Saturday, October 30, 2010

Taking "there's an app for that"

It's interesting to see how things bounce around in the blogosphere - or, for that matter, in print or broadcast journalism. Someone runs a story, someone else picks it up, and then it gets passed on from there. In some cases, the subsequent stories have less content than the original (I won't name any organization in particular, but there's one with the initials "AP" that specializes in summarizing stories). In other cases, the people who pass the story on add additional value.

Take the story about the caffeine-related death of Michael Lee Bedford that originally ran in This Is Nottingham, was picked up by Boing Boing, then to Geekosystem, and then to The AppsLab, where I saw it and followed the trail back to the original source. (Yes, Paul Bragdon, my Reed College-derived love of original sources has stayed with me.)

You might want to take a look at how the different publications presented the story. This Is Nottingham concentrated on the anguish of the grandmother and aunt. Boing Boing compared the Nottingham story to the recent hospitalization of some students in the state of Washington after drinking caffeine-enhanced malt liquor.

And James Plafke at Geekosystem was...well, he was geeky. After pointing out (correctly) that ANYTHING taken in excess can harm you, Plafke then noted:

[T]he dosage that led to [Michael Lee] Bedford’s untimely death were far, far greater than anything you’d take in from normal consumption of food and beverages. Even if you’re still worried about dying from your morning coffee, sugar-free Red Bull, or what have you, there’s an app that lets you check how many servings would need to be taken for it to be lethal. 138 cans of Amp sounds unbearable.

Plafke then links to the iTunes page for an app (iPhone, iPod, iPad) called "Caffeine Death Count."

Ever wonder how much of your favorite caffeinated beverage will actually kill you?

Now you can find out with Caffeine Death Count!

The page then displays the example cited by Plafke, in which a 150 pound, 25 year old person drinks cans of Amp. If you press the "Kill Me" button, the app calculates that 138 cans will do just that.

For those who do not have Uncle Steve's Magical Insanely Great Device, there's a web page which appears to offer similar functionality.

Let's just say that I won't be drinking 400+ cans of Coca-Coca Classic any time soon.

And I'll be laying off the decaf coffee after about 2,000 cups. (Yes, Virginia, decaf coffee is not entirely caffeine-free.)

And I'll absolutely positively draw the line at 300 cups of Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream.

The product that was ingested by Bedford was not identified at the inquest (presumably because of a fear of copycats, or fear of a lawsuit?), so I couldn't run that product through the European version of the online page.

Presumably the coroner wouldn't be pleased with this advertisement, even though it contains a warning of sorts:

We advise you use a scale to measure out a dose of caffeine powder. Overdose from caffeine is no joke! DO NOT consume more than 1600mg per day!

For Americans like me, that is equivalent to less than 1/3 of a teaspoon. Per 24 hour day. Yeah, as if anyone attending a party is going to suddenly become extremely careful. It's a wonder that there aren't more deaths like Bedford's.

It's times like this when the libertarian in me starts becoming less libertarian.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Whether you're talking about a massive conference such as Oracle OpenWorld, or a smaller conference such as an industry trade show, the conference/show involves getting a whole bunch of people together. One of the underlying benefits is supposed to be the ability of the attendees to get together with each other and socialize and cross-pollinate and all that stuff. To that end, conferences and shows often organize social events to facilitate this.

But do these social events really facilitate this kind of interaction? Ty Unglebower says no. While much of his argument rests of the nature of introverts, some of his points apply to everyone. For example:

Get away from the bars.

I have spoken to some people about this recently on Brazen Careerist, and though a few were inclined to prefer the boisterous, loud and "stimulating" environment of a bar as the perfect place to make new contacts, most actually shared my disdain for such networking events. I can't say all of them were introverts, but I feel comfortable thinking most introverts are not going to be into such an atmosphere when it comes to networking and marketing. Too crowded. Too noisy. Too…unpredictable.

The solution? If introverts want to network, the strictly networking events should be the opposite of bars. Quiet. Intimate. Spacious. Relaxing. Hold a meet and greet, networking style event in the local independent coffee house perhaps. Rent a whole room if they have one. Or perhaps a conference room at the local library. Anywhere an introvert can actually think, and process what is going on before reacting to it. They need that in order to thrive, so let them have that by meeting in a location suited to such.

As Unglebower noted, the majority of his contacts - not just the introverts - preferred the less boisterous events - ones where you can actually TALK to somebody.

Of course, if your goal is to create an Event with a capital E, rather than a networking opportunity, then loud stuff is just fine.

Another ghost town for your Halloween pleasure...if you're celebrating Halloween in China

Here in the United States, it's almost time for people to get into unnatural costumes, knock on your door, and ask for something.

Yes, it's almost time for the U.S. mid-term elections. But it's also just about time for Halloween.

This is the time of year that we think about ghost towns - places that were formerly inhabited, but are now desolate (and, in the thinking of the season, occupied by the dead that formerly lived there). Sometimes the places aren't so barren - I've previously discussed a situation here in the Inland Empire of California (see this September 2008 post in my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog) in which outlying suburban/exurban areas alternate between boom and bust, with shopping centers being nearly abandoned when the economy turns sour.

This issue is not confined to North America or Europe. The New York Times describes a new area in a Chinese city that is completely empty:

Ordos proper has 1.5 million residents. But the tomorrowland version of Ordos — built from scratch on a huge plot of empty land 15 miles south of the old city — is all but deserted.

Broad boulevards are unimpeded by traffic in the new district, called Kangbashi New Area. Office buildings stand vacant. Pedestrians are in short supply. And weeds are beginning to sprout up in luxury villa developments that are devoid of residents.

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So what happened?

City leaders, cheered on by aggressive developers, had hoped to turn Ordos into a Chinese version of Dubai — transforming vast plots of the arid, Mongolian steppe into a thriving metropolis.

However, it didn't happen, and I'm sure that some of the more traditional Chinese are deriding the evil capitalistic practices:

As China’s roaring economy fuels a wild construction boom around the country, critics cite places like Kangbashi as proof of a speculative real estate bubble they warn will eventually pop — sending shock waves through the banking system of a country that for the last two years has been the prime engine of global growth.

Hmm...speculative real estate, aggressive lending practices...what could go wrong?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dead babies, rampant birth certificate copying, and DNA fabrication - who are you?

I am not a writer, but I do work in forensics, so I like to read The Writer's Forensics Blog. Normally this includes answers to specific writers' questions regarding the accuracy of plot points. But sometimes it discusses more general topics, such as dead babies.

Or, more specifically, identity theft.

D.P. Lyle, M.D. recounted this story from New Zealand:

Here’s a hint: if you plan to run for parliament, don’t steal someone’s ID. Apparently David Garrett didn’t get the message. Apparently he needed to clean up his past record and therefore decided he would become someone else. In 1984 he visited a cemetery and found the grave of a child who had been born around the same time as him. He took the child’s name, obtained a birth certificate, and from there was able to reinvent himself complete with passports and a seat in the New Zealand Parliament. Recently however, his chickens came home to roost and his deceit was uncovered.

Frankly, this worked for a while, and the only reason that it failed was because Garrett was a famous person.

Lyle notes that authors often use false identities in their stories, and that the idea of visiting a graveyard to appropriate a new identity is a pretty good way to do so:

A child that has been dead for several decades is usually not on any of the governmental roles. If the name and city can be uncovered by sniffing around graveyards, it is a small step to obtain a birth certificate. Often the child’s death and birth are not filed together and therefore no one is the wiser.

And that assumes that birth certificate distribution is somewhat controlled - which was not the case in Puerto Rico:

For decades, it was common practice for Puerto Ricans to order a dozen copies of their birth certificates and hand them out to just about anyone – the ballet instructor, the elementary school secretary, the prospective employer.

It seemed a benign practice, one borne of habit more than necessity. But in time, it resulted in rampant fraud.

School break-ins increased as thieves broke into schools to rifle through cabinets for birth certificates, which were sold on the black market for $5,000 to $10,000.

In one study, the American authorities examined 8,000 passport fraud cases and found that 40 percent of them involved Puerto Rican birth certificates (Puerto Ricans are, of course, United States citizens). There were tens of millions of unsecured birth certificates, which Mr. McClintock said made Puerto Ricans vulnerable to identity theft.

“You had many people waiting until they turned 65 to request full benefits,” he said. “They would go to the Social Security office and found that someone else had been getting partial benefits in their name since they were 62. That was creating major problems.”

Oh, you say, but we could take DNA samples of people at birth and everything would be wonderful. Well, I talked about that a year ago; it's theoretically possible to fake DNA at a crime scene, for example. And the database in which your birth DNA is stored could conceivably be compromised.

So, who are you? Who? I really want to know.

New definition of the "middle tier" - who will benefit from data deduplication?

The Empoprise-BI business blog (which is presumably where you're reading this item now, unless you're reading it on an authorized or unauthorized duplication service) has covered data de-duplication previously.

Sort of.

My previous post mentioned my efforts to download a report on data de-duplication, but didn't talk about the report itself (which was only available to select elite people like me who knew the right answers to questions to qualify to get said reports).

Well, now that I've run across a report on data de-duplication that is accessible to every English-speaking person, I can talk about it a little bit more. One interesting statement in the Internet Evolution post was the following one:

"Where the largest enterprise is supporting thousands or tens of thousands of users with hundreds of terabytes of data, and growing, many mid-sized enterprises may only be supporting 500-to-1000 users, on possibly more than 100 servers, with 100s of terabytes of backup data, and growing," Reine said in a recent brief. But unlike their larger counterparts, [David] Reine [of the Clipper Group] notes, midtier companies have a harder time managing the flood of unstructured data, including videos and photos, coming from employees.

Why does the post focus on the midtier companies? For three reasons. First, the big companies have already adopted the technology. Second, prices are coming down as the technology matures, making data de-duplication devices more affordable to companies. Third, there are obviously more midtier companies, meaning that the market is now much bigger, even with the price drops. Michael Singer of Internet Evolution noted the following:

"The average sale size for a de-duplication appliance is $50,000. Assuming there are 400,000 opportunities out there... that converts to $20 billion in sales over the next six to seven years," Bill Andrews, CEO of storage appliance manufacturer ExaGrid Systems Inc. , told analysts with research firm DCIG.

Top-tier vendors like EMC, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) , and NetApp have adjusted their product lineups and services accordingly for midmarket needs.

And at least one company is reaping the benefits:

ExaGrid Systems, Inc. (, the leader in cost-effective and scalable disk-based backup solutions with data deduplication, today announced it achieved another record quarter, marking the company’s 13th consecutive growth quarter. During the quarter the company expanded its customer base to more than 750 customers and gained significant new market share.

So feel free to e-mail a text version of this post to all of your co-workers. If your IT staff is "forward-thinking" (as the data de-duplication vendors put it), corporate storage won't be impacted.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Safe sex soliciting

Catalonia is taking "safe sex" to a whole new level.

Prostitution laws vary throughout the world, but apparently prostitution is somewhat legal in the Spanish region of Catalonia. In fact, it's so legal that the government is regulating it:

Women touting for customers on a rural highway outside Els Alamus near Lleida in Catalonia have been told to don the yellow fluorescent bibs or pay fines of 40 euros (£36) under road traffic laws.

If you go to the Telegraph article, you will see a picture of three women with high heeled boots, short skirts or shorts, and bright yellow vests.

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No word on whether teachers or students at the Arreletes Day Care Centre have to wear the bright yellow vests when walking to school.

(empo-plaaybizz) There oughta be a cyberlaw

The Empoprise-BI business blog has previously discussed the intersection between games and business, and the idea that businesses can be more productive if they incorporate gaming techniques into their businesses. The example that comes to mind is the effort by many retail establishments to drive people to their businesses via tools such as Foursquare.

On the flip side, it should be noted that games themselves have become a lucrative business, with many people (including myself) spending money to buy virtual goods.

Take Italian gamer Paola Letizia. The English site reports that Letizia spent the equivalent of £88 on virtual items in the game Pet Society. Afterwards, she ran into a virtual problem that was very real:

When Paola Letizia discovered a burglar had ransacked her flat, she called police straight away.

Now the hunt is on for the thief – even though the property they broke into was a virtual home, designed for a virtual pet and decorated with virtual paintings and furniture.

She ended up reporting this to the police, who did NOT laugh off her complaint. You see, the thief violated postal laws by committing an online robbery.

The story resulted in a comment from reader JMG:

However, I differ with JMG's assessment. Frankly, there is no practical difference between losing a virtual painting that was purchased with real money, and losing a stock certificate that was purchased with real money. I'm sure that JMG would howl if someone stole his 401K - or, since he's presumably in Britain, his 254K (based upon the current dollar to pound exchange rate).

The Professorial Industry Association of America?

Call me a Luddite, but I tend to shy away from purchasing items electronically. If I face a choice between downloading an album and buying a CD, I tend to buy the CD. The one exception that I made was to buy an electronic copy of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" - a song that I can no longer access because the music service from which I purchased it no longer exists, and I have no idea where I put the access code to remove the copy protection from the song.

Well, at least I know that I own what I write - provided, of course, that I was not writing it for my employer. I'm never planning on attending graduate school again, but if I did, I have the assurance that any notes that I took in class would be mine, and that I could do whatever I wanted to with them.


Ryan Stevens...runs a site called NoteUtopia, which is “an organic document marketplace where students can upload and download all of their class documents, including class notes, study guides, handouts, reports, quizzes and more.” The site also lets students rate professors, discuss projects, collaborate, and more. It allows them to sell their notes or other work, suggesting prices from $1 to $5.

That fact is what has landed Stevens on the wrong side of cease-and-desist orders from the California State University system.

You see, it turns out that the California Education Code prohibits dissemination of academic presentations for commercial purposes, including "a recording made in any medium, including, but not necessarily limited to, handwritten or typewritten class notes."

In Internet Evolution, Dee-Ann LeBlanc commented:

In some ways, as a writer, I don’t see thorough lecture notes as much different from an article detailing the contents of a conference talk. Except that note takers are probably focusing less on getting all of the details and more on capturing thoughts that occur to them during the discussion.

And that's a key point. If anything, notes are a collaborative work between the professor, the student, the song that was on the radio that morning, and the t-shirt worn by another classmate. Unfortunately - or fortunately - I have not saved my class notes from my secondary and post-secondary years, but if any professor would be foolish enough to claim ownership of them, they'd be the laughingstock of the academic community.

Waiting for the forensic movie, or why I don't fear Big Brother

I have said it before, and I'll say it again - I do not fear that multiple government agencies will conspire together to take away my freedom. In fact, I do not fear that multiple government departments within a single agency will conspire together to take away my freedom. Why not? Because people in agencies protect their turf against everyone, including other agencies or other departments within the same agency.

Case in point - I was doing some work-related research and I happened to run across this May 2009 story:

It may look like the kind of high-tech gizmo seen on “Mission Impossible,” but a new hand scanner at Anteater Recreation Center isn’t designed to keep out spies: It allows ARC members to enter the facility without breaking a sweat....

On a recent afternoon at the ARC, the system was seamless: Students placed their palms on a metal plate, lining their fingers up with metal guides and a hand outline, entered their personal identification numbers and passed quickly through the turnstiles to begin their workouts....

The scanner doesn’t take palm prints; it analyzes more than 31,000 points and 90 measurements on the hand – including length, width, thickness and surface area – and compares the data with that on file for a member’s PIN. While not as unique as a fingerprint, hand geometry is precise enough that there’s little chance of two palms matching.

OK, nice story, and one that we're going to see more often about the use of biometrics.

But there's a wrinkle to this story - Anteater Recreation Center is at the University of California at Irvine. (Yes, UC Irvine's mascot is the anteater.) And UC Irvine just happens to be the place where Simon A. Cole is a professor. And Cole is well-known in forensic science circles because he believes that "forensic science" is, in most cases, an oxymoron - or, to cite an example, that there is no scientific basis for the Anteater Recreation Center to claim that its hand geometry system can uniquely identify individuals.

So one part of UC Irvine is using a system that another part of UC Irvine claims is hogwash.

And if you want another example of mixed signals, just head up Interstate 5 to Los Angeles, where the city and county are sending contradictory messages to the movie industry:

Talk about mixed signals. On the same day the L.A. City Council moved to draft an ordinance to offer filmmakers a 1% refund on state sales taxes, the county's Board of Supervisors approved a substantial increase in film-permit fees charged by the county Fire Department.

The new Fire Department fee ordinance raises the standard permit review fees to $288 from $104. Fees for use of pyrotechnics and special effects would increase to $282 from $125. And the annual inspection fee for fuel-dispensing trucks would increase to $223, up from $40. The new fees could take effect as early as January, only after the Fire Department has implemented a new inspection program.

Well, at least the County did one miraculous thing - it managed to unite labor and management in opposition to its plan.

Melissa Patack, vice president of state governments affairs for the Motion Picture Assn. of America, called the fee increases "substantial."...

"It's coming at an extremely bad time,'' said Ed Duffy, business agent for Teamsters Local 399, which represents casting directors, driver and location managers.

I don't have the book handy, but in Dave Barry Slept Here, Barry said something to the effect that our system of government is designed in such a way that a change in one part of government results in an equal, opposite reaction from another part of government.

How true.

One reason to bid, even if you won't win

When considering whether to pursue an opportunity, it is obvious that all potential opportunities are strategic and of the highest importance. Allow me to explain.

All opportunities can be divided into two categories. The first category is when we are pursuing an opportunity with an existing customer. In that case, the opportunity is obviously strategic, because it is imperative that we retain this customer, no matter the cost.

The second category is when we are pursuing an opportunity with a potential customer. In that case, the opportunity is obviously strategic, because it is imperative that we win this customer from the competition, no matter the cost.

Sounds simple, right?

Actually, there are cases in which a bid that is otherwise unattractive may be pursued for strategic reasons. The Proposal Guys have listed five potential scenarios (four of which are justifiable) to pursue a bid on strategic grounds. I'm not going to discuss all five of them - you have to go to The Proposal Guys post to see all of them. But I'd like to look at their third scenario, market penetration.

In this case, a vendor has a new product, or is pursuing a new territory, or is doing something else that is new. "New" is the key word here, for reasons that the Proposal Guys explain a little later. How do you let the world know that you're out there?

Well, after you've set up your Facebook and Twitter accounts, the possible next step is to pursue an opportunity in the "new" area, even if your chances of winning are not optimal. As the Proposal Guys put it:

We need to be seen as “players” and hence taking part – even if we don’t win – is key to building relationships and establishing our brand in the new area.

And you can definitely build relationships by pursuing this tactic. Perhaps the customer has a bidders' conference, which you as a bidder can now attend. The customer will be there, the competitors will be there - and other interested parties will be there. Perhaps a knowledgeable subcontractor will be there, or a powerful prime contractor, or some suppliers, or some consultants. Perhaps the customer may have hired a consultant. Any of these people may remember that you were there, and that you are now a player in this industry. And they may contact you the next time an opportunity rolls around.

There's another benefit that the Proposal Guys didn't explicitly state in this post, but I'm sure they've said it elsewhere. There are benefits for your organization from participating in a new type of bid. The changes in my job in the last couple of years have allowed me, as well as many other people in my office, to participate in opportunities that I had never encountered before. We've learned a lot about new markets and new customers, and this knowledge has provided us with benefits as we continue to pursue opportunities in this area.

However, as I mentioned above, there is one caveat. This strategy of pursuing opportunities that you otherwise wouldn't pursue only works when the whole thing is new. Or, as the Proposal Guys put it:

And we’re in stages one or two of the three-stage journey in customers’ inevitable progression from viewing us as “new, interesting and creative” to “we know they’re serious contenders in this market” to “they’ve been trying for ages and they never win – they’re risky”.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The passing of a generation - from the Pentagon Papers to Wikileaks

I suspect that if I were to ask several Tea Party people to reveal their opinions of the New York Times, they'd state that it's a communist-dominated enemy of America. (Then again, some of these Tea Party people would say the same about Fox News, but that's a whole different story.)

The New York Times' reputation among the right is partially because of the Pentagon Papers episode, an incident in which Daniel Ellsberg obtained secret Pentagon documents which were then published by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Ellsberg's name has recently appeared in the news in relation to another leak:

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, lashed out together on Saturday at the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of whistle-blowers, including those responsible for the release of secret documents on the Iraq war....

Mr. Ellsberg, who said he had flown overnight from California to attend, described Mr. Assange admiringly as “the most dangerous man in the world” for challenging governments, particularly the United States. He said the WikiLeaks founder had been “pursued across three continents” by Western intelligence services and compared the Obama administration’s threat to prosecute Mr. Assange to his own treatment under President Richard M. Nixon.

This article, by the way, appeared in the New York Times. But apparently the Times is not regarded so well in this latest episode, at least by Glenn Greenwald at

To supplement my post yesterday about The New York Times' government-subservient coverage of the WikiLeaked documents regarding the war that newspaper played such a vital role in enabling, consider -- beyond the NYT's sleazy, sideshow-smears against Julian Assange -- the vast disparity between how newspapers around the world and The New York Times reported on a key revelation from these documents: namely, that the U.S. systematically and pursuant to official policy ignored widespread detainee abuse and torture by Iraqi police and military (up to and including murders).

Greenwald then shows pictures of online coverage from several media sources, most of which state that the US ignored Iraqi torture. The Times headline? "Detainees Fared Worse in Iraqi Hands." Greenwald also notes that the Times dutifully ignored the T-word.

Actually, when you get into the heart of Greenwald's article, it's more of an attack on American coverage of the leaks in general (the Washington Post is also mentioned), along with an attack on American elites:

The last thing American political and media elites in general want is a discussion of the legal obligations to investigate torture and bring the torturers to legal account....

Hmm...attacking the elites? Glenn Greenwald's sounding like...Richard Nixon.

When employment termination decisions become really easy

While people in the workplace generally get along, there are times when problems can occur. It would be great to say that when evidence of a problem appears, wise hands could immediately step in to defuse the situation. Unfortunately, problems usually do not appear in such a way that it's obvious to everyone. Perhaps it's just a gesture, or a whispered comment, or an isolated incident. In such a case, what do you do?

Here's a situation that was documented in "Clients from Hell":

The lights were off and I was standing at the front of the room by the projection screen when I said, “This is the part that really shows off what our application does. This is where we get the client excited about it.” The new employee’s immediate response was to hoot and holler like a maniac as she pulled her shirt above her head to reveal her exposed bra.

The presenter and the new employee were the only two people in the room. There were no other witnesses to this work-inappropriate behavior.

The presenter wasn't sure what to do, so he left the room, went into another room with two female co-workers, and was about to ask them for advice. Then, suddenly, the new employee walked into the room. Now what do you do? Do you state what happened, knowing full well that the new employee could deny it and you'd have egg on your face throughout the company?

Clients from Hell describes what happened next:

The other co-worker again asked what the problem was, to which the offender replied, “Oh, it was no big deal. I just lifted up my shirt… Like this!” She proceeded to do it again, horrifying her audience.

Even with multiple witnesses, the presenter was still uncertain about how to proceed. He was discussing this with another co-worker, when he happened to look out the window...

...but you'll have to go to Clients from Hell to see what happened next. I will tell you, however, that she was terminated that day - and it wasn't for exposing her bra.

Now in most cases in which an employee engages in inappropriate behavior, the employee doesn't usually voluntarily engage in the inappropriate behavior in front of multiple witnesses at multiple times. But this new employee was presumably eager to facilitate the process. Or something.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Idaho call center and an educational partnership

Yes, the Empoprise-BI business blog is your source for all things call center-related. But this post has a new twist on it. When Company X decides to locate a call center somewhere, they're (usually) concerned about more than paying low wages. Specifically, are the people in the locality able to do the work?

Enter people such as Marilyn Davis, Dean of Idaho State University’s College of Technology. Davis played an instrumental role in Bannock Development Corporation's efforts to get Allstate to locate a call center in Chubbuck, Idaho.

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From the Idaho State Journal:

“The first site visit, if it’s clear they’ll need workforce training, Marilyn is already right there the first day we meet the company,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam said she could relay the services available through the college herself, but “it’s just a stronger presentation when it comes from the dean of the college.”

Now the preparation begins:

Within the month, Davis expects her college will begin working with the insurance company to draft a customized curriculum for proprietary training. In the long term, she said her program may also start an introduction to insurance course for those who may be interested in getting into the industry.

For more information, including an interview with Davis, please go here. More information about ISU's Workforce Training can be found here.

Follow people, or follow topics? It depends.

This sort of ties in to the whole "following people vs. following topics" discussion that I've engaged in here and elsewhere, but this is from the perspective of the content provider.

Anna Tarkov blogged about The Awl and David Carr's observations about it. Let's start with an excerpt from the New York Times article that Carr wrote:

In an age of hyper-targeted vertical sites, The Awl is all over the road. In the last week, the site published a column about foreclosures, a piece describing what it feels like to be chided by Gene Simmons, an illustrated essay on the virtues of the breaststroke, tips on picking up obnoxious hipster girls and yes, poetry in the, yes, poetry section.

Tarkov quoted this observation from Carr:

Strong voices and a literate sensibility made The Awl an attractive, sticky place.

Which led Tarkov to state:

This tidbit early on re-teaches the lesson that we should already know. When it comes to building a successful online content business, you don't necessarily need to focus on a specific niche. You just need to have a strong voice and a clear idea of who your readers are.

While pondering Tarkov's statement and its implications in the people vs. topics debate, it occurred to me that there is reading...and there is reading.

Sometimes we approach the computer in an effort to search for a particular thing - the dates for Oracle OpenWorld, the details behind the Norwegian newsreader who resigned on air, whatever. In that case, it is often more practical to search for a topic (with some exceptions - I might check the "person" called Oracle Technolyg Network to find out about Oracle OpenWorld dates, for example).

At other times, we're not approaching the computer to search for a particular thing. Maybe we're just looking for general biometrics stuff, without looking at anything in particular. Or maybe we're looking for fun stuff, so we go to FriendFeed to see what is going on there.

Perhaps those are the types of people that The Awl attracts. But if you're searching for specific information about pointed sticks, you might have better luck here.

Why I had better learn about American International Assurance

Continuing my practice of writing about things that I know nothing about, my Saturday morning post mentioned an incident in Singapore that involved a (now-former) agent of American International Assurance. It was sourced from this Andrew Tan post, by the way. Tan obviously knows about AIA, but all that I knew about AIA was that it was a Singapore-based insurance firm.

My knowledge was somewhat lacking, since AIA is actually an Asia-wide insurance firm, based in Hong Kong, and is a subsidiary of a firm that is well-known in the United States (and in Manchester, England), AIG (American International Group).

But it turns out that the AIA subsidiary is very important to me as an American taxpayer, according to Bloomberg:

American International Group Inc. raised a record HK$138.3 billion ($17.8 billion) from the Hong Kong initial public offering of its main Asian unit, putting what was once the world’s largest insurer on course to repay its 2008 bailout.

AIG sold 7.03 billion shares, or a 58 percent stake, at HK$19.68 each, the top end of a marketing range, Hong Kong-based AIA said an e-mailed statement. It used an option to expand the sale offered from 5.86 billion, or a 49 percent stake.

Bloomberg links to a prospectus that indicates that AIG may make even more money as it sheds itself of its Asian unit.

I wonder if this will get any play in the United States as the November election approaches. The bailouts of AIG, General Motors, and others are a hot topic for some candidates, but if the end result is a net positive for the United States government, then perhaps these bailouts may become more attractive in the future.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My apologies to new Apple device users who saw my last post

Isn't it ironic, don't you think, that my last post referenced a page that embedded the URL "" of TYPE="application/x-shockwave-flash"?

If you were unable to follow that link, perhaps you need a new device.

Move zig. (CATS Ballmer: All your OS are belong to us.)

Dave Winer's post "Amazingly, a killer app of OSes is possible" obviously proceeded to a different conclusion, but as he went through his argument, he made an observation in passing that struck me more than his final point.

And with Apple closing its channel more and more, Microsoft has the possibility to zig to their zag, and make their channel even more open to entrepreneurship.

Zig. Zag. I love it. Makes Microsoft sound like our favorite video game introduction.

For those who haven't followed the story, Apple is moving closer and closer to a model in which Apple not only supplies the operating software AND the hardware, but also the applications. Not that Apple will write all the applications, but Apple is becoming the avenue via which you get your applications. The latest manifestation of this is the Mac App Store, which will allow you to easily install applications on your Macintosh computer.

Applications created by developers whose applications have been approved by Apple. Approval means:

"[T]o ensure that apps are reliable, perform as advertised, and free of offensive material, we will review every app on the Mac App Store based on a set of Mac App Store Review Guidelines that we are ready to share with you. These guidelines are designed to help you create and prepare your apps so they will sail through our approval process.

According to AppleInsider, the guidelines prohibit apps that crash, beta apps, apps that duplicate other apps, apps that encourage excessive consumption of illegal drugs (uh, where did Steve go to school?), apps that implement their own copy protection...and

[a]pps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies (e.g., Java, [PowerPC code requiring] Rosetta)...

As far as I know, no overt moves have been made yet to lock down the Mac so that the Mac App Store is the ONLY way to get Mac applications. But that is theoretically a possibility in the future.

The next move belongs to the developers. Ballmer, Jobs, and everyone else are dependent upon the developers - no matter how wonderful their platform is, users won't use the platform if they can't find applications for it.

In the 1980s, Apple was in a precarious situation. They were managing to attract some brand new developers to the Macintosh platform, but the number of Mac applications was vastly lower than the number of DOS apps. And to complicate things, one of the main Mac developers happened to be Microsoft (a wonderful example of co-opetition).

Apple is doing a lot better attracting developers today. And it's certainly possible that the new policies may cause a few developers to wonder if it's worth it to develop for the Mac. If it's only a few developers who bolt, no problem for Apple. But if a number of developers bolt - or even if a number of developers remain, but consider the Mac a secondary market for development after the Windows and Linux versions are released = then Apple may have shot itself in its insanely great foot.

And it's not just the developers who could cause trouble. Apple has already picked a fight with Adobe, and the moves against Java may, or may not, result in a fight between Apple and Oracle. Wouldn't it be ironic if Oracle, who was initially perceived to be the killer of Java, ends up becoming a staunch defender of Java against the evil Apple empire? (Or, to put it another way, What Will Larry Do?)

In the meantime, it's possible that there are people whose life-views have been suddenly shattered by the revelation that Steve Jobs is not God. And it's even possible that these people may discovered that there's an operating system out there called Windows. And it's even possible - call this a stretch, but it's possible - that these people may buy Windows, sending Windows well above its paltry 88.92% market share.

Trust us for life?

Andrew Tan recently blogged about some insurance shenanigans in Singapore. This is part of what he said:

This incident came about after a semi-retired Indonesian businessman, Mr Ong claims that his agent had sold him a non-existent insurance policy that cost US$5 million.

The agent has her side of the story:

The agent Ms Sally Low who was sacked by AIA in September 2009 claims that she was merely an accomplice and the fake insurance plan (AIA Thank You Policy)was part of a ploy conceived by Mr Ong to defraud AIA such that AIA would be responsible for Ms Low’s wrongdoings and compensate Mr Ong’s losses.

Be sure to read the rest of Andrew Tan's post, and make sure that you scroll down to the bottom of the post. AIA stands for American International Assurance, whose slogan (according to a picture at Tan's blog post) is "Trust Us For Life."

P.S. Speaking of scams, I discovered Andrew Tan's blog Boleh! Boleh! after his post on sake was appropriate, without attribution, by myxnote (see here). And myxnote is still ripping off my stuff; here's the myxnote version of my Smith Corona post, complete with my "empo-tymshft" label. (The original post is here, if you missed it.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

(empo-tymshft) Smith Corona was not a beer

I spent Friday at the Training Day sponsored by the Southern California Chapter of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP). It was football-themed, so I wore my Washington Redskins shirt. And was from Jodi Walker, who discussed the many different ways that people communicate today. While she didn't spent a lot of time talking about the information overload issues that Louis Gray recently mentioned, she did talk about the generational differences in communication tools that were used.

And in the course of that conversation, she mentioned Smith Corona.

Now the people who primarily use SMS, rather than e-mail, to communicate may not have heard of Smith Corona. But I am very familiar with the company, for Smith Corona is a company. In fact, they manufactured a product that I took with me to college, and that was important to me - even more important than my boombox.

You see, in college I had to write a lot of papers, and I used my Smith Corona to do this. In fact, I even used my Smith Corona to create papers for others, which allowed me to make a little money on the side.

But even before I left college, the Smith Corona's days were numbered. The college that I attended, Reed College, had a thesis requirement, and I didn't relish using my Smith Corona to create a 100-plus page thesis.

For the Smith Corona, you see, was a typewriter. A fairly advanced typewriter for its day - not quite the Selectric, but still pretty nice. If you made a mistake while typing and caught it soon enough, you could use white ink to type over your mistake. But if you were on page 4 of your paper and found an error on page 2, it was a little more difficult to fix. And if you were on page 6 of your paper and discovered that you needed to insert or delete a paragraph on page 3, you had a lot of work ahead of you.

I could have typed my thesis, but I instead chose to use more advanced technology - namely, nroff on the college's PDP-11/70. (Today I can't remember whether I used the -mm or -ms macros.) This allowed me to create an editable text file, and to put commands in that file that allowed me my words and generate my thesis on a printer. And if I needed to make a change, I could electronically make the change and reprint the thesis.

Several years later I was in the working world, using tools such as Microsoft Word and FullWrite Professional to create 100-plus page user manuals, and my Smith Corona began to gather dust.

As did a lot of other Smith Coronas, as this 1995 New York Times article showed:

The Smith Corona Corporation, whose portable typewriters were an essential tool for generations of high school and college students, filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday, a victim of the computer revolution.

The company said it had decided to seek bankruptcy court protection in Delaware to stabilize its operations, obtain additional financing and carry out a restructuring plan.

Nearly five years later, Smith Corona filed for bankruptcy protection again. At that time, it became clear how the once-dominant brand had withered away:

The company stopped manufacturing products in 1997 and now has them made by third parties. It has about 40 employees in New York, California, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands.

Smith Corona is still a going concern in 2010 - its website is here. However, these days the only thing that they sell is typewriter/word processor ribbons.

Working to the end

Another baseball post.

On Friday, July 2, 1993, the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Montreal Expos in Montreal. The next day, Saturday, July 2, the Dodgers lost the follow-up game. But some of you may recall that they lost a lot more than that.

Earlier in the day on July 3, when the Dodgers gathered at their hotel to get on the team bus, broadcaster Don Drysdale was missing. Initially, people figured that he might have taken a cab to the stadium. But when he didn't appear by game time, police broke into his hotel room and found that he had passed away at approximately midnight the night before, of a heart attack. While Vin Scully and Ross Porter were broadcasting the game, Scully was asked to make the announcement:

"Friends, we've known each other a long time," Scully said, "and I've had to make a lot of announcements, some more painful than others. But never have I ever been asked to make an announcement that hurts me as much as this one. And I say it to you as best I can with a broken heart.

"Don Drysdale, who had a history of heart trouble--you may remember a couple of years ago he had angioplasty--was found dead in his hotel room, obviously a victim of a heart attack, and had passed away during his sleep."

This event has been on my mind for years. On the one hand, Drysdale died alone, in a hotel room away from home, which is sad in its own way. But on the other hand, he lived a full life, and was literally working up to the day of his death, doing a job he loved.

And, as all of us in southern California know, he lived long enough to see one of his records be broken - and he couldn't have been happier:

With that out, Hershiser surpassed one of those records that was never supposed to be broken: the mark of 58 consecutive scoreless innings set by Dodger Hall of Famer Don Drysdale 20 years ago.

In the ensuing two decades, that record wasn't threatened—until Hershiser came along and erased it. He did it with his 114th pitch of the evening, then greeted a wave of teammates on the infield and hugged a waiting Drysdale in the dugout....

Throughout the streak Drysdale, a Dodger broadcaster, has had a bird's-eye view. The Big D publicly cheered Hershiser on, but Drysdale wondered aloud last week about a ruling by the Elias Sports Bureau, the official keeper of big league stats, that excluded a pair of outs from his streak (fractional innings are included only in the records of relievers). "Is Elias running baseball, or is baseball running baseball?" Drysdale asked. "My streak was 58?, the way I look at it."...

When it was over, Drysdale was gracious. "They call him the Bulldog," he said, "and you were able to witness why." Hershiser demurred: "He was a much better pitcher than I am."

Oh, I don't know. They were both pretty good, and they were both linked with lefties (Koufax and Valenzuela). And Hershiser's now a broadcaster...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What if Jim Whitehurst developed consumer products? (Interop comments on iterative development)

I'm mulling over the ramifications of Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst's keynote at Interop. Here's how InformationWeek described it:

The commercial software industry is failing enterprise customers through overpricing, lengthy development cycles, and products with bloated feature sets that most customers don't use, said Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, who spoke Wednesday during a keynote presentation at the Interop IT Conference and Expo in New York City.


The main problem, according to Whitehurst, is a commercial development model under which executives, programmers, and marketers get together in an effort to predict what their customers want-and then take five years to build it.

The Register, which also covered the keynote, detailed Whitehurst's proposed solution:

This stands in stark contrast to the iterative and more modest product cycles of providers of open source products and online applications.

Whitehurst compares the iterative model to kaizen, the Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement that lead to the lean manufacturing techniques first developed at Toyota, and which are now nearly universal in manufacturing.

With lean manufacturing, you work in small groups, you share designs up and down the supply chains, and you make incremental changes in products and improve them gradually. This results in fewer manufacturing defects.

Similarly, the kaizen-like approach to software development embodied in open source projects (as well as in services such as have lower levels of software defects than big-bang software products. Whitehurst claimed that he could show that Red Hat's own development efforts had an order of magnitude fewer defects per lines of code than big-bang efforts, thanks to the open source model.

Now in my time as a product manager, we didn't design software to meet the needs of people five years in the future. Frankly, we used a shorter time horizon, though not as short as some of the iterative models that I've seen out there.

But then again, I was not managing a product that was primarily used by IT people. I was managing a product that was primarily used by cops. For some of these customers, they just want to get the software to a point that it works, and then be done with it. I've known of agencies that have refused to upgrade their software for ten years or more - as long as the current software is working, they're happy.

My initial impression - and please correct me with facts if I'm wrong - is that a more iterative development process works better when your customers are technically savvy, or if the iterations are managed in such a way that the customers are never exposed to them. If you're offering a development tool, engineers can handle multiple iterations of the software, and they won't need a glossy four-color manual for every release. If you're offering an enterprise operating system, then automatic upgrades and patches can handle things for most users, and an enterprise IT staff can handle the rest. Even a non-enterprise operating system such as the personal editions of Windows 7 effectively has a monthly release cycle, in which the updates can be handled automatically and don't cause severe disruptions to the way that people work.

But imagine if Microsoft Word were on a more iterative development process, and Microsoft was releasing new versions of Word daily. And let's say that the October 22, 2010 version introduced a new menu item. (Forgive me for my dated references to "menu items," but I use Word 2003 more than I use the later versions of Word.)

What does this mean?

It means that if I walk into a store on November 26 and look at the Word packages available in the store, chances are that I won't know whether the package includes the new menu item or not.

So I go ahead and install it, and I'm asked if I want to get the latest software updates, and I say yes, and the software (and the on-line documentation) is updated. Problem solved?

Well, I need a little more help sometimes, so I go to the Barnes & Noble in Montclair, California (I'm trying to become the mayor, you see) and look at the Microsoft Word books on the shelf. I select the book written by Steven Hodson, which happens to have a publication date of November 2010. What I don't know, however, is that Hodson wrote the book in July, using a beta copy of Word that included some features that made the August 12 release, some that made the August 14 release, and one that was dropped and never released - yet.

After searching in vain for an answer to my menu item question, I do what I should have done in the first place - phone a friend who's more knowledgeable about such things.

"Get OpenOffice," the friend says, "but get it quick before Larry ruins it."

The consumer markets depend upon some level of predictability, and I suspect that people would get very angry at supposed "software churn." Let's face it, people already get mad when Microsoft tells them to perform major operating system upgrades every few years. What if Microsoft started telling them to perform minor upgrades every few days?

Am I wrong here, or does the iterative model fail utterly when applied to the consumer packaged software market?

Give him a minute!

Ross Porter hasn't been on Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasts in years, but he was on the Dodgers broadcasting team when I arrived in California, and for a couple of decades after that.

An enthusiastic Oklahoman, back in the 1980s Porter had a short update segment on the radio (KABC radio, if I remember correctly). "I'm Ross Porter! Give me a minute!" he'd declare at the beginning of the segment, and it was a command.

I recently ran across an August 1997 Los Angeles Times article by Bill Plaschke that featured Porter, and perhaps told a little bit about the man who labored in Vin Scully's shadow. An excerpt:

The second caller wants to know where the Dodgers hang their retired numbers. In one sentence, Porter does two things some announcers have never done in their lives.

He apologizes and admits he doesn't know.

Words of wisdom for all of us.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sometimes advanced technology is not necessary

As I've mentioned previously here in the Empoprise-BI business blog, I work with various biometric matching systems. My employer, MorphoTrak, provides fingerprint and palmprint identification systems and facial recognition systems, and has even acquired the rights technology for SMT matching. To those who don't spend their days working with biometric acronyms, "SMT" stands for "scars, marks, and tattoos."

And we have a number of customers for our technologies, including the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Florida.

But I think it's safe to say that Broward County didn't use MorphoTrak technology to nab one of its most recent arrestees.

They didn't need to.

The Sun-Sentinel:

A theft suspect with "I'm Me" tattooed on his forehead was arrested Tuesday night, just hours after authorities circulated a photograph of him.

Just before noon Tuesday, the Broward Sheriff's Office issued a news release about Joseph Eric Williams....

Yes, the iPhone thief's memorable tattoo was noticed by people when he robbed iPhones from AT&T stores all over south Florida. Once Broward County issued its news release, Williams was caught in Miami Gardens within hours.

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How can you rely on myxnote information when you don't know the source?

A few hours ago, I wrote a post that talked about how content from this blog is being reproduced, without attribution, on another blog. The title of my blog post was My attempt to get into every Harry Sihit myxnote blog that exists.

Guess what just appeared in the myxnote "business loan" blog?

That's right - a post entitled My attempt to get into every Harry Sihit myxnote blog that exists.

And yes, I realized going in that every outside link that is embedded in that post includes an advertising banner at the top, courtesy But at least the readers have a fighting chance to know the sources of the material that they're reading - for example, things that were originally posted in the Empoprise-BI business blog before they magically appeared, without attribution, my myxnote.

And no, I don't think that my stuff is being stolen in any of the other myxnote blogs.


My attempt to get into every Harry Sihit myxnote blog that exists

A friend of mine was conducting a web search, and found a site that has published, verbatim and without attribution, at least two posts from this blog. includes a post entitled "The varieties of human experience," while includes a post entitled "If open Facebook makes money, would closed Facebook make MORE money?"

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll realize that both of those posts seem to be awfully familiar.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, based upon entries such as these.

This episode has me disappointed on two counts.

First, the thief is apparently not bothering to steal all of my content. While this post, which appropriated content from the Empoprise-BI business blog, included the phrase "safariland s corporate history" at the bottom of the post, as far as I can tell the content people never got around to ripping off the blog that actually included material on Safariland's corporate history, the Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog.

Second, the thief is only using my content in one blog. The blog in question is "," which is only one of the blogs in the myxnote empire. How come I'm not getting ripped off by some of the other myxnote blogs, including ""? I can understand why I didn't make the home and garden blog, but come on - why shut me out of tech?

It looks like the person who should receive my complaint is an Indonesian person named Harry Sihit. Or at least that's the name he/she gave when registering the domain. See for more information, including a server in Charlotte, North Carolina (of all places; alert Michael Jordan). Or check the record for shharry.

Or perhaps you can look at this website, which scraped Sihit's contact information ("Harry Sihit ( Jl. Gatot Subro no 251 Medan Sumatra Utara,20217") and republished it for the benefit of those interested in flower shops.

Or perhaps you can read about Mr. Sihit's home town of Medan here.

So how do I break into Harry Sihit's technology blog? It may be too late, because the blog doesn't appear to exist any more.

But since I'm a Starfleet Commander fan, perhaps I should break into his freegames blog. I could do so by linking to Harry's post DJ Hero - How Much Have the Turntables Been Spun, which bears a striking resemblance to a post in the blog Coffee With Games. If I talk about free games enough, then Harry Sihit might put my text in that blog also, expanding my ability to talk about my blog, the Empoprise-BI business blog, as well as that fine blog Coffee With Games.

As for Harry...I just have to make sure that I don't commit a typo when typing his last name.


If open Facebook makes money, would closed Facebook make MORE money?

In an October 15 post about Facebook, Jake Kuramoto included this observation (among many others; see the original post):

Facebook needs channels, which would make sense in a way that lists and groups don’t. I’m a channel. I broadcast baby pictures to family; I broadcast Portland news to Portlanders; I broadcast AppsLab and Oracle news to Oracle people.

This ties into a thought that both Jake and I have touched upon before. Our social networks are designed to follow people, rather than topics. (See my November 4, 2009 post, Jake's comment on HIS November 4, 2009 post, and my September 12, 2009 post.) Following people has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that by following a person, you get a picture of all of the interests of the person. One disadvantage is that by following a get a picture of all of the interests of the person.

Over the weekend, I shared something on Facebook about the 2009 death of professional wrestler Playboy Buddy Rose. Now I currently have over 300 friends on Facebook. This was certainly significant to one of my Facebook friends - the one who actually shared the news with me. He was my roommate during my sophomore year in college in Portland, Oregon, where the Playboy was wrestling at the time. I have a few other Facebook friends who knew me during my freshman and sophomore years in college, when several of us were following Rose and the rest of the Portland pro wrestling universe (don't forget Frank Bonnema and Tom Peterson). Jake Kuramoto himself happens to live in the Portland area, so perhaps the share may have been interesting to him, if he's even heard of Rose. I'm not sure that my Sunday school friend, or most of my other Facebook friends, were particularly interested in the passing of Buddy Rose, however.

Back to Jake's October 15 post. I posted a comment with numerous other examples that I won't go into here, as well as a discussion of my workflow, which includes a number of items that I find in Google Reader and are automatically shared to several sources, including Facebook. This prompted Kuramoto to add another observation:

The irony of channels is they represent what FB was originally. It started as a closed network based on domain names....

They've abandoned the closed nature for business reasons....

Now think through this. I am obviously too old to have been around for Facebook's first iteration, but Zuckerberg's (and only Zuckerberg's) first concern was to hook friends up. Only later did it become apparent that Zuckerberg could make the largest amount of money by creating a more open structure, in which all of us turn our privacy controls off and share all sorts of information with our friends and with Facebook's business partners and advertisers.

However, in the same way that Facebook has become unusable to Kuramoto because of all of the data (not information) flowing through the feed, Facebook has also become unusable to the advertisers because of all of the data (not information) flowing through THEIR feeds.

Case in point - in late September, I went to France for a week, and accessed Facebook several times while in France. Ever since then, a number of Facebook's advertisements to me have been presented in the French language. Because I accessed Facebook from France, Facebook has concluded that these advertisements would be of interest to me. Unfortunately for the advertisers, I can't read their ads - my command of the French language is extremely limited. And I haven't bothered to go to each individual ad and tell Facebook not to show it to me any more, so advertisers are still serving these ads up to me, and are paying Facebook for the privilege of advertising to me even though those advertisements are wasted money, from the advertisers' perspective.

(Hey, readers - can you keep a secret? Don't tell Facebook that I don't speak French. I figure that as long as Facebook is serving up these French language ads to me, it WON'T be serving up California election political ads to me. I'm very thankful for this oasis of peace, and don't want to spoil it.)

Back to Kuramoto. After mentioning Facebook's open business model, he said this in his comment:

...but now, years later, it's apparent that it was the best architecture for modeling people's social groups, i.e. independent and segmented networks.

And here's the kicker:

Going back to a similar approach of personal walled networks would appeal greatly to advertisers too, since it would require additional personal data.

In short, brilliant. We're all getting battered by the Facebook firehose because of all the data that we've shared with Facebook, and the way to mitigate that is to...share even more data with Facebook.

Perhaps there could be a way for me to tell Facebook that items about Playboy Buddy Rose would primarily be of interest to my "Reed" list. And items about the National Academy of Sciences would primarily be of interest to my "MorphoTrak" list.

Once Facebook gets a hold of this and similar information, they could target some wonderful ads for me. Perhaps some day I'll see an ad like this:

Hey Reed grad! A few months ago you posted that you haven't been to Portland in over 20 years. Wouldn't you like to come back and visit? We're the EconoLodge on SE 82nd Avenue, down the road from the old Tom Peterson's location and near all those Chinese American restaurants you used to frequent. And you can just hop on Tri-Met (it includes light rail now, you know) and you can get to Reed, downtown, Powell's Books, the Pittock Mansion, whatever. So grab your old Zippy comic book, call the Econolodge, and get ready to take a trip down memory lane to the land of Communism, Atheism, and Free Love!

Of course, knowing Facebook, the ad that I actually see will look something like this.

Il ya quelques mois que vous avez affichée que vous n'avez pas été à Portland dans plus de 20 ans. N'aimeriez-vous pas à revenir nous rendre visite?

Although you have to admit that "communisme, l'athéisme, et amour libre" looks pretty impressive in French...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More on business analysis - boot camp!

As a follow-up to my previous post about business analysis, I also wanted to mention that you can attend a business analysis boot camp. Now you don't need to shave your head like my nephew did when he joined the Marines, and the boot camp only lasts for four days, but they cover a lot of material during that time.

Here's a description of the boot camp, offered by ASPE:

Business Analyst Boot Camp Full-Spectrum Business Analyst Training and Skills Development

Learn how to:

* Bridge the expectations gap between business stakeholders and technology solution providers
* Enhance business analysis techniques to reduce project cost
Implement practical methods for understanding user requirements
* Improve your requirements elicitation, development and documentation
* Understand and describe the business environment in which a project exists
* Explore proven tactics for managing project scope
* Focus on discovering root causes, not just symptoms
* Gain tools and techniques for developing more precise requirements
* Practice state-of-the-art business and system modeling techniques
* Organize and categorize project requirements
* Quickly identify accurate use cases for new or enhanced business systems
* Produce high-quality, readable use case documentation
* Avoid common use case traps and pitfalls
* Overcome real-world challenges that confront today’s Business Analysts

ASPE also offered this description of how wonderful business analysts are:

Business Analysts provide an essential function by assessing and analyzing the business environment, defining the scope of business problems, capturing project requirements, designing high-value solution approaches, and ensuring that the defined scope meets the customer's needs, goals, objectives, and expectations. This practical workshop will provide participants with fundamental analysis tools and techniques, including methods to understand the business environment, define a problem using a systematic approach, and influence and inform project stakeholders at all levels. You will gain pragmatic solutions to sustain stakeholder engagement throughout the project lifecycle, including questioning, listening, business need identification, problem solving, presentation, validation, and acceptance of the effective solution.

Of course, I'm sure that every ASPE course says that the attendees provide an essential function...


A correction regarding the state of Ron Jeremy's career

In the course of yet another post about Moby's "We Are All Made of Stars" video, I said the following:

While JC Chasez was certainly of current interest, others such as Kato Kaelin and Gary Coleman were more famous for past accomplishments, and significant portions of the MTV audience probably didn't know who Ron Jeremy was; as DeFresno put it in her post, "Ron Jeremy is hardly a household name among fifteen-year-olds of today." Well, let's hope not.

This post elicited a comment from someone identified as "3bproducer":

Actually a lot of teens know who Ron Jeremy is. Be sure to check out his first mainstream starring role in the new movie, "Beaches, Buns and Bikinis." Ron easily steps into a similar role played by comedian Morey Amsterdam in the 1960's "Beach Party." Ron portrays a wise beach sage who owns the coolest hotdog stand on the beach and dispenses love advice to the young.

(Insert foot-long hotdog joke here.)

The commenter, who is presumably either Matt Jenkins or Charles Stanley, provided a link to the movie's website, The site includes a synopsis of the movie:

In this epic tale set in an industrial wasteland, the sights and sounds of music and metal heads moshing beach side emanate as CRAB SHACK SAMMIE, self-proclaimed king of the beach, announces it to be another perfect day. Crab Shack Sammie gets one of his employees to wear a new hot dog costume to help promote his hot dog stand. He knows the hot dog is a beachin' good luck charm whose presence will bring love and posterity to the beach. Arriving late to the beach party, CASPAR discovers he has lost his one true love, RUBY, to his nemesis LITTLE BIG MIKE. An unknown thief steals the magical hot dog suit resulting in bad luck descending on the beach. Afflicted by this bad luck, Caspar realizes he must act quickly to get his girl back and recover the hotdog suit so good fortune will return to the beach.

I don't know enough about movies to know if the comparison to the Funicello-Avalon beach movies (Morey Amsterdam played a supporting role) is appropriate, but the one clip that I watched on the website is certainly evocative of that innocent time.

Speaking of innocence, I ended up looking at Ron Jeremy's blog, which includes a post written after the death of Gary Coleman. While both Jeremy and Coleman appeared in Moby's aforementioned video (although they appeared in separate segments), it turns out that they worked together at other times, including the Weakest Link and the Surreal Life. Jeremy had this to say about Coleman:

“Getting to know Coleman wasn’t easy,” Ron Jeremy told AVN. “Gary was very serious sometimes. … If he didn’t know you, he’d say hi and just keep walking. … He didn’t want to spend a lot of time with people he didn’t know.”

Underneath that shy exterior was a playful soul. “He loved toys,” Ron Jeremy said. “He didn’t experience a real childhood,” he added, as explanation for why Coleman found such satisfaction in such pursuits as playing with model trains.

And unlike the Moby video, in which they appeared separately, Jeremy and Coleman appeared together in Kid Rock's "Cowboy" video (beginning at the 2:30 mark; embedding disabled by request).

Don't let the facts get in the way of a good "Apple is great, Microsoft is junk" stereotype

Ron Miller recently wrote a post in Internet Evolution that said, among other things, the following:
  • Microsoft just launched Windows Phone 7.

  • Microsoft concluded a deal with Facebook that integrates Facebook likes into Bing search results.

  • Apple has had continuous problems with the iPhone 4, including antenna issues, supply issues, and now issues with shattering glass.

Which naturally leads to Ron Miller's conclusion - Apple is hot, and Microsoft is in disarray.

Say what?

Regardless of all of the items that Miller listed above, the only two items that were important were these:
  • Ray Ozzie is leaving Microsoft.

  • Apple had a good quarter.

Here's part of what Miller says about the two companies:

It seems no matter what Apple does, it just continues to make money hand over fist.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has the feel of a company that is drifting and in disarray. Whether it's true or not, it's a perception that persists, especially as executives jump ship at an alarming rate. What's more, Microsoft is facing a credibility problem.

After years of bad software (Vista, anyone?), buggy releases, and a past history of antitrust litigation, Microsoft is not getting the benefit of the doubt anymore. Unlike Apple, which can stumble with the iPhone and still come out smelling like a rose, each Microsoft misstep, fairly or not, seems to be magnified.

Perhaps the best way to understand it is to switch perspectives for a minute.

If a key lieutenant to Steve Jobs - say, Tim Cook - were to leave Apple, would Miller be reporting about an alarming number of Apple executives jumping ship?

If the Xbox 360 had significant hardware problems, and Steve Ballmer responded to them by saying "don't use it that way" or "the Nintendo is worse," and then proceeded to release a rubber to wrap around the Xbox, would Miller be falling all over himself in praise for Microsoft's wise solution?

Somehow I think not.

P.S. And then after all of this praise, Bloomberg released this story:

Apple Inc. fell the most in five months on the Nasdaq after forecasting shrinking gross margins and profit that missed some analysts’ estimates, indicating that the company is making less from each iPhone and iPad it sells.

Apple dropped $6, or 1.9 percent, to $312 at 12:45 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The stock slid as much as 5.7 percent earlier today, the biggest decline since May.

Of course, hour-by-hour stock trading is not necessarily an accurate barometer of success or failure, and the stock could close up by the end of the trading day. But apparently not everyone regards Apple's recent earnings as insanely great.

Working for scale - how Quinn Martin acted to grow his business

I've scheduled a post in my Empoprise-MU music blog that mentions the Beastie Boys video for "Sabotage." In the course of my post, I use that magical phrase "Quinn Martin Production."

For people who are not old as dirt, allow me to explain.

Back in the early and mid 1970s, there were so many cop and detective shows on TV that each of the characters needed to have a gimmick so that you could tell one detective/cop from another. Colombo, for example, was the guy with the raincoat. Kojak was the bald guy with the lollipop. Police Woman was...well, she was the woman. And Cannon, played by William Conrad, was the fat guy.

Frankly, I don't remember anything much about Cannon, but I certainly remember who produced it. With a subtlety reminiscent of NASCAR, each episode of Cannon prominently displayed the fact that it was "a Quinn Martin production." (Each episode also displayed "acts" for each of the portions of the show, like a stage play.)

I didn't know much about Quinn Martin, but I ended up reading about him at the Museum of Broadcast Communications web site. It turns out that Cannon was only one of Quinn Martin's productions, and that at certain points he had several shows on TV simultaneously.

How did he keep several successful shows going at once? The Museum's biography entry explains how:

[D]uring the years at Desilu and during the first years of QM, Martin surrounded himself with a cadre of writers, directors, and producers who would later ably serve him when he was juggling the production schedules of several series. Alan Armer, George Eckstein, Walter Grauman, and John Conwell are but a few of the names to appear again and again in the credits of QM productions.

Other people surround themselves with cadres - Michael Landon comes to mind here - but with Martin, it wasn't just the people. It was also the process:

Martin compartmentalized his productions. This was done not only out of necessity resulting from the volume of television being produced by the company but also because of the trusted individuals with whom Martin populated QM. At QM, the writers, producers, and post-production supervisors had very well-defined tasks and would rarely stray beyond the parameters established by Martin. John Conwell, casting director and assistant to Martin for years, often referred to Martin as "Big Daddy" because of his paternalistic approach to production.

Read the Museum's biography for other aspects of Martin's production techniques. But in my view, these are the two key points that allowed Martin's company to grow. Certainly there are people who have genius potential, such as Orson Welles. But if you actually want to grow your company, you need to surround yourself with good people, and you need to have an environment that allows things to get done even if you can't supervise everything yourself. Without lieutenants and processes, a garage shop is going to remain a garage shop. With lieutenants and processes, a company has the potential of growing beyond the garage and becoming a Microsoft or an Apple.

P.S. William Conrad's career shows how perceptions are influenced by different media presentations. When radio was the dominant medium, William Conrad had the perfect voice to play Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke. But when a television version of Gunsmoke was prepared, Conrad's physique prevented him from portraying Dillon on TV.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oh, and one more thing about Fox and Dish

When the Los Angeles Times initially reported the story about the regional Fox Sports channels and other News Corp. channels being yanked from Dish Network, they got comments.

A lot of comments.

Mostly of the "pox on both your houses" variety, although a few commenters expressed their hopes that Fox News Channel would also be yanked. (Los Angeles is a left-of-center city.)

But one comment inadvertently showed that we the people are not the most intelligent people:

The Fox networks belong to Rupert Murdoch who, surprise!, owns a 34 percent stake in Hughes Electronics, the operator of DirecTV. This is a naked attempt to push Dish Network out of the business and gain a monopoly in the Satellite TV provider market. BULLY FOR DISH NETWORK for standing up to this modern day Nelson Rockefeller!

While the commenter's conspiracy theory may be correct, I believe that the commenter actually meant to refer to John Rockefeller, not Nelson.

It's a small world after all - Dish, News Corp, and the Manilla envelope

I was trying to figure out the story about the company that Julia Roy has joined - later revealed to be Manilla - when I ran across this press release announcing the cloud storage service startup's executive staff. Here's a portion of the release that discusses Jessica Heacock Insalaco, the new entity's Chief Marketing Officer.

Insalaco, CMO of Manilla, has spent her career in strategy and leadership roles in the telecommunications and media industries. She was most recently CMO of Dish Network, the third largest multichannel television provider in the U.S.

And before that?

Insalaco has held other consumer marketing positions at Cox Communications, News Corp and US West.

Did you catch that second firm, News Corp? You can bet the Dish subscribers recognized that immediately.

As anyone who has cable or satellite television in the U.S. knows, there are periodic confrontations between the content providers and the cable/satellite companies. As a deadline nears, the content providers decry the fact that the cable/satellite providers aren't fair, and the cable/satellite providers emphatically state that the content providers are greedy, and it's necessary for the cable/satellite providers to defend you against this terrible price gouging. There are warring commercials and warring websites...and in the end, both parties reach some type of settlement which is good for them, but not good for the consumer.

Well, normally they reach such an agreement. News Corp. and Dish Network have moved beyond that point, and as I write this, several News Corp. properties are unavailable to Dish Network subscribers.

And there are warring websites. Here is part of what Dish Network says at one of their several websites (this one is

We regret that FOX Networks, the owner of some Regional Sports Networks, FX and National Geographic Channel, removed their channels from the DISH Network line-up. FOX has demanded a rate increase of more than 50%. An increase this large would force DISH Network to pass these costs on to our customers, which we are unwilling to do during these tough economic times.

Here's part of what Fox (News Corp) says at their website:

Myth: Fox is seeking a 50 percent increase in programming fees for FX, National Geographic Channel, and our 19 regional sports networks.

Fact: We are not seeking a 50 percent increase for FX, National Geographic Channel, and our 19 regional sports networks. And we are not asking you for any more money. We are simply asking DISH to compensate us fairly out of their massive profits for Fox’s entertainment and sports programming services they sell to their subscribers. We have made what we believe are fair and reasonable proposals to DISH – ones that are consistent with our agreements with the hundreds of other cable and satellite companies with whom DISH competes for your business. To date, DISH has not responded with a proposal that is reasonable by comparison to the hundreds of other deals we have in place for these same channels.

Of course, there's one other consideration that News Corp, to my knowledge, hasn't publicly addressed yet. News Corp. doesn't just make money from the cable/satellite providers - they also sell advertising. And since the viewership for the affected Fox properties has been cut, shouldn't News Corp. be lowering the rates that it charges its advertisers? We'll see.

Now I'm sure that Jessica Heacock Insalaco, who has worked for both companies, has her private views on this whole fiasco. But at the moment, she's presumably limiting her public conversations to her new job, and not talking about the old ones. And even the new job is still in pre-launch, so she's not even talking about that yet.

All I know is that if Insalaco still has the account that she got while working for Dish, she's not settling down to watch FX this evening.