Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Upgrade from white to wheat? FreeToastHost 1.0 and 2.0 software for Toastmasters

A recent post on my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog attracted an email from an "ambassador" for the Fontana (California) Chamber of Commerce. No, he and the other ambassadors don't take their marching orders from Secretary of State Clinton. No, they are "a friendly group of business professionals that donate their time to support our membership and our chamber events."

I noticed that the ambassador who emailed me, Jerry Weitzman, is also connected with the Fontana Communicators and Leaders Toastmasters Club. I've known a couple of Toastmasters over the years, so I went to Fontana's website. At the bottom of the website, among the legalese, I found this statement:

Site Hosting and Technical support provided by FreeToastHost, a free service of Toastmasters International.

Now this caught my attention. The Toastmasters aren't just advising their members on restaurant meeting room reservations and throat lozenges. (They talk a lot, you know.) They're also providing technical services to allow their clubs and districts to contact existing members and attract new ones.

And they've been doing this since 2004:

In January of 2004, we introduced FreeToastHost to the Toastmasters community. Since that time, FreeToastHost has been helping clubs attract new members, operate more efficiently, and keep current members informed and interested. Over 10,000 Toastmasters clubs around the world benefit from the no-cost websites and on-line tools provided by FreeToastHost such as the duty roster, member directory, e-mail lists, club calendars, and much more.

But they have not become stagnant:

In August of 2011, we introduced FreeToastHost 2.0 -- the next generation of Toastmaster Club and District website hosting platform.

However, at least one FreeToastHost 1.0 user, Beth MacNeil Stinson, believes that an important feature was left out:

As I started to explore FTH 2.0, my excitement quickly turned to dismay when I discovered that there was no upgrade path or strategy from FTH 1.0 to FTH 2.0. Our site will have to be recreated from the ground up, manually. Years of data will have to be downloaded one discussion post at a time just to preserve the files and our club history. Adding them to a new site will be a huge time suck.

Additional comments from Stinson are here. Incidentally, she recommended using WordPress instead, although it appears that she continued on the FreeToastHost 2.0 upgrade path. (But she'll certainly voice her concerns well before FreeToastHost 3.0 comes out.)

I guess sometimes it pays to be a late adopter - eight years late.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

No, Google+ is not popular - and neither is Facebook

If you want to get a fanatic mad, just tell him or her that the object of his/her fanaticism doesn't matter.

Google+ is blowing up over Amir Efrati's Wall Street Journal article that used comScore data to describe Google+ as a "virtual ghost town."

In a predictable way, Efrati has been condemned by the Google+ community - I even saw the dreaded phrase "You're doing it wrong" in the thread of dozens of condemnations. Conspiracy theories about Rupert Murdoch abound right now.

Yes, dozens. About three dozen when I last checked.

All of this reminds me of something that happened back in February 2010, when MG Siegler wrote a TechCrunch piece entitled FriendFeed Goes Down Hard. Both Remaining Users Pissed. This resulted in angry condemnations - again, dozens of them. And also conspiracy theories.

"But this is different," you say. "Google+ has 90 million users."

I don't care. Google+ is still inconsequential. Let's face it, when a post about Google+ in a national publication results in less than 1,000 replies to the author on Google+, THAT'S inconsequential.

"Aha!" you cry. "You must be in the pay of Zuckerberg."

Uh, not really.

You see, Facebook with its 800 million or 900 million or whatever users doesn't matter either.

We get all caught up in things based upon micro, anecdotal evidence. Because I have a vibrant Google+ experience, I assume that everyone has a vibrant Google+ experience - and if I don't, "they're doing it wrong."

Because I work in a U.S. subsidiary of a French company, I encounter a good amount of French speakers. Therefore, I can extrapolate and assume that there is a significant portion of French speaking people in Orange County, California. Never mind that the facts don't fit my perception. If I don't hear French when walking down the street in Irvine, the people in Irvine are doing it wrong.

Which brings us to Facebook. Everybody's on Facebook (except for one or two Google+ people who have loudly deleted their Facebook accounts). High school friends, college friends, former co-workers, church friends, you name it. And if you're not on're doing it wrong.

Well, I hate to break everyone's collective bubbles, but even Facebook is pretty unpopular.

How can I say this when Facebook usage is climbing up to 900 million people?

Because that means that over SIX BILLION people are not on Facebook.

Eighty-seven percent of the people in the world don't care about your Facebook wall.

Ninety-eight percent of the people in the world don't care about your Google+ hangouts.

And well over ninety-nine percent of the people in the world can't participate in a "Moment of Win" on FriendFeed.

When you look at it from that perspective, the difference in usage between Google+ and Facebook really doesn't matter.

Or, as comScore would put it, the average person spends zero hours on Facebook, zero minutes on Google+, and zero seconds on FriendFeed.

Drinking water? Now THAT'S popular.

Atheists and bureaucracy (thoughts on proposal costs)

Companies often keep track of various projects. Since I am employed in a pre-sales capacity, I am interested in the cost of pre-sales projects. I was doing some outside research on this when I ran across this Government Express piece by Russell Smith. Someone like me who was looking for an easy answer would be disappointed:

Usually, the people asking [about proposal costs] want a cut-and-dried answer. They want to be told, “a proposal should cost you X percent of the contract value”, or “Y dollars per page” or something like that. A meaningful answer is more complicated.

In essence, some multi-million dollar proposals can be completed with just a few hours of work. And even within a certain range of more complex proposals, the amount of work can vary:

The cost to prepare a complex proposal requiring a significant system / product design to be submitted for a program valued in the tens of millions of dollars or more, is frequently in the range of 1 – 2% of contract value. When field conditions are challenging, these costs can rise to 3% or more. For example, several years ago, TRW (now Northrop Grumman) was bidding a multi-hundred-million dollar contract to provide a large system to the Air Force. The Air Force kept withdrawing and resubmitting the RFP over a 4-year period. TRW ended up winning the contract, but the cost of the proposal was 10% of contract value. In this case, TRW suffered from an act of God (otherwise known as Government inefficiency).

My question - if Government inefficiency can be categorized as an "act of God," does that mean that people who want to reduce Government inefficiency should be atheists?

Monday, February 27, 2012

(empo-tuulwey) Tools aren't easy. Why use them?

The New CRM blog recently posted something about tools. Since I (still) talk about tools on this blog, it defintely interested me.

The post talked about several things - tools needs vs. tool "nice to haves," why CRM should instead be called "Customer Experience," and how cool cell phones can be. But I want to concentrate on one point that was raised - shoes.

Here's a bit about what was said about shoes:

Think about your closet. You have thirty pairs of shoes tossed in haphazardly. It is faster getting them in there then if you were to neatly organize them. What about when you want your black boots? You start digging, pushing shoes out of your way, and you’ve found one! It’s a start. So you go back to digging out the second. By the time you have both boots in your hand (or on your feet) all of your shoes have made their way out of your closet and you have to get them back in. The time you save by tossing them in instead of organizing is lost by digging through sixty shoes and re-shoving them every which way but where they belong.

The moral of the story is: it’s a lot easy to find things when they are put away. It might be harder but in the end, it’s worth it.

And the post concludes by saying:

There is a difference between what is easy and what is going to make your life easy.

A tool is often not easy to use. If you have some type of shoe sorter, you have to organize it and remember to put your shoes in the right place every time - and that's BOTH of your shoes. If you have a hammer, you have to make sure that you don't smash your fingers. If you have Twitter, you have to login every once in a while, and you have to restrain yourself from tweeting every little thing that pops into your head. (Well, you SHOULD restrain yourself.) If you have a Capability Maturity Model-based process, you have to read the process and follow it.

The benefit, as The New CRM notes, occurs AFTER you've invested time in using the tool. That's when you see the payoff.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Are you thirsty? Desalination in southern California

I live in southern California, which is for all practical intents and purposes a desert. Yes, I know that portions of the area may not technically fit the term, but the truth is that the local water supply is vastly exceeded by the number of thirsty people out here. Therefore, we are engaged in water wars with northern California, and Arizona, and everyone else in the area.

However, if you go down to one of our local beaches, you'll see all sorts of water. Salt water.

Desalination plants have been around for a while, and now one is being proposed for Huntington Beach, California.

The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board voted to push forward plans for a plant that will convert about 50 million gallons of ocean water into drinking water every day.

That’s enough to supply at least a quarter of a million people in Orange County with fresh water.

The cost is $350 million, and it's claimed that taxpayers won't have to pay for it. We'll see about that.

And it should be noted that there are environmental concerns which could potentially derail the project.

We'll see what happens.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Testing my @networkedblogs link to Twitter

Back in the Dark Ages, I would use FriendFeed to automatically tweet notifications of my posts via my @empoprises Twitter account.

Then, a couple of years after Facebook bought FriendFeed, the FriendFeed-to-Twitter interface quit working.

For a while, I left it like that. If I really wanted to share a post with my Twitter followers, I'd manually share it (usually via AddThis, which is on all of my Blogger blogs).

But tonight, I just turned on Twitter sharing for the four blogs (out of five) that are registered with NetworkedBlogs.

This is a test. This is (mostly) only a test.

(empo-tuulwey) A BC/BCE example of rapid communication (Twitter by foot)

The term "sneakernet" has been used to describe the act of carrying a floppy disk from one computer to another in order to transmit data between the two computers.

Nowadays, no one has floppy disks any more.

But the original "sneakernet" predates the existence of floppy disks, or even computers. In a recent post in my tymshft blog, I referenced an episode that appears in 2 Samuel 18:19-33. Even secularists can appreciate the nature of the story.

In summary, Joab was an army commander who defeated Absalom in battle. Joab was under the employ of David. Two messengers were sent to bring David the news of the battle. Because Twitter did not exist at the time, and because floppy disks (or sneakers) did not exist at the time, the messengers ran with the news.

Ordinarily this would be a routine task, except for one complicating factor - Absalom happened to be the son of David, and Absalom was killed in the battle (by Joab and men under his command).

One of the messengers, Ahimaaz, was an Israeli who understood the sensitivity of the news. The other messenger was an unidentified foreigner (a Cushite) who may or may not have understood the implications. Even if you ignore the fact that Absalom was intentionally killed by the army, there remains the possibility that David might be sensitive to news that his son was killed (despite the fact that the son rebelled against him).

Despite the fact that the Cushite messenger left first, Ahimaaz overtook him and reached David before the Cushite did. Ahimaaz immediately announces the victory in the battle, and then is asked by David, "Is it well with the young man Absalom?" Ahimaaz dodged the question:

When Joab sent the king's servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.

Then the Cushite arrived, also announcing victory in battle. David asked about Absalom, and the Cushite answered:

May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.

I don't know if the Cushite was simply telling the unvarnished truth, or if he was delivering the message that he thought King David wanted to hear. But regardless of the Cushite's intent, the outcome was painful for all. David mourned the death of his son, and the victorious people "stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle." Joab ended up rebuking David. The record does not record whether David ever learned that Joab had killed Absalom, but David told his successor Solomon to deal with Joab because of other faults.

QUESTION: Who was the better messenger - the faster messenger who withheld distressing information, or the slower messenger who revealed everything?

The downside of popularity - Burning Man scalpers?

When one begins a social movement, things look really idealistic. A few committed souls set out to change the world, and for a brief time the world actually changes.

But the world wins in the end.

Burning Man has been around for a while. The temporary community in the Nevada desert has survived and created its micro-ecosystem which is wonderful and far out.

But something happened to Burning Man 2011. The event sold out for the first time in its history.

And now, in 2012, the demand for tickets has exceeded the supply. With predictable consequences.

While it is not clear exactly who bought up the bulk of the tickets, judging by the multitude of outraged Twitter messages, Facebook posts, blog entries and comments on online news stories, many longtime attendees did not and some scalpers did.

Tickets bought for between $240 and $390 are already beginning to show up for sale on sites like StubHub and Craigslist for as much as $5,000 apiece.

And now some, including some organizers of various Burning Man events who were shut out, are complaining. Loudly.

Well, maybe they'll move the whole thing to Las Vegas. There are plenty of hotel rooms there.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sympathy for the Nigerian scam artists who were ripped off? Perhaps.

Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramsey is an Australian woman who was employed as an agent in March 2010. Her job? To provide an Australian bank account for some businessmen. She would receive eight percent of the bank deposits as her fee, and would forward the remaining 92% to the businessmen.

An interesting business, and Cochrane-Ramsey didn't ask any questions.

However, she seems to have made a mistake in her calculations. Instead of taking 8% of the deposits as her fee, she took 100% of the deposits, never forwarding the rest to the businessmen.

There's only one problem. You see, the people who were dealing with the businessmen had some problems with them, and so they ended up finding the person who had the bank account.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the businessmen were from Nigeria?

A BRISBANE woman fleeced Nigerian scam artists by stealing more than $30,000 from their internet car sales racket, a court has been told.

Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramsey, 23, was employed by the Nigerians as an "agent" in March 2010 but was unaware they were scam artists....

Now some believe that Cochrane-Ramsey should be complimented for what she did. Instead, she ended up pleading guilty and will be sentenced soon.

Despite the fact that Cochrane-Ramsey was defrauding dishonest people, that doesn't remove the fact that she was dishonest herself. And let's face it - how many people would open an Australian bank account and forward 92% of the proceeds, no questions asked?

I'm sorry, but Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramsey is not a hero.

tymshft - time, business, and everything else

A few days ago I was kinda cryptic:

I had a wonderful post that I wrote, and was preparing to post in the Empoprise-BI business blog on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 5:00 am Pacific time.

But I changed my mind, and will be posting it somewhere else at 7:00 am Pacific time.

More later.

So what did I do? I posted the item (Tech age discrimination, or something else? Reverse trends in the US and Japan) on my new blog, tymshft.

You see, while I've been posting a lot of "empo-tymshft" stuff here in my business blog, I found that I've been posting it in some of my other blogs also. So I finally set up a single blog for all of my time-related posts, regardless of whether they're business-related, music-related, or whatever.

So what is tymshft? This is what I said:

[P]eople talk about new things and assume that they are new. Take the cloud. For some people, it’s a wondrous new thing, this ability to store data in the cloud and access it from anywhere. Some misguided souls probably even think that Steve Jobs invented the cloud. But some of the features of the cloud were present decades ago, in old time-sharing systems. iCloud is a CompuServe that begins with a vowel....

At the same time, there are things that have changed significantly over the years. For example, I remember when a “phone” was something that was attached to the wall, and came from “the phone company.”

If you're interested in such ruminations on time, and how things change or don't change over time, I strongly encourage you to go to tymshft.

If you're on Google+, be sure to include in your favorite circle.

If you're on Facebook, be sure to go to the!/pages/Tymshft/390937200923679?sk=wall page.

And I look forward to your comments and contributions.

A non-sexy, and profitable, I.P.O.

Normally when we think about initial public offerings (I.P.O.s), we think about newer firms that are engaging in new technologies - Facebook being a wonderful example.

But you can have an I.P.O. for something as boring as real estate.

Through the offering, shareholders will be able to own a piece of 12 office buildings in New York and Connecticut that together comprise 7.7 million square feet of rentable office space.

But the crown jewel of the portfolio is clearly the 102-story Empire State Building.

Yup, the Empire State Building, which has been around for almost a century. And unless you're a giant ape, you can purchase a piece of the building.

And what's more, this business actually makes money:

The company disclosed in its prospectus that the skyscraper generated $156.7 million in revenue for the nine months ended Sept. 30. Overall, Empire State Realty earned $71 million in net income on a pro forma basis for the first nine months of 2011 on revenue of $382.2 million.

Granted, it's not trendy - but making actual money usually isn't.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Believe it or not, February 22nd edition

I learned two interesting things on the Internet today.

BJ Lownie shared a surprising observation in The Proposal Guys blog. Lownie is a leading proposal consultant, and thus is a trusted authority.

...I was quite surprised when I recently learned that a term I’ve always thought to be a proper English word in fact is not....

To see the word in question, read the post.

(But why did BJ entitle the post "Defining words"?)

The other interesting item was shared by Lewis Cunningham. As an Oracle ACE Director, he is clearly an authority on programming and coding.

I have been coding for a long time and have pretty much seen it all. Today I present 9 tips for becoming a master programmer. If you follow these tips, people will stare at you as you walk by. They will talk about you around water coolers. Your code will be used as an example in code reviews. Of this I promise!

Be sure to read each of his 9 tips.

(But why does this helpful post have a "humor" tag?)

Oh, and be sure to read through all the comments on Lownie's and Cunningham's posts.

Women in the boardroom

Recently, Sheila Scarborough of Tourism Currents shared a TechCrunch post with her Facebook friends. The post, written by Aileen Lee, was entitled "Why Your Next Board Member Should Be A Woman." According to Lee:

While women comprise 51% of the population, they make up only 15.7% of Fortune 500 boards of directors, less than 10% of California tech company boards, and 9.1% of Silicon Valley boards.

Inasmuch as I work for a subsidiary of a French company, I was curious about the situation in Europe. According to the European Professional Women's Network, the percentage is similarly low:

Women make up 11.7% of boards at the top 3001 European companies up from 9.7% in 2008 and 8.5% in 2006, the best progress since first BoardMonitor. Of a total 4,875 board seats, women occupy 571. As a result of quota legislation2 Norway remains at the top of the table in having 37.9% women on boards. Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain, Belgium and France have more than doubled the number of women on boards; the introduction of Corporate Governance Codes together with equal access legislations currently under discussion in a few countries is having a significant impact, as well as increased shareholder and media scrutiny of board membership.

But what happened in Norway? The Glass Hammer looked at the results, and then analyzed them:

Dittmar and her colleague Kenneth Ahern studied what happened after Norway required public-limited firms to have at least 40% of board seats filled by women in 2003. Voluntary compliance in the country failed, so the law made it compulsory in 2006, with a two year transition period. “Boards are chosen in order to increase shareholder wealth,” says Dittmar. “Placing restrictions on the composition of a board will reduce value.”

Dittmar and Ahern’s study found that when a board had a 10% increase in the number of women, the value of the company dropped. The bigger the change to the structure of the board, the bigger the fall in returns.

Why? One possibility was that the women recruited pre-quota were more experienced than the women who were recruited post-quota.

When firms were free to choose directors before the rule, they tended to choose women that were similar to men directors. This is consistent with the idea that the large demand and small supply for women directors after the adoption of the 40-percent quota forced firms to choose directors that they would not have chosen otherwise.

This, of course, assumes that companies are choosing qualified people for their boards of directors. Remember Michael Eisner?

Eisner is the prototypical candidate for CEO disease. He is notorious for filling Disney's board of directors with cronies and others who would be unlikely to be very critical of his decision-making and performance.

The Economist recently provided examples:

Back then, Disney’s board might easily have been mistaken for a pair of Snow White’s dwarf pals (specifically, Sleepy and Dopey). At one point, its directors included an architect friend of Mr Eisner and a local schoolteacher. This made it a target of shareholder activists who, after a series of corporate scandals at other firms with insufficiently accountable bosses, campaigned for big changes in how all American firms were governed.

Eisner defended his choices in 1997:

"I would not suggest this board for a U.S. Steel, but if you are building theme parks, creating Broadway shows, and educating children, wouldn't you want a priest, a teacher, an architect, and an actor on your board?"

No, because this sounds like a cast of characters that you'd see walking into a bar, and Disneyland doesn't serve alcohol.

As for the schoolteacher, Reveta Bowers, she doesn't even list her tenure on Disney's board on her LinkedIn public profile. It does not appear that any other Fortune 500 company has been demanding that she serve on THEIR board.

Obviously there have been qualified women on company Boards of Directors, and the TechCrunch post suggests that there are others who are equally qualified to serve. The less-than-qualified women (and men) can turn up in any era, quotas or no.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

If your friend joined a LinkedIn group, would you join it too?

Because of the primitive nature of our social tools, many social services assume that just because your friends like something, you'd like it too.

Take LinkedIn. I recently received an email from them which included the following statement:

Joining a LinkedIn group makes it easy to stay up-to-date with classmates, colleagues, and other professionals.

Here are some groups your connections have joined.

LinkedIn them listed four groups, recommending that I join them.

As it turns out, one of the groups - "Biometrics - Fingerprint" - is one that would interest me. But the other three suggestions (75% of all suggestions, if you want me to drop stats) are failures.

One of the suggested groups is the "3M Cogent Networking Group." This actually sounds like an interesting group, but I know that they wouldn't have me as a member. You see, I work for a competitor of 3M Cogent, and while some of my LinkedIn connections work for 3M Cogent, I don't think they'd necessarily want me joining their company group.

As for the other two suggestions, "Alpha Epsilon Pi Alumni" and "Kadena High School Alumni," those are complete failures. Perhaps one or more of my LinkedIn connections have joined these groups - I'm not sure who - but inasmuch as I have never been a member of any fraternity (or sorority), and my high school was Wakefield High School, it would be inappropriate for me to join either group.

At least LinkedIn gets points for trying.

Now let's see if it asks me to join an NEC networking group (NEC is another competitor of my employer), or perhaps even a sorority.

A change to ESRI educational site licenses

Pricing is a balancing act. You want to price your goods as high as possible to get as much money as possible, but you don't want to price them too high or else people will seek alternatives. And you want to offer different prices to different people when possible - for example, you want to offer low prices to new customers, get them hooked, and then have them pay higher prices later on.

In some businesses, this means that you offer lower prices to the educational market. Back in the 1980s, Apple Computer was well-known for this. The idea was that college kids would buy Macintoshes at a discounted price, and then after they graduated they'd pay the full price for later models.

Presumably this is the tactic that ESRI is using in its modifications to its Educational Site License program.

This year, Esri is rolling out a number of significant, free upgrades to its popular Educational Site License Program. The additional software applications and data enhance an already comprehensive GIS suite and provide new solutions for educators who wish to share the power of spatial thinking across their curricula.

Already added to the site license program this year are the mapping and charting solutions that improve cartographic production including Esri Nautical Solution, Esri Aeronautical Solution, Esri Defense Solution, and Esri Production Mapping. Also added are the ArcGIS Data Interoperability extension, which facilitates data sharing, and Esri Community Analyst, a web-based solution for planning and policy analysis (U.S. only).

Future additions will include subscriptions to ArcGIS Online, a cloud-based system for creating and sharing geospatial content; new workflow-oriented Virtual Campus courses; Esri CityEngine, used for advanced 3D modeling and urban planning; and Esri demographic and Tapestry data for the United States.

Another benefit is that the schools will be turning out ESRI-trained students who can then be hired by companies that use ESRI software.

(empo-tymshft) A change in plan

I had a wonderful post that I wrote, and was preparing to post in the Empoprise-BI business blog on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 5:00 am Pacific time.

But I changed my mind, and will be posting it somewhere else at 7:00 am Pacific time.

More later.

Monday, February 20, 2012

(empo-tuulwey) Chris Brogan, "Never Fall In Love With the Medium"

If you've read my previous "empo-tuulwey" posts, then you've probably run across my saying: "A tool is not a way of life."

Chris Brogan puts it another way: Never Fall In Love With the Medium. Excerpt:

We seek to connect with people. We want to reach them for whatever our goal might be. It’s our effort to connect with them in a meaningful way that benefits our mutual needs that should be the goal. It’s never about the delivery mechanism.

Read the rest here.

And while you're at it, read Jesse Stay's My Official (and Obligatory) "Traditional Blogging is Dead" Post - and be sure to read his conclusions.

You might say that these posts (More later.)

2.4 cents for your thoughts, even if they aren't worth a wooden 11.2 cents

The Obama Administration wants to save money.


As part of its budget, the administration has asked for flexibility in the metals that are used to create coins. As Outside the Beltway noted, the administration has stated that it currently costs 2.4 cents to make a penny, and 11.2 cents to make a nickel.

However, one question - which was also raised when Canada was considering a similar measure - is to consider the costs required to redo the American vending machines so that they will support the new coins.

The Buyer's Lament

Several years ago, Jill Konrath wrote a poem that begins like this:

Don't waste my time, please go away.
I will not talk with you today.
You call me up, you want to sell.
But all you do is tell, tell, tell.

Read the rest - including Konrath's suggestions of how to engage customers - here.

(H/T Sales & Marketing Management.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Still more evidence against the Illuminati conspiracy - Google fights Google

I have long maintained that we don't need to worry about the FBI, the CIA, the BBC, B.B. King, Doris Day, Matt Busby, and everyone else entering all of your personal information into a secret Freemason-controlled computer in Brussels. The truth is that organizations don't want to cooperate with each other, because people in the FBI think that people in the CIA are bozos, and vice versa.

In fact, people in the FBI think that people in the other departments in the FBI are bozos.

Consider Google. If you believe some people, everyone in Google is intent on world domination, and they are all working together to expose all your data and enslave you.

Incidentally, if any of the text in the preceding three paragraphs seems familiar, it's because I copied it all verbatim from a post that I wrote on January 4, More evidence against the Illuminati conspiracy - Google punishes Google. My January 4 post described how Google reduced the PageRank value of its own Google Chrome home page. Then it descended into wild conspiracy theories (yes, Dick Cheney's old bunker was mentioned).

Which brings us to Apple. I haven't really had any observations about the latest tempest in a teapot, in which Google was bypassing the security settings of Apple's Safari browser. But then something in CNET caught my eye. (H/T Shawn Rossi.)

While one Google team was taking advantage of a little-known backdoor that could change the default Safari setting, the Google Chrome team was working to get Apple to close the backdoor--apparently with neither team having knowledge of the other's actions. Engineers for Chrome notified Apple about seven months ago that the loophole was there, although it remains open.

Yes, at the same time the Google Chrome team was being evil by using questionable methods to increase its PageRank, that same Google Chrome team was not being evil by warning Apple about the backdoor in Safari.

Not only is Google being inconsistent in its "don't be evil" policy, individual Google units are being inconsistent - sometimes being evil, sometimes not being evil.

Oh well. Even Darth Vader demonstrated a lack of consistency. Hmmm...what exactly DID Cheney do after Gerald Ford lost his re-election bid? Was he writing a screenplay?

Their Own Devices

Issue 42 of MungBeing magazine includes a Glenn W. Cooper piece that begins as follows:

A man was instructing his children in the art of being seen and not heard when his wife said, stop haranguing those kids and leave them to their own devices!

What could go wrong? More.

(More on Cooper.)

(See my Empoprise-MU music blog post about my MungBeing contribution ROBOTS DOT TXT.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Robots - more than just sorting

On May 28, 2009 and May 28, 2010, I wrote items in this blog about using robots to perform intelligent sorting of items such as groceries.

Of course, robots can do much more than that, as a conference announcement in MungBeing notes.

This conference will build on existing scholarship exploring the role of robotics to examine how the increasing sophistication of robots and their widespread deployment everywhere from the home, to hospitals, to public spaces, and even to the battlefield disrupts existing legal regimes or requires rethinking of various policy issues.

For more information on April's "We Robot" conference, go here.

(See my Empoprise-MU music blog post about my MungBeing contribution ROBOTS DOT TXT.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

At least Michael Anthony "Mee Mee" Fuller can pay his lawyer

A month and a half ago, I wrote about Michael Anthony "Mee Mee" Fuller. He is the person who is alleged to have gone into a Wal Mart in Lexington, North Carolina on November 17, 2011 and who tried to pay for his purchases with a one million dollar bill.

Yes, a one million dollar bill.

At the time, I noted that Fuller had court dates on January 3 and January 16 - the latter court date appears to have resulted from some jail incident.

Fuller continues to wind through the court system.

Arraigned Offenses for Case Number: 2011057886 CR
Arraigned Defendant Name: FULLER,MICHAEL,ANTHONY
Court Date: 03/05/2012
Session: AM
Court Room: 00A1

Offense Code Description Statute

For my European readers, I should clarify that this refers to a March 5 court date, not a May 3 court date. Although it's quite possible that this case may still be winding through the courts on May 3.

When I visited the Davidson County criminal court page, the March 5 schedule for the District court in room 00A1 had not been posted, so I don't know if Fuller is still being represented by Laura Hedrick.

Mikel Kelly looked at the Fuller story back on January 26, and it gave him the opportunity to repeat an old joke.

The other thought that crossed my mind when I hear about this $1 million bill-wielding character was the old joke about the stupid counterfeiters who accidentally printed a bunch of $18 bills and decided they'd go out into the boondocks to a very rural country store to pass them off.

"Got change for an 18?" they asked the clerk wearing bib overalls.

"Why, shore," he replied. "Whattaya want, three sixes or two nines?"

Will cat lovers protest the priorities of the National Institute of Justice? #apmp #in

Anyone who is involved in forensic sciences (in my case, automated fingerprint and palmprint identification systems, and related systems) must pay attention to what the U.S. National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is doing. The NIJ, in collaboration with other Federal agencies, is responsible for several Scientific Working Groups. These groups are charged with the task of advancing the science in specific areas. While I am most familiar with the Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis, Study and Technology - usually referred to by its acronym SWGFAST - there are a number of working groups out there.

This morning I ran across a new Scientific Working Group. In the process of researching this evening's meeting of the Southern California chapter of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals, I went to one of Professor Michael Alley's web pages. While viewing his demonstration of the "assertion - evidence" presentation structure, I couldn't help but notice that one of his images was credited to

Yes, there is a Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal detector Guidelines. You can learn all about it:

SWGDOG is a partnership of local, state, federal and international agencies including private vendors, law enforcement and first responders. We anticipate that establishing consensus based best practices for the use of detection teams will provide many benefits to local law enforcement and homeland security. Improving the consistency and performance of deployed teams and optimizing their combination with electronic detection devices will improve interdiction efforts as well as courtroom acceptance.

While I might not give the group a second thought, I'm sure that cat lovers are appalled. You see, the Feds are spending a bunch of money on dog-related stuff, but are not spending comparable money on cat-related stuff. And since cat lovers can be passionate, I think I've discovered a major election year issue.

But an acronym requires words behind it. What should SWGCAT be?

The Scientific Working Group on Cougar Agitated Temperament?

The Scientific Working Group on Communist Atheist Turncoats?

Let's face it, dogs will cooperate with the NIJ happily. Cats will only cooperate with the NIJ when the mood suits them.

(Can you tell I'm a dog person?)

Fox Soccer Report, Directed from Calgary?

I don't get the Fox Soccer Channel any more, so I haven't seen the Fox Soccer Report in ages. But it turns out that the New York Times did a behind-the-scenes piece on the show. Fox Soccer Report fans know that the show is based in Winnipeg, but the article revealed some other tidbits:

The studio from which the show emanates nightly is a small room with white walls. Before “Fox Soccer Report” uses it, CKND-TV has aired the local Winnipeg news program from the same room. And used the same news desk. When “F.S.R.” viewers see the Fox Soccer logo on the desk in front of the hosts, what they see is a tiny railing on wheels that has been positioned in front of the CKND logo. The giant stock photo of a crowded soccer stadium that appears behind the hosts is a green-screened onto the wall. If you’re in the room, all you see are bare white walls.

Ah, the magic of television. But there's a director there who's controlling the whole thing, right? Um, nope.

What is even more bewildering is that the nightly production of “Fox Soccer Report,” though based in Winnipeg, isn’t actually directed from there. Or from L.A.. The show’s director is, who is in Calgary, at another Global TV station, about 800 miles from Winnipeg. The cameras are remotely controlled from Calgary, with Joe calling the shots. The show is just another news show for Kunkel, slotted between local news shows he directs as suppertime news slots move from east to west across various Canadian cities according to the time zones.

And don't forget that Canada has six time zones, so Kunkel presumably has pretty long days.

Incidentally, I didn't realize that the Empoprise-NTN blog buddy Jeremy St. Louis had left the show. But if you want to work for him, St. Louis (now News Director at Golden West in Manitoba) is looking for someone to work on the news team for AM1250/Mix 96 FM.

And Derek Taylor has also departed, although he is still working for the same company as a morning news anchor.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The problem with a first-name basis

Social media is social and we are all friends and everything is wonderful.

Except when it isn't.

Once I was writing a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn - a person who also happens to have the first name John.

After I wrote the recommendation, I viewed it and was told that the recommendation required John's approval.

Which John?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When the whole world is watching - @theerealmc, @BobbyLibby, and the Chris Brown beating tweets

Millions of us have started Twitter accounts. When we start them, we probably think that our friends will see our tweets, and perhaps we think that others will see our tweets also. Perhaps our tweets might affect others in some way.

I don't know when MAC (@theerealmc) started her Twitter account, but she was happily tweeting away on her account on Sunday night. According to one tweet, she was alone and working:

@LikeAKii6 I know! I should just go stay with you since I'm here alone and have to stay up all night to write a paper!

However, MAC wasn't entirely focused on her studies. Like all good multitaskers, she was doing something else at the same time - in her case, watching the Grammy Awards, retweeting a few things that others were saying, and tweeting on her own.

It appears that MAC was around when Chris Brown started his performance, which was a return to the Grammys after an absence of several years.

First she tweeted:

Chris Brown is beyond sexy..seriously

Then she went on and made a little joke:

Okay id let Chris brown punch me in the face...

Then a new artist appeared on the TV, and MAC commented:

Don't look too excited T.Swift damn...

MAC continued to comment on the Grammy Awards all evening - some praise here, some criticism there. But after a while, someone else tweeted and mentioned @theerealmc - a tweet that MAC retweeted herself:

#DUMBEST girls inAmerica! #ChrisBrown #womanbeater @LICKdaFREAK @kiebs @TheeRealMC @KaylaMarieWatts @briquirkk @carmnem

You see, MAC wasn't the only person to make a joke about Chris Brown's beating of Rihanna. Several other people did also, as can be seen on the page where I first learned about @theerealmc's tweet, a page entitled "25 Extremely Upsetting Reactions To Chris Brown At the Grammys." What these twenty-something people didn't realize at the time, however, was that in a matter of moments, the whole world would be watching.

And all of a sudden, people were taking @theerealmc's joke very seriously. So much so that she tweeted the following later that same evening:

if another stranger tweets me about my chris brown tweet which was a joke im going to scream! #GoAwayCreeps

Things hadn't calmed down by the next day, February 13, when MAC tweeted:

Seriously stfu about Chris Brown and go punch yourself in the face for being so annoying about it. #Annoyed

Later that same day, MAC began feeling like a victim. And unlike Ken Ehrlich (who, probably unknown to MAC, made his own inappropriate comment about how "we [the Grammys] were the victim of what happened"), MAC actually has a better case.

My gosh these people need to stop bullying!

It's worthwhile to post a reply that MAC received:

@TheeRealMC maybe don't joke about violence against women next time! The Internet is forever, enjoy your trolling! #deserved

And the tweeter, @BobbyLibby, was on a tear that day, sending TMZ pictures of the beating to several of the jokers. One example:

@ohfuckitscasey @WhitneyElliott2 HHAHAHAHAHAHAH HILARIOUS Y'ALL ARE SO FUNNY LOOOOOLLLLL #internet #lifechoices

The rationale, of course, is that it's OK to ridicule someone with words who jokes about physical beating. But at the same time, @BobbyLibby apparently didn't think about the fact that he was making his own permanent record.

@WhoFrewDatHam There are about a dozen things I should be doing at work but instead I'm angrily tweeting all these girls.

I wonder what he would have said if his supervisor at work happened to see that very tweet?

" was just a joke."

But @BobbyLibby does have a point - everything that we type online has the potential of becoming public, and in the oddest circumstances, has the potential of becoming viral...for better or worse.

The day of the week and Valentine's Day

Direct from the Winnipeg Free Press (you'll know why a few days from now) comes this observation from the proprietors of McDiarmid Flowers:

[W]hen the holiday of romance falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, there seems to be a lot more love to give -- at least when measuring the volume of flower sales.

"Flowers sell much better on those days, because when people have Valentine's on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, they tend to go to the lake, get a theme hotel, go across the border or go for a big meal at a fancy restaurant," says Gayle Sidney, co-owner with her mother, Marion Shewchuk, of the River Heights shop.

On average, people spend between $75 and $100 on flowers when Valentine's falls in the middle of the week, compared to $40 or $50 when it falls closer to weekends.

And the Canadian and U.S. dollars are currently at about the same value.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Are you ready for QI codes?

Electra turned to Orion. "We need a way to commandeer a bunch of mobile devices to carry out our DDOS attack."

Orion shrugged. "There's no way that we can commandeer a bunch of mobile devices."

"Oh, but we can!" Electra replied. "All we have to do is target teens and early adopters. They're gullible enough to do anything we want."

"So how do we do it?"

"Easy." Electra grinned in satisfaction. "We'll set up some incomprehensible graphics and tell the teens and early adopters to point their mobile phones at them. They'll be gullible enough to do so, and then we program their phones to do what we want!"

"Oh, I get it!" exclaimed Orion. "We get them to point their iPhones at the images."

"iPhones?" snorted Electra. "My MOTHER uses an iPhone! No, we'll do it with Android devices."

"So how do you con them into capturing the images?" asked Orion.

"Easy," replied Electra. "We'll put a picture of Ashton Kutcher on an advertisement, and then tell the users to scan the QI code."

"What does 'QI' stand for?"

"Quick infection."


If you are NOT willing to let the customer be "right"...

Follow-up to my previous post.

Via Proposal Cafe and the Washington Business Journal, I ended up at Government Accountability Office File B-406052 (PDF). The PDF documents a GAO review of a protest of award, in which Piton Science and Technology contested the elimination of its proposal from consideration by the U.S. Army.

Here's what happened, in a nutshell:

the RFP advised offerors to assume a range of 23-31 contractor manpower equivalents (CME) at 2,080 hours per year. RFP, attach. 9. Offerors were required to meet all RFP requirements and were warned that failure to do so could result in an offer being ineligible for award. RFP at 68. If offerors found it necessary to take exception to a requirement, they were required to provide a complete explanation of why the exception was taken, what benefit would accrue to the government, and its impact, if any, on the performance, schedule, cost, and specific requirements of the RFP. Id.

So did Piton Science and Technology assume a range of 23-31 contractor manpower equivalents? No. Here's what its proposal said:

Because Team Piton’s partners are the current incumbents executing the work described in STO 1 and understand intrinsically the current contractor support required, we take exception to this given range of 23-31 CMEs. Therefore, for the purpose of our approach and pricing for STO 1, Team Piton will use a figure of 18 CMEs to support STO 1. We believe that providing 18 CMEs, instead of the recommended 23-31 CMEs, will save the Government significant resources in terms of dollars, manpower and facilities, while still offering an innovative approach and ensuring that all tasks described in the [RFP] are executed to standard.

According to the GAO, that is all of the justification that Piton provided for its revised number.

In essence, Piton was saying that the customer was wrong, and then letting the customer decide whether the customer was wrong or not.

Guess what the customer decided?

And, based upon the justification provided by Piton, guess what the GAO decided?

The protest is denied.

Or, in other words, the U.S. Army's disqualification of Piton could not be contested.

It's important to note that the GAO was not asked to decide whether Piton's assertions were correct.

In considering a protest of an agency’s proposal evaluation, our review is confined to determining whether the evaluation was reasonable and consistent with the terms of the solicitation and applicable statutes and regulations.

Any solicitation - or any business endeavor - is conducted by a series of rules, and as long as the solicitation is conducted by the rules, it doesn't matter what the solicitation actually says. If the solicitation requires you to get green cheese from the moon, and if you laughingly say "that's impossible" but your competitor says "sure," don't be surprised if the competitor gets the award. In essence, you would have to provide a ton of data to prove that the moon is not made of green cheese - and even then your bid may be thrown out.

When faced with RFP requirements that violate space and time, you have one of three choices:
  • Agree to the requirement without exception, and hope you can get out of it later.

  • Take exception to the requirement, realizing that you've endangered your chances of winning.

  • Don't bid.

Are you willing to let the customer be "right"?

I am aware of two different customer - service provider transactions that took place within the last year.

The two instances are seemingly different - one involved a clothing purchase, and one involved a meeting schedule.

But there is one similarity between them - the customer wanted one thing, and the service provider insisted on offering something else against the customer's wishes.

And I also know the end result in both instances. In one case the customer didn't prevail and took his business elsewhere. In the other case the customer did prevail, but the customer was already thinking about taking his business elsewhere, and this influenced the customer's decision.

Now when we're the customer, we can easily identify with these results. As long as the customer isn't asking the service provider to do something illegal or immoral, the old adage "the customer is always right" applies.

OK, so that's how we feel when we're the customer. What if we're the service provider?

Now I know that many of you aren't independent contractors or business owners - I'm not either. But all of us are service providers in one way or another.

As a proposal writer, my "customer" is the salesperson who wants to sell the computer system - I need to make this salesperson happy. Of course, the salespeople that I work with are perfect and would never ask me to use incomprehensible jargon or anything like that. (Oh, they're reading this? I had no idea.)

Even if you're an eight year old kid, you are a service provider for a customer, your mother, and when your mother asks you to clean your room, you do it. Now. Stop reading those stupid blogs and pick up your socks.

(Incidentally, if there are any eight year old kids who read the Empoprise-BI business blog, please leave a comment. I'd love to know about your mom's/dad's parenting skills.)

Let me give us an example torn from yesterday's headlines. I don't know the name of one of the people who was involved in this conversation, but you know that person exists, and you know that this conversation happened. For purposes of this blog post, we'll call the person Kathy. I take you to the headquarters for the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team. It's the summer of 2010.

KATHY: Good evening, Mr. Gilbert.

DAN GILBERT: I am steaming! Kathy, put out this press release right now!

KATHY: Um, do you want me to retype it?

DAN GILBERT: No! Put it out right now, just as it is! What, is there a spelling error?

KATHY: No, sir...but it's in Comic Sans font.

DAN GILBERT: I don't care! Put it out now!

And that's exactly what Kathy did.

Because the customer is always right.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sort of targeted marketing

I recently received a webcast invitation via email. You can see the web version of the email invitation here.

Note that the title of the webcast is "Your Most Profitable Customers Ranked - For Long Term Success."

Accurate determination of customer’s Lifetime Value, or LTV, to your brand shapes the extent of your company’s long term success.

And when I received the email invitation, my employer's name was included in the invitation, making it very clear that this webcast would help me target MY customers.

So how come I didn't sign up for the webcast?

Because, despite the great efforts to personalize the invitation to attract me to sign up, I had the sneaking suspicion that it wouldn't really address my needs.

You see, the proposals that I write primarily go to state and local government customers. And while you can probably calculate LTV for such customers, there are a whole slew of variables - purchasing regulations, legislative appropriations, applications for Federal funding grants - that affect the state and local government purchasing process.

Will such topics be addressed in the webcast? I doubt it.

I forget whether this particular webcast provider knows that my customers are primarily government customers, but if the provider didn't ask this, maybe it should have been asked.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Pirated content at Sundance from the NFL perspective - will Rio Caraeff be arrested?

One of the arguments against SOPA and PIPA is that governments and companies already have considerable power to take down websites and persons that share illegally-obtained content.

Of course, it depends upon whether the governments or companies choose to exercise this authority.

Take the National Football League. The NFL has been known to be strong in enforcement of its copyrights, to the extent that around January, a lot of advertisements air references to something called "the big game" because they are afraid to use the words "Super Bowl." And it's not just the NFL - if a media company purchases the rights to air an NFL game, they want to make sure that they don't lose those rights to other companies that illegally share it. You know the drill - unauthorized use and all that.

So it is kinda sorta embarrassing that at the Sundance Film Festival, an event attended by a number of media content providers, someone ended up illegally pirating an NFL playoff game, displaying it on TVs at an event.

And it's really really embarrassing since the event was sponsored by VEVO, a media firm owned by Universal and Sony.

Today, VEVO addressed the issue and assured everyone that they took all the necessary steps to rectify the situation once it was discovered. This is what they said. This is what VEVO said:

While VEVO staff was in other areas of the venue, the game was put on – via a website transmitting ESPN’s broadcast of the NFL game – without our permission or knowledge.

As soon as we realized the game was airing to the room, we removed it and went back to playing VEVO videos. The game was not aired in its entirety. Rest assured, we rectified this mistake as soon as we became aware what was going on.

Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch characterized VEVO's response as "hypocritical."

[I]magine what the music industry would say were it on the other side of this. Is there any doubt it would dismiss these explanations and, lawsuits in hand, cry foul over such an overt act of piracy?

Furthermore, this seems no different than an accused pirate explaining that they left their Wifi open, only to have it used by someone else to download content illegally. Which happens to be a defense the RIAA has previously fought vigilantly against, when it sought to make owners of ISP accounts liable for any infringing activity, even if the owner had no knowledge of it.

Well, VEVO has been beaten to death over this episode. I'm interested in another aspect of this story - namely, the NFL.

After all, it was the NFL who was wronged by the unauthorized airing of its content at the VEVO event. And VEVO has pretty much admitted that it left the barn door open, implicitly facilitating the pirating activity.

So what will the NFL do? Will they argue that authorities should do what they did before the Super Bowl?

Three days before Super Bowl XLVI, U.S. prosecutors said they seized 16 websites that illegally streamed live sports and pay-per-view events over the Internet, and charged a Michigan man with running nine of those websites....

The defendant charged in the case is Yonjo Quiroa, 28, who faces one count of criminal infringement of a copyright.

Prosecutors said Quiroa, also known as Ronaldo Solano, operated his websites from his home in Comstock Park, Michigan, prior to his Wednesday arrest, receiving at least $13,000 from online merchants who advertised with him.

Lawrence Phelan, a lawyer for the defendant, said Quiroa was in federal custody and expected to be transferred to New York, after having appeared on Wednesday in a Grand Rapids, Michigan federal court.

Now I will grant that VEVO did not, to my knowledge, peddle counterfeit goods at Sundance. But they still violated the basic law, criminal infringement of a copyright.

So will Utah police issue a warrant for the arrest of Rio Caraeff? If you want to apprehend him, his picture can be found here (at a website owned by Time Warner).

But Caraeff had better watch out. Remember the last person who was wanted dead or alive? The Obama administration took him out.

And Osama wasn't dumb enough to tangle with the NFL.

On Muphry's Law

I've heard of Murphy's Law, but I had never heard of Muphry's Law until recently - which is somewhat embarrassing, since I've been employed as a writer for much of my adult life.

Muphry's Law was initially described back in 1992 by John Bangsund.

Muphry's Law is the editorial application of the better-known Murphy's Law. Muphry's Law dictates that (a) if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written; (b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book; (c) the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault; (d) any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.

When I initially shared this on Google+, I threw in an intentional error, referring to Bangsund's work as a "seminole" work.

Unfortunately, I also made an unintentional error, using the word "of" instead of "on" ("A seminole piece of Muphry's Law").


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mel Brooks provides IT security for Syrian officials

If you're familiar with the Mel Brooks movie Spaceballs, you know that a couple of jokes in the movie revolve around a particular password: "1 2 3 4 5."

Dark Helmet: "So the combination is: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. That's the stupidest combination I've ever heard in my life! That's the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage!"...

12345? That's amazing I got the same combination on my luggage! .... Prepare .... Spaceball 1 for for immediate departure ...... and change the combination on my luggage! -President Skroob

But truth can be stranger than fiction, according to Haaretz:

Hundreds of emails from Syrian President Bashar Assad's office were leaked on Monday after an attack by the hacker group Anonymous....

Some 78 inboxes of Assad's aides and advisers were hacked and the password that some used was "12345".

Who's watching who?

My vocabulary is not as large as it should be, so when Nuno Maia used the phrase "visions of prisons and panopticons rebounding in my mind" in this thread, I had no idea what was being discussed, nor did I have any idea what prisons could have to do with web services.

So I poked around and found a 2002 paper authored by Tom Brignall III, then of Tennessee Tech University, entitled "The New Panopticon: The Internet Viewed as a Structure of Social Control."

For vocabulary-challenged people like me, Brignall took them time to define "panopticon":

The panopticon as a conceptual structure can be applied to any physical structure that provides the ability of those in a position of authority to monitor the “inmates” without the “inmates” knowing when they are being monitored.

When initially defined, a panopticon was conceptualized as a physical place, such as a prison, in which the guards were in the center. By the strictest definition, your typical prison with cellblocks surrounding the guardhouse is not necessarily a panopticon, because a true panopticon needs to be designed so that the inmates don't know that they're being watched.

Brignall was writing in 2002, well before there were massive public outcries regarding what Facebook and Google and Apple were doing with people's data. But privacy has certainly been a longstanding concern, and Brignall was already noticing something about the Internet culture. And on the Net, Brignall noticed something unusual:

What is unique within the structure of the Internet is that it allows multiple layers of observation to occur such that the “inmates” can become the observers of other “inmates”. In such a situation, no one knows who is the observer and who is the observed.

Read the rest of Brignall's paper here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The beauty of the immediacy of blogging - talking about the Patriots' potential MVP

I recently took a look back at the reactions of various people to Facebook's acquisition of FriendFeed - things that were said on the day the acquisition happened. None of us knew where things would be 2 1/2 years later, but that didn't stop us from expressing our views at that time.

But I ran across a more immediate example - a New England Patriots blogger who was taking guesses at possible MVPs while the game was still going on. At the end of the first half, ahart wrote:

The Patriots only hold a one-point lead at the halftime. But assuming the favorite coming in builds on the advantage coming out of the half, it’s never too early to think MVP.

Tom Brady, Danny Woodhead, and Aaron Hernandez were possible candidates at that point in the game. The post concluded:

But with so much game left to play and the outcome very much in doubt, the one who earns MVP immortality will probably have to do it with a big second half performance.

In the end, that second half performance came from Eli Manning - a player on the opposing team.

But if the blogger hadn't captured those thoughts at the end of the first half, they would have been lost.

That's the advantage of blogging - it allows you to capture things at the moment, before you've had time to process them. Of course there are disadvantages, since there are some who would pooh-pooh the idea of a Patriots MVP after the fact.

But I, for one, appreciate the opportunity to see what people were thinking at any given moment.

Multi-level marketing and the Camry Effect

Let's make a confession right off the bat. When I refer to "multi-level marketing," I'm using it in a slightly different way from how it's normally used.

I think.

I had a rather busy blogging Saturday. After a post on parking lots, I vented about the online advertising tactics used by Whole House FM Transmitter.

Then, after reading something in The Next Web, I wrote a post entitled Of course, the big boys can practice bad advertising also - see @CamryEffect. The point of this post, and the one that followed it, was that Toyota was doing bad things in the social media space. And that was the tenor of much of the conversation that Saturday afternoon, although I should note that I tweeted the following:

@jasonkeath agency behind camry effect promotion is saatchi & saatchi. not sure if they're also running the @camryeffect spammers

But this appeared to be academic, because a Toyota apology was posted on this blog and on several other blogs. The text, which I reproduced here, was signed by Kimberley Gardiner, the National Digital Marketing & Social Media Manager, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc.

However, all of the apologies were posted by someone named Shand Spencer. And if you nose around, you will find that Spencer works for Saatchi LA.

So does that mean that Gardiner was having Toyota take the fall for something that was actually done by Saatchi?

Maybe not, based upon a comment to The Next Web post by Colum Wood:

John E. Bredehoft My understanding (because I was contacted by them) is that Saatchi & Saatchi outsourced the task to a social media company called American Pop.

However, a Sami Haj-Assaad post at includes the following:

A representative of American Pop has contacted AutoGuide to distance itself from the campaign, however, with Gipson Bachman, the Director of Digital Strategy commenting that, “our company was not responsible for the tweets you received from Toyota’s efforts…”

American Pop, however, did play some role in the Camry Effect campaign. Or perhaps this February 2 tweet is mere coincidence:

So many Toyota Camry stories out there! ...

The American Pop website does not mention the Toyota campaign in any way, so it's hard to tell what American Pop did, or what Saatchi did, or what Toyota did. And Toyota isn't talking, since it would be bad form to say bad things about your partners.

And, for the record, American Pop wrote this back in 2010:

Respectfulness – Asking permission to engage ensures that you stay clear of spamming. This is not an issue with your established social profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) as they are all opt-in. They are giving you permission to engage just by following you.

Note the phrase "by following you." So while American Pop may feel justified in sending tweets to people that are following them, it doesn't appear that American Pop would feel that unsolicited replies are "respectful."

So, at the end of the day, Toyota took the fall for the overeager tweeters, whoever they were. Because there were a number of companies that played some role in the Camry Effect campaign - Toyota itself, Saatchi LA, American Pop, Plus QA (who wasn't involved in tweets), and probably some others.

Oh, and by the way, the winner of the Camry Effect giveaway was Carrie O. of Indiana, Pennsylvania (pending verification of eligibility).

I couldn't find her on Twitter.

Facebook's acquisition of FriendFeed, 2 1/2 years later


Time passes.

On Monday night, I decided to look back at a business acquisition that affected a number of people whom I know. Specifically, I looked at Facebook's acquisition of FriendFeed on August 10, 2009, as it was greeted at the time. I wasn't interested in the post mortems that were blessed by hindsight - I was interested in the immediate reactions to the acquisition, once people read FriendFeed's blog post and Facebook's press release about the acquisition.

I started by relistening to the special Ffundercats podcast that was recorded on that day. If you have never heard of the Ffundercats podcast, it was an end-of-week podcast that was devoted to FriendFeed, including both the service itself and the things taking place on the service. At the time of Facebook's acquisition, the Ffundercats had recorded 41 episodes - the acquisition merited a special 42nd episode.

The episode, which is still available for download today (long after the Ffundercats podcast entered its hiatus), is raw in many respects. Unlike most Ffundercats podcasts, this particular one was unedited, and contains a lot of the things that you usually only heard in the live broadcast (for example, Josh Haley was away from home, and it took some time for the two to connect).

Another raw element of the podcast were the reactions of Haley, Johnny Worthington, and special guest Louis Gray, all of whom were taken by surprise at the acquisition (as were most of us). At the time no one knew how long FriendFeed would continue to operate, or what Facebook would do with the service, if anything.

Haley, Worthington, and initial collaborator Mark Wilson had started the podcast out of passion for the service - again, "fan" is short for "fanatic," and the Ffundercats dedicated themselves to a multi-continental weekly podcast grind. When you are fans of a particular service, and that service is sold to a big huge monolithic company, the rawness of your feelings can be understood.

The second thing that I examined was my own reaction to the acquisition. In my post on that day, I made two points - first, that despite the views of the fanatical FriendFeed users (the Ffundercats weren't the only fanatics out there), the former FriendFeed employees' paychecks were now being paid by Facebook, so Facebook was the employees' first loyalty. The second point that I made was that FriendFeed, unlike Twitter, was pretty much unknown to the general public - so much so that more attention was paid to Facebook acquiring Google alumni than was paid to the actual company that was acquired. So in a way we shouldn't have been surprised at the sudden change to FriendFeed's status.

The third thing that I viewed was Louis Gray's post on the acquisition. Gray noted that he almost stumbled upon the story a week before it happened:

You could see in the way they collectively had a heart attack when I walked into their offices last week unannounced and caught them in what was called "a company meeting" - which practically needed bouncers out the door for how quickly I left.

Gray used some word pictures to paint an initial view of the acquisition:

Here's the thing. FriendFeed is the good girl. FriendFeed is the one that has a 4.0 GPA and had big dreams of an Ivy League diploma. And yet, she ends up with you - the Silicon Valley equivalent of your local state school. When you come rolling in with your heavy car, big wheels and pumping bass, we don't care how much money you say you're worth - we still don't trust your grin when you open the door and say "hop in".

The common thread through all of these is the idea of betrayal - the shining service on a hill gets eaten up by the big company that doesn't care.

At that time, I don't think any of us could predict what was going to happen, or where we would all be 2 1/2 years later. We didn't know that FriendFeed would still be running, in a way, 2 1/2 years later. Nor did we know that Bret Taylor would be Facebook's Chief Technology Officer at the time that Facebook's IPO was announced, or that Paul Buchheit would exit to Y Combinator.

To my mind, the most interesting, and illustrative, story is the story of what happened to Louis Gray. A few months before Facebook's acquisition of FriendFeed, Gray had left his then-employer and joined Paladin Advisors Group. Roughly two years later, he left Paladin and joined a large company as a product marketing manager for the company's social media service.

The company wasn't Facebook. Instead, it was Google, which had just launched its latest iteration at a social media service, Google+.

Many people have compared Google+ with FriendFeed, including Mario Sundar, Dare Obasanjo, and others, possibly including yourself.

It's interesting to compare Google+ with FriendFeed. FriendFeed has spent most of the last 2 1/2 years frozen in time, with few new features, as the rest of the social media landscape has caught up with it and surpassed it. For example, FriendFeed doesn't have games, something that Google+ (and Facebook) have, and something that could have brought FriendFeed some revenue, had they ever implemented it.

But rather than ticking off a list of features, the biggest "feature" of Google+ is its integration with other Google services - something that FriendFeed, as a stand-alone entity, really could never match. Sure, FriendFeed can aggregate - something that Google+ still can't do, and Facebook only does in a limited sense - but FriendFeed can't INCORPORATE - for example, in the seamless way that a Google search can yield information about what your friends think about the topic, or in the seamless way in which you can use a Google search to ask your friends about a topic.

So what happened to the idea of FriendFeed? Many people make a big deal about the community, but the community is everywhere - something that I notice every time I read a particular item in Facebook, then go to Google+ and see that the person has posted the exact same item there. And of course there are the features, but Facebook got FriendFeed's comments and likes even before they acquired the company itself, and I've talked enough about lircles to indicate that FriendFeed's groups (not unique to FriendFeed) can now be found in many places.

FriendFeed, which was known about by relatively few people even in its heyday, is now remembered by even fewer people. But its technical successes and its business failures (even its ending success of a sale to Facebook was admittedly for the people, not the service) are certainly remembered by a few people, and have been instructive for those people as they - we - move on to other things in the future.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Reusing text and graphics (is recycling bad for the business environment?)

(Depending upon your political persuasion, you can pretend that this conversation is taking place in January 2013 or January 2017. Whenever it happens, the point remains the same.)

TIME: The Future

Barack Obama was going to leave office in a couple of week, after the new President took the oath of office. Before President Obama left, he wanted to give a farewell address that covered his accomplishments and his vision of the future. He gathered some of his key advisors together to discuss this.

BARACK OBAMA: So what do I want to say?

HILLARY CLINTON: Why don't you take a look at George Washington's farewell address? That was a pretty good one.

BARACK OBAMA: But I don't know if the "entangling alliances" message really makes sense today.

JOE BIDEN: I know! I know! Look at Lincoln's farewell address!

BARACK OBAMA: Joe, Lincoln DIED. He didn't give a farewell address....

OK, maybe the Obama administration wouldn't operate like that - but perhaps your business does. Whenever you gather a group of people together to create a document or a presentation, there are sometimes some requests to look at a document or presentation that was done before.

Why would something like this be suggested? Two reasons.

First, because re-use of the old material provides a proven solution. Since Washington's farewell address has been admired throughout the centuries, why not use it again? An old solution can often yield a guaranteed level of success.

Second, because re-use of the old material saves time. It's hard to create something new completely off the top of one's head, and if you take some old material and just tweak it here and there, then the job will be done much more quickly.

Of course, there's a big danger in recycling material - namely, that the recycled material doesn't apply in the current situation. Using the Washington farewell address example, we recognize that things have changed since Washington's time - or even Eisenhower's time. In 1796, the United States had to face the possibility of annihilation from either the United Kingdom or France. In 2013/2017, the United States faces a different set of dangers.

There's another danger in recycling material. What if you forget to do the necessary edits? I've run across recycled material involving customer A that suddenly mentions customer B. What happened is that the material was originally prepared for customer B, but when it was adapted for customer A someone forgot to make a crucial edit.

Of course, if you have a powerful message that is equaly applicable to multiple customers, then there's no harm in recycling it. But re-use of old material should always be done with caution.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Jurisdictional battles over the [location goes here] Giants

I was one of the people who showed my support for SOPA/PIPA by watching NBC/Comcast's coverage of NFL's Super Bowl, in which the Giants defeated the Patriots. And it's no surprise that politicians are supporting the Giants' win.

Let's start with a press release from the Governor of New York:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a New York Giants Super Bowl XLVI victory license plate to honor the championship team....

"I join all New York Giant fans in congratulating the team and staff, especially native-New Yorker coach Tom Coughlin, on this great Super Bowl victory," Governor Cuomo said. "We are all very proud of the dedication, hard work and grace under pressure that enabled the Giants to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to New York."

"This has been an amazing run for the Giants," Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Commissioner Barbara J. Fiala said. "Giants fans have always worn their hearts on their sleeve. So we are very pleased to offer this commemorative Super Bowl XLVI Champions custom license plate so that they can show their 'Big Blue' loyalty and championship pride on their vehicles."

Oddly enough, this press release didn't include a quote from the football team itself. But if you go to the team's own website, you can find this press release about the festivities scheduled for Tuesday, February 7:

The festivities will begin with a traditional a ticker-tape parade hosted by New York City in lower Manhattan. The parade will begin at Battery Place and Washington Street at 11 a.m. and continue northbound up the Canyon of Heroes to Worth Street. The parade will be followed by a ceremony at City Hall Plaza, at which the Mayor will present the Giants with Keys to the City.

The Mayor? Where's the Governor? Well, we'll see the Governor later. But the Mayor gets his own quote.

“Big Blue gave us a game to remember, and on Tuesday we're going to give them a parade to remember,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said.

So there's a little competition going on between the Governor of New York and the Mayor of New York, which raises the question of what the "New York" in New York Giants actually means. But let's go back to the press release:

Following the ceremony, the Giants will board busses and return

Uh, let's hold it right there. The Giants are in New York City, in New York State. Why would they have to "return" anywhere?

OK, proceed.

to New Jersey

Yup, to New Jersey, the home of the "New York" Giants. You see, Rita Moreno of Arte isn't the only person whose team claims one city while playing in another. And in the case of the "New York" Giants, that means that there are two celebrations - one in New York, and one in New Jersey.

OK, proceed.

where Giants players, coaches and owners and Gov. Chris Christie will celebrate the title in the team’s home, MetLife Stadium.

See, I told you the Governor would turn up. But I didn't say that the Governor of NEW YORK would turn up. Christie's the Governor of New Jersey, the home of the New York Giants. And in January, he said that the parade for the Giants should be in New Jersey. But all he got was a rally.

But if people were basing things on geography, the only NFL team that Governor Andrew Cuomo should be supporting would be the Buffalo Bills - at least until the "New York" Jets leave New Jersey and return to New York.

But you can't fight success, and people will latch on to any successful thing based upon the most tangential relationship. Did I ever tell you about my visits to New York City?

Search engine optimization existed before search engines

One of Loren Feldman's clients is Acer's Home and Garden Center in New York. Now I probably wouldn't patronize a home and garden center that is thousands of miles from my home - with my lack of gardening skills, I rarely patronize home and garden centers within two miles of my home. But it's interesting to see the material, which demonstrates Jim Ritchie's knowledge of gardening.

In a recent video, Ritchie is demonstrating a little knowledge of Loren Feldman's area, noting how Acer's website is showing up on search engines. Here's the video:

But I want you to notice something about the video. Look behind Ritchie. There's a row of shelves there. Some products are at the front of the row, while others are along the row. Some products are on higher shelves, and some are on the bottom shelf.

There's optimization going on there, too. And that optimization has been going on long before there were such things as search engines.

Sylvester da Cunha explains various shelf position tactics:

Traditionally, "eye-level shelving" is best, followed by "waist-level", [knee-level] and ankle-level" . It is near impossible to locate all the items at eye-level and store experience have proved that consumer responses to shelf locations depend upon such other factors as the product package size, whether or not its being advertised, its need for visibility and intended market segment.

Studies have proved for instance that when a heavy 54 oz juice product was shifted from a non-visible lower shelf to a higher visible location the sales instead of increasing dropped by 15% because of the difficulty experienced in lifting such a heavy item.

Lower shelves hold definite merchandising opportunities for children. Chocolates showed an increase in the range of 14 to 39 per cent in their sales as they were clearly visible to the 'junior' target group.

Now a number of studies have been done on shelf product positioning, but when you think about it, it's all common sense. Don't put kids' products six feet above the store floor. Thank you, please pay me $2,000 for that advice. (Gotta get that smartphone somehow.)

The same common sense applies to online marketing, which is why Jim Ritchie's simple act of describing what his company does enabled his page to be found by search engines.