Friday, May 30, 2014

Omelet! Omelet! #apmp

Earlier this week, I was in Chicago, Illinois for the Association of Proposal Management Professionals Bid & Proposal Con. The conference provided breakfast most mornings, but it hadn't gotten underway on Monday morning yet, so I ventured out into Chicago to eat.

My breakfast place of choice was the Lake Street location of the Billy Goat Tavern. If the name doesn't ring a bell, perhaps you're familiar with its TV parody, the Olympia Café. And if you're not familiar with the Olympia Café...well, I guess you're young or something.

Female Customer: I'll have a tuna salad sandwich, and an order of French fries, please.

Pete Dionasopolis: No. No tuna.

Female Customer: You're out of tuna?

Pete Dionasopolis: No tuna. Cheeseburger? Come on, come on, come on! I don't have all day, we gotta have turnover, turnover. [ turns to Male Customer ] What are you gonna have?

Male Customer: Uh.. I think I'll have grilled cheese and a Coke.

Pete Dionasopolis: Uh.. [ turns to kitchen ] Grilled cheese?

George Dionasopolis: No grilled cheese.

Male Customer: No grilled cheese.

Male Customer: Uh.. cheeseburger and a Coke.

Pete Dionasopolis: Uh, no Coke - Pepsi.

Male Customer: Okay, uh.. Pepsi, and french fries.

Pete Dionasopolis: No fries - chips.

Male Customer: Okay, chips.

Pete Dionasopolis: [ to kitchen ] One cheeseburger, one Pepsi, one chip!

George Dionasopolis: Cheeseburger!

Nico Dionasopolis: Pepsi! Chip! [ throws them onto the counter ]

Pete Dionasopolis: [ to Female Customer ] What do you want?

Female Customer: I'll have a cheeseburger and a small Coke.

Pete Dionasopolis: Uh.. no Coke - Pepsi.

Female Customer: Pepsi.

Pete Dionasopolis: [ to kitchen ] One cheeseburger, one Pepsi!

I was planning on visiting the real Billy Goat Tavern (or at least one of its many locations) during my visit to Chicago, but when I heard of a chance of rain on Monday afternoon, and since I needed to find a breakfast place anyway, I figured I'd go there Monday morning.

Of course, since it was 6:00 in the morning, I didn't go for the cheeseburger. The ham & cheese omelet that I got was basic, but it was better than hotel food.

(Oh, and by the way, life does not imitate art at the Billy Goat Tavern. They DO have fries in addition to chips, and they DON'T have Pepsi.)

#empoblognov03 Whatever happened to Salam Pax?

One problem with my brief posting style in my early blogging days is that the brevity does not allow for context. Take the beginning of this post:

Salam Pax

The blog hero of the Iraq War is still around at

For the life of me, I couldn't remember why Salam Pax was a "blog hero." And doesn't help, because the blog has been removed. But luckily, a September 2003 BBC transcript contains the context that I failed to provide.

Whether experienced through the words or camera lens of an 'embedded' journalist advancing with coalition troops on the Iraqi capital, or via the unique insight provided by correspondents travelling with information ministry 'minders' throughout the city and perched on the balcony of the Palestine Hotel, the war in Iraq was arguably covered in greater depth by the western media than any other conflict.

However the then lack of free press in Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the obvious reporting restrictions placed on journalists staying in the city at the regime's discretion has led to criticism of the overall accuracy of many of these accounts chronicling the lead-up, duration and aftermath of the war.

For this reason, thousands of readers worldwide logged on to the homepage of Salam Pax (a pseudonym), the Baghdad resident who told of his experiences on the streets of the city as the war progressed. The online diary disappeared for some time as the front moved closer to the capital's centre and power supplies became erratic, but were then updated following the conflict.

The man formerly known as Salam Pax is now active on Twitter, and works for UNICEF in Beirut, Lebanon.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lack of transparency and full disclosure - why I didn't tell most of you that I was at the #apmp conference in Chicago

By the time that you read this post, I will have left the APMP Bid & Proposal Con in Chicago, Illinois.

Most of you didn't even know that I was at the APMP Bid & Proposal Con in Chicago, Illinois, because I neglected to share this fact. I'll explain why in a minute.

However, I should admit that there were a few online contacts who DID know that I was out of town. If you were not one of these don't feel insulted, because I had specific reasons for letting these people know that I was out of town.

There were certain Facebook friends who were receiving regular updates during my stay. The people in this Facebook list were either (a) immediate family members, or (b) departmental co-workers. Why did I share this information with them? Because these people already knew that I was out of town. My family presumably noticed that I wasn't coming home at night, and my co-workers presumably noticed that I wasn't coming in to work every day. (Let's hope they did.)

In addition, there were a few other people who heard of my travels. When I changed planes in Phoenix on Sunday, I let a couple of people (one was my cousin, and the other was @Tad Donaghe) that I was at the Phoenix airport. Both my cousin and Tad are former Phoenix residents. Ironically, my cousin was visiting people in Phoenix that very weekend, but since I was only in Phoenix for an hour we obviously couldn't get together.

Oh, and I also let @Jesse Stay know that I was in Chicago. A few weeks ago, he happened to stay at the very hotel where my conference was being held. For the record, both of us liked the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.

But most of you didn't know that I was in Chicago, and I wasn't posting a lot about what was going on at Bid & Proposal Con. (Trust me, those posts are coming.)

Why not? I'm sure that the APMP would have loved it if I had been writing about the conference while the conference was still in session. And there certainly would have been benefits from the immediacy of such posts.

However, I applied a rule that I have often applied (with one notable exception) - unlike others, I generally do not post about trips while I am still traveling.

There are several reasons for this, but I'll highlight one of them. Perhaps you've heard of a service called TripIt, which lets people know of your travel plans. TripIt can potentially let everyone know of your travel plans - including your business competitors. Several years ago, I had written a proposal for a particular U.S. client, and the oral presentations were coming up. I was not attending the oral presentations, but I certainly wanted to know which of our competitors would be attending. Luckily for me, a senior executive with one of our competitors was using TripIt at the time, so I knew exactly where he would be - or would not be - during the oral presentations.

So for similar reasons, I didn't necessarily want to let my competitors know that I was out of the office, because they would be able to ascertain that if I was in Chicago and not in California, I probably wouldn't be doing [REDACTED] during that time.

If you've been reading my blogs for several years, you probably realize what the "one notable exception" is. Back when I regularly attended Oracle OpenWorld, I would constantly write blog posts during the conference itself. For the most part, that's been my big exception to the "no blogging about travel while traveling" rule. For example, I went on a cross-country trip in 2009, and didn't breathe a word about it until I came back.

So much for transparency and full disclosure, but in the next few days, you'll hear more about APMP Bid & Proposal Con than you ever wanted to hear.

#empoblognov03 But Bush19c didn't make it to King County

Another of my posts in November 2003 did not require an editorial comment at the time, but it does now. Remember that back in November 2003, our President happened to be named George W. Bush. In that 2003 post, I quoted from the then-current version of a Library of Congress page. There have been some slight edits since, but here's the relevant historical portion.

On November 11, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison declared Washington the forty-second state in the Union. Less than fifty years after pioneers began entering the Pacific Northwest via the Oregon Trail, the United States borders extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. Spanish and British explorers landed on the Northwest coast in the 1770s; American explorers followed. In 1818, the United States and Britain jointly occupied the "Oregon Country," of which Washington was a part.

In 1844, presidential candidate James K. Polk urged an aggressive stance with regard to ownership of the land below the 54th parallel. The slogan "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" became a rallying cry of the Polk campaign. Two years later, the U.S. and Great Britain signed the Oregon Treaty setting the Canadian-American border at the 49th parallel and granting the United States territory that included present-day Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. In 1848, Congress designated this newly acquired area the "Oregon Territory."

Racial exclusion laws prompted the first settlers to venture into the Washington region. In 1844, George W. Bush, a man of African-American or possibly East Indian ancestry on his father’s side (his mother was Irish), was among the early pioneers to Oregon Country. He and his family left Missouri, a slave state, which forbid nonwhites from possessing land and becoming citizens. They set off with their friend, Michael Simmons and his family, along with three other white families on the Oregon Trail.

The Bush and Simmons parties soon learned that the Oregon Provisional Government also prohibited black people from owning property. Bush's party evaded control of the provisional government by crossing the Columbia River and heading north—away from the American settlers and their government. They settled in late 1845 on land that was under the purview of Britain's Hudson's Bay Company—where the restrictive laws were not actively enforced. This land was later named Tumwater, of which Olympia, the state capital of present-day Washington, traces its settlement. The 1846 Treaty of Oregon, however, brought this land under the Oregon Territory's discriminatory laws.

Bush, a generous man and friends with many of the new territory's legislators, was now without a clear legal claim on land that he and his family had cultivated. Members of the first session of the Washington Territorial Legislature voted unanimously to petition Congress to validate Bush's title to his land. Congress read twice and committed a bill on January 30, 1885, "An Act for the Relief of George Bush, of Thruston County, Washington Territory." The bill passed on February 10, 1885.

This episode in Washington's history is particularly interesting when you consider the history of King County, Washington (north of Olympia). The county was initially named for William Rufus King, a fact that offended people a century later. The county was therefore renamed for Martin Luther King in 1986, although the renaming wasn't official until 2005.

See, I told you that it takes government forever to get anything done.

P.S. If people in the state of Washington were offended by the fact that King County was named for a slaveowner, when will the state itself be renamed?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#empoblognov03 Tolerance circa 2003

Back in November 2003, I linked to a Michael Hanscom post that could have been ripped from today's headlines. It turns out that the discussion of practicing inclusiveness with people who may not practice inclusiveness themselves is not a new phenomenon.

For the first time in their three decades of existence, the disco band The Village People have inducted an openly Episcopal man, igniting a controversy that threatens to tear the fabled group asunder.

Read the rest here, and thank Michael's dad for sharing it with his son.

And there's a recent bit of news that the Hanscoms may not have envisioned back in 2003. Retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson is divorcing his husband.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

NIMBY in Cambridge (and New Haven) - the gown itself debates novel potential pandemic pathogens (and Godwin's Law)

A little over a month ago, I wrote a post entitled NIMBY in Boston that detailed a debate between the town (Charles Yancey and Tito Jackson) and the gown (Boston University's Gloria Waters) regarding research into Biosafety Level 4 agents - pathogens for which there is no known cure. Yancey and Jackson want to ban such research within Boston's city limits; the university wants to continue to conduct this research.

Now a similar debate is taking place - only this time the universities themselves (or individuals within them) are raising the alarm. If you haven't read your copy of PLOS Medicine yet, you may want to peek at one of the articles, Ethical Alternatives to Experiments with Novel Potential Pandemic Pathogens. It was written by Marc Lipsitch of Harvard (just up the road from Boston) and Alison P. Galvani of Yale. Let's look at the abstract.

Two recent publications reporting the creation

Stop right there. Note the word "creation." OK, continue.

of ferret-transmissible influenza A/H5N1 viruses [1],[2] are controversial examples of research that aims to produce, sequence and characterize “potential pandemic pathogens” (PPPs) [3], novel infectious agents with known or likely efficient transmission among humans, with significant virulence, and for which there is limited population immunity. There is a quantifiable possibility that these novel pathogens could be accidentally or deliberately released. Exacerbating the immunological vulnerability of human populations to PPPs is the potential for rapid global dissemination via ever-increasing human mobility.

Shades of Yancey and Jackson, without the talk of the pathogens being "weaponized." In other words, yeah right. Or is it?

The dangers are not just hypothetical. The H1N1 influenza strain responsible for significant morbidity and mortality around the world from 1977 to 2009 is thought to have originated from a laboratory accident [4].

For the record, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states the following:

The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus does not have the adaptations that are typical of influenza viruses grown or created in laboratories. For example, the standard method of growing influenza virus in laboratories involves injecting the virus into fertilized chicken eggs. The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus lacks the properties associated with growth in eggs....

In this case, the reassortment appears most likely to have occurred between influenza viruses circulating in North American pig herds and among Eurasian pig herds. Reassortment of influenza viruses can result in abrupt, major changes in influenza viruses, also known as “antigenic shift.” When shift happens, most people have little or no protection against the new influenza virus that results.

And yes, the CDC writer did use the phrase "when shift happens."

But scientists do not always agree.

The new H1N1 strain ... may be the product of three strains from three continents that swapped genes in a lab or a vaccine-making plant, [Adrian] Gibbs, and fellow Australian scientists wrote in Virology Journal. The authors analyzed the genetic makeup of the virus and found its origin could be more simply explained by human involvement than a coincidence of nature.

Their study, published in a free, online journal reviewed by other scientists, follows debate among researchers six months ago, when Gibbs asked the World Health Organization to consider the hypothesis. After reviewing Gibbs’ initial three-page paper, WHO and other organizations concluded the pandemic strain was a naturally occurring virus and not laboratory-derived.

Back to Lipsitch and Galvani's study; you'll recall that the authors worried about the accidental or deliberate release of novel pathogens. They propose an alternative:

Focusing on influenza, the object of most current PPP experimentation, we further argue that there are safer experimental approaches that are both more scientifically informative and more straightforward to translate into improved public health through enhanced surveillance, prevention, and treatment of influenza.

I am not a scientist, but it appears that the case outlined here is slightly different from the Boston University case (although I could be wrong). In this case, the authors are discussing deliberate creation of new strains of pathogens, rather than working with existing ones.

But for a sobering reminder of how critical all of this is, check this sentence from the authors' conclusion.

We urge that proposals for any future experiments on PPPs be evaluated according to quantitative risk–benefit analysis guided by the principles of the Nuremberg Code.

Yes, we're talking about the Nuremberg Code here. This code originated during the post-World War II Nuremberg trials, in which Nazi scientists were accused of extremely unethical practices. The authors appear to focus on the second point of the Code:

2. The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.

However, I guess that one could argue that if a pathogen is released into the wild, the first point comes into play:

1. The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.

#empoblognov03 The backstory about the car museum in Mulhouse, France

Over ten years ago, on November 4, 2003, I wrote a post entitled Revving Automobile Sounds.

Part of that post referenced the Musee National de L'Automobile de Mulhouse, as well as the fact that I had visited that museum in 2000.

Well, the name of the museum has changed; a few years after my visit, it was renamed "La Cité de l'Automobile – National Museum – Schlumpf Collection."

The name Schlumpf only hints at the bizarre history of the museum, for while the Schlumpfs collected the automobiles, they weren't able to keep them.

The brothers were Hans and Fritz Schlumpf, who arrived in Mulhouse, France in 1906. They eventually went into business together, founding or acquiring various companies in 1929, 1935, 1940, 1956, and 1957. (As an aside, I'm sure that there's an entire story concerning the acquisition of a French business in 1940, which I should explore at some point.)

One of these acquisitions was a textile factory, known at the time as the HKD textile factory. But Fritz Schlumpf was using the property for things other than textiles:

Between 1961 and 1963, Fritz Schlumpf secretly bought large numbers of classic cars. To make these purchases, he linked up with various buyers in France, Switzerland, England, Italy, Germany and the USA. Some of these contacts were particularly fruitful - half of his collection (over 200 cars) came from just 13 of them. These included Mr Rafaelli, a Renault dealer who owned several Bugattis and agreed to be his buying adviser – a collaboration that lasted several years. Fritz Schlumpf continued to use his industrial wealth to buy up classic European cars, while avoiding American models.

Eventually the secret leaked, the existence of the car collection was revealed, and plans were made to display the cars.

But as Fritz Schlumpf spent ten years and millions of French francs preparing his car display, the French textile industry entered a downturn. Don't forget, all of this was taking place at a working textile factory. Well, sort of working:

By 28 June 1976, the textile factory was in crisis and its employees were on strike. The unions condemned the Schlumpf brothers for “lack of consultation” and “illegal acts”. The brothers tried to sell their factories for a symbolic one French franc. But when no offers were received, they quit and took refuge in Basel. They would never return to France.

At the end of 1976, the 20 remaining workers at the HKC factory (the renamed HKD factory) were made redundant and the building was sealed.

It's important to note that all of this was taking place in France. This not only explains why Fritz Schlumpf wasn't that eager to acquire American cars, but also explains what happened to the car collection in 1977.

On 7 March 1977, the warehouses were occupied by the unions. The “Schlumpf Museum” was renamed the “Workers Museum”. It was overseen by the CFDT union and entry was free. A collection was taken on the way out to cover both running costs and the costs of ongoing legal action. “I used to earn 1,400 francs a month: here’s where the rest went” read one of the many placards placed on the grill of a racing car.

Meanwhile, the French government stepped in and determined that whatever happened, the car collection could not leave France. The Schlumpf brothers, just across the border in Basel, Switzerland, obviously were not pleased with this turn of events. By 1979, the Schlumpf brothers' assets were liquidated and sold (with some modifications after continuing court battles, but at least one of the brothers was dead by the time everything was sorted out).

By the time that I visited the museum in 2000, the courts had ordered that the museum had to include "Schlumpf Collection" in its name, and a new company (Culturespaces) was hired to manage the collection. The result, after all of the legal entanglements, is one of the most impressive car collections in the world.

Well, if you like Mercedes Benzes that look like Volkswagens.

Monday, May 26, 2014

How long must you hire a consultant? China, McKinsey, and the Boston Consulting Group

Last Thursday, I wrote a post about the government of China's decision to ban Windows 8 for governmental use. And yes, I noted that the Apple/Linux fanbois would think this is way kewl.

Well, I'm not sure if the fanbois will be so hot about this move:

[T]he Financial Times, citing “people close to senior Chinese leaders,” reported that Beijing has ordered state enterprises to cut dealings with U.S. consulting firms, accusing them of spying for Washington.

Unlike the Windows move, it's clear that this is retaliation for the United States government's indictment of five People's Liberation Army officers for cyber espionage. And as Forbes notes, this may violate international law:

China, when it joined the WTO, confirmed that state enterprises would make purchases based “solely on commercial considerations, without any governmental influence or application of discriminatory measures.”

It's good that Forbes has taken a clear stand on this, and I hope that Forbes continues to campaign against the discrimination against foreign suppliers that is practiced by governments other than China.

Such as...the United States.

The Buy American Act (Act) is a federal legislation that requires the U.S. government to prefer U.S. made domestic products over foreign goods.

Now there are a number of exceptions, but frankly we shouldn't be throwing rocks at the Chinese government for preferring Chinese operating systems and consultants when we do the same thing here.

Oh, and I should clarify that the companies affected by this include McKinsey & Company and the Boston Consulting Group, who are not to be confused with the Kinsey Institute and the Boston Medical Group. The latter organizations are involved in a whole different type of consultation.

#empoblognov03 Why I'm looking back

Last week, I found myself looking at the November 2003 archive for my first blog, the Ontario Empoblog. (Blame Doctor Orange.)

It was fascinating - well, it was fascinating to me - to see how my blogging style has evolved over the years. Back then, I'd blog any little thing that came into my head. I do the same today, but I'm a lot more verbose about it.

Since many of those posts were so short, I thought that I'd revisit some of them and (a) see what's happened in the last ten-plus years, and (b) delve into the topics in a little more detail.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How long must you support a product? China, Windows 8, and Windows XP

An interesting report has emerged from China.

China has announced that it will forbid the use of the Windows 8 operating system (OS) in new government computers, a move to ensure computer security after the shutdown of Windows XP....

Microsoft ended support for this 13-year-old system on April 8, arousing safety concerns....

[T]he Chinese government obviously cannot ignore the risks of running OS without guaranteed technical support. It has moved to avoid the awkwardness of being confronted with a similar situation again in future if it continues to purchase computers with foreign OS.

Now there could be a lot more to this story - the report also notes a desire by China to nurture home-grown operating systems, and SC Magazine UK speculates that this may or may not be related to the United States government's indictment of five People's Liberation Army officers for cyber espionage.

But the question still remains - what is a reasonable timeframe for supporting a product?

And how should different markets affect support decisions? Perhaps Windows XP isn't the dominant operating system in the United States, but it does have a 70 percent market share in China.

Then again, there's a reason why Windows XP is so popular in China.

Windows XP is one of the most pirated operating systems ever, so Chinese users are actually running counterfeited copies that were not receiving updates from Microsoft anyway.

While my Chinese readers may disagree, the whole timing of the government Windows 8 ban looks questionable.

However, there's one group of people who are in complete agreement with the Chinese government - the Linux/Mac fanboi community, whose blood pressure rises 20 ticks whenever Microsoft is mentioned. They're probably applauding the Chinese government decision.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Government inaction - five years after the NAS report

I have often stated that I do not fear a Big Brother conspiracy in which multiple agencies (including the FBI, the CIA, the BBC, B.B. King, and Doris Day) all gang up on me. Why do I not fear such a conspiracy? Because government agencies are reluctant to cooperate with each other, and because government is usually not organized for fast action.

There's a recent example that's relevant to this argument, and you're probably familiar with it if you're employed in the biometric industry.


Over five years ago, in early 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released a report called "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward."

This report was a big deal.

A very big deal - so big that even non-biometric people were talking about it. (Which makes sense to certain colleagues in the biometric field, who are convinced that non-biometric people wrote it.) There were some strong statements in the report, as I noted in a 2009 post. One excerpt: some cases, substantive information and testimony based on faulty forensic science analyses may have contributed to wrongful convictions of innocent people. This fact has demonstrated the potential danger of giving undue weight to evidence and testimony derived from imperfect testing and analysis. Moreover, imprecise or exaggerated expert testimony has sometimes contributed to the
admission of erroneous or misleading evidence.

And these are not just allegations or opinions, as the experience of Brandon Mayfield will attest.

From the points of view of constitutionalists and scientists, SOMETHING NEEDED TO BE DONE. And obviously, something was going to be done, because there was now a report from the National Academy of Sciences, and there were some very specific recommendations, and even some people in the biometric industry itself supported those recommendations. (I won't get into that part of the story here.)

So...what happened? How did the various government agencies respond to the recommendations in the report?

Homeland Security News Wire tells us about all the progress that has been made.

C&EN editors Andrea Widener and Carmen Drahl note that the 2009 report served as a critical wake-up call to the public, defense attorneys, and policymakers. Even the most common and long-standing forensic techniques such as fingerprinting were deemed questionable. As scandals in forensic labs within the past five years make clear, however, most efforts to institute major change fizzled out...

What? After this oft-cited report, nothing happened? Not quite, because there's a postscript to the sentence above.

...until last year.

Whew. That's a relief. Four years after the initial report, something got done. What happened?

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) teamed up to create a National Commission on Forensic Science. The new entity is tasked with going back to the 2009 report and figuring out how to turn its recommendations into action. Additionally, NIST is starting an organization to create uniform standards across the field.

For champions of the NAS report, this is excellent news, because now the National Commission on Forensic Science can enact things, and all of the forensic agencies will implement them.

Well, that's true...except for the enacting and the implementing part.

Among the challenges is a lack of money. The DOJ and NIST are tackling the problem out of their existing budgets, and Congress does not seem inclined to support the issue with new funding. Also, the new commission can make recommendations, but it is up to the U.S. attorney general as to whether to make federal labs follow them. The attorney general, however, cannot force state labs to do the same.

So if you look at the sum total of all that's happened in the last five years, we started in 2009 with a series of recommendations. By 2013, we set up a commission which, if the funds hold out, will be able to produce...a series of recommendations.

I'm sure that supporters of the NAS report are sorely disappointed with this outcome, and people who preferred the status quo are visibly delighted that nothing has happened. From a more general governmental sense, however, should we be distressed that government can't do anything, or delighted that government is incapable of doing things to us?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Well, maybe it will appear this Thanksgiving

As the author of the Empoprise-BI business blog, I have a view of the blog that none of you have. When I log in to write a post, I not only see entries for the most recent posts, but also for any posts that are scheduled in the future.

For the last year, there has been at least one scheduled post that appears in my author queue.

The post that will appear on Thanksgiving Day 2014.

I've written about it here and here.

And I'm sure that many of my readers are anxiously awaiting this post, and have placed special reminders on their calendars to read the Empoprise-BI business blog on Thanksgiving, before the Cowboys lose to the Eagles.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but there's a chance that I might have to delay that post a little longer.

Well, at least the defendant in the spring 2013 criminal trial got sentenced nearly a year later, so perhaps I will eventually get to share the post that I wrote back in the fall of 2013.


Either people ignore your brand refresh...or they pay attention to it

One of my local El Pollo Locos has been urging me to visit and see its new look.

If you are unfamiliar with El Pollo Loco, it is a Mexican-themed fast food restaurant that specializes in grilled chicken. (And El Pollo Loco lovers, if you object to my use of the term "fast food" to describe El Pollo Loco cuisine, remember that you have to stand in line for it, and you get the food in a bag. By definition, that's fast food.)

So anyways, the El Pollo Loco near the Montclair (California) Plaza has been posting signs and printing advertisements that talk about its new look. I had been resisting the urge to view the new look for several weeks, but when one of the printed requests was accompanied by a coupon, I relented.

One evening I drove to the Montclair Plaza and, trembling, I got out of my car and walked to the door of the completely redesigned El Pollo Loco. Was I about to be astounded? Was my life about to change? Would I subsequently measure all events in my lifetime as occurring either before or after my visit to the redesigned El Pollo Loco?

Then I walked in...and scanned the entire restaurant for any significant change. After a few moments, I saw the change.


False alarm - the salsa had been moved from a separate table to the counter. But other than that, and other than a possible reconfiguration of the seats, I didn't notice any breathtaking, life-changing redesigns.

That's probably a good thing, because sometimes people notice a new redesign - and they absolutely HATE it. I can guarantee that the next time Facebook redesigns its user interface, people will scream and yell and cry. In a bit of meta, back in 2011 someone set up a Facebook page called I Hate the New Profile Layout.

These things happen because of differences between the people who design things and the people who actually use them. On the design end, the designers want to earn their keep by redesigning something so that it is engaging and vibrant. As the designers know, studies suggest that certain color schemes and design choices make something more attractive to the user. Therefore, the designers conclude, a reworking of the page or product will bring a lot of love.

Unfortunately for the designers, the users are used to the page or product the way it is. They're not looking for something that is engaging and vibrant - they're looking for the button that used to be in the upper right corner and is now in the upper left corner and half the time they try to click on the button and instead click on an advertisement and WHY ARE THE DESIGNERS MESSING WITH MY BRAIN AND CHANGING SOMETHING THAT WAS PERFECTLY FINE INTO SOMETHING THAT IS NOW COMPLETELY UNUSABLE AND FORCING ME TO QUIT THIS SERVICE AND MOVE TO MYSPACE?

Of course, people eventually calm down. The "I Hate the New Profile Layout" page hasn't been updated since 2011. But perhaps someone will create a new page when Facebook redesigns again.

Anthony offers this advice:

Redesigns should never happen because the design team feels like their site needs a new look. They should happen because there are specific areas of the interface that have poor usability and need improvement.

Anthony also advocates testing, but frankly testing won't make much different. Even if Facebook beta-tests a new interface with 100,000 selected users, that's still a small portion of the total Facebook user base.

One has to remember that any user interface is a trade-off, with both positives and negatives. Many years ago, I was involved in an architectural redesign in which a client-server application (with data stored on the client) transitioned into a multi-tier architecture (with data stored on a web server and displayed when necessary). Normally this isn't an issue...but in this case, it was image data that was being stored and displayed. And despite the clear advantages of the new architecture, it was still a lot slower to bring images up in a web browser than it was to bring images up that are stored on a local computer. In this case, all that you can do is educate the users on the advantages of the new system, and try to mitigate the disadvantages as much as possible.

My local El Pollo Loco failed by simply proclaiming that I had to see their new look - without explaining what changed, why it changed, or why the whole thing even mattered.

But at least I got a coupon out of the deal.

Although it took three separate people to enter the coupon discount into the cash register. Perhaps the "new look" involved cash registers without discount buttons.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Allen Schreiber on user groups for the users

I recently ran across a comment about the old days of users' groups for computer enthusiasts. While these groups provided a place for like-minded enthusiasts to gather, you had to find a group that catered to like-minded enthusiasts.

Allen Schreiber, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, had a little difficulty in this regard. In the early 1990s, Schreiber was a passionate Amiga user, but there weren't enough passionate Amiga users in Stillwater to form a user group. In 2014, the stock answer would be to Skype or use Hangouts to gather, but even today, there's a certain satisfaction from being in the same room with enthusiasts.

So Schreiber figured he'd do the next best thing and go to the Stillwater Macintosh Users Group (SMUG). After all, Amigas and Macs are kind of similar, aren't they?

At this point, some people would raise hackles. The Mac fanbois would loudly declare that Amiga users have no place in the blessed Mac realm, and Amiga fanbois would argue that Schreiber shouldn't waste his time with devotees of that primitive Apple computer.

But that's not the reaction that Schreiber received. As a precaution, he figured that he'd check with SMUG's president and make sure it was OK for an Amiga user to attend the meetings. Schreiber:

I will never forget the last sentence in reply that I got that went something like this, “We would welcome you to any of our meetings! It would be interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two systems. Besides that our group is SMUG not SNOB.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The receiver controls

There are certain universal truths.

Joan Jett loves rock and roll.

Clifford is a big red dog.

If you are receiving something from someone who wants something from you, you get to dictate how you will receive it.

Some people do not recognize this last truth. They want to get something from another person, but they want to do it on their terms. These are the people who try to get jobs and are angered that the corporate president hasn't read their resume that was submitted two minutes ago. They're the ones who want Super Bowl tickets, as long as the Super Bowl is played during the kids' summer vacation. (I refer to North Americans here, not Australians.) These are the people who can't believe that you don't want to hear about the fantastic solar energy savings that they are offering.

I often discuss a standard called the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification. This standard, developed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, has one primary purpose - to dictate how state agencies will submit biometric records to the FBI. If you want to submit prints to the FBI, you have to play by the FBI's rules.

I write proposals for a living, and my ultimate goal is to get money from the agency that requested the proposal. If I want to get the money, I have to play by the agency's rules. If the agency dictates that the proposal has to be submitted on green paper in Latin, then I'll submit the proposal on green paper in Latin. (What is the Latin for "I came, I saw, I was identified"?)

Oddly enough, the people that are frequently criticized for sending things in the wrong way are PR folks. One would think that someone whose title includes the words "public relations" would know how to relate with the public properly. But there are too many instances in which PR folks fill someone's inbox or voice mail with things that are irrelevant to the receiver.

Why do they do it? Because of the payoff. If you're working for a solar company, and you cold-call one thousand people to hawk your amazing solar energy savings, there's always the chance that one will buy.

There are attempts to publicly shame the irritants - the Oregon Department of Justice received over 1,800 complaints about telemarketers in 2012 - but that isn't enough to stop the receipt of unwanted information.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Structured innovation, via LEGO

Wharton professor David Robertson has discussed how LEGO, after some trial and error, adopted an innovation strategy in which the innovation occurs within fairly structured parameters.

[I]f you go to work for LEGO, it’s very likely you will be told: “Work on a great police station. Work on a great fire truck. Give us a great LEGO race car. And by the way, don’t use any kind of piece or shape that you want or color that you want. Use this very limited palette of pieces. Because we can use these pieces in lots of different sets and make them in very high volume and make a lot of profit from every set that you make. We’re going to be pretty much guaranteed of that because we have a limited platform that we work from, a limited system of play.”

Read the entire article, including LEGO's previous experiment with unstructured innovation, here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Trust no one, the SSN edition

Speaking of social security cards...

There's always a difficulty in tracking down Social Security Number-related identity theft, as Phil Kadner points out:

Notified that someone had used my Social Security number in an attempt to get a credit card, I telephoned one of the big three credit rating agencies.

“What is your Social Security number?” the woman on the other end of the telephone asked.

I am apparently a victim of identity theft and I’m sure you can understand why I am reluctant to give our that sort of information, I replied.

“I do, sir,” the woman said. “May I please have your Social Security number?”

I don’t think so.

“This is a credit rating agency, sir. We deal with this sort of thing all of the time. We need your Social Security number to put a fraud alert on your account.”

You may have worked at the credit rating agency for 20 years, or 20 days, I replied. But you might leave tomorrow and take my Social Security number with you.

“Sir, do you want us to help or not?”

At the end of the day, the person talking to Kadner was legitimate, and his personal information was not illegally shared.

Or at least we don't think it was.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The pendulum in mergers and spinoffs - the not online, not ontime Warner

Sometimes I think that the business world reacts like a pendulum, alternating between merger mode and spinoff mode.

But the reality is that mergers and spinoffs happen all the time.

Speaking of spinoffs, remember AOL Time Warner? Well, they're still around, just without AOL - or (in a few weeks) Time.

Jack Warner would be proud. After all, he had his own experiences with, um, spinoffs. Jack spun off his brothers:

Co-founder of Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc., along with brothers Harry M. Warner (the company's president), Sam Warner (the CEO) and Albert Warner (the treasurer). Was the studio's executive in charge of production until 1957 when he sold the studio to Seven Arts. One day later they sold it back to him leaving Harry and Albert out of the company then making him President. As far as I know the brothers never spoke to him again.

Other sources put the date at 1956, and say that Seven Arts didn't enter the story for another decade, but regardless of the year, the family was ruptured when Jack seized control of the company.

Clippers franchise awarded to V. Stiviano and partners

I have a piece of news that you won't find anywhere else.

The NBA's Advisory/Finance Committee, which was not supposed to meet again until next week, convened an emergency meeting this morning and awarded the Los Angeles Clippers franchise to a new owner, stripping it from Donald Sterling and the rest of the Sterling family.

The franchise is now owned by a consortium headed by V. Stiviano. Other consortium members include Vanessa Maria Perez, Monica Gallegos, Maria Valdez, and Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

In related news, the NBA announced that it has negated its previous negation of the 2011 trade that was supposed to send Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. As a result, Chris Paul is no longer a member of the Los Angeles Clippers and can no longer participate in the playoffs. In addition, Pau Gasol is now a member of the New Orleans Hornets for the next two months, and Lamar Odom has a job.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

586 reasons to murder someone

No, this is not a listicle. It's a very interesting fraud case, that started with some unusual findings from a murder investigation.

A Bergen County (New Jersey) Police Department detective working the murder case of a Korean family found multiple sets of driver’s licenses and identities at the crime scene

Detectives, including some from the FBI, began looking more deeply, and found a massive fraud case.

The scam hinged on Social Security cards that had 586 in the prefix. These were legitimate documents issued in the 1990s mostly to Chinese nationals hired to work in American territories such as Guam and American Samoa. When the workers returned to China, criminals there bought the so-called 586 cards, knowing they might illegally profit from them.

The criminals gathered more than 20,000 of the second-hand cards and then found buyers for them throughout the United States.

Through a long process, the perpetrators used the 586 cards to establish excellent credit, and then used the resulting credit to run up bills of tens of thousands of dollars without paying.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Big data, procurements, and the "annoyance factor"

I generally work on state and local proposals, but occasionally I get involved in a proposal to a Federal agency. By its sheer purchasing power, the U.S. Federal government has a measurable impact on the economy, and much of that impact comes through Requests for Proposal (RFPs) that are issued by contracting officers (COs).

Contracting officers are people too. One CO will do things one way, while another will do things another way.

What if you could compare COs? It's easy to do, since the CO for any particular procurement is publicly known, and data on the procurement is available.

So GovTribe created the Purse String Index.

The Purse String Index is an evaluation of CO performance across the three variables that, in our experience, speak to productivity and efficiency....

While the three variables (frequency, velocity, and magnitude) are certainly interesting, the part that caught my attention was something called "the Annoyance Factor." And no, this is not a measurement of the number of times a Contracting Officer responds with a two-word answer that is unrelated to the original question.

The Annoyance Factor is derived from two things - the number of amendments or modifications issued prior to award, and the number of times the due date changed. Changing the requirements and moving the timeline for a procurement costs companies money, so we thought this was only fair.

Even if you don't work in Federal proposals, you've probably encountered the "Annoyance Factor" in your own work. Perhaps your boss or your boss' boss asks you to do something, and after a while asks you to do it just a little bit differently. Or perhaps something that was due on Wednesday the 10th is now due on Friday the 12th...or Monday the 8th.

If you thrive on predictability, then the "Annoyance Factor" can truly be annoying. If, however, you love chaos, then perhaps the Annoyance Factor should be renamed the Fun Factor.

Getting back to the Purse String Index, it was specifically applied to COs at the Department of Homeland Security. And I'm sure that DHS is not pleased. In the same way that a basketball team may request that a particular referee not be assigned to a basketball game, now private companies are probably going to request that a particular CO not be assigned to a particular procurement.

P.S. Neither Ayo Kimathi nor Paulette Creighton were/are Contracting Officers.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Wordman CAN! Microsoft Word meets the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification #apmp

Dick Eassom is Wordman.

This is not an opinion. It is a statement of fact.

If you go to the website, you will see that the copyright is assigned to Dick Eassom.

Now I have never physically met Mr. Eassom - I'll probably see him at an event later this month - so I don't know if he truly goes around wearing a blue mask and blue suit with a big white "W" on his chest. I guess I'll find out.

In the proposal world, the word "Word" can have several different meanings. In Eassom's case, it refers to Microsoft Word, the software program for which Eassom shares his expertise.

And expertise is needed. Microsoft Word is over 30 years old, having first appeared in 1983 (according to Shauna Kelly, who chooses to go by her birth name rather than "Wordwoman"). When a software program has been around for over 30 years, on multiple platforms, the feature creep becomes a feature avalanche. If Microsoft were to issue a printed manual for my version of Word (Microsoft Word 2010), I can't imagine how many pages that manual would contain.

In addition, as Eassom notes, proposal professionals tend to push Microsoft Word to its limits. At a recent event, Eassom noted that he had recently been working with a 7,000 page Microsoft Word document. (Maybe he was writing the Microsoft Word manual.)

Earlier this week, the California Chapter of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals hosted a webinar featuring Eassom. The title of the webinar was "Nine Things You Should Do to Microsoft Word (or, how to stop Word helping!)" Eassom's abstract was as follows:

Out of the box, Microsoft Word is configured to help the average home or student user. It often thinks for you, predicting what you want to do. As proposal professionals have come to realize, this assistance is not always a good thing! From the pages of the APMP Perspective, Wordman will take you through the nine settings that you need to change in Word before you start to develop proposal products. All attendees will get a PDF version of the “Nine Things…” setup guide for Word 2007 and Word 2010/2013. Time permitting, Wordman will answer your burning Word questions!

(Heh, "burning Word" - I picture a bunch of proposal professionals, out in the middle of the desert, creating a big flammable statue of Microsoft Bob, and executing a complex 96-step dance around it.)

Eassom provided a number of general examples, but since he doesn't know all of our industries, he couldn't cover EVERYTHING. However, Eassom's webinar provided me with the tools that I needed to take care of one of my, um, burning problems.

I work in the automated fingerprint identification industry, and since I primarily work with law enforcement customers in the United States, I need to pay close attention to the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification (EBTS). This document, issued by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), governs how U.S. state law enforcement agencies (and other agencies) submit electronic information to the FBI. For example, if someone is arrested for murder in Ontario, California, and his/her fingerprints and palmprints are taken, those fingerprints/palmprints will eventually make their way to the FBI, using the standards specified in the EBTS.

However, the EBTS covers more than just arrests. There are literally dozens of things that can be submitted to the FBI, including prints from amnesia victims, prints from crime scenes (latent fingerprint images), iris images, requests for photos, and many, many others.

Each of these types of transactions (TOTs in FBI-speak) is designated by an acronym, usually three or four letters in length. Normally, if someone is arrested and the prints are submitted to the FBI, the prints are sent as a "CAR" transaction; CAR stands for Criminal Tenprint Submission (Answer Required).

As you can deduce, there are cases in which an answer is not required. For those cases the "Criminal Tenprint Submission (No Answer Necessary)" is submitted. The acronym for this transaction is "CNA."

If you're a proposal professional or experienced Microsoft Word user, you may know where this is going.

If not, imagine this. You're writing a proposal, busily typing away, and you declare that your automated fingerprint identification system will be configured to support a whole bunch of EBTS transactions. It will support the CAR transaction. It will support the CAN -

Wait a minute, that's not what I typed. Let's try this again. It will support the CAN -

Oh yeah.

Microsoft Word is helping me. Word ships with a list of common spelling mistakes which it auto-corrects, and since "CNA" is obviously a typo, Word helpfully changes it to "CAN" for me.

Unless I tell it to do otherwise.

So since I use Microsoft Word 2010, I go into the File menu, then go into the Options menu item, then I choose Proofing, then I click on the button for the AutoCorrect options, then I click specifically on the AutoCorrect tab, then I look for the "Replace text as you type" settings.

Simple, really.

With a default Word - well, an English (U.S.) default Word, one of the "Replace text as you type" options helpfully changes "cna" to "can."

For most of you, this is just fine. But for those of us who spend our waking lives spouting EBTS types of transactions (TOTs), it isn't. So we will choose to delete that little correction from Word's replacement list.

Obviously Microsoft Word isn't the only example of a software program with a LOT of different settings. Whatever piece of software you use, it helps if you know all the ins and outs of the program.

And if you don't, you can always hire a consultant.