Thursday, April 29, 2010

(empo-plaaybizz) The Farmville Sociopaths?

My empo-plaaybizz series in this blog has looked at the interrelationships between gaming and business. But I haven't taken it a step further to look at the interrelationships between gaming and society.

Enter A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz, whose January 28, 2010 talk at SUNY Buffalo was recorded in at least two places. H/T to Nicole Schulert for alerting me to this Business Insider piece, and to Jake Kuramoto for noting that this also appeared in this Media Commons piece.

Presented as an essay, this was originally given as a talk by Liszkiewicz upon the occasion of the death of Howard Zinn. Now I've been out of academia for almost two decades now, so I'm not used to reading academic stuff. And Liszkiewicz certainly approaches the topic from an academic slant, beginning as follows:

We are citizens of a democracy, and democratic citizenship has always been a difficult skill to master. This is why Aristotle tells us that, in an ideal state, citizens would possess ample leisure time: the education of a citizen depends upon contemplation, deliberation, and training. Citizenship requires cultivation and, as any farmer would tell us, cultivation takes time.

Liszkiewicz chose his words carefully, because, as it turns out, the topic that he wants to address is the Farmville game. Now I never got into Farmville (I have been more involved in its competitor, Farm Town), but I'm certainly in the minority among virtual farmers. Farmville has emerged as the dominant game on Facebook, and because Facebook is itself dominant among social media networks, that's a lot of farming that's going on - and a lot of revenue that's going to Farmville's creator, Zynga.

Past analyses that I've read about Farmville, Farm Town, Foursquare, and the like have concentrated on the business benefits of using game mechanisms. To my knowledge, neither Paul Pedrazzi nor any other business analyst has cited Aristotle in his or her analysis of business gaming.

In the speech-turned-essay, Liszkiewicz explains how Farmville works, and notes that it is not that good of a game (why would people pay real money or invest real time to, in essence, avoid playing the game?). Liszkiewicz also notes how neighbors work, and explains that this is his concern regarding Farmville:

The secret to Farmville’s popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics. Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies. As the French sociologist Marcel Mauss tells us, gifts are never free: they bind the giver and receiver in a loop of reciprocity. It is rude to refuse a gift, and ruder still to not return the kindness. We play Farmville, then, because we are trying to be good to one another. We play Farmville because we are polite, cultivated people.

After arguing in this vein for some time, Liszkiewicz reaches his conclusion - the conclusion to which I alluded in the title of this post:

Citizens must educate themselves in the use of sociable applications, such as Wikipedia, Skype, and Facebook, and learn how they can better use them to forward their best interests. And we must learn to differentiate sociable applications from sociopathic applications: applications that use people’s sociability to control those people, and to satisfy their owners’ needs.

As cultivated citizens, we are obligated to one another. We care about one another. As Cornel West has said, democracy depends upon demophilia, or love of the people. Unfortunately, sociopathic companies such as Zynga depend upon this love as well. The central task of citizenship is learning how to be good to one another, even when—especially when—it is difficult to understand our own actions. If Howard Zinn had but one lesson to teach us, it is that cultivated citizens must constantly look around and examine what they’re doing, because there is a fine line between being a cultivated citizen and being someone else’s crop.

Now I've been mulling over this piece for a couple of days - and I can assure you that Jake Kuramoto has been mulling over it also - and, after some thought, I have reached the following conclusion:

Zynga is no more sociopathic than any other company.

Let me provide an example:

In my country, the United States of America, there is a sporting event that is popularly known as "March Madness." To be more specific, it is a college basketball tournament in which the top teams from the top level of colleges/universities compete in a sporting event. This is popularly portrayed as a win-win, since the colleges and universities get revenue, the media gets revenue, the gamblers get revenue, the people get entertainment, and deserving college kids get an education.

But if Liszkiewicz were to turn his laser eye to March Madness, he would NOT perceive it as a win-win. I don't think that SUNY Buffalo is a Division I school, but if it were, Liszkiewicz would not be pleased at the fact that the so-called "student athletes" end up missing nearly a month of classes due to the tournament, and he definitely wouldn't be pleased when some of these same so-called "student athletes" do not return to SUNY Buffalo the following year, having decided to forgo their college educations to turn pro in the NBA.

And what of society? With the possible exception of the Farmville players, much of the rest of the country is occupied in filling out brackets, comparing brackets with one another, possibly entering betting pools based on their brackets, and engaged in other tasks. You want to talk about being obligated to a routine? Try maintaining a bracket for an entire month.

Heck, if you think about it, just about EVERY activity can be considered as sociopathic.

The online Obama supporters that were cited in the article? They're just stooges in the money-making efforts of News Corp (Fox News) and whoever owns NBC at the moment (MSNBC).

People who listened to radio during the Great Depression? Slaves to a routine, clamoring for Ovaltine.

And I won't even touch the whole issue of faculty politics.

So while I will freely admit that Zynga has come up with a formula that makes them money, and can be addictive as crack cocaine, I don't see Zynga as the destroyers of our modern society.

But if Zynga starts targeting its games to the Jerry Springer demographic, I'm moving to Iran.




Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Google-Facebook-Apple haters, here's another proponent of the "closed is wonderful" argument

There is a certain segment of the tech world (and I'll admit that I probably fall into this category) that believes that open is wonderful, closed is bad, and being locked into a single solution is pretty much signing your death warrant.

We freak out when Google becomes so pervasive that you can't escape it.

We freak out when Apple's penchant for secrecy results in the police barging into a house by breaking down a door.

We freak out when Facebook, with its hundreds of millions of users, makes a play to dominate and track all online interactions.

And we yell "open, open," standing on a hill, teaching people to sing in perfect harmony...

...and therein lies the problem. You see, open means a number of things to a number of people, and even when something is standards-compliant, it isn't necessarily plug and play.

(And it's humorous to note that "plug and play" is associated with Microsoft, which was the Axis of Evil for the last tech generation. Now Microsoft is perceived to be more open than, say, Apple. As Vic the Brick would say, "Who knew?")

So even though the word "closed" has negative connotations, it has a lot going for it. Perhaps you can't buy porn for your Apple device, but at least the components of the Apple device generally work well together. You don't have to worry about item A not working with item B. And this lack of worry also leads to cost savings.

Enter Oracle's Charles Phillips, as reported by Bob Evans:

"What CIOs are struggling with right now," said Phillips in an interview Thursday in Manhattan, "is trying to find a way to get the opportunity and ability to manage the entire stack with a single management tool that's predictive about how that stack's going to behave, how the change-management around it is more prescriptive and planned and where they really know how to upgrade and patch the entire stack.

"All the dependencies between these layers—the middleware, database, storage, software, systems—they're all related but unpredictable," Phillips said. "And that's the cycle they're trying to get out of—all that need to constantly provision and manage—it's a huge cost and it's kinda boring and takes lots of people to do it and it's risky."

Note that Oracle has always argued that their components are standards-compliant and play well with others...but that you get better advantages by going to an all-Oracle solution. Phillips emphasized the latter, and Evans took special note of these comments:

"You don't need 18 different vendors and 2,000 configurations to have competition—you've got to limit it some. And I think we've convinced people that makes sense and beyond that we think the whole industry's just moving in that direction. And we can accelerate that by standardizing that entire stack and showing people how it's done..."

And here's the clincher:

"...people like that 'iPod for the enterprise' analogy"

Yet, in a way, Oracle doesn't completely practice what it preaches. If a multiplicity of configurations and vendors is a bad thing, you would think that Oracle would get in bed with Apple and offer the optimum solution. Yet Oracle's preferred operating system, one on which Oracle products are always released first, is Linux. Yes, Oracle has its own Oracle-branded flavor of Linux, but the Oracle products are available for the Red Hats and SUSEs of the world at the same time.

Now Oracle is available on the Mac, to be sure. In fact, this page, last updated in September 2009 as I write this, trumpets the available of Oracle Database on the Mac...Oracle Database 10g Release 2.

For those who don't follow the Oracle world closely, the release that is available for the Linux folks is Oracle Database *11g* Release 2.

Certainly a lot of this has to do with market demand factors - demand for enterprise databases on the Mac platform might be a "Sony Betamax" kind of deal - but it does go to show that a closed architecture - I mean an intelligently-designed architecture - is not the only key to success.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

When Steve Jobs tried to buy a Helocar

It had been a very busy year, and Steve Jobs is a very busy man. But he still had something that he needed to do; it was time to get some new wheels, so Jobs went to his local HeloCar dealership. He didn't have much time to waste.

(And yes, I know that the HeloCar campaign didn't happen on Jobs' watch. But humor me.)

"Can I help you?" asked a smiling, fresh-faced saleswoman - I mean, automotive advisor.

"Yes," replied Steve. "I want your top-of-the-line HeloCar, with a place to put my yogurt and an insanely great CD player.

The automotive advisor smiled again. "I can sell you a HeloCar with food service and music service. Step right this way."

Steve carefully examined the well-designed HeloCar that the automotive advisor showed him. The workmanship was superb, and every element had its place. But when he looked inside, he noticed that there was something missing.

"Where's the cupholder and the CD player?" he asked.

"The HeloCar is an advanced device," replied the smiling automotive advisor. "It does not have a mere cupholder or CD player. Instead, we offer our own food service, HeloFood, and our own music service, HeloTunes."

"But what if I want to play my own CDs?" asked Jobs.

"HeloTunes is a comprehensive music service," replied the automotive advisor, still smiling. "We can provide you with a variety of music styles that are compatible with the design of the HeloCar, all for a price as low at 99 cents per song."

"So can I buy Bob Dylan for my HeloCar?" asked Steve.

The automotive advisor paused. "Bob Dylan is not appropriate for the HeloCar," she replied, slightly tersely. The smile was beginning to fade.

"Dylan not appropriate?" asked Steve. "He was the voice of a generation!"

The smile had definitely left the automotive advisor's face. "HeloTunes offers a number of songs that are compatible with the HeloCar."

"But I'm your customer!" Jobs was visibly angry. "I'd like to put my music on my CD player in my car! After all, I own the car, don't I?"

"Subject to the terms of the automotive license agreement," replied the automotive advisor.

Jobs rolled his eyes, and his neck muscles were visibly tightening under his turtleneck. "Just give me a car which lets me play any music that I want!"

The automotive associate looked at Jobs with an icy stare. "Then perhaps you should go visit the AndroidCar dealer down the street."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Online information sharing? There's not enough of it!

Perhaps this is just a case similar to the one in which people supposedly "misuse" Google to login to Facebook, but perhaps it's truly an opportunity for improvement.

This week, people are falling all over the place and jumping off of buildings and burning their old floppy discs because Facebook apparently now shares your information with every site you visit. This is worrisome, because now the IRS will presumably know that you bought a new car, and they'll wonder where you got the income to do that. And who knows what Osama bin Laden will learn from the music that you scrobble.

We have a mental image of Big Brother - in this case a corporate rather than a governmental Big Brother - working in concert with everyone to plot against us. In truth, however, we are a long way from that. I have often stated that we don't need to worry about the U.S. Federal Government agencies working together to take away our freedoms, because the U.S. Federal Government agencies all hate each other. People from Department X think that people in Department Y are all bozos, and they're not going to share information with those bozos in Department Y because (a) they're all bozos and they'll probably lose the information, and (b) if they don't lose the information, they'll probably claim the credit that should rightfully go to Department X.

The absolute lack of cooperation, even between people in the same department, hits us every day. Let's take Google. They offer a maps service, and they offer a news service. In the ideal world, they'd work together, wouldn't they?

I wanted to know the precise location of this week's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, so I typed "oil spill in Gulf of Mexico" into This is what I got:

This is not what I wanted. Apparently Google Maps doesn't know what Google News is doing.

An aside - eventually, I found an article that gave me the information that I needed.

THE semisubmersible drilling rig Deepwater Horizon sank in the Gulf of Mexico 130 miles southeast of New Orleans yesterday....

So I went back to Google Maps and typed "130 miles southeast of new orleans, louisiana." Google Maps presented me with a map of Miles Drive in New Orleans. I'm sure it's a nice street, but if there's a huge fire and an oil slick in that neighborhood, I'm not moving there.

Back to searching for current news information in Google Maps. It turns out that in some cases it does work. Back when I appeared online as Ontario Emperor, I would occasionally search Google Maps for "ontario emperor" and fill all sorts of things. Well, I author the regional blog Empoprise-IE, so I thought I'd enter the Google Maps search "empoprise-ie near ontario, california." I got two hits, for Pomona Police Detective Services and the Claremont Police Department, which were related to blog posts that I wrote in Blogger (incidentally, a Google service). (Oddly enough, however, when I tried to go to the permalink of the search results, Google wouldn't recognize it.)

So to those who say that companies are doing too much information sharing, I reply that they're not doing enough information sharing. When Google can't share information with Google, you know there's a problem.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

(empo-plaaybizz) Some more ideas for badges

JR Raphael at eSarcasm was somewhat disturbed by Apple's policies regarding which applications it will and will not allow in its App Store, but was somewhat inspired by Jobs' response.

Jobs has a new mantra in the never-ending debate over Apple’s App Store censorship: If you want porn, go to Android. The concept first came up during the company’s iPhone 4 event, when Jobs answered a reporter’s question about why Apple doesn’t allow unsigned apps onto its devices.

“There’s a porn store for Android,” he said. “You can download nothing but porn. You can download porn, your kids can download porn. That’s a place we don’t want to go, so we’re not going to go there.”

(It’s true: You can download porn. You can also download unspeakably immoral things like satirical political cartoons, photos of girls in bikinis, and — gasp! — apps that contain competitors’ names in their titles.)

The Android-is-porn notion came up again this week, when Jobs reportedly answered a user’s e-mail about Apple’s ongoing censorship of not-even-remotely-X-rated applications. His response:

“We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy [an] Android phone.”

The inspiration? JR hit upon a way for people to declare their opposition to Apple's App Store policies.

The solution? The "Android Porn Badge," downloadable from the eSarcasm post. T-shirts and other goodies also available from eSarcasm's CafePress store. Apparently eSarcasm didn't get the memo that making money off of blogging is evil, but that making money as a consultant and telling people that they shouldn't make money off of blogging is perfectly fine.

But I digress.

Which means, of course, that I need to give myself the "I Can't Keep On Topic" badge.

Why? Because badges are really really like kewl and stuff. How do I know that they're kewl? Because Steven Hodson has already commented on how ridiculous the whole badge thing it.

What are we all, a bunch of boy or girl scouts looking to elevate our status based on some virtual badge?

Really, if your only solution to try and convince people (and VCs as well as some sucker company) that your product is worth coming back to because of some stupid badge then I would suggest that you deadpool yourself and get a real job.

(See my prior comments on Hodson's post. But again I digress, which means that I am entitled to the message YOU HAVE DIGRESSED 2X IN ONE POST!)

But despite Hodson's objections, I think that we need more silly badges, either based upon true physical locations (such as a Starbucks) or on virtual locations (such as an App Store).

Of course, I want to start with the badges that I can easily earn, based upon my usual habits. Because I have no graphic capabilities, my suggestions are text only. You'll have you use your imagination to visualize what these badges would look like.

  • MUSIC AD NAUSEUM: You listened to the same song 10 times in a row!

  • BIZ-SNORE: You fell asleep in a company meeting!

  • STARFLEET REPETITION: You just raided a crystal mine 10 times in a row!

But, as any self-proclaimed social media expert will gladly tell you, badges need to be inclusive and optimizing and whatever other buzz words need to be stated (or misstated). So I also need to consider the badges that I'm not qualified to earn:

  • EYJAFJALLAJOKULL 10: You've been stuck in an airport for 10 days because of the Iceland volcano!

  • FISTVERGNUGEN 10: You've been hit for the 10th time by some stupid Volkswagen spotter!

  • QUESTION SEO: You've received your first Twitter DM from an SEO expert...and you can't find the person in a search engine!

  • AIR FORCE ONE: You're the President of the United States! (This is a hard badge to get.)

  • BABY ON BOARD: Hey, the signs jumped the shark in the last millennium; time for the badges!

  • LARRY'S KIDS: Your company was acquired by Oracle!

  • METABADGER BADGER BADGER: Your badge collection is growing like mushrooms in a hothouse, and is snaking around all over the place!

Which naturally leads to


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Murphy's Law of Spelling - the most critical word will be misspelled

I've previously told my "qualtiy" story, and now I have another one to tell about myself. I had written some text for a proposal, and I needed to email it to some people for review. Before the email left my computer, the system automatically initiated a spell check. It was a good thing that it did this, because I misspelled a word.

The original version of my email included "identfication."

When you consider the industry in which I work, that is NOT a word that you want to misspell.

Luckily, I caught this error before anyone else saw it. I didn't catch my "qualtiy" error, however. If you haven't heard this story, check this July 2009 post which includes it. The title of this old post was "On Acuracy and Misteaks."

And yes, I found this example:

More evidence on the importance of service

On Monday, I belatedly read an article from Bob Evans of InformationWeek entitled "Global CIO: Oracle, SAP, And The End Of Enterprise Software Companies." Evans' main point is that companies such as Oracle and SAP are no longer purely software companies, but also include service as an ever-increasing component in their offering.

In its last four quarters, Oracle has reported total revenue of $24.18 billion. Yet less than one-third of that revenue comes from the sale of new software, or what Oracle calls "new software licenses": $7.143 billion, or 29.5%. The remaining $17 billion in Oracle revenue for the last four quarters came from two categories: "software-license updates and product support" (also known as 22% annual maintenance fees) brought in $12.71 billion, or 52.6% of total revenue; and Oracle's services/consulting business brought in $3.86 billion, or 16% of the total.

So that's about 30% from software, and about 70% from services. With that mix, shouldn't Oracle be called a services company?

Then there's SAP, whose numbers tell a very similar story. In SAP's last four quarters—which match up with calendar 2009--it posted total revenue of $14.481 billion, with "software revenues" contributing $3.5 billion, or 24.4%. Conversely, what SAP calls "software and software-related service revenues" more than tripled that software figure, coming in at about $11.1 billion.

And if you need any more evidence about the importance of service, check this BusinessWeek/Bloomberg post which notes why IBM's stock price just fell.

Services signings, which account for more than half of total sales, fell about 2 percent to $12.3 billion in the first quarter, IBM, the world’s largest computer-services provider, said yesterday. New contracts for application-management, which help clients maintain and develop software, slid 23 percent.

The stock declined as much as 3 percent -- the most since Jan. 20, the day after its fourth-quarter earnings report.

My question - if service is so important, then why did my wife and I have poor customer service results over the last two weeks? Ironically, we were contacting two different divisions of the same company - I won't reveal the company's name, but its initials are LG. My experience was just of the usual "meaningless customer support response" variety, but in my wife's case, the service "experience" was so bad that she will never buy that product from that company again.

P.S. This is not necessarily a case of outsourcing = bad. It is possible to provide excellent customer service via outsourcing, just as it is possible to provide crappy customer service via your own employees.

But if services are an important part of your revenue, shouldn't services support be an important part of your costs?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Are our institutions reflective of the diverse nature of U.S. culture? Or do you want to know?

Within the next few months, Barack Obama will nominate someone to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and this person's name will be submitted to the Senate for confirmation. As part of this process, Obama and the Senate have the ability to right a possible wrong, and make sure that an important segment of our society is represented on the highest court in the land.

Outside the Beltway links to an NPR article that champions the cause of this disenfranchised group.

With U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens talking openly about retirement, attention has focused on the "who" — as in who is on President Obama's short list of potential nominees. But almost nobody has noticed that when Justice Stevens retires, it is entirely possible that there will be no Protestant justices on the court for the first time ever.

Then again, James Joyner of Outside the Beltway isn't too bent out of shape about this:

I don’t happen to care one way or the other. It’s not like the Court has ever been demographically representative. Why, 100 percent of them are lawyers!

And it's also valid to note that the religious views of people are often considered off-topic in any type of organizational discussion. The next time you see a list of the most influential businesspeople, see if the religious affiliations of those people are listed. They probably won't be.

In a sense, this is unfortunate, because it leads to situations in which businesses and business leaders are analyzed by people wearing blindfolds. Take this example:

The field of business ethics has not paid sufficient attention to the questions of why a person would want to be ethical.(1) Much of the business ethics literature assumes people's interest in being ethical and consequently addresses the appropriate thought experiments to determine moral behavior.(2) Unfortunately, without examining why a person would be interested in being ethical, business ethics is truly academic, particularly since there are limits to justifying ethical behavior in terms of economic profitability.

The author, Timothy L. Fort, notes that a discussion of religious views can be "incendiary," and provides an example:

Several years ago, a recently retired, evangelical Christian corporate chief executive officer left my business school ethics class in near revolt by advocating a response to a hypothetical drug testing policy based on the Biblical prescription to "love thy neighbor." This businessperson gave an impressive, impromptu recitation of a series of Biblical passages to show why he, as a sincere Christian, should care deeply for his employees and in doing so should implement a drug testing policy almost identical to the one that the students had separately designed after extensive debate about balancing individual privacy concerns against a business's rights. Despite the CEO's indistinguishable position, the students, who represented all of the major world religions, deemed him a "bigot" who had "shoved religion down our throats."

Note that even though the students agreed with the policy advocated by the retired CEO, that agreement didn't matter because of how the CEO derived the policy.

And I'll admit that I'd probably do the same thing. What if I heard a politician who advocated a view with which I passionately agreed, but then the politician went on to say that these would be the very views that L. Ron Hubbard would advocate if Hubbard were still on this planet? I'd probably get a queasy feeling in my stomach also.

So the next time you hear someone vigorously advocating complete transparency, see exactly how transparent the advocate wants people to be.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, ex-United Methodist, ex-Gospel Outreach. Oh, and throw Young Life in there too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Now this is funny (Rozansky ripped off)

Remember my earlier post about how a real estate blog had posted something that referred to a previous post of mine?

Or, more specifically, how the Los Angeles Pulse on Real Estate posted something with the title "Empoprise-BI: (empo-tuulwey) Auto-real estate listings, like auto ..."

Well, I just ran across a post in something called "Crazy Greco" with the title "The Los Angeles Pulse on Real Estate | Empoprise-BI: (empo-tuulwey ..." that links back to the Los Angeles Pulse on Real Estate post.

Quite literally, what goes around comes around.

Monday, April 12, 2010

For @dmarren - an intro to criminal and corporate gender, and the Penner/Daniels question

I don't know if you saw last Friday's post in my Empoprise-MU music blog, and even if you did, I don't know if you saw the postscript that I added to the post a few hours later. That postscript included some advice from Chris Brogan, which directed me to his post on monitoring mentions of yourself.

In my case, I am not only monitoring information about myself, but I am also using the tools to monitor my industry, including mentions of the company that employs me. Which led me to this tweet from @dmarren:

Morphotrak form question #21: Gender; Male, Female, Both...

Now I couldn't determine the context of the tweet, or even where @dmarren is located, so I don't know if this was an employment application, or some other type of form.

But I'm not surprised at the question - not because of something specific about MorphoTrak, but because of some things going on in society.

In a reply tweet, I noted one of these items - the nature of booking criminals. Whenever a suspect is booked, you don't only get the suspect's fingerprints, but you also get a lot of other information about the suspect. Of course, the suspect may lie, but that's why biometric companies are in business.

When submitting fingerprints and related text material to the FBI, the governing document is the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification, which can be found here. And when you report the sex of the suspect, you are governed by the standard responses for field 2.024. And this is what the FBI says about field 2.024 (as of EBTS v9.0):

SEX 2.024 – Sex. This field is used to report the gender of the subject. The entry is a single character selected from the following table.
If Following Condition Exists Enter Code

Subject‘s gender reported as female F
Occupation or charge indicated "Male Impersonator" G
Subject‘s gender reported as male M
Occupation or charge indicated "Female Impersonator" or transvestite N
Male name, no gender given Y
Female name, no gender given Z
Unknown gender X

Now this only applies to submissions to the FBI. State submissions, or submissions in other countries, may use different criteria to denote sex. However, in most countries, the days in which criminals were either male or female have ended. Take the United Kingdom, for instance.

Thus my tweet to @dmarren regarding how criminal sexes are classified. But as we all know, such classifications are not limited to the criminal world - it also involves dealing with employees and suppliers. Before I was employed by MorphoTrak, I was employed by Motorola, and Motorola is very clear on its desire for a diverse employee base and diverse suppliers. Regarding the former, Motorola has set up numerous diversity councils, including a "Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Business Council" in the United States.

(As an aside, I've always wondered how the gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders all feel about being lumped together. Creating the group of non-heterosexuals sounds kind of like creating the group of non-Americans, in which there's only one thing that unites group.)

Now, regardless of one's personal feelings on the matter, it's worth noting that many governments and many companies now recognize recognize transgendereds as a separate sexual category.

So don't be surprised at the questions that you may see on forms.

And regardless of one's feelings on the matter, the sad end of Mike Penner is indeed sad.

November 29, 2009|By Keith Thursby

Mike Penner, a longtime Los Angeles Times sportswriter who made headlines in 2007 when he announced that he was transsexual, has died. He was 52....

In April 2007, Penner surprised colleagues and readers with an essay in The Times' Sports section announcing that he was "a transsexual sportswriter."...

Writing as Christine Daniels, Penner started a column for the paper's website in May 2007 called Day in L.A. and a blog about the transition, then in July began writing for the paper again.

He returned to using the Mike Penner byline in October 2008.

Why? An in-depth story by Christopher Goffard details what happened after Christine Daniels went public, beginning with Daniels' appearance at the unveiling of David Beckham:

Paul Oberjuerge, then a sports columnist for the San Bernardino Sun, was in the crowd. "I hate to be judgmental about these things, but Christine is not an attractive woman," he wrote on his blog, noting that Daniels had a prominent Adam's apple and stood more than 6 feet tall in wobbly heels. "It seemed almost as if we're all going along with someone's dress-up role playing. . . . "

And Daniels didn't feel accepted by the transsexual community either:

As the year wore on, Daniels grew estranged from the Los Angeles transsexual community, complaining that she had become a fundraising tool. At one gathering, she spoke of how supportive the Los Angeles Times had been, only to be confronted by someone who insisted that this didn't reflect the experience of most transsexuals.

"She didn't know who to trust in the community," Sandeen said, "because all these people were willing to use her."

After this and other episodes, there was a change.

One transgender friend, Sara Hayward, heard an eerie shifting in Daniels' speech during a conversation in early March. Now and then, Daniels' soft, steady voice would give way abruptly to Penner's voice, deep and cracking. "It was two voices coming out of the same person," Hayward said....

Daniels stopped taking hormones and began getting rid of the physical trappings of Christine, LaCoe said, giving the jewelry and shoe collection to friends, donating the wigs, carting the clothes to Goodwill. In a matter of months, the whole identity had been banished.

But the reversion to Mike Penner did not settle the situation either. On the evening of November 27, Penner was found dead in his car.

And death did not settle the situation either.

At the family memorial service at Forest Lawn in Cypress, mourners were screened to keep out reporters who might write about it.

A second memorial service, open to anyone, was held weeks later at Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles. The pastor made it clear, as did the picture on the program, that they were saying goodbye not to Mike Penner but to Christine Daniels.

So now we all understand how questions such as form question 21 originate.

David Rozansky demonstrates reason 1037 why our search tools are really really bad

The acclaimed online publication called The Los Angeles Pulse on Real Estate saw fit to reprint a portion of a recent post of mine. Note that I am not listed as the author; instead, David Rozansky is listed.

But at least Mr. Rozansky was kind enough to link to the original post.

But the interesting part of this is WHY Mr. Rozansky chose to write - I mean reprint - this particular post. Why would Rozansky put something about Guin, Alabama in a Los Angeles blog? Because of a single sentence:

Let’s just say that the Guin real estate market is not like the Los Angeles real estate market.

And that's the only Los Angeles content in the post.

I wonder how the massive readership of The Los Angeles Pulse on Real Estate will react to mentions of the town of Guin. Or maybe they'll just think it's a new trendy bar or something.

The lesson to be learned is that our current search parameters, which often just key in on a single word, are often terrible failures. For example, what if I were to go completely off topic and talk about Lady Gaga or the British parliamentary elections or something? ( many acclaimed blogs will now pick up on THIS post?)

(empo-tuulwey) Auto-real estate listings, like auto-tune, still have an artificial feel

The pitch sounds promising.

Real Estate Solutions
Cevado offers complete solutions for website development

Your website gives your potential clients an immediate first impression of you. And you want that impression to be feelings of quality, trustworthiness, and professionalism. Don't settle for a cheap sub par website that clients never come back to. Ensure that your clients visit again and again with a Cevado website.

Well, let me show you my first encounter with a Cevado creation. This isn't a website per se, but a YouTube video for a home for sale in Guin, Alabama.

And yes, it is possible to buy three-bedroom two-bath homes for less than $65,000. Let's just say that the Guin real estate market is not like the Los Angeles real estate market.

But I was really put off by the pacing of the synthetic voice that was used in the video. There are better automated voices out there.

The main site itself was better and did look professional. Well, it was better until I tried to go from to what I assumed was the home page,

The proper home page, as it turns out, is But it took a bit of search to find it.

Nevertheless, while I may quibble here and there, Cevado is certainly working on putting together a good package for real estate professionals. And that business needs all the help it can get these days.

(empo-tuulwey) We're so worried about the informal processes; what about the formal ones?

Michael Schrage's post The Delicate Art of Unauthorized Innovation begins with the following quote:

Better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission.

Now whenever I see that quote I think of Devo's battle with the estate of Jimi Hendrix, but that is a topic best addressed in my music blog. (As I already have, back in 2008.)

But let's get back to business here. This is what Michael Schrage says:

The ability of individuals and small groups to steal time and "bootleg" a project has become notably more difficult. Not unlike Mad Men's three martini lunches, under-the-radar gray market innovation has become a virtual anachronism. Some corporate counsels might even argue that it's effectively illegal: organizations should only invest corporate monies on explicitly authorized efforts. Anything else is cheating and theft.

But what of the Googles and 3Ms and Hewlett Packards of the world who have institutionalized creativity? Well, for one, the list of companies that have done that is rather short. Second, there has change.

...auditors and controllers have little tolerance for slush funds and discretionary spends....Intrapreneurs who surreptitiously yet successfully cross the boss now typically end up as external entrepreneurs instead of internal legends. Shrinking gray market and bootlegged projects appear to be unintended but understandable consequence of difficult times, and demand regulation and digital visibility. Since these give firms more opportunity to see what their employees are doing, it's harder to conceal unauthorized projects. Further, it becomes more difficult for line managers with gifted subordinates to get away with squirreling a few extra dollars for let's-give-it-a-shot new product development. The out-of-sight, off-in-a-corner alpha test is not just a dying breed — it's being euthanized.

Think about it from the investor's perspective. Let's say that you have $100 million that you want to throw at Twitter. Before you invest your money, you would want some level of disclosure regarding Twitter's plans. ALL OF their plans. Investors are results-oriented, goal-oriented, and possibly even process-oriented, and they might not react well if Ev of Biz told them that Employee X "spends Mondays and Tuesdays on the beach and dreams about stuff."

Take it further. Let's say that you are throwing money at both Twitter and Foursquare, and you subsequently find out exactly WHAT Twitter Employee X is dreaming about. If she's working out a way to provide rewards to Twitter users based upon the location from which they tweet...well, isn't that something that an investor such as you ought to know about?

More critical, however, is when an investor finds out that he or she is funding really really stupid stuff. Like the Apple investor who may have discovered that Apple was working on a computer that was named after a girl and that wasn't compatible with the Apple II at all. When that little experiment tanked, the investor may have wanted to insist that Apple never do anything like that again.

And to be fair, most hare-brained ideas usually do fail. For every Macintosh and Post-It Note success, there are probably hundreds or thousands of failures, and the investing odds usually dictate that doing stupid stuff does not provide a good average rate of return.

But back to Schrage:

Simply because something isn't unreasonable, however, doesn't make it a wise choice or a good investment. Informal innovation, bootlegging, and gray market intrapreneurship are essential to a healthily diversified innovation portfolio. Persistent pincering of informal innovation and gray market initiatives has provoked quiet revolts deep down in several organizations I know. People are rebelling against the strictures and constraints of formal innovation budgets and reviews. They want to be nimbler and more agile than the organization allows.

The way I read it - if you're cutting off your informal processes because they yield stupid results, shouldn't you also be cutting off your formal processes because they also yield stupid results?

Back in my Motorola days, I worked on a green belt project, literally spending a couple of years on it. (Not continuously.) Finally we got to a point where we had gone through the processes, come up with alternatives, decided upon solutions, and then calculated the potential cost savings. In the end, the potential cost savings didn't justify the project.

Now I'll grant that Motorola, which has been known to be process-heavy for years, is probably as much of an anomaly as Google. But just because idea A has been through a much more rigorous process than idea B does not in and of itself guarantee that idea A will yield a more positive result.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wade Elliott and the importance of organization - are you on the bus?

I'm currently watching the Hull-Burnley game, and the commentators mentioned a story that I had not heard before, but which is presumably familiar to many soccer - I mean football - fans.

Today's game (10 April 2010) may help to decide whether Burnley is relegated from the English Premier League down to the Championship, but things were much different a year ago, when Burnley moved up TO the Premier League. Burnley got their ticket up via a game at Wembley Stadium against Sheffield United, and the hero of that game was Wade Elliott, who scored the winning goal that assured Burnley a place in the Premiership, and greatly increased revenue for the 2009-2010 season.

What's notable, however, is what happened just after the game ended. Here's what Chris Wheeler said a few months after the event:

Stumbling around a deserted Wembley Stadium in May looking for the players’ exit, Wade Elliott was about to discover that even a £60m ticket cannot guarantee you a seat on Burnley’s team bus.

‘They’d left me behind and taken all my gear so I didn’t have my wallet, my phone, anything,’ recalls Elliott, who had made the mistake of wandering across to the executive boxes after the Championship Play-off final in May to toast his winning goal with family and friends.

‘I think the lads were too busy having a disco on the bus. I had to scab a tenner off the guy who does the radio for BBC Lancashire to get the Tube back to the team hotel. I still owe the geezer.’

Yes, that's right - Elliott scored the winning goal in an important game for Burnley, and no one thought to make sure that he was on the bus.

Or perhaps some would blame Elliott for the mishap, since he put family before team. But even if that is the case, you'd think that someone on the team would have gone to congratulate Elliott...and then noticed that he wasn't there.

Organization is key in any sporting event, as this behind the scenes picture attests:

In many ways, hosting the NCAA D-II Central Regional men’s basketball tournament is second nature to Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman.

He’s organized large-scale, high-profile tournaments a number of times before and this weekend’s affair is not much different. But while Buisman has the experience, a lot of details need to be taken care of before opening tipoff Saturday afternoon. It takes a number of qualified individuals to handle those details.

“This is not a one-person undertaking,” Buisman said this week. “It requires a lot of dedicated people to pull something like this off.

“We want the visiting teams and fans to leave town saying: ‘Hey, this was a well-run tournament. We had a real nice time in Mankato.’ If they’re not saying that, we haven’t done our jobs as well as we should have.”...

Among the big details that need to be taken care of finding hotel rooms for all the visitors. Buisman says he’s in constant contact with the Greater Mankato Convention and Visitors Bureau whenever he needs to line up lodging....

Among the other, smaller details, are lining up tournament hosts for each team, making sure ushers are available, hiring referees, putting together a tournament program, and much more. Numerous meetings take place to make sure the specifics are being handled.

You see the same type of organization in business, or even at the elementary school level. Let's say a class is taking a field trip, and, um, they take a bus to the field trip. There's usually someone - perhaps a teacher, perhaps the bus driver - who is responsible for counting the number of people on the bus and making sure it's the right count. Elementary school kids, you see, can't scab a tenner off a radio guy.

This just goes to show that you have to pay attention to detail - or if you're not paying attention to detail, that someone else is.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Breaking news from Kevin Fox - Twitter acquires and renames Tweetie

Announced on FriendFeed during the ffundercats podcast, Kevin Fox linked to this announcement from Twitter. Here's an excerpt:

We're thrilled to announce that we've entered into an agreement with Atebits (aka Loren Brichter) to acquire Tweetie, a leading iPhone Twitter client. Tweetie will be renamed Twitter for iPhone and made free (currently $2.99) in the iTunes AppStore in the coming weeks.

The only Twitter client that I use is Slandr, so I'm not sure what the effect of this will be. Quite frankly, I'm just reacting to a Louis Gray comment on the podcast. Better minds will analyze this further.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gaming your health - are the benefits only short-term?

There's been a lot of talk about gaming and social applications. As you know, I've been following what the Oracle AppsLab has said about the topic, and Louis Gray posted something on the topic not too long ago. Now Wired has entered into the fray.

(An aside: remember when the term "Wired" was supposed to be futuristic? Now it's antiquated.)

Anyway, Wired started its article by referring to a twentieth-century craze.

In the mid 1990s, a craze swept Japan and crested its way onto American shores: Kids were going crazy for the Tamagotchi, an egg-shaped digital pet. Every few hours, users would press a couple buttons to feed their Tamagotchi, play with it, or clean it up. The game was simple, but intensely rewarding. Users cried when their Tamagotchis got sick or died; they were elated when they were able to raise a healthy, happy pet. More than 70 million have been sold.

It then stated:

The genius of the device was that it was both simple and rewarding...

OK, simplicity and incentive - what about purpose? But I digress. Wired talks about new applications:

New health-monitoring tools let us pay close attention to our state of being, how much exercise we’re getting, how much sleep we’re getting — and they make it easy to set a goal and improve ourselves. In other words, they turn our health into something of a game. And the reward is better health and a better life.

Wired then discusses four such devices: Fitbit, Zeo Personal Sleep Coach, BodyMedia FIT, and PHILIPS DirectLife.

However, I didn't see any evidence that any of these devices had a community, as social media people understand the term. Here's what Philips says:

Achieving results in any improvement program can be lonely.

With DirectLife, you are never alone. We provide regular updates on your progress and motivational tips. Depending on your progress in the program and your membership plan, a personal coach may be available for all your questions.

Now obviously there are communities that are devoted to improving health, both of the 2.0 sort and of the more traditional sort (Weight Watchers meetings come to mind). And frankly, even the traditional places have their "badges" of sorts. But note this cautionary message from 2008:

I think it is great to use incentives to help people in obtaining a goal but my concern with offering someone a monetary prize, a computer or any other enticing device is if this will only be a short term solution.


The other day I happened to be in particular job site where the human resources director told me that they were going to hold a "biggest loser" contest. She said that it was really successful in the past. I proceeded to ask her how did the "biggest loser" make out and she stated that he has gained all his weight back, but that he is anxious to try again since this year they will be giving away an MP3 player. Last year he won $150 and spent it right away so he prefers a prize instead of money.

Ignoring whether or not the incentive was proper, or the incentivized behavior was proper (would a race to lose weight really be the best solution?), this episode does point out that while we may have temporary joy in winning badges, this is more of a short-term joy than a long-term one. Perhaps this is the nature of gaming itself, but it's something to think about. Will the mayor of Store X even bother to patronize the store one year later, or ten years later?

And this does point out something else - it's possible for even boring married people to get involved in these gaming activities. (And compared to me, Louis Gray is a regular party animal - if nothing else, he goes to more events than I do.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Misleading message in Verizon LG env3-land

Remember when I left the rotary club? At the time, I said the following about my next phone: I advance to a 2010 phone (note: I won't be getting an iPhone, and probably won't even be getting a top-level smartphone at all)...

My statement proved to be correct. I couldn't justify the expense of a smartphone service plan, so I ended up getting a not-so-smart phone with basic Internet access My Internet access plan is capped at 25 MB per month, which pretty much means that I'm not surfing from my phone continuously.

Which probably doesn't make Verizon happy.

You see, as I previously noted (although I didn't name the provider by name), Verizon's sole purpose in life is to have me use as much bandwidth as possible so that I'll move up to their unlimited data plan from the 25 MB plan that I currently have. They want me to check my email via my phone - and considering the amount of mail that I get on my Empoprises Gmail account alone, that could use up bandwidth fairly quickly. And if you're not using up bandwidth, you're using up app fees and other fees.

So anyways, I wanted to put my music onto my phone. I got a microSD card as an Easter present, the microSD card is compatible with my LG env3 phone (no, I didn't get a Motorola phone), and the card was begging for music.

Obviously, if you check the Verizon documentation for the env3, Verizon has a way to fill my musical needs.

Each time you buy a song directly from your phone, you also get a high-quality version at no additional charge. Rhapsody Software lets you pick up your duplicate tracks, manage all the music on your Verizon Wireless phone, and shop for MP3s.

And the unlimited access plan is only $14.99 per month!

Uh, no thanks. I have music files sitting on several computers, and I just want to copy THOSE FILES to my phone.

The only problem is, when I connected my phone to the computer via the USB cable, the computer wouldn't recognize the phone.

Obviously a driver is what is needed, and if you go to and click on "Resources," you will find a link under "Downloads" entitled USB Cable Driver. (Note that this link goes to version 4.9.4, so if you're reading this blog post 100 years from now, there may be a newer driver.)

I downloaded the exe file, started the InstallShield process...and got a component transfer error. (Specifically, one that said "The filename, directory name, or volume label syntax is incorrect.") I started searching, and found some tips that suggested that InstallShield may be the problem:

This issue occurs if either of the following conditions is true:

* The InstallShield installation is incomplete.
* The InstallShield installation data is corrupted.

To resolve this problem, follow these steps:

1. In Windows Explorer or in My Computer, open the following folder:
Drive\Program Files\Common Files\InstallShield\Professional
2. Rename the Professional folder. Or, delete this folder. When you do this, InstallShield will not use the corrupted data in this folder.
3. Install Groove again.

I didn't have a "Professional" folder, but I did have an "Engine" folder, so I renamed it...and ran into the same component transfer error.

Needless to say, other hints regarding getting a new CD didn't help, since the file was on my hard drive. (I did try copying to a CD, but no change.)

But then I ran across another message that offered a possible solution:

The problem was found. The person installing our product did not have local
admin rights to their machine. Once this authority was given, the install
worked correctly.

This error message is very misleading, however.

This appeared to offer a solution, since I happened to be on a computer for which I didn't have local administrator rights. I went to another computer, successfully downloaded the driver, and successfully copied my own music to my own phone via Windows Media Player.

At this point I just did a test run of 14 songs, but since I have an 8 GB microSD card, I could transfer many more songs to my phone.

All without paying Verizon 15 bucks a month.

Now perhaps my title itself is misleading, since neither LG nor Verizon were probably responsible for the misleading nature of the message; that could probably be pinned on Microsoft. However, Verizon didn't exactly provide complete documentation regarding how to copy your own music to your own phone, nor did they provide a direct link to the driver download, instead preferring that you download Verizon software that happened to include the driver.

But all's well that ends well, and now I can listen to "Destroy Everything You Touch," "The Girl and the Robot," "Sweet Sixteen," and 11 other songs anywhere I want. (But I can't scrobble them.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Misusing Kuramoto's Equation to Develop Social Engineering Strategies for Identity Theft

I say this several times throughout this post, but I'll emphasize it here: don't try this at home.

Identity theft is on the rise, and social engineering tactics are being used to promote it. If you're unfamiliar with the term, "social engineering" is not a variant on social media (or perhaps it is). Here's how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines the term "social engineering":

In a social engineering attack, an attacker uses human interaction (social skills) to obtain or compromise information about an organization or its computer systems. An attacker may seem unassuming and respectable, possibly claiming to be a new employee, repair person, or researcher and even offering credentials to support that identity. However, by asking questions, he or she may be able to piece together enough information to infiltrate an organization's network. If an attacker is not able to gather enough information from one source, he or she may contact another source within the same organization and rely on the information from the first source to add to his or her credibility.

Note that you can have the best technical security solutions out there, but they can be easily defeated by the human part of the security solution. If someone claiming to be your boss' boss tells you to give him or her the password RIGHT NOW or you will be fired, there are some people who will obey the command.

So if you want to engage in identity theft (needless to say, I do not advocate this), how are you able to identify a good strategy?

My answer for this is based upon a misapplication of something I read in a March AppsLab post. In that post, Jake Kuramoto was musing about what could make a game application, or a regular application, or something else attractive. He postulated a formula:

Take simplicity + purpose + incentive and you’re on to something.

When you lose a balance among them or take one as implied, you begin to expect too much from people.

Try it yourself. In my head, I visualize it as an equilateral triangle, which makes the effect of changing the length of one side obvious.

For example:

Work is mostly simple + purpose + incentive, but if one goes the wrong way, you’ll have to balance by increasing one or both of the others.

Facebook used to be simple, but as it’s become increasingly complex, they have relied on increases in the other areas, i.e. stronger incentive and purpose. You first joined to be connected to people, and that purpose only gets stronger as more people join. Plus, you’ve been posting photos and adding social artifacts for so long that quitting becomes a big disincentive.

Can this equation be misapplied to social engineering/identity theft strategies? Read this crime report, and note the date of the crime - right before U.S. Census reports were due, an event that has been talked about constantly.

On Saturday, March 27, 2010 at approximately 1330 hours an unknown white male adult made contact with the victim at her residence. The subject identified himself as an employee with the United States Census Bureau and wore the appropriate identification cards around his neck.

The subject asked the victim personal questions such as her name, date of birth and social security number. The subject told the victim that she was required by Title 12 of the federal government to provide him with that information and that it was against the law to refuse to provide such information.

The subject left her a census form and questionnare to fill out, however, did not give her instructions as to what she should do with the form. The victim contacted the census bureau and was told that the form she was given was a fictitious document.

Census officials say the census forms do not ask for any personal identifying information, such as social security numbers or bank account information, and that a census form will never ask for a signature.

Let's put this into Kuramoto's Equation. The strategy is certainly simple - the "census worker" shows up at your door and makes the whole process easy. The purpose - to complete the census - is obvious. And there is a clear incentive - if you cooperate with the "census worker," then you will be complying with the so-called Title 12 legal requirements.

Lather, rinse, and repeat:

If the low-level employee provides the password so that the executive can read his/her email, then the low-level employee gets to keep his/her job.

If you provide your bank account information and a small payment to the brother in law of the deceased Minister of Finance in a remote African country, then you will receive millions of dollars.

Obviously these examples are very different from the "if you check in to this location and tell your friends where you are, then you'll get a free mocha" example to which Kuramoto's Equation was originally applied. But by understanding how the bad people operate, we are better equipped to scrutinize a seemingly plausible story that promises incentives in return for a simple favor.

As to the question of whether social media itself is just a big social engineering experiment, we'll leave that question for another day. Although you may want to see this relevant post that casts "social engineering" in a positive light.

P.S. If you are interested in the POSITIVE uses of the simplicity + purpose + incentive equation, I strongly encourage you to visit Jake Kuramoto's post.