Friday, July 31, 2009

Group policy extensions, msi installers, and Firefox

As I've mentioned previously, sometimes I blog when I don't understand something, and I use the blogging process to help me understand it.

One thing that I don't understand is some of the internal security workings underneath web browsers. As part of a discussion which I am not at liberty to disclose, two terms were thrown around: "group policy extensions" and "an official msi installer." I figured that I'd better educate myself in these (at least enough so that I can do some damage).

To understand group policy extensions, I need to understand group policy, which has been around for a while:

In Windows 2000 Group Policies define user and computer configurations for groups of users and computers. Group Policy settings are contained in a Group Policy Object (GPO) which is associated with selected Active Directory objects, such as sites, domains or organizational units (OUs).

Wikipedia included a layman's definition:

In other words, group policy in part controls what users can and can't do on a computer system.

So where is such a beast used?

Although group policy is more often seen in use in enterprise environments, it is also common in schools, smaller businesses and other kinds of smaller organizations. Group policy is often used to restrict certain actions that may pose potential security risks, for example: to block access to the Task Manager, restrict access to certain folders, disable the downloading of executable files and so on.

But what about the extension part? This might apply:

When a group policy is being processed on a Windows-based computer, client-side extensions are the components that interpret the stored policy and make the appropriate changes to the environment.

This is probably an appropriate time to explore msi installers. Of course, it would help if I knew what "msi" meant. PC Magazine told me:

(MicroSoft Installer)

More information is provided here:

The installer, which is available in Visual Studio and other stand-alone programs, compresses the application into .MSI "package" files, and the MSIEXEC.EXE program in the Windows PC performs the installation. Transform files (.MST) provide language translation and other dynamic changes at install time.

So how does this affect web browsers? Well, let's take a look at what is offered for Firefox - not from Mozilla, but from FrontMotion:

MSI installers for Mozilla Firefox! Useful for installing Firefox on a single computer for the home user or deploying across thousands of computers automatically with Microsoft's Active Directory. Use Firefox on your corporate computers to decrease virus incidents and increase overall security. Save time and frustration with our installer that is targeted toward the corporate IT administrator with manageability and upgradeability in mind. This is not just a wrapper around the exe installer nor is it another half baked 'captured' install. The files contained in this MSI are the official binaries.

But what about group policy?

FrontMotion Firefox Community Edition is a customized version of Firefox with the ability to lockdown settings through Active Directory using Administrative Templates. Similar to lockdown settings with mozilla.cfg on one computer, you can now use Administrative Templates to enforce settings across your organization. Use Firefox on your corporate computers to decrease virus incidents and increase overall security. Save time and frustration with our installer that is targeted toward the corporate IT administrator with manageability and upgradeability in mind.

Now when you start talking about packages, then you go to FrontMotion's Firefox Packaging Service:

This service is for people who need more functionality than the free Firefox MSI packages (more info). You can use choose a Firefox version, a language and up to ten extensions. Press a button and in a few minutes you can download your customized package ready for deployment. It is fast, easy and inexpensive compared to any other packaging services.

So it sounds like a corporation can use the FrontMotion tools to control the deployment of Firefox throughout the organization. Yes, but some IT managers aren't convinced:

Don't specifically allow or officially support Firefox because it's an administrative nightmare in a large environment. Until there are officially supported GPO templates (supported by Microsoft or at least Mozilla) I won't do it. It's not enough to have some community developed templates, in a corporate environment I need guaranteed, documented support.

In addition, the same thread included concerns about depending upon FrontMotion itself:

FrontMotion looks like a one-man company, and it appears that FrontMotion releases packages anywhere from a few days to a few weeks behind the official mozilla release (compared the firefox wiki page and the FrontMotion front page dates).

I would also worry that something could happen (that one person's interest in the project wanes, they get sick/hit by a bus) and I would have x computers on my network with a version of firefox that has a massive security vulnerability while I would be scrambling to package something myself or find another deployment method.


Someone else posted a list of why FrontMotion wasn't an ideal solution:

1. I need WSUS, so I get IE patching as part of an existing system.

2. No official MSI

3. No official GPOs

4. FrontMotion releases lag way behind the official ones, in some cases they lag so long they miss point releases. They don't even manage to announce every release they make to their own mailing list.

5. I get reports on IE updates via WSUS, but I only have AD deployment for Firefox and get no reports on installation success and so have no oversight of the number of vulnerabilities out there.

6. The FrontMotion GPOs are incapable of setting defaults and not locking them out.

7. Certain Firefox settings are still controlled via .js files which means now including scripting to roll them out, this eliminates the per-user method and this means that it's useless for home workers who never get the computer scripts at startup.

8. And of course, not all the apps we use (either in-house or outside) support anything other than IE.


I'll grant that I don't have the technical knowledge to evaluate these claims - generally, when you just learn what "msi" stands for, you probably don't have the technical knowledge to evaluate these claims - but it sounds like the issues can be boiled down as follows:

  • Finger-pointing. One advantage of Microsoft the near-monopolist is that you only have to go to one entity for support in many cases. If you want to manage Internet Explorer on a Windows network, you should (at least theoretically) just dial up Redmond and get help. Compare this to the people who are using FrontMotion to deploy a Mozilla browser on the Windows operating system; things can potentially get a little sticky.

  • Dealing with a "real company." Now the argument can certainly be made that small firms are more agile than large firms, and that open source software can be better supported than proprietary software, but those arguments may not penetrate the corporate boardroom. I personally have dealt with a one-person company before, and I can attest that problems can occur even if the one person is passionate about what he or she does. There will be many companies that will opt for the less risky Microsoft solution.
So if you're in Dilbert cubicle world, and you're wondering why the idiots in IT won't let you use the latest kewl warez, or even the latest solid tech offerings, the IT people have their reasons.

When things get too small...

...make them bigger.

Universal remote at Brookstone.

The real investor

America is a wonderful land for people to control business. In this great land of ours, the individual investor has immense power over corporations. In reality, it is not the chairman of the corporation that runs it, but the individual investors, who have the power to dismiss the entire board at any time.

In a word, poppycock.

Your ten shares of Apple stock aren't going to force the company to supply Steve Jobs' blood pressure readings, and even your two hundred shares of GM stock are...well, they're worthless.

But there are some investors that have a bit more power than most - namely, the pension funds. And out my way, we have the pension fund of all pension funds, the California Public Employees Retirement System, fondly known as Calpers. So all of the right-wingers who rail against the danged unions and their control over the California legislature don't know half the story. Because Calpers, due to its investment power, has the ability to influence the businesses in which they invest.

And they also potentially have power over the entities that provide investors with advice. And they're not happy with the advice that they received:

The nation’s largest public pension fund has filed suit in California state court in connection with $1 billion in losses that it says were caused by “wildly inaccurate” credit ratings from the three leading ratings agencies....

Calpers maintains that in giving [structured investment vehicles] the agencies’ highest credit rating, the three top ratings agencies — Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch — “made negligent misrepresentation” to the pension fund


More here at the New York Times.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friendster. I sort of remember.

I never used Friendster myself, but I wrote about it back in 2004, when they fired Joyce "Troutgirl" Park. I doubt that Park's firing was the final nail in the coffin for Friendster, but I certainly didn't see a surge of popularity afterwards.

But now it's 2009, and the Los Angeles Times reports that Jonathan Abrams is adopting a "been there, done that" attitude.

Before the founders of a little-known social network called ConnectU cried foul about Facebook stealing its ideas, MySpace was replicating then-top network Friendster, according to Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams.

"I don't think there's anyone who has had their stuff copied more than me," Abrams said over lunch in San Francisco recently....

[Abrams] soon learned that being first doesn't necessarily mean you'll come out on top....

Coping with the torrent of growth in 2004, Friendster replaced the shaky computer systems that had been running the site with "worse technology," Abrams said.


Ah, NOW in 2009 you can publicly say that there were problems with Friendster's internal systems. But to be fair, Abrams can't necessarily be blamed for Park's firing, since Abrams himself was dumped as CEO.

In Abrams' view, Friendster was done in by a combination of the technical issues, and MySpace's duplication of the FriendSter model.

"MySpace was basically saying, 'Hey, we copied it. And our site works. So, use us instead,' " Abrams said.

Oh, and despite my negative comments at the top of this post, I have to admit that Friendster is not dead:

The company is currently looking at ways to continue to grow its product in the Philippines and parts of Asia, where it's still relevant.

Oh thank heaven for emptiness

I previously wrote (twice) about how certain chain stores are moving into empty locations. While this sometimes enables small stores to get bigger, it can also enable small stores to stay small, but open in more places.

Of course to open a store you have to have money.

7-Eleven has money:

Already seemingly ubiquitous, 7-Eleven, the convenience store chain, is taking advantage of the weak commercial real estate market to carry out a major expansion plan.

The company — which now operates or franchises approximately 5,700 stores across the United States — announced its growth strategy in May, saying it would add more than 200 new outlets this year.


In the process of explaining how 7-Eleven could expand, Mike Friedman of CB Richard Ellis made a telling point:

"While the business is not recession-proof, it’s recession-resistant...."

So everyone who thought that municipal bonds were a safe investment should probably head to the Tokyo stock exchange.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The most meaningless phrase in telephone customer support

"Your call is important to us."

Um...no it's not.

If my call WERE important to you, you'd hire another 20,000 phone reps and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to do so.

So obviously my call isn't THAT important.

Just say "all of our representatives are busy" and leave it at that.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Your response is very important to me...wait...who am I kidding?

Cheap x-ray vision?

I found another source for cool neato stuff. notes from the ubiquitous surveillance society links to a post in the MIT Technology Review:

New terahertz-detecting technology could make "intimate" body-search-at-a-distance cameras as cheap and easy as conventional video shots....

[T]erahertz waves pass through most types of clothing, allowing "intimate" body searches at a distance.


David (Mr. Ubiquitous) is concerned:

I’m getting a genie-out-of-bottles feeling with this, but is it really as damaging to personal privacy as it feels? Does this really ‘reveal’ anything truly important?

In the political sense, one could claim that this rights the balance between the government and the people. Formerly, only the government could afford to do this type of surveillance, but now Joe or Mary could conduct their own surveillance on anyone - the government, their co-workers, the neighbor with a hot body.

Which brings us to the religious and moral sphere:

In some cultures, specially those that regard covering the body and modesty as being god-given, this is clearly going to present massive challenges to social and moral norms.

Biometrics for all

I work in the biometrics area, but there are some things that I'm seeing that just puzzle me.

The iHouse SmartFaucet got a lot of press in April, but I didn't hear about it until I read this July item from Craziest Gadgets.

The faucet has a facial recognition feature that can detect who is using the faucet. Once it figures out who you are, it will automatically set the water to your pre-programmed temperature and flow level preferences.

As long as the device is there, why not use it for other purposes?

The SmartFaucet has a touchscreen that you can not only use to set the water to your liking but you can check your e-mails, the temperature outside, your calendar and more. The internet has come to faucets people! This faucet has it all!

OK, perhaps we've extended biometrics to the bathroom faucet, but to my knowledge biometrics has not yet been extended to another bathroom appliance (although Google's TiSP Project indicates that Internet access has been expanded there).

P.S. Yeah, I stole the title of this post from a former co-worker's company.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The dangers of a name change

We all get junk mail, and we all also get "semi-junk" mail - namely, something that is tangentially related to our interests, but that we don't really care that much about. The semi-junk mail really can't be stopped, so you have to find a way to deal with it, or just ignore it manually.

One day last week I received an email from some outfit that I had never heard of before. In my Outlook summary windows, the sender of the email was shown to be "Rovi," and the subject of the email appeared as "From the desk of Fred Amoroso, CEO of Rovi Corporati...." I couldn't see the rest of the subject in my summary pane.

Having no idea who this Rovi was, I pretty much ignored the message at the time, but before I got around to deleting it, I happened to run across the message again and saw the full title:

From the desk of Fred Amoroso, CEO of Rovi Corporation, formerly Macrovision


Ah! I HAVE heard of Macrovision.

Now perhaps some people could argue that I should have heard the announcement of the name change, or I should have known who Fred Amoroso was. And they're right: I should have, and I should have. But I didn't.

And Rovi did everything right by putting "Macrovision" in the title. But they didn't realize that the word "Macrovision" never appeared in my summary Outlook view.

And perhaps one could argue that they should have used a different title that put Macrovision in the front. But if they want to push their new corporate name, why would they push their old one?

The takeaway from all of this? Get the right name in the first place.

(Now watch - I'll change the "Empoprises" name at some point and confuse everyone. I confused enough people when I stopped blogging under the "Ontario Emperor" name.)

Airlines, 2001 - 2009

A terrorist attack in 2001 and a recession in 2008 have combined to reduce the presence of the airline industry. The New York Times documents the decline:

[W]hen the latest round of capacity cuts takes effect in September, the seats on domestic flights will drop to 66.5 million — down from a peak of about 84 million in 2001 and the lowest September figure since 1984, according to OAG Aviation, which tracks flight schedules....

The industry has also been cutting jobs. In April, the total number of employees at American carriers was 583,030, down from 624,372 in 2007 and more than 24 percent below the peak in May 2001.

Globally, airline employment is also down significantly. The world’s carriers employed 1.48 million people in 2008, the latest figure available from the air transport association, down from 1.71 million in 2000.


I've documented the local (Ontario, California) effects of this decline, but Ontario International Airport obviously isn't the only entity that is affected.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Data will be used - just not by you

As data gets amassed, people are going to figure out a way to use it. The Los Angeles Times:

Airsage, the provider of vehicle traffic information to Google Maps and other clients, has secured the rights to tap into a vital tool for tracking congestion on roadways -- your cellphone.

The Atlanta-based company has struck a deal with Verizon Wireless to tap into the location data transmitted by its 80 million U.S. subscribers.


Now I'm not worried about privacy issues here, since I assume (and the article states) that Airsage is getting the data in a way that it's not personally identifiable - and they're only interested in aggregate data for their purposes anyway.

But what would it take for me to have access to my own data?

TAT is really freaking people out - why?

Some time ago, I ran across something shared by David Smith - namely, a ReadWriteWeb article by Sarah Perez that talked about facial recognition. (Disclosure: I work in the biometrics field, but have no link to this particular technology.)

As mobile phones continue to develop, the improvements to geolocation features, video capabilities, and processor speed combined with APIs from various web services are helping to make augmented reality the next big thing in mobile applications....But one of the items on our Augmented Reality wishlist - AU facial recognition - isn't something we've seen come about just yet. It almost seems too futuristic to be real. And yet...here it is. Swedish software and design company The Astonishing Tribe is developing an AU concept called Augmented ID that "sees" people and tells you who they are.

The best way to understand the concept is to watch the video:



(You wonder how the woman would have reacted if she captured the facial image BEFORE the man turned off his personal profile...)

But Perez isn't the only one who saw the video. And some folks were really freaking out about it. Take Adam Frucci of Gizmodo:

Of course, whether or not it'll be a good thing that strangers will be able to point their phones in our faces and get a rundown of our online lives is debatable.

Julia Sagar used the word "creepy" in the title to her post about the technology:

Dubbed both "mindblowing" and a "terrifying vision of the future", the possibilities of the Augmented ID app have so far left critics conflicted. The potential is exciting – but do you really want your latest drunken tweet to inform someone's first impression?

But do you really need this technology to find someone's latest drunken tweet? Frucci points out:

There's probably a lot to be said for learning about someone via conversation, but it's not like people don't go home from bars and Google and Facebook search the people they met that night. This just takes it to the logical extreme.

As I've said before, a tool is not a way of life. In fact, at this stage of the game a business card is more "terrifying" than a facial recognition algorithm. Yes, a business card. Look at all of the tips that you have to consider when you design your business card:

Many people now include their photos, this is especially touchy feely....There may be security reasons why you might not want your photo on your card....

If you do a lot of international travel especially countries that have security risk it might be worth downplaying your title. Do NOT have a card that shows that you are someone of great importance.


Are you freaked out about someone using facial recognition software to find out what your last post to Flickr was? If so, when was the last time that you dropped your business card in a local restaurant for a lunch drawing? And what happened to that business card after you left the restaurant?

NIEM on Twitter

I previously wrote about the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) on my blog, which resulted in a FriendFeed comment from FriendFeed user RAPatton:

I was surprised to see that anyone else had ever heard of NIEM

Well, if you have heard of NIEM, you can find it - or specifically, Donna Roy from NIEM - on Twitter also. Look for @NIEMExecDir.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Empoprise-BI News - 26 July 2009

Empoprise-BI News


The news letter for Empoprise-BI - An Empoprises vertical information service for business news.



Welcome to Empoprise-BI News

It's late July, but business is still jumping everywhere.

Special Features

When I created this blog, I had the idea that this would probably be my primary blogging outlet once Oracle OpenWorld 2009 rolled around. Well, I started using the openworld09 label beginning with this post. I anticipate that many more posts will come as we build up to Oracle OpenWorld in October.

Upcoming

NIEM, airlines, Friendster, and group policy extensions/msi installers. What more could you ask for?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Oh yeah, the FriendFeed API

Long, long ago, when FriendFeed entered their beta process before their major spring release, I began to wonder when the new features would be available to other FriendFeed clients, such as fftogo. Who better to ask than Benjamin Golub, the FriendFeed employee who wrote fftogo? So, I asked on April 24:

Benjamin, can you say anything publicly about what you will do with fftogo after the FriendFeed beta becomes the standard?

This launched a discussion between Benjamin, myself, and others.



Now, a couple of months later, word breaks out about FriendFeed's new API. And people are talking about it. Robert Scoble:

FriendFeed now has the ability to track the geo location of an item....

I wonder what Loic (at Seesmic) or Jodee (at PeopleBrowsr) or Ian (at TweetDeck) think about this new API. Does it get them more interested in building in FriendFeed support?


Jesse Stay:

Other features released in the API are the ability to upload almost any file attachment to a user’s FriendFeed stream, access to the powerful (and more than 140 character) direct message features of FriendFeed, sharing to multiple streams at once, and more....

FriendFeed’s API has proven to have potential as a much more flexible option for developers than Twitter’s in the past, and I think they’re proving that with the new features.


As for me, I'd just be happy if I could access my saved searches in fftogo. Now that the API is out, I look forward to Benjamin executing a rework of fftogo in his spare time.

P.S. If you would like to read an account of WHY an API is important, see what Michelle Greer wrote.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The fact that I didn't know this speaks volumes

I've previously commented (in a tweet to Mitch Wagner) that a news anchor with the dominance of Walter Cronkite - or, for that matter, Huntley/Brinkley - will probably never happen again in our lifetime. The proliferation of news sources - new over-the-air networks such as Fox, new cable networks such as CNN, and new non-TV information sources - ensures that we will probably never get our news from one person any more.

Which is why I wasn't aware of Walter Cronkite's last gig:

[Cronkite] served as the announcer — the one who said “This is the ‘CBS Evening News With Katie Couric’ ” — for the program he had anchored for nearly 20 years.

I rarely watch the CBS, NBC, or ABC evening news any more, so I wasn't even aware of this.

Incidentally, CBS removed the audio clip after Cronkite passed away. Another end of an era. Be sure to read the New York Times article, which discusses the use of the audio clip and the intent to show the long history of CBS News - a history which, incidentally, predates Cronkite.

Getting your point across in 140 characters

While I don't consider automatic direct messages (via Twitter) as the worst disaster to befall the universe since the Buddy Holly plane crash, I'm not a huge fan of the practice. But sometimes an auto-DM can make me smile.

I don't want to give away the name of the tweeter, but I will say that it's an inn in Costa Mesa, California where you can take up residence. But this tweeter's auto-DM gets points for effectively getting its marketing message across.

So happy to see you following us! We hope your day is warm and sunny!

Then again, showing the problem with auto-DMs, this particular one was sent to someone who also lived in southern California. Therefore, the auto-DM was not as effective as if it were taken to, say, Helsinki.

P.S. OK, I'll reveal the tweeter - @ResInnCostaMesa. And yes, there is a real human behind the Twitter account - check the feed.

P.P.S. If you're not familiar with the auto-DM controversy, read this ReadWriteWeb post that described how SocialToo ended up removing auto-DM capability from its application.

P.P.P.S. Another Twitter user that uses auto-DMS is @dhsscitech. The one I got from them read

Thanks for the follow! We tweet to let you know how we're using science and innovation to keep the US safe.

Obviously auto-DMs are not judged to be a terrorist threat - although, of course, ANYTHING can be re-engineered to be a terrorist threat.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Times slams capitalism, proves journalistic independence

The Los Angeles Times recently ran this post during the period when quarterly results are announced:

Midway Games has cut 46% of its 520 employees in the last few days, including about 100 developers in its San Diego office who have been working on a wrestling game under a license with TNA.

Some of the layoffs were detailed in a document filed yesterday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In addition to the San Diego crew, the layoffs include 60 executive and administrative staff members in the company's Chicago headquarters and 75 developers in a U.K. studio.


It then goes on to say:

In addition, the filing shows that Mark E. Thomas, the mysterious Massachusetts investor who in November paid former majority owner Sumner Redstone a mere $100,000 for an 87% stake in Midway, received $5 million for his trouble [when Warner bought Midway]. That's a 4900% return, minus a few percentage points for legal and administrative fees. That's a tidy score in any economic climate.

If nothing else, this episode shows journalistic independence, since if the Times writers were toeing the corporate line, they'd be begging for someone to offer a huge amount to Tribune Companies to buy the paper.

Happy happy Yum Yum

I previously blogged about keeping employees happy. The New York Times interviewed David C. Novak of Yum Brands, who had some thoughts on the matter.

Q. What are some of the rules of the road at Yum Brands?

A. Our culture is based on the fact that people have an innate need for well-deserved recognition. Using recognition is the best way to build a high-energy, fun culture and reinforce the behaviors that drive results.

When I became president of KFC, I wanted to break through the clutter on recognition, so I gave away these rubber chickens. They were called floppy chickens. I’d go into a restaurant and I would see a cook who’d been there for 25 years and the product was great, so I’d give him a floppy chicken. I’d write on it and tell him his “Original Recipe” was fantastic, and take a picture of him with me. And then I’d give him $100 because you couldn’t eat a floppy chicken. I now give away these big sets of smiling teeth with legs on them for people walking the talk on behalf of our customer.


More here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's a superficially conscious investor to do? (Zappomazon)

If you take a superficial view of the world, then today's news is certainly puzzling.

You see, there's a company called Zappos that's really cool because they use Twitter and stuff, and there's a company called Amazon that's really uncool because they sucked 1984 off of all of the Kindles. (Needless to say, this is a very superficial view of both firms; for example, Andrew Keen argues that Amazon was NOT "big brother" in its handling of the copyright issues surrounding Orwell's book.)

Regardless of how you view the two firms, how does one react to this news?

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jul. 22, 2009-- Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) today announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire Zappos.com, Inc. a leader in online apparel and footwear sales that strives to provide shoppers with the best possible service and selection. The acquisition brings together two companies who share a passion for serving customers and whose customers benefit from cultures of innovation and long term thinking.

“Zappos is a customer focused company,” said Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon.com. “We see great opportunities for both companies to learn from each other and create even better experiences for our customers.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Amazon will acquire all of the outstanding shares and assume all outstanding options and warrants of Zappos in exchange for approximately 10 million shares of Amazon common stock, equal to approximately $807 million based on the average closing price for the 45 trading days ending July 17, 2009. In addition, Amazon will provide Zappos employees with $40 million in cash and restricted stock units. Subject to various closing conditions, the acquisition is expected to close during the Fall of 2009.

Following the acquisition, the Zappos management team will remain intact and Zappos will operate its successful brand, customer experience and unique culture of service independently with headquarters in Las Vegas, NV.

“We are joining forces with Amazon because there is a huge opportunity to utilize each other’s strengths and move even faster towards our vision of delivering happiness to customers, employees and vendors,” said Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. “We will continue to build the Zappos brand and culture in our own unique way, and we believe Amazon is the best partner to help us do this over the long term.”


What a difference two months makes. This Tech.Blorge item was written in May.

It seems that Zappos has some aspirations well beyond their beginnings in shoes, and this is going to put Amazon directly in their crosshairs.

In what could end up becoming one of the largest all out battles in e-commerce history, Zappos, the online retailer famous for selling shoes and outstanding customer service, has launched a new “zeta” site. Accessible through their main menu on Zappos.com, the new portion of their site is going to be selling computers, camcorders, DVDs, Blu-ray discs and more.


After an excellent analysis, which those of us without a crystal ball would have no reason to question, the post concludes:

Only time will tell if this plan works, but it isn’t hard to imagine that it will. The only potential problem they may have is that “Zappos” has become synonymous with shoes, so it may take a while for them to train people to think of them for other things, but they have the time and the money to work on that.

I'm not sure if anyone anticipated that Amazon would buy Zappos. If someone made such a prediction, please post it in the comments.

And if you can predict what will happen to Zappos, please post that in the comments too. Amazon has been on an acquisition streak as of late, having acquired LexCycle (the Stanza people) and SnapTell within the past few months. Has Jeff Bezos been hanging around Larry Ellison or something?

Even if you don't own a yacht, you can host a ProductCamp (or a P-CAMP)

Before I formally established my Empoprise-BI business blog, I'd put business-related items in my main "Ontario Emperor" blog, mrontemp. So therefore you may have missed my January 12 post regarding the Silicon Valley P-CAMP 2009. The camp was scheduled for March, and I was actually considering using some frequent flyer miles to go up north and attend it. Because of various issues (including the fact that I didn't know what company I would be working for on March 12), I passed on P-CAMP in 2009 and haven't really thought about it since.

Until this morning.

Ryma held another of its webinars (see notes on previous webinar), and this one was hosted by Paul Young of ProductCamp Austin.

Excuse me for a moment or three while I make a quick, or not-so-quick, digression.

While the webinar was going on, I was going through a mental comparison of the unconference with which I WAS familiar (namely, the unconference at Oracle OpenWorld 2008) with the unconference that was being discussed. Obviously the Oracle unconference has some organizational advantages, as you can see by reviewing Paul Young's suggested list of things that need to be coordinated at a ProductCamp (or any unconference, for that matter):

  • 1 strong leader - If someone truly owned the Oracle OpenWorld 2008 unconference, I can't recall who that person was. Obviously, however, the unconference preparation piggybacked on Oracle Technology Network and other efforts for OpenWorld itself.

  • Venue - Space was allocated in Moscone West to host the unconference sessions, and someone presumably had to make sure that the spaces had projectors and other materials, but the effort was obviously much less than would be required for a stand-alone unconference.

  • Sponsors/budget - I can't speak to this, because I am obviously unfamiliar with Oracle's internal accounting practices. I don't know whether there was a separate budget category for unconference, or whether the unconference costs were absorbed into other OpenWorld costs. Presumably sponsorship of the unconference itself would not be allowed, since it would create confusion with the general Oracle OpenWorld sponsorships that were offered.

  • Marketing - Again, this piggybacked on the marketing for Oracle OpenWorld itself. The unconference was mentioned in the printed Oracle OpenWorld programs, space on the wiki was allocated for an unconference page, and Oracle's existing social media capabilities could be harnessed to promote the unconference.

  • Sessions - Based upon the discussion of ProductCamp Austin, it appears that the Oracle OpenWorld 2008 unconference was smaller than the forthcoming ProductCamp Austin 2009. Based upon this size, session pre-registration on the wiki could essentially be managed by the participants themselves - for example, I moved my session from Thursday at 2:00 to Thursday at 1:00, which allowed Ignacio Ruiz to schedule his session fro 2:00.

  • Volunteers - Again, the unconference piggybacked on OpenWorld itself, so many of the things that volunteers would do at a stand-alone unconference, such as serve the food, simply didn't need to be done here.
Now obviously this doesn't mean that an unconference that piggybacks on a larger event doesn't need ANY preparation - clearly work had to be done to get the unconference mechanics going, buy the index cards, and whatnot. I can attest from personal experience that an unconference will not happen if there is no interest in it.

But perhaps I should get back to the point.

Paul Young shared some general information about ProductCamps, based upon his experience at ProductCamp Austin. And this discussion reminded me of the ProductCamp that I DIDN'T attend a few months back.

The entire P-CAMP was documented online. For example, Matthias Zeller provided links that were relevant to his talk "Managing a 1.0 product."

But I haven't been able to find information on any plans for a P-CAMP in 2010. Apparently the best thing to do is to monitor the 2009 sites for a relevant announcement:

http://www.socialtext.net/p-camp2009/index.cgi

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34311562722

http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1073697

I figure that if I attend, I probably won't be presenting, just attending.

Of course, I said the same thing about Oracle OpenWorld 2008, and have been saying it about Oracle OpenWorld 2009...

Speaking of which, if you're interested in the Oracle OpenWorld 2010 unconference, its wiki page is here. As I write this, unconference information is minimal:

Event details

When: Oct. 11-14, 2009 (Mon - Thurs.), Hours TBD
Where: TBD

About The Oracle OpenWorld 2009 Unconference

For the third year in a row at Oracle OpenWorld, attendees will have the opportunity to directly participate by presenting their own session or workshop on a topic they're passionate about, in an informal, interactive setting.

The Oracle OpenWorld Unconference is more than a great opportunity for would-be presenters to share their knowledge and experience with other attendees in an informal setting. It also offers attendees the ability to learn what's on the minds of the community, directly from the grass roots.

No, NBC, this will not compete with your coverage. The Comcast channel will actually show the Olympics.

If you haven't been reading my blogs over the years, you may not be aware that I don't think highly of NBC's Olympics coverage, a collection of pre-recorded touching American moments rather than true coverage of the competitions. To be fair, my criticisms have been aimed at NBC's primary coverage on its over-the-air network, rather than subsidiary coverage on other outlets. So, technically, the squabble between NBC, the I.O.C., and the U.S.O.C. is not germane to NBC's regular coverage.

If you're not familiar with what's going on, here's a summary:

The head of NBC Sports [Dick Ebersol] said...that he broke off talks in April about combining the Olympic channel that it partly owns with the one being planned by the United States Olympic Committee....

The U.S.O.C. chose Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, as its partner. Comcast will be giving the network broad digital basic distribution.

U.S.O.C. officials said they could not find financial common ground with NBC.


But other parties are involved.

The timing of the U.S.O.C.’s plan was condemned as hasty...by Richard CarriĆ³n, an International Olympic Committee executive board member from Puerto Rico....[T]he I.O.C. issued a statement that further condemned the American committee for acting “unilaterally” by announcing its network “before we had a chance to consider together the ramifications.” The statement continued, “The proposed channel raises complex legal and contractual issues and could have a negative impact on our relationships with other Olympic broadcasters,” including NBC.

Why does the I.O.C. care what NBC thinks? Money.

Ultimately, this is a fight between the influence of NBC, which has poured billions of dollars into televising the Summer and Winter Games, and the U.S.O.C., which wants to build a valuable TV asset but lacks a media infrastructure. In the middle is the I.O.C., which has done business with NBC in the United States almost exclusively since 1992.

But remember how I previously said that this has nothing to do with NBC's regular coverage? Perhaps I'm wrong.

In its plan, the U.S.O.C. is far more focused than NBC on exposing the least-seen sports to viewers.

Perhaps I'm oversimplifying or misinterpreting here, but it sounds like the U.S.O.C. is more dedicated to truly covering the Olympics than either NBC or the I.O.C. I have a sneaking suspicion that if NBC could get tremendous rating numbers by showing Heidi Pratt exercise videos during Olympic coverage, the I.O.C. would applaud the measure because the money would pour in.

Well, maybe they can reach a compromise and put Heidi Pratt on the curling team.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If your employees are happy, they won't blog against you

The following was the first paragraph in a recent post on Inland Utopia:

The company I work for entered the Top 20 in companies that have the worst score in employee satisfaction. Out of a –50 to 50 scale employees rate their employer on jobvent.com. Maybe private equity firms need to understand that chopping things down to the bone will not help much with customer or associate satisfaction.

I recently spoke about establishing guidelines for what employees can and cannot say. In my view, the paragraph above fits within the domain of free expression - the first part of the paragraph is a statement of fact, and the last part is opinion that would usually be protected - but perhaps Inland Utopia's employer would disagree. I mean, if sports coaches can have their freedom of speech restricted when talking about officiating, then a private equity firm can restrict freedom of speech when people talk about private equity firms. After all, freedom of speech applies to government issues, not business issues.

But - and this is the important part - if said private equity firm wasn't engaged in the things they were doing, the employees would be happier, and the writer at Inland Utopia never would have written the blog post in question.

And jobvent.com has its rules. Here are some of them:

No company deserves -5 in every category. Think hard about the ratings you're giving. A score of mostly -5s is likely to be removed.

You must enter enough comments to adequately justify your ratings.

Don't use profanity.

DO NOT WRITE YOUR ENTIRE REVIEW IN ALL CAPS.

Specify the real location where you work, in "City, State" format. Responses such as "anywhere" or "every office" will be removed

Do not personally attack anyone, or mention anyone by name or initials.

Do not rate a company more than once (if we see a trend across reviews they will be removed)


And remember, even highly-rated Teavana has some negative reviews, and I'm sure Inland Utopia's employer has some positive ones.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Photography is not a crime...this week

I recently discovered a blog entitled notes from the ubiquitous surveillance society. The blog, created by author David Murakami Wood, looks at how surveillance has affected urban societies throughout the world. I found the blog because of a biometrics post which indirectly referenced something I had written in Yahoo, but I suspect that my general readership would be more interested in an earlier post that Wood had written, Met Police finally admit photography is not a crime. Excerpt:

After protest and parliamentary questions, The Register reports this week that the London Metropolitan Police have finally got round to reminding their officers that it is not in fact a criminal offence for ordinary people to take photographs or video in public places, nor even to take pictures of police officers.

Read the rest here, including Wood's warning that this does not guarantee photographic freedom everywhere, or even in the United Kingdom:

[T]here are many other police forces in the rest of the country and also quasi-police (community support officers, town centre managers etc.) as well as private security, who need to recognise that the public have a right to take photographs in public....

Of course the TOS is longer than the tweet

Peter Kafka noted that Wal-Mart's corporate page linking to various Twitter accounts includes a Terms of Use down at the bottom that is a lot longer than 140 characters. Kafka:

That long, long, long slug of text? That’s 3,692 words, and 23,105 characters–the equivalent of 160 Tweets.

Here's an excerpt:

This site is provided as a service to our customers. Please review the following basic rules that govern your use of our Site (the "Agreement"). Please note that your use of our Site constitutes your unconditional agreement to follow and be bound by these Terms and Conditions. Although you may "bookmark" a particular portion of this Site and thereby bypass this Agreement, your use of this Site still binds you to the terms. walmartstores.com reserves the right to update or modify these Terms and Conditions at any time without prior notice. Your use of the walmartstores.com Web site following any such change constitutes your unconditional agreement to follow and be bound by the Terms and Conditions as changed. For this reason, we encourage you to review these Terms and Conditions whenever you use this Web site.

Technically the "Terms of Use" apply to walmartstores.com, and the individual Twitter accounts are in a separate domain. Not that I'm necessarily encouraged to review a TOS whenever I visit a site.

More relevant to the Twitter accounts are the Twitter discussion guidelines, a much shorter document that is also linked to from the Wal-Mart Twitter page. Here's an excerpt from THAT page:

* While many of our 2.2 million associates around the world are using Twitter and other social networks, all official Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Twitter users will be identified on this landing page and will have a link back to this page from their Twitter profile.

* Unless otherwise noted, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. approved Twitter users will follow the following naming conventions of “business unit + name/category.” For example, “walmartradio,” “samsclubrobert,” and “walmartgames.”

* We won’t reply to off topic @replies. Personal attacks and foul language = FAIL. Adding to the discussion = WIN.

* @replies should contribute to the dialogue. Please support any claims with links to sources whenever possible. We love opinions. We love it even more when you back them up.


Note that the Wal-Mart people understand the environment (note the use of FAIL and WIN), and that they offer information to help distinguish between official Wal-Mart accounts and unofficial ones.

They have to. Around the same time that Peter Kafka was counting words in a Terms of Service agreement, Francine Hardaway was noting that large companies have to watch what they say in the social media environment. Here's a taste:

[L]arge companies, especially public companies, are still guided by SEC regulations. This leads the CEOs of many publicly traded companies to fear social media, which can be a valuable marketing and customer service tool, and shy away from it.

And here's another:

IR is perilously close to marketing, and a perilously small part of any enterprise. The PR/IR people are the “controlled” bloggers and tweeters, who have absorbed the caveats and best practices of social media, and can probably (if they are good) get away with a fairly wide social media presence without running afould of rules.

It’s when we get into the employee guidelines for social media that we can get into trouble in the enterprise. Every company now needs policy guidelines as to what an employee can and cannot say on a social media platform....


And for those who think that Fortune 500 companies are being too timid, just type "domino's pizza youtube" into your search engine of choice. Clearly not an official communication from Domino's Pizza, yet the company had to defend itself anyway.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Another PubSubHubbub test

Follow up to my July 10 post.

I think I just realized why it's taking seven minutes for my Empoprise-BI (and other blog) posts to show up in FriendFeed, despite the fact that I've configured the PubSubHubbub protocol to work with my FeedBurner feeds.

FriendFeed doesn't KNOW about my FeedBurner feeds. (See this FriendFeed thread.)

Well, it does now...at least for this blog.

Let's try this again.

Empoprise-BI News - 19 July 2009

Empoprise-BI News


The news letter for Empoprise-BI - An Empoprises vertical information service for business news.



Welcome to Empoprise-BI News

It's July, which means that it's summer in my hemisphere, but the business keeps piling on.

Behind the Scenes

I'm happy with the new lamps that I got on Saturday. Yes, I know that I announced the whole operation light exchange on my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog, but it does have more general business ramifications as firms potentially shift their production toward these types of light fixtures.

Special Features

Remember the Facebook page that I created for the Empoprise-BI blog (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Empoprise-BI/98783891478)? Well, I recently announced that I created a Facebook page for my Empoprise-MU blog (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Empoprise-MU/213885425013). If you're on Facebook, I encourage you to become a fan of both pages so that you can keep up with my blogging activities, even in the midst of a Mafia Wars game or a Farm Town game or whatever.

Speaking of Facebook, if you're in awe of the wonderful things that Facebook has introduced, and the way in which other services' new offerings can be compared to Facebook's new offerings, check Rob Diana's post. Is FriendFeed in danger of becoming the Xerox PARC - a group that comes up with great ideas but can't benefit from them?

Upcoming

In future posts I'll look at why terms of service are so long, why employees should be kept happy, and other scintillating topics.

Friday, July 17, 2009

OK, techies, I found Guy Kawasaki at Family Christian

He wrote an endorsement for Tim Stevens' Pop Goes the Church: Should the Church Engage Pop Culture?

Or maybe the endorsement was ghost-written by one of Kawasaki's tweeters... :)

Number 1 bestseller at Family Christian?

Well, I guess "Michael at Wembley" wouldn't have been a bestseller at Family Christian under any circumstances...

Go back in time - Apollo 11 radiocast live now

If you go to http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/apollo11_radio/, you should be able to hear what was going on with Apollo 11 exactly forty years ago.

H/T @KalaMana, who retweeted this @NASA tweet. NASA subsequently provided additional detail:

@revokat Apollo 11 audio begins at 7:32 am ET/11:32 am GMT July 16, continues through mission end at 12:51 pm ET July 24

Again, the link is http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/apollo11_radio/.

When analysts pull a Jim Bakker

This will not come as a shock to you, but it's good to remember that when business experts make predictions about the future, sometimes they get them wrong. I refer to this as "pulling a Jim Bakker," based upon the title of the preacher's autobiography, I Was Wrong.

One recent example of a Jim Bakker was committed by Richard Greenfield, who admitted his error on the revenue potential for the movie "Up":

“Dead wrong” is how Richard Greenfield of Pali Research put his related analysis in a research note. “The recent success of Pixar’s ‘Up’ (well ahead of our forecasts) has renewed investor confidence in Disney’s creative capabilities,” he added. “Up” has so far sold $265.9 million in tickets in North America and $35.4 million overseas, where it has only begun to arrive in theaters.

But Mr. Greenfield stuck with his sell recommendation for the company’s stock, saying he believed the next 12 to 18 months would be “substantially more difficult for Disney than investors are currently anticipating.” He listed industrywide troubles with broadcast television and difficulty cutting more costs in the theme park unit.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An expansively Compaq branding

In a previous post, I noted that many of us still recognize the "Compaq" brand name today. This is despite the fact that Compaq Computer Corporation ceased to be a separate entity in 2002.

Now normally when Company A buys Company B, there is a transition period until Company B's name is retired to the dustbin of history. I live in southern California, and when Wells Fargo Bank acquired Crocker National Bank in 1986, I recall that Wells Fargo suddenly began airing a number of commercials that trumpeted both Henry Wells and Charles Crocker. But after a brief period, those commercials stopped, and the name of Charles Crocker was never publicly uttered by Wells Fargo again.

Again, I live in southern California, so I'm familiar with Kragen Auto Parts. In other areas, the brand that is used is Checker Auto Parts. But one morning while driving to work, I heard a commercial for "Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts." Sure enough, there's been an acquisition:

July 11, 2008 marked a historic day in the automotive aftermarket industry, as O’Reilly Auto Parts, based in Springfield, Missouri, successfully completed the highly anticipated acquisition of Phoenix-based CSK Auto. The combination of O’Reilly’s midwestern and southeastern foothold, along with CSK’s dominance in the western United States, will create a stronger, more competitive company that benefits not only the do-it-yourself customer, but also the professional installer.

Notice that a year has passed between the acquisition and the time that a consumer such as me heard about the rebranding. This is an interesting case, since it's a combination of two separate auto companies in two separate regions. Presumably some cost savings will be achieved in central office issues, but the merger itself shouldn't result in Crocker-like closures of outlets. But I wouldn't be surprised if the name "Kragen" (and related names such as "Checker") completely disappeared from the market within a couple of years, while O'Reilly the name becomes dominant.

But a similar thing didn't happen with the Compaq computer name. As it turns out, Compaq was a pretty good acquirer of companies before Compaq got acquired itself. At one point I worked for a company that was the Compaq poster child, since we used UNIX computers from the old Digital Computer Corporation, plus Tandem computers from another Compaq acquisition, as well as the personal computers for which Compaq had originally become famous.

Hewlett-Packard subsequently acquired Compaq, which led to an interesting situation since both companies manufactured Wintel-like personal computers. Did this mean that the "Compaq" brand would immediately disappear into the dustbin of history? In this case, it didn't. Here's what was said in 2002:

Hewlett-Packard hosted a conference call for journalists and analysts Friday morning, shedding light on what businesses and consumers can expect as the company merges with Compaq. The call was hosted by Duane E. Zitzner, president of HP's Personal Systems Group, who frequently referred to the merging companies as "HP Newco."

Nice little distinction, which communicated to everyone that Compaq wasn't just going to be a subsidiary of HP, but was going to be combined with HP to create a newer, greater entity. But then Zitzner got into branding:

Questions about how HP will handle business and consumer branding in the wake of the merger have been swirling around, recently. The answers aren't simple. Both the Hewlett-Packard brand and the Compaq brand will be carried forward, in a two-tiered strategy. "There is a value proposition for both the HP and Compaq brands," said HP spokesperson Jim McDonald. The two-tiered branding strategy was compared by HP executives to the Toyota/Lexus branding approach, but in response to a question about whether Compaq would be positioned as a low-end brand and HP a high-end brand, HP executives said "not necessarily."...

Compaq will be the brand for business desktops and notebooks. Thus HP's long-standing Omnibook line of notebooks will become Compaq-branded. But in workstations, where HP has had a strong presence for many years, the HP brand will go forward. IA32 workstations as well as upcoming Itanium workstations and workstations based on Intel's McKinley chip will carry the HP brand.

In the consumer and retail arenas, both the HP and Compaq brands will stay in place for certain product lines because of "varying brand equity throughout the world," according to Zitzner. Thus the Compaq Presario line will stay as it is, and HP's Pavilion line will also remain. In the handheld computing space, though, HP's Jornada devices and Compaq's iPaq PDAs will morph into HP iPaq devices. Wireless product lines will carry the HP brand. Got all that?


Uh, yeah. But if you want to know how the brand strategy works today, pay a visit to http://www.compaq.com/. This does NOT take you to the black and white hp.com website, but to a separate, red-tinged site with the Compaq brand name.



Now if you click on any of the links you'll end up at shopping.hp.com, but obviously Hewlett Packard has concluded, even seven years later, that there's still life in the Compaq brand.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hard Disk FAIL

For those who have followed the story on FriendFeed and elsewhere.

An expansively Compaq architecture

In response to Jake Kuramoto's original "it just works" post, I briefly noted that there is a reason why Apple products "just work" while other products don't. Despite our love of open this and open that, Apple is pretty much a closed shop. In my response, I compared Apple to the popular alternative, and in the process stated the following:

In essence, the reason that Windows sucks is because IBM built its original PC on an open, easy-to-duplicate architecture, using an operating system that they didn't exclusively control. The sin of open systems?

However, in a follow-up post, Jake noted that I didn't get the facts quite right, at least on the hardware end:

I don’t agree entirely with John that the PC architecture was open; IBM didn’t open its architecture; it was legally reverse-engineered. Maybe it was accidentally open or improperly closed.

Here's how the writers of Wikipedia frame the issue:

The origins of this platform came with the decision by IBM in 1980 to market a low-cost single-user computer as quickly as possible in response to Apple Computer's success in the burgeoning market....The only proprietary component of the PC was the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System)....

The original "clones" of the IBM Personal Computer were created without IBM's participation or approval. Columbia closely modeled the IBM PC and produced the first "compatible" PC (i.e., more or less compatible to the IBM PC standard) in June 1982 closely followed by Eagle Computer. Compaq Computer Corp. announced its first IBM PC compatible a few months later in November 1982—the Compaq Portable. The Compaq was the first sewing machine-sized portable computer that was essentially 100% PC-compatible. The company could not directly copy the BIOS as a result of the court decision in Apple v. Franklin, but it could reverse-engineer the IBM BIOS and then write its own BIOS using clean room design.


Of the three computers mentioned by the Wikipedia writers, the one name that is still recognizable today (this recognition will probably be the topic of a future post) is Compaq. Paul Dixon provided additional insight into Comapq's process:

Programmers who had read the BIOS were known as dirty and others were known as clean. Dirty programmers were banned from working on the BIOS, but could work on the other big project which was BASIC.

Functionality of the IBM BIOS was not determined by looking at IBM code - this was banned. In fact, functionality was determined by a process known as "black boxing", which involved treating the BIOS as a black box and feeding every possible input to it and recoding the output.

For example, the keyboard driver was written by Steve Flannigan who had written the code for Silent 700 terminals at TI. He produced what appeared to be a fully compatible set of routines, but was told by someone that his code was only 50% of the size of IBM's. Compaq never found out why IBM's code was so much bigger, and no incompatibilities were ever attributed to this section of the BIOS, but hours were spent in trying to find additional functionality.

No one in Compaq ever declared that the BIOS was 100% compatible. The figure was a moving target, keeping a systems engineering department on their toes for years.


Whatever the true percentage - and nobody will ever really know unless IBM buys HP or vice versa - it was clear that the Compaq BIOS "just worked" and that this, coupled with the ability to purchase the "MS-DOS" (as opposed to "PC-DOS") operating system from Microsoft, was enough to get Compaq into the game. And to land Compaq in the Fortune 500 by 1986. But success was not always assured, as the New York Times noted in 1984:

WHEN I.B.M. recently announced it was introducing a portable personal computer, many pundits on Wall Street declared the death of companies manufacturing I.B.M. PC-compatible computers. Stock prices of corporations like Compaq plunged to what would have been considered bargain-basement prices if the shares had not been priced at a premium to begin with.

Now that I.B.M. has a portable of its own, are these companies that grew up as clones of Big Blue by offering a portable I.B.M.-like machine really finished after only a couple of years of skyrocketing success? Will such computers as the Chameleon, the Compaq, Columbia, Corona and Hyperion vaporize into the smoke of last year's best sellers as the Osborne did? Chances are they will not.

Certainly, some firms will fail, an inevitablility in the computer business. But, on the whole, PC-compatible computers, under another name, should be around for quite some time. The reasons are price and innovation.


This is obviously just a small part of the PC architecture story, and a small part of the stories of IBM and Compaq, but I'm happy to correct my previous error regarding the openness of the IBM PC architecture.

As to why we still recognize the Compaq name today, that's the topic of another post.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where do you develop your ideas? Or, is Chris Myles all wet?

There are a number of examples of how a prototype product was developed to meet a specific need, and then it was subsequently discovered that the prototype may have more universal appeal. The Post-It Notes/church choir story comes to mind.

I recently ran across another story, in which someone developed a geolocation application that tied textual items to locations on a map. You can see it here. Mark Krynsky explained how this application came to be:

Chris Myles embarked on a sailing trip that lasted 5 1/2 years, spanning 32,800+ miles, where he visited 24 countries, and spent 160 nights at sea. He wanted a way to be able to share his adventure including maps, photos, videos, and blogging easier, so he decided to develop his own app. Blurbits is the result of his effort.

Interesting way to get an idea for an application. I mean, consider that Myles could have instead chosen to do this...

Monday, July 13, 2009

A "universal" economy

Not too long ago I offered a comment at Dave Winer's Scripting News blog, in which I noted that Sarah Palin appeals to the anti-Washington crowd that distrusts any elites, where they are liberal elites (New York Times, Washington Post) or conservative elites (Fox News Channel). In some corners of the anti-Washington movement, people are convinced that there is a great conspiracy to implement the New World Order, and Rupert Murdoch is as much a part of it as the Council on Foreign Relations.

Well, I'm sure that the conspiracy theorists are having a field day with the July 7 announcement of Pope Benedict XVI:

Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday called for a radical rethinking of the global economy, criticizing a growing divide between rich and poor and urging the establishment of a “true world political authority” to oversee the economy and work for the “common good.”...

More than two years in the making, “Caritas in Veritate,” or “Charity in Truth,” is Benedict’s third encyclical since he became pope in 2005. Filled with terms like “globalization,” “market economy,” “outsourcing,” “labor unions” and “alternative energy,” it is not surprising that the Italian media reported that the Vatican was having difficulty translating the 144-page document into Latin.


One American Roman Catholic theologian detected what would set off the alarm bells in his country:

John Sniegocki, a professor of Christian ethics at Xavier University in Cincinnati, said one of the most controversial elements of the encyclical, at least for some Americans, would be the call for international institutions to play a role in regulating the economy.

“One of the things he’s saying is that the global economy is escaping the power of individual states to regulate it,” Mr. Sniegocki said. He said the encyclical also contained elements “very critical” of how the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank “have required cuts in social spending in the third world.”


It then quotes from the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Novak:

“I like limited government. I would much prefer to have many limited governments than one overriding authority.”

Of course, Pope Benedict is the head of a "universal" church that strongly believes in one overriding authority in religious matters. In that respect, it's not surprising that the Pope is comfortable with a similar arrangement in the secular political sphere.

However, I personally agree with the sentiments of William Pitt the Elder, who said:

Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.

And even if the Palin supporters are unfamiliar with the quote, or with the more famous quote from Lord Acton, they would probably agree with the sentiment also.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Empoprise-BI News - 12 July 2009

Empoprise-BI News


The news letter for Empoprise-BI - An Empoprises vertical information service for business news.



Welcome to Empoprise-BI News

If it's business-related and newsworthy, or not, you'll find it here.

Behind the Scenes

You probably caught my announcement of the Empoprise-BI fan page on Facebook, allowing Facebook members to become fans of their fave business blog. Or not. I'm still considering rolling this out for my other blogs, but in my personal case it answers a need to make this material available via Facebook without overwhelming my Facebook friends with every stray business thought that I put to the electronic paper.

Special Features

I have on occasion discussed the Facebook application "Farm Town" on this blog, although I still have a post in me that talks about Farm Town's brilliant monetization strategy. But if you want more thorough coverage of all things Farm Town, check out Farm Town Weekly. For example, this post talks about some of the new features introduced this past week, such as new crops. I'm growing some cotton, myself.

Upcoming

You'll soon see a mini-series of sorts..."an expansively Compaq architecture" and "an expansively Compaq branding" having to do with various aspects of the former computer company.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My first PubSubHubbub test

Eddie Awad and Mark Krynsky are Facebook friends, and I noticed that they were sharing items about PubSubHubbub and real-time blog feeds. So I investigated. From Google:

Today we're happy to announce initial support in FeedBurner for the PubSubHubbub protocol. 'Hubbub is an open specification in draft for web-scale publish and subscribe. The protocol can be used to transform any existing Atom and RSS feed on the web into a real-time stream.

Google then provided these instructions to Feedburner and AdSense users:

As of right now, burned feeds with the PingShot service enabled are automatically enhanced with the PubSubHubbub protocol. We'll add the required discovery elements to these feeds and notify a Google-run Hub, running on App Engine, of publish events. We also convert any pings we receive into 'Hubbub events. That means for many of our publishers out there, your existing feeds are available as real-time streams right now. Like, immediately. This very moment.

If you are a publisher and are not already using our PingShot service, turning it on is easy. From feedburner.google.com, visit the Publicize tab for your feed, select PingShot, and click the [Activate] button at the bottom of the page. From your AdSense account, go to Manage Ads, then click View Feed Stats link, and do the same thing. That's it.


As of now, I did the Feedburner step - I apparently didn't need to do the AdSense step, because it was already done. I think.

The proof is in the pudding, since I will check the service provided by this ex-Googler, who was also raving about PubSubHubbub:

FriendFeed also added support for the technology, so if you have a FeedBurner feed, your updates should show up in FriendFeed within seconds rather than minutes after the feed updates.

Well, we're about to find out.

[UPDATE 1:22 PM - AS I NOTED IN THE COMMENTS TO THIS FRIENDFEED THREAD, THIS POST TOOK SEVEN MINUTES TO SHOW UP IN FRIENDFEED. FOR A JUST-INTRODUCED TECHNOLOGY, NOT BAD. PRESUMABLY THIS WILL BE REFINED AS TIME PASSES.]

NIEM 2.1

How do government entities exchange data? In some cases, they do it via XML-formatted text that complies with the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM). If you're not aware of NIEM, here's an explanation (warning: written in government-marketing-speak):

The National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) is a Federal, State, Local and Tribal interagency initiative providing a foundation for seamless information exchange. NIEM is a framework to:

* Bring stakeholders and Communities of Interest together to identify information sharing requirements in day-to-day operational and emergency situations;
* Develop standards, a common lexicon and an on-line repository of information exchange package documents to support information sharing;
* Provide technical tools to support development, discovery, dissemination and re-use of exchange documents; and
* Provide training, technical assistance and implementation support services for enterprise-wide information exchange.


More here, including a reference to NIEM's roots in GJXDM and its compliance with HSPD-5, but I figure I've thrown enough acronyms at you for one day.

And a new version of NIEM is coming out - NIEM 2.1. Summary information is available in the July 2009 NIEM newsletter:

NIEM 2.1 incorporates many improvements in the current model, including new domains and minor edits to existing domains. The release of NIEM 2.1 does not affect the shared core of common data elements.

New Domains and Updates

* NIEM 2.1 will feature three new domains:
o The Maritime domain will be sponsored by the U.S. Navy as the executive agent for the Maritime Domain Awareness and will include the harmonized content from the Maritime Information Exchange Model 1.0 (MIEM).
o The Family Services domain will be a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration on Children and Families, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
o The Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) domain will be sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Domestic Nuclear Detection.

* Updates will be made to existing domains, including:
o Improvement on the structure for an offense in the Justice domain.
o The Infrastructure Protection domain will provide a complete taxonomy of infrastructure categories. This should prove widely reusable by developers in many lines of business.
o The Emergency Management domain will tighten its linkage to the EDXL messaging standards. It also incorporates the results of a successful pilot at the Richmond, Virginia, emergency dispatch center, enabling the reuse of exchanges with private alarm companies.

* General improvements have been made to all domains in the model:
o Harmonization that has reduced many overlapping or duplicate data elements between domains.
o No more missing definitions! All elements in the 2.1 release have a clear, plain-English definition, making it easier to find and reuse individual elements in the model.


The release will go through several iterations (alpha, beta, etc.), and should be out by the fall if all goes well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

All the fat cats are staying at home. Ecstatic now?

You'll recall that I previously wrote about how we are successfully countering the excesses of "junkets" - and throwing a lot of people out of work as a result. The New York Times lists more evidence of this:

[O]ne group of hospitality professionals is literally watching its livelihood go down the drain as corporate events are pared to the bone — the corporate event planners hired by companies to book and coordinate meetings.

“One hundred percent of my revenues are made on commission,” said Stephanie Edwards, a partner at Conference Consultants Worldwide. “I would say when we got our first-quarter results, they showed a 40 percent cut in revenue.”...

[I]f a meeting for 2,000 is suddenly scaled back to half that, or if a four-night booking is halved to become a two-night event, the amount of money people like Ms. Edwards earn automatically drops by 50 percent, even though the work they do does not change.


More here. Wonder how many people got out of tobacco and oil and into hotel investments?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Back to the "smaller" issue - more than size matters (iamaKey)

Last Friday, I published a post entitled Is Smaller Truly Better? in which I wondered whether devices such as iPods were getting to be TOO small. If you missed it, here's an excerpt:

At some point, the devices get TOO small. Now you're not going to lose a boom box, and you'd have to have a pretty messy room to lose a Walkman. But an iPod nano? They get lost all the time....

So in essence, you have a poorly designed product that easily falls out of your pockets and gets lost in plane seats and in the snow. Yes, I know that people admire the aesthetics of the device, but how useful are the aesthetics if you can't find the danged thing?


However, I made one error (only one?) in my analysis - I only accounted for the size of the device, but didn't account for other factors.

Many of us have memory sticks that we use to transport relatively small amounts of data from one device to another. But Louis Gray links to a March jkOnTheRun review of a product from LaCie called iamaKey. This is a very small USB flash drive, available in 4 GB and 8 GB sizes.

Now if you use the logic from my July 3 post, a very small USB drive would be the worst thing that you'd want to have, since it would be harder to lose a very small USB drive than it would be to lose a somewhat small USB drive. But in this case it would be harder to lose because the very small USB drive because...iamaKey is a key. As in "put it on a keychain" key.

Of course, Gray notes:

Of course, if I lose my keys, that's a different issue altogether, so I'll try and avoid that.

But still, the iamaKey example indicates that small is not necessarily bad, as long as the product is designed in such a way as to prevent loss. iamaKey can be put on a keychain. Certain products can come with bands and other items to attach them to some large device, or even to your person.

So perhaps the iPod Touch needs some type of strap to attach it to your forehead. Good idea, as long as the strap is not a closed proprietary solution.

P.S. The last link above goes to a discussion that I started on the AppsLab blog regarding the admiration of open source fans for the Apple closed proprietary solutions. While exploring the blog for weird vibes, I ran across this Jake Kuramoto post which, ironically, read in part:

Ever lose a business card? Those suckers are small, and I’m constantly fishing them out from under my desk.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wanna check the beta of the Empoprise-BI Facebook page?

So anyways, I was reading in FriendFeed and found this item, shared by LANjackal, that linked to a makeuseof post entitled "How To Promote Your Blog Using Facebook Pages."

I have been reluctant to stream all of the Empoprises content into my personal Facebook page, since many of my friends would probably be uninterested in it. But a fan page suddenly struck me as the ideal solution. Makeuseof obviously felt the same:

One of the more effective ways of promoting your blog is to use a site everyone either loves or hates - Facebook. The social networking site allows you to create a page to promote your blog or business - and it’s completely free....

By having a Facebook page for your blog, you can set up your RSS feed so your new posts appear on your fan page. Facebook members can then become a “fan” of your posts and comment on your posts inside Facebook.

In short, you can:

* create a mini community of loyal blog readers inside Facebook.
* encourage them to click through to your blog and sign up for the proper RSS feed.


So anyways, I figured I'd set a Facebook page up, using the handy-dandy instructions in the makeuseof post. As is usual in such situation, I'm using Empoprise-BI as the guinea pig. I've set up a page for Empoprise-BI, and eventually will roll it out to some or all of my other blogs.

I followed the makeuseof instructions, and even though I ran into an error right before confirming my blog import, I was able to recover and set up the page.

At present I've done the bare minimum, so I'm referring to the page as a beta. I plan to check some other pages to see what's possible, then take my page from there. I also welcome your suggestions.

Oh, and the page? It's at

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Empoprise-BI/98783891478

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ghost towns are not special to the Inland Empire

I live in the Inland Empire of California, which is a cross between a suburb and an exurb of Los Angeles. As such, business and population ebbs and flows like the ocean tides that are some distance away from the IE; in bad times, residential and commercial areas become abandoned, becoming like a ghost town. I wrote about this in my Inland Empire blog last year:

When Peter H. King wrote [his Los Angeles Times piece], I began thinking about the ocean, and how the tides roll in, then roll out, then roll in, then roll out again. (Even King uses the words "sea change" to describe the phenomenon.)

The Inquisitr notes that this problem is not isolated to the Inland Empire:

Since the real estate market began tanking in the US, tales of modern “ghost towns” have buzzed through the media intermittently. Subdivisions and McMansions lay abandoned and often unfinished, a sadly silent illustration of a country full of homes no one can afford to live in.

More here, although a New York Times reference to "the ruins of the second gilded age" may be a bit of an overstatement.

P.S. Yes, there's a musical reference in the title. Geddit?

P.P.S. This post is a test of sorts. More later.

Of course Wal-Mart wants mandatory health insurance with cost controls - here's why

Back on June 25 I wrote a post detailing Wal-Mart's efforts in the health clinic area. After I wrote that post, Wal-Mart made the health-related news again. The New York Times reported:

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, joined hands with a major labor union...to endorse the idea of requiring large companies to provide health insurance to their workers, a move that gives a boost to President Obama as he is pushing for health legislation on Capitol Hill.

But there was a condition to Wal-Mart's endorsement:

“We’re for an employer mandate, but we believe that it has to be accompanied by these measures that are really going to deliver on the savings,” said Leslie A. Dach, Wal-Mart’s top lobbyist, who met with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the proposal. “If any business is going to be asked to take on an employer mandate, to face changes in the tax laws, there should be some sense that the promise of the bill to reduce health costs will actually occur.”

Now while reaction to Wal-Mart's statement, including that of Outside the Beltway, concentrates on Wal-Mart the employer, you can only really understand Wal-Mart's stance when you remember that they are a low-cost health care provider.

I've already talked about the low-cost clinics, and we all know that Wal-Mart provides low-cost prescriptions.

So think about it - mandatory employer-sponsored health care, coupled with cost restrictions, could be a huge windfall for Wal-Mart.
Let's face it, health care is a growing industry, whether you're in a boom or a bust cycle. (Or at least it will be a growing industry until the baby boomers all die.) I'd love to see what Wal-Mart's health-related business plans are BEYOND prescription drugs and clinics. Sam's Hospital, perhaps?