Monday, October 24, 2016

Congressional oversight - or oversights - over the Department of Homeland Security

In an occasional series of blog posts on organizational structure, I find myself often using the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as an example. Not because DHS is extremely different from all other organizations, but because DHS easily exhibits things that can be found in many organizations, including your own.

In short, organizations are not unified entities.

Now, as I noted back in 2013, we were all told that DHS would be a single unified entity. In that post, I quoted from a web page (that no longer exists) that reminds of us the history of the DHS:

The National Strategy for Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Act of 2002 called for the formation of the DHS, which was established to provide a unifying agency for the many national organizations that serve to secure the United States.

In that same post, I noted that this dream was just a dream. The post discussed the resignation of DHS' Chief Information Officer Richard Spires, in part because the constituent agencies within DHS didn't want an overall CIO over everybody.

And in June of this year, I chronicled the fight between USCIS and ICE. Syed Farook's friend Enrique Marquez was in a USCIS facility, and ICE wanted to detain Marquez because of his alleged connection to Farook's actions. A Senate committee - or, more accurately, the Republicans on a Senate committee - described what happened:

The DHS OIG report found that USCIS “improperly delayed HSI agents from conducting a lawful and routine law enforcement action.” The HSI agents waited 20 to 30 minutes in accessing the USCIS building because the USCIS field office director incorrectly asserted that she had authority to determine who could and could not enter the building. The report states that the HSI agents should have been allowed to enter the building immediately after they had identified themselves and explained their purpose. The USCIS field office director incorrectly asserted that USCIS policy prohibited making an arrest or detention at a USCIS facility.

Which brings us to the Senate and to the House - or Congress, which created the Department of Homeland Security and has oversight over it. Surely Congress can straighten things out, can't they? Well, a more recent report suggests that Congress is dysfunctional - and I'm NOT talking about the divisions between Republicans and Democrats.

The co-chairs of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense said in a statement that the “current congressional oversight structure is severely fractured, resulting in reactive policymaking that threatens America’s ability to combat biological threats."

In preparation for the organization of the 115th Congress, the co-chairs of the panel wrote Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chair of the House Committee on Rules, asking that special consideration be given to the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Homeland Security regarding biodefense and security.

“The issues facing the safety of our homeland are a priority for Congress and the constituents you serve,” wrote panel co-chairman former Sen. Joe Lieberman and the first Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Tom Ridge. “However, the current congressional oversight structure is severely fractured, diluting focus and often resulting in reactive policymaking.”

The authors noted that two independent, bipartisan review Commissions – the Kean-Hamilton 9/11 Commission and the Graham-Talent WMD Commission – called for a more centralized oversight structure in Congress to provide a greater focus on national security programs.

I'll get back to this in a minute, but first let's see what the biodefense panel said.

“While the House did create the Homeland Security Committee in response to the 9/11 Commission recommendations, jurisdiction of the agencies that were moved to the DHS remains with other committees,” their letter to session said.

“This decentralized framework does a disservice to Congress by diminishing its ability to effectively oversee and implement homeland security policy,” the letter continued. “As chairmen of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, we have become increasingly concerned that more than 20 congressional committees have biodefense jurisdiction, but only a small handful spend any time actually focusing on biodefense. This selective oversight reflects insufficient congressional engagement related to many of the most significant biodefense challenges America faces.”

On the one hand, the blue ribbon panel has a good point. How can we expect DHS to behave in a unified fashion when its work is being authorized by more than 20 different congressional committees?

But on the other hand, why was the panel itself called the panel on biodefense? Why wasn't it called the panel on homeland security? They pretty much are saying that they care about biodefense and that's it. In the same way, the 9/11 Commission probably didn't give a hoot about the Coast Guard, and the WMD Commission didn't give a hoot about any DHS stuff not having to do with WMDs.

What we're seeing from all sides is a fracturization of purpose - the organization itself is fractured, the Congressional oversight committees are fractured, and the independent panels and commissions are fractured. Rampant fracturization, indeed!

Or perhaps not. Fracturization is probably a Department of Energy issue.

Friday, October 21, 2016

This is only a test

And here is some text to go with the test.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Revisiting realtor Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford - providing the total picture for potential homeowners

Back in 2010, I wrote about a California realtor named Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford. I actually wrote about her in my music blog, for reasons that are apparent when you read the post. But today I'm concentrating on Wilson-Rutherford from a business sense - noting something that she does that smart salespeople do.

As part of what she does, Wilson-Rutherford provides helpful information to potential homeowners. This is a common service provided by realtors and other real estate agents; the realtor who helped me buy my home, Jeannette Ewing, also provides this information (in paper form).

In most cases, neither Wilson-Rutherford nor Ewing actually write the helpful hints that they provide. They get them from companies with which they are associated. But they still have to put their name behind them, and therefore take care regarding what is said on their behalf. Since both of them have been in real estate for decades, this is especially critical.

When you're trying to make a sale, you can take a short-term approach or a long-term approach. Both of these realtors are obviously in it for the long haul. An example from Wilson-Rutherford's blog will suffice. Now if a real estate agent is going for short-term business, you'd expect the agent's blog to be filled with stories such as "Yes, you can buy that house. Just put the down payment on your credit card!" But a recent Wilson-Rutherford post takes a decidedly different approach. Its title? "America's Most Competitive Renters: Why Many Are Choosing To Rent."

That's not the way to get the quick sale.

Across the country, young adults are waiting longer to buy homes, no matter where they fall in the income and credit brackets. They are also delaying marriage and starting families – events that often precipitate a home purchase. In many cases, these renters are also paying off student and credit card debt. Some may have graduated college during the Great Recession and are working their way through lost earning power.

However, some people are choosing to rent, even if they are qualified to purchase a home, as it allows for a flexible lifestyle. They want the option to be able to move for a job or perhaps they are attracted to a hip location full of amenities.

But, even if a renter has the salary, credit and down payment in order, a lack of housing inventory may be the driving factor in continuing to rent over buy. New research found that areas with the most qualified renters also have the fewest homes for sale, which is especially true of areas with strong job markets.

So why would Wilson-Rutherford (or Zillow, who actually wrote the story that Wilson-Rutherford posted) actively promote such a downer for the home-buying crowd?

I can think of at least two reasons.

First, this helps to educate her clientele. If someone is looking to buy a home in the Westside and inventory is low, Wilson-Rutherford can explain that to her clients.

The second reason relates to long-term planning. Maybe these millennial couples aren't looking to buy a home in 2016, but what if they pay their loans off in 2018, have a kid on the way, and are THEN ready to plant roots somewhere? Perhaps they'll remember that helpful realtor who provided good information on her website.

That's why Wilson-Rutherford provides that information on her website.

And that's why Ewing mails that helpful information to me. It's been years since I've seen seen her in person, but if I ever decide to sell this house, she wants to make sure that I remember her.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The causes of flight delays

When traveling, there are places at which I have slept on multiple occasions. For example, I have slept at the Hilton in Costa Mesa many times (I even blogged about my time in the hotel at least once), and I slept at the Westin Ottawa a few times during the early 2000s.

But there's another place where I've slept more than once.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

The first time was in June, when my family and I were flying from Dulles Airport to Ontario Airport, with a connecting stop in Dallas. Unfortunately for us, a major thunderstorm hit the Washington area while we were on the airplane waiting to take off. After a couple of hours on the plane, we returned to the terminal, and we ended up leaving several hours later than scheduled, missing our connecting flight to California. We arrived at Dallas around midnight, right around the time that the airport was distributing cots to other stranded passengers. After a few hours of restless sleep, we then boarded a flight for Ontario the following morning.

Come September, I was finishing up a business trip in Tampa, Florida, and waiting for my plane to arrive to take me to Dallas. Right before we were supposed to board, those of us with cell phones began receiving notifications of a multi-hour flight delay. Weather was not the culprit this time; a cracked windshield was. (You REALLY don't want to be up in the air with a cracked windshield.) So again I arrived late in Dallas, but by the time I got to my terminal for my connecting flight, the cots had all been distributed. (A helpful airport employee rounded up three blankets for me.)

So last week, when I happened to see a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding flight delays, I was definitely interested. The report only covered August, and not the months of MY delayed flights (June and September), but it was still interesting to see the causes of the delays.

In August, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 22.43 percent of their flights were delayed – 6.35 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 6.39 percent in July; 7.65 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 8.64 percent in July; 6.04 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 6.68 percent in July; 0.67 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.86 percent in July; and 0.04 percent for security reasons, equal to 0.04 percent in July. In addition, 1.38 percent of flights were canceled and 0.30 percent were diverted.

So my June delay would be classified as "extreme weather." Not sure how the September delay would be classified - while the cracked windshield was a "maintenance" problem, was that truly within the airline's control?

But the biggest cause of airline delays in August was due to late-arriving aircraft. Unfortunately, the report doesn't dig into the question of WHY the aircraft were late - for example, was it due to extreme weather at the takeoff airport?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Flexing your job muscles

If you don't want to go to an office and work at a set time five days per week, there are other options for work. You can become an independent contractor with Uber or Lyft. Or you can work as a real employee for a real company. FlexJobs has released a list of the top 250 companies for flex work, where flex work is defined as "a professional-level job that has a telecommuting, flexible schedule, part-time or freelance component."

The top five companies on the list are either temporary placement firms (Kelly Services, Robert Half) or tech companies (IBM, Dell, AT&T). As you peruse the list, you can also see healthcare, government, and other industries represented.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Perhaps @humanworkplace should cover THIS company

If you haven't heard of Liz Ryan, she is a regular contributor to Forbes who writes about outmoded human resources practices. Her theme is that there are some practices that not only damage employees or potential employees, but also damage the companies themselves.

There's a story floating around that's right up Ryan's alley.

Someone was applying for a director of engineering position. Actually, he wasn't applying for it; someone sought HIM out. Why? Probably because of his experience.

I started coding 37 years ago (I was 11 years old) and never stopped since then. Beyond having been appointed as R&D Director 24 years ago (I was 24 years old), among (many) other works, I have since then designed and implemented the most demanding parts of TWD's R&D projects* – all of them delivering commercial products...

So presumably the director position is not an entry-level position where the employee is expected to do things by rote.

Or is it?

During a phone interview, things began to go awry around question 5.

5. What is a Linux inode?

Me: a unique file identifier for any given file system.

Recruiter: wrong, it's file metadata.

Me: the inode is an index uniquely identifying a file on a given filesystem, and you can lookup this index to fetch file attributes like size, time, owner and permissions; you can even add your own attributes on some file systems.

Recruiter: wrong, not "attributes", it's "metadata".

I should disclose that I would have bombed out of the test at question 1. But note the tone of the recruiter, and how the recruiter is proceeding with the interview. This becomes extremely obvious by the time the recruiter gets to question 7.

7. what is the name of the KILL signal?

Me: SIGKILL which #define is set to 9.

Recruiter: no, it's "TERMINATE".

Me: SIGTERM (15) is different from the KILL signal (9).

Recruiter: that's not the answer I have on my sheet of paper.

I don't know about your experience, but the people that I have seen in a Director position (or even in a Senior Manager or Manager position) have to respond to changing circumstances, sometimes with insufficient data. In other words, the answers to things that a Director faces are not things that you have on a sheet of paper.

Yet the recruiter insisted upon only accepting the official answer in front of him/her. This continued until ten questions had been asked, with the applicant explaining his rationale for the answers he provided, and the recruiter continuing to insist on the "right" answer.

As far as the recruiter was concerned, the applicant was grossly unqualified to work at the recruiter's company because he didn't provide the right answers.

The company?

Google, according to applicant Pierre Gauthier.

It's important to note that this part of the process was a specialized test rather than a general interview. But this particular interviewer apparently wasn't looking for creative solutions. In fact, while we're only getting a second-hand account of the recruiter's responses, it's quite possible that the recruiter didn't know anything about coding at all, and was just looking for the magic words on the all-important sheet of paper.

After the fact, Gauthier commented that even Google itself disagreed with the "right answers" that the recruiter had on the sheet of paper. After noting that the recruiter insisted that Quicksort is the best sorting method, Gauthier noted, "The Linux kernel (that Google relies on) opted for Heapsort rather than Quicksort... for its lower memory usage and more predictable execution time."

But Gauthier saved his best dig for the end of his post. Not the text at the end of the post, but a footnote at the end of the post (before subsequent updates).

(**) Google pagerank: the ultra-secret mathematical formula demonstrating that sponsored search results rank higher than reality can.

P.S. Hopefully the recruiter doesn't work in the Blogger part of Google now. If he/she does, this may be my last post outside of tymshft.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Luckily, you cannot take an OCTA bus to a UK Cabinet meeting

[DISCLOSURE: Read the rather lengthy financial disclosure in my September 12 Empoprise-IE post about the OCTA.]

Most industries realize the benefits of making the purchase process frictionless. (My industry chooses to use a different term, because if you're frictionless, then your fingers don't have friction ridges and an automated fingerprint identification system doesn't work.) Transportation systems are no exception.

If you're an older person who rides the bus, then you probably remember how you were once urged, "don't carry cash." So you buy a bus ticket or a bus pass - but that's a hassle because you have to go to the bus station or the grocery store or wherever to buy the ticket or the pass, and you have to carry cash to the place of purchase, kinda sorta defeating the purpose.

In Orange County, California, there's an app for that:

Beginning October 9, eliminate the hassle of carrying paper passes or exact change by using our new OC Bus Mobile Ticketing app on all fixed-route buses. Buy your bus fare anytime, anywhere from your smartphone, then activate your ticket when you’re ready to ride.

The app is available for both iOS and Android devices, but is presently not available for the Apple Watch. Just as well, since wearing an Apple Watch to take the bus somewhere may render you unable to enter your destination. (Although I doubt any offices in Santa Ana, California are banning Apple Watches just yet.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Internet of Things that can't be brought into the room

Tech is supposed to connect us, but sometimes people worry that it connects us too well.

Years ago, you couldn't bring a smartphone into the San Bernardino County courthouse in Rancho Cucamonga. Presumably a whole bunch of lawyers had to go out and buy "feature phones" (i.e., dumbphones) so that they could get their work done. Eventually, the courthouse relaxed this restriction.

Years ago, you couldn't wear Google Glass in Shotwell's Bar. (But you could bring smartphones in, which could do the same thing.) Eventually, the market relaxed this restriction when Google Glass went bye-bye.

Now, if you're a tech-weenie who wants to join the Cabinet in the United Kingdom (motto: Europe sucks but please like us Europe), you may have to make a change in your life:

Under David Cameron, several cabinet ministers wore the smart watches, including Michael Gove, the former Justice Secretary.

However, under Theresa May ministers have been barred from wearing them amid concerns that they could be used by hackers as listening devices.

Again, one wonders why the Cabinet is only banning smartwatches. (Actually, it appears that they're only banning APPLE smartwatches.)

By Justin14 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If they're so concerned about security, what about the possibility of hacking the mic on a smartphone? Or killing someone by hacking a pacemaker?

All of these things are possible, but that does not mean that they're highly probable.

Is the threat of hacking an Apple Watch truly as great as some fear, or is the UK Cabinet being ridiculously overcautious?

Of course, this may depend upon whether or not you work for Apple or benefit from Apple. Somehow I bet that the Irish government isn't going to ban Apple Watches in government meetings any time soon.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

#icymi October so far on Empoprise-BI (and tymshft too)

There have been a variety of posts on the Empoprise-BI business blog so far in October. Although Empoprise-IE (my Inland Empire blog), Empoprise-MU (my music blog), and Empoprise-NTN (my NTN Buzztime blog) have been quiet this month, a tymshft post may be of interest to Empoprise-MU readers.

Saturday, October 1
#psl So-called Pumpkin Spice Latte - Butternut Eugenol Latte?

By George Chernilevsky - Own work, Public Domain,

...So pumpkin pie doesn't have pumpkin, and pumpkin spice doesn't have the spices you'd expect. So I guess your pumpkin spice latte is really a butternut eugenol latte.

At least the latte has real milk, doesn't it?...


Monday, October 3
#louisedelage #instagram #viral #hashtag3 #hashtag4 #hashtag5 #hashtag6 #hashtag7

...20-30 hashtags! For someone like me who initially encountered hashtags on Twitter, the idea is mind-boggling. But Instagram (and Facebook) allow multiple hashtags, so why not make use of them?...


Tuesday, October 4
Kmart, 1962-2017??? (the October 3 rebuttal)

Eddie Lampert of Sears Holdings takes issue with reports of Kmart's impending demise....


Wednesday, October 5
Rise and fall, indeed – Madness looks back

In 2011, Kronenbourg shared a two-minute beer advertisement in which some older men sang a song in a pub, then walked out. Well, most of them walked out; the saxophone player kinda sorta drifted away.

For some of the younger viewers of the ad, it was probably an entertaining commercial, though they wouldn’t get mad about it.


Thursday, October 6
The organizational implications of Yahoo's email scanning

...In essence, one part of Yahoo made a change to Yahoo's internal systems without letting the security group know about it. To its credit, the security group discovered the change on its own (although one could argue that in the ideal world, the change should have been noticed within minutes, not weeks)....


The organizational implications of Yahoo's email scanning

There are certainly a number of ways that one can go with the recent revelation that Yahoo scanned emails for a certain character string at the request of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), but I want to focus on one aspect of Yahoo's actions.

According to Reuters, Yahoo's actions were known by some affected departments, but not others.

[Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa] Mayer and Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell did not involve the company's security team in the process, instead asking Yahoo's email engineers to write a program to siphon off messages containing the character string the spies sought and store them for remote retrieval, according to the sources.

The sources said the program was discovered by Yahoo's security team in May 2015, within weeks of its installation. The security team initially thought hackers had broken in.

In essence, one part of Yahoo made a change to Yahoo's internal systems without letting the security group know about it. To its credit, the security group discovered the change on its own (although one could argue that in the ideal world, the change should have been noticed within minutes, not weeks).

There were probably political reasons for this. Yahoo's then-Chief Information Security Officer, Alex Stamos, was publicly on the record as opposing NSA efforts to obtain information from U.S. Internet companies. In fact, Stamos is now at Facebook - Reuters claims that he resigned after he learned of Yahoo's cooperation with the NSA.

Before assuming that everyone Mayer did was bad, the question should be asked - was there a valid reason for keeping the CISO in the dark about this effort?

One could claim that this was a legal matter and not a security matter. In addition, since the request was from the NSA, the existence of the program should only be revealed on a "need to know" basis - and one could claim that the CISO's job was to keep outsiders out of the system, and not to monitor what was going on in the inside.

As you might discern, I'm having a hard time making this argument. One of the greatest threats to a company is its own employees, and if a Yahoo employee is siphoning off email information - even if it is at the request of the NSA - the CISO should have been informed about it.

Would other Internet companies have behaved in the same way? Or, more importantly, DID they behave in the same way? As of now, the other companies are claiming that they didn't cooperate with the NSA, but you never know.

The important lesson is that when you change a system, ALL of the people affected by the decision should be informed of it.

And now we just have to wait for Julian Assange or a disgruntled ex-Yahoo employee to leak the email exchanges regarding the discovery of the email scans.

Or, maybe we don't have to wait. An unreliable source has just provided me with said email exchange, which you will not find anywhere else. (Hint, hint.)

To: Alex Stamos
From: Jane Jones
Subject: Skimming


Attached are the logs that show that an internal program is skimming all Yahoo emails. The skimmer appears to be looking for a character string. To implement the program, the hacker gained privileges reserved to the most senior members of the email programming team. As a precaution, I recommend that we disable the senior privileges effective immediately.

= = =

To: Jane Jones
From: Alex Stamos
Subject: Re: Skimming

Jane, let me check around first. I have a bad feeling that these weren't outside hackers.

= = =

To: Jane Jones
From: Alex Stamos
Subject: Re: Skimming

Jane, hold off on those privileges. This program was authorized by Marissa, and the results are going to the NSA.

= = =

To: Alex Stamos
From: Jane Jones
Subject: Re: Skimming

Wisconsin Tourism Federation?

= = =

To: Jane Jones
From: Alex Stamos
Subject: Re: Skimming

Yeah. Um, don't tell anyone, but I'm driving down to Menlo Park. Gotta talk to someone about something.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Kmart, 1962-2017??? (the October 3 rebuttal)

Eddie Lampert of Sears Holdings takes issue with reports of Kmart's impending demise.

First, Kmart continues to operate over 700 stores. Second, a significant number of these stores are profitable and have been profitable for many years. Third, we have been clear that we are intent on improving the performance of our unprofitable stores and, if we cannot, we will close them. Actions to improve our store productivity, including reducing inventory stored in the stockrooms, are designed to make our stores easier to operate and to eliminate unproductive inventory and processes.

The comments on inventory reduction address previous concerns that I discussed in July, and Lampert also addressed store closures, including the latesr round that I discussed in September.

Let's see what happens after Christmas.

Monday, October 3, 2016

#louisedelage #instagram #viral #hashtag3 #hashtag4 #hashtag5 #hashtag6 #hashtag7

I've been around hashtags for a while, but I sometimes forget that hashtags have spread well beyond Twitter - something that has implications for the ways in which hashtags are used.

AdWeek recently posted an article about the carefully-planned viral sensation Louise Delage, whose Instagram posts erupted over the summer until Addict Aide revealed, "Hey, did you realize that Louise is holding a drink in all of her Instagram pictures? Ever thought about...ADDICTION?"

So how did Louise go viral? By various techniques, including this one:

To ensure the content was found, each post included a mix of 20-30 hashtags related to fashion, food, nature and parties.

20-30 hashtags! For someone like me who initially encountered hashtags on Twitter, the idea is mind-boggling. But Instagram (and Facebook) allow multiple hashtags, so why not make use of them?

I'll confess that I personally don't care for the practice (sorry, Emilie) - it just strikes me as odd when the hashtags are longer than the original message.

But then again, if it helps people to find your content, then I guess it's worth it.

P.S. Also see Unfortunately, I was unable to locate any fanfiction about Louise Delage throwing up in a Paris street, late at night; perhaps it's only available in French. And for another commentary on the difference between one's social media image and one's reality, see this.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

#psl So-called Pumpkin Spice Latte - Butternut Eugenol Latte?

I am not one of those who goes hog wild over pumpkin spice latte - or PSL as the kewl kids call it. No, I reserve my adoration for the "real" thing - pumpkin pie.

Except that pumpkin pie is misnamed, since canned pumpkin pie mixes usually contain some other type of winter squash, according to Food and Wine's Emma Crist.

Pumpkin puree: You know, the canned orange stuff that’s lining the supermarket walls right now? The stuff you use to make all your favorite fall desserts that’s labeled “100% pumpkin”?! Yes, well, it’s actually made from 100% not pumpkin. The mix is made from a variety of winter squash (think butternut, Golden Delicious, Hubbard, and more). Libby’s, the brand that produces about 85% of the country’s canned “pumpkin” filling, has actually developed a certain variety of squash that they grow, package, and distribute to supermarkets across the country–all the while fooling innocent, trusting consumers into believing they’re eating a pumpkin.

By George Chernilevsky - Own work, Public Domain,

In a way, that doesn't matter, since the secret to pumpkin pie isn't the pumpkin or squash or whatever, but the spices. Here's what the Satan worshippers at the Old Farmer's Almanac say should be in pumpkin spice:

⅓ cup ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg or mace
1-½ teaspoons ground cloves
1-½ teaspoons ground allspice

So that's what you enjoy when you eat that pumpkin pie - I mean spice pie - and that's what you enjoy when you go to Starbucks and get that Squash Spice Latte (not to be confused with Secure Sockets Layer).

Although that's not true either:

As food scientist Kantha Shelke explains, flavor companies have come up with a simplified recipe that includes just a few of the chemicals that occur naturally in pumpkin and cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg. A small selection of those flavor compounds is enough to make our brain think, "Ah, pumpkin pie!"

Instead of actual nutmeg, for instance, they use a compound called sabinene. Instead of cloves, they use eugenol.

According to Shelke, this simplified recipe actually does a better job of capturing the essence of pumpkin pie flavor than you'd probably achieve with the natural spices from your cupboard. What you'd get, in that case, would resemble India-style spiced tea, or chai.

So pumpkin pie doesn't have pumpkin, and pumpkin spice doesn't have the spices you'd expect. So I guess your pumpkin spice latte is really a butternut eugenol latte.

At least the latte has real milk, doesn't it?
Well, that's a semantic issue.

Vani Hari, a blogger who writes as the Food Babe, depicted Starbucks lattes as full of “Monsanto Milk” in an article “Wake Up and Smell the Chemicals.” (Hari’s views have been widely debunked as wildly unscientific and sometimes nonsensical.)

And since I didn't entitle this post "Butternut Eugenol Monsanto Milk," you know how I feel about the Food Babe.

By the way, before you freak out about eugenol, it's about as dangerous as dihydrogen monoxide.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When is a non-government a government?

As I've been observing the continuing skirmishes between the European Union and various business (notably technology businesses), something struck me.

On its simplest level, each of these skirmishes can be characterized as battles between a government and a business. We know what a business is, but I figured I'd ask myself what a government is - especially given the unique nature of the European Union itself.

As a starting point, I looked at Merriam-Webster's definition. This definition basically talks about persons or systems or processes that "control and make decisions" for a political unit such as a country or state. The definition doesn't say anything about elections or citizens or democracy, because many governments in the world don't have elections or citizen participation; North Korea comes to mind. So based upon Merriam-Webster's definition, the people/systems/processes associated with Kim Jong Un constitute the government of North Korea, and the people/systems/processes associated with Barack Obama and Paul Ryan and others constitute the government of the United States.

But are there other entities that "control and make decisions"?

Even if you don't completely subscribe to conspiracy theories, there are non-governmental authorities that control and make decisions in my country. It's open to debate whether the Federal Reserve is governmental or non-governmental, but the three credit bureaus are clearly non-governmental.

And those technical companies that are the bane of EU bureaucrats certainly make decisions that could be characterized as controlling. Take the "right to be forgotten." The EU government may proclaim that a certain person may be deleted from search engine results, but even if Google were to agree to delete those results for Europeans accessing (rather than or, the European can simply tunnel to a US domain provider and access to see stories of forgotten persons. And if Google were to choose to eliminate European forgotten people from ALL of its sites, then it would be taking a controlling stance against governments of the United States, which are (at least theoretically) committed to freedom of speech. Oh, and Brexit could complicate the situation.

So...what is a government?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Meatspace is still important

Exactly five years ago, on September 20, 2011, I wrote the following:

Even if you have the best videoconferencing equipment - and most of us don't - a virtual presence cannot substitute for a physical one.

This was borne out for me recently as I was taking my morning walk at work. I spotted a guy walking in a neighboring parking lot. One of his hands was holding a phone to his ear. As he talked, the other hand was pointing and making other gestures.

And in this case, the other people on the call literally did not know what the caller's other hand was doing.

You may object and say that the guy should have been on a video call rather than an audio call. But if he did that, he wouldn't be able to walk around the parking lot.

And forget about walking around the parking lot if you're wearing VR goggles.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Kmart, 1962-2017??? (the September 19 edition)

Remember my July post that included employee speculation that Kmart's "path to profitability" was really a path to store closure?

The speculation was that stores would close after the Christmas season.

Well, it turns out that speculation was absolutely and positively wrong, according to Business Insider.

On Friday, Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart, informed Kmart employees in at least 13 states that their stores would be closing in mid-December....

These stores aren't even staying open through the Christmas shopping season. Not a good sign...

Friday, September 16, 2016

Traveling fans - when the Rams (and the Raiders) move to another city

My buddies at the Orange County Transportation Authority have announced an easy way for Orange County football fans to attend the Rams home game in Los Angeles this Sunday.

Why would the OCTA go through this effort?

Because there was a period when the Los Angeles Rams, despite having "Los Angeles" in the name, were actually based in Orange County. (Rita Moreno of Arte knows the feeling.) Despite the two decades during which the Rams were in Missouri, apparently there are enough people in Orange County who still love the Rams, and are excited about boarding a Metrolink train that will take them to Union Station; the fans will then take Metro to the Coliseum to see their beloved Rams.

But Ram faithfulness has nothing on Raider faithfulness. I guess I never told the complete story about my trip to San Francisco for Oracle OpenWorld 2007. Oh, I alluded to it in a post at Ontario International Airport, and a follow-up picture post. In brief, that year I chose to fly to Oakland rather than San Francisco, and then take BART across the bay to the Moscone Covention Center area.

On a Sunday morning.

When the Oakland Raiders were playing on a Sunday afternoon.

You can guess who was on my Ontario to Oakland flight - it was me and the Raider Nation. This flight was a little more boisterous than your average airline flight, but it was fun.

Of course, this raises the question - if Orange County fans are taking the train to Rams games, and if Inland Empire fans are (or were) taking the plane to Raiders games, are any fans from St. Louis also making the trip to Los Angeles?

Probably not:

A year ago, a San Francisco 49ers touchdown run against the Rams would have been cause for despair at the Hot Shots Bar & Grill in suburban St. Louis. On Monday night, it was cause for celebration.

About 50 or so patrons cheered every Rams mistake and every 49ers success during the Monday Night Football game, the first since Rams owner Stan Kroenke took his football team back to Los Angeles after a 21-year stay in St. Louis.

And Brooklyn residents probably don't fly to Chavez Ravine either.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Living wages and prison worker strikes

I have previously noted that the "living wage" discussion does not extend to prisoners. Prisoners perform work, such as farming tilapia and fighting fires. And sometimes they get as little as 74 cents an hour for the work.

(Not including housing.)

Needless to say, the prisoners are not happy about this, and today prisoners in 24 states are participating in a strike.

One of the issues - "slave labor." Here's part of what the organizing groups said back in April:

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

As even this call to action notes, sub-minimum wages for prisoners - or no wages at all - are Constitutional - at least in government prisons. Private entities have different rules sometimes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Eight years after the education president left office, post-secondary education is hurting

For-profit universities aren't having the best time of it. ITT Technical Institutes is shutting down, Marinello Schools of Beauty shut down earlier this year, and (in case you haven't heard) Trump University has issues.

So why aren't people fleeing to the relative security of non-profit educational institutions?

Because they have their own problems.

I've already talked about Mount St. Mary's University's issues - partly due to privatization efforts, partly due to angering the faculty.

But one way to take care of faculty issues is to close down a program, just getting rid of troublesome faculty.

Six days before the start of the fall semester at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), a group of Master’s candidates and professors received an email from the dean of students informing them that their program was suspended and they would not be teaching or studying as planned. As a result, 17 accepted students and two longtime professors teaching in PNCA’s Critical Theory and Creative Research (CTCR) program were left disillusioned — and, in the case of the professors, unemployed. The college says the program was suspended because of under-enrollment and a delicate financial situation, but students and teachers claim CTCR was eliminated unethically and possibly in retaliation for expressions of dissent against recent changes in the school’s administration.

Here is how PNCA framed the issue:

The June 17 contract written for the co-chairs of the program required 13 qualified students enrolled with deposits by August 15, 2016 for the program to go forward. As of August 15, while 17 students had been admitted into the program, just five of those students committed to the program with deposits, and only one student actually enrolled.

But even the PNCA's press release hints at disarray.

The MA in Critical Theory and Creative Research was originally ​ launched in 2012. At the time, the founding co-chairs of the program were hired with a three-year contract.

In 2015, in response to feedback from students about the accelerated nature of the program, the Graduate Curriculum Committee (a standing committee of Faculty Senate), re-envisioned the MA in Critical Theory and Creative Research as a two-year program and as a dual MA/MFA degree.

Once the Graduate Curriculum Committee approved a two-year CTCR program, a search committee was formed to hire a chair for the new program. The founding co-chairs did not reapply. A chair was hired but withdrew in spring of 2016.

In brief, the program started as a one-year program. After moves were made to change it to a two-year program, the incumbent heads decided not to apply, and the person who was hired to run the two-year program then had second thoughts.

But Hyperallergenic notes other issues:

In April, Hyperallergic reported on a series of protests by PNCA students and staff after a group of adjunct professors was unceremoniously left without work for the coming school year.

Perhaps Mount St. Mary's and PNCA are outside the norm, but all universities, whether for-profit or non-profit, are faced with the task of getting enough money to keep the doors open. Sometimes this means that the college president is pretty much a fundraiser and that's it. Sometimes it means that the schools use adjunct professors and teaching assistants to keep costs down. And sometimes it means grade inflation.

So, what's the solution?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

#empoexpiire An opposing view in praise of password expiration

If you know me, you know I'm not a fan of forced password expiration. However, I figured that I'd share this argument from a discussion of the 2012 Dropbox breach. After recommending that people not use the same password on multiple accounts, author Warwick Ashford said:

The breach only affects those Dropbox users who have not changed their passwords since 2012. By changing passwords regularly, even if breaches occur, they will be useful to hackers only for a limited time.

Businesses that force employees to change passwords regularly will also have reduced their exposure if any employees had used the same password for their Dropbox account, as well as any internal or other business-related accounts.

According to a TeleSign report, 47% of online account holders rely on a password that has not been changed for five years.

This does not negate what I've previously noted - people who are forced to change their passwords end up choosing simple, bad passwords - but it is something to consider.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

It's almost time for #ebimara16

I announced this last Monday, but perhaps you missed the announcement.

So what is this? Basically, I'm hosting something on my Facebook page - a retrospective of posts from the early years of the Empoprise-BI business blog. Now I know that when I originally announced this on August 29, I didn't limit myself to the early years. But once I began going through old posts, I pretty much tuckered out after selecting a few posts from 2009 and 2010 (plus a few more from 2011 and 2012).

So if your favorite Empoprise-BI post was written last year, it won't be part of #ebimara16 - unless I change my mind.

So what's going to happen? Roughly an hour after this post appears, or a little after midnight Pacific Daylight Time, links to old posts will start appearing at Some are serious; some are funny; some are out there; and there's one about baseball.


P.S. As of now, #ebimara16 is not a 24 hour event. It will only last part of the day...again, unless I change my mind.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I finally revealed the Empoprises Rule of Fair Food!

I've been hinting at it for a long time.

A long time.

But I finally wrote down the Empoprises Rule of Fair Food in a comment on Google Plus.

My "Empoprises Rule of Fair Food" (never officially written until today) consists of (1) taking any food, (2) putting the word "fried" in front of it, and (3) putting the word "stick" after it

Actually I meant "on a stick," so make your own manual correction. Example: fried Pop Tart on a stick. (And yes, fried Pop Tarts have been done.)

Why did I reveal it now? Because Cara just shared a link to Eater's State Fair Food Generator.

Try it out. (The generator, not the food.)

But mine is easier.

Beeping oven probe ports - KitchenAid, Dacor, whatever

Unless you're Louise Hay, you've probably had problems with your appliances at some point. Luckily, there are people that can help, such as those at Just Answer.

Someone recently had this problem:

Dacor Oven model ECS2275 PRB - probe is flashing and beeping. I was wiping down the oven with a damp (not wet) sponge and PRB started flashing and beeping on the display. How do I turn this off?

Now most people are stumped when they see a problem like this.

But not you, the Empoprise-BI business blog reader. Perhaps you saw my 2009 post on the topic. (I just might include that post in #ebimara16.) Or maybe my 2010 post. Or my 2011 post. Or my other 2011 post. That one appeared near Thanksgiving. Or my 2012 post. Or my 2013 post.

Well, since I've taken a couple of years' vacation from talking about oven temperature sensor probes that beep, it's understandable that the person above turned to Just Answer for help.

Power the unit off and take and airduster can and blow out the probe port really good and then power the oven back on it should clear.

You'd think that after years of this issue, they'd come up with a probe port that isn't sensitive to humidity.