Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The sincerest form of flattery

I was on vacation last week, and one afternoon I found myself peeking at daytime television. One afternoon, I ran across a show on our local CBS affiliate that featured a group of women sitting around, talking about stuff.

Yes, it was afternoon, and I was watching CBS.

So I obviously wasn't watching "The View," which appears on ABC in the mornings. I was watching an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT show.

"Wonder how long this copycat will last," I thought to myself.

It turns out that the show is called The Talk. Notice the significant differences between The View and the Talk:

(1) They appear on different networks.

(2) They appear at different times of the day.

(3) While their titles refer to the five senses, the shows feature different senses. (NBC, Fox, and everyone else after left with The Touch, The Taste, and The Smell.)

Oh, the The Talk is in its fourth season already, despite the fact that this show demonstrates no innovation over the original.

Contrast that to a take on The View that did innovate a bit - "The Other Half." The gimmick of this show is that rather than having a bunch of women sitting around and talking about stuff, it had a bunch of MEN sitting around and talking about stuff. The men, all of whom were popular at the time the show aired, included Dick Clark, Mario Lopez, Danny Bonaduce, and a doctor who posed for Chanel. (Maybe Phil Robertson can tell me who Dr. Jan Adams is.)

Despite this innovation, The Other Half only lasted for two seasons, or half as long as its less innovative successor.

The business lesson here? Sometimes you can be successful by sticking to the same formula, rather than tinkering with it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to refine my pitch for a TV show in which amateurs sing songs in a competition.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Why you want to read this blog in 2014

Whenever I schedule a post (many of my posts, including this one, are scheduled), I always see the one scheduled post that you won't see for a while.

I'm talking about the post that will appear on Thanksgiving 2014. I talked about it here.

And yes, the reasons why I cannot publish the post now are still valid.

Oh, and on a semi-related topic, the next hearing on last year's criminal case is scheduled for January 24, 2014. As I said before, the defendant will hopefully be sentenced before he dies of old age.

Why not just pour food into our cars and kill two birds with one stone? (Literally?)

Many of us are ending the Christmas season, when we consume huge amounts of soy additives and high fructose corn syrup. Contrast this to the remainder of the year, when we consume huge amounts of soy additives and high fructose corn syrup.

I don't think I've ever written about soy, but I've certainly written about corn syrup, since everyone - except for observant Jews - seems to drink it. For example, I've noted that high fructose corn syrup and "New Coke" were not connected - Coca Cola had switched to high fructose corn syrup several years before New Coke was introduced. I also covered the attempt to allow high fructose corn syrup to be renamed "corn sugar" - the purpose was to "eliminate customer confusion."

However, I've never explicitly stated why we Americans use so much high fructose corn syrup and soy additives, and why Mexicans don't.

There's a simple reason - Congress doesn't provide subsidies to Mexican farmers. Only American farmers are subsidized.

Almost anything you can think of would be a better use of our tax dollars than subsidizing the ingredients in junk food, but every year more than a billion taxpayer dollars do just that.

The above sentence comes from CalPIRG, so it obviously goes on to talk about Monsanto and other evil corporations. But at the end of the day, Monsanto can't force a Senator to vote for corn subsidies. Another beneficiary of corn subsidies - ethanol - was recently defended by Senators from both sides of the aisle.

A federal subsidy of 45 cents a gallon for blending ethanol into gasoline and a 54-cent per gallon tariff on imported ethanol will both expire automatically at the end of [2010] without Congressional action. A bill introduced in April [2010] by Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, would extend the measures until 2015.

“Ethanol has proven its value as a homegrown, renewable fuel and, in light of the hundreds of billions of dollars shipped abroad as a result of foreign oil dependence, ethanol is a relative bargain,” Mr. Grassley said in a statement accompanying the letter.

The letter was signed by 16 senators, including Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, and John Thune, Republican of South Dakota.

And, of course, the reason why the Senators support these bills and accept these contributions is because they want to get re-elected by local voters. Somehow I suspect that the Iowa PIRG doesn't have a lot of success drumming up support to end the ag subsidies. (Although they try.)

Since people act according to their economic interests, it's doubtful that midwestern Senators will vote to end farm subsidies any time soon. So if you really want to battle all the stuff that's getting put in your food, one potential avenue is the tool of ridicule (not to be confused with the Rod of Ridicule, used by Michael O'Donoghue to berate fellow SNL writers). The next time that some shopping mall salesperson is encouraging you to try a food with "healthy corn syrup," simply respond to the person as follows:

Corn syrup? Isn't that the same stuff I put in my gas tank?


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Black Monday has nothing to do with Wall Street - well, maybe not

Not too long ago, everyone understood that Black Monday referred to a particular stock market crash. But today, many people understand the term as applying to the day after the end of the National Football League regular season. Specifically, it references coaches who will be fired on that day.

According to the latest reports, New York City's (well, New Jersey's) two head coaches are safe, despite less than stellar seasons. Rex Ryan will get another season, and Tom Coughlin has done too much for the New York Giants to be fired.

However, the team that Coughlin beat today - my Washington Redskins - appears certain to be ready to fire its head coach, Mike Shanahan. Even before that final loss, reports of Shanahan's imminent firing were circulating.

One person with knowledge of the matter said Sunday that Shanahan “definitely” will be dismissed and the only question is whether the move will come Sunday night or Monday.

Another person with ties to the organization said Saturday night the move was certain and is expected to come Monday.

Most football teams are run by individual owners with various eccentricities, and the Redskins are certainly no exception. One would think that even Dan Snyder, however, would wait until the day after the end of the season to lower the boom. But we'll see.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Our Internet algorithms are not perfect, the December 27 edition

As a publicly traded company, Twitter has a laser focus on getting it right. This website, like all other websites, desires you to spend 24 hours a day at this site and at no other site. Therefore, Twitter uses scientific analysis to look at the people you choose to follow, and find similar people that will interest you.


For those who may not be familiar with Kanye West Puppet, he is another of Loren Feldman's creations, employed as a commentary on the idiocy of segments of the modern music industry.

For those who may not be familiar with Bank of America, it's a big bank. But they care because their social media experts told them to say that they care.

Kanye West Puppet is to Bank of America like Phil Robertson is to West Hollywood.

Unfortunately, I could not get a full picture of the entire suggestion, but it turns out that the reference to the Bank of America account is "promoted." This means that Bank of America has given Twitter gobs of money to advertise its Twitter account to everyone, regardless of whether the recipient of the ad is even interested.

In other words, it's old "push to everyone" advertising, like the three networks did before the real Kanye West was even born.

Twitter has collected tons of data on me, and on everyone else who views the Kanye West Puppet account...and they still make their money by ignoring all of this big data that they're collecting.

This is progress.

State laws should always be enforced - except when they shouldn't

The New York Times is having a field day with the silly people in the city of Los Angeles. You see, the Los Angeles Police Department is strictly enforcing California state law, including the portion that says that if you step into a crosswalk when the "Don't Walk" sign is flashing, you are violating state law - and can earn yourself a ticket of around $200.

Naturally, the city of Los Angeles is intent on enforcing state law, because that is what cities do. In a comment on a Facebook thread, the LAPD offered this advice to citizens who were angered about these tickets.

Our best advice for avoiding adding to our "revenue" is to not cross the street in violation of the California Vehicle Code. That way you are safe AND we have no reason to stop you.

Yes, the city is ALWAYS interested in enforcing state law...well, except when they aren't.

Under the terms of Special Order 7, if officers stopped an unlicensed driver who met several requirements — including having auto insurance, valid identification and no previous citations for unlicensed driving — officers could no longer invoke the part of the state vehicle code that allowed them to confiscate the vehicle for 30 days, a punishment that came with fines and charges often exceeding $1,200.

Special Order 7 was challenged (so far, successfully) by the police union, because the primary goal of the police union is to always make sure that state law is enforced. Always.

In reality, a police department, or any governmental organization, responds to business and political interests. If downtown businesses raised enough of a stink, strict pedestrian enforcement would go away. Look at what businesses did in Huntington Beach a few years back.

At a time when red-light cameras are proliferating across Southern California, Huntington Beach is bucking the trend.

The cameras have become a controversial part of the streetscape in recent years, taking photos of drivers who run through red lights and sending them tickets....

Some business leaders in town are ... speaking out against the traffic cameras, including some car dealers who fear the cameras might drive customers away.

This, of course, was a city law and not a state law. But the premise still holds - when strict enforcement of a law has negative consequences for a locality, the law is not enforced. If people were to say, "No, let's not go to L.A. Live. The police hassle pedestrians," the same thing will happen to pedestrian laws.

Or, perhaps, some one may find that the burden of pedestrian tickets falls heavily on the city's immigrant population. Then we'll see what Chief Beck says.

Thanks to Shaun Nicholson for alerting me to this story.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Priceless real estate speak - when Bob Lindsay joined Re/Max

Real estate agents, even the good ones, have a tendency to describe things in EXTREMELY positive terms. A house could be falling apart, and the real estate listing will say that it "needs TLC." An apartment the size of a closet is "cozy."

But the best example of real estate writing ever was publishing in NorthJersey.com on May 24, 2012. In this particular case, NorthJersey.com just re-ran a press release - not about a house, but about a realtor.

The story begins as follows:

WAYNE - Youssef Genid, owner of RE/MAX Legend Realty in Wayne has announced that award-winning agent Robert "Bob" Lindsay has joined his company as a broker-sales associate. Lindsay has been recognized over the years as the top producer for Coldwell Banker in Wayne but he looks forward to this new chapter in his career.

"Over the course of my 36-year career in real estate, this is only the 3rd time I've changed firms - in our industry that's infrequent. I'm not a person who likes to jump around," said Lindsay. "I had a wonderful experience over the years at Coldwell Banker but I achieved all my goals there and I'm moving forward knowing that the business model at RE/MAX is much more suitable for my skill set and how I operate. I am excited over the flexibility their systems offer and I am eager to show my clientele the numerous advantages I can provide them with this move. RE/MAX allows me to be directly responsive to my clients and allows me to tailor my service to their needs."

Some of you are already guffawing at Lindsay's discussion of his skill set and how he operates, and how Lindsay achieved all his goals at Coldwell Banker.

If you're...um, in the dark about this, check my previous post, Bob Lindsay - Energy and Experience? You see, it's alleged that one of Lindsay's goals that he achieved at Coldwell Banker was to have sex with a fellow real estate agent multiple times - in a client's home that he was supposed to be selling.

Uh, Santa tracking was militarized long before 2013

Quote of the day (actually, from earlier this month):

“We’re concerned about the inclusion of the fighter jets in the Santa Tracker this year. While adults might find that funny, it sends a troubling message to the young children who believe in Santa that he is danger from ‘bad guys’ — and that Santa may have to shoot back. It’s also a backdoor way of promoting the military to young children,” said Josh Golin, Associate Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Um, the very fact that Santa is being tracked by NORAD is a way to promote the military to young children.

Of course, Golin probably doesn't like the Internet Explorer logo on the NORAD Santa website either.

And Golin would have really been upset if he had been around in 1955, when Sears posted an advertisement allowing kids to call Santa. Unfortunately, Sears got the phone number wrong - which is how NORAD got into the Santa tracking business in the first place.

Bob Lindsay - Energy and Experience?

I had personally worked with two real estate agents in California, and know several others in California. All of the real estate agents that I know have understood that their primary duty is to represent their clients to the best of their ability.

Of course, real estate agents are not only found in California. Since real estate is all over the place, you can find real estate agents in New Jersey. Many of these agents, I'm sure, uphold their fiduciary duties.

And then there are others.

If you visit the website boblindsay.net, you can see his smiling face, coupled with his slogan:

Energy & Experience

I could not find a website for fellow real estate agent Jeannemarie Phelan, and the Trulia page associated with Phelan does not list her experience or skills.

However, she is alleged to be as experienced as Lindsay in certain aspects of personal relations, according to NorthJersey.com.

You see, a couple in Denville, New Jersey (the Weiners) arranged for Lindsay to sell their home. In December 2011, Lindsay, based upon his experience, said that the home would sell for $650,000, and promised to use his energy to sell the home.

By the end of December, the home still had not sold, despite Lindsay expending his energy and using his experience.

On Dec. 27, 2011, the security cameras in the Weiners’ home captured Lindsay entering the Weiners’ home at 12:49 p.m. and he was dressed casually. At 12:51 p.m., the security cameras show that Phelan entered the Weiners’ home and Phelan and Lindsay kissed and hugged in the kitchen. The security cameras further show that at 1:02 p.m., Lindsay and Phelan entered the master bedroom, undressed and proceeded to have sex on the Weiners’ bed....A while later, the security cameras show Lindsay and Phelan getting dressed.

Lindsay, presumably assisted by Phelan, continued to exert his efforts to sell the Weiners' home, and was exerting himself on January 23, 2012 when Mrs. Weiner happened to notice something on her home's security cameras. She called the police, who found real estate agent Lindsay pulling up his pants. Lindsay apparently told the police that "he was there to prepare the house for an open house."

So that's what the kids call it.

The Weiners are suing Lindsay, Phelan, and their employer at the time (Coldwell Banker, who has since severed its relationship with them). And Lindsay and Phelan, rather than being written up in New Jersey real estate journals, are being covered in places such as Gawker.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Announcing prjo

I have been mulling over a problem for a while, and I think I've come up with a possible solution - prjo.

But first, before I describe prjo, let me describe the problem that prjo may solve.

Whether you like it or not, your actions are constantly being tracked. The very fact that you are reading this blog post is being tracked somewhere. The very fact that you are reading a blog post that includes the words "refried beans" is being tracked. (I was going to include the words "pressure cooker," but I was afraid that - whoops, too late.) So you pick up your phone to tell someone about the weird post that you read - that phone call is being logged somewhere. Now completely freaked out, you decide that you should instead use a "pay as you go" phone, which you buy - with a credit card.

Some people worry that governments are tracking all this information. But even if the National Security Agency and all the other government agencies were to close shop, your information would still be tracked on a massive scale. Every company that gives you free stuff (such as Google) captures your data and sells it. Every company that charges you for its services (your phone provider, your operating system provider, your clothing provider) captures your data and sells it.

This is not an entirely bad thing. In the best case scenario, the people who capture the data will use it to provide you with benefits. For example, if you get your lunch every day at Joe's Seaweed Emporium, then perhaps on your next trip to New York, Foursquare will inform you of a really great lunch deal at Juanita's Seaweed Shop in Manhattan.

But there is the worst case scenario - for example, when your health insurance provider peruses your repeated Foursquare checkins at McDonald's, your Facebook pictures at the wine tasting, and your skateboard purchase - and puts you in a high risk category. I've discussed other drawbacks here and here.

So how do you derive the benefits from all of this tracking, yet avoid the negative consequences?

One possible solution is prjo.

The word prjo stands for PRoJect Obfuscation, or an overloading of your lifestream so that it will be difficult for people to use it against you.

For example, let's say that I'm getting my supersized meal at McDonald's, but I don't want my health insurer to use this against me. So, I use my handy-dandy Foursquare app to not only check in to McDonald's, but also to every other business in the area - the bicycle shop, the gynecologist, the morgue.

One drawback of this approach is that all of the other businesses will start sending you free offers. On the other hand, the obfuscation technique will perhaps render the real data to be useless.

So, what do you got on this Bredehoft guy here? Is he high risk?

Well, let's see. He went to a bicycle shop; that sounds good. But after that he went to a McDonald's.

Better check his credit card record - maybe we can figure out if he got a super sized meal.

OK, I'll check that. So after the McDonald's, he went to a Dr. Johnson, a...gynecologist?

You sure you got the right person?

Friday, December 20, 2013

The National Association of Adulterers is too busy to worry about Duck Dynasty

Last night, I wrote a post that discussed Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson's paraphrase of I Corinthians 6:9-10, and how those verses actually name a number of different types of people. I then said:

As far as I know, A&E Networks received no critical comments from the National Association of Adulterers, the Society of Slanderers, or the Drunk Dudes at the End of the Bar.

Now I made up those so-called organizational names, but then I began wondering if there truly is, say, a National Association of Adulterers. I'm still not sure about that, but there is a company that clearly and explicitly promotes adultery.

The company is a Canadian company called Avid Dating Life, Inc. Its most well-known website is Ashley Madison.

I was wondering if the Ashley Madison folks were petitioning A&E, asking that Phil Robertson be taken off the air. But it turns out that Ashley Madison is busy with its own problems.

“Life is short,” the Ashley Madison website coos. “Have an affair.”

Robert Schindler of Charlotte says his ex-wife did just that.

So, Schindler is suing her alleged partner in the tryst, along with Ashley Madison and its Canadian corporate parent, Avid Dating Life Inc.

You may ask yourself how Ashley Madison itself can be liable in such a case. It turns out that Schindler, a resident of North Carolina, can take advantage of that state's laws.

North Carolina remains one of only a half-dozen states that still awards punitive damages when a marriage fails and someone other than the husband and wife is to blame....

In 2010, a Guilford County jury awarded a wife a $9 million judgment against her husband’s mistress.

That same year, a Chapel Hill physician won almost $6 million from her former best friend, whom she had invited to visit and help her get ready for her first child and who had an affair with the physician’s husband.

In 2011, a Wake County judge handed down the largest alienation award in the state’s history – $30 million – after the former wife of a Raleigh business owner sued the current one.

This case involves a much lower amount - more than $10,000.

If I were Schindler's former wife, I'd be insulted at the paltry amount.

But perhaps Schindler doesn't want to be greedy...since that's condemned in I Corinthians 6:9-10 also.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are sola scriptura Christians prepared to boycott A&E's corporate parents?

I'm not a big fan of boycotts, because they're fairly ineffective. Yes, I know that it was cool for people to say that they were "not gonna play Sun City" (a retirement community in Arizona), but boycotts are a really non-targeted way to make a point.

Allow me to explain.

I don't even have cable, but I've obviously heard about the Phil Robertson hiatus story. In case you haven't - there's a show called Duck Dynasty on A&E. One of the stars of the show, Phil Robertson, was interviewed by GQ, and in the course of the interview, he provided his paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. (For purposes of accuracy, it should be noted that bestiality is not explicitly mentioned in this particular passage.)

As far as I know, A&E Networks received no critical comments from the National Association of Adulterers, the Society of Slanderers, or the Drunk Dudes at the End of the Bar. However, other groups did complain, and A&E released this statement:

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.”

According to Variety and other sources, A&E Networks has placed Robertson on indefinite hiatus.

As I stated in a previous post, A&E, as a private company, has the right to suspend or even fire Robertson for something he said. And, by the same token, Sarah Palin and 999,999 other individuals have the right to boycott A&E Networks. The claim could be made that A&E Networks, while perfectly within its right to "suppress" people who quote from the Bible, does not reflect the views of the boycotters. So, rather than provide money to a company with whom they disagree, these people are going to boycott A&E Networks.

But is that enough? After all, A&E Networks is not a standalone company, but is actually a joint venture between two much larger companies. Therefore, the two parent companies also bear responsibility for suppressing the Bible.

And who are those two companies?

A+E Networks is a joint venture of Disney-ABC Television Group and Hearst Corporation.

Let's start with Rosebud. Take this article that talks about the controversy. Actually, don't take it. You shouldn't read it. That article appeared on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, a Hearst-owned newspaper. If you read that article and look at the ads, you're supporting Bible suppression.

Which brings us to Disney. As I've previously noted, this particular company is famous for popularizing portrayals of sorcery, poisoning, and the worship of Greek gods. So it stands to reason that a Disney-owned company would punish someone for quoting from the Bible. And to top it off, we all know what happened to Hannah Montana.

Are those who are willing to boycott A&E also willing to boycott ALL of the Hearst newspapers, ALL of the Disney theme parks, and ALL of the college football bowl games that will air on ESPN over the next month?

After all, every touchdown scored by Notre Dame in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl is another six (yes, six) points against the Bible.

If Ayo Kimathi is in a duck blind, he'd better be a Fish and Wildlife Service employee

Normally, one would not cite Ayo Kimathi and Phil Robertson in the same sentence, since they have very little in common. The only thing that really connects them is that they have expressed views that are opposed by a number of people. Kimathi first gained infamy when people complained that a Department of Homeland Security employee was maintaining a website in his spare time that opposed whites and so-called "Uncle Tom" blacks such as Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Phil Robertson is a network television star who said the following in an interview:

Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine....

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men....Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.

However, in terms of their employement status, there is one very important difference between the two.

Kimathi, until recently, was a government employee. Robertson is not.

This is a very important difference in terms of their employment protections. As I detailed in an August 22 post, there are certain job protections that everyone has, regardless of whether they work for a government agency or a private company. However, as was demonstrated in the case of Michael Italie, a private company CAN fire someone for his or her political views. (Italie, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, was fired by Goodwill.) Kimathi, a government employee, had protections that private employees do not have, which is why it took several months for Kimathi to be separated from his position. And we still don't know if he resigned or was fired, or what the grounds for Kimathi's firing would have been. I've speculated that he could have been fired for lying about the nature of his website, not about the contents of the website itself. And Al Capone was imprisoned for tax evasion.

It took months to fire Kimathi - but A&E suspended Phil Robertson very quickly. Since they are a private company, they can take action regarding someone's political views - although if they were to try to fire Robertson rather than suspend him, Robertson may invoke religious protection.

This is not necessarily a war on culture - A&E would presumably suspend any entertainer who antagonized a portion of their audience. But Eric Teetsel has an interesting perspective:

.@AETV has every right to suspend Phil, because corporations should operate according to their values. Like @HobbyLobbyStore.

Now I'm envisioning what would happen if Edward Snowden were to go on Russian TV and say, "I swear to God, this Sochi discrimination against gay athletes just isn't right. And I want to buy a Pussy Riot album"?

And then, on the following day, Rush Limbaugh were to be interviewed on A&E and say, "I swear to Satan, drug users should not be prosecuted. And I want to buy a Prussian Blue album"?

Technology is bad. The #APMP has resigned itself to this.

This morning, I received holiday greetings via email from the Association of Proposal Management Professionals. The email contained an image that was supposed to be animated, but above the image, APMP printed the following message:

If you don't see snowflakes falling, view the animated card here.

The APMP figured (correctly, as it turned out) that for a myriad of reasons, some of the recipients of the message would not see it as originally intended. The APMP board identified the risk, and mitigated it.

This reminds me of something that Allan Barry Laboucan said yesterday:

I started working with computers 30 years ago, still shocks me how many simple problems with technology still happen daily, has to be a better way.

When I first read his statement, I initially thought that things weren't as bad as he presented them. Sure things are bad, but they're at least a little better than they were 30 years ago.

As I've thought about it, however, Allan is convincing me that he's correct.

Perhaps I should take Allan's investment advice.

Sewage treatment plants have met their match, according to Rice University (NDM-1)

This is a little sobering.

Tests at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria were not only escaping purification but also breeding and spreading their dangerous cargo.

Joint research by scientists from Rice, Nankai and Tianjin universities found “superbugs” carrying New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010, in wastewater disinfected by chlorination. They found significant levels of NDM-1 in the effluent released to the environment and even higher levels in dewatered sludge applied to soils.

The study, led by Rice University environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez, appeared this month in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

“It’s scary,” Alvarez said. “There’s no antibiotic that can kill them. We only realized they exist just a little while ago when a Swedish man got infected in India, in New Delhi. Now, people are beginning to realize that more and more tourists trying to go to the upper waters of the Ganges River are getting these infections that cannot be treated.

“We often think about sewage treatment plants as a way to protect us, to get rid of all of these disease-causing constituents in wastewater. But it turns out these microbes are growing. They’re eating sewage, so they proliferate. In one wastewater treatment plant, we had four to five of these superbugs coming out for every one that came in.”

More here.

The superbug even has its own website, NDM-1. (No, the website isn't MANAGED by the superbug...)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Google will NOT need Amazon's air force to wage war

A recap for those of you who have missed recent developments:

First, as I noted early yesterday morning, the tech industry is gathering up military strength, with Amazon acquiring a drone-based air force, and Google acquiring (literally) a robot-based army as well as a barge navy.

However, by the afternoon, I began wondering if the tech world was all that unified. For example, Google and Oracle hold differing opinions on the activities of the U.S. National Security Agency. What would happen if Google's barge-based navy fought Oracle's yacht-based navy?

Today, via Shawn Rossi, I have uncovered further evidence that one of the tech companies may be preparing to go it alone in its military development. I've already noted that Google has an army and a navy; now, according to Fast Company, Google has acquired an air force base.

But Google may get to experience every Fortune 500 company's wildest travel dream next month: A $82 million jet center dedicated to executives' private planes.

In January, groundbreaking is expected to take place on a 29-acre facility featuring approximately 270,000 square feet of hangar space. The huge swath of space will effectively become a separate airport for Google executives and other tech muckety-mucks....

The facility itself is being carved out of San Jose's airport, and the Google folks will pay the airport handsomely.

It's uncertain how long it will take for the airport to be developed, and more importantly, how long it will take for Google to develop driverless plane technology to launch an assault on Amazon's Seattle headquarters...or at various military facilities of the United States of America.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Or perhaps the tech world is creating MULTIPLE armies - time for a business war?

In an earlier post, Our future tech overlords are forming a government - with a military, I looked at Google's and Amazon's recent moves at militarization and speculated that the tech industry, as a unified whole, may be about to overthrow our inefficient governments and replace them with a tech government. The (robot) army and navy would be provided by Google, and the robot air force would be provided by Amazon.

However, I should have realized that businesses don't always work in unison - something that Tom Foremski has pointed out.

Last week, Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, AOL, and Microsoft signed a letter critical of the NSA and bulk data collection....

It shows the divide in the US tech industry, missing are IBM, Cisco, Intel, Dell, Oracle, and many other tech giants. It's precisely these companies that have massive contracts with US government agencies.

So it doesn't appear that the tech industry will unite and form a single military.

It appears that something much scarier is about to happen - military competition between the techies. For example, Google's barges may have to battle Oracle's yachts for supremacy in San Francisco Bay.

Often people in business talk about "war." What's going to happen when real war breaks out?

Our future tech overlords are forming a government - with a military

Many nations of the world, including my own, have instituted a republican form of government, in which the people elect representatives to do the bidding of the people.

In reality, however, the government consists of thousands upon thousands of individual entities - even when you consider a single government (such as the U.S. Federal Government). A bunch of different bureaus and agencies and divisions and units are all out there, sometimes working at cross-purposes. Couple that with the political level, which has its own glaring inefficiencies, and it soon became clear to the great minds of tech that a better system was needed.

I've alluded to this before when talking about the recent BART strike, in which a union, seeking a preferred level of wages and benefits, refused to operate the commuter trains upon which much of the Bay Area depends. One solution bandied about - driverless trains. This, of course, is extremely efficient - no unions and benefits to worry about, and you don't even need to have a municipal government entity paying people. Just turn it over to the tech companies, and everything will be fine.

And there are countless other stories in which tech companies claim to do things better than the government. Take multitouch screens - Apple did it privately and made vast inroads in the market. A British inventor tried to get government help, and things went spectacularly awry.

Since then, several things have happened - most notably, government has gotten in the way of the tech companies' profit streams. Not too long ago, several competitors joined together under the banner Reform Government Surveillance. Here is a portion of their manifesto:

We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.

The biggest fear of the companies? If governments continue their surveillance of online data, then users will be reluctant to put data online - and that prevents the tech companies from performing their own surveillance on our data.

This obviously will not do, so the tech companies have taken the logical next step.

They're forming a military.

Oh, sure, it's portrayed as cutesy stuff that will allow tech companies to provide better services to their users. Amazon Prime Air is just a super-efficient way to get products to customers on the same day. It's not like Amazon is going to ARM the drones or create an air force or anything like that.

Meanwhile, the latest news is that Google has bought a robot company, Boston Dynamics. The name of the company, incidentally, is a reminder of the fact that not all tech advances originate in Silicon Valley - a number of tech firms have emerged from the area surrounding Boston, and Boston Dynamics is one of them. And Boston Dynamics robots, which will soon be put to the use of Google, have been used by a number of other entities for years, "including all branches of the US Armed Forces." But Google would certainly use these robots for peaceful purposes...NOT for an army.

At this point some of you are getting my drift, but think that my argument is a little off. "OK, John," you're saying, "even if the tech companies had an air force and an army, they'd still need a navy, wouldn't they?"

But remember the Google barges. Not to mention Larry Ellison's extracurricular activities - or perhaps, based upon his Oracle OpenWorld priorities, his primary activity.

And incidentally, the Coast Guard is hassling Google about the barges now. Will Google fight back...with drones and robots?

It all seems peaceful now, and everything is being used for peaceful purposes. But don't say that I didn't warn you when the tech companies reveal their military might, in the ultimate demonstration of Godwin's Law.

Friday, December 13, 2013

StopBadware introduces logic into threat analysis

One of the first posts that I wrote in this Empoprise-BI business blog was a January 31, 2009 post that quoted from a Google executive named Marissa Mayer. (In case you haven't heard the news, she's no longer with Google.) The post detailed an apology that Google had to issue after a previous apology to users contained incorrect information - specifically, that StopBadware.org was at fault for a Google outage. It wasn't.

I hadn't heard anything about StopBadware.org lately, but the organization's most recent blog post contains a new attempt to correct information - only this time the incorrect information isn't about StopBadware.org itself.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued an internal bulletin ... [in July] on “threats to mobile devices using the Android operating system.” The bulletin contained a chart illustrating findings that 79% of mobile malware targets Android—a number that the media (tech and otherwise) quickly picked up and used as a centerpiece for the headline frenzy that followed.

That number, however, is meaningless without context.

Specifically, the fact that malware is targeting Android is not a reflection of Android's security, or lack thereof. It's a reflection of Android's dominance of the mobile market.

Malware authors go where the money is.

StopBadware is more concerned about the fact that 44% of Android users are running old OS versions with security vulnerabilities - issues that could be fixed by upgrading to the latest version.

Good, so I'll just update my first-generation Samsung Stratosphere to Android version 4...uh, maybe not.

(Incidentally, I never did perform the factory reset on my phone...and I now use an alternate service to transfer files between my phone and other devices.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Yammer beyond Yammer - the Yammer/e-mail bidirectional link

Back in July 2011, I observed that Yammer has a challenge. A number of my co-workers are on Facebook already, and some of my co-workers are on Google+. Although I'm not the only Yammer users in my corporation any more, there are significantly fewer co-workers on Yammer.

But Yammer has launched attempts to reach out to co-workers who are not on Yammer.

Need someone to chime in on a Yammer conversation, but they don’t happen to be a Yammer user? No problem – now you can include anyone in your organization in a Yammer discussion. Simply begin typing their email address into the CC bar of any message, and that coworker will receive a notification email alerting them of the Yammer conversation. They’ll be able to respond to your message simply by replying to the email – their message will be posted back to the relevant Yammer discussion.

Microsoft is not doing this out of any sense of altruism, of course.

Of course, that coworker can also choose to sign up for Yammer from the email and respond as a Yammer user.

And Yammer also is working in the other direction, making it easier to populate Yammer communities with outside content.

We’ve updated our email forwarding feature in a major way. Every Group in Yammer has an email address, and you can send emails to that Group email address in order to post messages into Yammer.

One odd thing about this feature - rather than storing the forwarded email as a message, the forwarded email is stored as a PDF. A little odd, but presumably there's a reason for this.

For me personally, the second new Yammer feature is more useful than the first. Among other things, it gives me the capability to re-create a private blog that I used to maintain in the Motorola days with biometric industry information. So, if I see something on my Outlook RSS feeds that seems interesting, I can send it to a particular Yammer email address and share it with other Yammer users at my company.

Obviously there are many other ways to accomplish the same thing, but I find this to be intriguing.

Ayo Kimathi no longer works for DHS. We do not know how this separation was achieved.

I have previously noted that First Amendment protections are intended to protect people - even those with controversial views. I asked, can we demand that Ayo Kimathi be fired and simultaneously demand that Bradley Manning/Edward Snowden supporters be protected from firing? While different rules apply for private employers, Federal employees are protected from being fired just because of their views. This was due to civil service reform; otherwise, the arrival of a new President could result in the firing of hundreds of thousands of government employees.

So, even if I personally disagree with Ayo Kimathi's calls for race war, or his branding of Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey as Uncle Toms, I can understand why DHS did not fire him on the spot, but instead placed him on administrative leave.

Well, the National Journal has provided an update:

But Wednesday afternoon, DHS deputy press secretary Gillian Christensen confirmed to National Journal that Kimathi, a procurement specialist for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has left the agency. "Mr. Kimathi is no longer an ICE employee. His last day with the agency was December 6," she said. She could not, however, clarify whether he resigned or was formally terminated, citing government-wide employment privacy policies.

Perhaps he resigned, no longer willing to work for Uncle Tom. Perhaps he was fired for lying about the nature of his website.

As of now, Kimathi's website lists no new events - the last listed event was in August. But perhaps a Kwanzaa-themed "Liberation from the DHS" event may be scheduled in the near future.

(And no, I don't believe that most Kwanzaa celebrants endorse War on the Horizon.)

P.S. Needless to say, I am in agreement with the sentiments posted by David Hart in comments on a Southern Poverty Law Center blog post:

In spite of my being both gay and Jewish I certainly hope that his guy was not terminated for his beliefs. He should be judged solely on his job performance....

The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect even the most offensive speech. It is a VERY dangerous precedent to start terminating government employees for their point of view - even if reprehensible.

Freedom of expression is a core American value. Termination from government service for disagreeing with the government is a form of censorship.

Why should Anaheim support the Los Angeles Angels?

Many of my Facebook friends live in Orange County, California, so my Facebook feed occasionally has a reference to a group called "Keep the Angels." But when I look at the "Keep the Angels" material, my B.S. detector automatically goes on high alert.

Here are the facts about Keep the Angels, as they themselves state.

The Angels’ lease at Anaheim Stadium is up in the next two to three years and the team and the City of Anaheim are negotiating a lease extension.

The current deal being discussed would:
•Keep the Angels in Anaheim for another 50 years
•Upgrade the stadium with needed capital improvements at no taxpayer expense
•Allow for development of a shopping, restaurant and entertainment complex next to the stadium
•Generate tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in tax revenue for the community.

Some politicians and special interests want to blow up this deal, which could drive the Angels out of Anaheim. It’s time for Angels fans to say, “Stop the Politics! Keep our Angels in Anaheim where they belong!”

I searched the website to find out who these evil special interests are, but couldn't find any specific reference to them. So then I began to wonder who created this Keep the Angels website.

KeepTheAngels.com is a grassroots coalition of Angels fans, Anaheim residents, taxpayers, and businesses who all share a common goal, keeping the Angels in Anaheim! We’re dedicated to getting the politics out of the negotiations and making sure the voice of the fans is heard. Please join us!

Boy, that told me a lot. Whenever you hear the words "grassroots coalition," you know that some huge entity is behind the whole thing. But who? JP Morgan Chase? The AFL-CIO? The NSA?

I had another source - the WHOIS registry that says who registered a particular website. So I looked up keeptheangels.com on WHOIS and identified the actual owners of the site.

Private Registrant

It's pretty bad when you spend money to advance a cause and you don't even want to put your name behind it. Let me think about a solution for a moment.

Meanwhile, my suspicions now fully aroused, I poked around a little bit more, and found one of those so-called evil politicians who wants "to blow up this deal." That politician is the Mayor of Anaheim, Tom Tait. He wrote the following:

Here’s a quick summary of this issue: Most people know that Arte Moreno owns the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But the residents of Anaheim own the stadium and the land around it: 155 acres of prime entitled real estate and one of the largest potential revenue-generating assets in the city. There are different visions of how that land could be used to create jobs and new economic activity, but there is no disputing the economic potential of the land.

The Angel’s current lease, signed in 1996, gives the Angels the use of the stadium and most of the surrounding parking lot until 2029. It is the team’s, not the city’s, obligation to maintain the stadium as a first-class facility. The lease also gives the team an opt-out clause in 2016.

Let me stop right here. Remember when the anonymous author at keeptheangels.com (I'll call this author George Herbert Walker Texas Ranger) said that the Angels' lease "is up"? Technically, the lease isn't up for another 15 years - unless the Angels decide to opt out.

Returning to the mayor:

On Sept. 3, with very little public notice, the city council—in a 4-1 vote (I was the lone dissenter)—voted to amend the current lease and agreed to the framework of a new deal that: 1) extends Moreno’s opt-out clause through 2019; 2) allows the team to remove Anaheim from the team’s name; 3) approves a 20-year stadium lease with minimum rent; and 4) leases the 155-acre parking lot to a separate Arte Moreno business entity for one dollar per year for a minimum of 66 years. They gave that independent entity the unrestricted right to transfer or develop the property, with none of the profits going to the people of Anaheim.

Parking lot talk. That helped the OTHER Los Angeles baseball team a lot, didn't it?

If you compare George Herbert Walker Texas Ranger's third and fourth bullets with Mayor Tait's fourth point, you get the full picture. The proposed deal will allow for development of a shopping, restaurant and entertainment complex next to the stadium...with none of the profits going to the people of Anaheim (excluding tax revenues).

The funny part is that both sides in the issue are trying to appeal to civic pride. One side wants to "keep the Angels in Anaheim." Another side wants to "save Anaheim" (the name of the website that posted the Mayor's opinion piece).

But the truth of the matter is that the Angels left Anaheim a long, long time ago.

As I recently noted, Rita Moreno of Arte effectively moved the Angels to Los Angeles, because he had problems marketing a team named after Anaheim to people in Korea or wherever Rita markets the Angels.

So now, the two sides are fighting over the future of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Or, if the "Keep the Angels" forces get their way, the Los Angeles Angels.

That really gives you a ton of civic pride, doesn't it?

P.S. Meanwhile, the one Orange County baseball team that was actually proud to be an Orange County baseball team, namely the Fullerton Flyers, apparently no longer exists. So much for local pride.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The star is not the leader - Kissinger vs. Bryant

In the summer of 1974, Gerald Ford was not necessarily devoid of ego. He was a graduate of Yale Law School. He had continuously been re-elected to a seat in the House of Representatives, and had risen through the ranks to become the chief Republican in the House of Representatives. And in the previous year, he had been confirmed as Vice President of the United States - not the Speaker of the House job that he wanted, but an honor nevertheless.

But even the most confident person can be thrown by circumstances - and in the summer of 1974, the circumstances were overwhelming. The nation was facing the prospect of impeaching, trying, and convicting the President of the United States. At the time, only one President - Andrew Johnson - had ever been impeached. (The impeachment of Bill Clinton was still decades in the future.) It was becoming increasingly obvious to almost everyone that Gerald Ford was going to become President of the United States.

But the troubles of Richard Nixon, and the loss of his key lieutenants in the wake of the Watergate scandal, had created a power vacuum that needed to be filled. And whenever Gerald Ford did become President, he would have to deal with Henry Kissinger - a man who not only held the dual posts of National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, but also a man who, by tacit agreement between the two political parties, had been endowed with near-Presidential power. Because of the turbulence in the Middle East, Vietnam, and elsewhere, both Republicans and Democrats agreed that our foreign policy should not be adversely affected by Watergate. Thus emerged, in the words of Robert Dallek, the Kissinger Presidency.

So when Gerald Ford privately received the news that Richard Nixon intended to resign from the Presidency, Ford's apparent lack of authority in his first conversation with Kissinger is understandable.

Both Ford and Kissinger realized that the Nixon resignation presented a potential opportunity for enemies of the U.S. to take advantage of any governmental instability, so it was essential that the two be on the same page. During their first conversation, the President-to-be (President-unelect???) said the following to his future National Security Advisor/Secretary of State:

Henry, I need you. The country needs you. I want you to stay. I'll do everything I can to work with you.

It's no secret that Kissinger has a healthy ego of his own, but at this point he said the right thing:

Sir, it is my job to get along with you, and not yours to get along with me.

Kissinger realized that with the accession of a President not engulfed in scandal, the "Kissinger Presidency" had to end. In fact, a little over a year after this conversation, Ford removed Kissinger as his National Security Advisor, leaving him only with the Secretary of State post. While Kissinger certainly continued to wield power in the last year of Ford's presidency, an extraordinary period in foreing policy was over. And whatever one may think of Ford - and opinions of Ford have changed over the years - he certainly exercised the authority of a President, making key decisions and issuing a ton of vetoes.

This deference of a powerful subordinate to a leader is not always exhibited - something that basketball fans in Los Angeles have realized for years. When even former coach Phil Jackson considered Kobe Bryant to be "uncoachable," what hope does a Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike Brown, or Mike d'Antoni have in actually coaching a team? Kobe decides when he will play and (more importantly to a so-called coach) how he will play.

It's easier to get away with this in basketball, where a team only has five players on the floor at any one time. But as the star player ages, a team that is effectively coach-less is less effective.

And since Kobe is contracted to the Lakers for nearly three years, this will not be solved any time soon...unless the Lakers recognize reality and just name Kobe player-coach.

Hmm...wonder if Kissinger can shoot.

If I can add a tangential postscript to this post...earlier in the post I linked to the announcement of the Profile in Courage award given to Gerald Ford. One of the presenters was Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a man who initially opposed President Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon. Decades later, Kennedy said complimentary things about Ford, and Ford in turn said complimentary things about Senator Kennedy's brother.

Now a new generation, in a new century, is summoned to complete our unfinished work and to purge our politics of cynicism. "Today the challenge of political courage looms larger than ever before…Our political life is becoming so expensive, so mechanized and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men that the idealist who dreams of independent statesmanship is rudely awakened by the necessities of election and accomplishment."

So wrote then-Senator John Kennedy in introducing Profiles in Courage. Forty-five years later his concerns are more relevant than ever. If there is distrust out there -and there is - perhaps it is because there is so much partisan jockeying for advantage at the expense of public policy. At times it feels as if American politics consists largely of candidates without ideas, hiring consultants without convictions, to stage campaigns without content. Increasingly the result is elections without voters.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Ford and the Kennedy brothers would certainly agree about that.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The bigger question - when should a brand attempt to latch onto a significant event?

In my previous post about the SpaghettiOs Pearl Harbor tweet, the question that was raised was a question of taste. Whether you are American or Japanese, that day marks a momentous occasion. It's not something that should be celebrated by a smiling piece of animated pasta.

But there is also a question of appropriateness. Even if Campbell's had executed a wonderfully moving tweet regarding those who sacrificed their lives on that day...what does it have to do with a spaghetti snack? SpaghettiOs weren't even invented until a quarter century AFTER Pearl Harbor.

Let's look at another notable occasion that just occurred - the passing of Nelson Mandela. There are opportunistic ways to tie into this, but they'd almost seem like non sequiturs.

However, when sports talk radio began discussing Nelson Mandela, I regarded it as entirely appropriate - because Mandela and sports HAVE been remarkably intertwined. For example, the very fact that the 2010 World Cup was held in South Africa is a tribute to what Mandela and other South Africans have been able to accomplish in the last couple of decades.

But there's another Mandela sports story - one that one of the sports talk radio shows shared. Mandela's mere presence at a sporting event turned out to be a healing moment.

In 1995, when Mandela was just beginning his Presidential term, South Africa was still two societies. And the sport of rugby was clearly the sport of the Afrikaner society - so much so that most blacks would cheer when the South African team was beaten.

But a major theme of Mandela (and F.W. de Klerk) was "reconciliation." This meant that whites had to reconcile with blacks, and that blacks had to reconcile with whites. For President Mandela, that meant dressing up:

Mandela took the decision to don both shirt and baseball cap on the podium at Ellis Park in 1995 when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup, wearing the number 6 on his back, the same as that of Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, the chisel-jawed, blond-haired, classically-moulded totem of the Afrikaner’s sport. Mandela was at one not just with his own people but with the oppressor. It was a resonant moment, the ultimate example of power dressing.

Sky News has also discussed the interconnection between Mandela and sport.

So if any sports entity wants to tweet out or write something regarding Nelson Mandela...go for it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

SpaghettiOs? "Uh oh"...

[UPDATE: SPAGHETTIOS WITHDREW THE TWEET AND APOLOGIZED SATURDAY AT 11:32 AM EASTERN TIME: "We apologize for our recent tweet in remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day. We meant to pay respect, not to offend."]

When you are the social media manager for a retail brand, you want to make sure that your brand gets a lot of attention.

If your brand's tweet gets over 4,000 retweets and over 2.000 favorites in an 11 hour period, that's success, right?

If your brand's tweet is mentioned on Facebook and Adland (and numerous other places), that's success, right?

Maybe not.

First, here's the tweet - still up 11 hours after its first posting - that is meriting all of this attention.

Yes - on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, SpaghettiOs has chosen to mark the occasion with a silly cartoon image. And, as Adland noted, the social media team apparently posted the tweet and then went home for the weekend, missing the brewing backlash.

To top it off, the Campbell Soup Company is one of those firms that has decided to scrap its own websites in favor of brand pages on other websites. So the official SpaghettiOs site is its Facebook page - and the comments are rolling in. Here's one.

2,402 Americans were killed in the Pearl Harbor attacks. Yea...let's remember and celebrate with some SpaghettiOs. What?? #TwitterFail #Mystified

And when you remember that Campbell's originally introduced SpaghettiOs under its Franco-American brand - and that France was one of several countries devastated by World War II - the irony is...well, it's not delicious.

Fortunately, SpaghettiOs creator Donald Goerke did not live to see this "uh oh."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I am standing in a tree with purple pants. Reach me at extension 555.

Violet Blue shared a link to a Joseph Muniz post entitled How To Educate Your Employees About Social Engineering. One of Muniz's educational tips caught my eye:

One common problem is people leaving their computers unlocked while away from their desk. In a previous job, my team [used] to send out silly emails from systems found unlocked while [unattended]. People would laugh and start locking their systems so they don’t become the next victim.

Be sure to read the other tips in Muniz's post. And while you're at it, look at Violet Blue's post also; it describes how Muniz and Aamir Lakhani conducted a successful social engineering test in which "Emily Williams" eventually received offers for a free laptop from her supposed co-workers...at a U.S. government agency. More information here and here.

P.S. No, my work extension is not 555...but long-standing employees at my current employer know whose extension that was.

P.P.S. Yes, Muniz is a great security professional but a poor writer. I, on the other hand, am a terrible security professional.

Microsoft's steps toward customer control

In a post that I wrote this morning, I worried about a proposal to install Amber Alert monitoring systems on wearable devices - without the knowledge of the person using the wearable device.

It's fair to say that this proposal did not come from Microsoft's Brad Smith, the company's General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs. Smith has indicated the steps that Microsoft will take to keep its customers informed. Here are excerpts from Smith's message.

Many of our customers have serious concerns about government surveillance of the Internet.

We share their concerns. That’s why we are taking steps to ensure governments use legal process rather than technological brute force to access customer data.

Like many others, we are especially alarmed by recent allegations in the press of a broader and concerted effort by some governments to circumvent online security measures – and in our view, legal processes and protections – in order to surreptitiously collect private customer data. In particular, recent press stories have reported allegations of governmental interception and collection – without search warrants or legal subpoenas – of customer data as it travels between customers and servers or between company data centers in our industry....

· Customer content moving between our customers and Microsoft will be encrypted by default.
· All of our key platform, productivity and communications services will encrypt customer content as it moves between our data centers.
· We will use best-in-class industry cryptography to protect these channels, including Perfect Forward Secrecy and 2048-bit key lengths.
· All of this will be in place by the end of 2014, and much of it is effective immediately.
· We also will encrypt customer content that we store. In some cases, such as third-party services developed to run on Windows Azure, we’ll leave the choice to developers, but will offer the tools to allow them to easily protect data.
· We’re working with other companies across the industry to ensure that data traveling between services – from one email provider to another, for instance – is protected.

In addition to these technical measures, Microsoft is also taking similar measures on the business side of the house, including a pledge for transparency. Of course, as Google has already noted, tech companies' attempts at transparency are sometimes limited by governments prohibiting the companies from releasing sensitive data.

The full message from Microsoft is here. H/T InformationWeek.

Passive facial recognition - is the solution scarier than the problem?

Disclosures first: I am employed in the biometric industry. The views in this post are my own.

One of many biometric technologies is facial recognition. With the increasing presence of stationary cameras throughout cities, and the increasing presence of wearable computers (such as Google Glass) that can capture images, there are a number of discussions regarding when facial recognition (and other technologies, such as audio recording) can and cannot be used.

To avoid...um, image problems, Google has prohibited the use of facial recognition on Google Glass.

For B.J. Murphy, this is a mistake:

I believe Google is making a huge mistake in completely banning facial recognition systems for its Glass product. In my opinion, such a system could be used to help save thousands of lives. But then, we’re too damn caught up on absolute privacy that we’re willing to sacrifice actual, physical lives to ensure our privacy remains untainted. Such individualist dogma is deadly.

It seems as if Murphy is wildly exaggerating - if Google Glass doesn't include facial recognition, people will die? But Murphy actually does have a use case - and, as is often true when controversial points are proposed, it's all "for the children."

Murphy imagines a scenario in which the roving cameras on Google Glass are outfitted with special "Amber Alert" software that looks for known missing children, and when one is found, the Google Glass app automatically sends the information off to the authorities.

There's one catch, however - the person wearing the Google Glass doesn't know any of the specifics.

A mandatory app was included with Glass, which was connected with Amber Alert systems. The app has Glass quietly scanning each face you cross paths with, but doesn't reveal their names, nor does it alert you that it's currently scanning. For all you know, it's a normal day like any other.

As the Glass user is walking about, the camera detects a young girl and an older man, conducts a facial recognition search - again, without your knowledge - and identifies the girl as missing.

[W]ithout alerting you, the app then - albeit quietly - takes a snapshot of the girl and unknown male captor, contacts a 911 operator program, and delivers GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken and in which direction the girl was walking. The police show up, arrest the male captor, and contacts the parents of the missing child informing them that she'd been found and safe.

In Murphy's scenario, the child's parents or guardians provided permission to enter the girl's facial information into the system.

But you didn't provide any such consent.

To me, the "solution" is more worrisome than the problem that it is intended to solve.

Murphy is obviously aware that there's been a huge brouhaha over the last year about the activities of the U.S. National Security Agency. Numbers that were dialed on mobile phones were recorded without our consent, and even U.S. Senators who were supposedly monitoring the program were unaware of what was going on.

And now we're seriously considering INCREASING the monitoring capabilities, without allowing people to opt out.

This can raise a number of Constitutional and other issues. For example, let's assume that Person A is wearing Google Glass, and that a missing child shows up in his/her view. Further monitoring reveals that the child is actually living with the Google Glass wearer. To some, this is a crime that is solved. To others, this is a violation of the Constitutional protection against self-incrimination.

But there's another issue - one that history has shown can happen time and time again. If such a system were to be implemented, the agencies involved would solemnly pledge that the information captured by the cameras would only be used to capture child abductors, and that the people who captured the information would remain completely anonymous. As we have seen throughout history, however, those assurances aren't worth a thing.

Hey, Gwen! We got a hit!

We do?

Yes! Laura Korpi, age 8, from Simi Valley, California, with a man. Her mother has custody, but she disappeared after visiting her father.

Is the man in the image her father?

The man is...just a minute...not her father. But since this is important, I'll use the NSA exception to find out exactly who the man is. Just a sec...The search will take three minutes.

So while we're waiting for the search results, who captured the image of Laura and the man? Use the NSA exception to find out.

OK, Gwen, the person with the wearable device who captured the picture is...um, it's Reginald Harris the Fourth.

And where was the image captured?

Um, the coordinates are...outside of a Mercedes Benz dealership. I just got the ID of the guy who was with the girl, by the way.

Forget that. Why is Reginald Harris near a Mercedes Benz dealership?

Gwen, you're getting off track!

Mary, don't you remember what our boss said to us this morning? We need to use the IRS exception when warranted, and when someone's outside a Mercedes Benz dealership, it's certainly warranted.

Gwen, I'm trying to solve a child abduction case!

And Mary, I'm trying to solve a tax fraud case! Isn't it obvious what the priority is here? Oh, by the way, is Reginald Harris a registered Republican, or a registered Democrat? That could make a difference.

While technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or abused for evil. So if we're in a situation where we're treading on Constitutional thin ground, we need to have a REALLY good reason to venture into the gray area.

Credit Tad Donaghe for the initial share of Murphy's article.

The reverse auction for government reverse auction websites

I've talked about reverse auctions before, making the point that reverse auctions work better for some products than for others.

If you want to sell to the U.S. Government, you have probably heard of the "GSA Schedule." This is a database of products, maintained by the General Services Administration, that are available to government agencies at specific prices. The idea is that because of the U.S. Government's tremendous buying power, the business selling the product is willing to provide the product at a low price.

But what if the GSA could get certain products at a lower price than the GSA Schedule price?

Enter reverseauctions.gsa.gov.

ReverseAuctions.gsa.gov is an efficient and cost-effective platform for buying non-complex commodities and simple services. It’s designed to drive down the total cost of acquisitions and increase savings to customers and taxpayers.

Use ReverseAuctions.gsa.gov to facilitate your request and submission of quotes for simple commodities and services through GSA Multiple Award Schedules (MAS) and Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs).

On ReverseAuctions.gsa.gov, you can solicit non-complex commodities and simple services while the sellers successively bid prices down until the auction time ends. An award can be made to the apparent low bidder if it meets the solicitation’s terms and conditions and is technically acceptable.

Again, because of the U.S. Government's tremendous buying power, companies are willing to sell commodity products (not, say, automated fingerprint identification systems) in this reverse auction. The available commodity products include computers, phones, and office supplies.

However, it turns out that there is also a reverse auction in reverse auction websites. You see, reverseauctions.gsa.gov was not the first such site. As Steve Kelman noted back in July, there are others.

As many blog readers are aware, I sit on the Board of Advisors of FedBid, the commercial company that has introduced reverse auctions to many government agencies and is the leading reverse auction services provider in this market. I have been asked, not surprisingly, what my reaction is to GSA’s new site, which appears to have been developed to compete with FedBid and other commercial reverse auction providers.

Speaking on his own behalf, and not on behalf of FedBid, Kelman noted:

GSA unfortunately has a history of efforts to establish itself as the monopoly source of supply, including in the recent past trying to strangle inside-the-government competing GWAC contracts. This should be the last thing that agencies will want, since the danger would be to make them dependent on an inferior government supplier for reverse auction services. Hopefully, GSA will take this opportunity publicly to make it crystal-clear that reverse auction competition will occur on a level playing field.

However, reverse auction services are NOT occurring on a level playing field, since the GSA reverse auction website is "free to use by both government acquisition shops and vendors." FedBid presents itself as free; however, FedBid "adds an equal percentage transaction fee to all Sellers’ bids prior to the submission to the Buyer." The GSA site does not add transaction fees.

In essence, GSA's willingness to provide its services without charging any fees has reduced the cost for reverse auction websites down to $0.

Isn't that what reverse auctions are all about?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Solar freeloaders? Whatever the market will bear...

Some things that we take as basic truths aren't true at all.

For example, I asked this question once:

...why do the cable and satellite providers have to pay content providers to carry their channels? An equally valid point could be made that it should be the other way around. Namely that content companies, who get to charge rates to advertisers, can charge higher advertising rates if more people have access to their shows. So therefore, doesn't it make sense that the content providers actually pay the cable/satellite providers to get access to those additional markets?

The reason that the fees go one way instead of the other way is because that's what the market will bear. If you make the appropriate argument, you can get away with anything.

Take people who install solar panels on their houses, and actually end up providing energy to the electric company, instead of the other way around.

Those people with solar panels are...well, they're a bunch of freeloaders!

Further details of Alec's strategy were provided by John Eick, the legislative analyst for Alec's energy, environment and agriculture program.

Eick told the Guardian the group would be looking closely in the coming year at how individual homeowners with solar panels are compensated for feeding surplus electricity back into the grid.

"This is an issue we are going to be exploring," Eick said. He said Alec wanted to lower the rate electricity companies pay homeowners for direct power generation – and maybe even charge homeowners for feeding power into the grid.

"As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system. They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non direct generation customers are being penalised," he said.

Eick dismissed the suggestion that individuals who buy and install home-based solar panels had made such investments. "How are they going to get that electricity from their solar panel to somebody else's house?" he said. "They should be paying to distribute the surplus electricity."

In November, Arizona became the first state to charge customers for installing solar panels. The fee, which works out to about $5 a month for the average homeowner, was far lower than that sought by the main electricity company, which was seeking to add up to $100 a month to customers' bills.

Of course, ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) isn't doing this to reap money for utility companies. They're doing this to get Ed Asner mad.

Actually, the issue is that people with solar presumably buy less from the electric company, and since electric utilities aren't true private enterprises, they need to be compensated for this loss in business. If the electric utilities were smart, they'd invest in wind farms and sell the slice-and-dice results as "food for environmentally conscious omnivores."

(Credit to Marilyn Gerber, who shared a reprint of the Guardian article that I quoted above.)

One of these "crazy" perks isn't so crazy

Ilya Pozin has published a list of 22 crazy perks you should ask your boss for. Although I don't work for a startup with millions of venture capital lying around in the halls, I thought I'd compare my current perks to this list - and I actually have four of these perks.

3. A neverending stockpile of free coffee.

Flavia AND Nespresso, thank you very much.

4. How about a little something special to bring you back to your childhood?

Well, perhaps I don't have a play area like the one illustrated in the article, but I do have building blocks, a light-up bouncing ball, and other toys.

12. A state-of-the-art health club in your building.

I gave myself this one, although it's probably a stretch to refer to our health club as "state-of-the-art"...or, for that matter, as a "health club." But we do have a room with gym equipment that keeps me happy (although I should use it more often).

Which brings us to the fourth perk that I have:

22. Ergonomic office furniture

Since when is this considered a "crazy perk"? Shane Dayton provides an example of the cost of NOT providing ergonomic equipment.

Consider a common office ailment, carpal tunnel syndrome, and the corrective surgical procedure. Surgery is the solution available if carpal tunnel syndrome does not respond well within three to twelve months of non-surgical treatments. While an office worker is suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome his or her productivity is reduced. If surgery is required a worker will lose one or two days recovery time if the non-dominant hand is operated on, though up to two weeks is required. If the dominant hand is operated on, six to twelve weeks of downtime can be expected, depending on the success of physical therapy. For a company and employee, this is expensive.

I tried to find the opposing argument - that ergonomic furniture was a waste of time and money - and instead found more arguments in favor of ergonomic office furniture.

Doesn't sound like a "crazy perk" to me. Am I missing something?

How your devices guide you in the language that you use - and what this means

In a post last month in my tymshft blog, I described how the marriage of personal data and advertisements could unconsciously guide your actions. In my example, taken from Evgeny Morozov, a person suddenly starts executing a number of searches about vegetarianism...and then suddenly sees a bunch of ads showing discounts for meat products. The person eventually concludes that vegetarianism is not fulfilling...after a little guidance.

But guidance can be provided in a number of ways...sometimes unintentionally, with unforeseen consequences.

There is an entire website called Damn You Autocorrect that shows how the autocorrect feature on mobile phones can yield embarrassing results. It's often hard to enter text on mobile phones, so autocorrect sometimes helps you - in ways that you may not expect.

But there's a solution for this - just make sure that the embarrassing words don't come up in autocorrect, and the problem is solved.

How do you make sure that the embarrassing words don't come up? According to Jon Christian, you just embed the bad words in the Android source code.

But what if your set of banned words is different from the Android programmer's list of bad words? Ah, there's the problem.

As Christian and others have noted, the words in the list include the following:


So if you're a Muslim medical techie, I guess you're supposed to get an iPhone.

But Christian notes that dictionaries, in the end, are political instruments:

As others have pointed out, words included in any dictionary, digital and otherwise, can quickly become a political issue. Anti-bullying advocacy group Grin Campaign successfully lobbied the Oxford English Dictionary and Microsoft Office to include the word “transphobia” in future editions, and during the runup to the 2008 presidential election, New York Times blogger David Pogue pointed out that many versions of Microsoft Office still did not recognize the name “Obama” (though an updated word list was available at the time as a patch).

Of course, if an online dictionary excludes the word "triune," I'll declare a holy war.