Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Police cams and public entertainment, revisited

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a supposedly fictional piece in my tymshft blog entitled "When mandatory police cams become public entertainment." Back then, as the demand for police body cams was just beginning to ramp up, I speculated about the unintended consequences.

While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.

As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.

Fast forward (or backward, if you treat my 2014 post as a message from the future). While we don't have 24/7 camfotainment just yet, we're getting there.

Country singer Randy Travis cannot stop the release of dashboard video from his 2012 DUI arrest, a Texas appeals court ruled.

Police found Travis naked and apparently drunk at the scene of a one-car accident in August 2012 near the town of Tioga, which is 60 miles north of Dallas.

Now some might say that the police were going out on a limb here. Just because a guy is involved in a one-car accident and is naked, does that necessarily mean that he was intoxicated? To these objections, I point out that his BAC was measured at 0.15.

However, it seems that the state of Texas is preserving some decency here.

The Attorney General ruled that any parts of the video that showed Travis naked from the waist down were exempt from disclosure.

So if you want to know if Travis truly is forever and ever, amen, you won't find out from the state.

There are some legal issues here, which have been present ever since the initial demands for all body cams, all the time were initially heard. And the appeals court considered them.

[Chief Justice Jeff] Rose also stated that Travis's privacy was not protected under the Fourth Amendment.

"What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection," he wrote, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court's 1967 decision in Katz v. United States.

I am not a lawyer, but this summary of Katz v. United States asserts that the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. In short, while Katz was in a public phone booth, he was engaged in a private conversation and thus protected from "unreasonable searches and seizures." If I follow Chief Justice Rose's reasoning properly, Travis was not engaged in a private conversation, and thus was afforded no such protection.

Travis is appealing - and I am using "appealing" as a verb, not an adjective.

And since some mashed up a David Hasselhoff video with a burger commercial, perhaps Travis can hook up with a hot dog seller.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Announcing #ebimara16

I have written over two thousand and six hundred posts in this Empoprise-BI business blog. I could have written this in numeric form, but just seeing the word "thousand" spelled out gives me pause.

My very first post to this blog was written on January 29, 2009. Its title? Test post.

This was followed by other test posts. It wasn't until my sixth post, Why Harlan Koch needs to run Starbucks, that I began hitting my stride. And in those 2,600+ posts, I've covered a lot of ground - ground that many of you have missed.

I guess that I could republish every single post in the blog again. That would increase the number of posts to 5,200, but could get messy for other reasons.

Or I could just retweet links for the posts at the empoprises Twitter account, but that's not a good idea either.

The best idea that I came up with was to (a) only share a very small subset of the historical posts, and (b) share it in a location where you have to opt-in to see the comment.

Thus was born next week's Empoprise-BI Marathon 2016 - #ebimara16 for short.

As you can see, the marathon will take place on the United States Labor Day on Monday, September 5.

And the marathon will take place on the Empoprise-BI Facebook page. If you visit that page throughout the day on Labor Day, you'll see reposts of some of the old content from Empoprise-BI. Some of it is no longer relevant - FriendFeed? Some of it, however, is still extremely relevant.

So be sure to pop in throughout the day. After all, you won't be watching Jerry Lewis.

Monday, August 22, 2016

If a university is a business, then it has to respond to its stakeholders

I am really bad at following up.

On February 10, I wrote a post about Mount St. Mary's University and its president, Simon Newman. I noted that President Newman had done some controversial things at the time, including the firing of a tenured professor for "disloyalty." If you know anything about how faculties operate, the faculty was not going to let that go by quietly.

In my post, I wrote:

How will this issue be resolved? Will dedicated faculty throughout the globe unite in an effort to champion academic freedom?

Perhaps...but it would have no effect.

The one way that Mount St. Mary's issues will be resolved will be by a method that President Newman clearly understands: money. If critical donors decide that the environment at Mount St. Mary's is so toxic that donations dry up, rest assured that President Newman will be asked to seek other employment.

So I wrote and posted this on Feburary 10...and failed to follow up.

So what happened? By the end of the month, Newman was gone. But not just because of the firing and the bunnies (oh, yes, the bunnies). He was running into other issues.

In February, the situation for the university worsened when its regional accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, asked the university to provide answers on a series of issues on which Newman's policies and actions may have violated the agency's rules.

But it's one thing to get the ire of the Middle States Commission. It's another thing to get the ire even higher authority.

[Newman] was quoted criticizing the liberal arts emphasis and promoted recruiting efforts that downplayed both liberal arts and the Catholic tradition.

Among the most surprising developments was when several Mount St. Mary's employees and ex-employees confirmed reports that he asked colleagues, "Why are there so many crucifixes?" on the campus. Answer: Mount St. Mary's has a seminary and is among the nation's oldest Catholic colleges.

Well, perhaps Someone contacted the Board or the President or both, because by the end of the month, Newman resigned and made a nice statement that someone else wrote for him, and the Board made a nice statement that someone else wrote for them.

Today, the school has an interim President - Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor. But don't call him that.

He’s asked people not to refer to him by his rank, but rather “Dr. Trainor” (his doctorate in industrial engineering comes from North Carolina State University) or “President Trainor” — titles he feels are more appropriate for his role.

Oh, and before he attended North Carolina State University or West Point, he attended a Catholic high school in New Jersey.

So presumably he doesn't object to the crucifixes around campus.

P.S. According to LinkedIn, Simon Newman has been unemployed since February. But boy did he do a good job in his last position:

Mount St. Mary's University
December 2014 – February 2016 (1 year 3 months)Emmitsburg, Maryland
Unanimously elected the 25th President of MSMU. Hired as a change agent to reposition the University to grow, improve its financial position, strengthen its Catholic identity, raise its academic reputation and be more student centric.

Developed Mount 2.0 - a new Vision for the future of the University, following a rigorous internal and external review of its market position, capabilities, finances, operations, and operating principals. The Mission: double enrollment within 10 years; become a top 10 regional school; top 25 nationally ranked Catholic University.

Achievements included:
- Reduced costs by $3MM; eliminated $10MM of liabilities.
- Initiated and negotiated pending $100+ MM donation/JV.(largest in history)
- Proposed pending $500MM JV with FEMA for an int’l center for Emergency Management (incl. moving I-15)
- Invited Pope Francis, and welcomed President Barack Obama to campus.
- New summer program at Cambridge University; JV with Cambridge Security Initiative.
- Rebuilt management team; hired new Rector, Provost, CTO and VP Student Affairs.
- Introduced new technologies including Workday accounting system, student system and CRM; tripled internet bandwidth; 4 new student lounges; new state-of-the-art classrooms; new learning management system; new athletics training technologies.
- Initiated new academic offerings - appealing to students based on market research:
o New degree programs in growth areas such as forensic accounting, cyber-security, entrepreneurism, and PP&E; plus new courses in high-interest areas.
o Reduced core from 68 to 49 credits.
o Initiated development of a center for student success and leadership.
- Doubled faculty development budget; largest faculty salary increase in years.
- Started Career Pathways Initiative; increased students' access to better career options.
- Added programs in diving, swimming, athletics and rugby.
- Started Presidential Lecture series including largest media event ever held on campus - Justice in America

Unfortunately, none of his colleagues saw fit to give him a reference for that job.

Compare this to the biography of the man who served as President of Reed College when I attended there. Paul Bragdon doesn't have a LinkedIn profile, so this is taken from another source.

Reed’s trustees...were looking for a leader to navigate Reed out of the financial doldrums into which the college had drifted. Inheriting a meager endowment—which had been reduced to about $4.4 million—Bragdon assured a wary faculty he was committed “to improving the resources of the college as a means of sustaining quality and enriching our programs.”

Reed, he counseled, should improve fiscal prospects not at the expense of quality but as a result of it. He was true to his words. As annual giving tripled to $2.4 million in four years, eventually reaching $24 million in a single year, frugality gave way to prudent investment in academic expansion, enriched student life, and structural maintenance. Departmental status for Spanish, majors in Asian studies along with art and history, restoration of the senior symposium, new visiting professorships and faculty chairs, enlargement of Hauser Library and establishment of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, construction of Vollum College Center and a studio arts building, and pioneering programs in computing and educational technology were all achievements of the Bragdon years.

Bragdon’s “Campaign for Reed” raised $65 million in his final five years—putting Reed’s first capital campaign $20 million over goal—and he left the college with a 16-fold increase in endowment and a $2 million reserve. When he departed, Bragdon had handed diplomas to 40 percent of all Reed graduates.

Fifteen years after leaving Reed, Bragdon served as interim President as crosstown school Lewis & Clark College. (Have I told the joke about Watzek's donations to Reed and Lewis & Clark?) At the time, he made the following observation:

First, any president anywhere should be devoted to saying the same thing to each constituency of the College. The emphasis chosen and the language used might vary based on the interests of the listener, but it should be the same essential message.

Second, the College’s constituents are entitled to some straightforward statements about what the institution is and where it hopes to go—what its problems are, what its strengths are, and the plan for moving forward.

Third, you can assume that one who is or wants to be a college president is an ambitious person. I think we should be looking for someone who will tie that ambition to this institution—someone who understands that personal ambition is achieved by aligning it with institutional interests.

Overall, the president serves an educational role, but not in the classroom. It’s necessary to enlist the support and cooperation of a lot of people to get things done over a long period of time, which means a lot of consultation, a lot of testing of ideas, and a lot of listening.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

When governments violate minimum wages AND the 24th Amendment

In the past, I have written about minimum wage laws, living wage laws, and exceptions to the same for prisoners in Colorado and California. In those two cases, the argument is that prisoners do not deserve minimum wages because they are criminals, so therefore the state is justified in paying sub-minimum wages.

But what of law-abiding citizens? A recent court case in the state of Washington (hotbed of living wage activity) makes an interesting argument:

King County's $10-per-day reimbursement for mileage or travel hasn't changed since 1959, lead plaintiff Ryan Rocha says in the complaint in Pierce County Court.

He says the low pay effectively prevents minorities and poor people from participating in jury service.

A Seattle worker earning minimum wage would make $104 for an eight-hour day, and all minimum-wage workers in Washington earn at least $75 for eight hours....

The other named plaintiff, Catherine Selin, served on a jury for 11 days last year, and also worked for an employer that did not compensate her. She says King County violated the state's minimum wage act by not paying her.

So basically law-abiding citizens are denied minimum wage if their employer doesn't pay for jury duty. (It should be noted that government employees usually get paid for jury duty, so they themselves don't suffer.) Basically, it would be a financial hardship to employers if the state mandated that all employers offer paid jury leave - just as it would be a financial hardship to the state to pay living wages to jurors.

But that's not the interesting part.

Their attorney Jeffrey Needle said in a statement: "Citizens aren't required to give up their incomes in order to vote, and they shouldn't have to do so with jury service either."

But what does voting, an activity that takes less than an hour, have to do with jury service, an activity that could take a week or more?

A lot, actually, according to The Straight Dope:

[T]he Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems...argues that because most states link voter registration with jury service, jury duty basically constitutes a poll tax: it’s effectively a fee for casting a ballot. Citizens know they’ll be put on a jury list if they register to vote; some know they can’t afford to miss work to sit on a jury; therefore they don’t register, and subsequently can’t vote.

OK, a poll tax - so what? It's not like that's illegal or anything. Well, in this U.S. election season in which we're paying attention to the 1st, 2nd, and other amendments, let's take a look at the 24th:

“Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.”

“Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

In a classic example of unintended consequences, the amendment gained passage because of the disenfranchisement practices of evil southern states that conspired to deny the vote to blacks.

But if the Columbia Journal's argument is correct, the amendment could also be used against the disenfranchisement practices of all states that discourage voting by paying low jury duty rates.

Yes, even in the state that has a county (re)named after Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

In card transactions, the chip (and the machine) are not enough

In the United States, many bytes have been devoted to the transition to "chip and PIN" (or, in some cases, "chip and signature") credit and debit cards. While much has been said about the financial motivations of banks and retailers, one underlying assumption has been that the chip card, when paired with a compatible card reader, is secure.

However, Robinson + Cole cites an NCR study that points out one other significant factor - a factor that some are choosing NOT to implement.

NCR says that the problem is that while retailers are encouraging the use of chip cards, they are upgrading their payment machines but they are not encrypting the transaction. Retailers would need to pay extra for the encryption. So while they are spending money on the new payment machines for chip cards, the transaction is still not all that secure.

As an aside, I should make a note that this is not a failure of the technology; it's a failure of the implementation of the technology.

Of course NCR presumably has its own motivations - it wants the retailers to spend money on encryption - but the argument makes sense. If you're going to spend all this money to install readers to reader the new chip cards, why not follow through with implementing the software change? Without encryption, all of that money is wasted.

And it's not like the encryption issue is anything new; the Smart Card Alliance was discussing end-to-end encryption in 2009.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Maintaining customer focus

Too often when we're selling something, we think that the focus is on us and our needs, and forget that the customer doesn't really care about our needs. The customer cares about his or her needs.

I was reminded of this when viewing a page that was intended to help me learn about wearable cameras.

But the first sentence of the page ruined it for me.

We spent 24 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki.

The writer forgot that I don't care if the writer spent 24 hours, 24 weeks, or 24 seconds assembling the material. I just want a kewl Dick Tracy camera.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

In related news, political candidates rate themselves as highly qualified

I recently reviewed the results of a survey. The results themselves can only be shared with members of a specific organization, so I am forced to speak in generalities.

However, one of the questions asked whether the respondents agreed with the statement that customer decision-makers had "poor knowledge" about products.

Suppliers of the products thought that this percentage was high.

Customers themselves thought that this percentage was low.

Monday, August 8, 2016

#nbcfail NOT - The only Olympic number that matters (and no, it's not viewership or digital downloads)

There are a certain vocal number of people, me included, who do not care at all for the way that NBC covers the Olympics in the United States. As Dave Barry noted as far back as 1996, NBC concentrates on tape-delayed snippets of Olympic activity featuring Americans.

Tape delays, restriction of GIF posting, and other things have caused The Pundits to declare NBC and the International Olympic Committee brain dead anachronisms that will be swept away by kewl social media stuff that bypasses the tired old bla bla bla.

The network's coverage of the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro was typically clueless and counterintuitive, cutting away to a commercial every few minutes, inserting "expert" commentary in a window in the lower left-hand corner, and interrupting the spectacle to show us images of U.S. athletes preparing to enter next-door for the Parade of Nations (as if we didn't already know that we were going to see American athletes if we stuck around). The entire thing was delayed, as is tradition whenever the Games appear in another time zone — an increasingly ridiculous practice in the age of social media, which makes it possible to at least partially follow events live, even if television does not deign to cover them that way.

However, people who pursue this line of thinking are confused about NBC's true customers. They somehow have the impression that viewers matter to television networks. They don't. Old stodgy NBC is just like newfangled Google/Alphabet in one important respect - NBC's customers are not the people who turn on the TV and watch NBC's show offerings. NBC's customers are the ADVERTISERS that pay for the eyeballs of the people who turn on the TV.

Thus, NBC doesn't care about number of viewers or number of Facebook likes. NBC cares about profits. And guess what? NBC has been. and will be, profitable.

NBC paid the IOC nearly $1.23 billion for the rights to televise these games. For that money, the IOC will do whatever NBC wants.

Meanwhile, advertisers have lined up and bought ads to the games - and are especially anxious to buy prime time ads. And despite naysayers such as myself that think that NBC's Olympics aren't worth watching, there are apparently many people who think the Olympics are worth watching. Even before the Olympics began, NBC had sold $1.2 billion of advertisements, which is actually faster than the ads are usually sold. With another couple of weeks of selling ads, NBC will realize a tidy profit - possibly higher than the $120 million they made in 2012.

And that final profit is the ONLY number that NBC cares about.

For NBC to shatter that profit margin, they'd have to do something extremely drastic that would cause advertisers to pull out - like they did for the Republican National Convention. And I don't think that NBC is about to name Donald Trump as Chairman of the Board. (Although a fake announcement to that effect would be a good prank to pull on Rachel Maddow.)

We want you to listen to us...and shut up

There was an interesting little episode buried in a Courthouse News Service article.

As part of the article, Courthouse News Service paid a visit to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, and listened to a presentation by a court employee. Note that the court provided this employee for the presentation.

During a visit to the Stanley Mosk court last week, Courthouse News saw how the service works in a civil filings office lit by honeycomb fluorescents and lined with warm, brown sugar-colored panels.

The room reverberated with the electronic garble of receipt machines, the disembodied voices of clerks, and the bureaucratic click-clack of staplers fastening court papers.

A court employee at a filing window explained that when visitors who don't speak English arrive, he shows them an "I speak" card that allows them to identify their first language.

From his counter, the employee can dial through to a professional interpreting service. He said that he stays on the line with one handset and passes another handset beneath his window so that visitors can explain the nature of their inquiry through an interpreter.

Nice presentation, right?

But then the Courthouse News Service reporter did something that the L.A. County Superior Court apparently didn't expect.

The reporter asked a question.

When the reporter asked the employee his name and how many visitors on average use the service each day, an accompanying public information officer interrupted the interview and told the reporter he could not ask such questions.

"We generally do not allow staff to be interviewed directly," court spokeswoman Mary Hearn clarified in an email. "It is the role of the public information office to provide information to the media."

As you can see, Hearn's response was quoted in Matt Reynolds' resulting Courthouse News Service article. It's unclear whether Reynolds was the reporter who dared to ask a question, but obviously Reynolds believes that the question was not out of line.

So how could a public information officer conceive of a situation in which a court employee would give a presentation, but would not have to ask any questions?

Simple. Too many reporters don't bother to ask questions. Many publications are content to merely parrot whatever the news sources tells them, which is why Narrative Science is so successful.

Lesson learned: if you are going to stick someone in front of a bunch of reporters, be prepared for the possibility that the reporters may ask questions.

And if that person isn't prepared to answer questions, then perhaps Mary Hearn should have held up the "I speak" card and the handset.

Friday, August 5, 2016

You are not a customer, August 2016 edition (Pandora, Peter Deacon, and Michigan's Video Rental Privacy Act)

I have made a certain point ad nauseum. If you are a user of a service that provides wonderful things to you, then you are probably not a "customer" of the service provider.

Back before Google became Alphabet, its investor website contained the following question:

Who are our customers?

Think of all the services that pre-Alphabet Google provided - search capability, video watching, blogging, et al.

Now forget about all of them.

Our customers are over one million of advertisers, from small businesses targeting local customers to many of the world's largest global enterprises, who use Google AdWords to reach millions of users around the world.

Perhaps things have changed a bit with the creation of Alphabet, but for the most part, Alphabet exists to serve advertisers. The people using Alphabet services are merely providing data and eyeballs.

Which brings us to Michigan's Video Rental Privacy Act. Going back a decade or two to the time when videotapes were popular, people would go to a video store, choose a video tape to rent, pay some money, take it home, watch it, BE KIND REWIND, and return the tape. This worried privacy advocates, who were afraid that someone's recorded rentals of hot sex action and/or Pauly Shore movies would be revealed to the public. Hence, the Video Rental Privacy Act was born.

Peter Deacon, Pandora user, was subsequently disturbed at what Pandora was doing:

Plaintiff Peter Deacon brought a class action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against Pandora, claiming that the music-streaming company violated Michigan’s video privacy law by posting his music preferences on Facebook and making his preferences available via an internet search.

As far as Deacon was concerned, Pandora's sharing of this information with Facebook was a privacy violation. I don't know whether Facebook revealed that Deacon loved Morris Albert's "Feelings," the collected works of Britney Spears, or what. But Deacon felt that the Michigan Video Rental Privacy Act would protect him.

It wouldn't.

In a unanimous decision, the seven members of the Michigan court held that Deacon was not a “customer” under the VRPA because he neither rented nor borrowed anything from Pandora. The act is “intended to preserve personal privacy with respect to the purchase, rental, or borrowing of certain materials,” and prohibits the release of any information that indicates the identity of a customer. Accordingly, only customers can sue under the act. A customer is “a person who purchases, rents, or borrows a book or other written material, or a sound recording, or a video recording.”

Now perhaps this is a case in which the law has not caught up with technology. Or perhaps not. But regardless of how we may feel today, current law assumes that the sound recording was purchased, rented, or borrowed.

Would the legalities have changed if Deacon was paying for his Pandora service? That I do not know.

P.S. My music listening habits are revealed for all to see. And yes, you can find Wham! in the list.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The First Amendment does not extend to private enterprises - or Bermuda (another Ayo Kimathi story)

Large companies often conduct anti-harassment training, and my employer is no exception. Our session, moderated by an outside attorney, made the important point that the First Amendment to the Constitution can be misinterpreted. Yes, an employee has a right to freedom of speech - but the employer has the right to terminate the employee if it doesn't like the speech.


As I noted back in 2013, things are a little more complicated if your employer is the U.S. federal government. In that year, it was revealed that Department of Homeland Security employee Ayo Kimathi had advanced the following opinions about his boss, President Barack Obama:

a treasonous mulatto scum dweller … who will fight against reparations for Black people in amerikkka, but in favor of fag rights for freaks in amerikkka and Afrika

Because "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech," Kimathi (in effect, an agent of Congress since DHS was authorized by Congress) was not separated from government employment immediately. I never did learn how he left his job; he may have resigned rather than been fired.

But Kimathi has learned that the First Amendment doesn't do a lot of good when you leave the United States.

Washington speaker Ayo Kimathi has been placed on Bermuda’s stop list by the Minister of Home Affairs in light of a speech he gave condemning homosexuality and interracial marriage.

Kimathi was invited to Bermuda to give a lecture on African history - but veered off on to another topic. (For those who have followed Kimathi, this sounds familiar.)

...the subject veered off to include claims that homosexuality originated from white Europeans along with other forms of “sexual deviance” including child molestation, bestiality, rape and interracial marriage.

In this election year, it appears that we've found one thing that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, John McCain (Jack's dad), and Ted Cruz can all agree on.

They're not with Ayo.