Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Get to the point, will you, John?

While cleaning out some old e-mails, I ran across my account of an interview in which I participated. During the period in which I was transitioning from my old product manager job to my new proposal writer job, I was videotaped for an interview in which I talked about my product. Here's a portion of my account:

They removed the last two questions, but in their place they asked a question about [another product] and a general one about MorphoTrak. I started to launch into a history of Sagem Morpho and Printrak, but in the interests of time the interviewer asked me to stick to 2009. :)

So I didn't get to talk about butterflies.

P.S. If you didn't listen to Los Angeles radio in the late 20th century, I should note that the post title is derived from something Tim Conway (Senior) said to Jim Healy. You can hear Conway's original here.

So are you boycotting the Super Bowl this weekend?

Just checking.

While the SOPA/PIPA/ACTA opponents don't appear to be ready to boycott Comcast/NBC's broadcast of NFL's Super Bowl, there will be some boycotts this weekend.

Lorno recommended a boycott as part of the Occupy movement.

What better way to impact the 1% than to reduce the amount of people exposed to their ads designed to sell their products which in turn makes cash for the 1%.

However, the majority of people didn't go along with Lorno.

You have got to be kidding? I love the Superbowl. If you enjoy something why would you want to boycott it? Why dont you boycott taking a crap?

Chris Celetti is also considering a boycott, though not because of our evil greedy capitalist society.

This is going to be the first Super Bowl as a conscious human being that I won't watch. I'm going to the movies or something.

Monday of Super Bowl Week is upon us and I'm not sure yet if I'm going to go through with my boycott or not. I know for certain that it's a near-impossible game to watch as a Jets fan.

But will Celetti guarantee not to watch?

Monday, January 30, 2012

(empo-tuulwey) (empo-tymshft) Tomorrow's advance is the day after tomorrow's trash - On Linotype

Take a moment and think about the most futuristic prototype that you've seen recently.

Now think about the day when that miraculous item is a dusty relic.

On July 3, 2011, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of something that no longer exists:

On this date in 1886, the German clockmaker, Ottmar Mergenthaler demonstrated the first Linotype Type Casting Machine at the New York Tribune in New York City, USA. In front of a gathering of printers, newspaper men and reporters, the machine was first put in to production, casting lines of printable type for the Tribune.

At this demonstration, Mergenthaler sat at the machine and cast the first line of type. It is alleged that Whitelaw Reid, the owner of the Tribune, exclaimed "Ottmar! You've done it! A line of type!" A reporter asked what the new machine was called and Reid replied, "Why yes, we do have a name. We are going to call it the Linotype."

This ability to set type one line at a time revolutionized the information industry, enabling blazingly quick responses to events. This was symbolized by the boy standing on a streetcorner shouting "Extra!" to alert passersby that a new newspaper edition was available. This newspaper would recount something that happened mere hours ago!

Such a revolutionary tool had far-reaching effects.

Due to the speed and low cost of printing, literacy dramatically increased as more and more books and newspapers were published.

But a mere hundred years later:

Although these machines were revolutionary, technology began to supersede the Linotype and they were scrapped and melted-down by the thousands. Today, very few machines are still in existence.

And what of the fathers in the 1890s, or the 1920s, or the 1950s, telling their kids to become Linotype operators? Well, those jobs went away, and the knowledge is going away also.

The highly-skilled operators of the Linotype are in a battle against time. If their skills are not passed along to a new generation of operators, the machine will die completely. There is a small group of former operators that want to save the Linotype from the scrap yard, but some see this as a fruitless endeavor.

H/T Laughing Squid, which discussed the documentary Linotype: The Film.

"Linotype: The Film" Official Trailer from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo.

3D Printing - Society Changer, or Battleground of Entrenched Interests?

I've been picking up little bits on 3D printing over the past few months, but have never really delved into the topic.

Jake Kuramoto mentioned 3D printing back in July 2011, and subsquently identified it as one of the things he wants to watch in 2012.

And Steven Hodson wrote about it in December 2011.

Again, I didn't really look into it, just kinda thinking: "Oh. Multi-dimensional creation of stuff. Cool."

But others are seeing some potential in it. When I referred Jesse Stay to my post on American workers not being willing to accept Chinese manufacturing practices, Jesse countered with a reference to one of his recent posts on manufacturing. And when he referred me, he made the following statement:

...in 10 years, manufacturing jobs won't exist at all.

Well, naturally I had to read Jesse's post to see how he came up with this conclusion. Here's an excerpt:

I predict, in the not too distant future, not only will you be able to shop, buy, and order phones, devices, and gadgets online (most likely through a mobile device if current trends have their way), but you'll also be able to print those devices out, right in your home, just like you do a piece of paper right now. That's right - the future of manufacturing exists in the homes of every single American, and every person in the world. We won't need those offshore factories in the future! It's an industry that, just like the automotive industry, just like just about any mechanical, human-powered industry, is quickly being replaced by computers!

Stay provided a specific example:

Imagine a world where Apple, like their current factories, made beautiful 3D printers that created their devices in the homes of every customer, instead of building expensive factories in China. Imagine if Apple could reduce that cost, and give complete, full control to the manufacturing process of their phones in the homes of their customers. What if they put one of these in each Apple Store for customers that couldn't buy their own 3D printers?

Now I don't know if Apple would ever do something like this, but I do have to admit the possibility that Apple, notorious for control, may decide that it is in its best interest to outsource production to its own customers. (Assuming, of course, that the technology progresses to the level that it could produce an Apple product.)

But if companies can allow customers to produce AUTHORIZED versions of their products via this technology, then the same technology can be used to...I think you know where this is going. Steven Hodson certainly does:

[W]e hear that The Pirate Bay is opening a new section on their site that will let you download digital files that can be used with 3D printers to create physical goods.

Yes, the Pirate Bay. Some content owners are already mad at the Pirate Bay because it is capable of hosting movies and music. What happens when the Pirate Bay starts hosting virtual versions of other physical products? Hodson explains:

As we as a society struggle to deal with the copyright and trademark fights we are already fighting with the entertainment industry just imagine the battles and political repercussions that we will face when you or I can download a data file, feed it into our personal 3D printer, and within minutes have the same product that a major corporation was trying to sell us a few years ago.

When I read Hodson's post, I immediately conceived my own "for example." Allow me to elaborate.

Recently in my home country, the Federal government spent billions of dollars assisting two companies, General Motors and Chrysler. These two companies are at the top of a large ecosystem of many, many companies who supply parts to them. The Federal government decided that if these two companies were to fail, the repercussions throughout the economy would be catastrophic. And, to put it in terms politicians can understand, a lot of U.S. Representatives, Senators, and even a President could lose future elections unless these two companies were saved.

So General Motors and Chrysler were bailed out, catastrophe was averted, and everyone is happy. Well, almost everyone. But there are a number of politicians from both parties, and a number of company officials, and a number of labor union officials, who are pleased as punch about the healthy American automobile industry.

That is, until some "rogue" Swedish website allows customers to download "illegal" automotive parts, bypassing all of the companies that the Federal government just spent billions of dollars to save.

At that point, Christopher Dodd will stand up and say, "I told you so," and Lamar Smith (or someone like him) will draft legislation to protect our country's economy from rogue foreign websites selling illegal goods and costing us billions of dollars. What the heck - trillions of dollars.

How will it be constructed? Will the sale of 3D printers be regulated? Will the Department of Commerce be required to put tracking devices on 3D printers? Will there be a "patent tax" to ensure that "legitimate" manufacturers get their fair share of "rogue" sales?

Granted that there may be a few years before we have to worry about this in earnest, but it will still be interesting to watch.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Emotional about biometrics ('cause you know sometimes words have two meanings)


Last October, I wrote a post entitled (empo-tymshft) When words change their meanings - an example from the biometric world. I could have applied the "empo-tymshft" label to this post also, but this particular post pretty much deals with the present day.

Part of my October post was devoted to "the use of biometrics for advertising evaluation by Ipsos." That quote was taken from a press release that discusses the work of Ipsos, a company, in a use of biometrics that differs from what I do day-to-day.

Ipsos has partnered with Boston-based Innerscope Research. Innerscope uses biometrics to understand the full scope of emotional reaction. Biometrics is a fascinating field that measures and analyzes our biological reactions (heart rate, skin conductance, respiration, movement) to decipher the emotional response to any stimulus.

"Biometrics is a branch of neuroscience that takes the measurement of emotions to a deeper level," said Indivar (Indy) Kushari, Senior Vice President, Ipsos ASI Toronto and presenter at the BCAMA event on October 27th.

As I noted in the original post, I hang with a crowd that uses the term "biometrics" in an entirely different fashion. Actually, this definition is a newer definition of the term:

[T]he term “Biometrics” has ... been used to refer to the emerging field of technology devoted to identification of individuals using biological traits, such as those based on retinal or iris scanning, fingerprints, or face recognition.

In other words, I don't care how you FEEL. I care who you ARE.

Well, I just ran across something in my feeds that appeared on the findBIOMETRICS website. Now findBIOMETRICS usually concentrates on identification, but they recently reprinted this press release from Time Warner. Excerpts:

Biometrics to Monitor Consumer Emotion at new Time Warner Neuromarketing Medialab - 26th January, 2012

Time Warner Inc. today announced the opening of a state of the art Medialab for research and development at its worldwide headquarters in New York City. The Time Warner Medialab has been designed to generate valuable insights into consumer behavior, evolving media habits and industry trends across all of Time Warner's businesses, brands and advertising partners....

The lab incorporates testing for consumer emotion through biometric monitoring devices that measure a participant's physiological responses to content. The center's virtual testing room is configured for eye-tracking studies that test the effectiveness of content and ads on PC/web, television and mobile devices. The lab also houses several large focus group and observation rooms, all equipped with the latest technical and mobile viewing devices.

Time Warner's premier partner in creating the Medialab was Ipsos MediaCT, a client-focused market research company that concentrates on analyzing consumer behavior. Ipsos MediaCT applied its specialization in understanding consumer behavior into the center's technology and research techniques.

As you can see, Time Warner's idea of a "biometric device" is a device that can track eye movements - for example, how the eyes react to an advertisement featuring Carrot Top. (In my case, the eyes would involuntarily close.) Certainly valuable, but again a little different than how I use the term.

Needless to say, I have shared this new press release with the private mailing list that told me about the October press release. Obviously I can't share the reactions that will occur - the mailing list is, after all, private - but I wonder if the participants will exhibit such emotional gestures as the rolling of eyes or deep sighs of discontent. And perhaps findBIOMETRICS will get a "why did you run THAT press release?" letter.

Now I realize that many of you are rolling your eyes at this whole thing, which sounds like a spat among practitioners of useless arts. But, as I noted at the beginning of my original post, this whole debate has wider applicability:

While we sometimes think of language as a static thing, it is in reality constantly changing. This is especially true for languages such as English that are widely used - my language is always incorporating terms from foreign languages, and is always inventing new terms - and new meanings for terms. If you don't believe me, take a time machine back to 2001 and ask Ashton Kutcher to tweet.

When using any type of terminology - ANY type of terminology - it's important to make sure that all parties are using the terms in the same way.

Did I sucker myself back into Foursquare?

In case you don't know the story, let me recap.

I had been active in Foursquare for some time. At the time I didn't have a fancy-dancy smartphone, but I used my regular old phone to check into places on Foursquare, earn mayorships, and dominate the universe as we know it. (Sorta.)

That continued until my January 15, 2011 check-in at the 99 Cents Only Store on Mountain Avenue in Ontario, California. That's about the time that I discovered that since I was not using a smartphone, I was no longer eligible to earn mayorships.

So, later that same day, while at a Rubios in Upland, I made the comment

this may be my last foursquare check-in

And I vented. Oh, I vented.

But at least Gowalla has been consistent; Foursquare literally changed the rules of the game in the middle of the game....

The mobile web was a workaround for those who wanted to cheat, but that workaround has now apparently been closed.

As has the ability for mobile web users to legitimately earn mayorships.

Of course, I could still earn Foursquare mayorships if I wanted to. All that I have to do is buy a high end smartphone with GPS enabled, and also buy the high-end service plan that service providers force smartphone users to buy. Lay out $2000 or more, and I can continue to earn mayorships.

It's not worth it....

So, does anyone want to suggest a location-based service that actually LIKES non-smartphone users?

And I quit using Foursquare, and quit accepting friend requests, and pretty much was not all that keen on Foursquare. (Hell hath no fury like a scorned social locationist.)

And what did Foursquare do? Nothing. Not that I necessarily expect Foursquare to personally contact every single user, but while I'm bombarded with messages from other services ("Hey, we haven't seen you at SuperSocialHangout lately! Where have you been? We miss you!"), I received nary a peep from Foursquare regarding my sudden lack of activity.

So why did I check into an Ontario Starbucks just a few minutes ago?

Easy. Foursquare recognized one of my devices as legitimate - specifically, my netbook.

You see, when I arrived at Starbucks this morning (due to a loyalty program, FYI) and fired up my netbook, I was directed to the Starbucks/Yahoo! partner screen, which had all sorts of added content. Obviously I could check my Starbucks Rewards information, but I noticed that I could also check into Foursquare.

What the hey, I thought.

Then I noticed that Foursquare offered me the option of identifying my location.

Now my netbook doesn't have GPS enabled, but since I'm using the local Starbucks wi-fi, Starbucks - and therefore Foursquare - has a pretty good idea of where I am.

So I checked in for the first time in over a year - and the rewards started flying.

Points for this check-in: 10
This is your first check-in since January '11 +6
Back at Starbucks (12 months) +2
First Coffee Shop in 12 months! +2

So perhaps I don't have to pay thousands of dollars to participate in Foursquare. After all, the netbooks are cheap, the wi-fi is now free, and this may be a win-win for everyone.

We'll see how this progresses.

P.S. Speaking of locations, you'll note that this post doesn't have a location tag on it, despite the fact that Blogger offers such a service. You see, I've had to switch back to the old Blogger interface because my old netbook doesn't have enough memory to run the new Blogger interface. So my non-trendiness continues.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

When a bad manager spurred @purplecar to examine GameStop

I have never met Christine Cavalier - I first encountered her in the comments section of a Loren Feldman Google+ thread - but she appears to be an intelligent person. However, like most of us, when presented with a purchasing opportunity, she does not spend countless hours of time analyzing the opportunity before purchase.

But in one case, she analyzed the purchasing opportunity AFTER purchase, and clued me in on something in the process.

On Wednesday, Cavalier and her son went to their local GameStop to buy something with her son's gift card. After selecting a new title, they went to the counter to make the purchase. As Cavalier recounts, the store manager volunteered to get a used version of the game, did so without asking, and practically argued with Cavalier to tell her that she really wanted the used version, and not the new version, because it's so much cheaper.

Cavalier ended up getting the used game, but something stuck in her craw:

On the short drive home, I began to wonder why the manager “helped” me so much. His insistence on the used game bordered on weird. The fact that I left the store feeling bamboozled into buying an inferior product started to anger me.

As lunch was cooking, I remembered my basic capitalism education: there is a reason behind every sell. What could the reason be here? Why sell these used games so strongly? It must be profit margin. That was the only logical choice.

Cavalier consulted an online human-staffed research service - Twitter - and confirmed her suspicions. She then did the math - see her post here. (In case you haven't figured it out, I want you to read her entire post.)

While consulting an online non-staffed research service - Google - I found additional evidence to confirm GameStop's business model. Keith at Boesky.com, while primarily concerned with the impact that GameStop has on original game developers, discussed GameStop's business model himself:

It is time to for Gamestop to fess up and acknowledge their real business. Relative margins reveal Gamestop's actual business to be the collection and resale of used games. New game and accessory sales revenue may equal or exceed the used game revenue, but they do not come close to matching the profit.

Why not? Because, as Keith points out (yeah, I want you to read Keith's post also):

Gamestop profits from multiple sales of the game.

According to Keith, here's what is about to happen to Cavalier (who pays $16 a year to be a GameStop member):

To ensure return of the games, consumers who buy a games are bombarded with offers to turn them back in for credit. Each turned in game builds the used inventory, at no cost to Gamestop.To ensure return of the games, consumers who buy a games are bombarded with offers to turn them back in for credit. Each turned in game builds the used inventory, at no cost to Gamestop.

I don't know how long it will take, but GameStop is going to start encouraging Cavalier to turn her son's game back in - he's tired of it now, isn't he? - and get some credit. That credit can then be used for the purchase of another used game, continuing the cycle.

Cavalier herself noted that the manager was effectively pushing this strategy. When Cavalier was still trying to buy a new game rather than a used one, the manager threw this at her:

“Well, have him try the used game and if he doesn’t like it, you can exchange it and you haven’t bought the new one.”

Unfortunately, the manager's insistence on the used sale resulted in a customer who took to Twitter about her concerns, and who wrote a blog post about her concerns - a blog post that concluded as follows:

My friends tell me Amazon is a decent alternative to GameStop. We are GameStop members (pay $16 bucks a year for discounts, but guess what, only on USED GAMES) but I’m going to pursue the Amazon option. I predict GameStop will go out of business if they don’t insist on selling decent-looking used games for a better value than 80% of the new game price (and that was with my discount!).

Oh, and Cavalier also added this comment:

(Their email and print flyers are so male-oriented that I don’t even read them. I unsubbed today).

You see, Cavalier's son isn't the only gamer in the house. Cavalier's daughter is also a gamer. And, incidentally, it's Cavalier herself who pays for the games, or at a minimum takes the kids to the store to buy them. Not any more.

However, the bigger damage to GameStop may not be the angry customers. It may be the angry game publishers. I already noted that Keith's post primarily concentrates on GameStop's adverse impact on original game developers. As Keith notes, the game developers pay all of the costs for game development, pay GameStop for various promotional tasks, and then enjoy the profits from the sales of one game - a game that, as mentioned before, GameStop sells over and over and over.

So, what can potentially happen when entertainment content developers believe that people are stealing their content? As we've seen from the continuing SOPA/PIPA/ACTA brouhaha, I wouldn't be surprised if the game developers are meeting with Lamar Smith right now and informing him of the terrible dangers of a rogue game market. ("Rogue games could be infected with viruses, and since people are now using game machines to surf the 'Net, this could allow terrorists to cripple the Internet in the U.S.!")

I wonder if the savvy investors are going to start avoiding GME long-term.

Outside the Beltway, the Procurement Edition

I have spent a good deal of time in Proposals, responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from various government agencies. But when you delve into the world of proposals, you'll find that most people who provide proposal advice cannot help me all that much.

Let me provide you with an example. John Lauderdale recently wrote something entitled Ten Things You Did Wrong in Your Last (Losing) Proposal Effort. Now that obviously sounds like a valuable thing to read. But I noticed something when I got to item 1:

1. Your Program Manager-Designate was

a.not known by name or face to the source selection official
b.was not assigned full-time to the proposal effort longer than 30 days before the final solicitation hit the street.

Note the use of the word "source selection official." At least Lauderdale didn't say something about not reading Section L carefully.

You see, John Lauderdale works for a company (Organizational Communications Inc.) based in Reston, Virginia. In fact, if you look at any publication from the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), you'll find that a lot of the people associated with APMP are located in Virginia, Maryland, or Washington DC.

Why? Because they all concentrate on Federal proposals. These are the proposals in which the RFP has a "Section L" and a "Section M" and in which the person running the procurement is referred to as a "source selection official." As an APMP member, I had access to a wealth of materials that discuss Section L, Section M, source selection officials, and the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

And I'm unable to use most of it.

You see, in my particular case, the vast majority of RFPs to which I respond are issued by state and local governments, or by governments in foreign nations. And all of these agencies (I can potentially deal with hundreds, if not thousands, of them who may buy our products) have their own ways of doing things.

If you don't know what you're doing, even locating RFPs from state and local governments can be difficult, as Steif Marco notes:

State and local government bids and RFPs are notoriously difficult to locate. Unlike the federal government, which conducts most purchasing through GSA schedules or FedBizOpps.gov, state and local bids are located in a great number of sources throughout the internet -- on government webpages, public works pages, 3rd party contracted websites, and newspaper classifieds.

And all of these agencies format their RFPs differently. Anyone who has only worked Federal proposals and ends up reading a county government RFP is in for a bit of a surprise. You can't assume that particular RFP content is in a particular location of the RFP; you need to read the table of contents to find the location (or possibly locations) that contain your legal terms, your payment terms, your proposal formatting requirements, or what have you.

Now to be fair, the APMP does pay some attention to the needs of people who don't work on Federal proposals. And some lessons from the Federal world may be applied to other proposals. But at the same time, there are a lot of cases where the stuff plain doesn't apply. One time I attended a huge conference closing session in which someone talked about changes to Department of Defense procurement procedures. That's all right and fine...except I don't think that the Calgary Police Service is going to base its procurement policies on what the U.S. Department of Defense is doing.

Now most of the people who will read this post probably don't work in proposals, and may not have realized that there are proposals, and there are proposals - or that things can get really specialized. But that's probably true for any job - my head would probably be spinning if I had to worry about all of the minute little things that you have to worry about in YOUR job. Maybe it's an issue regarding which cable to use with which video camera. Maybe it's something about coffeepot maintenance. Or whatever.

And I bet you that the people inside the Beltway can't help you do your job either.

Friday, January 27, 2012

(empo-tymshft) Why Bad Predictions Happen (the "five computers" prediction)

Mark J. Fletcher wrote a recent blog post on bad technology positions. While the bulk of his post dealt with a bad prediction about E 911, he started off with a classic bad prediction from Thomas Watson the elder.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

Now some people like to look at bad predictions and laugh at how stupid the predicter was. In my case, I'd rather put myself back in the shoes of the person who made the bad prediction, and try to understand what motivated the person to think as he or she did.

I've even done this to myself, including the time in 2009 that I was forced to retract my prediction that Oracle and Sun would not collaborate until 2010 or 2011, or after final approval of the Oracle-Sun merger.

But let's look at the environment in which Thomas Watson made his oft-repeated prediction...if he made it. There's no evidence that Thomas Watson the elder actually said such a thing; perhaps the statement, or a similar statement, was made by Douglas Hartree or Howard Aiken or Thomas Watson Jr., and the statement might have been made not in 1943, but in 1951 or 1952 or 1953.

So let's assume that SOMEONE made a statement, perhaps in the early 1950s, claiming that a few computers could take care of the world's computing needs. How could someone have such a misguided conception?

Well, actually it was pretty easy. Remember that at the time, computers were big hunks of metal that were pretty much huge calculating machines. (Actually, the computers of today are also huge calculating machines; it's just that today's computers calculate Farmville crop yields instead of missile path projections.) These huge calculating machines were expensive, hard to maintain (all the bugs, you know), and required great effort to input data and receive the data output.

If this is the way in which a person of 1953 thought of the computer, then it would be extremely difficult to conceive of something radically different.

In that year of 1953, a young boy named Albert Gore, Jr. was five years old. Now even though Gore's father was a powerful man - he had just been elected to the U.S. Senate in 1952 - it's ludicrous to imagine Senator Gore getting a computer for his young son. Where would the Gore family put their computer? Where would they get someone to build the raised floor and the cooling system? How long would it take the kid to figure out how to input stuff into the computer? Where would the family find a machine-language coder to create programs for kid to run on the computer?

And, come to think of it, why would you want to create programs for a kid? Computers were good for doing complex military calculations, and for undertaking tasks such as compiling census data for the United States. Only an idiot would take the time to program a computer to play solitaire or something like that.

It wasn't until 1954 that computers were really seen outside of government circles. In December 1954, John Hancock (the life insurance people) got their hands on a state-of-the-art IBM 650 computer. Early IBM 650 computers were extremely powerful, and had memory capacities of 2,000 words (or 10,000 characters) - not enough for anyone to manage a simulated farm. And even if it had much more memory, the 22-33 operations per second speed meant that you couldn't do all that much.

Yet even the (by modern eyes) meager capabilities of the IBM 650 resulted in a revolution in computing that couldn't have been predicted back in 1953. By 1962, IBM 650 computers were flying off the shelves, and an amazing 2,000 computers had been sold.

And all of that happened before computers became more powerful, and much smaller, and much easier to use. By the time I used my first computer in the 1970s - a machine with a single-line display that was dedicated to running BASIC programs - computers were able to do all sorts of things that people in the early 1950s just could never envision.

And it just went on from there.

How could a person in 1953 have predicted that within 50 years, hundreds of millions of people would own "computers" that didn't require special cooling, a special room, or punched card entry. Could a person of 1953 have imagined a strange cross between a typewriter and a television - a COLOR television - with a display that looked like a piece of paper? And could the person in 1953 imagine that a computer user of 2003 would effortlessly combine text with pictures, send the result to another computer thousands of miles away, and enable a different person in a different location to see that text-picture combination within seconds?

In fact, the person of 1953 would probably say, "That's not a computer!" It's a...it's a...well, what is it?

Perhaps these little tiny things aren't computers, but computer terminals that tie into computers elsewhere which are the REAL computers. And as the pendulum swings toward cloud computing, John Battelle revisited the early prediction:

The march to cloud computing and the rush of companies building brands and services where both enterprises and consumers can park their compute needs is palpable. And over the next ten or so years, I wonder if perhaps the market won’t shake out in such a way that we have just a handful of “computers” – brands we trust to manage our personal and our work storage, processing, and creation tasks. We may access these brands through any number of interfaces, but the computation, in the manner Watson would have understood it, happens on massively parallel grids which are managed, competitively, by just a few companies.

Instead of having just a few computers at selected government agencies, we might just have computers at Facebook, Google, and a few other places. Battelle doesn't believe that Facebook will make the cut; he thinks that the five companies might be

...Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and...IBM.

But if he's wrong, I'm certainly not going to slam him for his inaccurate prediction.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What is the proper perspective?

Floyd Teter is an expert in Oracle applications software.

When Teter wants to read about Oracle products, he wants to read about Oracle products. But recently, when he was checking his feeds, he ran into different stuff:

The top hits are all about the lawsuit with Google, the lawsuit with Montclair State University, and the latest plays on Oracle stock. No question the suits have taken over the headlines.

Teter was not happy, and his post on this ("We've Lost Our Perspective") concluded with a CAPS-LOCK LADEN RANT, asking for a return to perspective.

Joe Paterno's death last weekend also resulted in a consideration of perspective. To some, the proper perspective on Joe Paterno was to concentrate on his entire illustrious career. To others, the proper perspective on Joe Paterno was to concentrate on his lack of effective action one day in 2002, a lack of action which allegedly resulted in several boys being molested over the following years.

I'm sure that all of us can think of a number of people, companies, or events that can be looked at from different perspectives. Just to take one admittedly fascinating example, Richard Nixon could be considered as the President who launched the most significant thaw of the Cold War era, or he could be considered as the President who continued a brutal war in Southeast Asia. Or the President who ended the brutal war in Southeast Asia. Or the President who sold out our allies in Southeast Asia. And I haven't even gotten to Nixon's domestic policies.

To be truthful about it, we adopt the perspective that best suits our worldview. If our lives are dominated by fighting the evil of child molestation, that's going to shape our view of Joe Paterno. If we're a Google fanboi, that's going to shape our view of Oracle.

In effect, the best way to approach this is to acknowledge our perspective, and (in most cases) explain why we have the perspective that we have.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Online word of mouth requires that one be online

While we talk about advertising techniques and search engine optimization and all of that stuff, the fact remains that one of the most trusted methods for obtaining product information is via word of mouth.

And while this could occur in a face-to-face conversation, it can also occur via electronic means.

This, of course, is nothing new. As I previously noted, I used electronic means to share product information (in this case, my opinion of the Wall of Voodoo album Call of the West) back in 1982.

And I was not the only college student to share music information online. In fact, four researchers studied the practice and reached several conclusions, including the following:

The results demonstrated that music Internet use appeared to be a determinant of both online opinion leadership and opinion seeking. Online WOM [word of mouth] is facilitated through a variety of tools such as weblogs, bulletin boards, chat rooms, discussion forums, and instant messenging. Individuals should be comfortable with these communication tools in order to spread WOM or seek information. Thus, Internet usage for music appeared to play a central role in explaining both opinion leadership and opinion seeking. This finding highlights the critical role of Internet skills/proficiency in online WOM communication. People who are inexperienced or uncomfortable with these tools may be lagging behind the current trends, isolated from the online community in the information diffusion process.

In essence this is common sense, but it helps to be reminded of it every once in a while. If you're a band - or a plumber - and want to promote your product online, you're obviously going to be a lot better at it if you have an online presence.

There are too many cases in which someone wants an online presence, and goes to hire a professional to create one. Now I don't have a problem with professionals, but it can be dangerous to hire a professional to do EVERYTHING for you. Remember what recently happened to Nadya "Octo-Mom" Suleman:

The mother-of-14's Facebook, Twitter and UStream pages were all shut down Monday after she parted ways with Gina Rodriguez....

“I fired my manager today and she’s a little upset so she shut down all my profiles online,” Nadya tells [Radar Online]....

"I’m not technologically savvy but I’ll have to now start from scratch and set up my own Facebook and Twitter as she had done all that for me.”

So Suleman apparently knew little (if anything) about the various tools, and relied on Gina Rodriguez to do everything for her. Rodriguez obviously made sure that she retained control of the properties, and therefore was able to shut them down when the contract was terminated.

Suleman would have been better off if she had learned about Facebook, Twitter, and the rest on her own, and had then hired a professional help her to improve her own accounts (rather than have someone set up accounts on her behalf).

However, with 14 kids, Suleman probably doesn't have a lot of time to teach herself Twitter...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

ADMIYA (acronyms do me in yet again)

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about the acronym IAI. You see, I was searching for information about the International Association for Identification, and instead found information about the Irrigation Assocation of India.

There are many cases in which we focus on an acronym, and then find out that we've focused on the wrong acronym.

If you don't believe me, just ask the people who run the website for the Scottish Organic Producers Association. CNET's Chris Matyszczyk notes that this association has received a number of negative comments lately, despite the fact that the Scottish Organic Producers Association has nothing to do with the proposed "Stop Online Piracy Act" legislation in the United States.

Incidentally, Matyszczyk is NOT the Chief of Naval Education and Training...

H/T Helen Sventitsky-Rother, to whom I commented:

Actually, the protests were entirely justified. This organization promotes the enslavement of sentient organic products to satisfy the needs of indulgence and capitalist greed. Let the organic products go free! (singing) "All we are sayyyyyingggg..."

How badly do we want to produce products domestically? Not that badly.


This post is written from my perspective as a United States citizen, but the same situation applies to some (not all) of my non-U.S. readers.

If you have been around for any length of time, you realize that there has been a tremendous shift in manufacturing over the last couple of decades. Even in the 1970s, people would complain about the fact that so many products, once manufactured in the United States, were (in the 1970s) being manufactured in Japan.

Of course, those days are long gone. Now when one thinks of manufacturing, one often thinks of China - although there are other countries, ranging from Mexico to Bangladesh, that provide manufacturing services for the products that the First World loves.

And people don't like it, and express their views loudly. Both Republicans and Democrats sometimes champion the "Made in America" slogan, sometimes because of the negative impact that foreign manufacture has on jobs and wages in the United States, sometimes because of the loss of manufacturing prowess that occurs, and sometimes because of foreign policy/defense concerns ("do you want a significant portion of our American economy to be dependent upon THEM?").

But even if the wage issue were to suddenly go away, I suspect that we wouldn't want manufacturers to return to the United States. Even if pollution issues were to suddenly go away, I suspect that we wouldn't want manufacturers to return to the United States. Yes, I know that we say that we want U.S. manufacturing plants, but we really don't.

This hit me when I was reading this New York Times article. While Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher's article talked a lot about Apple and iPhone manufacture, the issues that were discussed go well beyond Apple.

The thing that hit me while reading the article was this episode that was recounted:

New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight....A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames.

For the record, Foxconn denies that the episode took place as stated:

“Any worker recruited by our firm is covered by a clear contract outlining terms and conditions and by Chinese government law that protects their rights,” the company wrote. Foxconn “takes our responsibility to our employees very seriously and we work hard to give our more than one million employees a safe and positive environment.”

The company disputed some details of the former Apple executive’s account, and wrote that a midnight shift, such as the one described, was impossible “because we have strict regulations regarding the working hours of our employees based on their designated shifts, and every employee has computerized timecards that would bar them from working at any facility at a time outside of their approved shift.” The company said that all shifts began at either 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., and that employees receive at least 12 hours’ notice of any schedule changes.

OK, let's give Foxconn the benefit of the doubt, and assume that something like this occurred:

Plant management was informed that new screens would begin arriving at the plant near midnight....At 7:00 pm, foremen contacted 8,000 workers inside the company's dormitories and told all of them that they would begin working on a new project the next morning. Upon reporting to work at 7:00 am the next day, each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames.

OK, now that we have the politically correct version of the manufacturing process, imagine that happening in Fontana, California, or in Toledo, Ohio.

First off, the assumption that U.S. workers would even consent to live in a dormitory in the 21st century is laughable. The employee had better be paid enough to get an apartment, and that apartment had better have satellite TV and broadband.

Second off, while it certainly happens, the whole idea of contacting an employee one evening and telling him/her to start a new project the next morning is hard to imagine. Especially when the same process is repeated 8,000 times over. Heck, in the United States it would probably take a week to get all the FOREMEN up to speed to make the necessary contacts. And who knows how long it would take to get all of the staff in. "I have jury duty." "I have to get my daughter to school." "I have the sniffles."

I can tell you what would happen if anyone were to try to mobilize 8,000 employees at a United States plant within 12 hours. What would happen? The local government's department of labor/employment would be flooded with grievances, the press would have a field day about the inhumane treatment of labor, and government officials would end up demanding that the company stop its "slave labor" practices.

Which is why no American company would dare pull a stunt like this at one of its U.S. factories. Instead, they seek their laborers elsewhere - it's a lot easier.

Now one can debate the morality of the situation. Perhaps you feel it's best that United States workers are NOT treated in this way. Or perhaps you feel that American workers had best "suck it up" and deliver goods just like they used to in the 1890s.

But regardless of whether such work practices are moral for U.S. workers, the truth of the matter is that it ain't gonna happen. And until the day that Chinese workers feel comfortable enough to call in sick after a late-night national sports event, we have to take it for granted that the bulk of U.S. product manufacturing is going to take place outside of the U.S.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Don't let the law get in the way of a sponsorship - Brazil, Anheuser Busch, and FIFA

Fan is short for fanatic, and sports fans can often be the most fanatic of all. Because of this, governments often have to pass special laws regarding the behavior of fans.

Football (soccer) fans can often be passionate, and football fans in South America especially so. Because of this, according to CNN:

Legislation passed by the Brazilian government in 2003 prohibits the sale of all alcohol in football arenas.

I am not a Brazilian, but I certainly respect the rights of the Brazilian government to enact such legislation. And the motive behind this legislation is understandable - in my own country, there have been alcohol-fueled catastrophes at sporting events, and it is hoped that the prohibition of alcohol sales can lead to better safety for everyone.

However, the Brazilian government's action has run into a little snag.

You see, Brazil was awarded the rights to the 2014 World Cup.

And the World Cup, like many other sporting events, takes in a lot of sponsorship money.

Including sponsorship money from Anheuser Busch, the official beer of the World Cup.

And it doesn't look good to FIFA when its sponsor, the official beer of the World Cup, can't sell beer because of some silly local law. So FIFA's plan is simple:

FIFA has been battling for a change in the Brazilian law, with General Secretary Jerome Valcke currently in the South American nation to press for progress on new legislation.

However, some members of the Brazilian Congress are campaigning for the law to remain the same, a situation which is complicating arrangements for the month-long soccer showpiece.

But before you immediately voice your complaints about some sports organization trying to run roughshod over local law, remember that the same thing happened in my own country, the United States. I actually alluded to the story in a previous post. Here are the details:

Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt ... signed an executive order creating a paid King holiday for state workers in Arizona.

The holiday was never celebrated: The attorney general said Babbitt, a lame duck who was eyeing a run for president, did not have the authority to declare a paid holiday, only the Legislature could do that.

Incoming Gov. Evan Mecham, citing that attorney general’s opinion, rescinded the holiday shortly after taking office, just days before it would have been observed....

[T]he National Football League threatened in 1990 to move the Super Bowl that was scheduled to be played in Tempe’s Sun Devil Stadium in 1993.

As I noted in my original post, a fight broke out between those who wanted to support a King holiday and those who wanted to retain the existing Columbus Day holiday. The King holiday ended up going to a vote and was rejected, and the NFL made good on its threat and moved the Super Bowl from Arizona to California.

One could argue that the Brazilian case is just wrangling over cold hard cash, while the Arizona case was about principles. But in truth, the Arizona case was about cold hard cash also - specifically, how a league which employed a number of African-American players could sponsor a major event in a state which, in the eyes of the all-important fans who bought NFL products, did not honor African-Americans.

Time marches on, the King holiday is celebrated in Arizona, and Anheuser Busch is currently more focused on a major American sporting event that will take place in two weeks. Of course, there's a little controversy there also, since Anheuser Busch is paying millions of dollars to SOPA/PIPA supporters such as Comcast NBC and the National Football League.

Sometimes the antics off the field are more entertaining than the antics on the field.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reddit and Y Combinator - this may be an effective move

This blog has recently talked about ineffective moves against perceived threats to freedom of speech in the United States.

Boycott GoDaddy? Just gives them publicity and doesn't put a dent in their bottom line.

Boycott NVIDIA? A few hobbyists aren't going to bring down a multi-billion dollar company.

Ah, you say, but you were wrong about Wikipedia. After the blackouts at Wikipedia, Google, and other sites, SOPA and PIPA died!

Don't kid yourself.

In the long term, the blackouts a few days ago will be as effective as the Twitter activity against the Egyptian government. How's that democracy going in Egypt right now? And even if SOPA and PIPA are dead, all that is needed are a few days and a new acronym and the whole thing will be back in Congress again. My favorite acronym candidate is PAK-MAN (Protect All Kids - Maintain Accurate Networks).

Why can I say that the threat from SOPA/PIPA v2.0 still exists? Because the proponents are still pouring more money into their cause.

But what if that money spigot ended up being useless - or if there were another money spigot that was directly opposed to what the SOPA/PIPA proponents want?

And no, I'm not suggesting that Christopher Dodd be convicted of bribery for threatening to cut off the cash flow to politicians. If you believe in the First Amendment, then you have to believe in ALL views protected by the First Amendment. And if Christopher Dodd and the Pfizer folks and the labor unions want to spend tens of millions of dollars to get their view out, I believe they have just as much of a right to do so as you or I.

But what if they spend all that money and it goes for naught?

Steven Hodson recently shared something from Techie Buzz. This post mentioned two proposed initiatives that go to the heart of the matter. The first:

Reddit is looking to boycott movies made by the top six recording studios, namely Walt Disney, Sony, Paramount, Fox, Universal and Warner Brothers.

Ho hum, you might say, but consider that the Reddit participants are knowledgeable in social media - and that the six listed studios depend more and more upon social media to get the message out about their movies. (And, for some of these companies, their record albums and television shows.)

If you want to see Reddit discussions on boycotting Hollywood, here's a search.

Now can you imagine what Reddit-fueled activists can do with something like this?

Here's one idea. Imagine that SuperDuperStudio posts a YouTube trailer for its forthcoming blockbuster movie, Explosions and Girls in Bikinis (in 3-D)!!!! You see, when that trailer gets posted on YouTube, people are allowed to vote on it, and to offer comments.

Once the Reddit people get done with that, Rebecca Black will look like a Grammy Award candidate. When these studios get millions of negative votes and "U SUK" comments on all of their social media outlets, entire marketing campaigns will be adversely affected.

So if all the cool kids say DISNY SUX, then what's a teenager going to do with his or her summer? That's where the other part of the campaign comes in.

At the same time, popular startup-funding firm Y Combinator has decided to fund startups that will compete with movies and TV shows.

Again, a potential ho hum, except for the fact that Y Combinator understands industry issues even more than the passionate Reddit folks. Read their piece Kill Hollywood.

Imagine how some of these pitch meetings will go:

PITCHMAN: And then when the service goes out of beta, we'll have cool kids drooling over our insanely great service and we'll get bought out by a major studio!

YC: And will you have better ideas than Hollywood?

PITCHMAN: Oh yes! You know how Hollywood uses 3-D a lot? Well, we'll use 4-D. That's 33% better than what the major studios do!

YC: Hmm...speaking of major studios, could you share your First Amendment policy with us?

PITCHMAN: My what?

YC: Your pledge that your company will behave in an ethical manner and honor the free speech rights of all Americans, and the inherent free speech rights possessed by every human being in the entire world.

PITCHMAN: Uh...we'll have to get back to you on that.

YC: And WE'LL have to get back to YOU regarding your request for funding. Next?

Frankly, these two moves have the potential of being much more effective than any of the previous moves, since they directly attack the profitability of companies that propose to threaten free speech principles. However, as I noted in a Google+ entry, there are still a couple of other things that need to be done.

One of them has been suggested by me and others before (twice). If Christopher Dodd and the like are going to fund politicians that support SOPA/PIPA principles, then other companies, groups, and people have to step up to the plate and fund politicians that oppose SOPA/PIPA principles.

The other idea hasn't been shared in the blog, but I've shared it on Google+. I have quoted something regarding Comcast/Universal, something regarding the National Football League, and something regarding a number of major corporations. In each case, I preceded each post with a statement:

Remember this as all of you support SOPA and PIPA on February 5.

Yes, I'd be willing to bet that a whole bunch of you are going to loudly declare your support for SOPA/PIPA on February 5.

You see, many of you (and I include myself in that number) are going to be spending a good part of our afternoon and evening watching commercials from companies such as General Motors, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Toyota, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Mars, Best Buy, CareerBuilder, and (here they come again) GoDaddy. Oh, and we'll probably see movie spots from the likes of Sony, Walt Disney, and Warner Brothers.

So what? you say. GoDaddy opposes SOPA/PIPA, and some of the companies you listed haven't taken a stand on SOPA/PIPA.

But they have.

You see, each of those companies is forking out a minimum of $3.5 million dollars - sometimes a lot more - and giving the money to Comcast NBC, who is a SOPA/PIPA supporter. At the same time, Comcast NBC is forking a whole bunch of money over to the National Football League, who is another SOPA/PIPA supporter.

And where are Anheuser Busch, GoDaddy, General Motors, and the others getting all these millions of dollars that they're giving to SOPA/PIPA supporters?

From us, the customers who watch the Super Bowl and who are going to get all excited over the commercials and buy products from these companies.

So - how many people are going to spent February 5 boycotting the Super Bowl, the National Football League, Comcast NBC, General Motors, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Toyota, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Mars, Best Buy, CareerBuilder, GoDaddy, Sony, Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, and every other advertiser who is donating to the SOPA/PIPA cause?

My guess is that the SOPA/PIPA supporters will rake in multiple millions of dollars on February 5.

Come to think of it, maybe the Reddit and Y Combinator moves aren't all that effective after all....

Saturday, January 21, 2012

(empo-tuulwey) Testing tools in an amiable way

Online services are constantly adding new features, and when they are added, there is a subset of new people who like to try them out.

Perhaps you've seen a number of people taking generic Google searches and subsequently asking their Google+ friends about the topic used in their generic Google search. I first heard about the "Ask on Google+" feature via Danny Sullivan. To use the feature, (1) make sure you're logged into Google, and (2) be sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom of your Google search results. For some reason (Aunty Trust?), Google has chosen not to blatantly emphasize this capability.

And of course, I had to try it.

Hi there! I have a question about so why did this ask on google+ tip that danny sullivan talked about appear on the bottom of the page?...

I continued to experiment.

Hi there! I have a question about buying organic remote controls...

And it wasn't too long until this showed up:

Hi there! I have a question about enrage my ocelot...

The phrase, sort of an antagonist to Joker, the Amiable Ocelot, is one that I've been using for some time, in various forms. It may have first been used in this May 12, 2011 tweet:

Well enrage my ocelot! Boards of Canada ain't Canadian. They're like Scots and stuff. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boards_of_Canada

A couple of months later, I was using the phrase on Google+ to see how long it took a Google+ phrase to propagate to Google's main search results. (This was before the tighter integration of Google+ and Google.)

Enrage my ocelot Captain Smirk! This is a test. I want to see how long it takes for a public post on Google+ to show up in Google's realtime search results.

I've used the phrase on occasion since. as this FriendFeed search indicates. Once, in a private FriendFeed comment, I even managed to work the word "vibrant" into the phrase (you'll recall that "vibrant" is one of the favorite words of movie/cigarette marketer Ludo Cremers).

But I hadn't used the phrase lately - that is, until I found myself reading up on Bill Griffith, most famous as the creator of Zippy the Pinhead. Apparently that reading session triggered the "enrage my ocelot" portion of my brain.

Now I can use various tools to find instances of this phrase. In addition to the aforementioned FriendFeed search http://friendfeed.com/search?q=enrage+my+ocelot, I can also search Google+ via https://plus.google.com/s/enrage%20my%20ocelot, and Google's regular search via https://www.google.com/search?&q=enrage+my+ocelot. I can also search Twitter via https://twitter.com/#!/search/enrage%20my%20ocelot, but that search (at least presently) has limited historical data and is therefore pretty much useless.

As time passes, my "standard" version of the phrase evolves. As of this morning, my current version of the phrase reads

Well enrage my amiable ocelot, Captain Smirk! A tool is not a way of life.

If I keep on expanding it, perhaps it will eventually become a NaNoWriMo project.

But then Disney may find the link between the phrase and its 1960s "Joker" character, and would probably sue me for copyright infringement.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Question authority - looking at piracy statistics

All of us rely on some commonly-accepted wisdom and take it at face value, but often we don't probe the "wisdom" to see if it is true.

For example, a January 17 item from Jennifer Collins, discussing the (then) forthcoming Wikipedia blackout, included this statement.

The Obama administration has opposed portions of the bill and the House has also pulled back. But with piracy costing up to $775 billion a year, virtually everyone agrees the bills in some form will survive.

Steven Hodson saw this statement, and (in a post on Forty Two Times) offered the following suggestion:

It would be extremely beneficial to her audience if Ms. Collins were to provide additional substantiation for the claim in her recent post.

Remember what I said about taking things at face value? Hodson did NOT write the words I quoted above. Here's what he ACTUALLY said (and you can check me on it):

Okay Jennifer Collins consider this your official call out – where is the proof - publicly available proof that has been verified by more than just the entertainment industry that piracy costs $775 billion a year.

Prove it, please.

Show us the facts and figures, as well as where you got the information to base such a claim on.

Prove it because I am calling bullshit.

I don't know if Ms. Collins saw Mr. Hodson's request, but I did some searching on my own and found the source of Jennifer Collins' $775 billion piracy cost claim. It turns out that she got this from a February 2011 report from the International Chamber of Commerce. Here's part of the press release that the Chamber released at the time:

A new report released today by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) indicates that the global economic and social impacts of counterfeiting and piracy will reach US$1.7 trillion by 2015 and put 2.5 million legitimate jobs at risk each year....

The report reveals that based on 2008 data, the total global economic and social impacts of counterfeit and pirated products are as much as US$775 billion every year.

OK, so there's the figure that Collins cited. But a single figure alone does not necessarily allow one to develop a full-fledged anti-piracy policy. First off, what is included in this figure? The first hint is in the press release itself:

This includes impacts of lost tax revenue and higher government spending on law enforcement and health care.

Right here you learn a little about the methodology used. The total costs used in the $775 billion figure not only include the direct estimates of losses due to piracy, but also include outside costs, such as law enforcment costs. This suggests and obvious solution - if you want to reduce the costs of piracy, reduce the amount of money you're spending on law enforcement.

To really analyze this $775 billion figure, you need to take a detailed look at the study itself. If you go to this page, you can find links to PDF versions of the Executive Summary and the Full Report. I confess that I haven't read the full report, but I have spent some time reading the Executive Summary (PDF here). Ignoring future considerations, what makes up the $775 billion figure? Page 2 of the Executive Summary lists four categories that are analyzed:

Category 1: Counterfeit and pirated goods moving through
international trade. We update the OECD’s estimate of the value of
counterfeit and pirated goods moving through international trade, drawing
on new customs seizure data indicating that the incidence of counterfeiting
and piracy has increased relative to the 2005-based customs data used in the
OECD’s 2008 study.

• Category 2: Value of domestically produced and consumed counterfeit
and pirated products. We develop a methodology, derived from the
OECD’s modeling work, to generate an estimate of the value of domestic
manufacture and consumption of counterfeit and pirate products – thereby
capturing an estimated value of fake products that do not cross borders.

• Category 3: Volume of pirated digital products being distributed via
the Internet. We describe, evaluate and contextualize industry reports and
academic studies on the value of digital piracy of recorded music, movies
and software. We then use these studies to produce an estimate of the total
value of digital piracy that has been calculated using consistent assumptions
and methodology across these industries.

• Category 4: Broader economy-wide effects. We provide a summary of
previous analysis aimed at identifying the broader economy-wide effects of
counterfeiting and piracy.

A later statement further identifies category 4 as "Effects on government tax revenues, welfare spending, costs of crime health services, FDI flows." This is the law enforcement/health care category that I discussed earlier.

For 2008, the dollar values for these four categories are (page 3):

Category 1: Between $285 billion and $360 billion

Category 2: Between $140 billion and $215 billion

Category 3: Between $30 billion and $75 billion

Category 4: $125 billion

Which brings us to a grand total of...well, it depends. Depending upon how you add the numbers above, you either get a figure of $580 billion or $775 billion.

Guess which figure the Chamber highlighted in its report.

In addition, it's important to discern when someone is making an apples and oranges comparison. When one is talking about rogue websites, it's improper to say that rogue websites cost $775 billion. Rogue websites would only fit into category 3 of the analysis above, which means that the rogue website cost would be one-tenth of the $775 billion figure - $75 billion, or perhaps as little as $30 billion.

And there's a world of difference between $30 billion and $775 billion.

As I said above, I have not looked into the detailed report to see exactly how the Chamber came up with these figures. If you would like to do so, go to this page and click on the "Full Report" icon (PDF).

P.S. If you believe that it's flawed to misrepresent the figures in a study, what about misrepresenting whether a cited study even exists? Kevin Fogarty wrote about this aspect of the problem. An excerpt:

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published in 2010, all the estimates on which pro-SOPA forces based their numbers – which became the justification for SOPA and PIPA – are from studies no one can find.

Though both the FBI and Customs and Border Protection are cited as primary sources of the studies – because, presumably, they'd paid to have them done and then published the results – it turned out that neither agency had ever done such a study and had no idea where the numbers came from.

In each case the first use of the figure was in a speech and press release put out by the agency – the FBI's in 2002 – with a vague reference to the origin of the figure.

When even the source every citation references as the originator of a piece of data has no idea where it came from and denies ever funding studies that might have come up with those estimates, the odds that the data are anything but a chimera begin to grow.

The most likely origination for both numbers, according to the GAO report, was that someone from the FBI or CBP used the figures in a speech, quoting or misquoting numbers without an accurate citation that would make fact-checking possible.

It just goes to show that press releases are kind of like surveys - without knowing the underlying facts behind the press release, any claim in the press release can be considered questionable.


(empo-tymshft) Clothes make the person, even on the 21st century west coast

I recently attended an all-day event at a southern California university. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to the institution as "Reindeer University." (Yes, it differs from the "Deer University" I have referenced in the past.) The university was hosting an event for transfer students, and some of the proceedings were organized by present-day students, many of whom were wearing black shirts.

But there were a rainbow of shirt colors there (Star Trek fans, no red shirts; sorry). During one of the sessions I got to talking to a woman in a blue shirt. She asked where I was from, and I replied that I was from Ontario, California.

"I went to the University of Redlands," the blue shirt replied. (Redlands is about 20 or so miles west of Ontario.)

Considering the event, I then asked, "Oh, were you a transfer student to Reindeer University also?"

The blue shirt then pleasantly informed me that she was not a transfer, and that she had completed her bachelor's degree at the University of Redlands. And she had also completed her Master's degree at the University of Redlands. It turned out she was was a director-level employee of Reindeer University, and not a student as I had assumed.

Someone at Reindeer University thought that it would be great to show the team nature of the institution by having various groups dress up in similar attire. But because the attire was casual, I was unable to perceive any difference between a high-ranking director who had made a career out of student services, and a student who had volunteered a couple of days of time to welcome new students to campus.

Something like this would have been less likely to happen in the past, or in other regions. If you have attended a similar function at an East Coast university in the 1960s, without question the staff of the University would have appeared in "professional attire." But the West Coast is more casual than the East Coast, and the 2010s are more casual than the 1950s. While the President of Reindeer University wasn't wearing a casual shirt, he wasn't wearing a tie, either.

But at the end of the day, I did encounter two people who were slightly more formally dressed. These two people, male faculty members, were both wearing ties.

Perhaps it was just a fluke - or perhaps these faculty members understood that in an educational environment, the professors who were teaching the students should comport themselves in a manner that demands respect. While Reindeer University clearly wants the students to be engaged - the phrase "learn how to learn" (a phrase I had heard in my college days) was repeated often - there was still the sense of a hierarchy, in which the people who were imparting the knowledge and challenging the students were, in a sense, on a higher level than the students themselves. After all, if professors and students are equal, then why bother to pay good money to go to college at all? Couldn't the students just gather together at a local library and teach each other?

Oh, wait a minute - that's an accepted educational method. For elementary school students.

The curriculum derives from a pedagogical philosophy that goes by several names—“Constructivist Math,” “New-New Math,” and, to its detractors, “Fuzzy Math.” I’ll stick with “Fuzzy Math,” since the critics are right. Nothing about Fuzzy Math makes much sense from a teaching standpoint.

One weakness is its emphasis on “cooperative learning.” Fuzzy Math belongs to a family of recent pedagogical innovations that imagine that kids possess innate wisdom and can teach each other while a self-effacing “facilitator” (the adult formerly known as a teacher) flutters over them. If the architects of Everyday Mathematics had their way, I would have placed my children in various groups, for the most part unsupervised, so that they could work on one elaborate activity after another, learning on their own.

Perhaps they could buy some brightly colored shirts for their self-education gatherings.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

(empo-tuulwey) One person's "texture" is another person's "leash"

My daughter introduced me to the blog Craft Fail, which documents some true failures (such as the person who attached chocolate malted milk balls to an Easter wreath with a hot glue gun) as well as failures of other kinds.

Many of us build things and intend them to be used for a particular purpose. But toddlers often ignore the purposes for which the tools were intended. Why? One reason is because the toddlers don't know any better - something that makes perfect sense to an adult mind is outside of the comprehension of a toddler. Another reason is that the toddlers are often right.

Carissa shared the story of a book box that she made for her toddler, intending that the box be used as a receptacle in which his books could be placed. As she created the box, Carissa used her creativity:

To decorate the book box, I wrapped some leftover black yarn around the top to give it some texture.

A minor little cosmetic detail, but at the end of the day this became an important feature to the toddler.

Apparently what I saw as decoration, my son saw as “leash.”

More details at Craft Fail and at Creative Carissa. Check the embedded video on the latter.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) good for you?

Yes, I just titled this post "Is cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) good for you?"

It seems like a silly question. After all, here's what the Mayo Clinic says:

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a lifesaving technique useful in many emergencies, including heart attack or near drowning, in which someone's breathing or heartbeat has stopped....

It's far better to do something than to do nothing at all if you're fearful that your knowledge or abilities aren't 100 percent complete. Remember, the difference between your doing something and doing nothing could be someone's life.

And the Red Cross, who offers CPR courses, strongly urges people to take them:

One quarter of Americans say they’ve been in a situation where someone needed CPR. If you were one of them, would you know what to do?

In effect, the strong message that is out there today is that CPR is a good thing, and getting trained to deliver CPR is a good thing - a matter of life and death.

But is it?

On Google+, Denise Seitz shared a link to a November 30 item from Ken Murray entitled "How Doctors Die." The main thrust of the article is that doctors, who often (for various reasons) perform extraordinary life-saving processes for their patients, often do not have such processes performed when they themselves get sick. Here's what Murray says about CPR:

Many people think of CPR as a reliable lifesaver when, in fact, the results are usually poor. I’ve had hundreds of people brought to me in the emergency room after getting CPR. Exactly one, a healthy man who’d had no heart troubles (for those who want specifics, he had a “tension pneumothorax”), walked out of the hospital. If a patient suffers from severe illness, old age, or a terminal disease, the odds of a good outcome from CPR are infinitesimal, while the odds of suffering are overwhelming.

Murray didn't publish specific figures, but Robert H. Schmerling did:

As opposed to many medical myths, researchers have reliable data concerning the success rates of CPR (without the use of automatic defibrillators) in a variety of settings:

2% to 30% effectiveness when administered outside of the hospital
6% to 15% for hospitalized patients
Less than 5% for elderly victims with multiple medical problems

Murray also says the following:

[Doctors] want to be sure, when the time comes, that no heroic measures will happen—that they will never experience, during their last moments on earth, someone breaking their ribs in an attempt to resuscitate them with CPR (that’s what happens if CPR is done right).

Basically, if you're not breaking someone's ribs, you're probably not applying enough force. Science Daily:

New [2007] findings show that the majority of people untrained in how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and even many trained emergency personnel, do not push with enough force to properly administer CPR....

The findings showed that 60 percent of the CPR-trained rescue personnel pushed with more than 125 pounds, whereas more than 60 percent of those not trained in CPR failed to push with more than 125 pounds of force....

Pushing with more than 125 pounds increases the potential for rib fractures. Nevertheless, the chances of survival increase enormously.

So let's say that you're one of the few people who survives after CPR. After your ribs heal, do you just pop out of your hospital bed and get on with your life? Schmerling notes:

In real life, many of those who are revived by CPR wind up severely debilitated.

Caregiver.org provides more details:

Another possibility is that CPR may be only partially successful. If the heartbeat is restored but a person is still too weak to breathe on his or her own and remains too weak to do so, he or she may be on a ventilator for days, weeks, months or longer. Moreover, when breathing or heartbeat fails, the brain is rapidly deprived of oxygen. As a result, within seconds, the brain begins to fail (one loses consciousness), and within a very few minutes permanent damage to the brain occurs. If it takes more than those very few minutes to start effective CPR, the person will not fully recover. The brain damage may mean anything from some mental slowing and loss of memory to complete and permanent unconsciousness and dependency on a ventilator and sophisticated medical life support.

So why is CPR perceived as something that must be performed, when in many cases the likely result is death, broken ribs, and/or brain damage? Associate Professor William Mark Smillie of Carroll College in Helena, Montana has asked his students this question. Here is part of his presentation on the topic:

ETHICAL ISSUE: Since CPR emergency treatment often brings burden to the patient and frequently fails, when is it reasonable to initiate CPR in a clinical setting and when is it reasonable not to; and when is it reasonable for a patient to refuse future CPR attempts?

Three decades ago, when people learned how to attempt CPR, they tended to perform CPR whenever a patient suffered an arrest. This was frequently a mistake.

On the other hand, it is often hard not to perform CPR and let someone die, who could have benefited from being saved, and whose death could subject them to accusations from the family about medical negligence.

Ken Murray also addresses the issue of why doctors who refusing heroic efforts for themselves will perform it on others.

The trouble is that even doctors who hate to administer futile care must find a way to address the wishes of patients and families. Imagine, once again, the emergency room with those grieving, possibly hysterical, family members. They do not know the doctor. Establishing trust and confidence under such circumstances is a very delicate thing. People are prepared to think the doctor is acting out of base motives, trying to save time, or money, or effort, especially if the doctor is advising against further treatment.

Murray also stated:

[D]octors are fearful of litigation and do whatever they’re asked, with little feedback, to avoid getting in trouble.

It's a gross oversimplification to say that unnecessary lifesaving procedures are performed because of money, but money truly does play a role in these decisions. Businesses, including hospitals, often seek to avoid risk, and one of the biggest risks is the risk of litigation. Especially when the money is coming out of someone else's pocket, such as an insurance company or the Federal government, it's often better to perform medical procedures that won't work, rather than to refuse to perform unnecessary medical procedures and get sued for millions.

Murray cites an example of a patient who had a written Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order:

Even when the right preparations have been made, the system can still swallow people up. One of my patients was a man named Jack, a 78-year-old who had been ill for years and undergone about 15 major surgical procedures. He explained to me that he never, under any circumstances, wanted to be placed on life support machines again. One Saturday, however, Jack suffered a massive stroke and got admitted to the emergency room unconscious, without his wife. Doctors did everything possible to resuscitate him and put him on life support in the ICU. This was Jack’s worst nightmare. When I arrived at the hospital and took over Jack’s care, I spoke to his wife and to hospital staff, bringing in my office notes with his care preferences. Then I turned off the life support machines and sat with him. He died two hours later.

Even with all his wishes documented, Jack hadn’t died as he’d hoped. The system had intervened. One of the nurses, I later found out, even reported my unplugging of Jack to the authorities as a possible homicide. Nothing came of it, of course; Jack’s wishes had been spelled out explicitly, and he’d left the paperwork to prove it.

If more people understood the true ramifications of CPR - both its success rate and the consequences of partially successful CPR - perhaps fewer people would treat it as the Super-Duper Survival Tool. But is a television show writer going to write something in which someone dies or is brain-damaged? Is the Red Cross going to tell people how to break ribs? I think not.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What? You can't get to Wikipedia? Blackouts are made to be broken.

One of the arguments against Internet censorship is that censorship is ultimately ineffective, because people will always find a way to get around the censors.

This also applies when the censors are the good guys.

At 9:00 pm Pacific time, the most important protest in the history of humankind began - the protest that will ensure that the Internet as we know it will not die. Yes, at 9:00 pm this evening Wikipedia went dark.

Well, sort of.

First off, as I noted earlier in the evening, the blackout only affects the English language version of Wikipedia. If you can read Spanish, or Finnish, or any other language, Wikipedia is still available to you. And even if you can't, you can run the foreign language Wikipedia entries through a translator.

But what if you need to get to the English language Wikipedia for some reason? Mark Trapp described how to do that.

Speaking of SOPA blackouts, to get around Wikipedia's lockout, just disable JavaScript or use your favorite script or ad blocker to block the following regex:


Or just block http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:BannerController&cache/cn.js&303-4

Since we're talking about civil disobedience and all.

But there's an even better way to get to the English language Wikipedia. Peter Kafka tweeted about it, and Loren Feldman reshared it on Twitter and on Google+. Kafka:

Realize not in the spirit of the thing. But! If you have to use Wikipedia for next day, use a mobile device. No blackout there.

OK, this is highly technical, but I think that we all can master it. You know how you usually type en dot wikipedia dot org? Just type en dot m (for mobile) dot wikipedia dot org. And this is what you get:

So if you somehow feel deprived because you can't get to Wikipedia, don't worry. You can get to Wikipedia.

But the really silly part of this whole thing is that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and blacking out their avatars and praising Wikipedia and Reddit and jumping on the bandwagon for twelve hours or twenty-four hours or whatever.

And then, when the blackout is all done, and everyone feels good about the stand that they took, everything will return to normal, and people in the United States will turn their attention to the NFC and AFC Championship Games.

Yes, the NFC and AFC Championship Games.

Which are sponsored by the National Football League.

Um, remember that list of SOPA supporters that I posted on December 23?

I guess I need to write a SOPA Wikipedia something post now

I run in online circles of tech-weenies, and lately the talk about SOPA has gained even more traction than the talk about how George Lucas has ruined his films, or the talk about Ron Paul, or whatever talk that the tech-weenies are supposed to talk about.

But the tech-weenies are mightily disturbed that SOPA and PIPA are not the number one topic on every street corner in the United States of America. The Internet as we know it is about to disappear into Homogenized Corporate Control, and no one cares. Or those who do care lose their jobs. (Update: David Seaman is now a contributor to Business Insider again.) But the 99 percent don't - uh, wait a minute, I didn't mean to use the term 99 percent to describe the people who don't care about SOPA, because the 99 percent are the good guys, and that means that I'm the one percent and I'm a bad guy and Obama and Ron Paul will tax me and...

Excuse me. Let me continue.

Anyway, tech-weenies everywhere are jumping up and down in their Zappos shoes because finally, the world is paying attention to the grave danger that awaits it. Or at least the world will pay attention shortly.

Wikipedia, you see, is going black.

No, I'm not saying that Jimmy Wales has sold Wikipedia to the Wayans family.

What I am saying is that for a 24-hour period, Wikipedia will divert attention from its data and let people know that SOPA and PIPA are very very bad.

This, of course, will result in intensive, in-depth coverage of the ramifications of the proposed legislation, its impact on legitimate foreign commerce, the "due process" issues involved, and the moneyed interests that are aligned on both sides of the bill.

And if you believe that you'll see that level of in-depth coverage over the next couple of days, I'll sell you a bridge in Brooklyn at a steep discount.

Here's what the 11:00 pm happy news will look like in some West Coast city tonight.

HAPPY NEWSWOMAN: And in other news, Wikipedia has gone black!

HAPPY NEWSMAN: Wikipedia? Isn't that the online encyclopedia?

HAPPY NEWSWOMAN: Yes, Bruce. Wikipedia has gone black to protest SOPA!

HAPPY NEWSMAN: Protest SOPA? Don't those Wikipedia people bathe?

HAPPY NEWSWOMAN: Ha ha ha! In other news...

Of course, Wikipedia is not the only online property that will show its opposition to SOPA. eSarcasm has indicated its "me too" attitude:

eSarcasm has announced it is joining with its comrades Reddit and Wikipedia to combat the evils of Internet censorship. On Wednesday, January 18, this Web site will go dark for 12 hours to protest SOPA and PIPA, two proposed laws we don’t really understand but know are bad because everyone we know says so.

And that really sums it up.

Now I don't know whether I'd call Wikipedia's actions an ineffective move. After all, more people will hear about the Wikipedia blackout than ever heard about the NVIDIA or GoDaddy boycotts.

But if you're an American, and you step in the voting booth in November, will you even remember what SOPA stands for?

(Stop Online Piracy Act, in case you've already forgotten.)