Sunday, May 31, 2009

Empoprise-BI News - 31 May 2009

Empoprise-BI News

The news letter for Empoprise-BI - An Empoprises vertical information service for business news.

Welcome to Empoprise-BI News

OK, we're going to do this another time. As mentioned previously, you can read this newsletter on the blog, or read it via an RSS feed, or subscribe via email. To subscribe via RSS or email, go to and choose the appropriate item in the upper left corner.

Special Features

Did you know that this blog has its own FriendFeed group? I should note (and already have) that some FriendFeed groups are designed around starting conversations. The Empoprise-BI FriendFeed group is a different beast altogether. I often source my posts from items that I find in my Google Reader feeds. I've selected a few of those feeds and placed them in the room also, so that even if I decide to run away to Tahiti for a month and renounce all technology, you can still find a source of business news. I'll throw other items in there at times, and of course the Empoprise-BI blog is one of the items that feeds into the group. Pay a visit to if you're so inclined.

Behind the Scenes

As long as I'm talking about groups, I might as well mention This is kind of my catchall FriendFeed group to talk about five of my FriendFeed groups - four relating to the four Empoprises blogs, and my Natural User Interface group. As for how I was able to put such a long group description (with links) into this group, I'll confess that I got a tip via this question that I asked in the FriendFeed for Beginners group (which had a long description; I wanted to figure out how Kol Tregaskes did that).


All I can say at this point it that here's a piece entitled "Arguing over semantics as technology changes." And another piece that compares stockholder elections with regular elections. But obviously more stuff will appear over the week.

As always, you can address questions to me via the usual avenues, including the "empoprises" mail accoung that Gmail hosts for me.

-Your pal, John Bredehoft, Empoprises

Crikey - communicating to prevent the impression of single points of business failure (Alex is in Maui, Steve is at home)

don't speak by Aart van Bezooyen (materialboy) used under a Creative Commons License

One truism about small businesses is that they' If something happens to one person in a small business, it can potentially have an inordinately huge effect on the business. Even if someone else can cover the tasks performed by that person, there's always the danger of an impression that things AREN'T being covered.

A prime example has come up with weekend. On Saturday morning, Alex Payne tweeted the following:

En route to Maui. Feels so good to be travelling without a laptop.

Now there are probably millions of people who travel to Maui without a laptop. In fact, I know someone who took a combined business/vacation trip to Hawaii last week, and when the business was over and the vacation began, the spouse confiscated the person's smartphone. (Smart spouse.)

But that person, while critical to that person's employer, is not Alex Payne. And Alex Payne is perceived, for better or worse, as the technical person who makes Twitter run. So, when Twitter encountered a problem this weekend and was not correctly reporting sources of tweets from third-party services (see Louis Gray's post), this prompted Jesse Stay to make the following comment in this FriendFeed thread:

And Alex is in Maui without a laptop - that's why there's no response from Twitter - they probably don't know about it.

Now perhaps Jesse is right, or perhaps he's wrong, but the fact that Twitter has not communicated anything about this issue can lead to all sorts of speculation.

Of course, this issue is not limited to small companies. The same problem can occur when a prominent person at a publicly traded company is unavailable for some reason. For proof, just follow all of the comments in the last year-plus regarding Apple and a certain individual named Steve Jobs.

While there are valid arguments AGAINST communicating prematurely when you don't have the facts, there are also strong arguments for at least saying something, rather than allowing speculation to run rampant.

Which is why I'm now following the @lastfm account on Twitter, which posted this tweet roughly an hour ago:

Crikey, one of our data centers has overheated! We're fixing it as fast as we can, but the site will be down for a bit.

According to Twitter, this was submitted from the web. And perhaps Twitter may be right in this case. Or not. Crikey.

Operation False Charity

The Federal Trade Commission, in cooperation of a number of attorneys general in various states, is conducting an exercise called "Operation False Charity" to shut down charities that aren't all that charitable. I'll be discussing one such charity in a post in my Empoprise-IE blog on Monday (it's a local charity based in the Inland Empire, and our state Attorney General, Jerry Brown, is going after the charity and several others).

However, this problem isn't just limited to California's Inland Empire, and the Federal Trade Commission has a web page called "Avoid Charity Fraud". Here are some excerpts from the page:

Many legitimate charities use telemarketing, direct mail, email and online ads to ask for contributions. Unfortunately, scam artists also use these techniques to pocket your money. If someone asks for a donation, take your time and familiarize yourself with the charity....

Simply having the words police, firefighter or veteran in an organization’s name doesn’t mean that these groups will benefit from the money raised. If you want to give to one of these causes, use a charity that has a good track record. Charities that pop up overnight can disappear just as quickly.

Read the rest here. And, as the whole Madoff case notes, scam artists will also try to use religion to extract money for fraudulent purposes. If someone claims to share your religious belief, you still need to check out the charity.

Oh, and if you want a sneak peek to know who I'll be writing about tomorrow, check this Daily Bulletin article by Joe Nelson that documents some of Jerry Brown's actions on Friday. Nelson also discusses Operation False Charity:

The lawsuits are intended to permanently stop the charities' "deceptive practices and require the repayment of all funds raised under false pretenses," according to a news release by Brown's office.

It is part of a nationwide sweep called "Operation False Charity" which also involves the Federal Trade Commission and 48 other states.

Friday, May 29, 2009

On the benefits of being socially slow

Kansas City BBQ in San Diego? by Marc Smith used under a Creative Commons License

I'll grant that when you have a Web 2.0 presence, you are surrounded by people a Web 2.0 presence. It sounds obvious, but this obviously influences your perspective. As I noted previously in my contrarian post on FriendFeed, the number of users on FriendFeed is dwarfed by the number of users on Facebook. And the number of users on Facebook is less than the number of users on AOL. We need to bear this in mind when we're evangelizing people to get on the social media flavor of the moment. Those that don't jump in with both feet are not necessarily ignorant Luddites.

Lauren McKay was helping her business-owning aunt, Karen Adler, to establish a Facebook presence:

To my surprise, Adler knows a lot about social networking. She gets the basic premise and pointed me to companies that she thinks do a nice job of marketing themselves on the Web. She said it’s something she’s thought about for the past year or so — but just hasn’t gotten around to.

Why not? Because she has a business to run:

With a new cookbook out in bookstores and with BBQ season in full swing, it’s no wonder that she has gotten a little sidetracked. She’s busy putting out daily business fires — no pun intended.

Social media isn't a five-minute set up and then you're done. It takes commitment, carving out time, and the like. Adler also had another concern:

Adler also said she’s afraid of going about it the wrong way. She showed me her Facebook profile that she had set up one day, but hadn’t yet uploaded a photo or any profile information. She’s not sure where to start.

There's two basic issues here - how to do it, and (more importantly) how to do it right. Adler is wise enough to know that communities have conventions, and it's a good idea to understand the conventions before diving into the community. What if she were to establish a Twitter account and immediately follow the first 2,000 people she sees (hey, everyone has to eat!), issue hourly DMs to everyone, and in general engage in behavior that would earn her the enmity of the Twitter community?

Better to slowly do it the right way than to quickly do it the wrong way and leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

And it isn't like Adler is completely off the web. There are properties that have been set up in her name by others. Check out her biography at, and the video on YouTube, and the Pig Out Publications Store.

So whatever personal accounts that Adler sets up are icing on the cake...or sauce on the pork...or whatever. (I'm not a cook.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Boards of directors and society at large

I've written about boards of directors before, but only to the extent to note that they shouldn't necessarily be a rubber stamp for everything that the company officers want to do. But, as BusinessWeek notes, Ira M. Millstein has loftier tasks for the boards:

I heard in Obama's acceptance speech what [columnist] David Brooks labeled the "politics of cohesion": a new personal and mutual responsibility and unity, supporting pragmatism. This will indeed accomplish our goal over time if, and only if, across the entire private sector institutions and individuals alike reset goals and values. For the private sector, specifically the corporates, it means fulfilling their responsibilities to society at large, as well as to their shareholders and stakeholders.

Responsibilities to society? Milton Friedman would freak out.

More here.

Name the site with more traffic than Facebook that is getting jettisoned by its owner

Wet Spider Web by Swaminathan/Swami Stream used under a Creative Commons License

A few years ago, there was a web bubble that burst, and there's STILL fallout from THAT one. Saul Hansell of the New York Times chronicles a breakup:

Time Warner said on Thursday that it would file for divorce in one of the most ill-fated marriages in the history of the media and technology business, its 2001 merger with AOL. The companies hope the separation is complete at the end of the year.

AOL has long since lost the allure that prompted Time Warner to contribute two-thirds of its equity as a dowry.

And, lest we forget, as of April 2009 AOL was still the fourth most popular Web property (H/T Jake Kuramoto), beating out eBay, Wikimedia (including Wikipedia), Facebook, and Apple.

Yes, you read that right, AOL beats out Facebook. Consider that.

There are many people who could use this robot, including myself

Cup of Robots - On White by striatic used under a Creative Commons License

I was talking with my wife one day while I was at work, and she told me that she had worked on cleaning the living room that day. In the cleaning process, she collected stuff belonging to each member of the family and placed it in bags. So I knew that when I got home, I'd have a bag waiting for me. (Naturally, since she was the one doing the cleaning, she could remove the evidence of HER bag before we got home. But hey, that's the advantage of doing the cleaning in the first place.)

But wouldn't it be neat if my wife had a robot that could have done the work?

[R]esearchers at Carnegie Mellon University presented work on an object-recognition system that lets a robot sort through a pile of recyclables by hand.

Technology Review noted that this is difficult:

Being able to pick out items from a cluttered, disordered environment is no easy feat. And, while other robots are now dexterous enough to grasp an egg without breaking it damage or pick up unfamiliar objects, these systems generally only work if the object in question has been positioned carefully.

In addition to being able to pick things up, the robot needs to "know" what the objects are. This requires an object-recognition algorithm. And, being researchers, that requires a paper:

Object Recognition and Full Pose Registration from a Single Image for Robotic Manipulation

Alvaro Collet Romea, Dmitry Berenson, Siddhartha Srinivasa, and David Ferguson
IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA '09), May, 2009.


Robust perception is a vital capability for robotic manipulation in unstructured scenes. In this context, full pose estimation of relevant objects in a scene is a critical step towards the introduction of robots into household environments. In this paper, we present an approach for building metric 3D models of objects using local descriptors from several images. Each model is optimized to fit a set of calibrated training images, thus obtaining the best possible alignment between the 3D model and the real object. Given a new test image, we match the local descriptors to our stored models online, using a novel combination of the RANSAC and Mean Shift algorithms to register multiple instances of each object. A robust initialization step allows for arbitrary rotation, translation and scaling of objects in the test images. The resulting system provides markerless 6-DOF pose estimation for complex objects in cluttered scenes. We provide experimental results demonstrating orientation and translation accuracy, as well a physical implementation of the pose output being used by an autonomous robot to perform grasping in highly cluttered scenes.

The paper itself can be found at the link. Look for the PDF item.

So, how much more time until the robot can identify the items, associate them with a person ("Sports Illustrated - that belongs to the husband"), and bag them accordingly?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

When all else fails, bring in a casino

Have you ever noticed that when you go to a shopping mall, the mall always puts up signs to announce that new businesses are opening, but they never put up signs to announce that old businesses are leaving? Well, businesses ARE leaving malls, and shopping centers, and industrial areas all the time.

I tend to pay attention to closed grocery stores to see what ends up in this locations. Among the new businesses in old grocery stores are discount electronics retailers, drug stores, office supply stores, and health clubs.

It's probably safe to say that the larger a building, the tougher it is to find a new tenant. So what happens when an entire factory closes? If you're lucky, a casino may move in:

By the time [Bethlehem Steel] company declared bankruptcy in 2001, the blast furnaces had been cold for nine years, the 20,000-strong work force had largely been dispersed and the property tax base had plummeted, along with values of the homes of Ms. Corroda and her neighbors.

Yet on Friday, when the elegant $743 million Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opened atop the site of the gigantic ore pit, Ms. Corroda was among the first in line with an ear-to-ear grin that exuded optimism for the area that has been lacking for some time....

The mayor said he expected the casino, the largest in Pennsylvania, to draw more than 4.5 million visitors a year and provide about $9 million to the city’s general fund, which this year stands at $55 million. Mr. Callahan sees this as the entertainment part of a redevelopment that also includes plans for an arts center and television station, a museum focused on American industrial history and condos to be built in a former steel plant building.

Of course, Sands was smart and made some design decisions to please the locals:

Here in Bethlehem, what delighted people like Ms. Corroda and Rich Fenstermacher, who worked for Bethlehem Steel for 34 years and is now a casino security officer here, were the homages to the company whose product helped build skyscrapers, railroads and military armament for a century. Exposed piping and a turreted ceiling were built to resemble the style of some of the buildings, and brick walls match the look of the structures that housed the factories.

Sands itself tells the story:

In December of 2006, Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVSC) was awarded a Category 2 Slot Machine License by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. LVSC was thrilled and quickly started working on the site categorized as both the largest Brownfield redevelopment project in the nation and the largest casino development investment made to date in the Commonwealth. At a projected cost of $743 million, the historic Bethlehem Steel plant is now being transformed into a fully integrated resort consisting of 3,000 slot machines, over 300 luxury hotel rooms, 9 restaurants, 200,000 square feet of premium retail outlet shopping, and 46,000 square feet of flexible multi-purpose space. On May 22, 2009, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opened the first phase of the project, quickly becoming a major attraction in the region.

And, as can be expected, there is opposition to the presence of a casino in Bethlehem. But Tony Rhodin's problem isn't with the gambling - it's with the alcohol:

[M]y concern today is drunks. Unlike Atlantic City, where most folks take a bus or stay at a hotel in proximity to the gambling, Sands didn't finish building its hotel before the slots are to open. Yes, LANTA is going to run some buses -- but, in many cases, at some point they will lead to a car. The nearest hotel is a fairly long walk in what can be a fairly sketchy neighborhood. One hotel even promotes itself as just a short drive from the casino. I hope these hotels provide free shuttles on top of the LANTA service.

So, after pouring away money and pouring down drinks, celebrants will hit the road.

I'm hoping Bethlehem uses some of its casino money to stop these drunken drivers in that fairly remote part of South Bethlehem before they reach I-78 in one direction or Route 378 in the other. A permanent DUI roadblock in both directions would be great. A breath tester before getting out of the parking lot is another option.

Because we all know that DUI roadblocks nab DUI people, right? Here's what happened in Highland, California over Memorial Day weekend:

DUI Arrests — 8
Drug Possession Arrests — 1
Unlicensed Driver’s Arrested — 33
Warrant Arrests — 6
Other Citations — 8
Vehicles Towed — 19

HAL is trying to become a two-time champion!

Jeopardy set entrance at CES by Joseph Hunkins (joeduck) used under a Creative Commons License

Back in April, in my Empoprise-NTN blog, I discussed the "Watson" computer that IBM is designing to play Jeopardy. In that post I cited a Technology Review post, which noted that programming a computer to play Jeopardy is a much more complex task than programming a computer to play chess.

Well, over the last several hours, three mentions of Watson have crossed my Google Reader feeds. Two of them are, again, from Technology Review. The first post links to a video that begins by illustrating the issue. It begins with an answer from a guy named Alex Trebek, who (probably intentionally) illustrates the complex nature of the problem by noting that the question that goes with the answer is "elementary." The reference to the word "elementary" has nothing to do with IBM, but is based upon the fact that IBM's most famous leaders had a last name that was also used by a famous fictional doctor, and that the fictional doctor's friend liked to use the word "Elementary." How do you teach a computer to understand that a book/movie reference pertains to a business machine company?

In the second Technology Review post, David Ferrucci gives a high-level explanation of how Watson would solve a human problem:

Ferrucci describes how the technology would handle the following Jeopardy!-style question: "It's the opera mentioned in the lyrics of a 1970 number-one hit by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles."

The Watson engine uses natural-language processing techniques to break the question into structural components. In this case, the pieces include 1) an opera; 2) the opera is mentioned in a song; 3) the song was a hit in 1970; and 4) the hit was by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

In searching its databases for information that could be relevant to these segments, the system might find hundreds of passages. These could include the following three:

"Pagliacci,'' the opera about a clown who tries to keep his feelings "hid";

Smokey Robinson's Motown hit record of the '60s "Tears of a Clown";

"Tears of a Clown" by the Miracles hit #1 in the UK in 1970.

By analyzing these passages, Watson can identify "Pagliacci" as being "an opera," although this on its own would not be much help, since many other passages also identify opera names. The second result identifies a hit record, "The Tears of a Clown," by "Smokey Robinson," which the system judges to be probably the same thing as "Smokey Robinson and the Miracles." However, many other song titles would be generated in a similar manner. The probability that the result is accurate would also be judged low, because the song is associated with "the '60s" and not "1970." The third passage, however, reinforces the idea that "The Tears of a Clown" was a hit in 1970, provided the system determines that "The Miracles" refers to the same thing as "Smokey Robinson and the Miracles."

From the first of these three passages, the Watson engine would know that Pagliacci is an opera about a clown who hides his feelings. To make the connection to Smokey Robinson, the system has to recognize that "tears" are strongly related to "feelings," and since it knows that Pagliacci is about a clown that tries to keep its feelings hid, it guesses--correctly--that Pagliacci is the answer. Of course, the system might still make the wrong choice "depending on how the wrong answers may be supported by the available evidence," says Ferrucci.

And Alex Trebek goes "nyah nyah nyah" to all the chess players out there.

The third item that I read didn't come from MIT, but from a blogger who knows a thing or two about Jeopardy - Ken Jennings. He read the description above, and shared some thoughts of his own:

As I told Ed Toutant last week: I actually think you could get pretty good Jeopardy!-winning results with a computer using a very naive algorithm. To wit: programming the computer with the length and breadth of the J! Archive, and just doing some simple matching against key words in the clue. If, for example, the “this” clause (”this country”) and two other key nouns match (”Ayers Rock” or something), then the machine buzzes. I bet that’s a pretty short Perl script that could beat some human players. Maybe I shouldn’t be giving IBM tips, though.

However, I'd be willing to bet that when Watson shows up in the studio, they'll write some NEW questions. So much for a Jeopardy archive. Here's my vote for a new question:

This fruit took out a full-page ad that read, "Welcome, IBM. Seriously."

If Watson can answer the Smokey question, the fruit question should be a breeze. (Hint.)

A little more on that first lawsuit (Pfeffer v McNealy et al)


There's a little more detail on the April 20 class action lawsuit filed against Sun Microsystems and Oracle, courtesy the Santa Clara County, California Superior Court.

Case Information Associated Cases
Number: 1-09-CV-140424
Title: Pfeffer V. Sun Micro Systems, Inc., Et Al
Category: Securities Litigation - Unlimited
Filed: 4/20/2009 Disposed: None Status: Open

Plaintiff Barry Pfeffer
Attorney: Vahn Alexander
Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP , 1901 Avenue Of The Stars, Second Floor, Los Angeles, Ca 90067

The defendants are various people from Sun Microsystems (Scott G McNealy, James L Barksdale, etc.), as well as Sun itself, Oracle, and the Soda Acquisition Corporation (presumably the entity set up to make the acquisition). Interested parties include Oppenheim Asset Management Services S.A.R.L. and Murray Mandel.

If you want to see the original filing, go here. Excerpt:

The consideration offered in the Proposed Transaction, however, is unfair and grossly inadequate, because among other things, the intrinsic value of Sun common stock is materially in excess of the amount offered, given the Company's growth and anticipated operating results, net asset value and future profitability.

Other than Pfeffer being from New York, and being a Sun shareholder, no other details are given about him, or how he spontaneously contacted an attorney in Los Angeles to file this lawsuit.

When I last checked, the calendar includes a June 26 motion to consolidate, and a September 4 case management conference. The June 26 motion explains the presence of the two interested parties:

Pfeffer v. Sun Micro Systems, Inc., et al.
Motion by Plaintiff Oppenheim Asset Management Services SARL for Consolidation of Actions (Pfeffer-109CV140424, Oppenheim-109CV141421, Mandel-109CV141407), Appointment of Lead Plaintiff (Pfeffer) and Appointment of Co-Lead Counsel (Johnson Bottini LLP and Motley Rice LLC)

As for the Honorable Joseph Huber who has to listen to all this, he's done been commended.

What's new on the Oracle/Sun front?

I can tell you from personal experience that it takes a while for these mega-mergers to actually be finalized and get all the stockholder approvals and government approvals and the like. But I figured this was a good time to check on Oracle-Sun progress.

Speaking of stockholder approvals, I found this story from early May:

Sun [revealed] that three "putative shareholder class actions" against the proposed Oracle merger were filed by individual shareholders in late April in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

Here is the specific language from Sun's quarterly report:


Three putative shareholder class actions were filed by individual shareholders on April 20, 2009, April 30, 2009 and April 30, 2009, respectively, in Santa Clara County Superior Court naming Sun and certain of our officers and directors, as well as Oracle Corporation, as defendants. The complaints, which are similar, seek to enjoin the proposed acquisition of Sun by Oracle Corporation and allege claims for breach of fiduciary duty against the individual defendants and for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty against the corporate defendants. The complaints generally allege that the consideration offered in the proposed transaction is unfair and inadequate. Sun and the other defendants have not yet responded to the complaints.

After the filing of the first lawsuit, the Shareholder Rights Foundation stated the following:

On Monday, April 20, 2009 an investor in Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA) has filed a proposed class action lawsuit on behalf of current investors of Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA), who purchased their shares before Monday, April 20, 2009 and continue to hold their shares, in the Superior Court of California against Sun and its board of directors over the announced takeover of Sun by Oracle Corporation for $9.50 per JAVA share in cash.

According to the complaint the plaintiff alleges that Sun Microsystems and its board of directors breached their fiduciary duty when they attempt to sell Sun to Oracle under the present conditions. The stock of Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA) was trading as high as $10.86 on August 15, 2008 and $16.32 on May 01, 2008.

And of course, it's entirely reasonable to believe that an August 15, 2008 stock valuation should still remain constant in April 2009. Yeah, right.

Moving on...

RedOrbit notes that now is the time to buy - or perhaps not:

Bargain-rate valuations and hopes of economic recovery are enticing cash-rich tech firms to seek acquisitions, with many expecting a string of such deals during the second half of the year.

Leading technology companies such as IBM, as well as boutique players such as NetSuite, have assessed the recession-caused damage to their balance sheets, and are looking towards new growth opportunities.

Oh, and in a nice little coincidence, Larry Ellison co-owns a yacht that is called "Rising Sun." His other yacht is called Dogzilla; does this mean that Ellison will buy a book publisher?


On contextual interviewing (Ryma May 27 webinar)

Before I talk about the webinar, perhaps I should explain contextual interviewing:

The primary purpose of Contextual Interviewing is to understand the “job(s) that need to be done”, or the problems that need to be solved by your business model, service or product. You need to uncover your Most Important Customer’s unmet needs.

This can be critical, because some (all?) statements of requirements do not necessarily reflect the true requirements. The written requirements may have been written by a consultant, or they may have been written by only one part of the organization, or they may make too many assumptions and thus leave important things unsaid.

On to the webinar:

Ryma's May 27th webinar will be presented by Dick Lee and Blake Bogrett. Together they will drill down into one of the details reviewed in the "Blue Ocean Strategy" webinar presented May 13 of this year. They will explain why Contextual Interviewing is the single most important task you carry out in developing new software, a new product or service. The success of all other steps hinges solely on getting this one right.

They point out why marketing groups don't typically have the core competencies to do this. They'll show where Contextual Interviewing fits in the Value Innovation Process, and how the approach to Focus Groups has changed over time.

Dick and Blake will review the process for setting up the interview team, defining team member roles and responsibilities, selecting the lead interviewer (select a person with a low KAI Index and you're dead on arrival), picking the format that works best for the project and interviewees, the do's and don'ts, the golden rules, capturing the outputs, winning interviewee "buy-in" for the next two interviews, addressing how we transition from interview outputs into Elements of Performance in a Value Curve with Metrics, and more.

One of the Golden Rules: Do NOT outsource this to a third party. Having a third party help you is fine, but your team must be there to hear, understand, and react to, The Nuggets!

Go to the page to find the "Register for this webinar" control.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

FriendFeed commenters, check your email...then check your settings!

Earlier today I wrote a post that pointed out three imperfections of FriendFeed. For purposes of this post, I'll concentrate on only a small portion of that post.

As for Twitter making changes on a whim, many notice that FriendFeed does the same thing also. Now I'm not of the school that believes that all of the changes in FriendFeed's latest beta had to be submitted to a vote of the users, but you have to acknowledge that FriendFeed entered the beta period, rarely communicated what was in the beta, didn't give advance notice of new features that would be in the beta, and didn't give advance notice of the time when the beta would be turned off and the new features would become standard in FriendFeed.

guruvan (Rob Nelson) took the time to respond to every one of my points. Here's how he responded to the point above:

FriendFeed gives [plenty] of advance notice to planned maintenance, changes and so on. You have to actually pay attention. Nobody can say that they didn't warn their users that the beta would take over. It ran for nearly a month, iwth a huge percentage of the most active FriendFeeders using it and talking about it. FriendFeed's staff regularly communicates with users, and was out actively helping people during the beta period, and was out In Full Force when the beta went live - it was an "all-hands-on-deck" roll-out for them. I saw FriendFeed staff everywhere on FriendFeed for that. When was the last time you saw a Twitter employee publicly (or privately) answer a question? Do you know how long it takes to get a support request answered on Twitter? More than months. Every single one of my support requests on FriendFeed have been answered personally by one of their staff.

I didn't read Nelson's response until this evening, and I thought he brought up some fair points. (I plan to try f2p when I get a chance.)

But then I saw an item from Susan A. Kitchens.

Did FriendFeed just do something different? I'm now getting emailed contents of FF posts or something.

That was the second comment of this type that I had seen this evening, so I went to check my email. Sure enough, I had several emails from the Empoprise-BI group, and one from my Natural User Interface group.

In the process of poking around to figure out what had happened (it turns out this was a bug), I discovered something else, as Tudor Bosman noted in FriendFeed Feedback:

We pushed a change to send email by default whenever somebody comments on your entries. You may turn this off from the notification settings page:

In essence, there was both a bug and a feature...and Susan was experiencing both of them.

Time to email tech support; they were helpful the last time around. I got emailed both your comments to this post.

Let's ignore the bug for the moment. Bugs happen. Let's go back to Tudor's explanation of the new feature, in the FriendFeed Feedback thread:

Note that we're only doing this for people who haven't already set their email notifications (if you went to the notification settings page and clicked "Save changes", we'll continue to obey your settings as you saved them)

This change was primarily aimed at users who don't check FriendFeed every day, who would like to know when somebody has taken the time to comment on their posts. I'm sorry if this is causing a huge volume of email for you active folks :)

Leather Donut captured my thoughts exactly:

Some heads up would have been nice.

At this point (a little after 10:30 pm), I don't know if this settings change is widely known. Some people are going to be mighty surprised when they check their email Wednesday morning, then find out that FriendFeed changed a setting behind their backs so that they'd know about incoming comments.

To those people, I guess we should just say "You have to actually pay attention."

When did Polaroid become unbelievably retro?

Polaroid Land Camera 1000 by Juan Baeza used under a Creative Commons License

The years creep by and you don't realize it.

When I was a kid in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Polaroid was a leader in personal camera technology. Unlike its competitors, Polaroid promised a real-time picture experience in which you could literally see a picture forming before your eyes, just moments after the picture had been taken. OK, maybe a Polaroid picture wasn't of sufficient quality to be used in a newspaper or a book, but the real-time results were pretty impressive at that time.

But time passed, cameras became digital, and Polaroid itself faded away - or, more accurately, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001. And again in 2008.

But the New York Times reports that some retro Europeans are trying to resurrect the technology:

They want to recast an outdated production process in an abandoned Polaroid factory for an age that has fallen for digital pictures because they think people still have room in their hearts for retro photography that eschews airbrushing or Photoshop.

“This project is about building a very interesting business to last for at least another decade,” said Florian Kaps, the Austrian entrepreneur behind the effort. “It is about the importance of analog aspects in a more and more digital world.”

Ah, analog love. You hear about the same thing from people who love vinyl records, believing that they offer a better sound than today's digital CDs or files.

That's not a director, that's a director

I recently used this picture in a post in my Empoprise-NTN blog:

Spielberg @ Director's Chair by Fantax (Farhan) used under a Creative Commons License

At first I thought that this was taken at a place called "Director's Chair," but I subsequently deduced via the Flickr tags that it was actually taken at Madame Tussad's Wax Museum in New York City.

Kerri visited the museum in December 2005:

[T]he wax people majorly creeped me out. But still, I took pictures with Donald Trump, Yoko Ono, the Pope, Helen Keller, James Dean, The Beatles, the Spice Girls, and... I can't remember them all. But man that was fun. And my favorite picture of myself was when I was in the director's chair next to Steven Spielberg and wearing Stacy's beret. And I took a picture of Janis Joplin for Mike... since the entire world knows how obsessed he is with her. And then I turned the corner and there was Al Roker. And, of course, I took a picture for Charlie, who has since informed me that he's naming his turtle that.

This sounds like Steve Allen's old show "Meeting of Minds." Imagine the discussions that Helen Keller, James Dean, and Al Roker have after the visitors have gone home.

"A turtle?"

Robert Half makes lemonade with the (slightly) older set

I Know You're Going to be Pleased With These Numbers by foundphotoslj used under a Creative Commons License

I would think that a recession would benefit temporary agencies, since companies might jettison permanent employees and use temps to fill the gaps. But my thinking is wrong - according to BusinessWeek, sales at Robert Half plunged by one-third in the first quarter, probably because the recession is so bad that companies can't even afford to hire temps. (In addition, there would be huge public relations problems and possible legal problems if a company switched from a permanent to a temporary work force.)

But the BusinessWeek article further notes that Robert Half is positioning itself for the recovery, using a newly-available asset - temp workers with extensive experience who are now available because of the recession. Once business picks up, Robert Half hopes to clean up.

An influx of highly skilled temps could benefit RHI in several ways. Such workers are more profitable than younger employees because companies are willing to pay more to get them. (RHI pays its employees an hourly rate and charges clients a premium, with gross margins averaging 35% to 37%.) The broader range of experience among new temps also helps RHI to move beyond its core business of accounting and finance jobs, to expand its reach in areas such as technology, law, and marketing. Utilities, banks and mortgage companies also want to hire temps with experience in regulation and restructuring. And, Messmer adds, "a highly skilled temp has the added benefit of being able to train the company's permanent staff."

More here.

Jonathan Lee Riches probably won't be drinking Irish beer any time soon

I had nearly forgotten about Jonathan Lee Riches. Back in August 2007 I noted that South Carolina inmate Jonathan Lee Riches was suing Michael Vick, alleging that Vick stole Riches' pit bulls. The dollar amount of the lawsuit? $63 billion.

In that same post, I linked to an article detailing another of Riches' lawsuits - one in which he not only sued George W. Bush, but also, Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Party, Three Mile Island, Tsunami victims, Meals on Wheels, Various Buddhist monks, and a few dozen others.

I subsequently detailed the activities that landed him in prison, and various other things, many of which were documented in a blog called Dreadnaught. I then forgot about the guy.


Then the Inquisitr reported that the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most litigious man.

You can guess what Riches did next. Although he's apparently been moved from South Carolina to Kentucky, the next chapter occurs in the state of Washington:

Jonathan Lee Riches, aka Irving Picard, filed his latest legal fight this week in the Richland office of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, although he is incarcerated in the Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Ky.

Riches alleges that Guinness is planning to print false information about the number of lawsuits he has filed, which he says is more than 4,000 worldwide. And he objects to the names Guinness intends to call him, including: “The litigator crusader,” the “duke of lawsuits,” “Johnny Sue-nami,” “Sue-per-man” and the “Patrick Ewing of suing.”

I haven't been able to ascertain whether there are any other defendants in this particular suit. Bono? Bob Geldof?

Three reasons you need to stay far away from FriendFeed - a contrarian view

Kool-Aid by Brent Gilliard (entozoa) used under a Creative Commons License

This morning, Hutch Carpenter wrote a post entitled Three Reasons You Need to Be on FriendFeed *Now*. A truly evangelistic post, Carpenter points out the benefits of FriendFeed to people who have never heard of the service, and have never tried it. As a confirmed FriendFeed fanboy, I agree with his reasons. However, not every service is for everyone, and if you think of the people who are critical of new media darling Twitter, those same people would REALLY hate FriendFeed. So I decided to adopt the contrarian view and come up with three reasons why you SHOULDN'T join FriendFeed.

#1: No one is on FriendFeed

If your goal is to have conversations with many people of diverse backgrounds, then FriendFeed is one of the last places that you'd want to go. Certainly if you're in FriendFeed and are conversing with a couple of hundred friends, it seems that everyone in the world is on FriendFeed. But take a step outside of FriendFeed and you'll find that most people aren't there. Now there are certainly a lot of people on Facebook, and there are a growing number of people on Twitter. Unless you want to join every service out there, I'd suggest that you concentrate on services that actually have tens or hundreds of millions of users, rather than the small fry.

#2: FriendFeed the company has all of the bad features of Twitter the company

There have been some vocal complaints about Twitter over the past few years. Twitter does not offer rock-solid availability. Twitter changes things on a whim and doesn't consult its users. There are huge problems with Twitter's API. Twitter has no monetization plan. If you look closely, however, FriendFeed has many of the same issues.

OK, FriendFeed doesn't have nearly as many downtime problems as Twitter, but when you lose all communication with your data for a few hours...well, let's not rely on FriendFeed to be there whenever you need it. And perhaps FriendFeed doesn't need the uptime of a computer aided dispatch system, but the fact remains that FriendFeed DOES have the occasional failure. And would FriendFeed maintain its fairly good uptime record if it had 10 million or 20 million users?

As for Twitter making changes on a whim, many notice that FriendFeed does the same thing also. Now I'm not of the school that believes that all of the changes in FriendFeed's latest beta had to be submitted to a vote of the users, but you have to acknowledge that FriendFeed entered the beta period, rarely communicated what was in the beta, didn't give advance notice of new features that would be in the beta, and didn't give advance notice of the time when the beta would be turned off and the new features would become standard in FriendFeed.

Which brings us to the API. I happen to be a user of fftogo, an application that allows FriendFeed access from older-model mobile phones. The application was written by Benjamin Golub, someone who was so talented that FriendFeed ended up hiring him themselves. As I mentioned previously, FriendFeed itself has recently undergone a major upgrade, but fftogo has not. Why not? Because the API itself has not been revised, and no date has been offered for completion of this task.

I've saved the biggest issue for last. Many people, myself included, have been critical of Twitter's delay in announcing its monetization strategy. I have maintained that a monetization strategy needs to be addressed quickly, since monetization affects many other issues. A Twitter subscription service, for example, would dictate lower traffic than a free-to-use Twitter service funded by advertisements. Yet while people have been complaining up and down about Twitter's failure to monetize itself, there has been a strange silence about FriendFeed's monetization plans, if any. Are they going to wait a few years before they hire a product manager to figure a monetization strategy out?

In short, those who have been critical of Twitter's failings as a company should note that FriendFeed suffers from many of the same defects.

#3: FriendFeed is not suited to the mobile future of communications.

I've hypothesized for years that true revolutions in computing will occur when we truly take advantage of computing devices that we can carry around, or wear, or even implant. When I learned BASIC programming in the early 1970s, I had to go to a computer. By the late 1990s, I ran into circumstances in which I could carry a computer with me. By 2006, I could compute without carrying a computer, namely by carrying a phone around with an operating system (in my case, Windows Mobile), a web browser (in my case...never mind), and some web sites that were adapted to this environment.

Now I can use FriendFeed (via fftogo), LinkedIn, Google Reader,, Facebook, MySpace, and a host of other sites via this mobile phone, but all of the applications are crippled in some way. Google Reader won't let me share with notes. won't play music. Facebook won't let me play Kidnap.

Now I'll grant that there are other phones that have more capability, which is fine if you want to lock yourself into a proprietary operating system in which the hardware/software vendor has final say over the applications that you can use. (That's a whole other "three reasons" post.)

The most powerful applications of the future, however, will have a minimal footprint and an extremely clean user interface, allowing you to easily do things from a smartphone, or from a not-so-smart phone, or perhaps from a Bluetooth earpiece. Or a Coke machine.

Of the major applications out there today, Twitter comes the closest to offering this type of simplicity. Yes, I can use FriendFeed or Facebook in a crippled mode from anywhere, but Twitter can truly be used from anywhere, or by almost anything. When was the last time that you heard of a Coke machine providing updates to Facebook or FriendFeed? I thought so.

So when we have the next revolution of computing, FriendFeed and its inherent complexities will be left behind.


I hope that you read my statement at the beginning of this post.

As a confirmed FriendFeed fanboy, I agree with his reasons.

Regarding Hutch's three reasons to join FriendFeed now, the most important one to me is the tracking feature. I myself have set up various groups and saved filters to find items of interest to me. The personal content database is nice also.

However, we have to guard against the tendency to assume that FriendFeed, or whatever other service we currently love, is perfect. And even if it is perfect, it may not be perfect for everyone. And if someone decides that FriendFeed is not for them, that doesn't mean that they're bottom-dwelling pond scum.

P.S. For what it's worth, I first heard about Carpenter's post in a Louis Gray Facebook entry.

Why Samuel Alito can't wait for Sonia Sotomayor to join the U.S. Supreme Court

It turns out that there's a pecking order to everything, including the U.S. Supreme Court:

Famously, on the Supreme Court of the United States, the most junior Associate Justice (currently Justice Samuel Alito), has the task of answering the door when the Justices are in private conference.

Wikipedia expands on "Junior's" duties:

The most junior Associate Justice in these conferences is tasked with any menial labor the Justices may require as they convene alone, such as answering the door of their conference room, serving coffee, and transmitting the orders of the court to the court's clerk.

There was some talk (see page 105) about changing this tradition when Sandra Day O'Connor became "Junior," since some were worried about the appearance of the lone woman on the Court serving as a secretary. However, the preceding "Junior," John Paul Stevens, felt that tradition should continue. And it has, ever since.

Breaking up the boards?

One of the major criticisms of public corporations over the last few years is the assertion that the Boards of Directors of these corporations aren't doing their job. Instead of truly overseeing the company management teams, critics assert that these boards are simply rubber-stamping whatever management wants, paying inordinately large bonuses for good performance and even larger bonuses for poor performance. The fact that the manager is often also the Chairman of the Board doesn't help matters much.

Several changes have been proposed to board governance, but this idea was floated last week:

The Securities and Exchange Commission proposed rules on Wednesday that would make it possible for a company’s shareholders to elect a limited number of independent directors....

The proposal would permit large shareholders — typically institutional investors like pension funds or hedge funds — or alliances of shareholders to nominate as many as a quarter of the directors. For the largest public companies, the proposal would require approval by 1 percent of the shareholders for a dissident slate to be nominated. For smaller companies, it would be either 3 percent or 5 percent, depending on the size of the business.

Personally, I would rather have something like this than a flat limit on executive pay, as has also been proposed. If there is a true business rationale (rather than insular groupthink) that justifies paying someone $100 million, then go ahead and do it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Press on - in addition to accuracy, are bloggers obliged to put their posts in context?

Over the last week I've run across two incidents that have something to do with the press. I'm not at liberty to talk about either of them, other than to say that in the first case, someone felt misquoted in the press, and the second case, the person was accurately quoted in the press, but a third party who read the article didn't really understand what was being said.

So what does this mean to those of us who write? Obviously it helps if we quote things accurately, and I've made efforts to correct a blog post when I misrepresented someone. But are we also obliged to put our writings in context? If I do so, does that damage any chance that I have to be succinct? (Not that I'm succinct anyway.)

Your thoughts?

TWiT vs Twitter, and Apple vs Apple? Leo Laporte may be studying computer history

The Inquisitr's Steven Hodson has noted that Twitter's potential move toward a television reality show may have some unintended consequences:

Now as inane and stupid as I might personally find this whole idea of Twitter crossing over into an equally stupid and mind-numbing reality TV format there may actually be a legal battle brewing if they actually try to make the jump.

The reason I say that is Leo Laporte, the man behind TWiT (This Week in Technology), is asking folks on Friendfeed if this is the point where Twitter finally crosses the boundary into his trademarked area as far as naming is concerned....

That FriendFeed thread is here.

And my contribution to the thread was as follows:

If you haven't done so already, explore the Apple case, both the legal and business issues that Apple Corps encountered. And if you DON'T defend your trademark, what's Plan B? Remember that Twitter (or its future owners) may someday sue YOU.

I was not the first one to mention Apple vs Apple in the thread, primarily because the parallels are so clear. So perhaps it's worthwhile to revisit that case - or, actually, cases. This thing dragged on for a quarter far. Low End Mac has a good summary of the issues, which are divided into three rounds. Here's an excerpt from Round 1:

In 1978, Apple Corps sued Apple Computer for trademark violation. The case went to court (Apple Computer probably looked like a pushover), and the two parties settled in November 1981 with the understanding that Apple would never enter the music industry.

Plus, Apple Corps got a whopping $80,000 - that's $20,000 per Beatle (or, in one case, Beatle widow).

Round 2:

[A new] suit cited the [Mac] Plus, Mac SE, Mac II, Apple IIgs, the Apple CD-SC CD-ROM drive, and Apple's MIDI interface for the IIgs and the Mac. All machines were capable of music playback and creation (except for the Apple CD-SC) and seemed to infract on the original contract. The suit again went to court, and the two parties reached a settlement on October 9, 1991.

Round 3:

In 2000, Apple hired Tony Fadell to market a MP3 player and the music store concept he had created after leaving Phillips. The iPod and iTunes Music Store were released in 2001 and 2002 respectively....

In the eyes of Apple Corps the iTunes Music Store was a clear violation of the 1991 settlement. In September 2003 (25 years after Apple Corps' first suit) Apple Corps sued Apple Computer for breach of contract simultaneously in the US and the UK. Settlement talks fell through after Apple Computer offered Apple Corps $1 million for the right to use the Apple name in the music industry.

The outcome of this case, decided several years later?

The judge found in Apple Computer's favor, since the company was not marketing music, merely delivering it to customers through its network. Apple Corps was required to pay Apple Computer for its legal fees (estimated at £2m) - and Apple Corps promised to appeal the decision.

Apple Computer ultimately paid Apple Corps $26.8 million for the right to use the Apple name in computers and music distribution.

Read the whole story here. The result of all this tussling? We'll see when Round 4 appears.

An accident of circumstance, or why the New York Times didn't break the Watergate story

On August 16, 1972, New York Times reporter Robert M. Smith went out to lunch with Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray. Technically it wasn't a business lunch - Smith was actually quitting the Times to attend Yale Law School - but the conversation was certainly interesting.

Mr. Smith said he sat across the table from Patrick Gray, listening in shock to details about Donald Segretti, who helped run the Nixon campaign’s “dirty tricks” operation, and John Mitchell, who had stepped down as attorney general to run Nixon’s re-election campaign.

“He told me the attorney general was involved in a cover-up,” Mr. Smith said, “and I said, ‘How high does it go? To the president?’ And he sat there and looked at me and he didn’t answer. His answer was in the look.”

Read the rest of the story, including how Smith rushed back to the office, told the story to editor Robert H. Phelps, and left for law school. Phelps soon left for a pre-planned monthlong trip to Alaska, and the story dropped through the cracks. Or, as Phelps (who taped Smith's account) said, "My memory is fuzzy on the crucial point of what I did with the tape."

Neither Phelps nor Smith have spoken about this until recently, in part to protect the confidentiality of the source, Gray.

Now one may surmise that if the Times had broken the story in August 1972, the country would have been spared its "long national nightmare." Or perhaps not - while the Washington Post would report many of these issues in the fall of 1972, even joint publication by both the Times and the Post may not have hastened Nixon's resignation. Even with the Post's reporting, it took nearly two years from the initial Watergate revelations to Nixon's resignation.

The United States is on holiday, but Africa is all business today

For those who haven't figured this out by now, recently I've been trying to schedule a post in the Empoprise-BI business blog every weekday at 5:00 am Pacific time. I often supplement this with additional posts every day, but I try to cover every weekday with at least a single post, the 5:00 am post. And I have similar schedules on the other blogs.

A great deal of work went into figuring out the times at which these daily posts appear in all of my blogs - basically, I did it all by alphabetical order. Actually there's a method to my madness; since the business day starts around 5:00 am Pacific time, that's a good time for a blog post to appear, I figure.

So anyways, I knew that I would eventually come to a day which would be a holiday in the United States. And that day is today - Memorial Day. Usually readership on this blog is down when people aren't working, so I figured that there would be some kind of hit in today's figures.

But while the United States is vacationing today, the rest of the world isn't. So I figured that I'd publish something from an area very different from the United States. So what about business in Africa? From the "Africa Open For Business" web site:

According to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the UN trade agency, UNCTAD, Africa offers the highest return on direct foreign investment in the world, far exceeding all other regions. While petroleum products are the driving force behind those returns, other sectors offer impressive growth.

One of the fastest growth areas is telecommunications. From 1999 to 2004, cell phone use in Africa grew at an annual rate of 58%, whereas in Asia, the region with the next highest growth, cell phone use grew at a relatively paltry 35%.

Africa is of increasing strategic interest to the global economy. The continent is expected to soon provide the US with more petroleum than the Middle East. The top supplier of oil to China is Angola. China and India are rapidly increasing their business dealings with Africa. These new power-houses are often beating out American and European firms.

Africa offers a consumer base of more than 900 million people. While more than half of Africa is estimated to live on a dollar or less a day, the other half does not, and they are hungry for products and services.

For more details, go here. And you can order a video for US$179. Yup, Africa's open for business, all right.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Empoprise-BI News - 24 May 2009

Empoprise-BI News

The news letter for Empoprise-BI - An Empoprises vertical information service for business news.

Welcome to Empoprise-BI News

You might have noticed that I've been adding email subscription capability to all of my blogs, including Empoprise-BI. Well, now I can tell you why - because I want to start publishing a newsletter, and this will allow you to receive the newsletter via email.

But wait a minute - this is a blog post!

That's right. Initially I was thinking about setting up a traditional email newsletter.

I started out by looking at the email newsletters that I already receive and seeing what software was being used. Well, David Risley uses Aweber, and Theatre Experience of Southern California uses Constant Contact. While the newsletters are fine, and the services are fine, it turns out that these particular services require money, something which is not readily available at this stage of the growth of Empoprises.

The next step was to check out the free services that were available. I only got as far as checking Bravenet's free service, and I'll admit that I wasn't particularly bowled over by it.

That's about the time that I said to myself, "Self, why not just make them blog posts and have people subscribe to the blog?" While this means that you have to subscribe to the entire blog to get the post, that's actually something that I'd like people to do. I'm using FeedBurner to provide the email subscriptions (yeah, I know). FeedBurner sends an email to you every day that the blog in question (in this case, Empoprise-BI) includes any posts. There could be multiple posts in that daily email, so I'm trying to time things so that on newsletter days, the "Empoprise-BI News" will be the last item posted, and thus the top item in the email.

If you want to subscribe to the email, just go to the Empoprise-BI blog and enter your email address in the "Email subscription" area.

Or you can just subscribe to the RSS feed (the "Subscribe to Empoprise-BI" widget right above the Email subscription widget), or you can come to and read the newsletter on your own. And don't forget the Odiogo podcasts.

Behind the Scenes

I think we've had enough "behind the scenes" stuff this week, haven't we?

Special Features

I think we've had enough "special features" this week, haven't we?

Seriously, I'm thinking about having "Behind the Scenes" and "Special Features" sections where I can talk about my uninformed business philosophies, my Empoprise-BI FriendFeed room, and other exciting topics.


Since I write some of my blog posts well in advance, I already know on Sunday night what some of the posts will be that will appear in the coming week. So you can consider this a teaser regarding my planned blog posts. Needless to say, all plans can go horribly awry, so there's no guarantee that the stories below will actually appear.

Monday is a holiday in the United States, but it's not a holiday in the rest of the world. Therefore, I plan to share a blog post that focuses on African business.

Some people think that corporate boards of directors are part of what ails business today. I plan to talk about a proposal that may, or may not, cure the ailment.

And I'll also talk about Robert Half - actually, I'll talk about all of him.

Since my day job involves the translation of customer needs into marketing requirements, I have a vested interest in making sure that my marketing requirements truly reflect customer needs. Contextual interviewing is a tool that can assist in this, so I plan to talk about that.

And I plan to revisit the whole Oracle/Sun deal to see where things stand, including the current status of three shareholder lawsuits that allege that Sun sold out for too low a price.

And, in a piece that is completely unrelated to the stock market, I'll talk about the steel industry. And casinos. In the same post.

And, in my ongoing search for cool stuff, I found a robot that identifies and picks up stuff. Nice.

So expect to see these items, and other items, in the coming week.

Questions or comments?

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or whatever, feel free to leave comments at the bottom of this blog post, or you can contact me via email (empoprises at gmail dot com), Twitter (@empoprises), or FriendFeed (empoprises).

The sad story of Jesús "I just lost 13 pounds" Gorriti - oh, you haven't heard of Jesús Gorriti?

Jesús Gorriti is a user of both Twitter and FriendFeed. Approximately an hour ago, this tweet made it to FriendFeed:

Howdy my friend! I just lost 13 pounds in 15 days. It only costs me $5. Take a look at this...

This was followed by a URL in the .cn domain.

I would have linked to the original tweet, but Gorriti has already deleted it. He does have a couple of followup tweets about the incident, however:

mierda, me han hackeado la twittercuenta ¿cómo?

This tweet basically says, "Gee golly gosh, something has happened to my Twitter account." More or less.

@jotajotaz ya, tenia buena pinta pero me mosquea no saber que ha pasado y si la culpa es mia o de twitter.

"Culpa" means "fault."

As you can guess, the hacking of Gorriti's account has caused widespread outrage all over the tubes, with people demanding that Twitter fix things so that Gorriti would never suffer through this problem again.

Oh, wait a minute...silly unprofessional blogger than I am, it turns out there was no outrage at the hacking of Gorriti's account. I seem to have gotten him confused with Thomas Hawk. When Hawk's account was hacked, it resulted in over three dozen comments in FriendFeed.

Oh, and the #hawkhack also merited an Inquisitr story.

Now spammers have never been accused of smarts, but I do have to grant that this spam may have remained unknown for some time if it weren't for the fact that Thomas Hawk's fairly popular account was hacked.

But while we ponder this latest security breach, we shouldn't only think of @thomashawk or @gorriti, but also @saxon20044 and @sahnah and all of the hundreds of others who were victimized by this hack.

Friday, May 22, 2009

There's crowdsourcing, and there's crowdsourcing

During my last year at Reed College, I wrote an undergraduate thesis in economics that hinged upon the concepts of efficiency and equity. I merrily went about writing my thesis, turned it in, then prepared for the oral defense of my thesis. One of the professors asked me to explain why I chose the definitions of efficiency and equity that I used in my thesis. As it turns out, I hadn't really thought of the "why." I turned to my thesis advisor for support, but my advisor (rightly) noted that the definitions that I chose were up to me. A definite learning experience.

In a May 20 post, I spoke about the concept of crowdsourcing. As part of the post, I referenced two definitions from Jeff Howe:

The White Paper Version: Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.

The Soundbyte Version: The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.

In a May 21 post, Rob Diana also spoke about crowdsourcing, asking whether the American Idol television show is truly an example of crowdsourcing. He turned to a Wikipedia definition of crowdsourcing, which included the following two sentences - Diana quoted the second:

Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design[1] and distributed participatory design), refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm (see Human-based computation), or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).

Focusing upon the examples given by Wikipedia, Diana said:

This does not sound like voting on a very subjective matter like talent or who makes the better pop star. This sounds more like which solution works best, or what is the common pattern in a large set of data. These are very objective measures.

Diana refers to another Wikipedia entry (this one on "The Wisdom of Crowds") that identifies, among other things, four criteria that separate wise crowds from irrational ones. These four criteria are diversity of opinion, decentralization, independence, and aggregation.

In the case of American Idol, Diana questions whether independence is truly present in American Idol voting, given that (as Diana notes) "[p]eople are highly influenced by the opinions of others around them."

So how does that apply to Sheila Scarborough's request for superior Virginia destinations? In this case, I believe that all four criteria were met. Regarding independence, I did not have contact with any of the other respondents before expressing my opinion, and frankly I don't think I've even heard of any of the other respondents (unless one of them is Steven Perez posting under an assumed name).

But are these four criteria truly necessary for true crowdsourcing to occur? It's all a matter or semantics, but it's worthwhile to note that, at least at first glance, the inventor of the term "crowdsourcing" does not seem to impose any requirement that the crowd itself be wise. While one idealistically hopes that a crowd will be wise, it's not always the case. You can, in Howe's words apply "Open Source principles" and come up with a really crappy product.

But regardless of how you define crowdsourcing, Rob Diana's conclusions at the end of his post are still valid:

So, if you are looking to create some great application on the web, and crowdsourcing is how you are going to solve some problem, think about what your crowd should be. Who should be in your crowd? Should it be a bunch of technology-loving early adopters? Maybe, or maybe not. You do not need to go after the largest crowd, just a crowd that is relevant to your problem.

But then again, a caution is in order here. I'll speak more about requirements in a future post, but if you're going to crowdsource (or otherwise solicit) the requirements for a software product, you need to think about the participants. Do you only talk to the purchasing manager who will buy the product? Or do you also talk to the person who will manage the group that will use the product? How about the employees? The IT organization? The customers of the company who will use the product? And what weight should be assigned to each of these groups?

Books are not Kindle-ing just yet

Barnes and Noble Stamford CT 02 by Monica Arellano-Ongpin (maong) used under a Creative Commons License

I'll grant that there are stick-in-the-muds like me who enjoy physical media, but there are a growing number of people who prefer to buy intangible things such as downloads. This is resulting in some changes in various industries that produce tangible stuff, including booksellers. Well, Barnes & Noble may not sell a lot of newspapers, but apparently they're repositioning themselves to sell something:

Barnes & Noble, the book seller, reported a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss and raised its full-year outlook on Thursday, helped by cost-cutting and better-than-expected sales....

The company said it expected a full-year profit of $1.10 to $1.40 a share, up from an earlier forecast of a profit of 95 cents to $1.25.

More here.

Computers as number-crunchers. Oh yeah. (IBM System S)

If nothing else, the Wolfram Alpha discussion/hype has reminded us that computers can be used as computational devices. We've been so focused on avatars and real-time feeds and all of that junk that we (or at least I) sometimes forget that computers can actually be used to compute. But IBM, even though it's recast itself as a service company, hasn't forgotten that fact:

New software from I.B.M. can suck up huge volumes of data from many sources and quickly identify correlations within it. The company says it expects the software to be useful in analyzing finance, health care and even space weather....

I.B.M....spent close to six years working on the software and has just moved to start selling a product based on it called System S....

Most computers, of course, can digest large stores of information if given enough time. But I.B.M. has succeeded in performing very quick analyses on larger hunks of combined data than most companies are used to handling.

More here. Or you can see what IBM says:

The Exploratory Stream Processing Systems team at T.J. Watson Research center conducts research on advanced topics in highly scalable stream processing applications and systems. Most of the research efforts come under the umbrella System S project, which spans several teams at Watson.

As the amount of data available to enterprises and other organizations dramatically increases, more and more companies are looking to turn this data into actionable information and knowledge. Addressing these requirements require systems and applications that enable efficient extraction of knowledge and information from potentially enormous volumes and varieties of continuous data streams. System S provides an execution platform and services for user-developed applications that ingest, filter, analyze, and correlate potentially massive volumes of continuous data streams. It supports the composition of new applications in the form of stream processing graphs that can be created on the fly, mapped to a variety hardware configurations, and adapted as requests come and go, and relative priorities shift. System S is designed to scale from systems that acquire, analyze, interpret, and organize continuous streams on a single processing node, to high performance clusters of hundreds of processing nodes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Did I forget to mention Memphis?

In the Santa Ana (CA) arts district (I didn't know Santa Ana had an arts district).

Where's Nick Wheeler when you need him? (Swinburne's 5 dimensional data storage)

When I took freshman physics at Reed College, our lectures were delivered by Professor Nicholas Wheeler. Wheeler was a mathematical physicist, and as a result his lectures sometimes verged into the theoretical realm. He was fond of talking about things in 17-dimensional space. This would make me dizzy, and I found myself valuing Professor David Griffiths, who led our smaller sessions (conferences) and who was able to speak to us in a more practical manner.

I didn't become a physicist (that freshman physics course was the last science course that I ever took), and to this day I usually stay within three dimensions, only going to the fifth dimension in a musical sense. So when I saw this item, I was wondering what was going on.

Five-Dimensional Data Storage

A new material could eventually be used to store vast amounts of data on a disc.

Then I found the explanation:

Now researchers have for the first time demonstrated what they call a five-dimensional optical material. It can record data in three spatial dimensions and in response to different wavelengths and polarizations of laser light.

The material is being developed by researchers led by Min Gu, director of the Centre for Micro-Photonics at the Swinburne University of Technology in Victoria, Australia.

More here.