Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Whatever happened to Pia Beate Pedersen?

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a blog post about Pia Beate Pedersen, the contractor for Norwegian broadcaster NRK who quit on-air and wrote about her working conditions.

Apparently Pedersen is now working for Mediaplanet, and wrote several articles in a March 2012 periodical (PDF). It's all in Norwegian, but it appears that she's writing about topics such as baby and child issues.

Hopefully she's happy.

(empo-tuulwey) Social Strategy Part 1 - You

Go to Part 0, Part 2

When your organization mounts a social media campaign or launches a social media strategy, who should care about it?

It depends.

Think of the terms "important," "very important," and "extremely important." You could say that something is "important" to you, but at the end of the day, that something becomes meaningless. Perhaps a CEO says that "social media is important to our company," and then five minutes later the CEO is on a conference call about something else.

"Very important" things obviously take more of your time; when I was a product manager, I ignored all of the "important" feature requests and tried to see how many "very important" feature requests could be accommodated.

Unless you are absolutely without a life, the term "extremely important" never enters into a discussion of social media, or any business endeavor. One day I was in a meeting at work - I think it was a "very important" one. During the meeting, I received a phone call and immediately left the meeting and left the office. My brother in law had just died. That's "extremely important."

If you are charged with day-to-day responsibilities for a social media campaign or strategy, then it's very important to you. This is true even if your CEO has declared the importance of social media to the company; the CEO's not going to spend 3, or 6, or 10 hours a day working in social media. This is true even if your organization has a seven-step approval process before something can be tweeted; again, the approvers aren't going to invest the time in it.

You are.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Enterprise vs. non-enterprise - giving equal time to the other side (sort of)

At times, the Empoprise-BI business blog has been a small champion of enterprise computing. Now one would think that enterprise computing has a lot of supporters, but sometimes it's seemed a little lonely over here. Perhaps it's just because of the crowd that I run in, but sometimes it seems that some technologists have forgotten that enterprises exist.

There have been many times where I've run across technologist comments that run along the lines of "You should use this app" or "You should stop using this OS" or "Just reconfigure your computer." While people often have the ability to do these things on your personal computers, they do not have the power to do this on large enterprise computers. Depending upon the enterprise, users may be discouraged from installing other apps on their computers, or may be prohibited entirely from making any types of administrator changes to their computers. While that means that an enterprise user may not be able to run the latest version of Spotify, it does mean that the chance of conflicts with critical enterprise applications is significantly diminished, ensuring higher productivity of enterprise computing and human resources.

For me, the ultimate were the websites that displayed messages that said "You should not be using Internet Explorer 6." As I noted at the time, I'd be happy to do so, provided that the IE 6 opponents were willing to pay my salary - IE6 was the standard at the enterprise that employed me at the time, and if I was going to violate the enterprise's computer use policies, I'd need an income from somewhere else.

So this blog (and my predecessor blogs, such as the one that ran my 2008 IE6 rant) has been pro-enterprise. But because I want to be fair and balanced, I want to share an issue that was previously shared by Jeremy Chone with the comment:

Web People should not listen to Enterprise People Enterprise people will follow anyway when they understand the simpler way of doing things.

Chone shared this CNET piece, which began as follows:

OAuth 2.0 promised to improve authentication on the Net, but its author has resigned from the project after concluding the standard "is a bad protocol."

So what prompted Eran Hammer-Lahav's resignation?

"At the core of the problem is the strong and unbridgeable conflict between the Web and the enterprise worlds. The OAuth working group at the IETF started with strong web presence. But as the work dragged on (and on) past its first year, those Web folks left along with every member of the original 1.0 community. The group that was left was largely all enterprise... and me," he said. "The resulting specification is a designed-by-committee patchwork of compromises that serves mostly the enterprise."

There is a valid point here, if you buy the notion that "web people" are solely dedicated to finding the best technology, and "enterprise people" are primarily dedicated to advancing their own enterprises.

I certainly buy the latter part of the notion. If WidgetCo appoints me to a standards committee, then I have a duty (for public companies, a fiduciary/legal duty) to ensure that the standards committee does not do things that harm my enterprise. Therefore, if I as a standards committee voter must choose between option A which is good for everybody, and option B which is only good for WidgetCo, then I am going to choose option B.

Standards committees can sometimes resist this. At one point, I knew of a particular standards committee which banned enterprise representatives from membership on the committee. At the same time, enterprise people were strongly encouraged to attend the standards committee meetings, and were strongly encouraged to cooperate with the committee's requests. Sometimes the enterprise people would cooperate, because it was important to keep the committee happy. Sometimes, however, the enterprise people would not cooperate.

And therein lies the danger of adopting a "web people should not listen to enterprise people" attitude. Let's say that OAuth 3.0 overcomes all of the issues with OAuth 2.0, and is a wonderfully clean standard that makes the web people absolutely giddy and ecstatic.

But what happens if the enterprises decline to implement the standard?

(empo-tuulwey) Social Strategy Part 0

Go to Part 1

I recently had occasion to re-read something that I wrote back in September 2008, which said (in part):

[O]ne of [my co-workers] suggested to me, "Hey, while we're at the IAI [conference], why don't you Twitter it?" The idea was that this would be a good way to get some publicity out of our efforts there.

Unfortunately, this would only make sense if anyone were listening. I performed a search of both Twitter and FriendFeed, and I was unable to discover anyone other than myself who even had a passing interest in the IAI. If an IAI tweet lands in the Twitter forest, it won't make a sound.

Several years later, there's still a perception that the tools of social media (Twitter, Facebook, whatever) have magical properties that will automatically increase your sales. Or that you can hire a "social media expert" to work the magic with no effort on your part.


Having been around online communications for over thirty years - yes, I was communicating online in the early 1980s - I've acquired a few thoughts on the philosophy behind online communications. Over the next few days, I'm going to share those thoughts here.

Comments, criticisms, and alternative thoughts are welcome.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The non-science behind Bluefin Labs' Opening Ceremony social media analysis #nbcfail

There are many social media studies that are conducted that can tell you all sorts of wonderful things. But before you trust any study, you should take a careful look at the methodology behind the study.

Case in point - Bluefin Labs has posted an item entitled How Social Was the Olympics Opening Ceremony? It quotes an impressive-sounding number, but there is a very large flaw in their methodology. See if you can spot it.

As expected, the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics was huge in social TV. How huge?

94.2% of all social TV comments in primetime (7pm to 12midnight ET) last night were about the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

The Bluefin post then displays a really impressive graphic that states that this social media spike occurred when Queen Elizabeth parachuted out of the helicopter, this spike occurred when Team USA entered, and so forth.

There are two problems with this analysis.

If you've been around me for any length of time, you already know what one of them is. Bluefin defined prime time as occurring between 7:00 pm and 12:00 midnight Eastern time. Perhaps that was true for some people, but it wasn't true for the western part of the United States. In California, NBC didn't begin showing its Olympic coverage until 7:30 pm Pacific time - or 10:30 pm Eastern time. NBC showed Paul McCartney's rendition of "Hey Jude" at about 3:00 am Eastern time.

This causes a methodology problem. If you look at Bluefin's chart, you'll see several blips between 11:00 pm and 12:00 midnight Eastern time. Which of those blips were due to the televised image of David Beckham that was being shown on the East Coast? Alternatively, which of those blips were due to the televised image of Parachuting Lizzy being shown on the West Coast? Unless Bluefin has a methodology to exclude West Coast tweets from its analysis, we'll never know.

But there's a bigger problem - and again, if you've been around me for any length of time, you know what the second problem is. Bluefin was measuring public comments on Twitter and Facebook. But Twitter and Facebook are available in countries outside of the United States. And despite NBC's successful efforts in preventing many people in the United States from watching the Opening Ceremonies at 4:00 pm Eastern time, WHEN THEY ACTUALLY HAPPENED, people - including Americans - were using Facebook, Twitter, and other services to monitor the Opening Ceremony long before Bluefin's study kicked in. For example, I wrote this at 2:19 pm Pacific time, well before NBC Chicago encouraged viewers to "[w]atch NBC's coverage of the Opening Ceremony beginning at 6:30 p.m. CT."

OK, you might say, but Bluefin is concentrating on televised coverage of the event. Well, in most of the world the event WAS televised at 4:00 pm Eastern. Even Canada was showing the event at 4:00 pm Eastern, as I discovered via Google+.

This, of course, makes it even more difficult to say that this blip in Twitter resulted from this event being televised at the time.

Back on January 1, 2008, when hashtags were still relatively new (at least on Twitter), I wrote a post entitled Hashtagging Challenges When Events Occur at Different Times in Different Locations. It described what happened when I was tweeting about KTLA's Rose Parade coverage from a vantage point near the beginning of the parade, while Phil Hodgen was tweeting from a vantage point near the end of the parade. The result was a jumble.

philiphodgen : #roseparade marines get heartfelt applause << (2008-01-01 12:22:58)

philiphodgen : #roseparade boy and girl scouts with state flags << (2008-01-01 12:22:40)

oemperor : #roseparade usc trojans. i only hear this song every week (my alumna coworker has it in her cube). actually i heard it less this year << (2008-01-01 12:22:26)

So were the USC Trojans marching with the Marines and the Scouts? Not exactly.

Now try to cover the tweets, Facebook posts, and other items from the Olympics Opening Ceremony coverage, where you may see the same event seven HOURS earlier or later than someone else. An Englishperson or Canadian might see something at 1:00 pm Pacific time which I wouldn't see until 8:00 pm Pacific time.

How are you going to analyze THOSE tweets? Especially this live tweet from Tim Berners-Lee? (Well, live for those on Twitter; not live for those watching NBC.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

About Authentec

While many people are concentrating on other ramifications of the Apple-Authentec deal (the Times of India entitled its piece Apple buys Samsung's mobile security supplier AuthenTec for $356m), I am more interested in the biometric portion of the deal.

Authentec has been around since 1998 and has been a public company since 2007. It is best known for its fingerprint sensors for personal computers and mobile devices, which provide a level of fingerprint biometric security to those devices. It's not necessarily to the level used by the FBI and other large-scale organizations, but you usually don't need that level of biometric quality on your computer or phone.

Before the Apple deal was revealed, Authentec talk was centered around this recent deal:

Alcatel-Lucent (euronext paris and nyse:ALU), and AuthenTec are jointly supporting Portugal Telecom (PT) in the launch of 'Meo Go!'. The new Meo Go! service enables subscribers of Portugal Telecom - the largest communications service provider in Portugal - to use their smartphones and tablets to access content that was previously confined to their TVs and PCs, including 60 live TV channels and video-on-demand.

The Meo Go! service is available to subscribers using Android, Apple iOS and Windows-based smartphones and other mobile devices, and includes features to ensure secure delivery and smooth playback of a variety of different video content formats.

As you can see from the press release excerpt, Authentec works with a variety of technology players, including Apple and its competitors (fierce competitors in some cases).

If the deal is approved, Apple can do one of two things. It can either treat Authentec as a semi-separate entity that provides its products to all vendors, or it can concentrate on integrating the Authentec product line into Apple products only. The SEC filing, written from the perspective of Authentec, doesn't say what will happen, since Authentec does not know what Apple will do with the company once it owns it. And Apple isn't telling.


1. What was announced today?

Apple and AuthenTec have entered into a definitive merger agreement under which Apple will acquire AuthenTec for $8.00 per share. Certain information regarding the transaction can be found in the Form 8-K filed by AuthenTec with the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 27 and additional details will be provided in the proxy statement AuthenTec will file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

2. Why is Apple buying AuthenTec?

AuthenTec cannot comment on Apple’s intentions.

3. As a shareholder of AuthenTec, what will I receive?

Each shareholder of AuthenTec will receive $8.00 for each share of AuthenTec stock that they own, which represents a 56.9% premium to AuthenTec’s closing share price on the day prior to the announcement of the acquisition.

4. What will happen to AuthenTec’s existing businesses?

Apple will implement its plans for AuthenTec’s businesses after the transaction closes.

5. What will happen to AuthenTec’s employees?

AuthenTec cannot speak to Apple’s intentions. In any event, we do not expect any public comment on future plans with respect to employees.

6. When do you expect the acquisition to close?

The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approval and AuthenTec shareholder approval. Subject to satisfaction of those conditions, we expect the merger to close in the third calendar quarter of this year.

7. Are there any closing conditions?

The deal includes customary closing conditions, including regulatory approval and AuthenTec shareholder approval. Please refer to the merger agreement attached as an exhibit to the Form 8-K filed by AuthenTec with the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 27.

8. What regulatory approvals are needed?

The acquisition is subject to review under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act and certain foreign antitrust laws. Additional details will be provided in the proxy statement AuthenTec will file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

9. What does this acquisition mean for existing AuthenTec customers?

AuthenTec’s current customers are encouraged to reach out to their sales representative at AuthenTec. We cannot comment on Apple’s future plans for AuthenTec’s business.

10. Did AuthenTec hire an investment banker? If so who?

AuthenTec engaged Piper Jaffray & Company.

11. Will management be hired by Apple?

AuthenTec cannot speak to Apple’s intentions. In any event, we do not expect any public comment on future plans with respect to employees.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Universities are businesses too

I stand before the graduatating class of Nonexistent University. As you leave these hallowed halls, I trust that you will remember the valuable lessons that you learned here. I could speak of the love of learning that you have received at this institution, or I could speak of the value of the pursuit of knowledge. But I will not speak about that.

I could speak about the non-academic aspects of your time at this university. The long talks at two in the morning. The wild parties. That night in that co-ed's room that you thought that no one knew about. But I will not speak about that.

Because, as you leave these hallowed halls, you will learn what is important. And it's not knowledge that's important, and it's not the college experience that's important.

What's important is that this university has to make money, however it can.

Down the road, you may have heard that there's a little bit of controversy over at Penn State University. Many are claiming that Penn State abrogated its educational responsibility by covering up a child abuse scandal. But I have to tell you, there's no money to be made from a child abuse scandal. And even today, the threat to Penn State isn't from the loss of $60 million in fines. The threat to Penn State is that alumni may quit donating to the university. And that would be more damaging than anything the NCAA could ever do.

But you tell me that Penn State doesn't have any standards. You tell me that Nonexistent University doesn't have any standards. Turn to the Ivy League, you say. OK, I will:

Brown University, eager to shed its label as one of the weakest schools in the Ivy League, bolstered its reputation by recruiting kids with famous parents. While celebrities don't often contribute financially, they generate invaluable publicity....

Brown raised its profile by enrolling children or stepchildren of politicians and celebrities, including two presidents, three Democratic presidential nominees, two Beatles and seven Academy Award winners. A particularly controversial case was the son of Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz, whose application sparked a debate within Brown.

Celebrity students generally lag behind their classmates in academic honors. But their prominence -- and that of their parents -- helped transform Brown into a top destination for students with a creative or artistic bent. Brown accepted just 13.8% of applicants for this year's freshman class, the lowest percentage in its history, as the number of applications rose sharply. Its endowment has risen from 29th nationwide in 1980 ($123 million) to 26th in 2005 ($1.6 billion), although it remains the lowest in the Ivy League.

Now some may argue that a school should be measured by the number of Rhodes Scholars, but we all know that a school should be measured by something far more important - its endowment. And in that regard, Brown University is a smashing success.

Now that my speech is over, please line up to receive your diplomas, along with the first of many letters that you will receive from the alumni organization. I would stay with you, but I have to leave - I have a lunch with Christopher Ovitz and his father Michael.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Theater Security Theater

After reading my post about post-mortems, James Ulvog offered a comment on the security/terror aspects of the post. Ulvog began as follows:

Bruce Schneier calls this security theater. It feels good but is worthless for risk reduction.

Since the shootings in Aurora occurred in a theater, I guess it's appropriate to say that we're engaging in theater security theater now.

In Washington, the Homeland Security Department held a conference call with officials from the commercial, entertainment and shopping mall industries to discuss what security measures they could take to prevent something like this from happening again.

Think about it. It sounds nice, but how can you prevent something like this from happening again? You can - but at a tremendous cost.

But don't worry - actions are being taken.

AMC Theatres, the nation's second-largest theater chain, with more than 300 movie houses, said it will not allow people to wear costumes or face-covering masks into its theaters.

Well, AMC just killed its "Rocky Horror" showings.

And those who are honest admit that these are not necessarily security measures per se.

The New York Police Department said was posting officers at about 40 theaters around the city that were showing the film. The increased security was a precaution against potential copycat shooters, and also meant to reassure moviegoers.

"We're doing this to raise the comfort level," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. "We'd certainly encourage everybody to go about their business."

Frankly, the posting of a police officer outside a movie theater is more effective than a costume ban, but Commissioner Kelly even admits that this is just a reassurance.

And what did Bruce Schneier himself post in the aftermath of the shootings? Nothing. (Frankly, restraint is refreshing, as opposed to those who are posting multiple stories from every angle, to the revulsion of Loren Feldman.) Schneier has, of course, written about security theater in the past. I encourage you to read this article on the topic. I'll confine myself to quoting one excerpt which relates to the post-mortem topic that I raised earlier:

Security is both a feeling and a reality. The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders. When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn't truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn't make any sense.

Often, this "something" is directly related to the details of a recent event: we confiscate liquids, screen shoes, and ban box cutters on aeroplanes. But it's not the target and tactics of the last attack that are important, but the next attack. These measures are only effective if we happen to guess what the next terrorists are planning. If we spend billions defending our rail systems, and the terrorists bomb a shopping mall instead, we've wasted our money. If we concentrate airport security on screening shoes and confiscating liquids, and the terrorists hide explosives in their brassieres and use solids, we've wasted our money. Terrorists don't care what they blow up and it shouldn't be our goal merely to force the terrorists to make a minor change in their tactics or targets.

Our penchant for movie plots blinds us to the broader threats. And security theater consumes resources that could better be spent elsewhere.

I encourage you, however, to read the entire article.

What's wrong with post-mortems

Several weeks ago, three of us engaged in an informal post-mortem on a recent proposal. One of the participants, who has extensive experience with our company but is relatively new to the bid process, questioned why we were referring to this as a post-mortem. To him, that implied that our proposal to the customer was dead on arrival.

Whether you refer to it as a post-mortem or a post-partum, there is usually some type of "lessons learned" exercise after a project completes.

Or after an event occurs.

I turned on my car radio late Friday morning. About eleven hours had elapsed since the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and a so-called security expert was talking about the lessons learned from the tragedy. To him, the chief lesson learned was that we need more security at movie theaters.

I switched the station in disgust.

Why? Because a "lessons learned" exercise often takes incidents from an individual project or event and blows them up out of proportion.

Thousands upon thousands of movies are viewed in theaters every day. Heck, there were probably thousands of theater showings of the new Batman movie on Friday, July 20. Of all of those thousands upon thousands of movie presentations, how many resulted in multiple deaths? Exactly one. So does that mean that we MUST suddenly increase security at all movie theaters?

Now I don't discount the fact that theaters can be crowded areas and could be targets for someone intent on doing harm. But movie theaters are clearly not the only crowded areas.

Of course, this isn't the first time that a single isolated event has resulted in a "lessons learned" exercise with far-reaching consequences. One guy (Richard Reid) unsuccessfully tries to down a plane with shoes, and all of a sudden, millions of plane travelers are taking off their shoes while going through airport security.

Looking at the business world, how many times have you had a particular "once in a lifetime" issue with a particular project, and all of a sudden you find that all future projects require a check to make sure that "once in a lifetime" issue never happens again?

John, before you can ship this proposal, you need to go through this 115 item checklist to make sure that we can ship it. First, have you ensured that the customer is not on a U.S. State Department blacklist?


Fine, let's move to item 2. Have you ensured that all export licenses have been obtained?


I'm sorry, we can't waive these questions. They're mandatory because of the problem with the foreign shipment several years ago.


Let's continue. Has the proposal been translated into the customer's native language?

Yes, I believe that a "lessons learned" exercise can be valuable. But when deriving lessons learned, you have to consider the probability of that particular item occurring in the future. There is a cost associated with every action, and if we suddenly go through great effort to put metal detectors at every movie theater...the criminals will simply go to the smoothie shop next door.

But if you insist that no cost is too great to protect people from harm...then you'd better ban songs about roller coasters. Just to be safe, you know.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Will Al Franken's next television gig be on the Food Network?

In the process of researching some items regarding Minnesota Senator Al Franken (his subcommittee recently held a hearing on facial recognition), I noticed a "Breakfast with Al" link on his Senate website. I was curious about this, since it is regrettably risky for any member of Congress to meet with his or her constituents. However, these breakfasts are held in Franken's Senate office, which means that you have to go through a lot of security to get there.

On the Breakfast with Al page, the Senator spends a lot of time talking about...breakfast:

We serve real Mahnomin porridge made with wild rice that we bring in from White Earth Reservation. It's a native Minnesota dish that was first created by the voyageurs. The wild rice is cooked with cream, berries, and nuts. It's become a big hit here in the office; our guests like it so much they keep asking for the recipe. I would like to add a special thank you to Mitch Omer and his staff at Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis for allowing us to use their Mahnomin Porridge recipe, which you can find below.

Now I ask you - did Senator Humphrey or Senator Mondale ever serve porridge to their constituents?

To get the recipe, go to Senator Franken's website. The Senator also provides this "fun fact":

While the great city and county of Mahnomen, Minnesota are spelled with an "e," the Mahnomin porridge we serve at breakfast is traditionally spelled with an "i".

P.S. I guess that Senators Feinstein and Boxer can hawk this stuff. Recipe not provided. Remember, this is California - we don't want Apple or Google to say that someone stole the recipe.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You can look at anything in our store...just don't look with your camera

If you believe the more starry-eyed soldiers in the Revolution of Social Media, any visit to any business should be a social experience. New, modern 21st century businesses want to communicate with their customers via all existing social channels, according to the starry-eyed. Check in with Foursquare or other services! Review on Yelp or other services! Tweet about your experiences! Take pictures via Marissa's new favorite image website, Flickr, or her old favorite image website, Picasa! And -

Uh, what's that?

Put the camera down?

What sign on the front door?

You see, your typical meat loaf store will do anything for social media love, but it won't do that picture thing. And sometimes, they really mean it. Penny Shelton:

My husband and I were visiting Paris last spring. We saw a McDonald’s and wanted to take a picture of the menu board to show my six-year-old grandson. I knew he’d get a kick out of seeing how different it appeared from a McDonald’s in the United States....

She grabbed me by my arm and jacket and threw my back against the open door, all the while grabbing at different parts of my coat with one hand and pinning me there with another. Within seconds another woman appeared at the scene and put her arm across my chest.

Now this is not unique to McDonald's, or to France. (DISCLOSURE: I am employed by a company that is owned by a French firm.) If you scroll through the comments, you'll see mentions of India, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, and Hungary, as well as Burger King and Starbucks. And I'm sure that Thomas Hawk can tell you some stories about places here in the United States that frown on picture-taking.

But here the starry-eyed will say that McDonald's, Burger King, et al are DOING IT WRONG and DON'T GET IT. Then the starry-eyed will claim that real 21st century companies understand transparency and publicity and all of that.

If you believe this is true, I suggest that you perform this simple test.

First, find a store (grocery or retail) that is demonstrably social media aware - one that demands that you check in before they'll even let you in the door.

Second, walk into that store with your favorite cool smartphone.

Third, proceed to take a picture of every single item that is for sale - and be sure to prominently feature the price tags in every picture that you take.

After about 10-15 minutes of this, even the most "aware" company will politely ask you to leave - if you're lucky. If you're not so lucky, they'll grab your arms and jacket and throw you out, possibly damaging your preciously cool smartphone in the process.

Why? Because, as Paul Brocklehurst noted in this Google+ thread, it is legally permissible for a business to set reasonable rules on its own property. If a business says "no photography," then no photography.

Of course, there's a potential difference between what is legally binding and what is good business. One could argue that while a private business has the legal right to restrict photography, it is not necessarily a good business practice. Customers would never patronize (or matronize) such an "old school" business.

But does any business - or any person - behave as transparently as we picture-takers would like? Take Jennifer Ringley. Even before she disappeared from the Internet, did the JenniCam woman ever post her tax returns? And don't forget how Julian Assange reacted when Swedish police reports about his alleged crimes were...um...leaked.

So next time you're taking pictures in a WalMart or Whole Foods, don't be surprised if the store manager follows you home...and starts taking pictures in your house. Your Facebook friends will love to see all the McDonald's wrappers...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Credit cards, light bulbs, and vending machine availability

When Brock Hatfield shared my earlier tymshft post on the reasons for the Netflix/Pinterest/Instagram/etc. outage, Hatfield (who, coincidentally, works at IBM, one of the companies that I've referenced regarding causes of disasters) commented on the nature of decision-making. Specifically, Hatfield noted that there have been instances in which IT has recommended a particular course of action, but management has rejected the recommendation for cost reasons.

I'm not claiming that IT is always right - there are cases in which business rationale outweighs a technical recommendation - but there are certainly times when penny-pinching is not advised.

Hatfield shared a link to a Tumblr blog that documents such failures. One case stood out in my mind. At an (unnamed) remote IT support facility employing 1,300 people, the facility itself - presumably providing critical IT services - was down.

But the credit card-equipped vending machines were still running.

Why were the (presumably) non-critical vending machines up while the (presumably) critical IT facility itself was down? Perhaps it had to do with the credit cards. Credit card providers want to make sure that transactions can be accepted all the time, so maybe the vending machine was engineered in such a way to meet the credit card company's high availability requirements.

Regardless of the reason, it's obviously a troubling sign when an IT support facility offers worse availability than a vending machine.

But while I was trying to locate the facility where this occurred, I happened to run across another vending machine story that is troubling in its own way. FacilitiesNet shared this wonderfully inspiring success story from Grubb & Ellis:

Remove light bulbs from all vending machines as an energy-savings initiative. Each machine with the lighting removed was posted with a notice that the machine was in operating condition and the light bulbs had been removed to reduce electric energy consumption.

Removing the lights reduces electric usage that is non-essential to facility operations and ensures that the facility is not paying for a portion of the electricity provided to a vending service to operate privately owned equipment.

Finally, it aligns the facility department with broader efforts to be environmentally conscious.

— James Vetter, vice president, accountÊmanager for Grubb & Ellis Management Services

But before Grubb & Ellis Management Services pats itself on the back for being green, let's look at what just happened.

First, you had to pay people to go to every vending machine and remove the light bulbs.

Second, you had to pay people to post the sign on every vending machine.

Even if you still have cost savings after doing all that, there are two other factors to consider.

First off, how do the people in the facility feel when they come up on a blacked-out vending machine? Does this inspire them to do their best work?

Second off, how do the people associated with the vending machine feel? Take Coca-Cola, for example. Coca-Cola takes great pride in its branding, from the shape of the bottle to the colors in its logo. How would Coca-Cola feel if you dimmed that bright red color?

And however much you saved pennies by removing those light bulbs, it might not make a lot of difference in the end. James Vetter's cost-saving tip was published in October 2009. As noted above, Vetter was working for Grubb & Ellis in 2009. Guess which facility Vetter was supporting?

According to his public LinkedIn profile, Vetter was at General Motors during this period. You'd have to have pulled a lot of lightbulbs to keep General Motors from sliding into bankruptcy court. And Vetter's activities weren't the only nickel and dime efforts by General Motors during this period:

The drive to pinch pennies came two weeks ago, says David Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1714 in Lordstown, Ohio, when the plant there was told workers could no longer work overtime. Workers decided to cancel a bake sale they hold each year for the Toys For Tots program because GM wouldn't let some line workers earn pay while working at the sale as it has done in the past.

Robert Lutz has been very critical of General Motors' past efficiency drives - but ironically, he thinks that things were fine in 2008:

When Bob Lutz got into the auto business in the early 1960s, CEOs knew that if you captured the public’s imagination with innovative car design and top quality craftsmanship, the money would follow. The “car guys” held sway, and GM dominated with bold, creative leadership and iconic brands like Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, GMC, and Chevrolet.

But then GM’s leadership began to put their faith in numbers and spreadsheets. Determined to eliminate the “waste” and “personality worship” of the bygone creative leaders, and maximize profitability, management got too smart for its own good. With the bean counters firmly in charge, carmakers, and much of American industry, lost their single-minded focus on product excellence and their competitive advantage. Decline soon followed.

In 2001, General Motors hired Lutz out of retirement with a mandate to save the company by making great cars again. As vice chairman, he launched a war against the penny-pinching number-crunchers who ran the company by the bottom line, and reinstated a focus on creativity, design, and cars and trucks that would satisfy GM customers.

After emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, GM is finally back on track thanks in part to its embrace of Lutz’s philosophy, with acclaimed new models like the Chevrolet Volt, Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Equinox, and Buick LaCrosse.

Regardless of what actually happened in the months before bankruptcy, by 2011, efficiency expert James Vetter was managing facilities at Walgreens. I don't know why Vetter left GM. Perhaps Lutz chased him away. Perhaps Vetter saw a lightbulb in a Walgreens aisle and...um...got an idea.

Sometimes we get so distracted by trivial matters that we ignore more important issues.