Monday, October 19, 2020

(on the correct blog this time) When Standards Day doesn't even occur during Standards Week - thanks to @mitchwagner and @doctorow

 I've written about standards before, such as the time when the Canadian Standards Association web site made a reference to 6:00 pm without specifying which of Canada's six time zones was being referenced. And then there's my post that referenced the sausage-making aspect of standards, the Jackson Family Honors, and Machiavelli. 

Well, here's the newest about so-called "standards."

Mitch Wagner shared post from Cory Doctorow's Pluralistic. In the post, Doctorow took note of this announcement:

Each year on 14 October, the members of IEC, ISO and ITU celebrate World Standards Day, which is a means of paying tribute to the collaborative efforts of the thousands of experts worldwide who develop the voluntary technical agreements that are published as International Standards.

At the same time, Doctorow noted a separate announcement:

Save the Date: The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has announced dates for World Standards Week 2020, which will be held October 19-23 in Washington, DC. ANSI's World Standards Week (WSW) is the standardization community's premier annual gathering, with multiple conferences, committee meetings, and special events designed to inspire open dialogue about standardization and conformity assessment.

Doctorow and others have noted that this appears to violate the principles of standards. At least in 2019, World Standards Day fell within World Standards Week:

World Standards Week is scheduled for November 4-8 this year, culminating in the main World Standards Day Conference on November 7.

Uh, strike that. That was ANSI's World Standards Day. The ISO World Standards Day occurred on October 14, 2019 as usual. 

So why does ANSI move its world standards celebration around? Does ANSI have some odd calendar?

Perhaps I'm too harsh. Improbable Research applauded ANSI for at least being horseshoe-like close this year:

Some of America’s days are less than a week distant from the world’s World Standards Day.

I guess this is an application of the "sorta-" prefix

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

It's scam day!

 The last nine hours have been interesting, to say the least.

Late last night, I received a message from a European friend saying that her credit card had been stolen. Now if this had been a scammer, the message would have continued like this:

I have no money now. I need you to go to a Walmart and buy some gift cards. To reach me, call this Google Voice number before noon Nigerian time - I mean French time.

In this case, however, it wasn't a scam. This message truly WAS from my European friend, and the thief had run up charges on the stolen credit card. However, since it was a credit card and not a debit card, things will be sorted out quickly.

After that, I went to sleep...and woke up this morning to find out that a former neighbor was now following me on Instagram. So I followed her back, and she started talking to me.

How are you doing today..?

I was going to craft a personal response to my friend, but (luckily, in retrospect) I kept it vague and simply answered

Doing well, other than the heat.

So my friend responded:

Am doing pretty good,I saw your name on GFA list,have you heard about them?

Well all right. I haven't spoken to this friend in a couple of years, but this isn't sounding like her. So I searched for the acronym "GFA" and noticed this CBS News article in the search results. Here's an excerpt:

For Shellie Drummond, it started when she found the Facebook profile for a friend from years back, named Deborah Boyd.

"I was on Messenger and my friend's name came up," she told CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.

Soon "Boyd" was telling her about a so-called government grant she'd gotten through an agent on Facebook. Sure enough, the agent then told Drummond she could get financial assistance from the government. All she had to do was provide some personal information, then send $1,500 in fees, to get up to $100,000 in grant money.

Drummond was scammed out of her $1,500, and I didn't want the same thing to happen to me. So I went back to my conservation with my "friend," and answered the "have you heard about them?" question. 

I have.

I then posted the link to the CBS News article - enough so that my "friend" could see the article title, "Facebook scams: When your 'friends' are actually hackers."

Apparently my "friend" couldn't read the article title, because the attempt to scam me continued.

It is GLOBAL FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE to help people with money all over the world to take care of kids, house,pay rents and maintain the standard of living for 2020,Have you heard from them?

I didn't respond, because I was busy alerting my real friend (through two avenues) of the scammer and reporting the scammer's account to Instagram for impersonation. (Instagram apparently does NOT support a "phishing" report.)

I hadn't blocked the fake account yet, so "she" sent me one more message:

??

An hour later, "her" account was no longer found, and "she" is presumably cloning new accounts and moving on to other targets. (Note to self: make sure MY Instagram account is not cloned.) 

Well, all of this Instagram stuff was dramatic, so I thought I'd go to my regular email account before heading to (looking for) work. And I found a message FROM me, with the message title identifying me as the customer of a bank for which I was NOT a customer.

Turns out my email provider DOES provide the ability to report for phishing.

And how was YOUR morning?


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Moving from the present to the past tense

Since I recently wrote about the fact that I blog here, I guess I should actually blog here. 

And I have a lot to blog about. 

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I am now a free agent – because it sounds better to say “I am now a free agent” than to say “I was laid off in the middle a pandemic because fewer people are buying my (former) company’s services.”

(Tangential comment to those who have happened to read my recent posts in Tymshft and Empoprise-MU - yes, I do recycle introductions.)

But after working for IDEMIA since its founding, and working for several predecessor companies, it's taking my brain a while to get used to NOT working for IDEMIA - in essence, to move from "we" to "they" in referring to the company.

I can give you a couple of examples. 

IDEMIA, like most companies, has competitors. And since IDEMIA offers multiple products and services in multiple markets, it has MANY competitors. From force of habit, while I certainly won't disparage our - I mean THEIR - esteemed competitors, at the same time I will not go out of my way to praise them except in very special circumstances. (Raffie, I still owe you for everything you did for me during the Motorola days.)

So earlier this week, after my employment at IDEMIA had officially ended, I was relaxing by reading Instagram stories from the accounts that I follow. If you were born in the 20th century like I was, perhaps I should explain that Instagram stories are snippets that appear on your screen for only a few seconds, to be replaced by something else. And unless the poster chooses to "highlight" story, it disappears completely after 24 hours, never to be seen again. (As I've stated earlier, I posted my own Instagram story on Wednesday evening, consisting of a picture and a music snippet.)

So anyway, I was sitting back and absorbing the Instagram stories, and one came across that I liked. It was from a vendor of security equipment for airports, and the Instagram story included the word "Obrigado." (People in my industry can probably guess the company to which I am referring.) From force of habit, I immediately thought, "I can't like this, because it's from a competitor" - and by the time that I realized that it WASN'T from a competitor (any more), the story had already passed me by. 

Peço desculpas.

A second example. For as long as I can remember, I have been paid every two weeks, on a Friday. So when that day comes, I have habitually remembered, "Oh, it's Friday," and then I would proceed to do things that one does after one is paid. 

Yesterday happened to be one of those Fridays, so I immediately thought, "Oh, it's Friday. I just got paid. I need to do..."

Then I paused.

"Wait a minute. I didn't just get paid today. I got paid earlier in the week, in connection with my last day of employment."

(And no, I'm not facing an immediate financial issue in two weeks. Everything is fine.)

So, I'm sure that it will take some adjusting, but my brain is slowly moving around to "they" mode. 

And now I'm working on who my new "we" is going to be. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Work Boy Work - but from where?

This certainly wasn't expected.

In mid-March, I was getting ready for my exchange student daughter's spring break. We hadn't booked anything yet, but we were planning to show her the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.

Instead, we spent her spring break at home, with the exception of a drive to LAX to return her to her home country after the cancellation of her foreign exchange program (and many other foreign exchange programs).

Although we were obviously sad to see her go, there was one advantage - I could now use her room for a home office.

Because a few days before her return home, a vice president at my company sent a message to her reports, telling them that they had to work from home. Although I don't report to this particular vice president, I aligned with this decision and started working from home myself. I'd go into the reasons, but then this post wouldn't be succinct. Which is why I didn't even go into THIS level of detail in my most recent podcast episode...

...Oh, I guess I should announce that I've started my own podcast now.

More on that later.

Anyway, here's the most recent episode, entitled "Work Boy Work."



As I noted in the episode, I've been working from home for over a month now, as have a lot of people. Even at Yahoo, which famously reversed its remote working policies back in 2013. Yahoo was somewhat of a special case - after floundering for years, new CEO Marissa Mayer was trying to get all of Yahoo working together, and she thought that physical presence was the way to do it. Well, that wasn't enough to save Yahoo, which technically no longer exists, so Yahoo employees aren't working from home or from the office. Many employees of Yahoo successor Verizon Media, like the rest of Verizon, are working from home.

Seven years later, a whole bunch of companies were suddenly forced to recreate the benefits of working together even when people weren't physically working together. My company does not use Zoom, but it has heavily used another teleconferencing service for regular meetings AND less formal discussions. And of course there's the steady stream of emails, text messages, and the really retro voice phone calls. (No Morse code. Yet.)

So what happens as the country opens up again, and people can return to work? Will they? Rani Molla of Recode speculates that "[s]ome who are still employed will now permanently work from home, and some employers will choose to downsize their leases or look for flexible office space rather than long-term leases."

Maybe:

"As the coronavirus takes a steep toll on the economy and the workforce, many won’t have jobs to go back to."

And a concluding plug for the Empoprises podcast. The podcast is hosted by Anchor and is also available on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, and Spotify.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Value Creation

My employer offers courses to employees via Udemy, and one of the available courses is Seth Godin's Master Class in Value Creation.

The course strongly recommends that you apply the course materials to a specific problem, and use the course questions to better understand the problem. I can't reveal the problem that I am trying to solve, but I can say that the course material includes some very specific questions that you can ask to better understand how to solve the problem.

It doesn't take a doctoral degree to figure out the basic question you want to answer:

This project you’re working on, the new business or offering, what sort of value does it create?

This is a loaded question but a vital one.


And this loaded question raises others, as Studiorupt notes, word for word.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Half the time, Amazon doesn't deliver its packages. Who does?

If you go to logistics.amazon.com, you'll see a picture of a happy person with a bright future in logistics.

If you love building and leading teams, start your own business as an Amazon Delivery Service Partner, delivering smiles to customers across your community.


And you can read on about how wonderful this opportunity is, and the great success stories, and then some yahoo comes up to you and shares a story from GeekWire:

Amazon stops working with several small delivery contractors, forcing companies to lay off hundreds

And then someone else shares a story from BuzzFeed:

3,200 Amazon Drivers Are Going To Lose Their Jobs

All of these facts are not mutually exclusive. It turns out that Amazon needs new delivery contractors to replace some of those that have been terminated.

Both GeekWire and BuzzFeed report the same facts about the contractors that are being terminated, but the authors choose to emphasize different parts of the story. GeekWire:

In an emailed statement sent to GeekWire, Amazon said these companies did not meet safety or performance requirements....

"“Some of these companies have not met our bar for safety, performance or working conditions, and we’re in the process of exiting them from the program."


Sounds great! Amazon, the force of good, is protecting the people who work WITH them from hazardous working conditions.

BuzzFeed's article, while stating the same facts, has a slightly different emphasis:

But since mid-2018, Amazon has been aggressively shifting its delivery model toward smaller contractors that work from a single location and manage no more than a few dozen routes.

Because of their size, those smaller companies have less negotiating leverage with Amazon, which in some cases pays them as much as 5% less than it paid its so-called legacy or 1.0 carriers for the same work, court records show. While Amazon pays legacy carriers a monthly stipend to cover the cost of dispatchers, for example, there is no such payment for the newer firms.


Sounds bad! Amazon, the force of evil, is racing to the bottom by dumping established firms with ones that will work even more cheaply.

Of course, both could be true. Amazon could be using its power to churn its delivery partner relationships so that it always has top-performing talent working WITH them. And then in a few years or a few months, if there's a better alternative partner, then Amazon could shift to that one.

Meanwhile, because of branding, none of us know the difference. We see an Amazon logo on a truck, and we automatically assume that the driver is with Amazon.

And we assume the same when we see a FedEx logo.

Or a
McDonald's logo.

Friday, December 13, 2019

McDonald's doesn't make hamburgers, and the National Labor Relations Board agrees (for now)

Lately (and in the past) I've been musing a lot on the increasing use of franchising, independent contractors, and other methods to isolate companies from the people who really do the work. To sum it up, McDonald's doesn't make hamburgers, and Uber doesn't transport passengers.

So I read a recent NPR article with interest.

The long and bitter litigation began in 2015, when the Service Employees International Union accused McDonald's and its franchisees of retaliating against hundreds of workers who supported the Fight For $15 labor movement....

The government's labor-law prosecutor at the time asked the judge, Lauren Esposito, to review the complaints and consider McDonald's a "joint employer" of franchisees accused of violating labor laws.


But with a new administration, the instruction was reversed, and the judge was directed to approve a settlement between the workers and the franchisees. The NLRB just upheld this.

Much of this is part of the ongoing war between Trump appointees and Obama appointees, who have different views on labor relations. And one of the issues is whether the people who work in restaurants with the McDonald's name are de facto workers for the huge McDonald's corporation, or are simply working for a franchisee who licenses use of the McDonald's name.

Friday, September 13, 2019

When Cracker Barrel's processes leave you feeling processed

I've been around a lot of process people over the years. After all, I worked for Motorola for nearly a decade. But even though a few of them seemed to be enamored of process for process' sake, the vast majority of them realized that processes are merely things that allow a company to reach its strategic objectives. In most cases, those strategic objectives are related to customer satisfaction.

Which brings me to the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.


When you think about it, it's obvious that Cracker Barrel is highly dependent upon process. Cracker Barrel markets Southern nostalgia - in its food, in its store, and even in its decoration. And for those who think that Cracker Barrel is merely Bubba and Grandma preparing the home cooking, take a gander at what Cracker Barrel executives really think about:

But turning to the larger dynamic, Cracker Barrel is dealing with declines across guest experience metrics and faltering on value positioning, as well as failing to deliver “craveable food offerings,” at the rate it needs. [CEO Sandy] Cochran believes this hurt traffic, especially with lighter users.

“We've been reevaluating the touch points we have with our guests in order to execute more consistently, particularly at dinner, which has been the most challenged of our dayparts,” she said in regards to the guest experience.

One example of this is what Cracker Barrel calls the “check back, check down,” process, where servers will give a table their check before they’re finished eating. This has worked with travelers and earlier dayparts, but it’s not an effective strategy with dinner guests in every market, Cochran said.


So Cracker Barrel is process driven. Especially in its food. When a customer leaves the interstate and goes to a Cracker Barrel conveniently adjacent to a freeway exit, the customer is expecting a certain type of food. For me it's fried okra.


And biscuits.

So today - Friday the 13th, of course - I had lunch at a Cracker Barrel. But what if I had chosen an alternative? Based upon years of (self-funded) competitive intelligence studies, I could have expected the following.

Perhaps I might have gone to an Olive Garden restaurant. If I asked for breadsticks to be brought before my meal, the wait staff would have no problem bringing me breadsticks. (Well, within reason.)

Perhaps I might have gone to a local restaurant like Coco's. If I asked for bread to be brought before my meal, it would have arrived.

Or, if I were in the mood for Mexican, I could have gone to the Inland Empire - Orange County chain Rodrigo's and asked for chips and salsa before my meal. The wait staff would have brought me chips. And then would have brought more chips.

But I didn't go to any of those restaurants for my Friday the 13th lunch. I went to Cracker Barrel, where I asked the waitress if she could bring some of those Southern nostalgic biscuits before our meal.

"No," she replied.

Eventually biscuits were brought, but the waitress and the manager made it very clear that such activities fell well outside of the process employed by this Cracker Barrel restaurant. I won't name the exact location, other than to say that it was somewhat south of the Victorville Cracker Barrel.

Somewhere along the way, the whole idea of customer satisfaction was lost.

But I bet the numbers look great. If not for the buttermilk biscuits, then certainly for the corn muffins - especially since that pesky Joe Koblenzer isn't around any more.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

When simple keyword searches affect your livelihood (and yes, my livelihood too)

Well, that was interesting.

Remember my Wednesday post that talked about content scraping? Here's the relevant portion for now:

I was following up on some links and I ran across an article that began like this.

Without revealing any specifics, let's just say that the links that I was following were sourced from a site that keeps track of particular keywords. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I am not going to reveal those keywords here, but let's just say that they rhyme with rompetitive shintelligence.

So basically this site conducts a simple keyword search and locates articles of interest that include those keywords. And anything that hits those keywords is automatically included on the site.

Even if it's poorly written garbled stuff such as "[Rompetitive shintelligence] collecting may be a beneficial exercising that yields important records to manual your enterprise and advertising strategy, or it can take a seat in a laptop document and accumulate the equal of digital dust in case you’re no longer care."

So my post was published on Wednesday.

On Thursday I went back to this site to keep what new stuff had been found.


And...you guessed it...there's a link to an Empoprise-BI post on the site - solely because my post included the words rompetitive shintelligence.

Now I'm not going to fault the site for using automated search techniques without human review. I guess I could, but I won't.

I am going to fault the search engines for not allowing more complex searches.

I use another site for my daily work that DOES allow such complex search statements, with a plethora of AND and OR and parentheses to help to make sure that I'm not getting a lot of "digital dust." And even then I have to manually review the results, and I get a number of false hits. For example, as I write this, the Alabama Sharpiegate stuff is showing up in my search results, even though it has nothing to do with what I truly want to see in my search.

Our current search tools are good, but they are not good enough.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

When content scraping affects your livelihood (well, not my livelihood)

The Internet demands content, and when the Internet wants something, it gets something. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Internet is getting a bunch of ORIGINAL content.

How many times have you run across an article from ReallyCoolNews that basically quotes a previous article from TodaysNewsForYou? Sometimes it seems like 90% of all news articles are regurgitating stuff from other articles.

In fact, if I'm going to be honest, this blog post itself is a repurposing (that's the euphemistic word here) of something I wrote on Facebook yesterday.

But, let's begin at the beginning (although, as you'll see, it's really at the ending - but I digress).

I was following up on some links and I ran across an article that began like this.

Competitive intelligence collecting may be a beneficial exercising that yields important records to manual your enterprise and advertising strategy, or it can take a seat in a laptop document and accumulate the equal of digital dust in case you’re no longer care. While an aggressive intelligence undertaking can convey out your internal spy, it may also lead to confusion, misinterpretation of statistics, and faulty approach-putting.

So I scrolled down to the bottom of the article to see if it was written by someone who was NOT a native English speaker...and found that the author had a name that appeared to correspond to a native English speaker's name.

And the author was employed as a marketing writer - or, as the brief author bio said, she worked for "a content advertising and marketing firm that offers mild advertising and marketing via sturdy writing."

My first reaction was to think of one of my high school friends, an editor who occasionally shares examples of shoddy writing. Boy, did I have a beaut for her!

But something seemed off about this whole thing. I couldn't imagine that a native English speaker who is employed as a marketing writer would write something that terrible.

And, as it turns out, she didn't.

Fast-backward to something that I wrote over nine years ago on this topic. Here's an excerpt:

But some sites move from "fair use" to uses that appear to have more questionable fairness....

In most cases, those types of sites take someone's content, pass it off as their own, and surround it with a bunch of ads. In essence, those people are definitely making money off of the original writer.

But I'm mystified by people who appropriate content and DON'T surround the content with ads or redirect you to other places.


So I began wondering - did someone lift some content from someone else and INTENTIONALLY garble the content to make it hard to link the revised content to the original?

Well, since the (alleged) content scraper included the name of the original author and her company, I did a little bit of searching and found the original article. And here's how the REAL article began:

Competitive intelligence gathering can be a useful exercise that yields important information to guide your business and marketing strategy, or it can sit in a computer file and collect the equivalent of electronic dust if you're not careful. While a competitive intelligence project can bring out your inner spy, it can also lead to confusion, misinterpretation of data, and faulty strategy-setting.

So this was just a case of super weird content scraping.

But in this case something else was at stake.

What if I had not pursued my questions, and if I had stuck with my earlier assumption that the author was an incompetent writer?

Worse still, what if I had gone ahead and shared this with my editor friend, without bothering to realize the truth that the original writer had been ripped off?

To be quite honest, if someone were to rip me off (again), perhaps some harm would be done, but it wouldn't really damage me. But when an independent contractor's work gets garbled, thus potentially damaging her reputation, that's a different matter entirely.

You will note that this post does not link to the ripoff version of the article. (If you really want to see it, pursue the link to my Facebook post at the beginning of this post.)

Or, better yet, perform your own Google or Bing search for the words 10 tips for effective competitive intelligence gathering. It turns out that multiple sites have published the ripped-off, garbled version of the original author's content.

By the way, the original author is Jeanne Grunert. Here is one of her websites. And one more time, here is the real article that she wrote.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Why the British love coffee so much (edit: LOVED coffee so much)

Everyone knows the major role that coffee plays in the United Kingdom, and how coffee remains popular in that country to the present day.

The first coffee house in London was not a Starbucks. It was actually opened by a Greek, Pasqua Rosée, in 1652 in a churchyard in London. It appears that Rosée started a trend - by 1663, there were 80 coffeehouses in London, and by the end of the 17th century, there were over 500 - approximately the same density in which Starbucks can be found in major urban cities in the United States.

One coffee house deserves special mention. It was opened by one Edward Lloyd. By 1691, the coffee house, named after Lloyd, had moved into London's maritime district. Lloyd actively sought out maritime customers by "holding maritime auctions and collating information." While many interested parties would come to Lloyd's Coffee House and drink coffee and talk, others would get their information from a publication called Lloyd's News. This paper, however, was short-lived, but did serve as one of the inspirations for Lloyd's Register, a publication that still exists today. And you've probably heard of other businesses that use the Lloyd's name, such as this one.

So with such a history, it's no wonder that coffee is still extremely popular in the United Kingdom today...

...um, hold it. I have just been informed of some new information. It seems that the British people are really into tea now, rather than coffee.

So, how did that happen?

Well, at about the same time that Lloyd's Coffee House moved to the maritime district, a noted group of mariners - namely, the British East India Company - was encountering competition for that particular drink.

Toward the close of the seventeenth century, however, the East India Company was much more interested in tea than in coffee...[h]aving lost out to the French and the Dutch on the “little brown berry of Arabia.”

So, like any good company (even if this was in the mercantilist era, not the capitalist era), the British East India Company decided to diversify into a new product, tea, and to conduct a marketing campaign to promote this new product.

The Company engaged in so lively a propaganda for tea that, whereas the annual tea imports from 1700 to 1710 averaged 800,000 pounds, in 1721 more than one million pounds of tea were brought in; in 1757, some four million pounds were imported. And when the coffee house finally succumbed, tea, and not coffee, was firmly entrenched as the national drink of the English people.

In fact, it was so entrenched that by 1773, if you wanted to indicate your displeasure with Britain, one very symbolic way to do so would be to dump 342 chests of tea off a ship and into a harbor. Granted, the people who organized this action were low-life smugglers. You've probably heard of them - John Hancock, Samuel Adams. Actually, before getting famous from his association with tea, Samuel Adams was a brewer. However, Adams went bankrupt in that industry, which is why no one connects the name Samuel Adams with beer today....

...um, hold it. I have just been informed of some new information...

There is a postscript to this story about the British and coffee. Since tea is obviously the drink of choice of the British establishment, it follows that anyone who wanted to pander to the British anti-establishment would choose a different drink.

The (2i’s) expresso coffee bar, run by two australian ex-wrestlers Paul Lincoln (aka “Dr Death”) and Ray Hunter, opened its doors on April 22nd 1956. It was named after two brothers called Irani who originally owned the café (unless the previous owners were apparently three Iranians and one went home).

The coffee shop had live music in its basement with a small 18 inch stage where Lincoln and Hunter started putting on skiffle groups.


Skiffle only lasted for a short while, but it dramatically influenced British music and thus world music. Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard were two of the names that emerged from the 2i's scene. And those artists, as well as other skiffle bands, served as inspirations to musicians all over Britain, including some backing musicians (Tommy Moore and some other guys) who toured Scotland with one Johnny Gentle.

As of 2018, there were nearly 1,000 Starbucks in the United Kingdom. No word on whether maritime news is discussed there.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

If this isn't #starbout is it #realout ?

Back in 2008, I wrote a series of posts, the first of which was called "Coffee Klatch Responds to the Most Important Story of All Time."

For those who don't know, Coffee Klatch (now Klatch Coffee) is a group of coffeeshops in the Inland Empire of Southern California.

It is not to be confused with Starbucks.

This was made very clear on this day in 2008, when the #starbout took place.

For those who don't remember, Starbucks closed all of its stores for three hours for an "Art of Espresso" training session, in which the baristas were told how to make coffee.

Needless to say, the non-Starbucks small coffee shops had great fun with this. Mike Perry of Coffee Klatch offered this comment:

"I'm not sure why it's going to take them three hours to learn how to press a button."

Well, eleven years have passed, and another large organization is going to close its doors for a few hours to train its employees.

However, this closure will only affect people in the state of California.

(IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE: My employer provides hardware, software, and services to the agency described below. Views are my own bla bla bla.)

So, who's closing on July 24?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

I could talk your ears off about REAL ID, a program that's only taken nearly two decades to implement because of states' rights and stuff. But I won't.

Here's the press release.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 24, 2019

DMV to Close Offices Statewide for Half-Day ‘Operation Excellence: DMV Training’

Sacramento – The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will close its offices statewide for a half day on July 24, 2019, to better prepare employees to process REAL ID transactions and reinforce training on providing excellent customer service.

Operation Excellence: DMV Training will result in more consistent customer experiences statewide and equip employees with the tools they need to handle an unprecedented volume of REAL ID applications, which are more complex and take more time to process.

The training will take place at 183 DMV field offices, Commercial Drive Test Centers and Industry Business Centers throughout the state. More than 5,000 employees will receive the training at their home offices, which will open for business at 1 p.m.

“Our employees are at the heart of every transaction we perform,” said Kathleen Webb, DMV acting director. “With this commitment to training, we can ensure they have the proper tools, knowledge, and experience to provide excellent customer service to the people of California.”

DMV Call Centers (1-800-777-0133) will remain open during the half-day office closure. Customers also will be able to:

Conduct transactions online, at dmv.ca.gov, including renewing a vehicle registration, changing an address, requesting a copy of their driving record or making an appointment.
Conduct transactions at DMV Now self-service kiosks located at grocery stores and select libraries, such as renewing a vehicle registration, filing for planned nonoperation (PNO) status, submitting an affidavit of non-use, submitting proof of insurance, and paying a $14 insurance reinstatement fee. A map of kiosks can be found online: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/about/sst_map.
AAA members may visit AAA offices to conduct some transactions, including vehicle registration renewal.
Registration services also are available at California DMV Business Partners for a fee. Customers can search for partners with this online map: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/bp_locator/reg_svc.
Operation Excellence is an initiative of the DMV Reinvention Strike Team, which Governor Gavin Newsom created in January to lead a comprehensive modernization and reinvention of the DMV with an emphasis on transparency, worker performance, speed of service and overall consumer satisfaction. The Strike Team was created in response to long wait times in DMV field offices, which were exacerbated by the federal government’s REAL ID requirements.

Beginning October 1, 2020, the federal government will require passengers flying within the United States to present a REAL ID-compliant driver license or identification card – or a passport or passport card – before boarding a plane. REAL ID-compliant cards or another federally approved document will also be required to enter secure federal facilities such as military bases.

“The unprecedented complexity of the REAL ID requirements is what led to the idea that we needed to take the extraordinary step of closing DMV offices for a short time to make sure all employees have consistent information in order to complete the transactions successfully,” said Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer, who is leading the DMV Strike Team. “It is a complicated transaction and we want customers to be well prepared in order to receive their REAL ID efficiently.”

The DMV already is experiencing unprecedented demand for its services because of a greater volume of REAL ID applications, which must be done in person in the field office and cannot be processed online or via the phone. In addition, field offices are experiencing their normal summer surge of new drivers seeking licenses.

Field offices need to be prepared for at least a doubling of customer volume as the enforcement date approaches. On July 1, 2019, the DMV will open an additional 53 field offices early to handle the summer surge, bringing to 69 the total number of offices that open at 7 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to accommodate the increase in customers. The DMV also now offers Saturday service at 62 offices.

Curriculum for Operation Excellence addresses the specific challenges DMV employees have identified in processing REAL ID transactions. Frontline staff will receive detailed training and a toolkit they can utilize immediately for processing REAL ID driver licenses and identification cards in the field. They also will be trained on best practices on delivering excellent customer service.

This half-day effort is the start of ongoing training around REAL ID and builds on DMV’s renewed commitment to providing sufficient training on all significant policy and procedure changes.

Operation Excellence addresses findings in a March 2019 report by the Department of Finance’s Office of State Audits and Evaluations, which determined training to be lacking at DMV. Report recommendations include more timely and comprehensive training for new hires and expanded training opportunities, particularly surrounding significant changes to policies and procedures including REAL ID.

###

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Gigged Out

Sandra had been with YouGigUp since its inception nearly nine months ago. In that time, she and the core team had developed the YouGigUp concept, which not only involved both the cloud AND blockchain, but also resulted in a successful funding round that appeared to guarantee that expenses would be covered for another nine months.

As the number three person in YouGigUp, Sandra was proud of the part that she had played in securing funding, and looked forward to greater contribution opportunities in the future.

As it turned out, the investors had some ideas about that also, as Sandra discovered when she was summoned to a meeting with the two lead investors.

Charlie started the conversation. "So, Sandra, I see that in the pre-funding round, you've done well for yourself, but not that well. Sure, you have a nice salary, decent stock options, a nice health plan, and a 401k."

"Well, I'm almost 23," Sandra replied. "I'm not getting any younger. That health insurance will come in handy someday, as will the 401k."

The other investor, Brad, interjected. "That health insurance and 401k are holding you back."

"I don't follow," Sandra replied.

"Sandra," Charlie said, "you know better than anyone that 20th century compensation plans are killing productivity, opportunity, and flexibility. The whole concept of YouGigUp is based upon this irrefutable fact."

Brad continued, "And we want you to take advantage of 21st century organizational trends." He took an envelope out of his pocket. "Starting today, you no longer work for YouGigUp. You work WITH YouGigUp. As you choose."

As he handed the envelope to Sandra, Brad got more excited. "This new arrangement will give you the flexibility to create six YouGigUps, or none at all! You are in complete control of your schedule, and can contribute to YouGigUp when and where you wish! You can see the maximum hourly rates here; pay attention to the surge pricing on Fridays and Saturdays! And note that even if you clock in only fifty minutes in an hour, you get paid for the entire hour! Such a package allows you to create your own benefits plans as you wish! This page includes the link to the Covered California website."

Sandra quietly looked over the papers before asking a question. "Is there a guaranteed number of hours?"

"That's the beauty of it!" replied Charlie. "It's completely flexible. The company will contact you if you're needed for an hour or two. You can submit a bid, and others can do the same, and one bidder will be selected to work with YouGigUp for the hour!"

"Subject to the hourly rates here?" asked Sandra.

"Well," replied Brad, "these are the MAXIMUM hourly rates. If someone wants to work with YouGigUp for a lower rate, they can certainly do so."

"So we wish you luck on your new adventure!" said Charlie as he and Brad left the room.

Andrea, rather than thinking of new adventures with YouGigUp, was trying to remember the name of her grad school friend who just got a job at In-N-Out.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

If I tell you something is "important" to me...

...don't be impressed.

"Important" sounds...important, but I have three levels above important.

Just above "important" is "urgent."

Just above "urgent" is "pomodoro" (not in the correct sense, but in a bastardized sense, where I just select a few things to work on in the next 25 minutes and do them). (Aside: some of you will recognize my use of the terms "urgent" and "important" is itself a bastardized simplification of the Eisenhower matrix. If something is in the lower right quadrant of the matrix - i.e. less urgent and less important - then why are you even tracking it?)

And above all of these is "forget about assigning a category, just drop everything and work on this."

Perhaps these examples will illustrate the differences.

"Hey John, here's an article you may want to read." That's important.
"Hey John, this stuff is due by close of business today." That's urgent.
"Hey John, this stuff is due in a half hour." That's pomodoro.
"Hey John, your brother in law died." (Click.)[1]



[1] (Sadly, this is a true story. About 14 years ago I was in a meeting, received a phone call, hung up, and left the meeting immediately.)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

When retailers INTRODUCE friction

This post includes a discussion of a product offering from my own employer - but I have a good reason for doing this.

But before I toot my company's horn, I want to talk about the concept of a "frictionless" experience.

While the definition has evolved over the years, the basic meaning of a frictionless experience is to make it as easy as possible for customers to purchase goods and services.

And there's a dramatic financial incentive to make shopping frictionless - roughly 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned without the customer purchasing anything, a potential loss of revenue for the company. The same thing can happen at old-fashioned physical stores, except that in this case the abandoned shopping carts are real shopping carts - and if there's frozen food sitting in an abandoned shopping cart, you have to deal with both lost revenue and lost inventory.

Which brings me to my employer IDEMIA, and a story about a university dining hall.

By PCHS-NJROTC - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

You can imagine what those can be like; assuming that the dining hall doesn't use an a la carte system, the basic question that you have to answer is whether you are entitled to a meal. Some students buy meal plans that let them eat every meal in the course of a week; others only buy a limited number of meals a week. However, all students are only allowed to eat one meal at a time; the student can't eat lunch at 12:05 and then have the same student - or a buddy - eat the same meal at 12:45. So everyone has to get in line - and the lines can get long, causing...friction.

Back in the spring of 2016, the University of Maryland decided to improve the dining hall process, and worked with several vendors, including one of IDEMIA's predecessor companies, MorphoTrak, to come up with a frictionless solution. This solution included a product, called MorphoWave at the time, that allowed a user to wave his or her hand to be identified, rather than dragging out a student card or a punched meal ticket.

The result? Faster, frictionless processing of students, most of whom are processed in under two seconds.

Now a lot of companies are coming up with a lot of frictionless solutions to make retail purchases either. For example, think of the various "pay" apps on mobile phones that allow you to easily make purchases without removing your wallet from your pocket. All of these tools make it a lot easier to buy things, and retailers are reaping the financial rewards.

You'd think that all retailers would be striving to achieve a frictionless experience to increase sales.

But some well-known retailers are moving in the other direction.

I was recently buying bubble wrap in a Walmart (yeah, that Walmart). I found the bubble wrap with no problem - and if I hadn't been able to find it, Walmart has an app that can show me where it is. I then purchased the bubble wrap - while I used a physical credit card to do this, Walmart has an app that lets me make the purchase more easily if I want to use it.

So everything was going smoothly and without friction - until it came time to leave the store.

As I neared the exit, I ran into a line of several people. No, they weren't talking with the greeter (I don't think our local stores have greeters anymore) - they were having their receipts scanned by the receipt checker.

It turns out that this Walmart was not only requiring every customer to have his or her receipt scanned, but also requiring that one of the recently purchased items also be scanned - presumably to make sure that the receipt actually corresponded to the items that the customers were carrying out of the store.

This caused friction - not only in a delay in leaving the store, but also in personal irritation.

There's a financial reason for receipt checking, just as there is a financial reason to make (legitimate) purchases as easy as possible. The financial reason for receipt checking is something called "loss prevention" in the industry, which is a fancy word for stopping people from shoplifting.

By MJOHN - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Now there are a variety of ways to reduce or prevent shoplifting, including electronic article surveillance (via tags), video surveillance, keeping expensive items in locked cabinets, and enclosing small expensive items in hard plastic packaging that can only be removed by nuclear weapons.

But receipt checking offers one clear advantage over other methods of loss prevention:

Unlike the locked display case, it doesn't interfere with the customer experience until after the purchase is complete.

The store's already made its money - it's just hassling customers on the way out the door.

Now some people are getting so angry with receipt checking that they're filing civil complaints and complaining that stores are violating the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when checking receipts. Before going down that road, however, it may be a good idea to see what the Fourth Amendment actually says.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

"But dude!" you might say. "That Walmart checker was conducting an unreasonable search and seizure on you! She should have gotten a warrant!"

However, you have to remember that the Fourth Amendment, like the First, is designed to constrain the actions of the GOVERNMENT. It was written to prevent a GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL from unreasonably searching you. Walmart is not a governmental entity - not even in Bentonville, Arkansas.

So in the same way that private businesses often do not have to guarantee freedom of speech - if you espouse socialist principles, or talk about making the country great again, the First Amendment can't stop you from being fired - private businesses are not necessarily constrained from asking you to prove that you bought the stuff you claim that you bought.

So don't claim that Walmart should be hauled to the Supreme Court for checking your receipts.

On the other hand, the last I checked, Target wasn't making you wait in line to leave their stores. Just saying.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Michael Italie, Brendan Eich...and Kay Coles James - what is truth?

By Nikolai Ge - http://www.picture.art-catalog.ru/picture.php?id_picture=7515, Public Domain, Link

I am going to begin this post by noting that Goodwill, Mozilla, and Google are private entities, not governmental entities.

This gives them the right (subject to possible state-level restrictions) to discriminate for political reasons.

As I've previously noted, Michael Italie was - completely legally - a member of the Socialist Workers Party. This was enough to get him fired by Goodwill.

And as I've also noted, Brendan Eich was - completely legally - a donor to a campaign to support California's Proposition 8. This was enough to get him f- ... oh, I'm sorry, he resigned from Mozilla.

And today we're all talking about Kay Coles James - who has joined an entity known as the Heritage Foundation, and is also the President of said organization. As I write this, the Heritage Foundation is legally allowed to conduct business in the United States (although perhaps I'd better check on San Francisco just to be sure). The Foundation itself has been around since 1973, and has been linked to conservatives ranging from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump (assuming Trump is a conservative, but that is outside of the scope of this blog).

Now James did not assault a liberal, or cause an economic crisis in San Francisco, or even fire a gender fluid person from the Foundation. No, James joined Google's Advanced Technology External Advisory Council.

And that was enough to enrage some Googlers.

Google must remove Kay Coles James from its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC).

On March 27, four days before Trans Day of Visibility, Google announced the members of its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), which is tasked with informing the company’s decisions around AI and other technologies. Among those appointed to ATEAC is Kay Coles James, the President of the Heritage Foundation, who is vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant.


But what of the argument that if you want to reduce AI bias, you need to include people with diverse views?

Following the announcement, the person who took credit for appointing James stood by the decision, saying that James was on the council to ensure “diversity of thought.” This is a weaponization of the language of diversity.

The controversy boils down to the question of how Google should approach various issues. As it turns out, this is presumably one of the issues with which ATEAC (whoever is on it) will wrestle.

But what is a valid stand to take on any issue? See if you can guess the two organizations mentioned in this quote.

Both organizations act and provide information in such a manner that they could be considered another arm of the United State's Department of Defense. (DoD) If anything, the entirety of all mainstream media sources provide information in ways that either support political parties or of the agenda of the United States government.

The two organizations in question? Fox News and MSNBC. Some people believe that one is the gospel truth, some believe in the other, and some believe that both are stooges of the Trump-Obama military-industrial complex.

So when you have different cultural perspectives in different countries, or even in the same country, what should be presented by Google's search results (the one product that Google probably WON'T sunset)?

Because we can't agree on what artificial intelligence should do until we agree on what natural intelligence should do.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

DIKW AI OMG @gideonro

Well, this article from 2014 by Gideon Rosenblatt is up my alley.

It combines the idea of the data/information/knowledge/wisdom hierarchy (I wrote about this before) with the idea of artificial intelligence.

When it comes to developing knowledge, the first step is determining which signals have value and which are just noise. If we can offload that pattern-recognizing work to machines, we take a big step towards automating knowledge creation.

More of us are talking about "deep learning" than were talking about it in 2014, but Rosenblatt touches upon the topic.

Because it was 2014, however, he didn't address the 2019 topic of bias. (What if the data that you mine solely consists of Mein Kampf?)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Sometimes it isn't all about the money, but about the data

So now Google is in a fight with someone's aunt.



But it's not about flower arrangement.

Kieran Clifton, who is the Director of BBC Distribution & Business Development, explains why the BBC's podcasts are no longer on "certain Google products - including the Google Podcast app and Google [A]ssistant":

Last year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users - they’ve also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party services....

We...want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be - this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

Unfortunately, given the way the Google podcast service operates, we can’t do any of the above.


Chris Welch of The Verge further clarifies:

Metrics have been a point of contention between podcast producers and the platforms that bring them exposure.

So, in an effort to see the other side of things, I poked around to see what types of audience data Google provides to podcasters. My survey may not be exhaustive, but I found this:

Types of reports

Listener activity report: plays & downloads

With the listener activity report, you can see playback and download statistics for your podcast or an individual episode.

The play and download statistics can be broken down per day for the podcast series or filtered to see the statistics for individual episodes.

Plays: The number of times a listener started listening to a podcast episode.
Downloads: The number of times a listener downloaded an episode to their device.

Subscriber report

With the subscriber report, you can see the total number of people subscribing to your podcast.

To be considered a subscriber, a listener must have added the podcast to the My Podcasts section of Google Play Music in the app or on the web. Subscribers can also choose to auto-download or get notifications for new episodes.


OK, perhaps there's something I missed, but if this truly IS the be-all and end-all of Google podcast reporting, the audience data that the BBC receives consists of number of plays, number of downloads, and number of subscribers.

That's it.

And we know that Google captures significant additional information about every entity that uses its service. I don't podcast, but I can easily derive all sorts of information about the people who access this blog, including information on the platform they are using to read a post, the geographic location from which they are reading the post, etc. If I were a major British broadcasting corporation, I would certainly want to know how many of my podcast subscribers are located in Manchester, and whether they are accessing the podcast on an old Android phone, a new Android phone, or something else.

And the BBC can presumably get these types of statistics from Apple. As of November 2018, Apple provided a slew of stats to podcasters, ranging from average consumption by episode (how soon do listeners literally tune out of a podcast?) to devices subscribed (people who decided that a particular podcast episode was so good that they chose to subscribe to the podcast). Geographic data is also provided, at least on a national level - I couldn't tell if it could be broken down to more local levels.

Now, The Verge's Chris Welch also raises the possibility that "This could also be seen as another example of podcast makers pulling back their content for the benefit of their own apps and services" - although in this case the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, has to abide by a Distribution Policy (PDF) that ensures that BBC programming is beneficial to the public interest, and not just to the BBC itself.

Of course, the content publishers have bigger issues with social media services - namely, issues about monetization and a "fair" (whatever that is) division of revenue that both acknowledges the social media services' role in publicizing the content, and the content providers' role in creating the content.

But this whole data thing could get important also.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Jive Talking - or Jive Meeting

The enterprise online meeting market is crowded. While personal users employ Skype, Facebook Messenger, and numerous other options for personal videoconferencing, there are a number of conferencing options for the enterprise market, including Jive, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, Open Voice, and Join.me...

...and those are just the options owned (acquired) by a single company, LogMeIn.

The only problem is that none of these tools work together.

That's about to change.

LogMeIn plans to integrate Jive's cloud telephony with GoToMeeting's cloud video conferencing and collaboration. The move to unify the LogMeIn products comes as the vendor chases rivals Zoom and Cisco Webex, which already offer integrated portfolios.

How much are the rival offerings hurting LogMeIn?

GoToMeeting's market share has been hit particularly hard by the rise of Zoom, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that many customers have opted to switch to Zoom as their GoToMeeting licenses have expired, Kerravala said.

And Wall Street has issues.

The company's share value dropped 16.4% after announcing a global leadership restructuring earlier this month and plunged 23% on the day they released third-quarter financial forecasts that fell short of analyst predictions, according to Seeking Alpha.

As an aside, one thing that makes enterprise software tougher is that it has to deal with...enterprises. And enterprises have all sorts of firewall and other security issues to prevent people from using something like meeting software to hijack your system. (The threat is real - one common feature in meeting software is the ability for a user to grant various kinds of control to another user.) As an example, I've been invited to join.me sessions twice, but was unable to join via computer on my corporate network - I had to install join.me on my phone to access the session.

Ah, forget about it - let's just get rid of meeting software altogether, and have everyone move to Silicon Valley and live in million dollar studio apartments.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Gerald Cotten and the ultimate in security

This is an old story, but worth repeating.

It's the story of digital asset (i.e. cryptocurrency) exchange Quadriga CX and its CEO, Gerald Cotten.

Cotten was always conscious about security -- the laptop, email addresses and messaging system he used to run the 5-year-old business were encrypted....He took sole responsibility for the handling of funds and coins and the banking and accounting side of the business and, to avoid being hacked, moved the "majority" of digital coins into cold storage.

In some ways, this is the perfect security setup. Noted security expert Benjamin Franklin has been known to observe that three can keep a secret if two are dead. After all, when two people know a secret, social engineering techniques can be used to pry the secret from one of them.

Assume, for example, that the nuclear launch codes are only known by Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Even though Jared Kushner does not know the codes, he could social engineer Pence by angrily calling him and saying, "The President needs the nuclear codes NOW!" If Pence agrees to provide them, security is broken.

So Cotten's approach to security is understandable, and in fact it could even be classified as perfect.

Too perfect.

Because, you see, Cotten died late last year.

The problem is, [Cotten's widow Jennifer] Robertson said she can’t find his passwords or any business records for the company. Experts brought in to try to hack into Cotten’s other computers and mobile phone met with only "limited success" and attempts to circumvent an encrypted USB key have been foiled....

"After Gerry’s death, Quadriga’s inventory of cryptocurrency has become unavailable and some of it may be lost," Robertson said, adding that the company’s access to currency has been "severely compromised" and the firm has been unable to negotiate bank drafts provided by different payment processors.


This inability to access "about C$190 million ($145 million) in Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether and other digital tokens" not only impacts the company, but also its customers.

But hey, the system's secure!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

What the Lumen5 text to video service taught me about...text

Last month, Sheila Scarborough wrote about repurposing content. One of her suggestions was to use Lumen5 to convert a blog post to video.

Lumen5 crawls the blog posts and makes a short draft video with key phrases and matching stock imagery. All we have to do is tweak the draft, maybe change some of the phrases or images (machines are not THAT smart!) and boom – we have a new video.

Good old artificial intelligence, or A.I., is supposed to make this process easy.

So I thought I'd try it.

I selected one of my more popular Empoprise-BI posts from 2018: Before Blogger is sunsetted, I'd better write this post on Google's customers.

When I loaded it into Lumen5, the A.I. went haywire.

And I can understand why.

My blog post writing style is notoriously dense. So Lumen5 had trouble automatically selecting portions of text to highlight in a video. When I tried to select text manually, even I had trouble.

Just for fun, take a couple of minutes to read my original post.

Now watch the video.



If I am going to convert text posts to video...

...they need more streamlined writing.

(Let's see if I did it.)