Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Architecture and Mortality

We don't often think about it, but the technology that we employ at any given time influences our surroundings.

There are some easy examples of this. For example, cities have to allocate a certain width for roads that allows the current sizes of cars and trucks to enter and move through the city. Preserved "old city" areas with very thin streets have huge access problems.

In a recent post, Oracle AppsLab's Jake Kuramoto noted that university computer labs, once an essential part of the university, are now an unnecessary cost drain and are being converted to other uses. See the Ars Technica post and the University of Virginia announcement.

And, of course, while data centers disappear, the whole concept of an "office" is undergoing change. In 2002, InformationWeek tried to predict what was coming:

[I]n Hawthorne, N.Y., IBM (NYSE: IBM) and office-furniture maker Steelcase Corp. are building the office of tomorrow. Or, more precisely, one cubicle of it. But what a cubicle.

Overhead lights, which respond to chips in the ID tag IBM Research senior manager Marissa Viveros wears, change from blue to green as she enters the workspace, signaling her arrival. Other electronic sensors respond to her entrance by illuminating a task light above her desk, resetting the temperature to her comfort level, and triggering a message to her team members, via IBM-designed Web software, that she's back at her desk. A monitor on an outside wall of the 11-foot-by-7-foot workspace, which had indicated that Viveros was at a meeting, changes to show that she's now available. But if Viveros chose to do so, she could also temporarily "hide" from the system.

But the 2002 IBM/Steelcase model assumed that you work in an office with other co-workers. While many of us follow this model, there are others (including Kuramoto, an Oracle employee who works hundreds of miles away from Redwood City, California) for whom outside wall monitors would be irrelevant.

Frankly, we can't really predict what our workspace will look like 50 years from now, or even 25 years from now. But it's fun to try.

P.S. Yes, the title of this post is a parody of this album title.

FeedBurner revisited, again (don't worry about the companyment)

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After noticing a 24+ hour lag between the time something is posted to this blog and the time it appears in the feed, I double-checked the FeedBurner Status blog. And now they DO have a relevant update:

Issue: Blogger has posted the following Known Issue, which may cause FeedBurner feeds based on Blogger content to fall behind and not show the latest updates.

Workaround: None. Blogger is actively working to resolve this issue. No changes to your FeedBurner account or feeds are necessary.

Here's what Blogger says:

Users who redirect their feed requests FeedBurner may be experiencing delays in their posts being picked up by FeedBurner. We're working on a fix now, and apologize for the inconvenience.

Incidentally, this proves my theory about not having to worry about Big Brother. People assume that "the government" is a unified entity that works wonderfully together to install microchips in your forehead or whatever it is that evil governments do. But read these two posts above. Is there ANYTHING in these two posts that even hints that FeedBurner and Blogger are owned by the same company? How is Google going to take over the world when it can't even get its own parts to play nicely together?

Not for consumers only - Introduction

Robert Scoble wrote a post this morning which caught my attention, but I hope that people don't blindly follow his advice without thinking.

That advice can be summed up in the words "Add people."

[W]hen you walk into a real Best Buy store, what do you see? I see lots of people with blue shirts on. Employees! People! Folks who can help me pick out a new big screen or camcorder or computer. What else do you see? Customers! Oh, yes, people again.

When he originally wrote the post, Robert was unaware of any social media initiatives at Best Buy; when you visit the bestbuy.com website, there are no people there. However, he subsequently learned of a joint effort between Ribbit and Best Buy:

Consumers Price enables consumers to tap into social conversations to get the best prices on the best products at Best Buy, and is the first voice-enabled big-box retailer social shopping experience.

More here, or you can go here.

My concern, however, is that ALL companies will magically decide that "adding people" will solve all of their problems. Hey, if it worked for Amazon, it worked for Best Buy, and it worked for Obama, then it will work for my automotive parts distribution company!

Not so fast.

I've told this story before, but I told it again in the comments to the Scobleizer post:

[L]ast year I attended the International Association for Identification (IAI) conference in Louisville, Kentucky on behalf of my employer, who provides software and hardware solutions for law enforcement. One of my co-workers, knowing of my former Twitter account, told me that I should “twitter” what we were doing at the IAI. Great idea, but after performing a Twitter search, I deduced that I was the only person on Twitter at the time who had even heard of the IAI. No sense tweeting to myself.

So now I'm thinking about B2B social media (for example, Oracle's endeavors in the area, and why Oracle is a special case), and as I learn more about it, I'll post some things about it in here. And you'll note that I already have a cutesy name for a post series; that's always fun. I was thinking about using "B2BSM," but acronyms can easily be misinterpreted.

FeedBurner way back when

Since I've been mentioning Google's FeedBurner service over the last few days, I figured I've dive into a bit of history on the topic, courtesy a May 23, 2007 post by Michael Arrington.

The company was founded in 2003 and has raised just $10 million in capital over two rounds. Portage Ventures funded their $1 million Series A round in 2004. The $9 million Series B round was closed in mid 2005 (second close in 2006), from Mobius Venture Capital and Union Square Ventures.

Arrington was writing because of FeedBurner's impending acquisition by Google.

At the time of the acquisition, Google said:

Our teams will work to improve the experience of our users, publishers, and advertisers, but it's too early to know how FeedBurner's technology will be integrated into Google. We do not have any news to share about integration plans at this time.

So did Google "improve the experience"? I wasn't using FeedBurner at the time, so I really can't say.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Anon, here's what your network tells the government about you

Two stories have crossed my feeds regarding what can be learned about online users, even if they are anonymous or pseudononymous.

From HS Daily Wire:

It was revealed at the U.K.'s parliament the other day that the government may start recording who-contacts-who online. We note that in the summer of 2005, Paul Marks reported on research part-funded by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) into how it could monitor social networking sites to "join the dots" among criminal and terrorist groups.

More here. Meanwhile, in Texas...

[R]esearchers at the University of Texas at Austin...took a close look at the way anonymous data can be analyzed and have come to some troubling conclusions. In a paper set to be delivered at an upcoming security conference, they showed how they were able to map out the connections on public social networks such as Twitter and Flickr. They were then able to identify people who were on both networks by looking at the many connections surrounding their network of friends.

More here. So now you can not only get in trouble because of your name, but also because of the names of people you know. Let's face it - on FriendFeed, I follow an accused terrorist. (H/T Ffundercats!.)

Michael Chertoff sets up shop by the Beltway, but the windows are still papered up

This came across my feeds, but it may have more general interest to some of you.

Continuing in the long line of former Federal Government officials who lend their names to the private sector, there is a new consulting firm called the Chertoff Group. That's Chertoff as in Michael, former Homeland Security Secretary.

So what are they going to do?

The Chertoff Group assists clients with addressing threats related to terrorism, cyber security, fraud, border protection and supply chain security. The firm services include biometrics and identity management programs, information assurance, fraud prevention and investigations, border protection solutions, security engineering and infrastructure protection, crisis management, business continuity programs, and RFID-based supply chain protection. Within the security industry, the Chertoff Group will also provide mergers and acquisition advice, target identification and qualification, and due diligence support.

But they have their work cut out for them in terms of identity protection. When I initially saw the press release, I surfed over to www.chertoffgroup.com and got redirected here:

Comming Soon! This website is under construction.

And yes, there are two m's in the word "Comming," which means that either someone has camped on the domain, or the real Chertoff Group hasn't chosen the most savvy Internet partner. Based upon the whois results, which show the site is registered to Chad Sweet (Chertoff's right-hand man), it appears to be the latter.

It's interesting that the site was registered on February 14, the press release came out March 30, and the site still isn't live. Which is interesting, considering how the press release concludes:

The Chertoff Group has entered into strategic alliance with strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller. This agreement will allow the firms to share resources and expertise on shared client engagements where appropriate.

“We have the highest regard for former Secretary Chertoff and his work in helping to keep this country secure and look forward to working with him and The Chertoff Group,” said Burson-Marsteller Worldwide President & CEO Mark Penn.

Apparently this strategic communications firm chose not to share with Chertoff & Sweet the importance of having your website ready on launch day.

Targeted Advertising While Wearing Blindfolds

I hope that everyone who reads this blog post on their Apple iPhone or other device truly enjoys it. Or perhaps you're a Luddite who doesn't even read things electronically, but gets someone to print out hardcopy for you, so that you can sit and read the paper while eating an apple or doing whatever it is that you do.

So anyways, I was busy earlier and couldn't really comment on one of Steven Hodson's posts - one in which, in his understated way, he entitled "This kind of contextual advertising makes me wanna puke."

In Hodson's example, he was reading a very sad post about "a young girl in Cincinnati who hung herself after a nude photo she sent her boyfriend ended up all over the school." The post itself is entitled "What, if anything, can be done to stop ‘sexting’?"

At the time that Hodson viewed the post, the advertising service was presenting an ad to find sexy gay singles.

At the time that I viewed the post, the advertising service was presenting an ad for term life insurance - which, when you think about it, isn't much better.

Now I'll be the first to admit that this is an extreme example, but we have to admit that "contextual" advertising is currently anything but. I could cite examples from the ads on my own blogs, but that would probably violate the terms of my agreement with my advertising service and they'd end up cutting me off, preventing me from ever being able to afford an Apple iPhone.

And yes, I am repeating a couple of key words at several places throughout this post. But what if this were a post that talked about how much someone hates a particular consumer product, and the advertising service ended up serving up ads for that very consumer product?

Perhaps the integration of personal information will improve contextual advertising in the future, but the move is controversial. (Incidentally, if you did not go to my blog to read this, I should let you know that my blog links to Google's statement on Advertising and Privacy.) On the one hand, such individual information will let advertisers know when you don't want to see gay sex ads or Apple iPhone ads or whatever. On the other hand, all of this information could go to a supercomputer in Brussels and be marked on your forehead or whatever.

So which way do we go? More targeted personal information, or less targeted personal identifying information? We can't really have both.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

About time

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It took up to two days for some recent Empoprise-BI posts to hit the Feedproxy feed, and from there to land in Google Reader and other feed-dependent services.

Oh, and the FeedBurner blog has a status update...sort of:

FeedBurner email updates temporarily delayed, now resuming
Sunday, March 29, 2009 | 12:07 PM

Labels: Known Issue, Resolved

Issue: Email updates for feed that should have been delivered between approximately 12am through 7pm GMT, March 29, have been delayed due to a temporary issue. We have since addressed this issue and delayed email messages should now be on their way. Our apologies for this inconvenience.

Workaround: None. Delayed deliveries are being rescheduled and sent automatically.

While it's nice to know this, I'd like to have an explanation for the NON-email non-updates since March 27.

Is GM's Wagoner departure window-dressing?

As I was checking my feeds, I noticed this item in the Inquisitr:

On the eve of President Obama’s unveiling of his plan to help save the floundering U.S. automobile industry the head of GM, Rick Wagoner, has been asked to step down from his position by the White House. Apparently Wagoner will be leaving immediately with no word of his replacement as of yet.

According to MSNBC, this news was leaked by the White House; I do not know if GM has confirmed it or not.

The author of the Inquisitr post, Steven Hodson, went on to share his thoughts:

While one might question the While House making demands like this I’m glad that they are. The automotive industry can’t be expected to live off of the people’s money and still retain the same people who have been responsible for its current situation.

Hodson has a point. If the government is the de facto owner of General Motors, or AIG, or whoever, then the government certainly has the right to put its own people in place, just like any Board of Directors has the power to remove company officials as it sees fit.

Now there is an issue if the government ends up removing key employees and thus scutting the business operations, but I don't know if Wagoner would be considered a key employee in the same way that the AIG retention beneficiaries are. It's probably easier to replace a CEO than it is to replace a trained financial professional.

But despite my strong views on the way the government is mismanaging AIG into the ground, I'm not exactly ready to condemn the Wagoner move yet.

But I do want to see why Obama thought a change was needed, and I want to see who will be brought in to replace Wagoner. If this is just a show move so that it looks like the owner is doing something, then it's just as useless as when Roman Abramovich sacks one Chelsea manager after another. But if the new candidate has some skills and beliefs that Wagoner doesn't have, then this could be a plus.

Good news on the feed front, sort of

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It's Sunday evening, I just checked my feeds, and it looks like things are starting to get through on two of my blogs.

Still waiting on this blog, and I'll have to check the NTN blog.

This weekend's FeedProxy and FeedBurner problem is widespread - has Google acknowledged this?

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I've posted a couple of items regarding a failure to update the feed for this blog (and the Empoprise-MU blog).

I had a chance to nose around a bit more this morning, and found this discussion of the problem. It turns out that I'm not the only person having the problem.

The discussion was started by Ryan Erickson, of the Unofficial Coast Guard blog. His feed is at http://feeds2.feedburner.com/UnofficialCoastGuardBlog. As I type this, Ryan's feed does have one update on March 29, 2009, which is a good sign. And the feeds http://feeds2.feedburner.com/Barcepundit and http://feeds2.feedburner.com/HoustonRoundballReviewDiscussesWomensHoops have March 29 updates.

However, other feeds that I checked, including http://feeds2.feedburner.com/losingmyreligionrethinkingchurch and http://feeds2.feedburner.com/CalculatedRisk, have not updated in a couple of days.

Hopefully this will all sort itself out soon, and I guess it's good that it happened over the weekend, but when the FeedBurner Status Blog has had no updates since March 11, and when there does seem to be a systemic problem with FeedBurner/FeedProxy this weekend, it doesn't exactly give you the warm fuzzies about Google's service.

And it's not an isolated occurrence. See what happened to Kent Newsome on March 13.

Since Google began to move publishers over to the Google hosting architecture, FeedBurner has been very unreliable. People have complained. And complained some more. At first, my results were mixed. Sometimes, my feed would update right away. Other times it took forever. After reading this promising post, I updated my Live Writer configuration to ping FeedBurner and some other services whenever I publish a new post. That worked for a while, but over time the delay got longer and longer and longer. Looking for tech support was futile. There is no discoverable path to any sort of meaningful FeedBurner support. All roads eventually dead-end at the ironically named FeedBurner Help Group, where frustrated users howl into the void.

Hmm...the FeedBurner Help Group. That's where I ended up.

And for a bit of history, see what Louis Gray was writing in October 2008:

[W]e are once again seeing a decimation of feed counts across the blogosphere, chopping away thousands of subscribers from popular blogs, and for the little guys, taking them down to zero.

Good point. Empoprise-BI does not get most of its traffic from subscribers at this point, so it is dependent upon its outgoing RSS feeds for traffic. Here are the things that have come to a standstill for Empoprise-BI (and Empoprise-MU; haven't checked the other two blogs):
  • My recent blog posts are not showing up in my FriendFeed account.

  • I could force them to show up in my FriendFeed account by sharing them via Google Reader shared items...but they're not showing up in Google Reader either.

  • My audio versions of my blog posts (via Odiogo) have also ground to a standstill.
In fact, unless the problem miraculously fixes itself by the time I finish writing this post, I'll probably share this post via a native FriendFeed link.

Here's to hoping that this resolves itself by Monday, and that Google acknowledges that the problem occurred.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Recession hits ISU Worlds?

Many expensive seats empty during finals of ladies' competition. Unsold?

Continuing the test of this blog's feed

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Technically, this is not a FeedBurner issue. I checked a blog that uses the old FeedBurner, and its feed appears to be fine.

But is is a FeedProxy issue?

I began nosing around on the Blogger end of things, and found this:

Try entering your feed URL into FeedValidator.org to see if there are any problems with it.

So I entered http://feedproxy.google.com/Empoprise-bi into FeedValidator.org, and was informed that this IS a valid Atom 1.0 feed.

I then ended up here and tried pinging my Empoprise-BI and Empoprise-MU feeds. I was informed that both feeds were successfully pinged...but my newer content still didn't show up.

Testing FeedBurner

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On Friday night I wrote two mobile posts from Joe's Crab Shack in Redondo Beach, California - one that I posted in Empoprise-BI, and one that I posted in Empoprise-MU.

On Saturday morning, a previously scheduled post appeared in Empoprise-MU.

As of early Saturday afternoon, none of these posts have shown up in my FriendFeed and my Google Reader feed, and upon further investigation, I was unable to find the posts in the appropriate feeds from http://feedproxy.google.com/Empoprise-bi or http://feedproxy.google.com/Empoprise-Mu.

Is anyone else having this problem? (Not that they'd necessarily see my question...)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Crabs aren't everything

Joe's Crab Shack, Redondo Beach California.

Now there's an idea - create commercials that people WANT to watch

Much of the television that we view is funded by commercials, but we do our best to avoid them. Think about it - many DVD and DVR remote controls include a feature that allows you to skip 30-second increments of the material that you're watching. When companies spend time designing their products to avoid your stuff, you know that you have a problem.

MediaMemo suggests a solution:

Advertisers and programmers are doing their best to fight back. They’re tinkering with ad formats–notice all those movie ads that feature the film’s title and release date running across the top of the ad, designed to combat fast-forwarders? And they’re integrating the ads directly into the shows themselves–it’s impossible to watch Bravo’s “Top Chef” without understanding that it’s sponsored by Glad and Diet Dr. Pepper, because everyone on the show keeps referring to Glad and Diet Dr. Pepper.

But here’s another, more straightforward approach: Create ads with visuals so arresting, you have to stop fast-forwarding and watch them.

Now that's a concept. There are a few examples in the post.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Talking about fat cats from banks - the Fifth Third Burger

These days it's cool to be green and healthy and lean and mean and all of that stuff, but when something is cool, it's often even cooler to be anti-cool. Especially in the current climate, bankers are derided as "fat cats," but a bank's name is being used to promote a 4,800 calorie hamburger.

I found this story by checking out the Twitter feeds of people who subscribe to my Twitter account. (My Twitter name, by the way, is @empoprises.) I was off Gmail for a couple of days, so it took me a bit to realize that @zentropikCEO was following me. @zentropikCEO is described as follows:

CEO. Professional Philosopher. Online Dating Expert. Social Media Neophyte. Just your basic twitterer. All the usual flaws plus a few you’ve never heard of.

But when I check out someone who's following me on Twitter, I check out their feeds above all else. And here's what I found on this feed:

U.S. ballpark to sell 4,800 calorie burger http://is.gd/p18s

The link went to a Physorg piece:

In an apparent bid to cook up some comfort food during hard economic times, the West Michigan Whitecaps are offering fans a behemoth dubbed the Fifth Third Burger, named after the team's ballpark and the meal's five beef patties, which each weigh one third of a pound (136 grams).

The burger is smothered with chili, salsa, sour cream and a dollop of melted nacho-style cheese -- topped off with Frito chips, lettuce, tomato and five slices of American cheese and laid out in a bun made with a pound (454 grams) of dough.

Buzzfeed sets us straight on the math:

Named after the bank that sponsors the ballpark of the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Fifth Third burger weighs in at 5/3 pounds....

Buzzfeed also points out that the burger costs $20 and feeds "one to four people."

Fifth Third Bank's website doesn't feature the burger on its corporate website, instead showing it slogan:

The things we do for dreams.

Well, this burger is certainly someone's dream...

On business fads


OK, I confess. You're reading a previously-written post that I've scheduled to appear today. Since I can't predict what the big news story will be when this post appears, it's as good a time as any to look at business fads.

This is what Business Horizons said about the topic in 1994:

By now we have learned to recognize the pattern and predict its outcome. The first stirrings begin in the media. Soon, wherever you look, you find reports about the new management trend and how American business will finally be able to fundamentally improve the way things work and ensure continued viability and profitability. Then we discover that everyone is an expert in this new method or technique. Myriads of consultants will tell you they have been promoting and applying it for ages and have achieved stunning results. Inevitably, however, the fad passes out of fashion and, though reports of its demise are often premature and its failure to produce results often exaggerated, the disappointment in the outcome is not.

More here.

For me, my favorite business fad of my lifetime was quality circles. How did those come about?

[M]any American companies and some government agencies were looking for a quick turnaround approach that would replicate the Japanese quality success without altering the structure of American management. Most attractive was the Japanese use of voluntary work groups who met regularly to discuss how to improve the quality of products and work processes--a concept called "quality circles."

While there were a few successes, most of the quality circles on these shores did not end well. Government Executive claims that the American quality circles did not duplicate all aspects of the Japanese experience:

Model Japanese companies had 75 percent or more of their workforce in quality circles--in fact, many workers participated in several quality circles. Top managers relentlessly pushed all of their cost, quality and performance data down to the lowest levels of the organization for rigorous evaluation and action. Every worker and supervisor already had extensive training in quality measurement concepts and trust between management and employees was high. Most Japanese labor unions were company unions that supported different kinds of employees meeting and discussing work process changes.

A British study claimed:

The success of individual circles seems to depend greatly on how well their members work and integrate together, and how well the circle philosophy has been evolved to fit the company's style. A circle will only work as part of a policy of worker involvement and open management and if it is coupled with a specific long-term company-wide commitment to quality.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One business to rule them all

Perhaps some of you realize the significance of March 25. Or perhaps not, so let me tell you:

Tolkien [notes] that the climactic attempt to destroy the ring, and in consequence the Dark Lord who had forged it, occurred on "the twenty-fifth of March."

Yup, this is THE DAY for Lord of the Rings devotees to celebrate a deformed creature falling into the fire. Cool! But I digress.

Starting with a book that was written back in 1937, the Tolkien business empire has grown substantially. A few years after Tolkien's death, Tolkien Enterprises was formed and holds worldwide exclusive licensing rights for elements of the Tolkien books, ranging from character names to "film and legitimate stage rights."

(What about illegitimate stage rights? For example...no, I won't go there.)

Just the film rights alone were worth a pretty penny. I'm not sure how much Tolkien Enterprises earned, but the trilogy of films grossed multiple billions of U.S. dollars.

Pretty good income for a university professor.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The benefits of short podcasts, and how to listen to this blog via audio

While I'm not a complete Luddite, I'd be the first to acknowledge that I'm not bleeding-edge either. While people debate the advantages and disadvantages of short vs. long digital video recordings, I'm looking at the advantages and disadvantages of short vs. long digital AUDIO recordings.

It's only been over the last couple of days that I've been incorporating audio podcast feeds into my Empoprises Google Reader account. For my purposes, I'm looking for short audio podcasts that center on the Empoprises topics of interest (business, Inland Empire, music, NTN Buzztime). If the podcasts are in mp3 format, there are two cases in which I can listen to them:
  • While at a regular desktop/laptop computer. In this case, I open the item in Google Reader, click on the audio link, indicate that Windows Media Player should be used to listen to the audio, then listen away. And, for what it's worth, the item will be scrobbled to my last.fm feed at the same time.

  • While at my first-generation Motorola Q phone. Other than the last.fm scrobbling, this case is similar to the one above. Again, I open the item in Google Reader, click on the audio link, then let Windows Media Player play the mp3 file. While my podcast listening habits are not recorded for the world's benefit, I do have a lot more flexibility in listening to podcasts; I listened to a Wall Street Journal daily podcast this morning (feed at http://feeds.wsjonline.com/wsj/podcast_wall_street_journal_whats_news) while getting ready to go to work, and I could listen to podcasts in the car if I so desired.
I had signed up to a couple of business podcasts when I began looking for Inland Empire podcasts, and I then discovered that the Riverside Press-Enterprise has a complete list of podcast feeds available for free listening. So I listened to one (via http://pe.robocaster.com/rss-pe_com-business.xml), which sounded remarkably like an Odiogo feed...

...and realized that I had some unfinished podcasting business of my own.

You see, the first three Empoprises blogs that I created all have their own Odiogo feeds, in which you can listen to a mechanized voice read the posts for your listening pleasure. However, I had never completed the setup of the Odiogo feed for this blog, Empoprise-BI.

If you are dying to hear Empoprise-BI posts read by a mechanized voice, go here to review your subscription options. Many of you can just use the standard http://podcasts.odiogo.com/empoprisebi/podcasts-xml.php to subscribe, but there are specialized options for iTunes and other subscriptions.

No, McDonalds does NOT address the mass market

For decades, people much smarter than myself have written about the McDonalds system of standardization, and how they get the right thing to the right customer no matter where they are. One of the latest to write about McDonalds is Chris Brogan. Brogan has long been an advocate of personalizing relationships, and he took a brief moment to poke a bit of fun at himself:

There is a very low personalization requirement at McDonalds. When we choose to eat there, we forego the cafe-shaped world and enter into the rapid delivery world, the “known” world. We know what we’ll get when we come there.

For every time I tell you that social media and customized personalization and cafe-shaped conversations are the way to go, remember that McDonalds continues to thrive, and that McDonalds is mass marketing at its shiniest....

Now it's possible to misread Brogan's post and conclude that McDonalds addresses the mass market.

They don't.

They address the mass markets (with a plural).

While one can argue, and many have argued in Brogan's comments area, that McDonalds provides a consistent customer experience, that consistent customer experience is not enjoyed worldwide. If you go to another country, you may enjoy a consistent customer experience for THAT country, which may have some significant differences from the consistent customer experience that I enjoy in a United States McDonalds.

There's a post at trifter.com entitled "Mcdonald’s Strange Menu Around the World" that highlights some of these differences. For example, if you go to India, don't try to get a Big Mac (because of Hindu dietary restrictions on the consumption of beef). But there are a number of localized specialties that you can get in various countries.

And even the U.S. McDonalds experience isn't uniform. The trifter.com post mentioned one item that is available outside the U.S.:

In parts of Canada, have a lobster dinner with the McLobster lobster roll. Pardon me - "McHomard" (in French).

But, as one commenter pointed out,

We have the McLobster Rolls here in Maine too...

Now this was written in July 2007, but the McLobster was apparently also available in May 2008:

And there are other regional favorites in the United States, including Saimin (noodles) in Hawaii and Polish food in Ohio.

So perhaps McDonalds is a little more personalized than we've assumed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ballmer says Apple is just a logo, but what of Microsoft?

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, especially if it rains a lot.

InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely cites some statements that Microsoft's Steve Ballmer made, as quoted in Todd Bishop's Microsoft Blog. The statement was in response to recent sales changes in Apple computers (vs. PCs that run the Microsoft Windows operating system).

"Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction," Ballmer said, via webcast. "The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be."

Forget that the sales of PCs running Windows have been slumping as well, or the 81% Apple owner satisfaction that Cringely cited (vs. 52%-55% for the leading PC makers).

But if you're going to engage in the logo wars, you have to ask - is this logo worth anything?

I may possibly buy a new home computer this year - or perhaps more than one. Of course, when you buy a new computer, you not only have to look at the hardware and the OS, but also have to look at the software that you have to put on the computer. When you are talking multiple computers, it can get expensive.

While there are certain compatibility and feature issues that I will have to address, due to the institutions with which my family works, I have a heavy financial incentive to avoid paying the price of the Microsoft logo. A year ago, ThinkTechno identified 6 free alternatives to Microsoft Office, including both online and offline packages such as OpenOffice.

This does merit some investigation. After all, paying an extra $500 for a piece of software in this environment -- same piece of software -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be, Steve.

But let me turn it over to you. Have you tried the alternatives to Microsoft Office? What are your perceptions?

If we're taking bonuses away, perhaps we shouldn't stop at AIG

As I write this, it appears that a majority of the public is still outraged over the "bonuses" that "executives" at AIG have been receiving, and Congress has been pandering to the public's outrage by crafting legislation that specifically targets the AIG "executives" who have received the "bonuses."

However, Outside the Beltway links to a Scrappleface post that raises the possibility of this outrage expanding.

the Obama administration today expanded its plan to control Wall Street executive pay, adding provisions to limit compensation for star performers in the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB).

“Some of these sports stars, like AIG execs, have negotiated sweetheart deals paying them millions of dollars, and yet they lose games,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “The president shares the outrage of the American people at these obscene salaries and bonuses. There’s nothing that makes the little people feel littler than the thought of these fat cats getting fatter just because that have specialized skills that are in high demand in a free-market economy.”

Indeed, the White House released a recent poll showing that 75 percent of Americans answered ‘Yes’ to the following question: “Do you believe President Obama should personally limit the compensation of anyone who earns a lot more than you do?”

More here.

Now, I personally don't consider this a Democratic commie move - this move against AIG is clearly a bipartisan effort, as Senator Grassley's unfortunate remarks demonstrated. And, even if it was candidate Obama who identified $250,000/year as the dividing line between working people and non-working people, I didn't see a lot of Republicans arguing against the "recoup AIG money" bill.

But you do have to wonder why the dividing line was set at $250,000 a year...rather than, say, $178,000 a year.

You see, members of the House and Senate currently make $179,000 per year. And while I personally believe that $179,000 is not an exorbitant salary for the work they do - in fact, it's probably well below what they should be making - you have to figure that if investment professionals and professional sports stars "make too much money," somebody's going to look at some other people.

Think about it - since AIG is now primarily owned by the Federal government, who is the true board of directors of AIG? That's right, the U.S. Congress.

And since major league baseball has enjoyed a special antitrust exemption for nearly a century, who is ultimately responsible for the economic well being of this monopoly? That's right, the U.S. Congress.

And what about all of the other problems that we're facing, including general economic hard times, warfare, and so forth? While the executive branch certainly shares partial blame, Congress also shares partial blame.

So if AIG makes big "bonus" payments to "executives," and baseball players ingest illegal substances, and if the economy is going to hell, and if our people are getting killed all over the world, shouldn't those at the top be punished?

Yet Congress has not gone through furloughs or pay cuts. Quite the opposite, as this January 2009 story notes:

Despite the lousy economy, high unemployment and plummeting housing prices, U.S. congressional members get a $4,700 pay raise....

So if it's perfectly OK to take money from AIG "executives," why isn't it OK to take money from the members of Congress?

I guess that would be too irresponsible.

Biometric boarding

This press release came out some time ago, but it indicates where we may be going.

Monday 9 March 2009

Air France tests smartboarding®, the automated boarding process on departure from Paris to Amsterdam

Starting on Tuesday, 17 March and up to the end of 2009, Air France will be asking those Flying Blue customers who travel most frequently from Paris to Amsterdam to test the new automated boarding system, smartboarding®.

This new system is a world first. With a personal card which contains the latest biometric technology (encrypted fingerprints), RFID (radio frequency identification) and thermal printing (the back of the card can be reused up to 500 times), these passengers will be able to board through a dedicated portal whenever they choose.

Developed together with Citizengate, the smartboarding® service has 4 stages:

1. In a special office at the airport (Paris-Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2F), customers can obtain their personal smartboarding® card in just a few minutes which is immediately operational. During registration, all the customer’s identity information (surname, first name, Flying Blue membership number), as well as their encrypted fingerprints is transmitted to the smart card. This registration stage is only carried out once and no files are kept by
Air France.

2. On the day of departure, after having checked in by whichever means they have chosen (self-service kiosks, Internet, mobile phone, check-in counter), customers insert their card into the smartboarding® kiosk which comes out with their boarding pass printed on the back.

3. As soon as boarding starts, passengers choose the precise time they wish to board through a dedicated portal situated near the jetway. This equipment checks that the passenger is alone and then reads the information on the smartboarding® card and compares it with the passenger’s fingerprints. If these tests, which are the equivalent of the usual checks carried out to match a boarding card (paper or mobile phone) to a passport are positive, the gate opens to allow the passenger to board the aircraft.

4. At the door of the aircraft, passengers show the back of their card to the crew, in the same way as a normal boarding pass.

“For the last few years, Air France has embarked on a process of trial and innovation to contribute to designing the air transport of the future. Everything that can make air travel simpler and easier for our customers has become the focus. With this world first, Air France is taking a further step towards building the airport of tomorrow" explained Patrick Roux, Vice President Marketing Air France KLM.

One potential challenge probably won't show up on Paris-Amsterdam flights, but could show up in the future when people change planes at hubs - could airport/airplane humidity adversely affect the ability of the equipment to capture the fingerprints?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Information Age Prayer, or indulging Michael Arrington's titling

So anyways, apparently Michael Arrington was sitting in his brand spanking new TechCrunch offices one day, consumed with a problem that he had to solve. "If I want John Bredehoft to read my post about Information Age Prayer," he thought to himself, "how do I get him to read it?"

Well, Arrington must have figured it out, because I did read Too Busy To Pray? Don’t Worry - Indulgences Are Back!.

OK, I'll grant that this isn't exactly a Johann Tetzel situation, and the money isn't going to the Pope, but Information Age Prayer does offer a service in which you can pay to have a computer utter a synthesized-speech prayer for you.

Or, as they put it:

Information Age Prayer is a subscription service utilizing a computer with text-to-speech capability to incant your prayers each day. It gives you the satisfaction of knowing that your prayers will always be said even if you wake up late, or forget.

We use state of the art text to speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying. Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen.

At Information Age Prayer we think our service should be used like a prayer supplement, to extend and strengthen a subscriber's connection with God. Traditional prayer is an integral part of this connection and should never be forgone, even after signing up.

You can subscribe for yourself, or you can purchase a subscription as a gift to friends or family.

But this isn't something that Tetzel would have liked. As Arrington noted, Information Age Prayer has one...um...improvement over older prayer chains:

Choose a Religion from the left menu.

Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim prayers are offered at present. However, "other religions are not yet supported."

Now as part of my new focused blogging, I'll ignore the religious aspects of Information Age Prayer (at least here) and concentrate on the business aspects.

Prices are determined by the length of the prayer, although discounts are available. For example, as I type this a daily recitation of the Lord's Prayer is available for $3.95/month. Apparently the Hail Mary prayer is not currently discounted, but is available for $19.95/month assuming 10 recitations/day; "[h]ere is where the Information Age Prayer service really shines allowing you to purchase more than you would ever be able to say on your own."

And Information Age Prayer offers packages. The Complete Rosary ("show God you are serious") is available for $49.95/month, and there is a Jewish package available for $25.95/month. For Muslims, the First Daily Prayer is available for $3.95/month ("You may not fulfill your daily obligation to pray through this service, nevertheless, praising God is always encouraged and it certainly doesn't hurt to have this holy prayer voiced!").

Now it's quite possible that a service such as this may face some barriers of acceptance in the market. One of the ways that they try to mitigate this problem is via charitable contributions.

At Information Age Prayer we think our service should be used like a prayer supplement, to extend and strengthen a subscriber's connection with God. Houses of prayer are an integral part of this connection and so we donate 10% of revenue from subscriptions to verified 501(c)(3) charities.

And it turns out that Michael Arrington isn't the only person talking about the service. I found another blog post from someone called...the Friendly Atheist. Hmm, wonder what he thinks about the service?

Obviously, whether real or not, this is just designed to take advantage of (or expose) people who think prayer has some real effect on their lives. I’d love to know who’s behind it...

Um, TFA, all ones needs is a whois search, in which you put your hands on the keyboard and information miraculously app- oh, I forgot. OK, so I did a whois search at networksolutions.com and found:

registrant-firstname: Oneandone
registrant-lastname: Private Registration
registrant-organization: 1&1 Internet, Inc. - http://1and1.com/contact
registrant-street1: 701 Lee Road, Suite 300
registrant-street2: ATTN: informationageprayer.com
registrant-pcode: 19087
registrant-state: PA
registrant-city: Chesterbrook
registrant-ccode: US
registrant-phone: +1.8772064254
registrant-email: proxy1729322@1and1-private-registration.com

Apparently someone's hiding under a bushel.

Why do you think they call it data mining? Even the small networks can participate

I wish I could remember where I read the statement that the best advertising doesn't seem like advertising at all. If I see an advertisement that meets my immediate needs - say, a restaurant advertisement when I am hungry for that particular type of food - it's not advertising, but information.

On Saturday, Robert Scoble wrote a post in which he stated that Facebook's redesign steps will make it easier for Facebook to respond to the needs of its users. As part of that, he listed some things that Facebook, with its level of engagement and huge user base, could do:

Yes, we’re having another baby. But look at what did NOT happen on Twitter: not a single diaper company contacted us yet. Not a single maternity clothing company. Not a single car company (yes, we’re going to buy a new one soon). Not a single camera company (already bought a new one for this occassion). Not a single insurance company (I need more). Not a single bank (I need to start saving for another college student). Not a single stroller company (need a new one that can hold two). Not a single vitamin company (Maryam is going through her prenatal vitamins at a good clip). Not a single shoe company (Maryam needs new shoes for pregnancy, and Milan is growing fast too).

That will NOT last.

Imagine we’re on Facebook in a year. Now all of a sudden I can search for all these things and see which items and companies have gotten the most “likes.” Now do you get why Facebook is copying friendfeed?

However, Scoble's example assumes that he will have to go out to get the information he wants.

What if the information comes to him?

And you don't need a user base the size of Facebook to take advantage of the information out there.

Let me give you an example. I happen to have my laptop set up this weekend, and because of this I've been streaming songs via last.fm like there's no tomorrow. Streaming them...and liking them.

Hmm...if I were the record company, or some other entity, connected to either Sleepthief or Lunascape, wouldn't this be a good time to connect this FriendFeed user and suggest an album or two that the FriendFeed user may want to purchase?

Now, obviously Amazon has been doing this for some time using purchase data, wish lists, and the like. But there's no reason why other people can't get in on the act.

In one respect, the fact that record companies aren't beating down my door is understandable. Because of my change in blogging emphasis from blogging as "Ontario Emperor" to blogging under my own name, those last.fm shares ended up in my empoprises FriendFeed account - an account with a friend base that is an order of magnitude smaller than the ontarioemperor FriendFeed account that used to be my primary hangout.

However, even today FriendFeed has the tools so that someone could search the entire FriendFeed collection of data, look for mentions of Lunascape or Sleepthief, and attach comments such as "That's from the [x] album, which is available here...."

Now this could result in me blocking the commenter, or it may not. It depends upon what I opt into in my FriendFeed settings.

So you don't have to have Facebook-like numbers to engage in needs-based advertising. Heck, you don't have to have FriendFeed-like numbers. Although I'm not sure what information advertisers would glean out of Scrine posts...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It only takes a minute, girl...

As some of you may know, the router at my home failed earlier in the week. I received a replacement router, and had to return the old router. I was provided with a handy-dandy pre-paid label to ship the old router back via UPS.

My initial preference was to go to one of The UPS Store outlets in my area, but I was hitching a ride with someone else who knew of another place that handled UPS shipments. He had been to this other place in the past, and had previously received good and friendly service from them.

When we arrived, we noticed that the UPS logo on the front of the place seemed to be faded, and possibly scratched out. But we figured that we'd double check anyway.

So we walked in, and were the only people in the store except for the person behind the counter.

Who was on the phone. Talking, talking, talking, not even acknowledging our presence.

After a minute I walked out. And guess where we went?

Yes, there is a UPS Store within a block of the place that didn't have time to help us.

Now the next time that I need some type of office service, do you think that I'm going to make the extra effort to visit the other place and see if it was just a bad day, or do you think I'll just go to my local UPS Store, where I've always received good help in the past?

I can't speak for the other person who was with me, but there's a good chance that the store in question just lost two customers.

And it took less than a minute.

You can buy anything online (National Business Furniture)

Another printed catalog in the mail, talking about a furniture store with both brick-and-mortar locations, and online ordering capability.

National Business Furniture has showrooms in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee, and also allows you to order furniture online.

And if you're a Luddite like me, you can request a free catalog.

Friday, March 20, 2009

When governments and businesses condemn legal activities

On Thursday, I wrote a post entitled AIG again - taxation without representation, the other way around. I've been having a discussion with whatleyj via Disqus on the role of Congress vs. the role of the people. And whatleyj had an interesting observation:

is it not congress' job to uphold the Constitution not manipulate it....When congress starts to target law abiding citizens, they are criminal

And it's not just AIG retention bonuses that cause this reaction. There are many legal things that we can do that not only raise the ire of government, but of others.

For example, people have been known to complain about Apple's ironclad policy of restricting approval of iPhone applications that can be sold in the App Store. But there was one glaring exception, when people complained about an application that Apple DID (temporarily) approve:

My old colleague Harry McCracken brings to light an application called "I Am Rich," that will make you wonder whether developer Armin Heinrich is referring to you or himself -- after he suckers enough tool bags into purchasing this useless piece of software. The app does nothing but display a red ruby; tapping a miniature i in the corner will load a secret mantra enabling you to "stay rich, healthy, and successful."

It will indubitably make you question Apple's criteria for approving applications before they appear in the App Store.

Then there are smokers. (I'm talking about tobacco smokers here.) There are valid debates regarding the use of public funds to support health issues for smokers, but beyond that there is a feeling that smokers are stinky, slimy scum. Or worse:

Somehow I suspect that a letter e-mailed [in January 2009] to all legislators by Dr. Dan Hawkins—the governor’s newest appointee to the Arkansas Tobacco Prevention & Cessation Advisory Committee—was not thoroughly vetted by Beebe’s PR staff. Here’s a taste...:

"Seventy percent of cigarettes are smoked by mentally ill people. This is documented in the 2004 Archives of General Psychiatry. I hope to share more on this twist upon another occasion. But, for now, just let me say that 30 percent of smokers have an Axis II Personality Disorder, i.e., they not only have one or more serious psychiatric illness(es), but, may also be bad people."

My question - is there a difference between a business such as Apple restricting what you can or cannot do with legal items, or a government official such as Barney Frank or Dr. Dan Hawkins restricting what you can or cannot do with legal items?

A linguistic approach to business

Today's AIG post. If you get tired of this, visit my music blog; I'm not talking about AIG there...yet.

In Outside the Beltway (a blog that I like for its title alone), Steve Verdon asked a question (among others):

[Let's] write two numbers down for a minute,


Now the second number is 1000x larger than the first as a reasonable approximation. But people seem to be completely unaware of the second number even though the first number is totally dependent on the second number. That may sound a bit cryptic, so let me put it another way. Because the Federal Government has given AIG $170,000,000,000 AIG can now hand out 0.1% of that money, $165,000,000, in retention bonuses.

My question is, if the number that is 1000x times smaller than the actual bailout of AIG is causing all this fuss why aren’t people in the streets in huge numbers demonstrating against the $170,000,000,000 bailout.

There are a number of good responses to Verdon in the comments, but as I was reading them, it hit me that one aspect was not being discussed.

The linguistic aspect.

Or, as I put it in my own comment:

I wonder if there's a linguistic explanation here?

In the English language (and in some other languages), the words "million," "billion," and "trillion" all have a similar sound to them.

Therefore, to the ear of a person, multi-million dollar retention payments, multi-billion dollar bailouts, and multi-trillion dollar national debt all sound about the same.

I seriously suspect that if we had different sounding words for "million" and "billion," some (not all) of the retention payment outrage would be muted.

And I'm not the only person who rhymes away:

Who cares? US markets skyrocket on news GWB will fork out whatever it takes to help auto industry. News of Ponzi Scheme lost in the KrazyCar Bullrush! Ponzi cost Billions? Trillions? Who gives a stuff! ;)

Oh, and just to confuse things, I should explicitly note that I am using 'billion" and "trillion" in the American sense. When you get into numbering systems in which a thousand million is less than a billion, then the rhyming problem gets really nasty.

The Internet and conflicting national laws - Stephen Conroy meets Abbie Hoffman?

This is really more of a political story than a business story - and you can thank your lucky stars that I don't write an Empoprises politics blog - but this obviously has business implications, so I wanted to discuss it here in Empoprise-BI.

You've probably heard of Duncan Riley and his news website the Inquisitr. While Riley is an Australian citizen, the Inquisitr's servers are located outside Australia. Despite this, Riley obviously needs to keep track of Australian law, and thus has devoted much time to discussing the policies of Australian Senator Stephen Conroy, who under the Australian governmental system (similar to that in the United Kingdom) also holds an executive position as Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. In this position, Conroy has been active in crafting ways to protect Australians from the dangers of the Internet.

On March 18, Duncan Riley wrote about the revelation of Conroy's list of blacklisted web sites.

The blacklist of web sites banned by the Australian Government has been leaked to pubic disclosure site Wikileaks.

The list details all sites “refused classification” in Australia that would be illegal to view in Australia, or as was discovered last week, even linked to. The list, which does include child pornography sites, is remarkable for the additional material it also bans. Included on the list are Poker sites, including sites where poker is played and even a Poker news sites, religious sites, YouTube videos, normal porn sites and as Asher Moses at The Age points out, even the site of a Queensland dentist.

So did Riley link to the Wikileaks list? For reasons I noted above, he didn't:

I can’t link to the list because it’s likely that the list itself will end up on the list (and it’s a AU$11,000/ day fine)...

I am not Australian, so have at it. (And no, I won't make a Disqus comment on the Inquisitr and link to this post.)

At this point some people would laugh at Riley's paranoia. Would the Australian government truly clamp down on people just for posting a list of banned web sites?

Umm... after saying that the Wikileaks list was not authentic, Conroy threatened Wikileaks for publishing it anyway:

Conroy...took the chance to slam the unknown party which leaked the list of URLs, saying they could be the target of criminal prosecution.

"ACMA is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution," Conroy said.

"The leak and publication of prohibited URLs is grossly irresponsible. It undermines efforts to improve cyber-safety and create a safe online environment for children."

Conroy said that no one who was interested in cyber-safety would condone the leaking of the addresses which included URLs relating to child sexual abuse, rape, incest, bestiality, sexual violence and detailed instruction in crime.

If "instruction in crime" is a criterion for banning the publication of a URL, then perhaps Australians should think twice before buying this book, or even publishing this link:


Well, look at what Wikileaks wrote:

WIKILEAKS PRESS RELEASE (for immediate release)
Thu Mar 19 23:07:20 EDT 2009

"Wikileaks to Conroy: Go after our source and we will go after you."

The Stockholm based publisher of Wikileaks today issued a warning to the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Steven Conroy, who is responsible for Australian internet censorship.

Senator Conroy issued an official media release yesterday in response to Wikileaks' release of last year's confidential Australian internet censorship blacklist. The Senator said that his department, "is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution."

The Senator is perhaps unware of the legal and diplomatic risks associated with the statement.

Sunshine Press Legal Adviser Jay Lim stated:

"Under the Swedish Constitution's Press Freedom Act, the right of a confidential press source to anonymity is protected, and criminal penalties apply to anyone acting to breach that right.

Wikileaks source documents are received in Sweden and published from Sweden so as to derive maximum benefit from this legal protection. Should the Senator or anyone else attempt to discover our source we will refer the matter to the Constitutional Police for prosecution, and, if necessary, ask that the Senator and anyone else involved be extradited to face justice for breaching fundamental rights."

Senator Conroy may wish to consider the position of the South African Competition Commission, which decided to cancel its own high profile leak investigation in January after being advised of the legal ramifications of interfering with Sunshine Press sources.

So now you have a possible conflict of Australian and Swedish law. This obviously isn't the only conflict between the laws of two nations, but it's an illustrative one.

Dead technologies

From the perspective of today, we can look back at dead technologies and shake our heads. While brainz doesn't exactly shake its head at 12 dead technologies (such as dial up Internet and BetaMax), perhaps it would be good to explore the benefits of these dead technologies a little more closely.

For dial up Internet, brainz does exactly that:

Most people remember what it was like to access the internet back in the early 1990s: you were required to dial up, hope that a connection would be established, and then log onto a network that moved at a snail’s pace. In short, it was slow computers and even slower connections. But, it was impressive at the time nonetheless.

Also one needs to remember that when I was dialing up to Deep Thought or the Grotto in the early 1990s, I had no expectation of being able to watch full-screen video. The speed at the time was good enough for the text-based services that were around, and users truly derived benefit from them.

When brainz discussed BetaMax, it confined itself to business issues, such as BetaMax's paltry 30% market share. The technological advantages of the BetaMax format were not addressed.

Then again, to put it bluntly, the technical advantages of BetaMax were irrelevant. Take Laserdiscs - when, as brainz notes, "the average Laserdisc player cost about 5x the price of a VCR," you're not going to penetrate the market. Perhaps you can get a niche market - something that Apple has done very well - but if people eventually stop providing content for your system, you're up the creek.

Anyway, there are 12 technologies covered in the brainz post. Read it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AIG again - taxation without representation, the other way around

Yes, another AIG post, following up on the update to my post from earlier today.

Roberto Bonini has shared a James Joyner piece from Outside the Beltway. It discusses various legal issues, but then makes this statement:

With respect to the AIG bonuses...a much more pragmatic issue exists: Most of those receiving said bonuses are citizens of the UK who live and work in the UK. How the United States Congress proposes to tax them is anyone’s guess.

As you know, in the 1760s and 1770s Americans complained to the British about "taxation without representation." It appears that in 2009, it will be the British who will be complaining about American taxation.

Really big mosquitoes? No, this is a WAR laser

Another day, another cool story from HS Daily Wire.

You'll recall Tuesday's post about the mosquito-killing laser, and Wednesday's post about the Terrafugia Transition flying car. (Regarding the latter, JR Raphael has posted videos at the Inquisitr.)

On Thursday, HS Daily Wire returned to the laser theme, but with a bigger enemy this time:

In recent test-blasts, Pentagon-researchers at Northrop Grumman managed to push their laser to 105 kilowatts of power -- past the "100kW threshold [that] has been viewed traditionally as a proof of principle for 'weapons grade' power levels for high-energy lasers," Northrop's vice president of directed energy systems, Dan Wildt, said in a statement. Noah Shachtman writes that this is not kind of power that will get you a Star Wars-style blaster, but it should be more than enough to beam -- and destroy -- the mortars and rockets with which insurgents have bombarded American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More here, including additional information on laser weapons.

Liddy's lesson - when Uncle Sam comes into your company, you should get out

Yes, this is a follow-up. I wrote about AIG on Tuesday and Wednesday, so why should Thursday be any different?

But before I continue, a personal note. When I was writing about retention plans previously, I had forgotten that I was once a beneficiary of a retention plan myself. Perhaps some of my readers may not believe this, but in a previous portion of my corporate life I was once judged to be a key employee. As a result, I was offered, and signed, a contract stating that I would receive additional compensation if I remained with the company for a defined period. Now I'll be the first to admit that it wasn't a million dollar deal, but it was something that would have made me think twice if a competitor had tried to lure me.

Back to AIG. I haven't read or heard all of the details of the House subcommittee hearing yesterday in which AIG head Edward Liddy testified, but I have heard little bits and pieces of both the hearing and the hoopla surrounding the hearing.

First, as I've noted previously, the former management at AIG made a decision that it needed to ensure that certain key employees were given incentives to remain with the firm, and therefore entered into contractual agreements with these employees.

Second, both before and during the hearings Barney Frank was doing his best to imitate Joseph McCarthy, demanding that Liddy reveal the names of all of the people who received the bonuses, and following up his demand with the "we have ways of making you talk" threat of a subpoena. This morning, Bill Handel of KFI played the audio of Liddy's response, in which we basically read two of the many death threats against AIG employees and their families, and then stated that he would only release those names to the subcommittee if the names would be kept completely confidential.

Third, various Congresspeople continue to find any way possible to negate the contractual agreement between AIG and its employees. The latest effort comes from Representative Charles Rangel, who has introduced a bill to tax certain compensation (in other words, the AIG retention payments) up the hilt to ensure that the employees get little, if anything. As Mike Dunford notes, Rangel is going against his own previous statements on the matter. Previously, Rangel had said that the tax code is not "a political weapon." Apparently he changed his mind due to public uproar.

So, what have we learned here?

Let's say that you're an employee of a firm in trouble, and the government steps in to try and help. Now one would think that when new ownership steps in, they'd want to make efforts to keep as many of the existing employees around as possible, in order to benefit from the employees' expertise - expertise that the new owners don't have. (How many financial investments have Barney Frank and Charles Grassley designed? And don't count Social Security - it's going broke.)

Yes, you'd think that the new owners would want to retain the existing expertise, but the government doesn't work that way.

A Congressperson's prime goal in life is not to make AIG financially viable. A Congressperon's goal in life is to get re-elected. And if the only way to get re-elected is to screw the employees of the firm you are managing, then so be it.

So what would you do if you were an AIG employee? I like the way that Anthony Citrano phrased the question on Tuesday:

“If you were a middle-aged M&A person at AIG, your retirement savings hammered, two kids in school, and the big life-changing bonus that was promised to you is finally going to be paid out, would you refuse it in light of all the teeth-gnashing of the last 48 hours?”

This sparked a discussion about the moral issues involved, but based upon the events of the last 72 hours, here's what I'd do if I were an AIG employee.
  • First, I would keep that bonus, primarily because if I were to voluntarily give it up, Charles Rangel would probably try to tax me anyway, or put me through so much red tape that I'd probably be begging Charles Grassley for a sharp implement.

  • Second, I would take immediate steps with anyone who has my address and employment history (credit card companies, school districts, what have you) to ensure that all steps are taken to keep confidential information confidential.

  • Third, I would find new employment as soon as possible, and get as far away from AIG as I can. AIG is probably in a situation where the best and brightest have already bailed anyway, and when I have clowns like Frank, Rangel, and Grassley looking out for me, I'd be better off as a greeter at Wal Mart.
Just wait - a few months from now, some piece of small print will be issued by someone in Congress as quietly as possible, and it will say something like this:

At this point, one of the chief barriers to the recovery of AIG is the lack of accumulated financial expertise at the company. Because of the departures of key employees over the last few months, and the prospect of losing other key employees in the future, AIG's continued viability is not assured.

Should someone catch this piece of fine print, then the Franks, Grassleys, and Rangels of the world will then begin to harrass Edward Liddy, asking him why he didn't do anything to retain key employees.

Unless Liddy himself has departed too, to return to enjoying his well-deserved retirement. Heck, if I had been before that committee, I would have resigned from AIG then and there.

P.S. Harry S Truman is most famous for the plaque on his desk that read "The Buck Stops Here." With all of the outcry over the lavish bonuses paid to AIG "executives," shouldn't the people who are really running the show - namely, the U.S. Congress - do the right thing and take pay cuts becasuse of AIG's continuing poor performance? What do you think, Senator Grassley?


About BlueArc

There are certain company names that you hear about, and you end up wondering what the company does. I had heard of the name BlueArc because of one of its employees, but I had never tried to figure out what BlueArc actually does. What are they all about?, I asked myself.

BlueArc is a leading provider of high performance unified network storage systems to enterprise markets, as well as data intensive markets, such as electronic discovery, entertainment, federal government, higher education, Internet services, oil and gas and life sciences. Our products support both network attached storage, or NAS, and storage area network, or SAN, services on a converged network storage platform.

We enable companies to expand the ways they explore, discover, research, create, process and innovate in data-intensive environments. Our products replace complex and performance-limited products with high performance, scalable and easy to use systems capable of handling the most data intensive applications and environments. Further, we believe that our energy efficient design and our products' ability to consolidate legacy storage infrastructures, dramatically increases storage utilization rates and reduces our customers' total cost of ownership.

According to BusinessWeek, the company has approximately 168 employees and is privately held. And according to a June 2008 press release, the firm holds a performance record for "single-node system performance using a single namespace." According to Hoovers, BlueArc's main competitors include EMC, Hewlett Packard, and NetApp.

And perhaps it's no surprise that BlueArc has a strong social media presence, with FriendFeed and Twitter accounts, among others.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Will startups cry over the way WorldWide Telescope was implemented?

Earlier today, Sarah Perez shared (via FriendFeed) her post entitled "WorldWide Telescope is Now a Web App." And in FriendFeed, the first person to like the post was Robert Scoble, which was understandable if you remember his two posts in February 2008 on the application. The title of the first post caught a lot of attention: "Microsoft researchers make me cry." The attention was, of course, Scoble's intent, since he felt that WorldWide Telescope was a significant undertaking.

Around that same time, I expressed a different view:

Remember how I said in my earlier post [about the Disneyland Resort] that it was hard for me to recommend particular Disneyland/California Adventure attractions because different people are interested in different things? I think that's part of what's going on here. While I'm sure that telescope views on your PC are cool, I am personally more interested in the joys of Google Earth - being able to see places that I have visited, as well as places where I want to visit. If I have a choice between looking at Espoo, Schmelz, and Rombach vs. looking at stars, I'm gonna look at the earth-bound cities.

As a result, I never got around to trying Microsoft WorldWide Telescope until today, when I learned about the web application. I recorded my initial thoughts in FriendFeed:

I'll admit that it looks nice, and once I figure out how to navigate I'll like it more....

And, in my homebody style, I checked out nearby places - Venus, Mars, the moon, and Earth. (If I were Gene "Bean" Baxter, I'm sure I would have gone to Pluto, but I'm not Bean.)

But in the process of looking at WorldWide Telescope, I re-examined Scoble's first post - the one in which he said he was really impressed by something, but he was under non-disclosure and couldn't yet reveal what had impressed him. Toward the end of the post, Scoble shared some observations on business (note that when he discusses the possible Yahoo acquisition, Scoble was writing in February 2008):

Imagine if Microsoft did 10 things a year like what Curtis and Jonathan showed me yesterday? If the innovation engine at Microsoft were working that well there wouldn’t be any pressure to buy Yahoo. Heck, and if there were a constant stream of stuff like what I saw yesterday Yahoo wouldn’t be resisting going to Microsoft. They’d +want+ to go to Microsoft. Yesterday is the first time since leaving that I wish I were back working at Microsoft....

Note that it wasn’t a team of 100 people who did it. Two guys with a supporting cast of maybe a dozen. I’ve noticed a trend at Microsoft: that the coolest stuff is done by small teams without a ton of resources.

Then it gets interesting:

Could they have done this at a Silicon Valley startup? I doubt it. Venture Capitalists won’t see enough business value in what they are doing. Plus they would need to build a team around them, work out a business plan. Invest their own capital and time building a prototype so that people “get it.” If I told you today what they were doing, without showing you the video we’ll have up on March 3, you’d tell me “that’s lame Scoble.” But when you see it face-to-face everyone I know who’s seen it say they’ve had an emotional reaction to it.

Personally, Scoble may have been slightly off-base here. Even in February 2008, there was much discussion of a particular Silicon Valley startup that had no business plan and (some would argue) had no business value. And THAT startup (rhymes with "Flitter") has continued to get funding.

But Scoble is right inasmuch as large corporations and institutions are more capable of supporting these types of research projects with no immediate payoff down the road. Several months after WorldWide Telescope, Microsoft itself introduced SongSmith - although, as I've already noted, Microsoft launched it poorly.

And a Microsoft researcher has one other advantage, as Scoble noted:

It’s a lot easier to get access when you say “I’m a researcher at Microsoft” than when you say “I’m building a startup.”

You can bet it's a lot easier to get access. And even a former association with a big company helps. Remember how I said that one of the people at Likaholix got my attention by noting that she was an ex-Google employee. You can bet that people from Xerox PARC, or formerly from Xerox PARC, could get many doors opened for them in the 1980s, and that there are other companies that have this power.

But let's return to Microsoft WorldWide Telescope, over a year after its introduction. Has it changed the BUSINESS landscape? Well, consider that for me to use the web version of WorldWide Telescope, I had to install Silverlight (which I had not installed previously). And, in a press release just issued today, Microsoft positioned Silverlight as core to its business strategy.

Today at MIX09, Microsoft Corp. announced a set of platform investments to help companies more efficiently and affordably engage with their customers through a rich, interactive presence on the Web. This includes the release of Microsoft Silverlight 3 Beta....In addition, building on the success of Silverlight during the Beijing Games, NBC Universal has again chosen Silverlight to deliver the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games on its official Web site, NBCOlympics.com....

Organizations that create more intuitive, more engaging experiences on the Web are able to reduce costs and increase sales. Their visitors find the information they want faster, their customers make fewer calls to support help desks, and the number of impulse purchases made by customers generated grows dramatically. The integrated and interoperable offerings from Microsoft, composed of software and services for desktop, datacenters and the cloud, help organizations deliver richer, more compelling experiences that they require both in and out of the browser, and give them enhanced "return on experience" that the current economic climate demands.

So ignore all of the tech features of Silverlight for the moment (as I've noted, I'm not a tech blogger). Microsoft has done this pie-in-the-sky (literally) research project, gotten people interested in it - and, as part of the deal, installed something on my computer that can contribute to the bottom line of Microsoft and other businesses as well. (And if NBC's online Olympic coverage is sans Bob Costas, they've hooked a viewer in me.)

Sometimes companies and institutions just do stuff, not knowing how it will turn out. Sometimes there's no material gain, and sometimes the world changes. Let's face it - if a few defense researchers didn't try to exchange data in the 1960s, I wouldn't be typing this today.

P.S. And now you can figure out why I posted this song again (yeah, I did it before, but from a separate source that ALLOWS EMBEDDING argh). One good cry deserves another.