Friday, April 29, 2011

China My China

Here's a little tidbit:

China’s gross domestic product will rocket $8 trillion in the next five years to $19 trillion. The U.S. GDP will grow $3.5 trillion in the same timeframe to $18.8 trillion. And it will be in that year - 2016 - that China's slice of world output will start to edge past the United States': 18% versus 17.7%. In the years after, that gap is forecast to widen.

Not sure how the Malays feel about this.

P.S. I should explain my choice of post titles more often. This particular song was written over 35 years ago.

Methodology religion - Mark Kennaley's syncretism

Theoretically a business blog shouldn't discuss religion, but in truth business - especially the tech world - is very religious. There are religious wars over Apple vs. Linux vs. Windows. And there are religious wars over other subjects also, such as the proper development methodology to use. Mark Kennaley:

In many IT organizations, there is one true "religion" that defines how projects are undertaken and managed. The methodology of the day is faithfully adhered to and non­believers are pressured to convert. A given IT religion can last a long time, then suddenly be abandoned when people lose faith in its efficacy or its primary evangelist leaves.

When this happens, all the progress made under the prior method is often deemed of little or no value, and reinvention becomes the order of the day.

Kennaley claims that there are three major methodologies - agile, lean, and unified - and that when you create a two-dimensional space with the axes of flexibility/stability and internal/external focus, you end up with four quadrants:

Clan/Family Culture: Here you have a culture that emphasizes collaboration. Your leaders tend to be facilitators and team builders, who value commitment and communication. They think effectiveness is driven by developing people and spurring participation.

Adhocracy Culture: Your company emphasizes creativity and has leaders who are entrepreneurial innovators, who value transformation and agility, and have a high level of risk tolerance. They think that innovation and vision are the best paths to effectiveness.

Market Culture: Here the orientation is competition. Your leaders are hard-driving competitors, who emphasize goal achievement, market share, and profitability. Customer focus and aggressive competition lead to effectiveness.

Hierarchy/Bureaucracy Culture: Your company tends to focus on control, with leaders who coordinate, monitor, and organize. Efficiency, timeliness, consistency, and risk aversion are the watchwords. Control and efficiency are seen as the best path to effectiveness.

Kennaley makes the point that certain methodologies are better adapted to certain cultures. For example, a unified process practice is more suited to a hierarchy/bureaucracy culture than to an adhocracy/creative culture.

But that is not Kennaley's main point:

One approach, which I call SDLC 3.0, provides a pragmatic, experience-based approach for integrating the fragmented methodology landscape by using practices that are methodology agnostic. It focuses on yielding a useful, context-specific set of standard work advice for real product development.

Of course, to religious practitioners of the three religions, Kennaley probably sounds like a dangerous heretic to be burned at the stake.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

(empo-tuulwey) @alltwtr illustrates when brevity is needed

Lauren Dugan of AllTwitter (@alltwtr) has written a post entitled Are You Extending Your Tweets? Then You’re Missing the Point.

Now Dugan wrote about this in a blog post, not a tweet, and the blog post is obviously longer than 140 characters. But even in blog form, Dugan displays succinctness. For example:

It’s called micro-blogging for a reason, folks.

Read the whole thing here. Or if you're pressed for time, read the tweet.

What's in a (language) name?

I live in the United States of America, and we refer to our main language as "English." Perhaps at one point this upset people, since we had gone through two wars with the English, but today we don't really give it a second thought.

But it's different in Malaysia.

First off, here's one important fact about Malaysia, courtesy of the U.S. State Department:

Malaysia's multi-racial society contains many ethnic groups. Malays comprise a majority of just over 50%....About a quarter of the population is ethnic Chinese, a group which historically played an important role in trade and business. Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 7% of the population and include Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. Non-Malay indigenous groups combine to make up approximately 11% of the population.

These multiple ethnic groups create some tensions in the country. Decades ago, I knew a Malaysian who was an ethnic Chinese. The reason that I knew her is because she went to college in Oklahoma - since (at least at the time) the number of ethnic Chinese students in Malaysian colleges and universities was restricted.

We spoke to each other in English, despite the fact that England had not ruled either of our native countries in a long, long time. And my friend obviously spoke Chinese. But before she left Malaysia to go to Oklahoma, what language did she speak to conduct official government business?

Well, it depends. The language remained constant, but the name of the language changes from time to time. Here's the story:

The forefathers of Malaysia have agreed among other things during formation of the nation, that the language of Malays, be the official language. The federal constitution guarantees this privileged status of Malay language or Bahasa Melayu in article 152.

But there was a subsequent change:

A bloody racial riot which started on May 13, 1969 prompted the Malaysian government to take remedial measures. One of the steps is to promote the official language as Bahasa Malaysia, literally the language of Malaysia, for a more universal appeal sanctioned by the National Language Act 1967.

What's the difference? If you're part of the nearly 50% of Malaysia who is not Malay, it could be a very big difference.

But not to everyone:

Says the Education Minister who eventually became deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak: "The government is not rigid about this. Although in the constitution the term Bahasa Melayu is used, in certain situations, the use of the term Bahasa Malaysia is allowed...We do not want to go into a debate on semantics. On the government's part, we are being pragmatic by accepting both. This is not an issue to be exaggerated."

Or perhaps it is, based upon this event that occurred in 1999:

Malaysia's literary agency Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka ( DBP ) refused to publish a collection of short stories. The reason? The writers used the term " Bahasa Malaysia". DBP's stance is that Bahasa Malaysia is political and it acknowledges Bahasa Melayu.

Or perhaps it isn't:

he strange part is, DBP has been publishing books using the term Bahasa Malaysia before this and continues to do so until as late as 2002.

There is a similar language spoken in Indonesia, but apparently everyone there agrees to call the language Bahasa Indonesia. The language is similar, but not identical:

In Bahasa Melayu: budak means 'children'
In Bahasa Indonesia: budak means 'slave'
So, the Indonesians can get offended if someone calls their children 'budak'.

Well, I'm glad that I don't live in southeast Asia and the name of my language is fairly simple to understand, and has no controversy whatsoever.


Talking about incentives

Bruce Schneier discussed problem that was initially reported in the New York Times:

Late last month, a gang of thieves stole six tractor-trailer loads of tomatoes and a truck full of cucumbers from Florida growers. They also stole a truckload of frozen meat. The total value of the illegal haul: about $300,000.

The thieves disappeared with the shipments just after the price of Florida tomatoes skyrocketed after freezes that badly damaged crops in Mexico. That suddenly made Florida tomatoes a tempting target...

Hey...unlike gasoline, tomatoes are not flammable.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

No chips, no peace

You can find activists everywhere.

Recently the U.S. government took action against three online poker sites, pretty much shutting down their operations for U.S. customers. Dan Cypra notes the fallout:

As you might expect, online poker players -- some of whom have six and potentially even seven figures locked up in cyberspace -- are growing increasingly anxious.

Enter the Poker Players Alliance, or the PPA as we affectionately know it in our industry. The PPA is the main lobbying voice for poker players in the United States. And even though poker players are a notoriously apathetic bunch, in the wake of having funds locked away for the foreseeable future, they have become increasingly vocal through the several online channels the PPA has provided.

Well, actually, some of these channels are provided by others. Take the U.S. Department of Justice Facebook page. Well, maybe:


hmmmmm....... why did the DOJ remove all the posts regarding the ridiculous ban on internet poker?

Actually, they didn't - or if they did, they didn't remove all of them.

Apple's Wordplay Regarding iPhone Data

Apple has gone on the offensive regarding recent news about location tracking data being found on iPhone devices. Apple's website contains a "Q&A" regarding the issue. The Q&A begins as follows:

1. Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone?
Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.

Or, "all of you are bozos." In question 2, Apple goes on to say

Providing mobile users with fast and accurate location information while preserving their security and privacy has raised some very complex technical issues which are hard to communicate in a soundbite.

Note the word "accurate." We'll come back to that in a minute. First, however, I'd like to reprint Apple's answer to question 3 in its entirety.

3. Why is my iPhone logging my location?
The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.

So, to repeat, "the iPhone is not logging your location." It is instead providing iPhone users "with fast and accurate location information."

Or, it's not logging your precise location - just areas around your precise location (and areas around the precise locations of others that happen to be near your precise location).

Whew, that's a relief.

And while the information is sent in encrypted form, Apple admits in question 4 that it is not stored in encrypted form.

The entire crowd-sourced database is too big to store on an iPhone, so we download an appropriate subset (cache) onto each iPhone. This cache is protected but not encrypted, and is backed up in iTunes whenever you back up your iPhone. The backup is encrypted or not, depending on the user settings in iTunes.

And question 4 again reiterates that this is not the location of the iPhone, but locations around the iPhone and other iPhones in the same area, some of which could be 100 miles away.

So because there is nothing to worry about, there's no need to modify the iPhone, right? Uh...

Sometime in the next few weeks Apple will release a free iOS software update that:

* reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
* ceases backing up this cache, and
* deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.

In the next major iOS software release the cache will also be encrypted on the iPhone.

So I guess that means that Apple won't be sharing the contents of Tim Cook's cache. Unless, of course, Donald Trump demands it.

I'm waiting for reaction from Pete Warden. Warden is co-author of the iPhone Tracker that started the discussion.

(empo-tymshft) Will Facebook users have to abandon Lutheranism?

When I write my "empo-tymshft" pieces, I take great delight in tying a current item, such as cloud computing, to something that existed decades ago, such as the initial CompuServe.

But what about tying a current item to something that happened centuries ago?

That's exactly what Marina Gorbis did when discussing the suit against the Huffington Post and AOL by the unpaid staff.

The suit, however, brings to the fore tensions inherent in a new kind of production that is emerging today—what we might call “social production.” This kind of work involves micro-contributions from large networks of people who often receive “payment” in the form of fun, peer recognition, and a sense of belonging—that is, in social rather than monetary currencies. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Flickr, and many other stalwarts of today’s digital economy are enablers and beneficiaries of such production....

But the Huffington case brings us face-to-face with the reality that we, as social producers, are all becoming digital peasants. By turn, we are the heroic commoners feeding revolutions in the Middle East and, at the same time, “modern serfs” working on Mark Zuckerberg’s and other digital plantations....

[T]here is a potential dark side to social production, and the way we structure such efforts is critical. This is where the lessons from manor economics become relevant. Just like digital manor economies today, the manorialism of feudal society in medieval Europe integrated many elements of commons production. In most manors, peasants and tenants were assigned rights to use the commons—pastures, forests, fisheries, soil—within each manor’s boundaries. Some of the early principles of commons production we write about today were first evident in manor economies, where inhabitants had to agree on rules for cultivation, grazing and fishing.

The dark side of manor economics, however, lay in the fact that it perpetuated huge inherited disparities in incomes. So while most of the population in these Middle Age pastoral settings survived at subsistence levels, the lords of the manor were able to live lavishly off the rent, taxes, and free labor the tenants were obligated to supply them with, as well as various fees tenants had to pay for the use of resources such as mills, bakeries, or wine-presses.

And here the similarities emerge. Digital manor economies are driven by technologies that, at their core, are commons-creating.

Read the entire post here.

In effect, Gorbis is drawing a parallel between today and the Middle Ages - before the Renaissance, before wide availability of books, before the printing press...and, in my case, before Lutheranism. So much for "Here I Stand" - Zuckerberg might put me in the stocks.

I'm mulling over this one...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Twitter and developers - the reboot?

Last month I wrote a post that concluded as follows:

(And if you don't recall the link between [Robert] Scoble and [Jesse] Stay, read this piece regarding their discussion with Twitter back in 2008. As of 2011, Stay is more well-known as a Facebook technical expert than as a Twitter technical expert, so I guess that we can conclude that Twitter hasn't exactly enamored itself to developers.)

What I neglected to say (because it was off-topic for that particular post) was that Stay had subsequently shared some concerns about Twitter's relationship with its developers. In the April 2009 post I Should Have Heeded My Own Advice About Twitter, Stay shared his concerns about what was happening to his SocialToo product:

Today Twitter pulled the rug out from under its developers once more by, with absolutely no notice, announcing that (paraphrased, in my words) since their way was the right way, they were discouraging auto-following, and would only allow a user to follow 1,000 people per day. What Twitter neglected was that, while not many, myself and others were building business plans around the users that would need this. A little notice would have been helpful, but is very consistent with the way developers have been treated over the past year or more by Twitter. Yes, I’m a big boy and we’ll survive, but that’s besides the point. You can read more about what developers are experiencing over on LouisGray. Put lightly, I’m not happy.

Well, Stay (and others) shared this news from Twitter today.

The stormy relations between Twitter Inc. and the sprawling developer community that surrounds it may have taken a big turn for the better. Longtime developer relations manager at Google and Facebook Jason Costa announced on the Twitter developers email list today that he has joined Twitter as the company's Developer Relations Manager. "I'll be 100% focused on ensuring the best possible developer experience for those looking to build on the Twitter Platform," Costa wrote.

But Marshall Kirkpatrick, who authored the ReadWriteWeb post, had some misgivings:

Hiring a developer relations manager is a good step towards preserving the viability of the platform. Hopefully it's not too late.

We'll see. I'm waiting for the views of Jesse Stay and other developers.

(empo-tymshft) The typewriter, 1867-2011

Here's something else courtesy Lisa Wilkes. I ended up surfing to the Daily Mail for this story:

Godrej and Boyce - the last company left in the world that was still manufacturing typewriters - has shut down its production plant in Mumbai, India with just a few hundred machines left in stock.

General Manager Milind Dukle said that typewriters were still a booming business until recently.

'From the early 2000s onwards, computers started dominating. All the manufacturers of office typewriters stopped production, except us.

'Till 2009, we used to produce 10,000 to 12,000 machines a year. But this might be the last chance for typewriter lovers. Now, our primary market is among the defence agencies, courts and government offices.'

Granted that the 2009 level was down from its 1990s production of 50,000 typewriters, but it's still interesting to note that there was still a booming market in the Third World for computers.

So now even fewer people will know what a Smith Corona was. And I'll miss the "ding" at the end of a line when I'm touch typing.

Safra Catz acting CFO at Oracle after Jeff Epstein's departure

IT Pro Portal reports that Oracle's CFO, Jeff Epstein, has stepped down. According to Michael Ide, former CFO Safra Catz has stepped in to fill the role:

"Safra already has the long-standing confidence of our employees, our board and our shareholders," Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison said in a statement. "There is no more logical choice for CFO."

A Wall Street Journal article made two points. First, Epstein reported to Catz, who had experience as CFO (as acting CFO before Epstein's arrival, she had more experience than anyone in the job in the post-Jeff Henley era). Second, Mark Hurd's arrival may have taken some duties away from Epstein. Granted that this is all speculation, but it could be a possible explanation.

H/T Lisa Wilkes, whom I learned of after she retweeted Eddie Awad.

Perhaps one stakeholder was missed

I run around in business circles where words like "stakeholders" are bandied about. While the terminology can be all-too-trendy at times, it does illustrate a valid point. A project, an action, or a decision has a profound effect on many different people, and it's wise to recognize who those people are and how they are affected.

As an example, take this video.

The video, called "The Power of Words," was created by a UK agency called Purplefeather, who believed that an inspiring story would illustrate to potential clients just how positive words could make a powerful impact on customers.

But how did the blind feel about it?

William Peace is not blind, but he is, in his words, a bad cripple. And he was offended by the paternalism.

Portraying people with a disability in a negative way is something i have railed against in the past. It is nothing new. This video however sets an all time new low. While I rail against ads that portray people who use a wheelchair as dependent, this video takes it even further. No pretense is made about the fact a blind man is begging. Ho hum, an every day event I suppose....

This man is dehumanized in the extreme. The poor bastard cannot not even write a sign worthy of a beggar. This is left to an able bodied woman. You know those all powerful people that can walk, hear, and see.

The power of images, perhaps.

There is a core of disabled activists who value independence over dependence, who (in the United States) fight for the rights guaranteed to them under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and who strongly object to those people who portray the disabled as incomplete humans who need our help.

People such as Jerry Lewis. This is what he said in a September 1990 article in Parade Magazine:

I know the courage it takes to get on the court with other cripples and play wheelchair basketball, but I'm not as fortunate as they are, and I bet I'm in the majority. I'd like to play basketball like normal, healthy, vital, and energetic people. I really don't want the substitute. I just can't half-do anything -- either it's all the way, or forget it. That's a rough way to think in my position. When I sit back and think a little more rationally, I realize my life is half, so I must learn to do things halfway. I just have to learn to try to be good at being a half a person ... and get on with my life.

That single paragraph in Parade, which was printed right around Labor Day, got the attention of a number of so-called "half" people, "cripples," who shared their views with "normal" people.

In Chicago, Cris Matthews and Mike Ervin, a brother and sister who both had forms of Muscular Dystrophy and had been MDA poster children in 1961 and who had been active in ADAPT actions and had started a group called AccessAbility Associates, decided to do something about it.

Two months before the 1991 Telethon, Matthews wrote to Robert Ross, Executive Director of the Association, a deceptively simple letter. "The wheels are in motion to begin the campaign to remove Jerry Lewis from your Telethon," she told him, by way of introduction. "We intend to keep at it until he is no longer associated with MDA, and the negative, degrading nature of the Telethon is changed to reflect the truth about life with muscular dystrophy and disability in general."

The Association, she charged, was "expert in exploiting the worst side of disability and, with the eager assistance of Lewis, has made us out to be nothing more than pathetic burdens to society, whose only desire is to walk. Much attention is given to the kids who may not live to adulthood, but for those of us who do live on, not one word or one dime is devoted to the concept of independence." Lewis's Parade article, "full of the condescending paternalism the Association foists on the viewing public, is an outrage and an insult," she told Ross.

"No one is negating research or the individual's desire to be cured," she wrote. What they objected to was the paternalism, "the attitude that stresses that, no matter what one does, life is meaningless in a wheelchair."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Time to start paying attention to text pirating issues?

I was checking my vanity search when I ran across a post in a blog called "China Green" that included this phrase:

My friend John Bredehoft has a post providing some background and asking the perceptive question Which do you fear more – business Big Brother, or government Big Brother?

It turns out that I am the John Bredehoft who is mentioned in the post, but I don't have any friend who has a blog called China Green.

So what happened?

China Green scraped the content of Jim Ulvog's Nonprofit Update blog. The original content is in this post.

(The citation of my post is a very minor portion of Ulvog's post, which looks at a number of privacy issues that have recently emerged - location tracking on iPhones and Android phones, the unencrypted nature of this data, and the Cellebrite technology concerns. Please read Ulvog's post and follow his links.)

Back to China Green. There are basically four ways in which someone like China Green can reference the work of someone like Jim Ulvog:
  • Link to the original work without quoting.

  • Link to the original work and include a brief quote.

  • Reproduce the entire original work and link to it.

  • Reproduce the entire original work without linking to it.

While there are differences of opinion regarding the acceptability of some of these methods, 99% of all people agree that the fourth way - the way used by China Green - is not acceptable practice.

The businesses set up by these content scrapers are not long-lasting - the "Tufts Health Insurance" blog that scraped my content no longer exists, and the profile of its author, "Think," is no longer available. Sadly, Chuck Tiber stopped updating his Bathroom Ideas" blog a month after being ripped off.

I should have put a tracking device on his phone.

(empo-tymshft) Canada Elections Act Section 329 and Twitter? That's old news.

Let's start by looking at Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act.

Prohibition – premature transmission of results

329. No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district.

If you believe what you've been reading over the past couple of weeks, this Act has suddenly been affected by the rise of Twitter, The Service That Revolutionizes All Social Relations. Here's what Nicole Ferraro said:

One impediment to the rapid adoption of social media within governments has been the archaic laws that don't take modern-day communications technologies into consideration.

The US discovered this the hard way when the Obama administration took office eager to adopt all things 2.0. And now Canadians are facing a similar issue, thanks to a law that may ensure citizens are fined for discussing May 2nd election results online before all polls officially close.

This social media ban is the result of a 73-year-old law -- a provision in Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act -- which prohibits people from discussing polling results. The point of this is to avoid swaying voters' decisions in western parts of the country where the polls have not closed.

But in the age of immediate disclosure and transparency, this isn't sitting well with Facebook- and Twitter-happy Canadians.

And now, all of a sudden, this is a huge issue. And it sounds like it never was before.

Well, that is certainly understandable. Television and radio in Canada is regulated, and presumably the Canadian government could enforce regulations to prohibit the broadcast of Montreal polling data while people in the Yukon are still voting.

But the Canadian law does not use the word "broadcast." It uses the word "transmit." And there are a number of ways to transmit data. Many of these data transmission methods existed way back in the 20th century, before Twitter and Facebook. And many of these data transmission methods existed 73 years ago.

Now perhaps it's impractical for a Quebec paper to print the news and for someone to board a plane and fly it to Vancouver. But there is a transmission method that existed 73 years ago that could allow instantaneous transmissions, thus allowing you to break Canadian law.

That transmission method? The telephone.

And for those who argue that tweets and Facebook status updates could be seen by thousands, remember that in earlier years some phone connections were not one-to-one. You see, back then the party line was common.

Although I don't think that it's much of a party to scream into a phone, "Louis St. Laurent has won in Quebec!"

But political animals in any country are weird.

The point is that sometimes people assume that Twitter is changing the world. The world was changed long ago.

Be careful what you ask for - examine the goals you set

The AppsLab talks a lot about games - Jake Kuramoto returned to the topic last Friday - but when you think about it, games and quests and the like are really just engaging versions of goals. For example, take your annual performance review, with its goals for the coming year, and create a nice interface with percent complete and badges and stuff - you now have a quest.

But whether a program encourages you to reach the goals by giving you badges and virtual crops, or whether the program encourages you to reach the goals via less boring means, the "goal" of goals is to get something done. Incentives of some type are often used to complete the goal.

But before you set a goal, be sure that you examine what that goal is. You may get what you asked for.

Consider this recent post by Bruce Schneier, which links to this USA Today article. Employees at Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus received financial incentives in two separate years; teachers received $8,000 bonuses, and the principal received a $10,000 bonus. The school also received recognition from the U.S. Department of Education, and from the chancellor of the District of Columbia schools.

To receive these bonuses, they had to reach a goal; improve student test scores on standardized tests. And according to USA Today, they achieved that goal in dramatic fashion:

In 2006, only 10% of Noyes' students scored "proficient" or "advanced" in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

In this case, the goal was measured by looking at the test scores, and the financial and other rewards started flowing in.

There was only one problem.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

The details were enough to alarm some statisticians:

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

"This is an abnormal pattern," says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years....

Haladyna notes...that when entire classrooms at schools with statistically rare erasures show fast-rising test scores, that suggests someone might have "tampered with the answer sheets," perhaps after the tests were collected from students.

There were concerns from parents and others about students who were miraculously doing well, but there wasn't a great incentive to really investigate what was going on. After all, if you've praised Noyes for being a wonderful school, you don't want to turn around the next day and admit that it was all a fake. That doesn't look good.

So what happened? There was an incentive for schools to deliver good test scores...and the good test scores magically appeared. As Schneier notes:

The point is that whatever security measures were in place to prevent teacher cheating before the financial incentives and threats of firing wasn't sufficient to prevent teacher cheating afterwards. Because Rhee significantly increased the costs of cooperation (by threatening to fire teachers of poorly performing students) and increased the benefits of defection ($8,000), she created a security risk. And she should have increased security measures to restore balance to those incentives.

This is not limited to education. Take your average Facebook game. To increase the number of uses, games offer incentives for people to recruit more players to the game from their Facebook friends. Similarly, there are incentives to make new Facebook friends solely for the purpose of advancing in the game. (I did this myself just last week.)

What is the result of this goal? Backlash:

Sure people created fan pages entitled I don’t care about your farm, or your fish, or your park, or your mafia! Other people just hide those messages from friends via their live feed or worst of all they delete the friend entirely because they just do not want to deal with all those accomplishment posts.

Now most of my Facebook friends won't even see my Facebook game accomplishments. That's because I use Facebook's friend list feature to ONLY post those messages to a list of people who play Facebook games. And if you're not on that friend list, you won't see my messages.

However, if you're a Facebook friend of mine, and if you're not seeing these messages and want to see them, please message me via Facebook and I'll add you to my special "Farm City Planet" friend list.

And I'll even give you 100 virtual bacon cheeseburgers.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Headlines can have double meanings

Recently, a New York Times article turned up on my RSS feed. The title? So Far, Our New Pricing Strategy Is Working.

I figured that it was awfully bold for the New York Times to claim that its paywall was working, especially when so many people were successfully circumventing it.

Then I read the article, and I realized that it wasn't talking about the pricing strategy of the New York Times. It was talking about a restaurant that had decided to offer prix fixe service.

Next, the Huffington Post will run a story talking about a company that is allied with a tired old Internet company.

New-Fields may be persistent, but they're not as gross as Pixel Ammo

Yes, I'm still getting e-mail from New-Fields (see my December and January posts). But the phone calls have (mostly) ceased - perhaps my FTC complaint helped in that regard.

When New-Fields originally started to e-mail me, they would send large multi-megabyte PDF attachments with their e-mails. Luckily for me, the latest e-mail messages include more modest attachments.

But some people haven't learned that big attachments are not the best way to sell your product. Pity the fool who thought that this would be the best way to sell to Louis Gray:

Guess What?! I am not covering your "Waxing Salon" app. BTW, thanks for the 8.8 MB worth of PDFs and video.

Gray also posted a screen shot of part of the stuff that was mailed to him. The e-mail, from Pixel Ammo, describes a game called "Crazy Waxing." And they're not talking about cars:

You play as a waxing salon owner filled to the brim with customers who want a beautiful tan line. Wax away to see what's under that unsightly patch of hair.

And if you're a civil libertarian, you'll be happy to know that Apple approved this app. Presumably Pixel Ammo didn't e-mail their request to Steve Jobs.

This is Pixel Ammo's second game, by the way. Their first, FluOrama, allows the player to prevent a deadly bacteria outbreak.

You'll notice that they didn't say "virus" - if reviewers were to get 9 megabyte e-mails talking about a virus, NO ONE would review Pixel Ammo's apps.

Their next game, by the way, is a simple UFO abduction game. I'm not sure when the herpes and botulism games will be released...

Which do you fear more - business Big Brother, or government Big Brother?

In a fascist or a communist society, there is no need to differentiate between "business" and "government," since in both cases the government controls businesses. In mixed socialist-capitalist societies, however, the distinction can be made. There are certain things that businesses do in which government is not involved, and there are certain things that governments do in which business is not involved.

And sometimes businesses and governments do the same thing, but they may (or may not) do it in different ways.

Such as spying on you.

In a recent post Your iPhone is Tracking You, Jake Kuramoto links to a number of instances of tracking activity. Kuramoto begins by linking to an Alasdair Allan/Pete Warden story which describes how iPhones and iPads with iOS 4 are storing locations/time stamps:

We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations.

But this is not limited to Apple devices, as Zeit Online notes:

Malte Spitz from the German Green party decided to publish his own data collected from August 2009 to February 2010. However, to even access the information, he had to file a suit against telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom.

Now Apple and Deutsche Telekom are private businesses - admittedly regulated by the government, but other than that free to do whatever they want.

Kuramoto also linked to an account of the brouhaha between Cellebrite, the Michigan State Police, and the American Civil Liberties Union.


Cellebrite manufactures a Universal Forensics Extraction Device. Now we're not talking about debate or biometrics here, but the examination of any item for purposes of law enforcement. In this particular case, we're talking about cell phones. If Malte Spitz had been unsuccessful in getting his location information from Deutsche Telekom, perhaps he could have bought the Cellebrite UFED and obtained the location information in that manner.

Based on Cellebrite’s expertise in data extraction technology, the mobile forensics products perform both logical and physical data extraction, including recovery of deleted messages and content.

With more than a decade of experience in mobile data technologies, Cellebrite provides the widest coverage available in the market today. The UFED family of products is able to extract and analyze data from more than 3000 phones, including smartphones and GPS devices.

While the American Civil Liberties Union claims that the use of this device by a law enforcement agency violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a judge may not agree. And even if the judge does agree, that would not necessarily address the use of the Cellebrite UFED by private citizens - who presumably have the "civil liberty" to employ the device.

So, let's return to the question I posed in the title of this post. Which do you fear more - business Big Brother, or government Big Brother?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Does Los Angeles even care about the Dodgers?

My radio listening this morning indicates how far the Dodgers have fallen.

For those who haven't heard, Major League Baseball formally took day-to-day control of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. Bud Selig will appoint a trustee to run the team, and Dodger owner Frank McCourt (or, alternatively, Dodgers co-owners Frank and Jamie McCourt) will not have a say in day-to-day operations.

Because I am male, I often flip channels on my car radio, and generally listen to at least four stations during my morning commute. On the news and talk stations, the Dodger takeover was a lead story. KNX aired the CBS national news at 7:00 am, and the Dodgers story was one of the top stories there. Also in the 7:00 hour, KFI's Bill Handel - oops, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Bill Handel - led the hour off with a discussion of the Dodgers takeover, as well as MLB's legal basis for making the move.

But what of the sports stations?

At 7:15 Pacific time, Colin Cowherd's ESPN Radio show airs a segment called "Spanning the Globe" (named in homage to Jim McKay), during which Cowherd (or his substitute) speaks to local sportscasters about the three top stories of the day. On a local level, Orange County's AM 830 airs a simulcast at approximately 7:25 am between radio host Roger Lodge and television station KTLA's morning show.

Both of these segments led off with a Los Angeles story.

Neither segment led off with the Dodgers story, however.

What was the pressing El-Lay news that these shows covered? The Los Angeles Lakers' win in a first-round playoff game over the New Orleans Hornets.

Yes, I know that the Lakers are in the playoffs and the Dodgers are not. But still, you would think that the Dodgers takeover story would take precedence over a game that the Lakers were expected to win.

But sports radio stations presumably know their audience, and they figured that the Lakers were more important than the Dodgers at this juncture.

If there's anything that testifies how the McCourts (and, IMHO, previous Dodgers owners Fox) have devalued the Dodgers, this is it.

Incidentally, here is Bud Selig's official statement:

Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig issued the following statement today regarding the Los Angeles Dodgers:

"Pursuant to my authority as Commissioner, I informed Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt today that I will appoint a representative to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the Club. I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the Club, its great fans and all of Major League Baseball. My office will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt's ownership. I will announce the name of my representative in the next several days.

"The Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports, and we owe it to their legion of loyal fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future."

As Nobel Peace Prize nominee Bill Handel noted, when Frank McCourt was awarded the Dodgers franchise, he signed an agreement that allowed Selig to take this very action. Mike Ozanian analyzes the issues here, and concludes:

Selig will prevail because he will use “The Best Interests of Baseball” power of his office (which he has widened under his stay in office) to say that McCourt violated his fiduciary duty to the Dodgers by using the team’s finances to buy real estate.

The Wilderness Years, 1990s version

The "wilderness years" theme is a recurring one in biographies. Famously applied to Winston Churchill, famously appropriate by Richard Nixon, it describes a period in a person's life when their initial success turns sour. But the wilderness years are often followed by even greater success. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister after his wilderness period, and Nixon succeeded in getting elected to the Presidency after his.

Another person who went through a wilderness period is Steve Jobs, which caused Edwin Watkeys to speculate:

Has a history of Jobs's time in exile been written, with an emphasis on what changed—him? the company? the industry?—that allowed him to manage Apple so successfully after returning to the company that thought it had grown beyond him?

I don't know if a full-blown history has been written, but smaller pieces have appeared.

Randall Stross says that Jobs learned a lot - not from Apple's failure, but from NeXT's failure:

Mr. Jobs did not do much delegating. Almost every aspect of the machine — including the finish on interior screws — was his domain. The interior furnishings of Next’s offices, a stunning design showplace, were Mr. Jobs’s concern, too. While the company’s strategy begged to be re-examined, Mr. Jobs attended to other matters....

Kevin Compton, who was a senior executive at Businessland during the Next years, described Mr. Jobs after returning to Apple: “He’s the same Steve in his passion for excellence, but a new Steve in his understanding of how to empower a large company to realize his vision.” Mr. Jobs had learned from Next not to try to do everything himself, Mr. Compton said.

Another thing happened on the way back to Apple - Jobs tasted success in another arena:

But he progressively started to sense Pixar was going to be a lot more important to his career than he ever expected. According to many, the revelation came in January 1995, when he was invited to a Disney event in New York. In the middle of Central Park, the movie studio had set up a gigantic tent with a movie screen showing previews of the two upcoming Disney films, Pocahontas, to be released in the summer, and Toy Story, for Thanksgiving 1995.

Perhaps Woody and Buzz inspired Steve in the years to come, when Apple came calling again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Always fighting the last war - who cares about tornado alley?

Back on Tuesday, April 12, I wrote a post entitled "Always fighting the last war - who cares about earthquake zones?" The point of the post was that people were getting so uptight about nuclear power plants near earthquake zones that they forgot that most nuclear accidents have nothing to do with earthquakes.

So I wrote that post and moved on to other important topics, such as taking your kids out to eat.

But time moved on, and the winds blew across the globe, and they continued to blow across the globe, and then the southeastern United States had a rather nasty weather weekend.

So now the topic of discussion is How close to Shearon Harris nuclear facility did the tornadoes get?

And next we'll worry about other weather, or operator error, or whatever threatening a nuclear facility.

But even if we eliminate nuclear facilities altogether, we won't be safe, because nuclear accidents are not one of the leading causes of death in this country (or in any country). Sure, mushroom clouds look really really scary, but they're nothing compared to heart disease, all types of cancers, and other things that really kill people. Heck, even flu and pneumonia killed 50,000 people in 2007, but you don't see the Department of Homeland Security mandating flu shots.

What does Dave Winer have in common with Larry the Cable Guy?

What does Dave Winer have in common with Larry the Cable Guy?

Winer, in a recent post, talked about the best way for a company to layoff employees. His advice?

You prepare for the layoffs quickly and quietly. Then one morning you do them. All of them. And then have a company meeting and you tell the people that that was it. No more layoffs. You're on the team. And then have a good story about how you're going to lead them to prosperity.

Or, in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, "git 'er done."

I was once employed by a company that had a bunch of layoffs, and then had a bunch of layoffs three months later, and then had a bunch more three months after that. After several quarters (actually three years) of layoffs, morale was not all that great.

Now it may not be possible to take all of the necessary actions in one fell swoop, but it is certainly better to do so when you can.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Where do you buy your electronics today? Where will you buy your electronics next year?

Perhaps there are people who buy their electronics at high-end electronics stores, but for more generic electronics, people are more likely to go to a general store with low prices, such as a Costco or a Wal-Mart.

But there are more people who go online to buy their stuff, and that's causing changes at Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's biggest retailer, plans to cut back on space for electronics as sales in that category have declined, contributing to the company's two-year U.S. sales slump.....

At an investor conference last month, Wal-Mart's U.S. chief Bill Simon said "we couldn't possibly sell enough TVs" during the holiday season to justify the space allotted to electronics. In February, Simon cited electronics as the "primary factor" for the company's negative comparable-store sales result.

The article, from the Riverside (California) Press-Enterprise, also notes that Best Buy is affected.

Perhaps this is cyclical - just two years ago, Wal-Mart INCREASED the floor space devoted to electronics. But unless Wal-Mart and Best Buy come up with a good strategy to compete with Amazon, and unless devices start getting bigger instead of smaller, the amount of floor space devoted to electronics in brick-and-mortar stores will continue to decline.

Focus (or lack thereof) on data mining

If you've never been to Oracle OpenWorld, let me assure you that it is huge. But is it too huge? Unless your name is Larry or Safra, the conference probably vastly exceeds your area(s) of interest. If you had to sum up what Oracle OpenWorld is about, you'd probably be reduced to muttering something about "the stack." Repeatedly.

Of course, Oracle OpenWorld isn't the only event that promotes such a broad range of interests. A couple of decades ago, I remember receiving an invitation to a conference - it may have been COMDEX, or it may have been something else. The invitation asked the question "Who should attend this conference?" As you read through the invitation, you discovered that the conference organizers thought that EVERYBODY should attend the conference. Whichever conference it was, it's no longer around, and I'd be willing to bet that part of the problem was that it tried to be everything to everyone, which ended up making it not that compelling a conference for anyone. (Unless, of course, you're into booth babes.)

Side note: the COMDEX was discussed at the time here. While the bursting of the dot-com bubble was involved, a major reason was the withdrawal of key vendors from the exhibit floor. As of today, COMDEX is a virtual conference.

I subscribe to a biometrics mailing list, and someone on the mailing list invited all of us to a conference on data mining.


Well, because.

The European Conference on Data Mining (ECDM’11) is aimed to gather researchers and application developers from a wide range of data mining related areas such as statistics, computational intelligence, pattern recognition, databases and visualization. ECDM’11 is aimed to advance the state of the art in data mining field and its various real world applications. ECDM’11 will provide opportunities for technical collaboration among data mining and machine learning researchers around the globe.

OK, collaboration is a good thing, if I'm collaborating with someone in a fairly related field. Returning to the Oracle OpenWorld example, I attended OOW as a database user. Now I was certainly interested in web servers and operating systems, and maybe a little bit in analytics, but most of the conference was not relevant to me.

So who should attend the data mining conference? Let's look at the topics of interest:

Core Data Mining Topics

- Parallel and distributed data mining algorithms
- Data streams mining
- Graph mining
- Spatial data mining
- Text video, multimedia data mining
- Web mining
- Pre-processing techniques
- Visualization
- Security and information hiding in data mining

Data Mining Applications

- Databases,
- Bioinformatics,
- Biometrics
- Image analysis
- Financial modeling
- Forecasting
- Classification
- Clustering
- Social Networks
- Educational data mining

Now that is a broad array - or an n-dimensional array - of topics. It almost sounds like a joke - "A data miner, a biometrics guy, and a social networker walk into a bar."

However, the conference registration (not counting hotel, travel, etc.) is less than 700 EUR, so perhaps the cost could be justified for some attendees.

If I'm completely off base, and this is something that interests you, go to The conference will be held in Rome on 24-26 July.

But from my perspective, even if I were interested in data mining from a biometrics perspective, I'd have to think long and hard to decide if this would be the best thing for me to attend.

Even if there were Italian booth babes.

In belated satisfaction of the requirements for a college degree

While many people do not earn a college degree, many people do. It just takes some people a little longer than others.

In 1965, a young man enrolled at California State University Long Beach, but dropped out three years later. One year after that, this degree-less man launched a successful career in Atlanta, Georgia, where his short movie "Amblin" was shown. Perhaps you've heard of this man, whose name is Steven Spielberg.

Several decades later, after a series of successes (as well as 1941), Spielberg re-enrolled at Cal State Long Beach in 2001. Cal State describes what he did:

Having already taken a majority of degree requirements while a student in the mid-1960s, Spielberg was determined to demonstrate his regard for college education by completing his degree at Long Beach. He re-enrolled in the university's Department of Film and Electronic Arts in Spring 2001.

Spielberg satisfied all requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree in Film and Electronic Arts with an option in Film/Video Production through independent and directed study.

Well, actually Spielberg satisfied most of the requirements. As Jewish News notes, one of the requirements was waived:

The school waived the requirement that seniors submit a polished 12-minute film, ruling that "Schindler's List" would do.

Spielberg isn't the only famous person who returned to college. Take UC Berkeley graduate Rocky Raccoon Clark, who was originally in college in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, but (according to TIME Magazine) Clark "left to earn money to finish his studies." Having done that, he returned to college about a decade later, and finished the coursework required for his degree. Not that Clark (whose real name is Steve Wozniak) needed the degree to succeed...or maybe he did.

Well after Apple had enjoyed its first run of blazing success, Wozniak took several years to teach elementary school students, with as little publicity as possible.

The unconventional career move was all about following his passions, Wozniak said.

Another person who took a few years to get his degree was Shaquille O'Neal. Unlike his former teammate Kobe Bryant, who never attended college, O'Neal spent several years at LSU, but left before he earned his degree. After several years playing professional basketball in Orlando and Los Angeles, O'Neal earned his degree in 2000.

His mother's reaction? "I'm very proud of him."

Five years later, Shaq added an MBA to his resume, and he's working on his Ph.D.

But despite their fame, I bet that all three of these people faced challenges upon returning to school. The Back2College website caters to people who return to school:

Going back to college as an adult can be a daunting (sometimes even scary), but very worthwhile experience. We all know that there are many talented and accomplished individuals who never went to college or for some reason or another were not able to complete their degree. For many, earning that "piece of paper" can make a significant difference in their professional or personal life (the achievement of a lifelong dream) - but the idea of returning to school after a long absence can present quite a challenge.

Often adults who are returning to school after years of not being in a classroom are apprehensive about not fitting in (for example, being thrust into a classroom with 18 to 25 year olds), taking good notes, studying, and doing well on tests. The admissions and financial aid process can be a confusing and frustrating experience.

OK, maybe Spielberg, "Clark," and O'Neal didn't worry about financial aid, but it still took some significant effort to wrap up their degrees.

Congratulation to them, and to anyone who returns to school to finish what they started years ago.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How to cancel AT&T's "caps-coming" service, courtesy Paul O'Flaherty

Steven Hodson shared a link to a Paul O'Flaherty blog post that could be of interest to AT&T users who are not pleased that AT&T has introduced service caps. O'Flaherty begins:

I recently spent a lot of time explaining to an AT&T rep and even longer explaining to her supervisor (who frankly didn’t want to hear it), that because AT&T are imposing caps on their DSL service we should be able to cancel our service without incurring any early termination fees.

Read O'Flaherty's post to find out what happened next (the acronym "BBB" is mentioned), but in the end O'Flaherty received a call from Marian Hall of AT&T's Office of the President. Hall stated that he would be able to cancel his service.

O'Flaherty concludes:

Anyway, for those of you who are AT&T DSL / U-Verse subscribers looking to switch to another broadband provider, just make sure you call in before the deadline and you should be able to terminate with fees.

If the reps say you can’t, just point them to this blog post, tell them exactly what Marian Hall said and failing that file your complaint with the BBB.

That blog post, by the way, is at

But take action quickly - according to this BBB post, the terms go into effect May 2.

Not everyone is using a tablet or a smartphone

In some corners of the tech press, there is so much of a concentration on tablets and smartphones that you can't read about anything else. This gives you the impression that Windows, the Mac OS, and desktop Linux are dinosaurs that are going to go away.

Not so fast. Some people still buy traditional computers - well, if you can call laptops on steroids traditional computers.

The new HP EliteBook w-series includes the 17.3-inch 8760w, the 15.6-inch 8560w, and the 14-inch 8460w.

The top of the line model is truly powerful:

The 8760w has the biggest graphics punch with the choice of an AMD FirePro or Nvidia Quadro professional graphics and up to 4 GB of video memory. The desktop-replacement model can be configured with three hard drives and RAID 5 support. The latter is a first for HP mobile workstations.

When I first wrote about RAID 5 in the mid 1990s, I didn't anticipate that RAID 5 would be on a workstation one day, nor that I'd ever have a need for four gigabytes of video memory. And, as InformationWeek notes, there's more:

The latest products are available with either a second-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 quad-core processor, which provides enough computing power to handle 3-D professional applications. In addition, the systems support up to 32 GB of system memory and the AMD or Nvidia graphics can power up to five independent displays.

Man, I'd love to play Starfleet Commander on one of these machines.

Why would HP develop these workstations? The HP press release explains:

“As the fastest growing segment of the workstation market, mobile workstations continue to provide value to our most demanding design, animation and engineering customers,” said Efrain Rovira, director, Mobile Workstations, Notebook Business Unit, HP.

How the magazine In Touch is detrimental to co-worker relationships

In a working environment, people are often encouraged to support their co-workers and are reminded that all of their co-workers are part of their team.

With a few exceptions, this applies in just about any work environment. Take movies, for example. Whether you're the highly-paid star, the director, or the key grip, the movie studio would like all of you to be on the same page, and to do everything in your power to make sure that the movie studio makes the maximum amount of money on the picture.

Often, there are publicity avenues that can be used to make sure that this happens. But these publicity avenues would prefer to get a good story when possible.

Case in point (H/T Inquisitr): In Touch got a story via a sound bite from Reese Witherspoon, who co-stars with Robert Pattinson in some movie or another. (Actually, the movie is Water for Elephants, and I'm sure it's wonderful. But you'd better ask Jandy Stone, because I'm not a movie guy.)

So what did Reese say about her co-star?

Rob possibly had the most hideous horrible cold of any co-star I’ve ever had to do a love scene with ever in my entire life....He was literally snorting and snotting through every second of it – and it was not appealing....I’m talking green, infectious, disgusting – I’m not kidding!

I’m going to say it’s a little bit of a downer. I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t sexy.

Now Witherspoon's been around for a while, so she should have realized that In Touch would take her quote and run with it. And run they did, with the headline "Reese Witherspoon Hated Love Scenes with Robert Pattinson!"

A few days later, In Touch ran a new item entitled "Reese Witherspoon 'Waiting' on Wedding Gift from Robert Pattinson." In Touch chose to use that little tidbit as the headline, rather than Witherspoon's statement "Not only is he super- sexy and sweet and handsome, he’s a really lovely and nice person."

Well, except when he's working his way through a cold, I guess.

The lifestyles of the rich and famous can be applied to our own business lives. Sometimes our co-workers aren't our best, for whatever reason. It is to our benefit to keep those little issues to ourselves and not blab them to the world. In Touch isn't standing outside my cubicle at work, but other people at work are, and if I say the wrong thing to the wrong person, co-working relationships could potentially be damaged.

We don't know

Glen Campbell recently wrote a post entitled Software contingency planning, Donald Rumsfeld, and the epistemology of ignorance. The basic point that he wanted to make was that if you are developing software according to an "agile" development process such as scrum, your focus should be on developing working software.

Unexpected events happen: for example, you might start on a feature, only to discover that it’s much more difficult than you originally anticipated....[Y]ou need to ask yourself what you can do to deliver some working software. If you can reduce the scope and only deliver a small part of the larger feature, then do that. If you can bring in someone else to help, then do that. There’s no right answer.

If you're a developer, or even if you're not, read the rest of Campbell's post here.

Campbell cited Donald Rumsfeld in his discussion of uncertainty, but he is not the only person to do so. Rajeev Edmonds also referred to our former Secretary of Defense in his discussion of web analytics:

I'll use a famous quote by former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld that highlights the crux of reporting and data analysis.

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know." - (Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld)

Secretary Rumsfeld is indicating about three types of data sets that can be mined by any reporting system. It is applicable to any reporting system regardless of the type of data and the type of method involved in extracting the relevant information. The first type is - known knowns - the information whose existence we know beforehand. In this context (web analytics) it can be compared to a pageview. The second type is - known unknowns - the information we know does exist, but somehow we are not able to quantify it in measurable terms. Any triggering condition that may inflate your pageviews or any causal factors that increase or decrease your conversions comes under this category. These conditions do exist, but we cannot predict, quantify, measure or detect them effectively. And, the third type is - unknown unknowns - the information that's present in our web traffic data set, but we don't even have the slightest idea of its existence. And mining this information is the most challenging problem for any web analytics system.

So now that we've moved from development to web analytics, let's move further to my neck of the woods, which is roughly the sales/marketing area.

In both product management and proposals, I have had to analyze customer requirements. When a customer, or someone hired by a customer, writes software requirements, he/she has to describe something that needs to be implemented. But even if the requirement is written by the customer, and even if the customer understands the needs of all stakeholders (in my case, IT people, forensic professionals, managers, and a slew of others), it is still very difficult to put down in words the vision that you see in your head.

I'll give you an example. One common thing that I see in RFPs and other requirements documents is a desire from the customer to have the new system incorporate all of the functionality of the old system. Inasmuch as my industry has a lot of customers who tend to stay with the same vendor, this sounds like something wonderful if the RFP comes from one of your own customers. But this can be problematic in certain cases.

When I became a product manager, the workstations that were used by my product ran on the Windows 2000 operating system. Most of the customers who were upgrading to my product, however, did not have Windows workstations; instead, their workstations were running Digital UNIX/Tru64 UNIX with the X Window System. There were clear differences between the X Window System look and feel and the Windows look and feel. Did our customers want us to violate the Microsoft Windows look and feel and do things the old way? Or did the customers think that we would of course do things in the Microsoft Windows way? And what exactly was the Microsoft Windows way?

Here's another one. The old product was client/server, with significant processing taking place at the client. An AFIS requires extraction, comparison, and (usually) verification. The extraction would be performed at the client; the comparison would be performed automatically at the server; and the verification would be performed at the client. To perform verification, a whole bunch of text and binary data (including image data) would need to be sent from the server to the client; we called this a "verification packet," and it would include information on a bunch of possible candidates.

My new product was NOT client/server. While extraction would still take place at the client, the remaining steps - including verification - would be managed at the server level. Now, instead of having to send a bunch of stuff to a client (and pre-determining which client would get the stuff), the verification operator would simply open a web browser and retrieve stuff from the server as needed. This had the benefit of allowing work to be performed at ANY authorized workstation. The disadvantage, however, was that the work was slower - rather than retrieving images from your C drive, you'd be getting them from the network. How would our customers react to these changes, especially the latter change? Would customers complain that our system, despite its architectural advantages, was a step back from the previous generation because of the perceived slowness?

Some of this was "known unknowns," but we were probably missing a whole lot of "unknown unknowns" as we considered these questions.

So how do you plan for the future, whether to lay out a product roadmap or to propose something to a customer?

You do it as best you can.

Incidentally, Rumsfeld discussed knowledge on at least one other occasion, in a 2001 Wall Street Journal article:

Learn to say “I don't know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.

Whatever you think of Rumsfeld or his bosses, there are some fascinating items in the article. I may revisit this list on occasion.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Again, don't blame Spokeo - or Facebook - blame the government

Earlier today I read this Enterprise Efficiency post about Spokeo, written by David Wagner. Here's an excerpt:

I typed my name into the Spokeo site and discovered 472 people with my name (thankfully offering me some anonymity), but once I found myself I was shocked. There was a profile, provided for free, with my name, address, phone number, marital status, and my wife’s name. Spokeo also provided a satellite picture of my house, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms it had, the lot size, the square footage, and its estimated value.

The fascinating part of the article, however, was the comments. In my view, the comments missed the point. The commenters talked about shutting down their Spokeo accounts and not using Facebook, giving the impression that these actions were sufficient.

For example: did make me feel good (yet again) about my decision to not use Facebook.


While I do have social media accounts on 4 networks, using primarily for business purposes, I'm very circumspect about what is posted....

Uh, I'm sorry, but even if you never touched Facebook or MySpace or anything else, Spokeo would still find a ton of information about you.

I just talked about this on Tuesday, noting that one of Spokeo's major sources of information is...various government agencies. As I noted in that post, a website called ran an obituary for my father based upon information from the Social Security Death Index.

And all of that information about David Wagner's home, such as the number of bathrooms and estimate value? It probably came from his county government.

There are a number of opportunities for data miners to get information about you from the government. James Ulvog has listed some others:

Other information in the public realm includes court proceedings. Arrest records, hearings, disposition of cases, and sentencing/fine data are now online. That includes civil and criminal cases.

When you consider all of the information that various government agencies are dumping out there, the question of how Facebook manages its privacy settings is relatively inconsequential. Perhaps Facebook can tell you that I have friends who are friends of Guy Kawasaki and Kiira Korpi, but San Bernardino County can tell you how much my house is worth.

Which of these pieces of information is more valuable?

OK, if you're not a figure skating fan or an original Mac fanboi, which of these pieces of information is more valuable?

P.S. I do want to write about the whole "friends of friends" issue at some point. In short, the assumption that each "friend of a friend" is equally close to you is ludicrous.

A different way to handle electronic inter-company communications

Years ago, I was working at a company (not my present employer) that sold its products through a number of retail outlets, including some very large ones. One of these companies was a very large company - I won't name the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company, but you've probably heard of it. This large company was telling our much smaller company that it preferred to receive financial/billing transactions electronically, via EDI (electronic data interchange). That was a couple of decades ago, but EDI is still around today in many forms - here are the details on the United Nations' EDIFACT standards.

But what if you're not a huge conglomerate with access to standards bodies? Well, there are ways for you to electronically invoice your customers also.

Robert Scoble has posted a piece about Tradeshift, which is characterized (by Scoble and by Tradeshift itself) as adding "the viral element of a social network to the invoicing process." Because I am impatient, I watched the short three-minute interview:

If you go to Tradeshift's web site, you can read their thoughts on their contribution:

Traditionally, invoicing solutions were almost entirely disconnected from the businesses they served. The market was also fragmented, with solutions tailored either to small businesses with a focus on PDF invoices or to large businesses sending XML or EDIFACT documents. At no point did these worlds meet, and the invoicing requirements of large businesses often proved a serious impediment to their smaller suppliers and customers.

The Tradeshift revolution changes all this. With Tradeshift, every business – from small suppliers to global enterprises – can use the same network, and invite all their suppliers and customers to join.

Of course, the existence of the Tradeshift network doesn't mean that everyone will join it. If there's a market for this service, competitors will emerge, and there are still a lot of large businesses that will continue to do things the old way. The company in Bentonville isn't about to dump 20 years of investment in its solution.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Should we ban watches on subways?

This is a lesson in pitching. If you choose the right words, you can get international exposure for your company or your cause.

Let's face it, if you want to get your message out, the British Broadcasting Corporation is a good vehicle. In an article that discusses the future availability of wi-fi on the London Underground, a self-described expert who "specialises in reducing terror or technology-related threats" was quoted. This quote comes from Will Geddes of the ICP Group.

"This will enable people to use their laptop on the Tube as if it was a cell phone."

Frankly, when I was initially investigating the purchase of a netbook, I was wondering if I could use the netbook to replace my mobile phone. I didn't realize that this would brand me as a terrorist, but Geddes reminds us that:
  • Mobile phones have been used to remotely detonate bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • If wi-fi enables phone conversations, terrorists could talk with each other underground.

  • Wi-fi could allow Trojan software to penetrate users' laptops.

Bruce Schneier, noted security writer, has offered his take on Geddes' alarming statements:

This is just silly.

And his commenters agree with Schneier's assessment.

One thing that Schneier didn't explicitly discuss was another item that was cited in the BBC article:

The March 2004 train bombers in Madrid used mobile phones.

This is certainly implied by Geddes' concern. However:

However fears were reduced when it was revealed they detonated the bombs by the phones' timer functions, not a signal.

Hmm. Does that mean that we need to ban watches in subways?

Of course, Geddes does not limit his security suggestions to the London Underground. One of the regrettable things in our society is that there are nutjobs who want to harm our elected officials. In a few cases people actually try to harm said officials. Most of the time, the nutjobs are just nuts.

In some cases, the elected officials don't have a choice about whether they're going to get protection. If Obama were to draft an Executive Order abolishing the Secret Service, he'd probably be impeached by his own party. But other officials DO have the choice of whether they want protection or not - and some choose to forgo protection.

Take Lord Mandelson, who was Business Secretary in March 2009. As the Times notes, he chose to go without police protection.

As Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Mandelson received the highest level of personal protection because of the ongoing risk from terrorists. He decided not to repeat the experience when he returned to the Government as Business Secretary.

“I lived with permanent round-the-clock security when I was Northern Ireland Secretary,” he explained. “I don’t think I need to go back to that. I’m not afraid for my security as long as I’m doing my job, doing it conscientiously, addressing the right issues.”

This of course infuriated security experts such as Geddes, who said that the Business Secretary not only required one security detail, but two:

Mr Geddes said he would have had two teams protecting Lord Mandelson - an advance party at the venue he was going to and an escort detail travelling with the minister.

The advance security team would identify any protesters and keep a close eye on them, looking for whether they were wearing bulky clothes or carrying anything that could be used for a demonstration.

“This doesn’t have to be a very sophisticated set-up. It can be very straightforward,” he said. “The venue you are going to very likely has its own security. You will be asking those security people to provide support.”

Unfortunately for Geddes, there are many public officials who would be eligible for security, but who decline it. The most famous example was former Vice President Richard Nixon, who dropped his Secret Service protection in 1985. To be fair, he reportedly hired private security after that, but he apparently took the action as a government budget-saving gesture.

When one of the most polarizing ex-Presidents in history decides that the government doesn't need to protect him...then perhaps we should take a sane view of when a high level of security is needed, and when it is not.

Incidentally, I can think of only one time when an ex-President was threatened - and the ex-President, Theodore Roosevelt, was in the processing of running for President again.

A glass nugget on success via the individuals on the team

Does a team succeed because of an individual, or does a team succeed because of the team?


There's been a lot of chatter about Noah Glass, the so-called lost founder of Twitter. Some people may be misled by the hype to believe that Noah Glass invented Twitter and then Ev Williams stole it from him. But that is NOT what Glass said in the Business Insider Interview:

To not be included in the story was hard to swallow at first, but when I realized what was happening to the product, this thing I helped create, the thing's not about me. The thing's about itself. Twitter is a phenomenon and a massively beneficial tool and it's incredibly useful and it helps a lot of people. I realized the story's not about me. That's okay....

That's a thing I want to reiterate - you're trying to look for the full story. Some people have gotten credit, some people haven't. The reality is it was a group effort. There were lots of people putting ideas into and it couldn't have been done without this group of people. Whether or not there's individuals who get credit or don't get credit, that may be totally irrelevant. It was a collaboration. And it was almost a collaboration that came out of necessity.

So even Glass is saying that the Twitter story isn't all about him. So maybe we should swing the pendulum the other way and say that it's THE TEAM that matters, and the individual doesn't. Take a look at the Denver Nuggets:

What the Nuggets have achieved since the whole fiasco surrounding shipping Carmelo Anthony off to the New York Knicks for what most assumed were just spare parts has been nothing short of amazing. This club (50-32) has gone 18-7 since ridding themselves of that particular distraction, and has almost proven itself to be better not worse as a result of it.

This is how Alex Groberman of Opposing Views describes the recent success of the Denver Nuggets. And this is not the first time that the mere presence of a superstar has appeared to hobble a basketball team. Bpth LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have been accused of tanking games. Those who believe that they purposely tanked the games claim that they did so to display how little support they were getting from their teammates. To my knowledge, Carmelo Anthony was never accused of tanking a Denver Nuggets game, but many have noted how the Nuggets are playing better without a superstar on the team.

But let's return to what Alex Groberman says. The mere absence of Carmelo Anthony is NOT what guaranteed the Denver Nuggets' success:

With eight players averaging double figures now, Denver appears to be more versatile, explosive and fluid in their offensive game play. No more standing around, watching the ball come to a halt as Anthony tries to go one-on-five for George Karl’s team. Now, everyone is a willing participant, and everyone has a role to play. Worth noting, by the way, is that the Nuggets improvements aren’t limited to the offensive end. They have become noticeably better on the defensive side of the ball since shedding Anthony, and that has impacted their newfound success just as much, if not more than their offensive capabilities.

So the issue is not the presence of a superstar. The issue is a more even distribution of work that allows all to participate.

The Lakers, with or without Kobe Bryant, will perform better if all of the players are involved and contributing. It's harder to defend against five people than it is to defend against Kobe alone.

Twitter, with or without any one of the key players, will perform better if the entire organization is involved in the undertaking. It doesn't really matter which founders are in or out, provided that the founder who are left - or whoever else ends up running Twitter - take the time to solicit ideas from their staff.

How will your boss respond if you enforce corporate policy?

It sounds like a dream job. You're hired by a company that everyone is talking about. But within a month, "doing your job" results in your having to take action against your bosses...your very influential bosses. Mediabistro cites a Guardian article about Del Harvey, of Twitter. Perhaps you've heard of Twitter. Well, you almost didn't hear about Del Harvey:

Biz Stone and Ev Williams discovered pretty quickly that Del Harvey was serious about the task they'd set her of putting a lid on Twitter's spam problem. Within a month of her joining in late 2008, she had suspended both of their accounts on the grounds that they seemed to be acting suspiciously ... like spam. Oh, and for good measure she also suspended the head of personnel and Jason Goldman, the head of products.

Luckily for Harvey, Stone and Williams kept Harvey on the job. Perhaps this is because Stone is used to this - his TypePad account was suspended in 2003.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hey, it costs a lot to provide a liberal arts education

As I have mentioned ad nauseum, I happened to be at the right place at the right time to witness the birth of the Internet.

Well, a predecessor to the Internet that we all know and hate today.

Back in the early 1980s, I attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon and found myself using a networked service called Usenet. However, I was just a user of the service, and didn't know what was going on behind the scenes.

But let's start with the story of how Usenet was pitched (by James Ellis) to the system administrators at various universities, college, research institutions, and tech companies:

At the Winter 80 (January) Usenix I gave a short talk announcing the
creation of Usenet and inviting anyone to join. We even had printed up
little forms for folks to fill out giving their uucp info, etc....

It seems like it was only a few days after the
talk that our first site requested a connection - Reed college in Portland, OR
of all places. They had no dialer either so we had to call them - they were
willing to be billed for the charges. I don't recall if we ever billed them
or if we were ever paid, but Duke's department Chairman at the time seemed
very willing (to me) to foot some expenses to get Usenet off the ground.

So was Duke University paying for my privilege to receive Paddy O'Furniture jokes?

In addition, if you were an early Usenet user, you'll recall that Usenet posts would show the way in which a post was routed from another system to your system. As Ellis explains, some of the routing did not make logical sense:

I do recall that for a long while after Berkeley and Research were providing
cross-country connectivity, the connections were often very wasteful.
One of the worst examples was that Tektronix, in Oregon, couldn't send
e-mail to some other site (Reed?) a local phone call away because it was
against policy to set up the connection. But they could, and did, send mail
via Berkeley/Research/Duke going cross-country twice to reach a local
phone call away!

Remember that this was back in the day in which very few people paid a flat rate for nationwide phone service, so the expense of these cross-country calls was expensive indeed.

Another comment - Reed was influencing online interactions well before this Usenet connection was established, as this post shows.

Troy Dawson wrote in and reminded me that the venerable Empire appeared on mainframes in the mid-to-late 1970s. His quote from a USEnet post:

Peter S. Langston did indeed write the original code based on a board game they'd been playing at Reed College. He started writing the original version of Empire in about 1972, and it was playable not long after.

When I arrived at Reed several years after 1972, Empire was still being played. I never entered the room where the game was held, but Empire could be considered to be Risk on steroids - massive, massive, steroids. If you're interested, check this website and this Wikipedia entry.