Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Another story about the real soon now end of Sears

This one is from a former Sears employee who left before the merger with K-mart. A brief excerpt:

More broadly--and most stupefyingly--Lampert continues to claim turnaround efforts are on track. This from a company that has had precisely one-quarter of positive sales growth in seven years, operating losses that continue to worsen, an acceleration in store closings and rampant departures of key executives. Moreover, the moves detailed in the most recent press release are all about financial restructuring and say nothing about actions to improve customer relevance. If Sears does not quickly and dramatically improve its performance with its customers nothing else matters. Period.

Read the rest.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sonn Beverage Systems - or, I should have paid more attention in Neal Haygood's chemistry class

In the course of an online discussion about the pH balances of certain liquids, a friend of a friend entered the conversation. The friend of a friend, Glen Poss, encouraged me to look at the in-development product from his company.

Now my employer has used Flavia, my family has used Nespresso, and we have also used Keurig. So what does this forthcoming product from Sonn Beverage Systems offer that the others don't?

Well, the science is a bit beyond me, but perhaps it isn't beyond you.

Using the sonn when brewing allows the solvent (water is the universal solvent after all) to work more effectively and more quickly while using lower water temps to achieve the extraction. This lower temperature is very important because the prime reason that coffee or tea becomes bitter or astringent is the creation of acids that follows with high brewing temperatures. High temperatures are needed for a fast brew, and that is one reason why cold brew coffee is not acid. The other thing that is happening contribute to the silky mouth feel and bigger aroma and taste, the creation of nano sized and micron sized particles. These super tiny particles not only give the water a fresh surface to extract from but increase the total dissolved solids that contribute to the silky feel and big aroma, they are in effect little tiny flavor packets.

The technology can also be used with spirits.

A couple of other resources - here's a Consumer Electronics Show interview with Glen Poss' co-founder. Denis Londry.

And here's an independent review from 2015. Excerpt:

It's going to be interesting to see where it fits into the brewing/home beverage preparation world. It seems early on to have a lot of promise, and is fortunately, going to be quite affordable (estimates around $200). The inventor, Glen Poss, holds several patents on the device, as well as many that he's created for other coffee related gear, a small countertop coffee roaster/brewer....

I have no idea if the $200 target is still attainable, but if so, it will certainly be price competitive with other brewers in this space.

Oh, and one more thing (since I'm thinking proprietary) - does it make sense for Sonn to launch into a crowded market?

Yes, it does, as Agorapulse's founder has noted.

In 2001, my co-founder and I started our first startup. It was a revolutionary new concept that didn’t exist at the time: online social networking.

I know, we were visionaries ;-)

But there was no market for an online social network in 2001. It failed.

In 2004, we pivoted to a B2B play, trying to sell our technology to large businesses and organizations wanting to build their own private social network.

Here again, there was little existing interest. It barely survived.

But when you enter a market with hundreds of thousands, or even millions of potential customers, there’s a big difference! When we entered this space, we no longer had to:

educate our market
convince them they need a product like ours or
fight on prices because there is a market value for your “thing”

Good point.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What @laurenweinstein and @kevinmarks are saying about the unreadable web

During my time as a Motorola product manager, I occasionally had to deal with Section 508.

What is Section 508?

In June 2001 Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act went into effect specifying the requirements for accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that each federal agency needed to follow.

And if I skip over a lot of gobbledygook from the GSA page quoted above, we get to this:

Ensuring that government acquisitions of information and communication technology meet federal accessibility requirements for use by people with disabilities;

I'd guess that the majority of my readers have working eyes and ears, but what if you didn't? Section 508 and its related regulations ensure that you can still continue to read important blog posts like this one, and that you can get something out of pictures and visual content - even if you can't see the content.

(Confession: I was stymied as a product manager to figure out how Section 508 could apply to one of my scenarios, that in which a latent fingerprint examiner compared the ridges and bifurcations of two fingerprint images. Motorola wasn't selling a lot of latent workstations to the federal government when I was a product manager, but I was still musing about how a latent fingerprint examiner would compare images in the Section 508 world. How was he or she supposed to do this if blind - by a 3D physical representation of the contents of the screen? Tooltips ain't gonna help here.)

OK, now I'm going to show you a picture. Before I tell you where the picture came from, I'd like you to look at it and form your impressions. Don't worry about the words - just the general feel of the two images. Go ahead - I'll wait.

Now that you've looked at the picture, I'll give proper credit. This is taken from a post by Lauren Weinstein, and compares two separate blogs authored by Google. One of them uses a new visual format, while the other uses an old format. Can you guess which is new, and which is old?

Here, let me let Lauren help you answer that question.

Let’s compare the readability of two Google blogs. On the right, a recent item from Google’s main blog, which has converted to Google’s new low readability design. On the left, a recent entry from the Google Security Blog, which is currently still using the traditional high-readability design.

The differences are obvious, and the low contrast on the right is especially bad for persons with aging vision (this degrading of vision typically begins around age 18, by the way).

I should note that the terms "low readability" and "high readability" are not (obviously) used by Google itself, but were probably coined by Weinstein (or by someone else who doesn't care for the change). Weinstein is quite passionate about his dislike of the new format. He has not only expressed this dislike in the post that contained this comparison, but also in two prior posts on the topic.

How did we get into this mess in the first place? A Kevin Marks article in WIRED provides the...um, background.

So why are designers resorting to lighter and lighter text? When I asked designers why gray type has become so popular, many pointed me to the Typography Handbook, a reference guide to web design. The handbook warns against too much contrast. It recommends developers build using a very dark gray (#333) instead of pitch black (#000).

The theory espoused by designers is that black text on a white background can strain the eyes. Opting for a softer shade of black text, instead, makes a page more comfortable to read....Schwartz himself admits the conclusion is subjective.

Another common justification is that people with dyslexia may find contrast confusing, though studies recommend dimming the background color instead of lightening the type.

Several designers pointed me to Ian Storm Taylor’s article, “Design Tip: Never Use Black.” In it, Taylor argues that pure black is more concept than color....Taylor uses the variability of color to argue for subtlety in web design, not increasingly faint text.

Marks also makes the point that designers often design in optimal conditions - the best screens in optimally-lit offices. The designs that look great in such conditions may be look so good when you're standing outside on a sunny day, squinting at a mobile phone.

But all of that doesn't matter, because the trend is established and anyone who doesn't implement unreadable text will be ridiculed as not having a modern interface. After all, minimalistic designs are cool.

The design professional's description of this page says that is "uses just enough color to draw the eye to important content on the site." Of course, Weinstein, Marks, and others say that it accomplishes this by making the allegedly unimportant content completely unreadable. Which of course raises the question - if you don't want people to read that text, why did you put it there in the first place? Why not just use some "lorem ipsum" stuff instead? That text is quite popular; I guess a lot of SEO experts are recommending it.

But there's still hope, because the people that insist on unreadable interfaces are the same people who still insist on mandatory periodic password changes (see my #empoexpiire series of posts) - even though NIST no longer recommends mandatory password changes. Eventually the unreadable interface crowd will be locked out of their accounts, or (more likely) someone will guess their deceptively easy password and modify their code so that the fonts are readable.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Unintended consequences of the Starbucks app

In a 2015 post, I referred to Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay as a success. And frankly, it is - I remember back when I was a kid, we actually had to go INTO a business to order a drink and pay the money. Nowadays, you can order your drink AND pay for it in advance, and just pick the drink up when you get to the place. And, as Research & Markets has noted, proximity payment methods are not only becoming more popular, but also increase brand loyalty.

What could go wrong?

What if the ordering method becomes too popular?

While Starbucks has added a 15 percent increase in staff to its stores and is looking to add more down the road, 75 percent of polled workers said locations were not staffed to meet ... standards. Within the last three months, 62 percent of employees shared that the understaffing issue is impacting quality customer service.

Because while Mobile Order & Pay can reduce the workload at the cash register, it doesn't do anything for the workload at the food/drink production areas. And the baristas are apparently stressed.

So why did Coworker.org complete the survey? Because previously, someone launched a Coworker.org petition about Starbucks staffing. Excerpt:

The labor situation has gone from tight to infuriating. Labor has been cut so much in corporate stores, that one call-off (an employee calling in sick) impacts the entire day, as managers are directed to cut shifts to save on labor costs. Baristas trying to work more than 25 hours a week (myself included) find that a near impossible task. You end up taking it personally, when corporate directs your stores to understaff, and under schedule. You wonder if they realize how difficult it is to pay your bills when you work 25 hours a week?

And the survey mentions ANOTHER unintended consequence of Starbucks' loyalty innovations.

Before the implementation of a Starbucks Reward program (MSR), tips were higher. Now, with a growing percentage and majority of customers using the app, and their registered cards, tips are in major decline.

It's a common issue affecting numerous businesses - if someone gets food for free, why should they tip? (For the record, when my family uses the discounts provided by the Don Jose loyalty program, we calculate the tip based upon the pre-discount price. Oh, and I avoid Groupon deals.)

Naysayers would claim that perhaps Starbucks should just eliminate Mobile Order & Pay and the rewards program. That will reduce business to the old levels, and then employees won't be stressed until they lose their jobs.

The reality is that if customer service truly declines - and a survey such as this one can't really measure the level of customer service - then Starbucks will have to launch a NEW initiative to increase customer satisfaction.

(I'd say more, but I can't.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

What happens after Walmart topples from power? Look to West Virginia for the answer.

No company lasts forever.

I've talked about markets and supermarkets and big boxes ad nauseum, and I've repeatedly noted that A&P was displaced by the Krogers and Safeways, and that the Krogers and Safeways are being displaced by Walmart.

And Walmart will be displaced also.

Because someone - maybe Amazon, maybe someone else - will be able to cut costs lower than Walmart has.

And all the people who deplore what Walmart has done to Main Street will be REALLY unhappy when Walmart leaves.

Don't believe me? Look at what happened in a small town in West Virginia after the local Walmart Supercenter closed.

Hit hard by the longterm decline in coal mining that is the mainstay of the area, McDowell County has seen a devastating and sustained erosion of its people, from almost 100,000 in 1950 when coal was king, to about 18,000 today....

When you combine the county’s economic malaise with Walmart’s increasingly ferocious battle against Amazon for dominance over online retailing, you can see why outsized physical presences could seem surplus to requirements. “There has been a wave of closings across the US, most acutely in small towns and rural communities that have had heavy population loss,” said Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University who is an authority on Walmart’s local impact.

There are still Walmarts in the area, but they're an hour away, and people in West Virginia aren't used to driving an hour to get somewhere. (It's different in southern California.) So now it's hard to find work, and it's hard to shop. And the local governments are missing out on a lot of tax revenue, and are cutting services as a result.

But there was an unexpected consequence of Walmart's closure.

"It was a big thing for people round here when Walmart pulled out. People didn’t know what to do. Young people started leaving because there’s nothing for them here. It’s like we’re existing, but not existing.”

What? A closure of an impersonal blue and yellow store affects society?

You betcha.

Economic losses are only one aspect of the hurt felt locally as a result of Walmart’s passing. There is something intangible, less material – and more chilling – about the fallout, something that seems to flow from the dependency the people of McDowell County developed on the retail magic conjured up inside that big box.

It’s touched upon by Wanda Church when she tries to explain why she cried that day. It was because, she says, she lost her family when Walmart closed.

Her family?

“The people I worked with, I relied on them if I needed help. The customers, they were our family.”

You hear it from Darrell Williams, 42, a truck driver picking wild raspberries on the side of the road to make a fruit cobbler. He recalls that his twin boys acquired their nicknames inside the supercenter. “My kids grew up in there. They called them the Screamers, because they used to scream if they didn’t get what they wanted.”

For Dan Phillips, Walmart was a way of coping with bereavement after his wife died a few years ago. “If you were lonely and had nothing to do, you’d go to Walmart to talk to folk. It was a great social network.”

Being a schoolteacher, Phillips has a theory for what happened when the store closed. “Socialization. We lost our socialization factor. Now it’s hard to keep track of people, there’s no other place like it where you can stand and chat.”

And if Amazon replaces Walmart as the nation's Main Street, its socialization aspects are fairly rudimentary. Product reviews do not a society make.

I just downloaded the "Beauty and the Beast" movie, and the experience on my iPad, while not quite like the experience in the movie theater, is still superb.

Wanda, glad you liked the movie. Hey, how are those tomato plants doing?

Well, Mike, the sun's got the best of them, but some of the plants are still hanging in there. How's the wife?

Oh, she's doing good The cold spell we just had shook her up a bit, though.

Tell her to send some of that cold down here! Hey, will you be shopping tomorrow?

No, tomorrow's my day to play Pokemon Go, and my work has scheduled 24 hours of online meetings over the weekend.

That's too much, Mike! You take care.

You too, Wanda.

Now if Amazon were to buy Facebook...or perhaps Zynga...

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Supply, demand, and what @peter_turchin says about academic publishing

Acronym lovers know that Rick Perry heads the DOE. Acronym lovers - and others - also know that "DOE" does not stand for "Department of Economics." CNN quoted what Secretary Perry said about coal:

"Here's a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow."

I was actually an economics major way back when, and vaguely remember how supply and demand curves work, how elasticity and inelasticity work, and how this is all founded on the premise that all people in the market have the same information. Okay.

I never entered academia, although I do have one published article to my credit). The listed co-author, Brian Kleiner, was my professor at the time. As a professor, it was imperative for him to have journal articles published, and at the time the system was a win-win for everyone. Not only did professors get publishing credit, but, as Peter Turchin notes, the publishers did well also:

Thirty years ago scientific publishers could rely to sell 5,000 subscriptions to university libraries. They could afford to keep the subscription costs reasonable, since they made money in bulk.

But Turchin notes what has happened since.

The publishers started increasing the cost of institutional subscriptions. Meanwhile library budgets started declining, so libraries started dropping subscriptions. Publishers increased the costs even more, to make up for reduced volume, and libraries responded by dropping more subscriptions.

As even Rick Perry could tell you, this is not a sustainable business model.

This does not mean that academic publishing is going away, however. Industrial Management & Data Systems is still going strong, apparently. And new business models are emerging. Turchin himself is Editor-in-Chief of Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution. All articles are peer reviewed, but the articles themselves are available for free. However, as commenter Bob Sykes notes at Turchin's post, these journals aren't considered good enough by some:

Promotion and tenure committees ... routinely use publication in high impact journals as one of the chief criteria for promotion and tenure, the others being external funding and Ph. D. production. Most of these for-profit journals are still high prestige, and so Assistant and Associate Professors, and Professors with administrative ambitions will continue to send papers to them.

But if the number of high impact journals declines, will the promotion and tenure committees have to adapt?

P.S. While writing this post, I managed to find an online version of the 1991 Bredehoft-Kleiner article. And I can easily pick out the portions that I authored. Given the content (THE COMMUNICATIONS REVOLUTION!), this is a possible topic for a tymshft post at some point.

P.P.S. I forgot to credit Edward Morbius for pointing me to Turchin's article in the first place.

Monday, June 26, 2017

TMA (too many acronyms) and more cowbell

I wrote this in 2008:

My co-workers know about my various obsessions, so one of them suggested to me, "Hey, while we're at the IAI, why don't you Twitter it?" The idea was that this would be a good way to get some publicity out of our efforts there.

Unfortunately, this would only make sense if anyone were listening. I performed a search of both Twitter and FriendFeed, and I was unable to discover anyone other than myself who even had a passing interest in the IAI.

Times have changed. The IAI has its own Twitter account and even its own conference mobile app. The app is used to share the schedule for the annual conference, although you can also view the schedule the old-fashioned way.

For those who know about events in the forensic world, the IAI's Twitter presence obviously isn't the most earth-shaking event in the forensic domain. (Which reminds me: I need to update my 2014 post.) One of the changes has been an increased emphasis on the science behind facial recognition. To meet the demand for information, the IAI has scheduled a series of lectures on the topic, all of which are categorized with the prefix "FAC." For example, one of my coworkers is scheduled to speak on the fusion of facial recognition and video analytics, and her session has been assigned the catalog number "FAC-230."

Middle-aged British music fans know where this is going. (Note: I would have linked to Blade's web page rather than his Facebook page, but his web page requires Flash. Figures.)

You see, as I've previously noted, acronyms such as "FAC" can be used in a variety of ways. For many people, the acronym "FAC" reminds them of the notorious Factory Records catalog.

Now it's not unusual for record companies to have catalogs in which the music releases are numbered. What made Factory Records' catalog notorious was that they numbered all sorts of stuff. If you look at the list of Factory Records catalog numbers, you'll see that three of the first four numbered items were posters, "FAC 8" was a design for a menstrual egg timer, and "FAC 51" was a club and its membership cards.

There is only one Factory Records catalog number that I have memorized by heart - "FAC 321." This is the 10 minute video for "A Perfect Kiss" (the song itself is "FAC 123"). The video did not involve the band miming to the record, but was a live performance (well, as live as electronic performances get).

I think mrwire100 liked the video:

The stamp of immortality was bestowed on the record by the video that accompanied the release.

I remember seeing this as one of the trailers to the art-house shenanigans at the recently opened Cornerhouse in Manchester in late 1985 . Along with Betty Blue, I recall this as the finest cinematic experience of its time!

From 6:30, when the cowbell comes in (no, really), the music transcends all space and time to hit the highest of all highs.


Actually, the video is marked by its contrasts - that virtuoso cowbell performance is toward the middle of the video, but the video begins with the band kinda sorta looking at each other, and ends with the same. As I noted, the buildup from staring to cowbell is reminiscent of the buildup in Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense."

So when I saw that my esteemed coworker was presenting on facial recognition and video analytics, I was thinking of cowbell. And I was asking myself, "Is there a FAC 230 in the Factory Records catalog?"

Answer: no. There is a FACT 230 for the album One True Passion by Revenge, but no FAC 230 per se.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

From fragmentation to redirection to separation

Back in 2008, I spent a lot of my time blogging about FriendFeed. Often I would link to FriendFeed posts when writing about FriendFeed, but luckily for me I once chose to link to a Paul Buchheit blog post instead.

"Luckily," of course, because all of those links to FriendFeed conversations don't work any more.

Back to Buchheit.

To put the conversation into context, you have to remember that FriendFeed started as an aggregator that would simply reproduce content from Twitter or Google Reader or whatever. But as time went on, FriendFeed allowed you to comment on these things. Buchheit:

Although comments are one of our most popular features, they are also our most controversial feature. If you believe that there should only be a single, unified discussion, then the extra fragmentation caused by FriendFeed will seem like a step in the wrong direction. In fact, not only is there a separate discussion on FriendFeed, there may be hundreds of separate discussions within FriendFeed on the very same topic or link (because different people are sharing the link, and different people have different friend groups).

Buchheit thought that all of these fragmented conversations were wonderful. Needless to say, not everyone shared Buchheit's opinion. In a TechCrunch post, Nicholas Deleon was not enthused with what FriendFeed was doing:

Ah, but you can leave comments on feed entries some will point out and engage in a FriendFeed conversation. If most of the content on a FriendFeed is pulled from Twitter, wouldn’t discussing the points on Twitter be the logical outcome for the majority of people? Blog posts get comments on FriendFeed as well, but how rich an experience is a comment thread based on a headline with a link? As a publisher, wouldn’t you want people to hold these discussions on your blog?

Deleon - and Buchheit - may not have realized what was coming.

Back in 2008, people were puzzled over the fact that conversations wouldn't be held at someone's own site (i.e. a blog), but at some other site like FriendFeed.

By 2012, some conversations weren't being held at someone's own site because THERE WAS NO "OWN" SITE. The sites had been jettisoned in favor of Facebook and other social media sites.

T.J. Crawford, a Bank of America spokesman, says the bank dropped the blog because its social-media strategy is focused on Facebook and Twitter. "We want to be where our customers are," he says.

Hosting your content on someone else's platform is nothing new - remember how many companies had AOL keywords? - but these days, when you host your content on Facebook or whatever, Facebook runs ads that make money.

(And yes, I know that this blog is technically not "my own platform." But bear with me here.)

So now the content providers are fighting to get people off of the other platforms and on to their own sites again.

Where they can set up their own paywall.

But when you're behind a paywall, you're behind a paywall - something that the Wall Street Journal is discovering.

After blocking Google users from reading free articles in February, the Wall Street Journal’s subscription business soared, with a fourfold increase in the rate of visitors converting into paying customers. But there was a trade-off: Traffic from Google plummeted 44 percent.

The reason: Google search results are based on an algorithm that scans the internet for free content. After the Journal’s free articles went behind a paywall, Google’s bot only saw the first few paragraphs and started ranking them lower, limiting the Journal’s viewership.

I can see Google's point. A search engine should show you what can be found on the web. As far as I'm concerned, it shouldn't show me stuff that I can't get to.

The Wall Street Journal views it differently.

Executives at the Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., argue that Google’s policy is unfairly punishing them for trying to attract more digital subscribers. They want Google to treat their articles equally in search rankings, despite being behind a paywall.

“Any site like ours automatically doesn’t get the visibility in search that a free site would,” Suzi Watford, the Journal’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview. “You are definitely being discriminated against as a paid news site.”

And yes, Watford used the word "discrimination." Person the barricades!

But Google isn't the only party who is affecting the Wall Street Journal's profitability. When all that content gets locked behind a paywall, someone's going to try to suck it out. How many times have you seen an article like this?

Panera Bread has managed to cut its wait time to order food from eight minutes to one minute, thanks to the company's efforts to boost mobile ordering, the Wall Street Journal reported.

That article was on Business Insider. So basically you don't have to go to the Wall Street Journal to find out what it's saying. And it's not just Business Insider:

The Wall Street Journal reported today on its front page that “The median pay for CEOs of the biggest U.S. companies was $11.7 million in 2016, up from $10.8 million in 2015 and a postrecession record, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of S&P 500 firms.”

That was from an American Enterprise Institute blog post.

Very enterprising.

Back in 2008, people were worried about how Pea and GeekAndAHalf would be having these conversations on FriendFeed. Now conversations are fracturing all over the place. And unlike FriendFeed, which never had a monetization plan (other than "have Facebook buy us"), there's a lot of money flowing around all of these fractured fragments.

Of course, this blog post itself is one of those fragments - which is why I like it when you click through the links to the original sources.

Monday, June 5, 2017

(11) When a leader wants it, a leader gets it - even if the leader doesn't want it

It has been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it is most certainly true that a powerful person can get people to do his or her bidding. Even when the powerful person has more pressing duties, there are people who will cater to every inconsequential whim of the powerful person.

And when you talk about people with power, the one person who comes to mind is the President of the United States. There are people who are devoted to pleasing the President and always staying on the President's good side. And nowhere do we see this in a little episode with the President, Richard Nixon.

(What, you thought I was talking about someone else?)

By White House photo - Nixon Presidential Library [1], Public Domain, Link

Charles Colson was a devoted soldier for President Nixon, and while much of his devotion eventually led him to plead guilty to criminal acts and serve prison time, there were things that Colson did for Nixon that weren't illegal, but questionable in other ways. As we know from the tapes and from his associates, President Nixon would sometimes blow off steam and say things, and his associates knew that he really didn't mean what he said.

Or did he?

In his book Born Again, Colson recounts an incident in which the President got itchy one night. One tragedy of the post-Kennedy assassination climate is that Presidents are locked up behind multiple layers of security, resulting in a situation in which a President can't live like a normal person. And, understandably, they sometimes want to break out of the prison.

(The quotes below are from a New York Times 1976 review of Colson's book.)

The book has its lighter moments. There is a charming chapter called “The President's Night Out,” in which Our Man Colson scrambles to help the President, who looks forward to an evening of musical surcease at the Kennedy Center, with conductor Eugene Ormandy.

It turned out that Ormandy himself was not present - due to the immense power that White House assistants wielded, Colson learned that Ormandy was nowhere near Washington at the time - but President Nixon wanted to go out anyway. Colson, who had a (somewhat undeserved) reputation for doing ANYTHING to get the job done, managed to get Nixon to the Kennedy Center.

The next morning, Colson was contacted by another Nixon assistant, H.R. Haldeman.

In a horrifying epilogue, H. R. Haldeman chastises Colson the next day for having helped the President to escape. “Just tell him‐ he can't go, that's all,” said Haldeman. “He rattles his cage all the time. You can't let him out.”

This brings to mind the various schools of thought on how assistants can best serve a President - or a corporate CEO. On one extreme, the assistants can satisfy the leader's every whim, which could potentially get the organization into trouble if the whims are illegal or bad business practice. On the other extreme, the assistants can do what is best, regardless of what the leader wants; however, this potentially negates the wishes of the voters, or of the shareholders, who expected the leader to do what the leader said he/she would do.

I don't know if I'd agree that Haldeman's chastisement was "horrifying," but it does cast another light on all the President's men. Commonly criticized for doing the President's bidding, in this case Haldeman is accused of telling someone to disobey a direct order of the President.

Who was right - Colson, or Haldeman? With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Colson's exercise did no lasting harm. But if the President had been killed - or, more likely, if someone on the Kennedy Center stage had taken the opportunity to lecture the President on the Vietnam War - Haldeman would have been seen as the wisest man around.

(And yes, if you followed my second link, I know that Nixon was a Quaker, not a Lutheran. Oh well.)

P.S. If you're wondering why this post title begins with the number 11, have a peek at the Empoprises Twitter account and take a look at the other ten tweets that appeared beginning at 4:00 am Pacific time. (Well, unless Tweetdeck broke and the tweets didn't appear as scheduled.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

When shiny new objects get old - Odiowent

It started with so much promise.


Odiogo announced today the launch of the 'Listen Button' (http://www.listenbutton.com), a web 2.0 service which allows Content Publishers to provide visitors with an easy and instant way to hear regular text articles. Located near the familiar 'Email' and 'Print' buttons on top of each article in mainstream media and blogs, the Listen Button when clicked will open a player which will read aloud the currently displayed article.

"With the PC entering the living room as the brain of the home multimedia center, text content providers need tools which seamlessly turn readers into listeners," said Marc Kawam, CEO of Odiogo.com. "Our Podcast solutions and the Listen Button empower content providers to mobilize and boost the value of their text content by making it instantly audible."

So as Odiogo rolled out, the tech press started writing about this shiny new toy. Mashable did. CNET did. DailyTech did. Politico added a Listen button.

In 2008, I signed up with Odiogo, and incorporated it into my blogs. The audio files were not only available at my blog posts themselves, but (via a podcast link) could be subscribed to, so that you would never have to even go to my blog. As I said at the time:

I'm not sure if this really has a practical use yet, but the service is available for those who want to truthfully say, "I don't read Empoprise-IE."

And I used it for years, until 2013, when I received this letter:

August 12, 2013

Important change to the Odiogo service

Dear Odiogo User,

We would like to share with you important information and changes we are making to the Odiogo Service.

When we started the company a few years ago, we were under the belief that our vocalization service would be paid for via embedded pre-roll ads. Unfortunately this did not prove to be the case. The many of brands and agencies we reached out to were skeptical about audio advertising on the web and preferred staying with the traditional banners and web formatted film ads for the videos.

This situation is driving us to shift to a different model which will help us sustain in the market and provide high standards of product and support. Starting September 1, 2013 the Odiogo Service will be made free only to personal, non-profit blogs. All other blogs or sites using Odiogo will have to switch to either the "Plus" or "Pro" plan....

While I could have remained with the service, I chose to interpret their terms to conclude that I was excluded.

And then I forgot about Odiogo until this morning, when I was playing mp3s on my computer and ran across an Odiogo file that I had saved - the reading of this post. A computer voice reading Spice Girls - what can beat it?

This got me curious - how was Odiogo's new business plan going?

Not all that well, according to The Hot Iron in a 2015 post.

A few weeks back, when I was integrating the new responsive design for this blog and was testing all links and functionality that I found the link to Odiogo did not resolve to anything, as if its servers were down. As I thought it may be a temporary issue I left all links in place. Now several weeks later, when I go to the Odiogo site, the resulting Web page is from domain registrar GoDaddy indicating the domain is available for sale at auction! Clearly somebody did not renew the domain name and the site and service is down.

I kept on search for information, but all I found were other user comments like this one:

Update: As of February 2015, it looks like Odiogo is dead. Broken link to http://podcasts.odiogo.com/the-endeavour/podcasts-html.php above removed.

Everyone was writing about Odiogo when it started, but hardly anyone mentioned it at its passing.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The reality of Sears?

Last Friday, I shared two posts - one that talked about cost containment, and another that talked about employee views about their employers.

Let's revisit both of those, because one of the employers discussed was Sears, and Sears is somewhat involved in cost containment. Although, according to Sears CEO Edward Lampert, cost containment isn't the overriding priority at the company.

Six shareholders questioned Lampert. One, who said he had sold men's clothing at a Sears store many years ago, asked if Lampert was in denial about the company's losses.

Lampert said his reluctance to close more stores was not about denial, but about caring.

"I'll fight like hell" to fix stores, he said, adding: "We don't want to destroy value, we want to create value."

So, how is Sears creating value?

He predicted people will look back and wonder how they missed the Sears' turnaround, which he said would be driven by the Shop Your Way loyalty program.

Last year Sears teamed up with ride-services company Uber Technologies to give members loyalty points for trips. Lampert said he was trying to strike more such partnerships to boost overall sales.

So Sears is instituting a loyalty program AND partnering with Uber. Stop the presses! Perhaps Shop Your Way has outstanding features that no other loyalty program has - perhaps not. And while an Uber partnership might have seemed really cool a few years ago, the continued bad press at Uber (DISCLOSURE: I WORK FOR A COMPANY THAT PROVIDES SOFTWARE FOR FINGERPRINT CHECKS) makes that seem like less of a coup these days.

But these points are not the primary points that Lampert wants to make. According to the Reuters article that I've been quoting, Lampert feels that the press has been picking on Sears.

Sears Holdings Corp (SHLD.O) Chief Executive Officer Edward Lampert blasted the media on Wednesday for "unfairly singling out" the company over the past decade and blamed "irresponsible" coverage for the retailer's woes.

Yup, the media has been irresponsibly singling out Sears over the last several years. I was easily able to confirm this, by finding this Guardian article that talked all about Sears. Oh, and I guess Macy's was also mentioned. Oh, and JC Penney was mentioned too. And yeah, there were a few paragraphs on Urban Outfitters. And mentions of The Limited, BCBG Max Azria, Guess, American Apparel, and Abercrombie & Fitch. And the rent is (too damn) high. Yeah, the media is really picking on Sears, aren't they?

And once you anger the media, don't be surprised if the media says unflattering things about you. This lesson doesn't only apply to Sears, but there are enough things in the Reuters article that might have not been as prominent if Sears was nicer to those that cover it. A few examples:

Sears, once the largest U.S. retailer, warned investors in March there was a chance it may not be able to continue as a going concern after years of losses and declining sales.

Lampert, a hedge fund investor who is rarely seen in public, kicked off his appearance at an annual shareholders' meeting at Sears' headquarters in Hoffman Estates with a slideshow of headlines about the company's financial distress, dating back to 2008....

The company has not reported a profit for six years, which Lampert compared to Amazon.com Inc's (AMZN.O) early unprofitable growth....

That was a good one. Because when you think Sears, you think Amazon. Let's continue.

The bulk of Lampert's 90-minute appearance focused on news coverage, which he said had been "deliberately unfair."

Media coverage was "meant to scare our vendors" who then tried to negotiate better terms with the company....

Five journalists in attendance were not allowed to speak with Lampert or ask questions.

Perhaps Lampert should have scheduled private meetings with those five journalists beforehand. But (for the most psrt) he didn't.

I'll grant that I only have two data points on Lampert (here's the other), but it appears that Lampert doesn't have media savvy. Even when he did grant an exclusive interview to the Chicago Tribune (in advance of the shareholders' meeting), he didn't choose his phrases carefully.

I could argue that this transition phase is taking a lot longer than it should and that may be a fair argument. If we were making a meaningful amount of money it would enable us to move much faster in our transformation. But we've made a lot of decisions we would rather not so we can make those pension payments, so we can make vendors more comfortable when they're questioning, 'Are you going to be able to pay or not pay,' and why are they questioning it? Because there are a lot of articles that are speculating, and there are elements of truth, but they're certainly designed to scare people....

We're fighting like hell to change the way people do business with us. And my view is, we're the customer. If you're a vendor, and want to do business with us, then you have to treat us like a customer, you don't treat us like a pariah.

Luckily this was a Chicago Tribune article and not a New York Daily News article. Building upon the past, the headline might have been "Sears to Pensioners and Vendors: Drop Dead."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jill Donovan and Jon Schmitz were embarrassed on national TV - Donovan (eventually) recovered, Schmitz didn't

I saw a story on Forbes last week, and I thought I'd dig into the details.

Today Jill Donovan is the Chief Executive Officer of Rustic Cuff, but back in 2004 she was a practicing lawyer, with a lot of hobbies, and with one overwhelming desire - to get onto the Oprah Winfrey show. From Donovan's perspective, the whole thing sounded like a fun time.

But Donovan didn't realize how TV works. TV's idea of fun might not be the same as a potential guest's idea of fun.

Donovan didn't realize this when she discovered a sure-fire way to realize her dream of being on Oprah.

One day, while working on a divorce case, Donovan’s mind began to wander, and she checked Winfrey’s website, where the producers were looking for people who re-gifted. Donovan happened to have a closet at home filled with slippers, purses, hats and bracelets — years’ worth of stuff from birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, all ready to be re-wrapped. In a habit she got from her mother, she had been a self-described “chronic re-gifter” since childhood.

“It’s perfect,” Donovan thought. “That’s my backdoor.”

So she contacted Oprah's show, and her story must have impressed the producers, because she was invited to be on the air. And I'm sure that Oprah's people were really really nice to her. The day came, and she was in the studio, chatting with Oprah, and things were going great.

Then Oprah said something that would change the next several years of Jill Donovan's life.

“Let’s ask the etiquette experts.”

All of a sudden, Oprah and Jill were joined by several other people who expressed their views on Donovan's regifting practice. Here's the way that Oprah described what happened next.

What the Experts Say

Kim Izzo, etiquette columnist: Well I hate to say it, but, yes, it is rude. It seems like a twisted form of recycling. You can absolutely pass it on, but be open about it. Do it in the moment. Don't reroute it! I would just never pretend that I bought something.

After that, another expert chimed in, saying that the practice was not only rude, but also tacky.

The producers got their wish, and ended up with a compelling show that people would talk about. And to be fair, Oprah isn't the only one who does this - there are a ton of shows that are really, really nice to potential guests until they surprise them on the air. But after the taping was done, Jill Donovan left Oprah's studio and went home, embarrassed in front of a national audience. I have never been embarrassed in front of a national audience, but I doubt it is a fun experience.

It certainly wasn't for Jill Donovan.

Four or five years went by, and Donovan didn’t quite seem like the same person. She didn’t smile as often. Didn’t crack as many jokes. The old gift closet sat empty, everything thrown away or given to charity after she got back from taping the show in Chicago.

And somehow, deep inside Donovan, there was a place that felt as empty and bare as those shelves — a place that believed what the experts had said about her. She was rude and tacky and ashamed.

“I went into hiding creatively,” Donovan says.

As it turned out, JIll Donovan snapped out of it, and today is a successful entrepreneur. And Oprah Winfrey herself has been photographed wearing Jill Donovan's Rustic Cuffs.

Scott Amedure wasn't so lucky.

Scott Amedure wasn't a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show - he was a guest on the Jenny Jones show. He was obsessed with daytime talk shows, and agreed with Jenny Jones' producers to appear on a "secret crush" show, in which he would confess his love for his secret crush.

That's when Jenny Jones' producers contacted Jon Schmitz.

A gregarious waiter at the Fox and Hounds restaurant in the tony Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Schmitz, 24, had been told by producers that he had a secret admirer who would step forward on the syndicated Jenny Jones Show. Although he had balked the first time a Jones staffer had called, coworkers persuaded Schmitz to take a chance: Last fall he had split with his fiancée (a woman whose name has been withheld by his family), and he was eager to start a new relationship. Before leaving for Chicago, he spent $300 on new clothes in hopes of impressing his admirer.

Again, I'm sure that Jenny Jones' producers had been very nice to Schmitz as he prepared to meet the woman of his dreams. But Schmitz wasn't prepared for the fact that his secret admirer turned out to be a man.

No, Schmitz was not prepared for this at all.

Three days later, Jon Schmitz murdered Scott Amedure.

Amedure was dead, Schmitz ended up in prison (and could be released some time between August 2017 and December 2037), and Jenny Jones wasn't smiling when she had to testify in court.

So that's the story with televison - you never know what the producers are planning.

If you'd like to read a behind the scenes account of these shows, read this piece from someone who once lived in Chicago and attended both Jenny Jones AND Oprah Winfrey tapings.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Time Zone!

As I previously noted, I was recently working on a marketing project that required cooperation with several people within my company.

Now I'll say what the project was - it was a social media campaign related to a recent trade show. I was part of the team that was executing the campaign, which not only included mentions on my company's official social media channels, but also reshares of this content by others, including myself.

So because of my participation in the campaign, I was well aware that an official post would appear on Twitter at 10:00 am Eastern time, referencing an event that would take place at 11:25 am Eastern time.

At the time that this tweet would appear, I would not be in the Eastern time zone. I would be in the Pacific time zone. But I still wanted to retweet the item.

So a few minutes after 7 Pacific time, I had my mobile phone out, Twitter app open. I found the tweet in question and reshared it, along with a comment encouraging people to attend the event in fifteen minutes.

A couple of minutes later, my phone buzzed with an email on my corporate email account. It was from an employee in the Eastern time zone, who gently conveyed the following message to me:

Good morning, John. Heads up re: your recent tweet: – it’s 10:14 in the East, not 11:14.

So I deleted the tweet and replaced it with a corrected one.

The affair irked me because I usually pride myself at my mastery of time zone differences - not only between the opposite ends of my own country, but between my workplace and the parent company headquarters in France. Granted there are a few weeks in spring and fall when that California-to-France calculation fails, but for the most part I can keep my 9-hour time difference straight, and my 3-hour time difference. Obviously I failed in that instance.

But that isn't the important part of this post. The important part is that I get to steal thunder from one of my other blogs and post the video of this song.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The "pre-existing condition" of maximizing short-term shareholder value

Now that the House of Representatives has passed a healthcare bill and forwarded it to the U.S. Senate, there is a lot of talk about the effect of pre-existing conditions on future individual health care costs.

Why? Because of the MacArthur Amendment which, with some tweaking, was retained in the final bill. Here's a summary:

Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-New Jersey, wrote the new language on pre-existing conditions in the current iteration of the GOP health care bill as part of his eponymous amendment to the current legislation. A legislative summary declares, "Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting health insurance issuers to limit access to health coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions."...

Under the new Republican bill, states have the ability to apply for three different waivers from regulations under Obamacare if they can prove that doing so will reduce average premiums, increase enrollment, stabilize the health insurance coverage market or increase the choice of health plans in the state. One of those waivers applies to pre-existing conditions, allowing insurers to use "health status" -- that is, current health, health history and other risk factors -- to set insurance premiums.

While the MacArthur Amendment expressly forbids insurers from turning down people with pre-existing conditions, they could, based on your health status, "offer you a policy that could end up charging you thousands," said Karen Pollitz, Senior Fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation.

So how many people could have their insurance rates jacked up due to pre-existing conditions? Well, last year the Kaiser Family Foundation addressed that:

Before private insurance market rules in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect in 2014, health insurance sold in the individual market in most states was medically underwritten. That means insurers evaluated the health status, health history, and other risk factors of applicants to determine whether and under what terms to issue coverage....

We estimate that 27% of adult Americans under the age of 65 have health conditions that would likely leave them uninsurable if they applied for individual market coverage under pre-ACA underwriting practices that existed in nearly all states. While a large share of this group has coverage through an employer or public coverage where they do not face medical underwriting, these estimates quantify how many people could be ineligible for individual market insurance under pre-ACA practices if they were to ever lose this coverage....

At any given time, the vast majority of these approximately 52 million people with declinable pre-existing conditions have coverage through an employer or through public programs like Medicaid.

So some people are drawing the conclusion that 52 million Americans will have their insurance rates jacked up.

I call bull.

First off, to assume that 52 million people will have their insurance rates jacked up, you have to make two underlying assumptions. First, you have to assume that the insurance companies will decide to jack up rates for every pre-existing condition on this list. Second, you have to assume that every single state will ask for the waivers allowed in the MacArthur Amendment.

This is, on its face, ludicrous. I live in California, and I can state with certainty that the Democratic legislature in California will never allow pregnancy to be treated as a pre-existing condition. And I doubt that any insurance company who does business in California would even think of approaching customers (individuals or corporations) and saying, "If you want to cover newly-hired pregnant employees, that costs extra."

So while it's quite possible that while some states may grant these waivers, not all states will. The populous blue states on the coasts won't go along with this - therefore, while insurance rates could be jacked up for some, they won't necessarily be jacked up for 52 million people. That 52 million figure could be a gross OVERESTIMATE of the number of people affected.

Or is it? Because there's a second factor at work here - another set of "pre-existing conditions." Not pre-existing health conditions, but pre-existing conditions regarding the way that business works.

As I noted earlier today, shareholders and investors are fickle folk. When American Airlines tried to retain talented people by jacking up wages, investors such as Kevin Crissey wailed like hurt children.

If you think that corporations are primarily interested in providing great products and services, you're ignoring what's going on in the corporate world, which is so heavily focused on short-term gains (at least in this country).

The primary goal of corporations is - COST CONTAINMENT. This explains all of the rightsizing and other steps that corporations are taking. It's all an effort to increase short-term gains to make the investors happy.

And, if the House bill were to survive basically intact in the Senate and obtain the President's signature, short-term investors would have a great tool to drive cost containment.

And in closing, I want to assure our shareholders that Megacorp will continue to expand. We will do so due to the talents of our dedicated employees. Now I'll take questions from the floor. Carl?




Carl, I can assure you that we don't have lavish spending habits. Heck, I flew United Economy to get to this meeting. We're not lavish here.


Um...yes, I've confirmed that we are covering those.


All employees are charged the same rate regardless of these factors.


(torches are lit)

So if the short-term shareholders have their way and force companies to "rightsize" their healthcare costs, the 52 million people figure may end up being an UNDERESTIMATE.

What? Employees are supposed to LIKE their company?

I've commented on this story, but wasn't moved to post something about it until now.

The story ISN'T about how American Airlines decided last week to offer higher wages to its workers roughly two years in advance of scheduled contract negotiations.

The story IS about how Wall Street reacted:

“This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first again. Shareholders get leftovers,” Citi analyst Kevin Crissey wrote in a note to clients.

And Crissey wasn't the only investor who was disturbed. American stock fell after the announcement.

I'd like to share two relevant items. The first is something that I originally shared in January - a debate about whether companies should strive to satisfy customers, or should strive to satisfy employees. (No, Mr. Crissey, putting shareholders first didn't enter into this particular conversation.) Let's return to what Richard Branson said on the topic:

"It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy."

Well, I recently ran across another article that made a similar point. This particular story resonated with me because of what I've been doing over the last week for my day job. I may say more about this at another time, but for now I'll just say that I was involved in a marketing effort that required cooperation from my coworkers - not just in marketing, but in other departments within the company. And I got that cooperation, which paid dividends.

Back to the article that I found. It is entitled "3 Reasons Why Your Employee’s Personal Brands Are Your Biggest Untapped Resource." Now I'm not going to discuss all three reasons - check the original article for that - but I'd like to mention the first one - word of mouth. Let me quote a bit:

According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, employees are the most trusted source of information when it comes to how companies treat both their staff and their customers. If employees are excited about the work they’re doing and align with your office culture, they can be your biggest advocates.

And the reverse also applies - if employees aren't excited, they're not going to advocate for you at all, regardless of what you do. This is something that American Airlines CEO Doug Parker noted last year.

American is spending $3 billion on customer service improvements and buying hundreds of new planes to replace its aging fleet. But Parker said the investments will be meaningless if employees aren’t proud of the airline.

“If we don’t have our employees engaged and excited about being at American Airlines, it’s all for waste,” Parker said.

Time well tell whether Parker's pay raise move last week will affect American Airlines' culture. Just about all of the major airlines, including American, have made the news over the last few weeks because of poor customer service issues. But let's look outside the airline industry. Here's an example:

Bank of America has the worst customer satisfaction score of any bank in the ACSI. In a 24/7 Wall St.’s annual customer satisfaction poll, about 44% of those surveyed said they had a negative experience with both BofA’s banking and credit card operations, among the worst of any company surveyed. In addition to unhappy customers, the company has also has dissatisfied employees. The bank agreed to pay to settle a racial discrimination case involving 700 employees in August 2013 as well as a gender discrimination suit the following month.

"Uh, John," you may be saying, "people probably hate banks more than they hate airlines. Well, unless you're Dr. David Dao." OK, let's look at retail. While retail is certainly impacted by new competitors such as Walmart and Amazon, retail usually isn't passionately hated. Unless you're Sears.

Sears department stores are disliked by both customers and employees. Sears has nearly the lowest customer satisfaction rating of any department store reviewed in the ACSI. Additionally, Sears employees give the company far lower than average marks on workplace review site Glassdoor, and fewer than one in three Sears employees would recommend a job with the company to a friend. Multiple reviews cite low wages and unprofessional upper management as major drawbacks of working at the company.

Think about that one in three statistic. If you're company isn't recruiting the best and brightest, it's recruiting the worst and dumbest. And how do you think THAT will affect profitability, Mr. Crissey?

I can also cite anecdotal evidence. I've written about Sears in the past, and I don't think I've ever found anything good to say about the company. Not surprising, since the people who actually work at Sears apparently don't have good things to say either.

Even some people in the investment community realize that Sears has a toxic culture and isn't a good place to work.

So why are some on Wall Street angered over American Airlines' moves to spend money on happy employees?

I guess everyone on Wall Street flies Spirit Airlines. Or WestJet's newly-announced budget offshoot.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Two transgender goats walk into a Luna bar

It's May Day, but rather than talking about Samuel Gompers or Finnish sailor hats or whatever, I'm going to talk about other stuff.

You see, I recently hopped into a Sprouts grocery store on my way to work one morning. Because I am a bigly health nut (because I said so), I needed to get stuff from Sprouts that was bigly healthy. After finding some carbonated water and some unsalted cashews, I figured that I'd go whole (soy) hog (substitute) and get a chocolate protein bar, because nothing screams health like a chocolate protein bar.

Because this was Sprouts, and Sprouts caters to bigly health nuts like me, the store had a whole row of protein and other bars. Heck, they probably have every bar imaginable. The gluten free ones. The ones with fiber derived from pine trees grown in wild boar fertilizer. The ones made by Pakistani women who don't cover their heads and who only use environmentally friendly open source smartphones. The ones with milk from transgender goats. It's all bewildering.

So I just grabbed a brand I recognized - a Luna bar.

I did this knowing full well that I would probably earn the condemnation of bigly health nuts who are biglier on health than I am.

And sure enough, the Organic Authority (because he/she said so) has condemned these bars for a variety of reasons. Among them:

One of the most common ingredients in energy bars is isolated protein. Whether soy or whey, protein isolates are often extracted with chemical solvents like hexane—a polluting toxin linked to cancer. Soy, often genetically modified, contributes to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and can have negative effects on hormone levels. Many conventional whey proteins have been found to contain heavy metals and toxins resulting from antibiotics, hormones and other drugs routinely fed to dairy cows.

And in addition to all the toxins (note: when a bigly health authority starts yammering about toxins, my B.S. antenna immediately goes up), the Organic Authority does note that these bars are often filled with sugar. Did my Luna Mint Chocolate Chip bar have any sugar? Oh, just 14 grams of it.

(Incidentally, I had to search the web for that nutritional information. It's not printed on the individual bars.)

But basically, it's a triumph of marketing, as CLIF Bar & Company (yes, CLIF and Luna come from the same company), aligns its marketing messages to the aspirational goals of their potential customers.

And that protein bar is probably better than a bag of fries.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

I guess tech isn't an organic joke (the Twitter analytics of @empoprises and what this means for Ontario Emperor's "Salad")

I thought I'd peek into the analytics for my @empoprises Twitter account, and I spent a bit of time analyzing the audience insights. Insights are available for, among other things, a Twitter account's followers and its organic audience. SHIFT Communications explains the difference:

Currently, you can broadly look at all Twitter users or your own Twitter account’s followers and your organic audience. What’s the difference? When someone retweets you, their followers – who may not be your followers – are counted in your organic audience.

The reason that I was interested in this definition is because, for the "Interests" category, my followers and my organic audience are significantly different.

In essence, while my followers are a tech crowd, the people who actually see my tweets are more interest in politics, business, and comedy (?) than tech.

Sadly, neither my followers nor my organic audience is significantly interested in music, which makes it a bit harder to hawk my Ontario Emperor album "Salad."

But I'm working on it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On controlled obsolescence - compatibility doesn't have to be hard - or does it?

Over the weekend, Dave Winer shared a post that Peter N. M. Hansteen wrote in 2013. The title of Hansteen's post? "Compatibility Is Hard." Specifically, Hansteen was discussing the lack of compatibility between different versions of Microsoft Word. He found a Word file that had been created in 1989, and was unable to open it using a 2003 version of the program.

What happened? Between 1989 and 2003, someone at Microsoft decided that it was not worthwhile to support the 1989 file format. After all, there are costs to supporting multiple platforms, or operating systems, or web browsers. For every previous version of an application, browser, or operating system that you support, you increase the planning time, coding time, testing time, and several other costly times.

But what if you just freeze the format?

Some of you are laughing now. So we'd use a web browser that doesn't support modern security strategies? Or use synth sounds that date from 1991?

Well, when Dave Winer shared Peter N. M. Hansteen's post, he offered a comment on compatibility:

We still get a lot of interop with the OPML format, designed in 2000, 17 years ago. And RSS 2.0 was frozen in 2002, 15 years go. Still going strong. So if interop is a priority and you are a hardass about it, as I am, you can have it for a long time.

So it looks like you have two choices - either evolve your offering and break things, or keep your offering static with no innovation.

Let me propose a third ground - controlled obsolescence, for lack of a better term.

I have frequently talked about the ANSI/NIST-ITL standard for exchanging biometric data. This standard has been around in one form or another for a very long time - in fact, the first version (1986) came out before the National Institute of Standards and Technology even existed. (It was the National Bureau of Standards in those days.) Since that time, new versions have come out every few years. As I write this, the current version of the standard is ANSI/ NIST-ITL 1-2011:Update 2015.

There have been a lot of changes between 1986 and 2015.

A lot.

Most of these changes have been additions of functionality. Back in 1986, the standard had no way to support irises or DNA; today those types of data can be exchanged. Other additions have been in format; back in 1986, there was no way to change data via the use of XML; now you can.

But some of these changes have been SUBTRACTIONS of functionality. If you look at Table 3 in the aforementioned 2015 update of the 2011 standard, you'll see a listing of all of the record "types" that are supported by the 2015 update...and some that aren't.

Yup, that's right. If you have some software that generates a NIST record in accordance with the 1993 version of the standard, and that NIST record has Type 3 data, or Type 5 data, or Type 6 data...and if you then send that NIST record to some software that supports the 2015 update to the 2011 standard...THE NEW SOFTWARE WON'T BE ABLE TO READ IT.

So why doesn't the Peter N. M. Hansteen of the biometric world complain about the time that he found a low-resolution binary grayscale record, or a low-resolution or high-resolution (500 pixels per inch!) binary image record, and his new software wasn't able to read it?

Because the Peter N. M. Hansteens of the biometric world actually had a say in deprecating Type-3, Type-5, and Type-6 records.

When someone at Microsoft decided that the 2003 version of Microsoft Word didn't need to open 1989 files, that was that. Microsoft didn't poll all of its customers to see if they were OK with removing 1989 compatibility.

The evolution of the biometric standards is a bit different. If you look at any of the ANSI/NIST-ITL standards, you can see a list of people who were consulted regarding changes to the standard, and the organizations that they represented.

For the 2015 update, dozens of people were contacted - not just in NIST, and not just with the biometric vendors, but with a number of agencies that depended upon the standard. Jeffrey Carlyle of the FBI was consulted. Charles Schaeffer of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) was consulted. Mark Labonte of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was consulted. So all of these people, including vendor representatives such as Peter Lo and John Dowden, were all very aware of what was in the standard, and what had been taken out.

In fact, some of these same people were around in 2011 when Types 3, 5, and 6 were yanked from the standard. I have no idea what the internal discussions were like, but my guess is that all of these people were in agreement that these three types were not needed any more. I'd be willing to bet that absolutely nobody was sending Type-5 records to FDLE in 2011.

So here's the question - how often can people execute this balancing act between keeping standard compatibility while still advancing the standard? And how often can the stakeholders reach agreement on controlled obsolescence?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What does "putting employees first" mean? (United, and Richard Branson)

In the aftermath of the United brouhaha, there's been some comment that United has failed to put its customers first.

But guess what? One noted businessman has proclaimed that his customers are not first - his employees are first.

But does United's decision to give boarding priority to its employees on a Chicago - Louisville flight indicate that Richard Branson is in complete agreement with the move?

Not necessarily.

Take a close look at how Branson defines his "employees first" concept:

It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy.

This is not exactly the same as "giving employees priority over paying customers in all instances."

Are United employees 100 percent proud of the brand? Undoubtedly some are, but there are probably some who would not dare announce in a public gathering who their employer is.

Do United employees have the tools to do a good job? That's debatable. As one of my friends noted, the whole fracas could have been avoided if United had just loaded the four employees into a limo and sent the limo to Louisville (which isn't that far away from Chicago, relatively speaking).

Are United employees treated well? I'll give them credit on this one. In his original statement to employees, Oscar Munoz literally stood behind them.

Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.

Of course, he then went on to say this in the next paragraph:

Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Don't stress out over stress reduction

So I signed up for a 28 day "stress reduction" challenge, because I certainly could use some stress reduction techniques. Plus, if you amass 700 points over the 28 days, you get a small financial reward.

To earn points you do things such as get enough sleep (you can track this), participate in a hobby, and refrain from consuming caffeine after 3:00 pm.

For the first ten days I dutifully logged my points for the things that I was doing, and tried a couple of new things, but not many. Day in and day out, I logged stuff.

By mid-afternoon of day 10, I realized that I was NOT on track to earn the 700 points. Therefore, why bother tracking?

So I celebrated my liberation from stress reduction by going to the Flavia machine, making a hot chocolate, and adding a shot of espresso.

Despite the fact that it was 3:05 pm.

I wasn't going to stress out about it.

P.S. The morning after I effectively quit the stress reduction challenge, one of my financial institutions completely botched a travel notification. Guess I shouldn't have had that shot of espresso after all.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The oven temperature probe issue, eight years later

So tonight, I heard a constant beeping in the kitchen and went to investigate. Our oven was asking us to enter the probe temperature.

As my wife was wondering what was going on, I assured her that I was the expert in oven temperature probe issues.

But by the time I looked up my 2009 post and was about ready to search for a hair dryer, the beeping stopped.

Not sure why it happened, since we didn't even use the oven today. Maybe our oven was showing solidarity with other ovens that DID cook an Easter dinner.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Why you will soon see a formal press release for Ontario Emperor's "Salad"

If you saw my post from earlier today, you know that early on Saturday morning - approximately 4:30 am Eastern Daylight Time - I submitted a press release to PR.com for approval.

Well, I just received this in my email.

So in this instance, my free press release was approved approximately 18 hours after I submitted it, and it is now in the queue to be formally released early Monday morning.

What happens then?

Well, my press release may or may not get traction similar to the paid press release that ObservaMĂ© released earlier today (Saturday). This press release showed up at a variety of sources. OK, it didn't make Elle or Men's Health, but you can see it on Benzinga, SAT PR News, and some other sites.

I don't think that the Ontario Emperor press release will land me on the cover of the Rolling Stone, but I'm curious to see where it does end up.

Of course, this is just a small part of a marketing campaign. If "Salad" were on physical media, I'd be ringing up Rhino Records and doing what I was doing in the late 1980s with my Shuffleboard! zine.

Why you haven't seen a formal press release for Ontario Emperor's "Salad"

A little over a decade ago, one of my coworkers at Motorola got extremely disenchanted with all of the Fortune 500 corporate red tape. So he left Motorola and started his own company where he could do things the way that he wanted to do them. His new business competed against Motorola, and still competes today against my current employer MorphoTrak. Obviously I have no insight into this competitor's financial situation, but the fact that he's been going at it for this long indicates that he's doing something right.

In the course of doing business, my former coworker found the need to issue press releases. Here's the first one that he issued, back in 2008. He didn't use PR Newswire or any of the big boys for his press releases; he used a much smaller company called PR.com. This allowed him to get the word out about his company's products and services.

Fast forward to 2017, and I've been working on my side project. As I wrapped up the last song for the Ontario Emperor album "Salad," I had to think about how I was going to publicize the release. Obviously I have social media capabilities that weren't really available in 2008, but I began thinking about issuing a press release also. So I thought, "Why not use the PR outlet that Edward used for his company?" After all, they do have a free tier, where if you adhere to certain restrictions, they'll host and issue your press release for free.

So very late on Friday night (actually, very early on Saturday morning), just after arranging for the Ontario Emperor album "Salad" to go live on Bandcamp, I went to the PR.com account that I had previously created and entered my press release. Now I will confess that part of my motivation was to parody some of the characteristics of typical press releases, such as the ones that I help to review in my day job. For example, take this sentence:

"It's been a while since I've released a full-length album," said the marketing flack who is pretending to speak for Ontario Emperor.

There's some more of that in my press release, along with the not-flattering history of previous Ontario Emperor releases. Basically, every website that has hosted Ontario Emperor music (mp3.com, GeoCities, last.fm) has either closed down or has shuttered critical features. I guess I'm the curse of musical websites. Sorry in advance, Bandcamp.

So it was early Saturday morning, my press release was finished, and I was just waiting on PR.com approval.

Every few minutes I'd recheck the PR.com website to see if my press release was approved, until I realized that even if PR.com has people working in India on Saturday afternoon India time, they probably don't have people reviewing press releases within five minutes - especially since I haven't paid them a single penny to issue the press release.

So I started by issuing the press release via my own devices - namely, my Empoprise-MU music blog. And because it was on my own blog, rather than PR.com, I was not only able to insert a picture of the album cover (something that would cost extra money on PR.com) and use real clickable links (something that would cost extra money on PR.com), but I was also able to embed a player to play the album tracks themselves (I don't even know if I can do this on PR.com).

So the press release was now out, but it wasn't necessarily where people were going to find it. That's when I started leveraging my own network to get the word out. Over the last twelve hours, I have announced the availability of "Salad" at the following locations:

The aforementioned Empoprise-MU blog.

The Ontario Emperor page on Facebook.

Other Facebook pages, including those for Empoprise-MU (my general music page on Facebook), Empoprise-BI (this is, after all, a business), and Empoprise-IE (since every single track on "Salad" was recorded in the Inland Empire).

My personal Facebook account.

The Empoprises Public Community on Google Plus.

My personal Google Plus account.

The Empoprises Twitter account.

My personal Instagram account.

And, last but not least, the Empoprise-BI business blog itself - via the post that you are reading right now.

And I'll probably announce it in other places over the next few days. (Except for Snapchat.)

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting on PR.com for approval. And when (if) I finally get it, I'm not sure how effective it will be.

But hey, I had fun writing the thing.

P.S. Now, because I care, here's a shameless reprint of the entire press release that I already posted on Empoprise-MU a little over twelve hours ago.

Ontario Emperor Releases First Full-Length Album in Over 17 Years

Ontario Emperor releases digital album "Salad" on Bandcamp

Empoprises announces that musical artist Ontario Emperor has released his first full-length album in over 17 years. The ten-song album, "Salad," is available electronically on the "ontarioemperor" page at Bandcamp (ontarioemperor.bandcamp.com).

Ontario Emperor's music was originally released on mp3.com in 1999 and 2000, including the full-length album "Digital Judge" that was released in November 1999. After mp3.com ceased operations, Ontario Emperor released a free track on GeoCities. After GeoCities ceased operations, Ontario Emperor released a free collection of songs on last.fm. After last.fm ceased hosting music files, it was on to Bandcamp, where the song "Bare Plate" was released last month.

"It's been a while since I've released a full-length album," said the marketing flack who is pretending to speak for Ontario Emperor. "I'm happy that 'Salad' is finally available, and those who love melodic synthetica will enjoy the songs on this album."

The marketing flack also put words in the mouth of John E. Bredehoft of Empoprises. "Empoprises has been primarily known for textual content, but we are happy to be associated with musical content also."

The ten songs can be previewed on Bandcamp. Purchase of the album, or of selected individual songs, allows unlimited streaming as well as download of the song files.