Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The @FCC , ISPs, and zip code #20515

All of the nervous nellies have been complaining about the recent vote that, if approved (as expected) by President Trump, will allow Internet Service Providers to sell personal data that goes through the Tubes.

As a marketer, however, I recognize the opportunity provided here.

Specifically, this will give me as a marketer the ability to research data from any zip code I desire.

Such, as, for example, zip code 20515.

This will give me the opportunity to view the interests of the people who surf the Internet from zip code 20515. Maybe they like to use certain banks. Maybe they like to use certain foreign banks. Maybe they send a lot of emails to certain "consultants."

This will be fun.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Get set for @WhatsApp vs. @AmberRudd_MP

So let's catch up. First, we'll note that WhatsApp touts its security:

WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption is available when you and the people you message use the latest versions of our app. Many messaging apps only encrypt messages between you and them, but WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you're communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. This is because your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them. For added protection, every message you send has its own unique lock and key. All of this happens automatically: no need to turn on settings or set up special secret chats to secure your messages.

So you can imagine how WhatsApp felt in January when the Guardian said that WhatsApp WASN'T secure:

A security vulnerability that can be used to allow Facebook and others to intercept and read encrypted messages has been found within its WhatsApp messaging service.

Facebook claims that no one can intercept WhatsApp messages, not even the company and its staff, ensuring privacy for its billion-plus users. But new research shows that the company could in fact read some messages due to the way WhatsApp has implemented its end-to-end encryption protocol.

Privacy campaigners said the vulnerability is a “huge threat to freedom of speech” and warned it could be used by government agencies as a backdoor to snoop on users who believe their messages to be secure.

WhatsApp took the article seriously, and Brian Acton wrote a piece on Reddit that included the following:

The Guardian’s story on an alleged “backdoor” in WhatsApp is false.

WhatsApp does not give governments a “backdoor” into its systems.

WhatsApp would fight any government request to create a backdoor.

In passing, it should be noted that a number of security experts, including Bruce Schneier, agreed that that so-called backdoor wasn't a backdoor.

Now, after Khalid Masood used WhatsApp mere minutes before his deadly Westminster assault, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd is demanding that WhatsApp...give the British government a backdoor.

Ms Rudd also argued the use of encrypted messaging services by terrorists was "completely unacceptable".

She said: "I support end-to-end encryption; it has its role to play."

But she added: "We also need a system whereby when the police have an investigation, where the security services have put forward a warrant signed by the Home Secretary, we can get that information when a terrorist is involved.

"It is absurd to have a situation where terrorists are talking to each other on formal platform and it can't be accessed. I need to find a solution with [the social media companies] for that."

When Mashable contacted WhatsApp regarding Secretary Rudd's statements, and asked whether WhatsApp would build a British app to comply with Rudd's backdoor request, the WhatsApp spokesperson simply referred to the previous Reddit statement.

As far as I know, Rudd has not addressed how she would feel if the Chinese government demanded a backdoor to WhatsApp, and British "criminals" - such as people who like democracy and stuff like that - had their messages exposed by WhatsApp.

If this were the American West, it would be a showdown at the corral. But since this is in the United Kingdom, I guess it will be a disagreement over tea. (Despite what Matt Johnson said years ago.)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Turns out I was a pioneer in counteracting gluten deficiency

Normally I am not trendy, but I have found an instance in which I am actually a trendsetter.

Evidence: back in August 2014 I wrote the groundbreaking post Are you suffering from gluten deficiency? Excerpt from this very important article:

After consulting with authoritative experts, we have identified the major symptoms of gluten deficiency.

1. Tiredness and inability to sleep
2. Shortness of breath
3. An intense preoccupation with sex
4. Increased use of the Internet

If you are suffering from ZERO OR MORE of these symptoms, then you probably have gluten deficiency, and you need to take immediate action to avoid risk of death.

Over a year later, in July 2015, The Science Post picked up on the theme. Now some people would claim that gluten deficiency is an obvious topic to write about with all the gluten-free fadsters running around, but I assert that the Science Post would never have thought of writing about gluten deficiency if I hadn't written about it first. This is part of what the Science Post said:

According to Nutritionist Dexter McFadden, low levels of certain naturally-occurring proteins are responsible for a variety of health problems.

“I take detailed dietary surveys all my patients. These patients had a multitude of health problems including: GI distress, dizziness, headaches, insomnia, hay fever, rash, palpitations, and sunburn. A common feature was low intake of barley, rye, and wheat.”

Now the Science Post refused to endorse my EmpoSuperGlut solution, and instead offer a different product.

McFadden has written a book “Gluten of the Gods” and produces his own line of “McFadden’s Gluten-Enhanced Dietary Supplements” which he sells on his webpage.

But they aren't the only people who were inspired by me. Just this year, The Turunn Tribune offered its own product.

The Turunn Tribune has partnered with Scrottfroght’s (Sweden’s brand leader in herring-related products) to create a new gluten supplement. And here’s the clever part: to ease social acceptability the product is labelled as a “Gluten-Free Diet Support” allowing it to be eaten freely in any situation without fear of stigmatization....

If you are currently experiencing any of the symptoms of gluten deficiency–weariness, itching, gastrointestinal discomfort, heartburn, hair loss, unusual involuntary verbal outbursts, swollen wrists, red blotches, or a pronounced limp–don’t bother about asking your doctor, just buy this supplement and reclaim the missing zest in your life!

So I wonder what the Swedish version of the "not evaluated by the FDA" disclaimer looks like.

P.S. I guess I need to point out that (1) the so-called EmpoSuperGlut website is actually a Snopes spurious article stating that Mr. Ed was a zebra; (2) The Science Post includes the word "satire" in its site description; and (3) the Turunn Tribune also offers an audio edition for deaf readers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The second silly season of social media adoption - dumping EVERYTHING for...Snapchat?

This is an update to a post that I originally wrote in 2013, back when I could barely remember the name of "that service that sends a message and immediately erases it."

In 2013, reference to such a service was exclusively a reference to Snapchat. Of course today, disappearing messages are a kewl feature of every service, including Instagram, Facebook, Microsoft Outlook, and Oracle Database. (I'm kidding regarding the latter two. I think.)

My 2013 post concentrated on a January 2013 experiment by a frozen yogurt company with the amazingly original name 16 Handles. In the company's experiment, customers could get Snapchat coupons for use at 16 Handles - but the coupons would disappear within 10 seconds after being opened. While everyone wrote about the experiment, including Ad Age and Mashable, it appears that 16 Handles itself didn't do anything with Snapchat coupons after the experiment was over - or if they did, they deleted all mention of it (within ten seconds).

A lot has happened since 2013. Everyone uses disappearing messages, Snap is now a publicly traded company (not that the new stockholders have any say in how the company is run), and 16 Handles has continued its "innovation."

I just ran across this January 2016 article. It mentions 16 Handles' amazing 2013 experiment, and then talks about some things that happened since then.

16 Handles was one of the first brands to get onto Kik in late 2014 in a bid to reach teen customers where they were. The brand generated 27,000 interactions with a small amount of paid media behind it in the first few days, but then the app waned — and with it, the brand’s traction. “That was one of our possible failures,” admits [marketing manager Lara] Nicotra.

But they were ready to recover, designating Snapchat as "their 2016 thing." In that year,

...the brand [planned] to focus on Snapchat Stories — longer Snapchats that stick around for 24 hours — that will work hand-in-hand with the company’s refurbished content calendar. “In the past, it was just ‘let’s give people cool access to our brand’,” said Nicotra. “Now, it’s a commitment.”

An amazing commitment - keep your marketing material in front of your customers for an entire 24 hours. But such a commitment comes at a cost.

Nicotra declined to disclose how many followers the brand has on Snapchat, but as it focuses on the platform, she said, 16 Handles has decided to stop using other platforms, including Tumblr and Pinterest. Her interest in using Twitter as a paid platform has also waned.

Since I don't have Snapchat, I ended up going to the 16 Handles website. If you go to the bottom of the page, you can see icons for all of their social media outlets.

Notice anything missing?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

AT&T outage not affecting Ontario, California - now, not affecting anyone

After seeing reports from WTOP and elsewhere of a nationwide AT&T outage, I successfully placed a call from Ontario, California with my cell phone. I don't have AT&T Internet service, so I can't test that. Here's the current outage map (click here for updates):

And after that, WTOP tweeted this:

ALERT: AT&T says nationwide outage has been resolved. A hardware issue caused some calls not to connect Saturday.

Even Newer Mexico

This is another of those posts that was written well in advance of its publication date, because...well, because I couldn't publicly talk about the subject matter at the time that I originally wrote it. But now (March 11, 2017) I can talk about it, since the subject matter is now public (see the last paragraph).

Back when I wrote this post, a long long time ago, I was working on a series of letters from my company to the New Mexico State Police. (Yes, I was still in Proposals back then.)

One day, I was alerted that a request for a new letter to this customer was coming.

My boss wasn't in the office at the time, so I sent her an email to alert her of the upcoming request. The title of my email? "Even Newer Mexico."

While the title itself may (or may not) merit a smirk, there was one thing that I neglected to tell my boss.

You see, this was not the first time that I had used the phrase "Even Newer Mexico."

Several years before this, long before I had ever written a proposal letter to this particular customer, I was intermittently continuing my world-famous music career as Ontario Emperor, and composed a MIDI file (part of a particular collection) entitled "Even Newer Mexico."

Trust me, the MIDI file wouldn't have helped us get the business with this customer.

P.S. Obviously, I am not the first person in the entire universe to come up with the phrase "Even Newer Mexico." For example, Texas Twisted was using the phrase in 2003.

P.P.S. It's interesting that this post about an old MIDI file could be published this week. If you've read my recent posts on my Empoprise-MU music blog, I've been talking about my world-famous music career as Ontario Emperor a lot lately. But no, I don't plan to convert "Even Newer Mexico" to MP3 format.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#empocali1pay California and single-payer health insurance

While "states' rights" is sometimes perceived as a conservative thing, in reality it can be used by conservatives, liberals, or whoever. For example, the state of California maintains that the legalization of marijuana is a "states' rights" issue.

And sometimes the concept of states' rights transcends the political spectrum.

Take health insurance. In this country, there are two ways that health insurance can be offered - by having the federal government control everything about health insurance, or to have state governments exercise the control. Despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act and its possible Republican replacement were implemented at the federal level, they clearly fall on the "states' rights" side of things. For example, under the ACA, each state decided whether or not to set up its own state exchange. Under the newly-proposed bill, it appears that another task will be tossed onto the states:

President Trump and Republicans in Congress want to convert federal funding for Medicaid to block grants.

What does this mean?

While this probably would reduce funding for covering low-income people, it presents the unintended benefit of giving states more latitude in how the money is spent.

If Assemblyman Ricardo Lara has his way, California will exercise extreme latitude:

California State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced a bill Feb. 24 that would create a state-based, single-payer health care system. His plan envisions covering everyone in the state: Employees would no longer have employer-provided coverage, and those currently on Medicaid and Medicare would get their coverage from Sacramento.

Of course, single-payer proposals in the United States have been proposed before, and have died. Vermont's proposal faced a number of challenges, including this one:

The Shumlin administration, in its white-flag briefing last week, dropped a bombshell. In 2017, under pre-existing law, the state of Vermont expects to collect $1.7 billion in tax revenue. Green Mountain Care would have required an additional $2.6 billion in tax revenue: a 151 percent increase in state taxes. Fiscally, that’s a train wreck.

It's not necessarily a train wreck because single-payer would cost more than the current or pre-ACA system - I'm not sure if it would or not. The important thing is that it would cost something in TAXES. Employees and their employers could pay tons of money for private health insurance, but that is not PERCEIVED as a cost. An increase in taxes, though - even if it results in lower overall costs - is perceived as catastrophic. (Remember, that's how Bill Clinton became President, because of Bush 41's "read my lips" statement.)

In addition, as both the Los Angeles Times and KFI talk radio host Bill Handel have noted, there are different flavors of single-payer.

There are three basic approaches, as outlined by T.R. Reid in his excellent book “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care.” Each has pluses and minuses:

Beveridge Model: Named for British social reformer William Beveridge, this is the system established in postwar England, Spain, New Zealand and most Scandinavian countries. Under this model, the government finances coverage through tax payments and also runs hospitals and clinics.

Pro: No doctor bills. You show up, get treated, leave. Con: Choices may be limited and certain costly treatments may be unavailable.

Bismarck model: Named for Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who originated the idea in 1883, this approach relies on payroll deductions to fund nonprofit insurers and requires that they cover everyone. Coverage and medical pricing is strictly regulated by the state.

Aside from Germany, you’ll find variations of this system in France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Japan.

Pro: Plenty of flexibility in choosing insurers and healthcare providers. Con: Doctors may seek higher fees through private clinics.

National Health Insurance model: Combining elements of both Beveridge and Bismarck, this is the system Canada started rolling out in 1947. All citizens pay into a government-run insurance program that deals directly with doctors and hospitals.

Pro: Costs are greatly reduced by administrative savings and efficiencies. Cons: Some treatments may be limited; long wait times for some patients.

So there's obviously some work to be done before Lara's bill can become law.

Most importantly, we have to see whether the federal government will actually provide that block grant that's being discussed.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Living wages and privately-owned prisons

This is a follow-up to my 2015 post, Living wages and family-owned tilapia suppliers." The previous post documented how Quixotic Farming used prison labor - paid between 74 cents an hour to 4 dollars an hour.

But actually, I got it wrong in that post. Re-reading the material that I quoted in the post, it turns out that the prisoners were paid between 74 cents a DAY to 4 dollars a DAY.

So much for Empoprises qualtiy control.

Fast-forward to 2017 to a new story that (a) involves prisoners, and (b) takes place in Colorado. But this time, the prison is privately run.

Here are the allegations, according to a Washington Post story:

At the heart of the dispute is the Denver Contract Detention Facility, a 1,500-bed center in Aurora, Colo., owned and operated by GEO Group under a contract with ICE. The Florida-based corporation runs facilities to house immigrants who are awaiting their turn in court.

The lawsuit, filed against GEO Group on behalf of nine immigrants, initially sought more than $5 million in damages. Attorneys expect the damages to grow substantially given the case’s new class-action status....

The original nine plaintiffs claim that detainees at the ICE facility are forced to work without pay — and that those who refuse to do so are threatened with solitary confinement.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims, six detainees are selected at random every day and are forced to clean the facility’s housing units.

The other side claims that there is no violation of the law here.

GEO Group has strongly denied the lawsuit’s allegations and argued in court records that pay of $1 a day does not violate any laws.

“We intend to continue to vigorously defend our company against these claims,” GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez said in a statement. “The volunteer work program at immigration facilities as well as the wage rates and standards associated with the program are set by the Federal government....

Under ICE’s Voluntary Work Program, detainees sign up to work and are paid $1 a day. The nationwide program, ICE says, “provides detainees opportunities to work and earn money while confined, subject to the number of work opportunities available and within the constraints of the safety, security and good order of the facility.”

According to the Post story, proponents of the suit say that the work violates the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. But in this Google Plus thread, another legal precedent was cited - the Thirteenth Amendment.


Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Note that the people in question are detainees who have NOT been convicted; therefore, the provision of the Thirteenth Amendment does not apply.

I'll grant that a lot of this rests on he said, he said. The suers claim that if the detainees don't clean, they're threatened with solitary confinement. The suees claim that this is all voluntary.

But what of the minimum wage brouhaha raised by the tilapia issue of 2015 and the ICE issue this year? Well Colorado Minimum Wage Order 30 (PDF) defines an "employer" as follows.

every person, firm, partnership, association, corporation, receiver, or other officer of court in Colorado, and any agent or officer thereof, of the above-mentioned classes, employing any person in Colorado, except that the provisions of this order shall not apply to state, federal and municipal governments or political sub-divisions thereof, including; cities, counties, municipal corporations, quasimunicipal corporations, school districts, and irrigation, reservoir, or drainage conservation companies or special districts organized and existing under the laws of Colorado.

So one could argue that the inmates who were building fish tanks for Quixotic Farming would be exempt from the Colorado minimum wage law, since the order specifically excluded state agencies. (And, as noted above, convicted people are also exempted from the protections of the Thirteenth Amendment.)

It should also be noted that the listed exceptions to the minimum wage order do not exclude prisoners (although taxi cab drivers don't have minimum wage protection in Colorado).

But are the ICE detention centers part of the federal government, or are they private companies who would be subject to Colorado minimum wage laws? Well, private prisons are subject to public records requests, just like a government agency.