no surprise to know that the people of Marin County, California were no great fans of Reagan. However, this one resident was especially perturbed because he - George Lucas - was responsible for a series of popular films known as "Star Wars." The fact that Reagan had also used the phrase "evil empire" to refer to the Soviet Union didn't please Lucas, either.

In 1985 Lucas brought a suit against two advocacy groups that campaigned for SDI, intending to forbid them the use of the `Star Wars' label. However, in November 1985 US District Judge Gerhard Gesell ruled that anyone could use the term `Star Wars' in `parody or descriptively to further a communication of their views on SDI'. As far as Lucas was concerned, the dark side of the Force seemed to have won.

To add to the sting, Judge Gesell was the same judge who had presided over the trials of many key Watergate figures. For Lucas, who had based his Emperor character on Richard Nixon, that must have been a crushing blow.

And what of SDI? It kinda, morphed into a new system under the Clinton Administration, and Ronald Reagan had a ballistic missile defense test site named after him.

And no, it's not off the coast of Marin County.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Making an Exceptional Sales Presentation...when you're not at the presentation

Chris Peterson of Vector Firm wrote a post for the Security Industry Association blog entitled "Making an Exceptional Sales Presentation." He spoke of three key ingredients, two of which I'm not going to cover. (Read his post.) But I do want to elaborate on a point that he made regarding his first key ingredient, "Write the presentation before building the Power Point." When discussing this, he said the following:

A PPT should support the story; it shouldn’t *be* the story.

On the one hand, I heartily agree with Peterson. I have given presentations numerous times, and realize that the focus of the presentation is the words that I am saying, as supplemented by PowerPoint or music or gadgets or whatever else I use to, in Peterson's words, "support the story."

On the other hand, many sales presentations are given to multiple audiences - the audience that was there during the presentation, and the audience that was not there.

Let me give you an example. A computer software company is giving a presentation to a government agency. The government agency is represented by its Assistant Director, along with various staff members. The computer software company is represented by a suit and a t-shirt. With an artfully designed PowerPoint presentation in the background, the t-shirt shows the insanely great software, while the suit explains the benefits to the agency, telling a few stories along the way. The suit and t-shirt answer questions, suggest options, and hold what appears to be a very successful meeting. The agency people are also pleased.

Next Monday, everyone meets with the Director and provides a summary.

"I'd like to see the presentation," the Director says.

So a staff person at the agency contacts the suit at the software company and asks, "Can you send me a copy of your presentation from last week? The Director wants to see it."

A PDF file is dutifully passed on, and the Director opens the four-slide presentation.

Super-Duper Software
Allowing Your Agency to Provide Better Services for Less Money

Super-Duper Software Demonstration
Agnes Harvard
Sr. Software Engineer
MegaCorp, Inc.

John Gonzalez
Business Development Manager
MegaCorp, Inc.


The Director, underwhelmed by the slides, calls the Assistant Director. "I thought you said that this was a great, informative presentation! I got nothing out of it!"

The Assistant Director replies, "You had to be there."

So how do you balance the need to cater to the multiple audiences who view a sales presentation?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

If you're a Muslim imam driver for a non-licensed taxi service...

In business and in life, there are continuing debates regarding the freedom to say what you want to say vs. the responsibility to ensure that statements are accurate.

Or approved.

Canada, like many other Western countries, is battling small groups of extremists. In an effort to control the activities of one such group, Canadian Senators have drafted some recommendations. One in particular caught the eye of many:

Recommendation No. 9 in the report – the push to certify imams – calls on the federal government to “work with the provinces and the Muslim communities to investigate the options that are available for the training and certification of imams in Canada.”

Presumably such a certification would only be granted after the imam in question swore on a stack of Bibles - whoops, maybe not - that the imam would never ever ever advocate shooting up everyone in sight on Parliament Hill.

Of course, that would never happen in my own country. We'd just outlaw imams.

The whole idea of certification and licensing is not just confined to expression of religious views. As I noted in a Tad Donaghe thread on Facebook, one of the reasons why people object to Uber and Lyft is because their employees - I mean contractors - do not submit to the same regulations that are imposed on taxi drivers. For example, here are the differences between Uber drivers and taxi drivers in Ocean City, Maryland:

The main complaint is that while Uber drivers are required to go through a background check, an application process and have a certain type of vehicle, they don't have to jump through the same hoops as cab drivers. Those obstacles include inspections, stickers, a special type of insurance and, in the case of Ocean City drivers, a medallion. This can cost up to $7,000 to buy, depending on who it's bought from, and $500 to renew each year....

The annual inspections for Ocean City taxi's cost $150, and the annual drug screenings cost $120. Uber drivers don't have to abide by that, nor do they have to operate under the price cap that taxi drivers have to.

So if you're an unlicensed imam in a political jurisdiction that requires imam licensing, and you also work for Uber or Lyft in a jurisdiction that requires taxi licensing, you could run into some problems.

And it could be even worse.

As you drive your customers from place to place, you could dispense medical or legal advice. Then you'll REALLY be in trouble.

Friday, July 10, 2015

MTPAS, peer-to-peer mobile communications, and .@TerraNetAB - what's in it for me?

In situations ranging from mobile phone use to grocery shopping, the usual procedure is to set up some type of centralized system to manage the service. For example, the person who runs your local Walmart doesn't have to spend the day trying to find goods to sell in the store; there are people in Arkansas who take care of such things.

But what if something happens? What if Ontario, California's water supply becomes contaminated, and everyone runs to the local Walmart to buy water?

Or what if a bomb goes off in central London, and everyone in the area wants to use their mobile phones? And I mean EVERYONE.

At times of crisis communications are essential. The emergency services need to coordinate their response while the general public want to contact loved ones and find out what’s happening. The problem is that there simply isn’t enough capacity for everyone to use the networks simultaneously, particularly in densely populated areas like central London.

Networks of all types are designed to cope with typical traffic demands, and so in exceptional circumstances they become massively overloaded.

Economics teaches you that there are ways to resolve spikes in demand. For example, when everyone is running to the local Walmart to get water, Walmart can respond by raising the price of water.

In the case of central London, where a bomb did go off in 2005, a different scheme was used - not allocation by money, but allocation by power.

On July 7 2005, police requested O2 to invoke...Access Overload Control or ACCOLC...within one square kilometre of the Aldgate Tube Station for a period of four hours.

For the benefit of dumb Americans like me, O2 is a British mobile phone service provider, and ACCOLC (since replaced by MTPAS) is a privileged access scheme that allows the mobile phone network to be limited to privileged users, such as police and emergency personnel.

So when the police requested O2 to invoke ACCOLC, most people were shut out of the phone network. While this prevented your average Nigel or Ian from ringing up their wives to say that they hadn't been blown up, it did allow police and emergency personnel to get their calls through. Mostly.

Unfortunately this was only partially successful because not all emergency service personnel at the time had [the correct SIM cards in their phones to access the privileged network], which meant their calls were blocked too.

Much of the material in this post is based upon a Nigel Linge post entitled "When the phones went dead: 7/7 showed how disasters call for tomorrow’s tech." Professor Linge's post discussed the issues of allocation of scarce network space in the event of a crisis, and how the technology - and the demand - have moved forward since 2005.

But what if you didn't need the central authority to allocate the service? What if the local Walmart manager ignored Bentonville and bought a few million gallons of water directly? And what if the mobile phones on 7/7 didn't depend upon towers? In the comments to Professor Linge's post, Louis Lavery raised the second possibility:

Mobiles receive and transmit and can, if so rigged, contact one another direct, maybe hopping from one to another to make a more remote connection - without use of a service provider. What we have is a centralised system, we ignore totally the other half - a decentralised system. If we had both, or hybrids, we'd have a far better and a more robust system capable of functioning even if fixed relay points go down. But who's going to start up such a system when there's no easy way to cornering the profits? Crowd funding maybe?

Lavery notes the problem - O2 or Verizon or AT&T or whoever isn't going to want to invest a ton of money into the development of peer-to-peer communications. What's in it for them? When a Swedish company (TerraNet) pioneered the idea in 2007, most large companies stayed away. TerraNet is still around today, but I see a distinct lack of customer success stories on the site.

Of course, a really big customer - such as the police - could tell the phone vendor that they have to provide peer-to-peer communication in emergencies, or else the police won't buy phones from them.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Get off my lawn, selfie biometrics d00dz!

Via Klout, I was led to a CNN/Money article that touches on the industry in which I am employed. As the article notes, MasterCard is partnering with cellphone manufacturers and banks to use fingerprint and/or facial biometrics to authorize phone-based purchases.

The article touches upon a number of serious issues that affect my industry, including spoofing, the type of data that is to be stored (image or template), and the location of the data storage (phone or server).

But I'm going to ignore the serious issues. Because biometrics is like kewl and stuff.

Don't believe me? Ask Ajay Bhalla of MasterCard:

"The new generation, which is into selfies ... I think they'll find it cool. They'll embrace it."

I have been in the biometric industry for a long time. So long, in fact, that I view Bhalla's statement through the prism of a song released over 30 years ago by Frank Zappa, featuring his daughter Moon Unit. If Bhalla, rather than Zappa, were writing the lyrics to "Valley Girl," they'd probably go something like this:

So, like, I wanted to get my nails done because they were like TOTALLY grody, and I went to that new place in the Westside Pavilion. So it was time to pay, and the lady said "Just take a selfie!" So like I took one, and my bank paid it and all, but my face was totally scrunched up and gross and if that picture ends up on Snapchat I will never be able to show my face at school again!

To be fair to Bhalla, he is not this generation's Ludo Cremers. Bhalla is seriously interested in ensuring that MasterCard's offerings are "at the leading edge of safety and security," and he is paying as much attention to the back-end as he is to the front-end.

But I was curious to see if anyone else has used "biometric" and "selfie" in the same sentence. And one of my favorite biometrics news sites, FindBiometrics, fused the words together in January 2014.

[B]iometric security tech company Facebanx announced the launch of its newest software solution that allows for security by way of selfie.

The solution is multifactor in nature, combining Facebanx’s face and voice biometrics to replace passwords on smartphones, tablets and PCs. According to the company the solution performs with an accuracy of 99.8 percent, measuring the user’s face metrics with a front facing camera and combining that with their voice print, captured by having the user speak aloud a four digit numerical one time password (OTP).

In passing, I should note that the multifactor aspect is key. When I started in the fingerprint identification industry many years ago, there were fingerprint companies, and then there were separate facial recognition and iris recognition companies. As time went on, many in the industry (notably Robert LaPenta) realized that future biometric applications would require multiple biometrics, and therefore these separate companies started merging together to offer multifactor solutions.


OK, enough serious stuff. Back to selfies. Despite my advanced age (when I think of Frank Zappa, I think of "Smoke on the Water"), I realize that it is necessary to inject phrases such as "selfies" into the biometric conversation. But what's next? Twerking?

However, even the terms "selfie" and "twerking" are several years old, and are probably ignored by anyone in a valued target demographic (as opposed to the non-valued ones). Now, civil libertarians worry that the FBI is on fleek turn up thirsty for info on my bae. However, professionals in the industry worry that companies are not dope to new trends, although the companies think winning.

P.S. And why did I choose to insert the Westside Pavilion into Moon's dialogue, even though it didn't exist when "Valley Girl" was released? Because of another dated reference. (Heh.)