Tuesday, May 31, 2011

(empo-tymshft) The no-CSI effect

I have set my Google Reader to search for all sorts of information, and it recently turned up this recent blog post that mentioned a former employer of mine, Printrak. Specifically:

Mucho menos habitual es que una huella latente tomada de un vaso o de la empuñadura de un cuchillo encaje con alguna registrada en la base de datos del Printrak, pero la mayoría de los inspectores pueden contar con los dedos de una mano los casos que han sido resueltos por el laboratorio.

I read further, and found that this was a quote from the libro called Homocidio, written by that famous Hispanic author David Simon.

I don't know why, but I got the feeling that I was reading a translated version of the original quote. I found the original text at the Baltimore Sun website. Here's the English version of the sentence above:

On rare occasions, a latent print taken from a drinking glass or knife hilt will match up with someone's print card in the Printrak computer, but most detectives can count on one hand the number of cases made by lab work.

It turns out that the David Simon book was written twenty years ago. I'm not sure what motivated La Cancion de Malapata to quote from it this year, but have things changed in the intervening decades?

After all, you have a ton of TV shows that show these amazing new forensic technologies, and you have people like me running around and telling you that our forensic systems are the greatest thing since sliced bread - and by the way, we've just added bread knife detection to our product so that you can determine which knife actually sliced that bread.

And you'll get the results in less than 60 minutes (including commercials).

Well, despite the advances in forensic science, the reality is that the number of cases solved by forensic science isn't all that great. Just ask Keith O'Brien:

A study, reviewing 400 murder cases in five jurisdictions, found that the presence of forensic evidence had very little impact on whether an arrest would be made, charges would be filed, or a conviction would be handed down in court.

A mere 13.5 percent of the murder cases reviewed actually had physical evidence that linked the suspect to the crime scene or victim. The conviction rate in those cases was only slightly higher than the rate among all other cases in the sample. And for the most part, the hard, scientific evidence celebrated by crime dramas simply did not surface. According to the research, investigators found some kind of biological evidence 38 percent of the time, latent fingerprints 28 percent of the time, and DNA in just 4.5 percent of homicides.

So if forensics isn't finding most of the bad guys, how are they being found?

Analyzing 400 murder cases committed in 2003 in California’s Los Angeles County, Indianapolis, and three smaller Indiana cities, the researchers found that cases were more likely to end up in court if witnesses came forward or if the victim and the suspect knew each other. Such factors made cases easier to solve and, apparently, easier to prosecute, according to the research, while, on the other hand, forensic evidence was “not a significant factor.”

If you take a minute and think about it, this makes sense. We have this image stuck in our minds of a criminal seeking out victims that he or she has never seen before. But a lot of crimes, including crimes such as rape, occur in cases in which the criminal and the victim knew each other. When you can establish motive, how important can that smudged fingerprint be?

In addition, it needs to be stated - at least for my particular branch of forensics - that if criminals would simply wear gloves, my workload would be significantly reduced. I guess that's why they call it "dumb crime."

Out of the stadium

I recently had a dream in which I was an outfielder at a baseball game, and a ball was hit out of the park. For some reason (namely, the unreality of dreams), the ball was still in play after it left the park, and I ran outside of the stadium to get it. A member of the opposing team was also out there, and I angrily yelled at him to get away from the ball. Surprisingly (since no one in the park, including the umpires) could see us, he obliged. I grabbed the ball, got ready to throw it over the stadium wall...then realized that I didn't have the strength to throw it over. As I got ready to run back inside the park to make the play (again, ignoring the reality that the runner had presumably already circled the bases), I commented to the player from the other team, "This is going to be really embarrassing."

In the real, non-dream world, such endings actually do occur. Consider one of the landmark sports cases of the last century, in which the relatively new United States Football League sued the National Football League and accused it of anti-trust violations. The USFL won its suit - well, sort of:

On July 29, 1986, the United States Football League won the battle but lost its war against the National Football League. After five days of deliberation, the jury that heard the USFL's case against the NFL found the older league guilty of monopolizing professional football and of using predatory tactics but awarded the USFL just $1 in damages. The fact that the antitrust award was trebled to $3 was of little solace to the struggling owners of the eight remaining USFL teams.

I had always wondered why the damages were so low. Cosell mentioned the $1 award in one of his autobiographies, but dwelt on the fact that the USFL won and didn't explore why it won so little.

The jury felt that the USFL had abandoned its original plan to patiently build fan support while containing costs and had instead pursued a merger strategy. Moreover, the announced move to the fall also caused the abandonment of major markets and led to further fan skepticism. In essence, the jury ruled that although the USFL was harmed by the NFL's monopolization of pro football, most of the upstart league's problems were the result of its own mismanagement.

And who has been blamed for said mismanagement? According to a 2009 documentary, the blame can be placed at the feet of almost-presidential candidate and self-proclaimed business expert Donald Trump:

Donald Trump ... bought the USFL's New Jersey Generals in 1984 and is blamed by some for the league's demise following an unsuccessful antitrust suit against the NFL in 1986. Trump is portrayed in the film as a man whose enormous ego smothered the USFL, which for three seasons played professional football in the spring.

So what did Trump do wrong? He insisted that the league needed to compete head-on with the NFL in the fall, explaining, "If God wanted football to be played in the spring, he wouldn't have created baseball." Hard to argue with that kind of logic.

But it didn't work out for the USFL, and there are still a whole lot of people associated with the USFL, from players to coaches to owners to members of the media, who blame its failure on Trump.

Trump responded to filmmaker Mike Tollin as follows:

A third rate documentary — and extremely dishonest (as you know) —
Best wishes
Donald Trump

P.S. You are a loser

Ross Perot looks more and more presidential with every passing day.

Monday, May 30, 2011

(empo-tymshft) Hey Mister Tally Man, Tally Me...Goat

Bruce Schneier links to a translated story about a tally stick, dated 1558, that was discovered in Wittenberg, Germany.

So what is a tally stick? xat.org explains how they originated:

King Henry the First produced sticks of polished wood, with notches cut along one edge to signify the denominations. The stick was then split full length so each piece still had a record of the notches.

The King kept one half for proof against counterfeiting, and then spent the other half into the market place where it would continue to circulate as money.

Because only Tally Sticks were accepted by Henry for payment of taxes, there was a built in demand for them, which gave people confidence to accept these as money.

These originated around 1100, and lasted for several centuries. So how did tally sticks disappear?

The tally stick system worked really well for 726 years. It was the most successful form of currency in recent history and the British Empire was actually built under the Tally Stick system, but how is it that most of us are not aware of its existence?

Perhaps the fact that in 1694 the Bank of England at its formation attacked the Tally Stick System gives us a clue as to why most of us have never heard of them. They realised it was money outside the power of the money changers, (the very thing King Henry had intended).

It's interesting that the recent tally stick find was at Wittenberg, because one very famous resident of Wittenberg was extremely familiar with a story about moneychangers.

To read additional information about the Bank of England, the demise of the tally stick system, and the modern day implications of this, go here. Or here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Today's crisis tip

Today's crisis tip comes from Dr. James A. Kaufman of the Laboratory Safety Institute, and is sourced from Forensic Magazine:

Keep Emergency Phone Numbers Next to Every Phone

Yes, every phone. Not just the one in the kitchen. Why?

In an emergency, you tend to forget even the most common things. Having emergency phone numbers for the fire, police, and local ambulance by every phone is a very important reminder.

Read the rest here.

LSI has a number of free safety documents available. While they're tailored for laboratory staff, perhaps you can extrapolate some information from this document.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Corporate user, schmoporate user

Yet another "you are such an idiot for using old technology" rant that does not account for the fact that many corporate users have no choice in the matter.

Why You Should Ditch Your Windows XP Laptop Right Now


Microsoft's Vista and Windows 7 operating systems are a good deal easier to use than XP. That can be a subjective judgment, of course, but you should know that the two newer OS's are known to be more secure than XP, too. And more stable, and that's something you ought to consider as you plug away typing a response on the keyboard of your sluggish and dangerous XP computer.

It gets worse. Your RAM for your XP is two generations older than the current RAM in laptops, DDR3. Computing publications always advise you that the best way to improve your performance is to add more RAM. With XP, there's only so far you can go-two gigabytes of RAM, to be precise.

But this one has an interesting wrinkle - upgrade to the new system NOW because the even newer system will be really really bad.

[I]f you don't buy Windows 7 now ... you'll probably end up stuck with the disaster that will be called "Windows 8." What's going to be wrong with Windows 8? Well, pretty much everything. The interface is as ugly as hell. Unless you really, really like the Office ribbon. That task bar? It'll be a space-hogging ribbon in Windows 8. Not only that, but the ideas for the platform are to be shared with Microsoft's OS for phones.

Presumably Nathan Bauman hates the iPad because its ideas were taken from the much smaller iPhone and iPod.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Perhaps they should have stayed in Brooklyn

There is a supper club in Hollywood called...well, it's called supperclub. Lower case, one word, and oh so trendy:

Anything can happen here
Don't come to supperclub if you're in search of a traditional restaurant, have lazy taste buds or are scared of new experiences. However, if you're looking for an unusual dinner experience in an unexpected place and are not afraid to discover the creative corners of your personality, then knock on supperclub's door.

Owner Bert van der Leden:
"Freedom is the keyword at supperclub. It's a mix of food, music, performances, art, our staff and... you. An evening at supperclub has been successful when all your five senses have been tickled.
So to speak, supperclub is a free state of sensual experiences. It's hard to explain exactly what that is: you have to experience it yourself.
Supperclub is all about creative freedom. It's a particular atmosphere -every night different- and a special place where people can let themselves go.

Have fun, eat, listen, dance and enjoy your evening. Nothing is obligatory. Everything's possible. Be yourself and anything can happen to you, at supperclub!"

Unfortunately, they must not be doing all that well. The staff uniforms don't have all that much material.

But I didn't hear about supperclub because of its entertainment. I heard of supperclub because of what's going on in front of it. Namely, the positioning of the red carpet in front of supperclub:

While checking out the walk of fame, I was looking for the star of Vin Scully. I've seen it before but just wanted to see it again.

Bad news, the star is mostly covered with a red carpet and old tape....

I saw hundreds of stars and none of them were covered with any type of carpet or tape. NONE. Only the star of Vin Scully was covered with that garbage.

The post was written in the blog Vin Scully is My Homeboy, a proud supporter of Vin Scully (and of Bryan Stow). It's fair to say that the blog is not a proud supporter of Bert van der Leden.

I can understand the Dodgers getting no respect because of Frank McCourt, but when even Vin Scully isn't being respected, things are really bad.

Not that the patrons of supperclub know what baseball is.

The...um...links between LinkedIn and the National Information Exchange Model

It's rare that my professional and social media worlds intersect, but they do intersect on occasion.

This morning, I received an email stating that the keynote speaker for the NIEM 2011 National Training Event will be Ellen Levy. This is what the email said:

Ellen Levy, vice president of strategic alliances for LinkedIn, will provide the opening keynote at the NIEM National Training Event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on August 23, 2011.

As the leader of LinkedIn's strategic initiatives, Ellen is at the center of LinkedIn's growth as a business innovator. She is a long-time expert in organizational strategy and innovation. Each of Ellen's roles has involved being the "interface" between groups thinking about the future of technology. Prior to joining LinkedIn, she held key positions at companies and organizations within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, including venture capital, startups, technology think tanks, big companies, foundations and universities.

So what is NIEM? NIEM is the National Information Exchange Model used for exchanges of data between Federal, Tribal, State, and local government agencies. I get involved in this because one of types of information that is exchanged is information about terrorist threats. Automated fingerprint identification systems are sometimes required to support NIEM, and/or NIEM's biometric red-headed stepchild, ANSI/NIST-ITL 2-2008. (To be superseded.)

So why does LinkedIn care about NIEM? Because a number of LinkedIn members, including myself, care about NIEM. There is a NIEM group on LinkedIn, but it is a members-only group so I'm not...um...linking to it here.

One other thing holds personal interest to me. In the biography above, Levy makes a point of stating that she is often an "interface" (her word) between various groups. Coincidentally, I use similar language on...well, it's on my LinkedIn profile.

Perhaps Africans WILL save Africa

Last October, I wrote a post entitled Will Africans save Africa? which was sourced from a post on CNN's Business 360.

Well, I just read another Business 360 post, which includes the findings from a survey by Ernst & Young on the attractiveness of Africa for business.

The firm polled 500 companies from around the world, as well as Africans themselves, and found that - no surprises here - Africa is becoming increasingly attractive to international investors.

But then it says:

What will cheer many within the continent is the huge optimism Africans feel towards business opportunities in their own backyard. Africans themselves are leading the growth in investment.

However, the investments are selective:

[T]hree quarters of foreign direct investment was in just 10 countries, out of a continent of more than 50 states.

Although CNN didn't name the countries, an Ernst & Young press release did:

Ten African countries attracted 70% of the new FDI projects in Africa between 2003 and 2010 (South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Nigeria, Angola, Kenya, Libya, Ghana).

An intersting list, since more recent events have shown instability in three of the countries listed - Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. How will the more recent events affect future investment in these countries?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Let us ask a third time - what is journalistic objectivity?

I wrote about this in October 2010 and November 2010, but I'd like to return to the subject one more time because of something that Rob Diana wrote earlier this month. Diana wrote an entire post about bias, but I'm only going to quote three words from the post:

Experience Is Bias

That says it all. But if you want to read more, go here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

@crimelabproject notes - if you think that forensic science suffers from delays, check journalism

I subscribe to the Crime Lab Project newsletter, and it recently shared an interesting story.

In a recent issue, the newsletter highlighted a May 16, 2011 story in the Wichita Eagle entitled "Top forensics lab botched DNA tests, audit finds." The story, originally written by Steve Mills of the Chicago Tribune with contributions by Tribune correspondent Flynn McRoberts, discusses the case of Earl Washington Jr., who spent 17 years on death row in Virginia before being exonerated. The article includes references to Peter Neufeld, Virginia Governor Mark Warner, and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore.

Virginia residents may know where this is going.

The Wichita Eagle allows comments on its articles, and George Schiro posted one that began as follows:

Wichita Eagle, you are about six years late in reporting this story.

Schiro then linked to the original article - dated May 8, 2005.

This elicited a comment from northrock:

Pesky stage coach robbers shot out the telegraph lines again!

So what has happened since then? Mark Warner left the Governor's office in 2006 and is now a U.S. Senator. His successor, Governor Timothy M. Kaine, granted Washington a full pardon in 2007. At the time, Washington was working as a maintenance man in Virginia Beach, Virginia. And Steve Mills is still writing for the Chicago Tribune (here's a recent article on an autism drug gone sour).

Green is not necessarily new, and green is not necessarily white

There is a comment that has been making the rounds for some time - Jason Toney recently reposted it. Originally, it was posted as a comment to a post entitled "Sustainable Food and Privilege: Why is Green Always White (and Male and Upper Class)." The original post, by Janani Balasubramanian, claims that, among other things, the fresh food movement overly concentrates on white male voices within the movement, and even takes some actions to denigrate others (such as blaming our lack of home cooking today on Betty Friedan).

Anyway, a comment from Blackandalive said that this attitude was not restricted to food choices:

It reminds me of the "bike to work" movement. That is also portrayed as white, but in my city more than half of the people on bike are not white. I was once talking to a white activist who was photographing "bike commuters" and had only pictures of white people with the occasional "black professional" I asked her why she didn't photograph the delivery people, construction workers etc. ... ie. the black and Hispanic and Asian people... and she mumbled something about trying to "improve the image of biking" then admitted that she didn't really see them as part of the "green movement" since they "probably have no choice" --

I was so mad I wanted to quit working on the project she and I were collaborating on.

So, in the same way when people in a poor neighborhood grow food in their yards ... it's just being poor-- but when white people do it they are saving the earth or something.

And YES black people on bikes and with gardens DO have an awareness of the environment. Surprisingly so! These values are in our communities and they are good values. My Grandmother was an organic gardener before it was "cool" --My mother believed in composting all waste and recycling whatever could be reused-- it was a religious thing. God hates waste.

Now is this all an exaggeration? Well, I took a look at the Board of Directors of the League of American Bicyclists. You can look at the pictures of the board members yourselves - I'll quote from the biographies:

Before retiring, Hans was Partner of a multi-million dollar international consulting practice, received numerous achievement awards, and was the first to commute by bike to corporate headquarters....

In his professional life, he is an economist and statistician at the World Bank, where he is also spokesman for the World Bank Staff Bike Club (which has over 300 members and more than 700 registered bike commuters)....

Currently, Brull is transitioning from his day job of more than 30 years as an industrial/organizational psychologist and spending time in his new home in Salida, Colo. (discovered on Ride the Rockies and Bicycle Tour of Colorado)....

A former bicycle retailer and City Transportation Coordinator, she has a background in Organization Development and extensive experience serving on local, regional, and national boards and bicycle advisory committees....

She is a registered patent attorney with a PhD in Materials Science. Her solo Intellectual Property law practice is located in Albuquerque....

He graduated from the University of Southern California in 1971, and earned his law degree at Hastings College of the Law in 1975. His passion for cycling has also shaped his professional career. Approximately 15 years ago he decided to transform his law practice from general personal injury cases to a specialized cycling practice....

Durrant is principal at Alta Planning + Design in Portland, Ore....

David Madson, a resident of Berkeley, is a Senior Development Officer with California Pacific Medical Center Foundation. He has previously served in senior development positions with the University of California and California State University systems and his alma mater, the University of Minnesota....

Now this is probably not unique to cycling - any Board of Directors (or any group such as the U.S. Congress) is going to be skewed towards those who have money and therefore influence, and in our society today those people will tend to have certain genetic characteristics.

Incidentally, I thought about buying this image to improve the look of this post, but thought better of it. Take a look at the adjectives used in the caption, such as "active." Interesting.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ooh la la!

Search is imperfect. This came up in a set of search results (those who know me will probably find the search term in the text).

For a completely decadent evening of foreign intrigue, pair [the movie "Horror of Dracula"] with the even sleazier Spanish classic The Awful Dr. Orloff, Jesse Franco’s first big hit in this country, and the first horror flick to actually show what others only hinted at: nudity! It goes by fast, but it is there, so no blinking. The depraved goings-on and mad skin-grafting experiments are abetted by the blind man-monster Morpho, the insane Dr. Orloff’s rather frisky assistant. But hey, it’s from Europe—so it’s an art film! Expect your date to initiate some fear-induced cuddling.

And to top it off, the IMDB entry includes a plot summary by someone from Reed College. It's a small world, after all.

No word on whether actor Ricardo Valle engaged in cogent scenes of neck-biting.

P.S. Another plot summary can be found here.

The Blippy story - why an organization needs an early adopter AND a cranky person

Since Blippy debuted in 2009, responses have been mixed.

MG Siegler (12/11/2009):

Yes, I know this is a controversial idea — that’s part of what makes it potentially a great one. Imagine being able to see everything your friends buy with a credit card as they do it. This not only tells you what kind of things they’re actually into (rather than someone just saying they like something), but also other information like how cheap they are, as well as where they actually are at a given time. There is actually a lot of data tied into the transactions we make, and Blippy takes that and makes it social.

Steven Hodson (12/11/2009):

I’m sorry but there is nothing interesting or fun about this idea. Just as it is nobody’s business as to what goes on in my bedroom my purchasing habits are just as private and personal. The idea that wrapping it up in a bunch of social media mumbo-jumbo makes sharing that kind of information any better is fundamentally screwed.

Louis Gray (1/15/2010):

After first having a mental block on the entire concept of Blippy, I realized it could be interesting to share my iTunes purchases and my Netflix rentals with friends, and see what they were buying online. After all, if we are so willing to share those things that we like (See MyLikes for that) or things we are a fan of (try Facebook), it makes more sense to take a step upward and show what we actually spent money on.

John Bredehoft (in a comment to Gray's post):

While your Blippy feed may be interesting to you or your friends, it could be REALLY interesting to data miners and data aggregators.

CNN's John D. Sutter (12/13/2010):

Louis Gray ... spent $321.81 on groceries last month at Safeway. Also during November, he rented dozens of movies and TV shows from Netflix, including "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" and "Dexter," a Showtime series about a serial killer. He goes to the dentist at Great Smiles Care Dental in Cupertino, California. He's been there once in the past two months.

John Bredehoft (12/13/2010):

Louis Gray has a somewhat different set of privacy practices than I do. Not that he reveals EVERYTHING about himself - no one does - but some of the things that he chooses to share are not things that I would choose to share - for example, I would not join Blippy like he did. I'm not saying that I'm right and that Gray is wrong; I'm just saying that we have differing comfort levels for sharing information.

Fast-forward to Alexa Tsotis (5/19/2011):

Thus is the story of the failure of Blippy, a product that launched in private beta in December of 2009 and that we (TechCrunch, MG Siegler's employer) breathlessly fawned over again, and again, and again and again (and again and again …).

“Imagine being able to see everything your friends buy with a credit card as they do it,” MG wrote. “This not only tells you what kind of things they’re actually into (rather than someone just saying they like something), but also other information like how cheap they are, as well as where they actually are at a given time.”

What we failed to ask was, “Who cares?”

Tsotis then notes that "the Blippy team has stopped innovating upon Blippy, and has moved on to other products in the social ecommerce space." In other words, Blippy the service is kinda like FriendFeed - not quite pining for the fjords just yet, but the fjords are certainly calling.

Steven Hodson (5/29/2011):

Chalk one up for the cranky guy.

Now the protagonists in the timeline above do not fit into neat categories - Siegler and Gray are not starry-eyed optimists, and Hodson does not rule out every new idea that comes along. But they do somewhat illustrate differing points of view.

Now some could argue that the nay-sayers (e.g. exaggerated Hodson-ish types) should run companies to keep them from doing stupid things, while others could argue that the risk-takers (e.g. exagerrated Gray-ish types) should run companies to keep them innovative.

In truth, you need both types in a company. And for all we know, Blippy had both types, and there were people running around Blippy asking if anyone would be interested in the concept.

But for startups, it really doesn't matter what the users think. All that matters is what the investors think. And Blippy got investors:

Blippy is based in Silicon Valley and backed by leading venture capital firms and angel investors including Charles River Ventures, August Capital, Sequoia Capital, Ron Conway, Philip Kaplan, Evan Williams, Jason Calacanis, James Hong, and Ariel Poler.

In those terms of measurement, Blippy was a resounding success, even if the investors themselves don't use the service.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Earthquake in the Pacific

The IRIS Seismic Monitor is reporting a recent earthquake in the Pacific Ocean.

21-MAY-2011 04:35:38 -9.89 160.86 4.8 41.7 SOLOMON ISLANDS

As anyone from California or Japan will tell you, a 4.8 earthquake is not...um...the end of the world. Or, as Danielle Hayes put it:

Solomon Islands have daily 'moderate' earthquakes..Calm down guys.

Earthquake monitoring websites

So let's say that you had an interest in knowing when the most recent large earthquakes had occurred. I know of two sites with this information:



As I write this, the USGS website was last updated at Sat May 21 4:30:07 UTC 2011 (or, to put it another way, a half hour after 6:00 pm in Kiribati). As of now, the last reported earthquake at either site was a 21-MAY-2011 02:43:17 4.5 earthquake south of Panama.

A couple of things to note:

First, it takes some time for earthquakes to be reported on the various websites. In fact, the USGS website includes the following disclaimer:

The maps and lists show events which have been located by the USGS and contributing agencies within the last 7 days. They should not be considered to be complete lists of all events M2.5+ in the US and adjacent areas and especially should not be considered to be complete lists of all events M4.5+ in the world. Beginning January 1, 2009, earthquakes outside the US below M4.5 are not reported unless NEIC obtains felt reports.

Second, it should also be noted that the Pacific Ocean is a relatively heavy earthquake area. Even if multiple large earthquakes strike in the Pacific in the next few hours, that doesn't necessarily mean that a world-wide series of earthquakes is about to occur.

As of now, I've heard no reports of recent major quakes west of the International Date Line. Sound like Harold Camping is a false prophet - again.

The science of disaster prediction

The whole idea of disaster prediction didn't just emerge this week. There have been numerous disasters - the Mississippi River floods, the Japanese earthquake, the Schwarzenegger marriage woes, and countless others. After these disasters have occurred, people have asked if there was any way to predict them.

Salon recently posted an interview with Len Fisher, who asserts that our ability to predict disasters has become greater, thanks to technology:

(Salon) What has changed that allows us to make better predictions now than in the past?

(Fisher) We have not had these very powerful computers that could put in the work to make the signals show up against a very noisy background. We’re in a similar position now as we were in the old days of television: You knew a picture was there, but you weren’t quite sure what it was about. As it improved, it became sharper and the background became less murky and snowy. The same thing is happening with the analysis of the fluctuations in different situations.

Fisher speaks of the types of warning signs that signal an impending disaster:

One of the signs is more extreme conditions. In a relationship, for example, you might get a period when you have violent arguments and then periods when you’re lovey-dovey. If you get these extremes, or these things happen more frequently, that’s a warning sign that you’re getting very, very close to collapse.

Another thing that happens is quick fluctuation between different states, like, for example, when the cod fisheries collapsed in Newfoundland. The fishermen wouldn’t believe it because they had one or two years of good catches, but if they had been aware of [the warning signs] before that ultimate fluctuation between high fish stocks and low fish stocks, they would have said, "uh oh."

The third warning sign is loss of resilience. When something happens to disturb the situation, it can be very hard to recover. I like to think of that in terms of a relationship: You think you’re getting along OK, you’re agreeing and you go out to a party. Then something happens. One person gets offered a drink and takes it, and the other gets mad. Rather than recover from the situation and apologize, they glower at one another all night, and it gets increasingly hard to recover from the disturbance.

Of course, the problem is that we don't necessarily know what signs are important. If my dog starts running around strangely, perhaps that means that an earthquake is about to happen. Or perhaps that means that she sees a fly and wants to play with it.

Here are some Australian sources that may, or may not, provide the initial reports of the Apocalypse

This is a follow-up to my earlier post.

Do you remember the year 2000?

In my country, the ABC television network aired an all-night/all-day special, hosted by Peter Jennings, that reported 2000 New Year's celebrations as each time zone struck the hour of midnight.

According to Harold Camping, something very similar will happen, beginning in the next few hours:

[W]hen we get to May 21 on the calendar in any city or country in the world, and the clock says about — this is based on other verses in the Bible — when the clock says about 6 p.m., there’s going to be this tremendous earthquake that’s going to make the last earthquake in Japan seem like nothing in comparison. And the whole world will be alerted that Judgment Day has begun. And then it will follow the sun around for 24 hours. As each area of the world gets to that point of 6 p.m. on May 21, then it will happen there, and until it happens, the rest of the world will be standing far off and witnessing the horrible thing that is happening.

Now I (and Harold Camping) live in California, one of the last places that will witness these events. So if Camping is a true prophet, things will start to ... um ... roll much earlier.

Kiribati changed the time zone of Caroline Island so that it could be the first place to celebrate the year 2000. Kiribati is UTC+14, so they would presumably be the first to feel the effects of the earthquake, at a time when Europeans (and even some Americans) will be asleep. (If I did the math right, this would be at 9:00 pm Pacific time Friday night.)

But the Australians will be awake (Brisbane and Melbourne observe UTC+10 at this time of year), and therefore they (and the New Zealanders) may be the first to hear of the end of the world (if, of course, Camping is a true prophet).

So if you're interested in spectating the accuracy (or lack thereof) of Camping's predictions, two Australian news sources are The Inquisitr and Johnny Worthington's personal blog.

I don't know whether Camping will be reading either of those websites, but he has said what he will be doing:

[T]he likelihood is that I'll be doing what everybody else will be doing, which is listening to the radio or watching TV, seeing what is happening as it begins on the other side of the world.

For my beliefs about whether Camping is a true prophet, see my September 2007 post.

And Worthington, if you intentionally change your website so that it presents a 404 error after 6pm Saturday Brisbane time, I'll fly over there and break your ukelele strings...

Harold Camping, revisited

On Sunday, September 23, 2007, my mrontemp blog contained a long post on the religious issues surrounding Harold Camping. Since that time, of course, Camping has forcefully declared that May 21, 2011 is THE DAY.

Inasmuch as this is a business blog, I'm not going to get into the religious issues here, but will instead look at the business of Harold Camping.

CNN took a look at the business end of Family Radio Ministries in an article yesterday, noting that Family Radio Ministries is almost entirely funded by donations, and that the organization received $18 million in contributions in 2009 and has $72 million in assets. However, considering the nature of Camping's organization, that's not outlandish:

"At first glance, it looks like they have a lot of assets, but they actually don't have a lot of cash that they're stockpiling," said Laurie Styron, analyst with the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Most of the group's net worth is tied up in FCC broadcasting licenses, valued at $56 million. Family Radio claimed it held only $1.5 million in cash on its books at the end of 2009.

However, CNN (and the rest of us) only have access to 2009 information. The Contra Costa Times quotes a board member:

As The End nears, donations have spiked, a board member says, enabling Family Radio to spend millions of dollars on more than 5,000 billboards.

However, the spokesperson claims that the incoming funds have not been able to cover all of the expenses incurred over the last few months.

Which, of course, raises the possibility that Family Radio Ministries may go bankrupt in the next few months.

If there is a next few months. Unlike Harold Camping, I don't know.

But if Camping is wrong, what will Robert Patrick do:

A retired worker has spent his whole life saving (20 years retirement income) to advertise Harold Camping’s May 21 2011 End of the world in the Subway. Yes folks, it is Camping's End of the world date not God's.

Robert Patrick worked 20 years for the Transit system and retired with a pretty nice saving. He is convinced Camping is right and has spent his full $100,000 in saving on Subway and Bus ads....

He is 60 years old and has used all his savings. The cost of advertising in the subways is expensive and he will have nothing left as of DOOMS DAY (May21st)

And if you're non-compliant, you're out 380 Swiss francs

I haven't visited the Canadian Standards Association website lately, but I'm still interested in standards - what they are, and what they are not.

There are three types of standards - (1) those that are created out of thin air by standards bodies, (2) those that are created by vendors, and (3) those that are created by vendors and subsequently blessed by standards bodies.

Actually, I assert that there are two types of standards. I don't think that the first one truly exists. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I suspect that every standard out there, including the ones blessed by the standards bodies, receive significant input from one or more vendors.

In essence, they have to. Not only is there no point in creating a standard if none of the vendors will adopt it, there is also minimal interest in a standard if the vendors don't participate. After all, vendors have money, and they'll pay people to sit on the standards committees.

Therefore, it's no great surprise that there is an ISO standard for Portable Document Format. The standard has the official designation ISO 32000-1:2008, and can be purchased from ISO for 380 Swiss francs.

And if you purchase the standard, what do you get?

A PDF file.

Perhaps you may download the standard to your computer, or perhaps you may receive a compact disc with the standard, but in either case, the PDF standard is provided in PDF format.

Which means that if you want to know how to develop your own PDF application, you'll need to use someone else's PDF application to find out the test criteria.

But there's a benefit to this. Once you've developed your PDF application, you already have a file to use for testing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cloud first, in-house later? The Zynga strategy

In a recent article, InformationWeek discussed the traditional use of the cloud:

The most frequently mentioned case for the hybrid approach of blending private and public clouds is "cloud bursting," where the in-house data center runs the bulk of the load, spots a spike building, and offloads that extra work to the public cloud.

But Zynga does the opposite, using the cloud first and then transitioning to an in-house data center:

Planning data center capacity for ... unpredictability is a slippery exercise. That's why Zynga instead launches games using Amazon's EC2 infrastructure as a service, so it pays only for the capacity it uses and is ready for spikes. But that's not the end of the story. Once a game hits a more predictable level, Zynga brings it in house, onto what it calls Z Cloud, servers it runs using a private cloud architecture similar to what Amazon runs.

And, of course, if a game tanks, Zynga doesn't move the game to Z Cloud. Instead, it cancels the Amazon service for that particular game, thus reducing its exposure.

Of course, this strategy only works if you have a massive in-house computing system in place already.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When will Mike Smrek be given his due?

I saw a post on Lakers Nation regarding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's comments about the statues at Staples Center. I figured that Lakers Nation wasn't engaging in original reporting, so I sought the original source of the comments. This led me to ESPN, who noted that the comments originally appeared in the Sporting News.

Now the Sporting News chose not to republish the entire piece online, but they did publish a teaser. And the teaser included something that ESPN and Lakers Nation chose to ignore. To wit:

But for all of Abdul-Jabbar's influence, for all of his accomplishments, the man feels "slighted" by the Lakers organization, as he explains in a six-page interview in the magazine.

Why? There are multiple reasons---and we're not going to spoil all the goods here---but one of them has to do with the statues that have been erected outside Staples Center.

There are five of them: of Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Chick Hearn, Wayne Gretzky and Oscar De La Hoya.

Notice who's not on that list?

Yes, the great Lakers center Mike Smrek. And also Abdul-Jabbar....

Now if Kareem feels slighted, then how does Smrek feel? After all, several news organizations, including one devoted to the Lakers, didn't even bother to mention his chances to have a statue at Staples.

For the record, Smrek played for several teams in addition to the Lakers. Drafted by Portland, he ended up playing for Chicago for a year. He then spent two seasons (1986-88) with the Lakers (receiving $200,000 in his second year) before moving on to a number of teams, including the Clippers. Out of the NBA by 1992, he played in Europe and is (as of May 2011) on the faculty of St. Paul Catholic High School in Niagara Falls, Ontario. And the school is definitely Catholic (PDF):

Mike Smrek teacher at St. Paul Catholic High School, Niagara Falls, together with students Mark Giancola and Kyle Wegelin, designed and constructed this 12-foot boat. At the 2007 secondary graduation ceremonies and at the Faith Day for teachers, it was brought forward in sections throughout the prayer service, in conjunction with special petitions for each of the seven ribs and a ceremonial unfurling of the sails upon which were the names of the present and past Catholic schools in the Niagara region.

Then again, I just finished reading the final chapters of Acts, and perhaps if THAT boat had been blessed beforehand, it wouldn't have run into so many problems.

Back to Mr. Smrek. His students like him. Oddly enough, he is NOT one of the coaches for the basketball team.

And Kareem thought that HE had problems getting respect...

It only took a half century to phase out the paper check

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, my dad worked for the U.S. Treasury Department. While he helped to implement the computer systems that printed checks for a wide variety of government workers (including, during the summers of 1980-1982, myself - and no, he didn't add extra 0s to my check amounts), he also realized that paper checks were not necessary, and that checks could be deposited into accounts via direct deposit. This began in 1972, and was available nationwide by 1978.

Well, over a quarter century later, the end is near for paper checks:

In a move figured to save U.S. taxpayers an estimated $1 billion over the next decade, the U.S. Department of Treasury is retiring the paper Social Security check in favor of direct deposits....

People who currently receiving their federal benefits by paper check must switch to direct deposit by March 1, 2013.

While I like to get my music in a tangible fashion (I'd rather buy a CD than buy electronic music files), I've long since accepted the reality of direct deposits. We'll see how others feel about this. If they're concerned, they can read the FAQs.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why Adam Smith Didn't Use Facebook (ETH Zurich and Wisdom of the Crowds)

One of Adam Smith's most famous phrases was originally used in the specific context of domestic vs. foreign trade. Nevertheless, here is the quote:

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.

Regardless of whether you use the term "invisible hand" in this specific context, or in the more general context in which it is applied today, no one will argue that the actions of an individual often have ramifications far beyond the individual. What is debatable is whether the independent actions of a number of individuals provide benefits to society as a whole.

Note that the last sentence included the word "independent." This is important in understanding a recent study on the 21st century manifestation of the invisible hand. Today we call it the wisdom of crowds. And Wired notes that there are certain circumstances in which said wisdom can be corrupted:

“Although groups are initially ‘wise,’ knowledge about estimates of others narrows the diversity of opinions to such an extent that it undermines” collective wisdom, wrote researchers led by mathematician Jan Lorenz and sociologist Heiko Rahut of Switzerland’s ETH Zurich, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 16. “Even mild social influence can undermine the wisdom of crowd effect.”

Specifically, the test was conducted as follows:

They recruited 144 students from ETH Zurich, sitting them in isolated cubicles and asking them to guess Switzerland’s population density, the length of its border with Italy, the number of new immigrants to Zurich and how many crimes were committed in 2006.

After answering, test subjects were given a small monetary reward based on their answer’s accuracy, then asked again. This proceeded for four more rounds; and while some students didn’t learn what their peers guessed, others were told.

As testing progressed, the average answers of independent test subjects became more accurate, in keeping with the wisdom-of-crowds phenomenon. Socially influenced test subjects, however, actually became less accurate.

Now this finding is not new - one of the four requirements cited in James Surowiecki's 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds was independence.

However, this finding is often forgotten. The mere fact that a large crowd of people is saying something is not equivalent to "the wisdom of crowds" in the Surowiecki/Lorenz/Rahut sense.

So what if Adam Smith's domestic producer DID have an 18th century version of Facebook? Then perhaps some spammer would convince the entire English populace that the Dutch tulip craze was going to return Real Soon Now - or, better still, that a second South Sea Company would emerge. After all, many of these market crashes have a social component, as people tell their family, friends, and neighbors about this wonderful opportunity - an opportunity that the person would not necessarily pursue based on independent data.

Of course it can work the other way - social connections can lead a mass of people into making a good investment also - but if Lorenz and Rahut's study can be extrapolated, more often than not these collaborative efforts fail.

What does this mean for the way we do work? Is it better to get everyone in a room to solve a problem, or is it better for everyone to stay in their own rooms and look at the variety (or non-variety) of solutions that emerge?

Assessment and analysis aren't just the backside of business

Often we place great emphasis on doing. If we're doing, then we're productive. If we're not doing, then we're not productive.

Or are we?

A family friend, Tommi Huovinen, is one of the principals of Smarp Oy, a Finnish social media consulting firm. (English site here; Finnish site here.) When Smarp engages a client, they take an important first step:

Tarjoamamme viiden portaan prosessi alkaa kokonaisvaltaisella tilannekatsauksella asiakkaan sen hetkisestä sosiaalisen median läsnäolosta ja aktiivisuudesta. Vaiheessa kaksi analysoimme asiakkaan erityistarpeet ja kerromme, mitä sosiaalisen median kanavia yrityksen olisi järkevintä, luontevinta ja tuottoisinta hyödyntää. Vaikutuskanavia on rajattomasti, mutta on ehdottoman tärkeää, että asiakas ei yritä levittäytyä kaikkiin mahdollisiin medioihin vaan valitsee juuri heidän tarpeisiinsa sopivat vaihtoehdot.

Whoops...let's try that again:

The five-step process starts with an overall assessment of the client’s social media presence. In our second step we analyze our client’s specific needs and figure out which social media channels are the most effective and the best fit for them. The possibilities are endless, but it is impeccably important to choose the correct channels and not try to enter them all.

Before Smarp can actually get around to doing anything - in this case, implementing a social media strategy - they have to start by assessing where the client already is. After this first step, Smarp analyzes what they've learned from the assessment. Next, they share some examples with the customer while accounting for the client's "specific wishes, needs, and goals." Only after these three steps are completed does Smarp actually implement anything.

It was the same when I was in product management - other than concepts, no code was committed to paper until after I had written the marketing requirements, and the systems engineers had written the technical requirements.

In the proposals world, I do a number of things before I actually start writing the proposal. One of the biggest steps, of course, is to read the Request for Proposal that the customer has provided to the vendors. If I were to start writing a proposal without reading the RFP, I can absolutely guarantee that I will not win the award.

Now I don't know the Finnish for the words "assessment" and "analysis," but in English both words begin with references to a person's backside. This is fitting, since both assessment and analysis are truly back-office operations, sometimes denigrated by those who do "real work." (Yeah, work boot company whose name I didn't catch when your radio commercial aired, I'm talking to you now.)

But if you don't do the prepatory work, then you're going to get kicked in the backside by your competitors.

Monday, May 16, 2011

If it's Earl Grey tea, why is it in a purple and green packet?

If you're interested in the origins of Earl Grey tea, read this account (partially granslated from Hebrew). Everyone agrees that the tea goes back to the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Although the whole thing about the Indian raja and the tiger may be spurious (if you can trust a coffee company to talk about tea).

Was it something I said?

I don't know if Blogger's outage last week caused this, or whether it's something else. But if your feeds haven't told you about my Viral Lack of a Target post, you can find it at the link.

The Viral Lack of a Target - or, who should I contact to find out about Electrolux products?

I was reading an old mrontemp post recently, and I ended up surfing to a 2005 Steve Rubel post called Target's Got a Fan Blog. Back in 2005, Rubel wrote the following:

Lesley [Weiner] says “Essentially this would be any company’s dream, right!?” Well, you would think so, but often this isn't the case. The reason is, corporations are afraid of an uncontrolled message.

Things hadn't gotten to much better by the time I wrote my post in 2008. The main focus of my post was a message sent from Target to Amy Jussel (printed as a comment in her post about Target's notorious spread-eagled ads).

“Good Morning Amy,

Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.

Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.”

Anyway, I checked for an update to status. While I couldn't find a definitve new statement about Target's 2011 attitude toward bloggers, I did discover a couple of things.

First, the fan blog in question, Slave to Target, hasn't been updated since 2009.

Second, Amy Jussel is still blogging.

Third, I checked Target's investor Media Contacts page to see how to contact them. It began with the following words:

Members of the media are invited to call the Target Media Hotline at (612) 696-3400 or email Press@target.com. The Hotline is generally staffed between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Central Monday through Friday. Media may leave a message during other times. The Hotline voicemail system is checked periodically.

Now more often than not, when I see the phrase "Members of the media," it usually doesn't apply to me. Perhaps it might apply to Michael Arrington, but that's only because he's been mentioned in the so-called "real media."

Now contrast this with Electrolux:

If you are a journalist or blogger covering a certain part of the world, we have local Press Officers who can assist you.

Find the Press Officer for your region by using the contact information presented here. Please select country below.

Now I happen to live in the United States, and as of today, my Electrolux contact is Caryn Klebba. I now have Caryn's e-mail address, as well as Caryn's phone number.

So the next time that I'm stuck for blogging ideas, and I have a choice between writing about Electrolux and writing about Target, which will I choose?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Anger...and luck

Conventional wisdom teaches us that it's best to control our temper. If we lose our temper, conventional wisdom tells us that our emotional state makes us unable to reach our goals.

But sometimes a bad temper works out for the best.

In 1982, a former military officer named John McCain, a recent arrival to Arizona, was running for Congress. His opponents dwelled on the "recent" part of McCain's biography, and carpetbagger charges were swirling about him when, during a debate, he snapped.

Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the first district of Arizona, but I was doing other things.

Then he made this statement:

As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.

He won that primary, and then won election to the House of Representatives, and then to the Senate. In fact, the 2008 Presidential election was the first major election that he lost.

Not too bad for a statement made in a fit of anger.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

(empo-tuulwey) Why search technology is substandard, May 10 edition

I read Outside the Beltway via Google Reader, and saw the feed version of the blog's recent article, entitled "Babies 'R' Us Sells Defective Cribs, Won't Give Refunds." You can find the online, non-feed version of the post here.

The feed for Outside the Beltway contains Google Ads (as does the feed for this blog, by the way). Now Google is the reputed leader in search technology, so one would expect that its search results are better than others.

I'll give you three guesses regarding the ad that Google placed on the feed for the Outside the Beltway article. And the first two guesses don't count.

Somehow I don't think that Babies "R" Us will get a lot of sales from that ad placement.

And to top it off, while writing this post I opened up my blog in another tab to locate previous discussions of search technology. A Babies R Us ad appeared there, too - this was before this article was posted, so it was relying on information from the other tabs, including the tab in which this post was being composed, as well as a tab that included the Outside the Beltway post. (Interesting ramifications.)

Incidentally, I wrote a similar post on search technology issues in February 2011.

And I still ask - when will search become more intelligent?

Conflicting conflicts of interest

I missed this story initially until Michael Arrington posted a follow-up, which led me to read the original story, which described Arrington's policy on reporting on items in which he has a financial interest.

Unlike Louis Gray, whose blog has a staff of one (at least until Matthew and Sarah learn their ABCs), Arrington also has to worry about anyone working for him who might write about one of his investments. Hence, this tale:

There’s a period of time with any investment when I know an investment is possible or likely but it can’t be announced yet. During that time I don’t write about the startup at all, because I can’t disclose the investment. When another writer wants to break a story we may have to hold that story, or it becomes a forcing function in announcing sooner. That’s what happened with Yo. MG [Siegler] had the story independently and wanted to run with it. I can’t reasonably ask him to hold the story (THAT would be a conflict of interest in itself), but he can’t publish it here without the disclosure that I’m investing. Which led to the interesting situation where I was the only investor who confirmed on the record.

I find this fascinating. If Arrington had prevented Siegler from running the story, that would have been a conflict of interest (since Arrington was killing a story that Siegler discovered independently). But if Arrington had allowed Siegler to run the story, that would have been a conflict of interest (since Arrington was promoting his own investment).

So how exactly did Siegler (and Arrington) handle the situation? Here are the appropriate excerpts of Siegler's story:

We previously broke the news that Fanning had raised a small amount of money last year for the project....Since then, other details have become more clear. That includes some big potential funding — and one of the investors is someone we know very well: Michael Arrington. More on that below....

In digging into this story, we heard that a man by the name of “Arrington” is involved. Yes, that one. When confronted, he squirmed for a bit but eventually acknowledged his involvement. In fact, he’s the only one willing to confirm involvement at this point, but even he won’t spill more juicy details yet.

Arrington and Gray aren't the only ones who disclose. There's Christine Young and a slew of others.

And myself.

But there are times when I might not necessarily disclose things.

I'll give you an example - or, to be more precise, I won't. You may have noticed that, although I've been writing proposals for over a year now, I haven't discussed any of those proposals in particular. The reason for that is because the results of the proposals that I have written have not been publicly announced. A portion of my proposals resulted in wins. A portion resulted in losses. And a portion have not yet been determined. However, for the blogging record, I am remaining silent on those at this time.

Two recent MorphoTrak wins, the North Carolina driver's license win and the FBI NGI win, did not include my involvement. Oh, and I didn't write anything for the India project either.

Now one of the proposals which was a win has already been delivered and accepted by the customer. So why keep silent? Because my company has not formally announced the win, and the customer has not formally announced the win. And in many cases (although I honestly can't remember if it applies for this customer), the contract includes very specific provisions that govern any announcement that the vendor may make about the customer win. I'd be willing to bet that breaking the news of a customer win in the Empoprise-BI business blog isn't necessarily what the customer had in mind.

In a sense it's pretty silly, because if you wander around in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in August of this year, and if you happen to be at the Frontier Airlines Center, you'll run into a bunch of people that could probably tell you more about that particular customer than even I know. So people already know about this win. Yet those hallway conversations are verbal and not blasted out on the Internet.

And that particular proposal happens to be one of the first five proposals that I wrote. So, needless to say, I won't be telling you what I'm working on today.

Although I'm still happy to explain how someone could be either a male, or a female, or both.

Yes, it's a crazy industry. And as long as criminals keep on forgetting to wear gloves, I'll still have a job.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Issues of corporate succession in the purple and gold

Any business has to deal with issues of corporate succession. When do you kick the old guard out, and when do you let the new guard run the show? This is a prime concern at a number of companies, Apple being one of them.

And it is also a concern with sports teams, such as the Los Angeles Lakers.

In the case of the Lakers, I'm not talking about the ownership, or about the front office, or about the coaching staff - and yes, there is a coaching issue that the Lakers must address.

In this case, I'm talking about the players.

You'll recall that the Lakers went through this issue a few years ago, when things neatly boiled down to the question of whether the Lakers should keep Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant. The Lakers chose to move away from experience and chose the younger player, the immature player who had just fought off a rape allegation. Initially, it appeared that the Lakers had made the wrong decision, as O'Neal helped a team (interestingly, the Miami Heat) win a title, while the Lakers were mired in mediocrity. But in the long term, the situation changed. O'Neal left the Heat, and then left the Phoenix Suns, and then he left the Cleveland Cavaliers and took his talents to Boston. Meanwhile, the Lakers racked up two titles and were challenging for a third.

Today, Kobe is the experienced old guard player, and the young guard is represented by Andrew Bynum, who was recently ejected for a flagrant foul - on the Minnesota Timberwolves' Michael Beasley. Stop me if you've heard this one after:

Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum was assessed a flagrant foul 2 on Friday for striking Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley in the chest with his right elbow and bringing Beasley to the floor.

The foul came with 6:16 remaining in the fourth quarter....

That was in March. Of course, today everyone is talking about another flagrant foul:

[W]e know Bynum will be wearing street clothes to start next season after he was ejected for knocking J.J. Barea to the ground during yet another drive to the hoop by the guard, shortly after Lamar Odom was ejected for cracking Dirk Nowitzki to begin the Lakers meltdown. Bynum said he was frustrated that Barea kept coming down the lane. That's no excuse. It's a suspendable offense, and a lesson he hasn't learned from the time he had to sit for a similar hit on Michael Beasley.

And the reaction has been mostly negative. Some more negative than others. Chris Richardson quotes the messages that have been placed on Bynum's Facebook page, including one from a clueless person who proposes an inappropriate response to Bynum's violent act:

Bynum your the definition of a ghetto loser!! Why don’t you back to the hood where you belong, you no class loser!!! I would gladly spit in your face you ain’t nothing but a CHUMP!!!

I found a classic one myself. Keep Kobe Bryant's recent league fine in mind while reading:

Melvin Pagan Del Monte

Hi Andrew. Just passed to say you are the biggest crap and loser on the earth. Grow balls and learn to lose. You are a faggot. Yes, a faggot. I liked the Lakers but after that shit attitude by you, [Intercourse] them. If they don't trade you away, Lakers are dead for me. JJ Barea killed you and the Lakers. The smallest guy on the court show heart, passion and desire for the game. Something that you will never have. Bye Injury Prone and I Hope next season, you turn your ACL and get a Season ending injury. Sincerely. [Intercourse] You Bynum! Piece of crap.

However, it should be noted that both commenters knew how to spell "loser" correctly. Sadly, many of the commenters don't.

In such an environment, Monday morning quarterbacks (if I may mix my sports terms) are all calling for Andrew Bynum to be jettisoned. These fouls, plus his tendency toward injury, are causing people to call for Bynum's removal and for the Lakers to bring in someone else. (Incidentally, it's interesting when people argue that player X is damaged goods, but then naturally assume that some other team would love to take the player, while you'd get some other player for a song. I'm sorry, but Pau Gasol-type deals only happen once in a lifetime, and even that trade is being re-examined - and will definitely be re-examined if Marc Gasol heads to the NBA Western Conference Finals and Pau doesn't.)

But what if the Lakers went the other way? Here's what I tweeted Sunday night:

@VivianVivisect I'll grant that I didn't see the game (or the ejection), but I believe Bynum should be the nucleus of the new Lakers.

What if history repeated itself and the Lakers kept young player Andrew Bynum and got rid of the old player Kobe Bryant?

The same article that criticized Bynum's play against the Mavericks noted that Bryant is past his prime:

[Potential future coach Brian] Shaw is a familiar and respected voice for Kobe Bryant, and that's a big factor, especially since the next coach will have to say "no" to Bryant with increasing frequency. These were the first playoffs in more than a decade in which Bryant wasn't able to take over or close out games. He was 12-for-37 in the playoff fourth quarters that mattered; we won't include the two shots he missed in 4 ½ minutes of the fourth quarter Sunday, when the Lakers were hopelessly behind on their way to a shameful 122-86 sweeptastic loss to the Mavericks.

The truth is that while Bryant remains the Lakers' best and most consistent player, the team's fortunes aren't directly tied only to him anymore. The Lakers were at their best at the beginning of the season when Pau Gasol was playing like an MVP, and immediately after the All-Star break when Andrew Bynum became a defensive monster.

And Bryant may have been disruptive in some areas:

[Pau Gasol's] sudden and odd postseason disappearance was the most obvious reason for the Lakers' troubles, his fall completed Sunday when he scored 10 points while being pushed around by everyone but his coach, who thankfully refrained from hitting him for a second consecutive game.

"I have to learn from this," Gasol said. ''I have to learn that when something happens off the court, you have to keep it off the court."

He was referring to the report that he stopped talking to Bryant during the postseason because Bryant's wife, Vanessa, had contributed to the breakup of Gasol and his longtime girlfriend. Lakers fans will remember that Karl Malone once publicly accused Vanessa of interfering with his personal life in a similar fashion.

Whatever was happening, Bryant and Gasol haven't connected on the court in a month, and the Lakers have been lost without the strength of their fusion.

Now the Lakers players aren't publicly going through the same level of acrimony that they did the last time Phil Jackson left, but what if the Lakers were rebuilt around Andrew Bynum? Now admittedly teams wouldn't trade for the likes of a well-paid Luke Walton, but perhaps someone would be willing to pay for a Kobe Bryant.

Well, we'll see what Mitch Kupchak will do next. A few year ago, he was a goat. Then he suddenly became a genius. Now he's not a genius any more, but we'll see what happens (although we should give his moves a couple of years before we evaluate them.)

Presumably the decision on a new head coash will come first, and there's this whole work stoppage looming, but Kupchak will be the center of attention in the near future. Let's see what he does with his corporation.

A concentration of talent

For whatever reason - chance, environment, or the mysterious dealings of the Illuminati - it often seems that famous people tend to know other famous people before any of them become famous. While it sometimes appears that someone emerges out of the blue, more often people emerge in groups.

Los Angeles residents are well aware that Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda knew Mike Piazza at a young age. However, when Lasorda was an unknown minor leaguer, he came in contact with another legendary sports figure. The legendary sports figure was three years old at the time:

Lasorda had that fatherhood gene kicking all the way back when he was playing for the Schenectady Blue Jays under manager Lee Riley. Riley's 3-year-old son, Pat, found a consistent dugout playmate in Lasorda (and eventually found himself the co-owner and head coach of the NBA's Miami Heat). "I used to hold Pat in my lap," Lasorda has said. "Every time I see him now, I think of his father. He looked just like Pat does now. He combed his hair straight back, too. He didn't dress like Pat, of course, because he couldn't afford to."

Since the article that I quoted was written back in 2000, there was no reference to Riley leaving New York and "taking his talents to South Beach."

Now some of these concentrations of talent can be explained. For example, the chance of a half dozen movie stars attending the same high school can be explained if it's noted that the high school in question was in the Los Angeles area. Specifically, Santa Monica High School, with a student body that included Rob Lowe, Martin Sheen's sons Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, Sean Penn, the late Chris Penn, Robert Downey Jr., and Holly Robinson Peete.

It remains to be seen whether the current Santa Monica High theatre students will achieve similar levels of artistic success. After all, some of the Brat Pack kids got to hang out at Martin Sheen's house, which certainly didn't hurt their future employment prospects. Including Martin's employment prospects.

But the Brat Pack isn't the only set of celebrities who knew each other in high school. Cameron Diaz bought weed from classmate Snoop Dogg. The Convent of the Sacred Heart numbers Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton as alumnae. And this page lists a number of these schoolmates, including Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, who both sang in the choir. (But did he bring her flowers?)

And no, Barbra didn't attend school with Slim Whitman.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What if Keynes didn't have to become Keynesian?

I'll be talking more about Keynes vs. Hayek on Monday in my music blog - yes, my music blog. But I happened to run across this comparison of Keynes and Hayek in the Daily Kos. Written by VA Classical Liberal, who confesses being in the Hayek camp, the post concludes with a defense of Keynes - and an interesting point:

Keynes was a vocal critic of the Treaty of Versailles. He understood that the economic costs reparations would impose on Germany would destabilize Western Europe. During WW II, he advocated financing the war through savings, not borrowing. Worrying about inflation, he sounds almost like a monetarist. If politicians had followed his advice, we would have been spared much of the pain of the Great Depression and possibly even WW II.

Imagine that. If people had listened to Keynes in the 1920s, he may not have had the opportunity to become popular in the 1930s...and 1940s...and 1950s...and 1960s...and 1970s...and 1990s...and 2000s...and 2010s...

In a related note, it's interesting to see how the U.S. Holocaust Museum characterizes the Treaty of Versailles:

The war guilt clause, its incumbent reparation payments, and the limitations on the German military were particularly onerous in the minds of most Germans, and revision of the Versailles Treaty represented one of the platforms that gave radical right wing parties in Germany, including Hitler's Nazi Party, such credibility to mainstream voters in the 1920s and early 1930s. Promises to rearm, to reclaim German territory, particularly in the East, to remilitarize the Rhineland, and to regain prominence again among the European and world powers after such a humiliating defeat and peace, stoked ultranationalist sentiment and helped average voters to overlook the more radical tenets of Nazi ideology.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I guess I'm the number one Symbian champion now

That's kind of embarrassing.

In July, 2010, I wrote a post that noted that the leading smartphone operating system in the world was not iOS, and not Android, and not Windows, but Symbian.

I guess my sharing of this fact made me the number two Symbian fanboi, after Nokia itself.

Well, times change, Nokia moved to Windows, and now I'm the number one fanboi, since Nokia has outsourced Symbian development.

Nokia said [on April 27] it will outsource Symbian development to Accenture, transferring 3,000 employees who worked on the development of the platform. It also announced its largest jobs cuts in history, with plans to shed another 4,000 jobs by the end of 2012, mostly in the U.K., Denmark and Finland, where 1,400 jobs will be cut.

As I previously noted, this does not necessarily mean the end of Nokia. The mobile phone industry is very cyclical, and Nokia could be the dominant player two years from now.

And Symbian itself is about as dead as FriendFeed. In other words, it's still alive and kicking. Symbian-Freak still gets traffic, and Nokia is still pushing its newest Symbian phone, the E6.

But, like FriendFeed, people wonder when the end will come:

Dispelling the fears of app developers, a Nokia spokesperson in an emailed response to Deccan Herald said “We have not specified a date when the last Symbian device will ship, but will (continue to) release more products on Symbian and modernise it,” she said.

There are 200 million Symbian customers and Nokia plans to ship 150 million more devices, she informed. She also added that Nokia will continue to support products based on Symbian platforms for years to come. But many developers feel that Nokia is getting ready to bury Symbian quietly. Murugan said there was no long-term future for Symbian beyond existing devices and planned launches. “Nokia may not say it, but Symbian wont last beyond three years,” he said. “Symbian will die and that is the bottom line,” said Sharma.

So, who's the Symbian equivalent of Benjamin Golub? Or, who's the t-shirt that reports to Marty Cole?

Grenada and Pakistan - a striking difference

In a comment to the Doug Mataconis post that I previously cited, I mentioned an episode that I read about in Tip O'Neill's autobiography. Here's the episode, from the chapter of Man of the House that talks about the invasion of Grenada:

One of the points I raised turned out to be rather embarrassing.

"Grenada is part of the British Commonwealth," I said. "What does Mrs. Thatcher think about all this?"

"She doesn't know about it," said the president.

That didn't sound right to me. Mrs. Thatcher was our closest ally, so how could we go into Grenada without informing her? Clearly, in all their excitement about the invasion, the White House had overlooked the British connection.

Sure enough, as we left the meeting, Bob Michel, the House Republican leader, told me that the president was already on the phone with Margaret Thatcher. We could hear Reagan's side of the conversation, and from his fumbling and his apologies it was obvious that she was enraged.

What was the issue here? While the United States has its Monroe Doctrine in which we take a protective stance on behalf of the Americas, the United Kingdom also takes a protective stance on behalf of former members of its empire.

Foreign Affairs described the episode in this manner:

The British government's surprise and anger at the intervention was unconcealed. The foreign secretary opined that "no such action was called for" and regarded the involvement of the United States as "a matter of regret." Even Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President Ronald Reagan's political soul mate, publicly broadcast her view that Western democracies should not use force to "walk into other people's countries."

What lay behind London's annoyance was the sure knowledge -- and not merely the suspicion -- that the British government had been deliberately kept in the dark about Washington's intention to invade Grenada, a small state that was regarded at the time as within the United Kingdom's sphere of influence.

So why is this relevant today?

Because it appears that in its operation to capture and kill Osama bin Laden, the United States sent forces into Pakistan, possibly without the knowledge of Pakistan.

And Pakistan is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Granted that there are differences between Grenada and the politically incorrect Geronimo operation. We did not invade Pakistan. Pakistan, unlike Grenada, is a powerful country that does not need British protection. The United Kingdom is on record as opposing bin Laden's organization, and was not officially opposed to the reign of Grenada's Revolutionary Military Council. And Pakistan has been in and out of the Commonwealth of Nations numerous times.

However, at the moment Pakistan is in the club; we trespassed within the country; and the United Kingdom didn't object.

The next meeting of the Commonwealth of Nations heads of government is going to be very interesting.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What is war?

One of the questions that's been floating around over the last few days is as follows: did the United States have the authority to kill Osama bin Laden?

One...um...shot at an answer was taken by Doug Mataconis. Not to give away his conclusion, but his post was entitled Yes, The Operation To Kill Osama Bin Laden Was Legal And Constitutional. Specifically, Mataconis cites the "Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Terrorists," which includes the following text:

...the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

The authorization cites selected provisions of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which was designed

...to fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution of the United States and insure that the collective judgement of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicate by the circumstances, and to the continued use of such forces in hostilities or in such situations.

But to some, the War Powers Resolution itself dodges a major Constitutional question - namely, that it is the U.S. Congress that has the power to declare war (see Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. As I've noted, no Congress has declared war since 1941. If you look for a Constitutional declaration of war for the War on Terror, you won't find it.

But is the war on terror really a war? Back in 2009 (in the context of discussing President Obama's eligibility for a Nobel Peace Prize), Alex Scoble argued that it wasn't:

To be at war, you have to 1) declare war 2) be fighting against a sovereign country 3) that has an actual army

Scoble (who subsequently modified his thinking) is not the first person to argue that a particular war is not a war - Korea, you'll recall, was a "police action." Even President Obama himself shies away from using the phrase "war on terror."

Perhaps this is a semantic discussion, but it goes well beyond the discussion of the legality of dumping a six foot-plus man into the sea. The word "war" has particular legal and business ramifications, and certain contractual provisions either take effect or do not take effect in time of war. And there's also a different attitude in peacetime vs. wartime - and to some, this is peacetime:

What really burned my butt, tho, was coming home and realizing that the civilian population - that is, 99% of Americans - were going about their daily business as if it's peacetime.

The reason for that goes back to the actions of our administration between 9/11 and the Iraq invasion: There was no effort to expand or military, and GWB's idea of "contributing to the war effort" was, "Go Shopping!" or "Put a magnet on your car!"

And even the writer, IrritatedVet, dared to denigrate his then-Commander in Chief by his comments.

Which raises the question - how can we logically argue that Osama bin Laden was shot in wartime when Congress has not declared war, the President doesn't refer to military activities as a war, and the nation itself doesn't act like it's at war? Yes, travelers go through porn scanners, but that's not exactly the same as changing the material used to make pennies from copper to steel.

Of course, it doesn't help when the same people who claim that the killing of Osama bin Laden was illegal are the same people who claim that Obama is soft on terrorism.

So will the Republicans quote that neocon George O'Dowd?