Saturday, July 30, 2011

Now that's an odd coincidence

While trying to figure out why a lot of FriendFeeders were turning 40, I uncovered an interesting little fact about September 1970. It turns out that September, 1970 was the month that the Ford Pinto was introduced.

Even odder is that the Pinto, which is popularly regarded as a disaster, was introduced on a particular day in September - September 11.

Of course, that day would acquire deep significance decades later because of the terrorist attacks in the eastern United States.

My first thought was that it was an odd coincidence that the Ford Pinto was introduced on September 11. But upon further reflection, I realized that there was a very good chance of a car introduction taking place on that day, especially since new cars are usually introduced during the fall.

But if you're interested, a number of other events occurred on September 11. You can read your own meaning into these items:

Saturday 11, 2004:
Petros VII, the (Greek Orthodox) Patriarch of Alexandria and his company are killed in an unexplained helicopter crash outside Mount Athos, Greece.

Thursday 11, 2003:
Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh dies after being fatally wounded on September 10.

Friday 11, 1998:
Independent counsel Kenneth Starr sends a report to the U.S. Congress accusing President Bill Clinton of 11 possible impeachable offenses.

Friday 11, 1992:
Hurricane Iniki, one of the most damaging hurricane in United States history during its time, devastates the State of Hawai'i, especially the islands of Kaua'i and Oahu.

Friday 11, 1987:
Reggae musician Peter Tosh is murdered in his own home in Kingston.

Tuesday 11, 1973:
A military coup in Chile headed by General Augusto Pinochet topples the democratically elected President Salvador Allende.

Now some people would conclude that September 11 is extremely unlucky, and perhaps postpone an event from the 11th to the 12th. Before you do that:

Monday 12, 1994:
Frank Eugene Corder crashes a Cessna 150 into the White House's south lawn, striking the West wing and killing himself.

Probably an al-Qaeda operative.

So just bear in mind that every day has good things and bad things happen. For example:

Friday 30, 1965:
US President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Social Security Act of 1965 into law, establishing Medicare and Medicaid.


Friday 30, 2004:
A gas explosion kills 16 people in Belgium.

Friday, July 29, 2011

And you thought it was hard to knock off an Apple product

On July 20, BirdAbroad posted a story about a visit to a local Apple Store that had recently appeared in Kunming, China.

Well, except for one thing:

[T]his was a total Apple store ripoff. A beautiful ripoff – a brilliant one – the best ripoff store we had ever seen (and we see them every day). But some things were just not right: the stairs were poorly made. The walls hadn’t been painted properly.

Apple never writes “Apple Store” on it’s signs – it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.

And the visitors weren't the only ones who were fooled:

Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple. I tried to imagine the training that they went to when they were hired, in which they were pitched some big speech about how they were working for this innovative, global company – when really they’re just filling the pockets of some shyster living in a prefab mansion outside the city by standing around a fake store disinterestedly selling what may or may not be actual Apple products that fell off the back of a truck somewhere.

The "Apple" employees were so zealous about defending their brand that they initially prevented the BirdAbroad people from taking pictures...until the BirdAbroad people said that THEY were Apple employees from America. (I appreciate the irony.)

BirdAbroad found two other Apple Stores in the vicinity. Well, one of them was technically an "Apple Stoer," but that's close enough if you're not paying supreme attention to detail.

H/T Los Angeles Times. I think.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why things are complex

Do you want to get things done quickly, or do you want to get things done right?

And what is "right"?

Louis Gray shared this story of one of his early jobs:

[A]s I clicked through to the product page, something caught my eye. The page loaded as it should, but the URL structure was not what I'd expected. I anticipated that clicking on Products would lead to a clean URL like or at worst, Instead, the URL had an additional directory which looked like What was this "phonecube_site" deal?

Gray, who was a Web Marketing Manager at the time, was told by engineering that some of the site code was hard-coded, and any effort to make prettier URLs would delay the project. In stepped the Vice President of Marketing:

In response, my boss (the VP of Marketing) said that many popular Web sites on the Internet, with Amazon being the clearest example, had ugly URLs, and yet they were successful.

Gray lost that particular battle...and the war:

Since that time, URLs have clearly gotten uglier, and most folks have survived.

Don't believe me? When I initially went to Gray's website to read his post, I used the following URL:

And now I'm wondering why utm_medium is a lower-case "feed," which utm_campaign includes a "Feed" with an initial cap.

Presumably something was hard-coded and they couldn't change it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Even Facebook is not universal

If you read my blog, you'll see that more often than not I take the attitude that "everyone" is on Facebook. Of course we know that 90% of the world is not on Facebook, but does that really affect us?

It certainly affected Lorenzo Ferrigno when he went to China.

While Skyping with friends back at home, they brought up a rat that had been evading capture in my best friend’s apartment. When I asked what they were talking about, they innocently replied, “Wait—you didn’t see it on Facebook?”

Not in China (although there are ways around every firewall). But perhaps there is a benefit to a Facebook-less world:

Going out in Beijing is different than New York. American students flock to similar nightlife venues, making the city seem much smaller. And it’s refreshing to know a girl I meet hasn’t had an opportunity to scan through my profile pictures, or recently stalk my wall. Gives me an idea of what the social life of my grandparents must have been like.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

OK, maybe it was cheesy

I'm sure that some people think of biometrics companies as serious places in which scientists analyze data, and everyone else concentrates on the serious task of identification.

But biometrics companies can have fun - or at least hire marketing people who have fun.

Earlier in July, Digital Persona issued a press release with the title:

Pizza Hut Franchisee Uses Digital Persona Fingerprint Biometrics to Save Dough by Slicing Payroll Fraud and Leavening Store Revenue

I'm just glad that there isn't a market for biometrically-enabled portable toilets yet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

If you want to advertise on Google to reach techie types, think again

If you saw my earlier post, you caught the fact that Google's new real name policies have angered a few people. Granted only a very small percentage of people feel this way, but there are people who are thinking along the same lines as Christopher Welle:

With the open invitations to Google Plus, people flocked to you so that they could try the newest thing. People like L0gex, Spidra Webster, and others like Thomas Monopoly have been suspended without clear reason. This isn’t just the Google Plus, but other services they used like +1, and Picasa that Google has decided to tie into the Google Plus policies....

With the new Powers That Be that have decided using a nick name on the internet is not OK, I think its time I start to look at moving my services away from Google. It’s a shame really, but after Facebook’s shenanigans I just find it hard to be able to trust any company that starts down this path.

I honestly can’t say I will shutdown my account with all Google Services, but probably I will just seriously curb my usage of all Google services and apps and be more mindful of what I use on pretty much all services with any corporation on the internet.

Read all of Welles' thoughts here, especially the part at the end where he begins to look at using competitor services.

Why have a Bill of Rights when you're not a duck? (Identities in the government and private sectors)

There is a common misconception about the U.S. Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments to our Constitution. People often think that the Bill of Rights lists a bunch of things that can't be done to you. Actually, the Bill of Rights lists a bunch of things that THE GOVERNMENTS (Federal, State, local, etc.) can't do to you.

Take this example. If I stand on a street corner and say that the Los Angeles Dodgers have a terrible owner and should be sold, the governments can't do anything about it. But if Steve Garvey, a Los Angeles Dodgers employee, says that the Los Angeles Dodgers have a terrible owner and should be sold, the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers has the right to fire him. Garvey cannot claim that his "freedom of speech" was violated, because that is a government issue, not a private issue.

OK, now take this example. If I write something under the name "Ontario Emperor," and as long as the item that I write doesn't violate any law, the governments cannot prevent its publication. But private companies, such as Google and Facebook, could prevent me from using their services to publish it.

Over the last couple of weeks, some people who have joined Google+ have suddenly not only lost access to Google+, but also to other Google services. Why? Because they used names like "Logical Extremes" or "Spidra Webster" or "Lady Ada" or "Doctor Popular" on Google+. There's been a ton of coverage about this issue, from people such as Violet Blue:

A striking number of Google+ accounts have been deleted ... as the new social network struggles with its community standards policy around real names - alienating and frightening the people it aims to serve.

Violet Blue links to a number of stories of people who have lost access to Google+, and sometimes other Google services.

Emlyn has written about two types of people:

•Integrated Identity: These are people who live online and offline with the same personality (including the Technorati because in fact their unified identity is their bread and butter), and

•Separate Identities: people who keep their online and offline worlds quite separate, not for duplicitous reasons but because they are in many ways two people; the online person and the offline person.

At one point, separate identities used to be a requirement to be online. I signed up for a BBS under my real name, and was told that I should adopt some type of pseudonym. So I became Wasp the Houseboy on those BBS services, and several years later I became Ontario Emperor on Yahoo, Google, and other services. I (mostly) dropped use of Ontario Emperor a couple of years ago, and just in time too - if I had used my Ontario Emperor Google account to get onto Google+, I'd probably be banned by now.

Many people discussing the Google+ identity issue have appealed to this statement from Google's Alma Whitten, written back in February:

Using a pseudonym has been one of the great benefits of the Internet, because it has enabled people to express themselves freely—they may be in physical danger, looking for help, or have a condition they don’t want people to know about. People in these circumstances may need a consistent identity, but one that is not linked to their offline self.

However, this statement is being taken out of context, since it is only part of what Whitten is saying. Whitten actually describes three levels of use - unidentified (using Google without a Google account, which still allows you to search for stuff), pseudonymous (from which the aforementioned quote was taken, and which is currently supported by Blogger and YouTube), and identified (Google Checkout is the example cited here).

Clearly Google has the right to put Google+ in the "identified" category, and Google has the right to yank Google+ accounts that it deems as not "identified," without recourse. And Google has the right to do other things that are outside of the scope of this post.

And while Google's actions have the potential for alienating customers of its business services, I suspect that for Google, the costs of alienating a few verbose bloggers are outweighed by the benefits of letting Google's real customers - the advertisers - know exactly who is using Google's services.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd wonder about the fact that Google waited about yanking the pseudonym Google+ accounts until a few weeks after the early adopters had talked up Google+ as the Facebook-killer. But now that Google+ has over 10 million users, the conspiracy theorist would claim, Google can now satisfy the needs of its advertisers and not worry about the early adopters any more.

Frankly, I don't think Google is that smart. I've been around enough bureaucracies to know that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, and that the left hand probably wants to disable the right hand. Alma Whitten, for example, is talking to researchers, not advertisers.

If nothing else, the whole episode reminds us that any company - Google, Facebook, Twitter, or your local message board - has the right to yank its free (or even paid) services from you at any time. While Twitter suddenly looks more attractive to the pseudonym-loving crowd, the day may come when Twitter also insists on real identities. Perhaps I'll ban comments on this blog from Canadians. Or perhaps this blog might disappear tomorrow after Google sees the stuff that I've written in this post and shared elsewhere.

However, the City of Gould can't touch me for what I write.

How will Google+ affect Yammer?

When Google+ came out, there were some people who immediately proclaimed that Facebook was dead, or that LinkedIn was dead, or whatever.

But I think I have found one firm that will be adversely affected by Google+.

I forget when I first tried Yammer out, but it must have been a year or two ago. When you want to join Yammer, you create an account with your work email (not a Hotmail or Gmail account). Once your work email is verified, Yammer knows which company you work for, and you are then allowed to network with others in your company and do all of the wonderful things that Yammer presumably lets you do. So I joined Yammer with my then-current email address...and found that I was the only one in my company who had joined Yammer. Some time later I checked again, and was still the only person in my company who had joined Yammer.

Note to the wise: a one-person network is not all that strong.

So where were my co-workers? I found a bunch of them on Facebook, although our Facebook conversations tend to revolve around Facebook games and leisure activities (not that my co-worker Jim would carry a virtual Cafe World cake while riding his Harley).

But after a few days of using Google+, I found a few of my co-workers on there. I eventually created two circles - an "internal" circle for Google+ people who worked for my company, and an "external" circle for Google+ people who used to work for my company, or who for some reason or another was interested in my company's business.

To be truthful, both Facebook and Google+ have this feature. Whether you call them groups or circles, these both allow you to (a) share items with a select group of people, and (b) read items from a select group of people (although the latter capability cannot be filtered to show only items of interest).

So if everyone is on services like Facebook and Google+, why bother to join Yammer? Well, if the company is behind Yammer use, and encourages it, Yammer can yield significant benefits, according to a Forrester Consulting study commissioned by Yammer:

[F]or a 21,000 employee organization with a network of 7,000 Yammer users on a three-year license at list pricing, the study concluded that Yammer yielded a risk-adjusted return on investment (ROI) of 365 percent with a payback period of 4.3 months and $5.7 million in net present value.

According to Forrester, the next big opportunities for enterprise are: innovation, collective decision-making and better access to information and expertise across organizational and geographic boundaries.

But, you may ask, can't the company provide Office Communicator and other tools for that? Perhaps, but the advantage of Yammer, Facebook, and Google+ is that they are accessible from any computer, anywhere. If you want to collaborate with a co-worker at 3am on Saturday while you're in a hotel room in Cabo, Yammer will let you do that.

And oddly enough, Yammer spends the bulk of its time in the Forrester discussion by talking about non-quantifiable benefits. Well, heck, I can spend a lot of time talking about non-quantifiable benefits of providing coffee bar energy to Kim in Cafe World. It benefits our work relationship and allows us easier collaboration on proposals. (And no, I haven't written to Kim, "If you provide me those screen shots of the new product, I'll give you 100 servings of the Vegas Buffet.")

But while Yammer provides you with a well-defined solution, you have to expend some effort to get employees on Yammer in the first place. You don't have to expend a lot of effort to get employees on Facebook, and as time passes you won't have to spend a lot of effort to get employees on Google+.

So which collaboration tool has the longer life?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tablet, Pad, or Car - Is it more economical to have two rather than one?

Psst - the print and online versions of various publications are not the same. The July 11 print copy of InformationWeek includes an Art Wittman column entitled "The Ultimate 'Businss' Tablet Defined." But it is based upon an online post from June entitled "The Ultimate 'Business' Pad Defined." Either a marketer or a lawyer got a hold of the title before it went to print.

But regardless of whether you're talking about tablets, specific Apple devices, or anything supplied by a business (cars, for example), Wittman's point still holds. Businesses supply items to their workers to allow them to do business, and Wittman listed a number of his ideal requirements for such an item. He concluded with this one:

Here's the potentially unreasonable part, at least from IT's point of view: I don't want my employer owning this thing. I want to own it, and I want to carve out a virtualized portion of my space for the company, not the other way around.

Wittman goes on to say:

It probably benefits the company if I do have just one device (or set of devices); I'm much more likely to always be reachable and have the right information available at all times. For some businesses and employees, security requirements won't permit such an arrangement, I get that, but I bet that number is relatively small.

Even assuming that security is not a concern for your business (it is for mine), there are potential costs for a company pursuing this arrangement. IT has spent decades creating a suite of hardware and software that it can support, and has hired personnel who are knowledgeable in these things. Whether we like it or not, it it less costly for an organization to support ten configurations than it is to support 100 configurations, or 1000 configurations.

Let's say that I was suddenly able to take my personal netbook and plug it directly into the work network. Now I happen to run Windows 7 on my netbook, so there aren't issues there. But my anti-virus software is not what the company uses, my word processor/spreadsheet/etc. application is not what the company uses, I have at least one web browser that the company doesn't use, and I have some applications (such as the scrobbler) that can consume gargantuan resources for non-business purposes).

Now the company can certainly take some steps to mitigate the problems that my netbook could cause. The company could block the scrobbler from working. Perhaps it could support some type of quick scan of my computer before it allows connection to the network. Or perhaps there's some way (better minds than I know how) to literally have a carved-off space of my netbook reserved for business purposes; maybe my netbook could just be a terminal into some virtual computer in an internal cloud.

But let's face it - any type of solution would be new, and would require change, and would result in significant expenses. And in the end, the solution that is perceived as cheaper often wins, which means that companies often stay with the status quo.

When analyzing these options, you always have to keep the company's perspective in mind. From my perspective, I have paid for my netbook, and my company has paid for my work computer, and certainly that's expensive, isn't it? Not to the company, which doesn't care whether I have a netbook or not. And even if the alternative solution meant that my company wouldn't have to buy me a computer at all - in other words, I buy a computer and the company lets me use it at work - some of the unknown costs and planning may make the alternative appear to be more expensive.

So a lot of us, at least in larger businesses, will continue to have one set of gadgets for work, and another set of gadgets for play. Oh well, at least Dell, HP, Apple, et al will sell twice as many computers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

On loyalty, Foursquare, biometrics, and smart phones

Yes, I got cranky about this whole Foursquare/mobile web thing.


It start when Jake Kuramoto wrote this post. It takes about how Facebook is available for phones other than smart phones, noting in passing that the majority of phones are NOT smart phones.

This moved me to comment as follows:

As someone who updates my Facebook status via SMS updates, and as someone who is now a FORMER Foursquare user because I am no longer allowed to compete for mayorships, I'm obviously appreciative of these moves by Facebook. While one can make the argument that "dumbphone" customers aren't as valuable as smartphone customers, any business that depends upon overall market share should certainly take the necessary steps to reach as wide an audience as possible - and iOS plus Android is not all that wide an audience.

When Jake asked me why I was unable to compete for Foursquare mayorships, I linked to Foursquare's explanation of what you can and cannot do on the mobile web.

Which brings me to Pay By Touch. See the last paragraph of this Empoprise-IE post for an explanation of Pay By Touch. Have you read it? Good, let's continue.

I still remember when I discovered that Hutch Carpenter used to work for Pay By Touch. I discovered this when I read Carpenter's post on loyalty programs, in which he noted, in part:

A few years back, I was the personalized marketing product manager at Pay By Touch, which offered the ability to pay for items with biometrics (i.e. your finger). Once you could identify the customer and her spending, interesting loyalty program solutions became available.

Carpenter went on to speak about Foursquare and Square, the latter being Jack Dorsey's company. While Square represents itself as a simple way to accept credit cards, Square also touts its ability to connect with customers. And Foursquare also offers this ability, since they collect a lot of data (although perhaps they could use it more efficiently).

But times change. Pay By Touch is no more. Its technology supplier, Cogent Systems (DISCLOSURE: A COMPETITOR OF MY EMPLOYER), is now part of 3M. But Carpenter's thoughts still hold water, and even I am forced to admit that Foursquare knows more about someone who checks in with an app than they do about someone who checks in via the mobile web. And theoretically, Foursquare could ensure that the person using the app is who they say they are via biometrics. I say "theoretically" because I seriously doubt that many Foursquare users would be willing to provide Foursquare with their biometric information. And Foursquare's real customers - the businesses who advertise via Foursquare - aren't going to be willing to force Foursquare users to provide biometrics.

But it does get you thinking.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#oow11 Survey says...RICHARD DAWSON (or Larry Ellison) IS AWESOME!

In non-totalitarian systems, the wishes of the population are surveyed via elections or polls or the like. (Actually totalitarian systems sometimes do this also, but the one candidate in any election usually gets a very high percentage of the vote.) Theoretically, elections provide the people with a voice in how things are run. Practically, elections are often marred by various things termed as "abuse," "fraud," or "irregularities." These range from having dead people vote, to having someone helpfully fill out a ballot for someone else, to getting people drunk before they go to the polls, to voting multiple times, to candidates promising to lower taxes if they're elected, to candidates promising better city services, to candidates promising to keep the local military base open, to...

Wait a minute.

Just a question - what is the difference between a candidate paying five dollars for my vote, and a candidate promising me several thousand dollars in tax breaks for policies he/she will implement for my vote? One could argue that the REAL voter fraud is when politicians go to city hall, the state/provincial house, or the national capital, and then send the gravy train back to their constituents. One person's pork is another person's essential service in the public interest.

Which brings us to Oracle OpenWorld. If you want to present at Oracle OpenWorld, there are four ways to do so:

  • Pay a ton of money to be an Oracle sponsor and get a keynote slot.

  • Have your presentation approved by Oracle via the regular selection process.

  • Sign up for the Unconference. I have used this technique to present at Oracle OpenWorld.

  • Win in the "Suggest-a-Session" election.

For Oracle OpenWorld 2011, the "Suggest-a-Session" voting took place late this spring. The voting was conducted via Oracle Mix, an Oracle service originally developed by the fine folks at the AppsLab.

Back in late June, the AppsLab linked to a Greg Rahn post which analyzed this year's Suggest-a-Session voting. One point he made at the beginning:

With Oracle Mix Suggest-a-Session, people generally vote for a session for one of two reasons:

1.They are generally interested in the session topic
2.The session author asked them to vote because of their social relationship

The latter point is not really anything new. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas both asked Illinois citizens for their votes because both were from Illinois. Theodore Roosevelt asked war veterans for votes. Al Gore asked snail darters for votes.

But Greg Rahn dug a little deeper into the Suggest-a-Session data, and extracted two specific numbers. 828 of the voters cast votes for exactly one author. 826 of the voters voted for every session by a given author. When you couple this with the fact that the top five vote-getting sessions were all submitted by the same author (Tariq Farooq), Rahn concluded:

That’s community for you!

Brian "Bex" Huff reached a different conclusion.

Well, that ain't right... once you dig further, you see what probably happened: the Oracle MIX community has been invaded by a spammer...

Specifically... somebody out there has a mailing list with a few hundred people, and contacted them all asking for votes. Probably repeatedly. I don't know about others in the MIX community, but I personally got three such emails begging for votes... One of them was so shady it probably violated Oracle's Single-Sign-On policy. The line between self-promotion and SPAM is fuzzy... but it was clearly crossed by a lot of people this year.

Huff was not personally affected by this, since he did not suggest any sessions. But he has suggested some reforms, including a maximum of two submissions from any one entity, and a maximum of one selection from any one entity. And Huff also suggested some limitations on how to canvass for votes.

Yury, who was competing in Suggest-a-Session, had a different take on canvassing:

— Email blast to networks —
I think this it where the “gray” area starts. This maybe a bit brighter “gray” area than others. The question is – is it a fair competition if some competitors use/have it and some don’t/have not. My opinion is: if we are strict enough and want to get as fair results as possible this wouldn’t be necessarily fair. However under conditions given there is no way organizers could restrict it. Therefore it could be used.

Yury also tweeted and wrote blog posts, and used one more method:

IM: This I think was another less bright “gray” area. I must confess I used it anyway :( I did contact some of my Oracle friends directly via Instant Messenger and asked them to vote. I am sorry to my friends for that, but I know that if you would have had 2 weeks time you definitely would have voted for me anyway ;) And besides, you know I’d do it for you.

Huff offered the following comment:

I have nothing against people using their networks to boost their sessions... as long as these people have "skin in the game," meaning they are actually going to attend your session. If not, then they're just taking away sessions from people paying real money to go to Open World. Naturally, there are exceptions... but these are the minority.

The whole thing is a gray area, whether you're talking about Suggest-a-Session, your national election, or the selection process that the International Olympic Committee uses to decide where the Olympics will be held. And, as the World Socialist Web Site reports, that selection has been tarnished in the past:

A bribery scandal has forced the resignation of the leaders of the Salt Lake City group which is organizing the 2002 Winter Olympics. The revelations of the past month have demonstrated anew the pernicious consequences of the takeover of international sport by giant corporations, especially the American-based media monopolies.

Frank Joklik, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC), resigned January 8 after acknowledging that cash payments and other benefits were provided to members of the International Olympic Committee to influence the IOC's 1995 vote which awarded the 2002 games to the Utah capital city.

Senior Vice President Dave Johnson also resigned, and SLOC ended a $10,000-a-month consulting contract with its former president Tom Welch, who headed the successful campaign to bring the Olympics to Salt Lake City.

The fallout extended to elected officials, as was noted by the World Socialist Web Site, an organ of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), which "consists of Socialist Equality Party national sections throughout the world." The U.S. national section, the Socialist Equality Party, was (re-)organized in 2008:

The Congress elected a new National Committee of the SEP. Joseph Kishore was elected SEP national secretary and Lawrence Porter assistant national secretary. David North, who had served as national secretary of the Workers League and, later, the SEP, since 1976, was elected by the Congress to the new position of national chairman. Barry Grey was elected national editor of the World Socialist Web Site.

And if Greg Rahn wants to analyze the data from that election, he can go to...well, where?

The challenge of intellectual property enforcement

For thousands of years, people have created things. But over the last several hundred years, it has become progressively easier and easier to take things that people have created and make your own copies of them. You could use a printing press, a photocopying machine, a floppy disk, a website, or a variety of other tools to make these copies.

However, at the same time most countries have some form of ownership of created materials, whether they are physical or virtual.

The tools themselves are neutral, not good or bad. The question is how the tools are used. So people with an interest in the topic - law enforcement, Lars Ulrich, whoever - mount legal and public relations efforts to make sure that the tools are not used in an improper way.

On an episode (#212) of TWiT, Leo Laporte and others were discussing one of these efforts. They had previously been talking about the difference in video quality between someone who has the skills and talents to present effectively, and someone else who just points the camera at something and figures that's enough.

Then they discussed another topic.

Leo Laporte You know who needs some help with talent?

Ryan Block New York Times?

Leo Laporte The Software – what is it? The Software Industries Association, the people who fight the piracy, have you seen…

Ryan Block Yeah.

Leo Laporte This god awful video that they did. This is a [video presentation] (21:43). That’s – this is – ha, ha, ha, these guys are in college, right, and they are freshmen. And then over here is the Asian guy who is writing – copying floppies, right. I am just going to fast forward here.

Jason Calacanis It’s always the Asian guy.

Leo Laporte It’s the Asian guy.

Loren Feldman Always.

Leo Laporte Always.

Loren Feldman Sneaky, sneaky guys.

Jason Calacanis Report came out, 87% of copyright infringement, it’s Asian people.

Leo Laporte Geez. Thank you.

Jason Calacanis It’s Asian people.

Ryan Block Thank-you, this was TWiT live

Leo Laporte Thank-you, this was TWiT.

Jason Calacanis I’m mean, it’s not racist, it’s unbelievable. You see those Asians with the [ph] shopping cans (22:26) that’s the problem.

Leo Laporte Stop it. Stop it. It is though. I mean look at this guy. Well, first of all, it’s a very multicultural room.

Loren Feldman Yeah, they make sure to get everybody in there.

Leo Laporte Yeah, they got everybody in there.

Ryan Block No race.

Loren Feldman Look at that nose. But who’s the guy? Who’s the Jew?

Leo Laporte Yeah, Jew, we got Jew, we got a black guy, we got a token girl. There’s no girls in these rooms I can tell you right now.

Jason Calacanis She really wants to be hanging out in that dorm room.

Leo Laporte He’s got a [ph] Sharp (22:45). He’s burning disks.

Loren Feldman And I’ve seen dorm rooms that look exactly like that, yeah, nice and clean.

Leo Laporte And then he gets transported up and DP is going to give him – he’s going to school him [Video presentation] (22:53) Oh, this is so bad. Somebody said this is so bad it makes me want to steal software. Big budget.

Loren Feldman Big budget.

Loren Feldman [Indiscernible] (23:22) who don’t even own computer [indiscernible] ().

Leo Laporte Yes, that’s [indiscernible] (23:12) like this. Oh, I like that. By the way, Jason is the name of the Asian guy. He’s got Jason’s lair. Oh, yeah, he does go to jail. He does. Look, towards the end of the thing, he’s…

Loren Feldman Oh there’s a Klingon.

Ryan Block The Klingons make an appearance?

Leo Laporte For some reason...

Jason Calacanis It’s always the Klingons and the Asians.

The discussion continued; go here to see the whole thing.

I had never seen this video before, but it sounded like (if I may borrow a twentieth-century phrase) must see TV. So I found the video.

Frankly, the two best parts of the video are the female rapper and the actual person who was in prison for copying. I could do without the Klingons - unless, of course, Klingons had more advanced copyright law than the Federation.

The video came from the Software & Information Industry Association. And I guess it's appropriate to mention that I am employed in the software industry. But the Klingons don't represent me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

(empo-tuulwey) For my next trick, I will crank up my car.

I recently discovered that DEFCON 5 is NOT the highest level of readiness; it's actually DEFCON 1.

Now one would expect that I'd use fancy tools like Google+ to discuss this. But I didn't.

The fanciest tool that I used was Wikipedia. But I used two other tools - a hallway conversation, and electronic mail.

If you're someone who thinks that Google+ is so much last week's news because of the release of Spotify, let me define these two tools for you.

A HALLWAY CONVERSATION is, as its name implies, a discussion that takes place at a single location (usually with a lot of traffic). This requires that all parties be physically present. If you have forgotten how to be physically present with other people, just think of it as a meetup or as a group Foursquare check-in. For the record, this is where I heard two people talking about DEFCON levels.

After I left the hallway, went to a computer, and looked up the information on Wikipedia, I wanted to share this information with the other two individuals. At the time, neither of these people were on Google+, nor did I have the information necessary to send them an SMS message. I am not a Second Life member, so I couldn't enter my virtual world and go up to them and impart the information to them. We all have Microsoft Office Communicator, but I chose not to use that tool. And I didn't want to use Skype or whatever to contact them, since I would need a paid version of Skype to talk to both of them at once.

So I used a tool known as ELECTRONIC MAIL, or email for short. Because this tool was invented decades ago, you may not be familiar with it. It is a system in which you can type a message (even a message that exceeds 140 characters!), add some "addresses" to the message (e.g.,, and then "send" the message to the recipients (in this case, two recipients). The recipients then use an app (in this case, a Windows app called "Outlook") to receive notification of message arrival, and then they can read the message.

Now the recipients can't +1 or like the message. And the only way in which they can comment on the message is to send another message.

Regardless of its non-trendiness, electronic mail can sometimes be used as a valuable communications tool. Sarah Palin has been known to use electronic mail (although, after David Kernell's conviction and sentencing, she may have moved to Facebook-only communications).

Now if someone hacked into Obama's Blackberry, the country might go to DEFCON 5. Whoops, I mean DEFCON 1.

(For the record, the U.S. has never been at DEFCON 1, although the Strategic Air Command was at DEFCON 2 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And we've only been at DEFCON 3 three times: during the aforementioned Cuban Missile Crisis, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and on 9/11. Richard Reid did not merit a DEFCON 3 response.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

And what if the security loophole is closed?

People in the United States live in a relatively free society, although some of those freedoms have been limited after September 11, 2001. Because the 9/11 terrorist attacks used planes, our response has primarily been to change the way we do things on planes. Fewer and fewer of us remember the time when we could meet arriving passengers directly at the gate; nowadays, the gate is behind multiple layers of security.

Yet I can still head down the street and board a local bus without getting an X-rated photo of myself.

Well, I can do that now. Matt Munson quotes from a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) message, produced in conjunction with my local bus provider Omnitrans, that indicates some changes are afoot.

Omnitrans already regularly cooperates with local law enforcement and first responders to enhance the safety and security of our system. Soon we
will begin partnering with TSA and the Department of Homeland Security.

A program known as VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) will deploy teams of government law enforcement officers at Omnitrans transit centers. VIPR teams will conduct random searches at transit centers including at passenger waiting areas and on board Omnitrans vehicles. Some officers will be in uniform and others will not. In some cases bomb-sniffing dogs may be used. The VIPR program will help detect and deter potential threats to our customers, our employees and our community.

Munson, a Republican with libertarian leanings, opposes this, as does Mother Jones:

As part of the TSA's request for FY 2012 funding, TSA Administrator John Pistole told Congress last week that the TSA conducts 8,000 unannounced security screenings every year. These screenings, conducted with local law enforcement agencies as well as immigration, can be as simple as checking out cargo at a busy seaport. But more and more, they seem to involve giving airport-style pat-downs and screenings of unsuspecting passengers at bus terminals, ferries, and even subways.

Now I have a beef with the Mother Jones writer - why was the word "unsuspecting" used in the last sentence above? Frankly, if I'm being patted down, I'm going to notice.

And Paul Joseph Watson, an associate of Alex Jones, doesn't like the fact that VIPR is being extended to freight trucks:

Up until now, commercial trucks and other vehicles only were subject to warrantless searches and radiation scans at specially designated “state-owned inspection stations” traditionally set up at rest stops next to highways. These internal checkpoints, run by Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and the TSA, involve trucks being scanned with backscatter x-ray devices in the name of “safety” and “counter terrorism”.

These inspection stations are now being expanded to normal roads and highways, unleashing an army of TSA agents who will be given a free hand to litter America with internal checkpoints in a chilling throwback to Soviet-style levels of control over the population.

Somehow I get the feeling that Watson opposes this move.

Not that VIPR is new; TSA was issuing statements about VIPR back in 2007, talking about efforts going back to 2005:

Following the Madrid train bombings, TSA stepped up its efforts to enhance security on rail and mass transit systems nationwide by creating and deploying Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams. Comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosives detection canine teams, VIPR teams over the past two years have augmented security at key transportation facilities in urban areas around the country, including New York City, Buffalo and Syracuse, N.Y., Los Angeles, Boston and Providence, R.I.

Of course, any mention of the Madrid train bombings reminds us that our law enforcement efforts are not always perfect. I work in the biometrics industry, and the name "Brandon Mayfield" is bandied about a lot in my industry.

Now VIPR and the TSA didn't have anything to do with Mayfield, but there is a school of thought that claims that if these TSA security efforts are not 100% accurate, why expand them?

However, bear in mind that you're probably not going to run into a VIPR team any time soon. The dreaded expansion that has everyone up in arms is the TSA's request to increase the number of VIPR teams from 25 to 37.

And it also illustrates a profound misunderstanding of our government. People concentrate on what national police agencies do, while forgetting that the vast majority of law enforcement is not conducted by the TSA or the FBI, but by local police agencies. So while we're waiting for VIPR to hit the Montclair (California) Transcenter, other police actions are possibly more important:

The claim [against the city of Upland, California] ... was sent ... in January 2010 by Dieter Dammeier, police union attorney, on behalf of Upland police Sgt. John Moore....

The claim alleges [police chief Steve] Adams, [former mayor JP] Pomierski and [former city manager Robb] Quincey “went to great lengths to conceal, cover up and hide possible criminal activity” by the city manager, who was fired Wednesday night....

Moore’s accusations stem from a domestic dispute he and another Upland officer investigated on July 27, 2008, involving Quincey and an ex-fiancee....

Following the incident, Moore alleges in the claim, Adams, Quincey and others asked Moore to destroy the report.

And you're worried about some VIPR teams roaming the country?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

More on the Gould Citizens Advisory Council

A follow-up to a previous post about an attempt to ban - yes, ban - the Gould Citizens Advisory Council.

Needless to say, advisory council people like other advisory council people, and they probably get together and have long conversations about advising. The Arkansas Citizens First Congress has talked about the Gould Citizens Advisory Council, and while the page doesn't talk about the most recent City Council actions, it does discuss what the GCAC has accomplished. This is probably what got the City Council's ire:

GCAC is confronting the city council’s declaration of bankruptcy by bringing in experts to help them create an alternative plan to bankruptcy and loss of city services. GCAC has also taken on the city’s water issues. The distribution of water, the quality of the water and the waste water removal are all below standard because of a water system that is 60% deteriorated. After studying their options, GCAC persuaded city council members to reverse a recent decision and raise the water rates to invest in new infrastructure.

So, how many people suddenly want to join the Gould Citizens Advisory Council?

Now Gawker has talked about this, but some people don't trust Gawker.

And Fox has talked about it - twice - but some people don't trust Fox.

Well, perhaps people will listen to Rick Fahr, who has posted a proposed ordinance from the City of Gould, Arkansas. Ordinance No. 062011-5, if enacted, would ban the Gould Citizens Advisory Council from doing business in the city of Gould.

Well, is the Gould Citizens Advisory Council a Mafia front? Are they robbing banks? Dealing drugs?

No. According to the ordinance, they are causing...discourse.

Which is why the local Fox outlet, the national Fox outlet, Gawker, and everyone else is attracted to this story. You see, Gould, Arkansas is located within the United States of America, and in this country, it is legal for the people "to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The mayor vetoed the ordinance, but it could come up again in August. According to Fox 16, the city's lawyer informed the council of problems with the law - and the council tried to fire him.

And the Gould Citizens Advisory Council has fired off a press release:

City of Gould Threatened by City Council Action

(Gould, ARK, July 13, 2011) — Members of the Gould Citizens Advisory Council (GCAC) believe the City of Gould is under threat. Last night Gould City Council members voted four to one to override the veto of an unconstitutional City ordinance passed June 28 that disallows the Gould Citizens Advisory Council from existing within the city limits of Gould and another that requires all organizations to get city permission before using facilities for their meetings.

“The Gould City Council has banned our group from meeting or existing within the city and declared it an emergency to stop the people from voicing their opinion and holding the public officials accountable for their actions,” said Curtis Mangrum, GCAC Chair. “We believe that action is in direct conflict with that the right of citizens to assemble in their communities as protected by the U.S Constitution’s First Amendment and Arkansas Constitution, Article 2, Section 4.”

For many years, Gould citizens believed their elected officials practiced good government and made the right decisions for the whole community, according to Mangrum. However, because of a sizable IRS debt, bankruptcy and many years of legal problems for the City, Gould citizens felt it was time to get more involved.

GCAC has been a force for positive change in Gould for the past eight years. It is a grassroots organization made up of citizens who want the City of Gould to thrive through unity and progress. The organization was formed to ensure that citizens provide a voice in the decision- making process at all levels of government and hold their public officials accountable. Working together, GCAC members:

* Identified and helped elect candidates who wanted to move the city forward.
* Sponsored City Council retreats to develop a strategic planning process for Gould.
* Preserved the Gould School District archives when it was consolidated and made sure Gould’s trophies were displayed at the students’ new school.
* Identified abandoned housing and submitted a list to City officials for action.
* Sponsored a youth summit attended by 50 young citizens.
* Produced a documentary on the history of Gould.
* Hosted citywide cleanup campaigns.
* Helped raise $11,000 earlier this summer through the Gould Tax Relief Fund to keep the IRS from seizing and liquidating City property.

Last year Simmons Bank donated its building to the City of Gould in partnership with GCAC to be used as a Community Resource Center. Programs planned include a computer lab, workforce center, youth cultural activities and Neighborhood Watch. In addition, the Public Library, Tobacco Coalition and a quilting club would be housed in the building.

In other action last night, the City Council members voted four to one to evict GCAC from the Resource Center and stated they would change the locks on the doors. Their justification is that the City cannot afford to pay the utilities.

“The problem with this explanation is that they did not have a prior discussion with the tenants of the building to try to make an honest effort to work with them,” said Norvell Dixon, GCAC Vice-Chair. “This same group raised $11,000 to pay back taxes for the City, surely they could raise enough money to pay the utilities for the building. This is just an excuse to stifle the voice of the people.”

The City Council also argued that the group would not release the lease and the deed. The City Council has not officially requested a copy of the lease and deed from the group. “In addition, it is our understanding that the City has a copy of these documents and this should be taken up with the Mayor, not the tenants,” Dixon said.

GCAC is also concerned about three City Council members voting against accepting an $800,000 grant to repair the city’s leaking sewer system at a June City Council meeting. “We don’t understand why our City Council members would vote to disallow this money to come into our city to help replace and upgrade our sewer system. We are worried about City Council actions like this,” said Dixon. “Gould is my home and I want it to be a forward-moving city. The council’s actions seem to be having the opposite effect.”

GCAC supports the right of the citizens to participate in government through peaceful, organized assembly of concerned citizens. Dixon said GCAC members want to work with public officials who practice good government by making decisions based on analysis, citizen input and sound fiscal management. “We want public officials who are working constructively to solve our city’s problems and build a better future for our children,” he said.

“GCAC will continue to fight for the rights of the citizens to assemble, provide input into our government and insist that our public officials do the right thing for the whole community — not just for a chosen few,” said Mangrum.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

A changing of the guard in African business?

In a previous post, I listed a group of ten African countries that had attracted significant foreign investment in the past, and noting that three of the countries (Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya) were presently unstable politically.

Two of the ten countries that WERE stable were South Africa and Nigeria. Nigeria has the largest population - 125 million in this undated estimate, compared to 44 million for South Africa. However, South Africa is the clear leader in GDP, according to this undated estimate - South Africa tops the continent with a GDP of $456,700,000,000, while Nigeria is fifth at $114,800,000,000.

Now I'll admit that when I think of "Nigerian business," I often think of the brother-in-law of a deceased government minister who needs a little favor. But that isn't necessarily an accurate picture of the country's business climate. Robyn Curnow notes:

[A] new Morgan Stanley report ... predicts Nigeria’s economy will overtake South Africa’s as Africa’s largest by 2025.

Now predictions are just that, and there are many factors that could alter this timetable. The fact that 80% of Nigeria's gross domestic product depends upon oil introduces a potential for huge volatility in future growth.

But if Nigeria can diversify its economy, who knows?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Well, Michael Lee Johnson didn't have his Google account yanked, but...

(follow-up to this post)

Well, Michael Lee Johnson didn't have his Google account yanked, but apparently Logical Extremes did.

Google just cut off my access to my Google account, probably because of my use of a non-real-sounding pseudonym on Google+ :(

(empo-utoobd) Before condemning Facebook's terms of service...

At the moment, this post from Michael Lee Johnson is being shared all over Google+. It begins as follows:

LOL: I recently ran a Google+ advertisement on Facebook that got all of my campaigns suspended. - Great.

Johnson reproduced the ad that he ran, which encouraged Facebook users with Google+ accounts to add him, and he also reproduced the message that he purported to have received from Facebook.

Your account has been disabled. All of your adverts have been stopped and should not be run again on the site under any circumstances. Generally, we disable an account if too many of its adverts violate our Terms of Use or Advertising guidelines. Unfortunately we cannot provide you with the specific violations that have been deemed abusive. Please review our Terms of Use and Advertising guidelines if you have any further questions.

Inasmuch as Johnson shared this on Google+, and since a vocal minority of Google+ users think that Facebook is about to go out of business because of the First Coming of Google+, it's not surprising that a lot of the comments are along the lines of "fACEBuK sUx d00d." Actually they're written in proper English, but the sentiment is certainly there.

But when I read the message that came from Facebook, I flashed back to another message - one that I had received a couple of years ago. Here's part of it:

We are unable to provide specific detail regarding your account suspension .... For more information on our what we consider inappropriate content or conduct ... please visit our Community Guidelines and Tips ....

Yes, it's remarkably similar. The service permanently disabled my account and didn't bother to tell me why.

And which service did this? YouTube - a Google property.

So before you start chanting "Google rules, Facebook drools," just bear in mind that a similar thing could happen to you. I haven't specifically read Google+'s Terms of Service, but if it has the same Terms of Service as other Google properties, there's a possibility that Johnson could have his Google account yanked also, without warning.

Think about it.

P.S. Johnson's ad paid off despite the suspension. A number of people, including myself, added him.


Why Foursquare needs to dig into its metrics a little more...

Every company captures metrics. Even if people raise such a "privacy" stink that the company is prohibited from capturing all of the metrics that it wants, it still captures something.

Foursquare obviously has a lot of data about me. They recently sent me and email, and the third paragraph of the email read as follows:

First off, thanks for believing in our little startup as we try to build an awesome service for you. You were one of the first hundred thousand members of our community (to be exact, you're member #46,304)! You can tell your grandkids that you were a 21st century trendsetter! They'll look at you in amazement as they cruise by on their hoverboards.

Of course, this was the third paragraph, which (for those who have mastered their kindergarten skills) is preceded by the second paragraph.

Make sure to get the latest hotness! DOWNLOAD the latest version of foursquare for your phone.

And if you've read this blog over the last few months, you know that's the rub. And if you haven't, read my posts from June 1 and January 15. (In short, since Foursquare only allows people with GPS-equipped smartphones to earn mayorships, I have no incentive to use Foursquare on my dumb phone or my netbook.)

The surprising thing is that Foursquare has a bunch of metrics that should indicate that there's a problem. They don't have to read a blog to figure this out. Foursquare's metrics should tell them that I have lost all of my mayorships (as an early adopter, I held down more than ten mayorships at one point). In fact, Foursquare's metrics should tell them that I haven't checked in for several months now.

When I stop using other services for even a few weeks, the service starts sending me "we miss you!" messages. (BranchOut is one service that comes to mind in this regard.) But Foursquare has not made the re-energization of inactive members a part of its strategy.

Now I will grant that I'm not part of Foursquare's target market - if you don't pay $2000 for your phone and your phone service, you're not attractive to Foursquare's customers (the businesses that advertise on the service). But you'd think that Foursquare would be trying to re-engage the people who have the SuperAndroid or the iPhone 6 or whatever, and would be sending them messages to get them to check-in again.

Or perhaps Foursquare, like Twitter (and some other services - I should talk about Starfleet Commander in a different post), doesn't really care about the number of ACTIVE users of the service. They only care about the TOTAL number of users, including the ones who use the service once and never touch it again.

After all, the total user count is a more impressive number than the active user count.

Casey Anthony is already a financial success


Supporters ... have sent money to Casey Anthony's jailhouse commissary account since she was acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter.

How much money has Anthony received? According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, over $200.

Wonder if she has to split this with an agent. And I wonder if Vivid pays more. Not that it matters; as the update shows, even Vivid doesn't want to hire Anthony.

When you can't go to the original sources

For better or worse, I am the product of a Reed College education. And Reed consistently urges its students to refer to original sources. Rather than read a textbook that talks about Plato, Reed would prefer that its students read Plato.

But what if the original sources changed?

This could very easily happen. As a Christian, I constantly encounter people who wonder about the "real" words of Jesus, before the editors supposedly changed all of them. Yet these same people accept the words of Plato, gospel - despite the fact that half of Plato's Dialogues are derived from a manuscript from 895 AD, over one thousand years after Plato existed. If Plato's disciples didn't invent him, of course.

There are modern, secular examples of this. Just last month Louis Gray noted that Zillow changed its home pricing metrics and wiped out all of its old data. If you rely on Zillow's data, your home value may have increased or decreased significantly in a single day - not that Zillow displays any record of the old price.

Which is why I believe that all modifications to original data should be disclosed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I don't live or work in Los Angeles County, but the radio airwaves are filled with discussions about


which is the term being used to describe this weekend's closure of a portion of Interstate 405.

Southern California is dominated by vehicular traffic. In my area, Interstate 10 is bad at certain times of the day, and not so bad at other times. From my observations, Interstate 405 is always bad, and will presumably be worse when


closes access from the San Fernando Valley to the main portion of Los Angeles.

The term itself is a play upon the word "armageddon," which is used in Christianity and other religions to refer to end-of-world events. In this particular case, rather than having the forces of good and evil battle on the Plains of Megiddo, CalTrans workers will battle asphalt on the Pass of Sepulveda.

Businesses are taking advantage of the closure for marketing purposes - since everyone is talking about


businesses can latch on to the trendiness for publicity purposes. My favorite so far - JetBlue is offering a special short-distance airplane flight from Long Beach to Burbank which roughly parallels Interstate 405, and allows travelers to avoid the closed area.

Now I'm sure that some people, especially in the circles in which, are decrying the misuse of the term "Armageddon" to refer to a relatively inconsequential secular event that will be forgotten a week from now. Of course, the term may be misused in the future. Will an effort to raise the drinking age to 25 be referred to as "Barmageddon"? Will a shortage of toilet paper be called "Charmageddon"? Will renewed moves to apply political correctness to comedy clubs be referred to as "Har-de-har-harmageddon"?

But the misuse of this term is nothing like the misuse of another term - a misuse that has been going on since June 1972. In that month, people connected to Nixon Administration officials broke in to an office in a complex in Washington, DC known as the Watergate. This burglary led to the resignation of a President, so it obviously attracted a lot of attention. Ever since then, many scandals (and many non-scandals) have been referred to with words ending in the suffix "-gate." When item XXX happens, you can rest assured that there will be reports on XXXgate very soon afterwards.

My favorite?

"Willgate," as reported by Paul Boller in his book Presidential Campaigns, in which it was revealed--admitted by--George Will, conservative columnist, that he acted as a debate coach for Reagan while supposedly being a "neutral" reporter....

The big concern, as noted by Boller, was that Will praised Reagan's performance in the debate. While this was certainly a lapse in ethics (Louis Gray's ethics disclosure images did not exist at that time), it wasn't end of the world. It didn't even materially influence the presidential election of 1980 - if Will had disclosed his service as a debate coach, would tons of votes have swung to Carter? Not likely.

My fear, as expressed in the title of this post, is that this weekend will result in some sort of scandal. If this happens, the scandal will be called Carmageddongate, or perhaps Geddongate for short.

And if Ashton Kutcher or Justin Bieber tweet about it, this would truly be a sign of the end times.

Know your international law, or face consequences you don't expect

Because the Internet traverses (almost) everywhere, we often make assumptions that everyone is just like us, and every culture is just like our culture.

But these assumptions can go awry. For example, Google+ has a feature called "Incoming." Most of us wouldn't give that feature a second thought. But what if you were a war veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? (This was mentioned in Google+, but I can no longer find the comment that mentioned it.)

But some assumptions have more serious consequences. What if you were to write the following in a restaurant review?

The woman, identified by her last name only, complained of cockroach infestation, parking chaos and salty food...

Now the restaurant owner obviously wasn't happy. One would expect that the restaurant owner would take the reviewer to civil court and slap her with a huge lawsuit. But things are apparently a little different in Taiwan:

The Taichung District Court originally concluded that Liu’s review “exceeded reasonable bounds,” and handed down the 30 day sentence.

Yes, a 30 day sentence. As in jail sentence.

It's unclear whether the reviewer served any time in jail, but she did have to pay a hefty fine. For one, a health inspector apparently didn't find any cockroaches. But there was another reason for the fine:

The court opined that characterizing the restaurant’s food as “salty” was unreasonable as Liu only sampled one dish...

Yes, that's right. A restaurant reviewer was fined for referring to a restaurant's food as salty.

I bet that a lot of restaurant owners are thinking about moving to Taiwan right now.

Oh, there's one more thing - the restaurant reviewer was a blogger.

For some people, that justifies the jail sentence, I guess...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The differences between order tracking and order tracking

For over a century, people have been ordering goods via mail order, and that practice isn't going to disappear any time soon. In the 21st century, those of us who order goods often track the progress of our order online.

In some cases, the order tracking can be very detailed. Via the use of bar code technology, you can find out when the package left the point of origin, when it arrived at a local processing center, when it arrived at a major processing facility (for example, when FedEx packages arrived in Memphis, Tennessee), when it reached the destination city, when it got loaded onto a destination truck, and when it actually arrived at the destination (and who signed for the package).

In some cases, the order tracking is less detailed.

On Sunday, I went to a major department store to get some shoes. I won't reveal the name of the department store, which was founded by James Cash Penney. The store didn't have my preferred size and color in stock (actually, their computer said it was in stock, but it wasn't), so I requested a "ship to store" option. When I received my receipt, the receipt told me how to track my order.

This excited me, because I love to track these types of things. When we have international visitors, I track their flights ("they're over Quebec now!"). And I track packages.

So Sunday night, I went to the shipment tracking site - not that I was expecting much. According to the site, the shipment is pending.

Today, Wednesday afternoon, I went back to the site, which now says that the shipment is pending, and also says that it's shipped. And it doesn't say much else.

Order Information
Order Number: xxxxxxx
Order Date: 7/10/2011
Invoice Number: xxxxxxx
Status: Pending Shipment
Method: Ship To Store
Date Shipped: 7/11/2011

So I have no idea where the shipment originated, no idea where my package is, and no idea when it will arrive at my local store. All that I know is that it shipped from somewhere on Monday.

One can argue that the department store should NOT disclose the whereabouts of the item, because that could potentially reveal information that is valuable to competitors.

But this all goes to show you that "order tracking" can mean different things, depending upon who is doing the tracking.

On Agritourism

My father-in-law grew up on a farm, and is obviously used to rural life. A few years ago, he ended up shaking his head when his son-in-law (me) and his daughter (my wife) spent a lot of time on a cross-country trip taking pictures of hay bales.

I wonder what he'd think about agritourism.

I had never heard the term until I saw Sheila Scarborough use it, so I had to check it out. A little over a year ago, Scarborough commented on this Sally Berry post, and I checked out what Berry said.

Agritourism has been loosely defined as any activity or agriculturally based operation that brings a visitor to a farm or ranch. People are realizing that they have been disconnected from their food sources and the opportunity to spend some time in a rural setting and watch and learn how their food is grown has growing appeal.

Anyone who has actually worked on a farm for a living probably thinks the idea is ridiculous:

My two adult sons spent one summer helping a local farmer with his hay operation and they would laugh if they knew that there are people out there looking for a chance to work 14 hour days in the July heat stacking 50 pound bales of hay to the top of a barn! Nonetheless, people are looking for vacations that connect them back to the land and their food.

After all, what is a vacation? A change in routine. And for a suburban or urban person, a stint on a farm would certainly be a change in routine.

In her Facebook feed, Scarborough mentioned two initiatives (although there are certainly many more): the Arkansas Agritourism Initiative (Facebook page here) and Oklahoma Agritourism (Facebook page here).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

(empo-tuulwey) When the new tool isn't as good as the old

The Catalina Restaurant Group owns both Carrows Restaurants and Coco's Restaurant and Bakery. Both chains offer sit-down dinners, leaning toward comfort foods, along with desserts.

And both have recently introduced a new tool for use by the restaurant staff.

A little over a week ago, we visited one restaurant in one of the chains, and our waitress came to take our dessert order. We had noticed other waitresses were using small tablet computers to take the orders. Our waitress didn't, explaining that it was difficult to input desserts into the tablets, so she was going to hand-write our order for now and enter it into the computer later.

Last weekend, we visited another restaurant in one of the chains, and the waitress took our order using the tablets. After she entered the order, I asked her whether she was getting the hang of the tablets, and mentioned that the waitress at the other restaurant was having trouble with it.

Our new waitress said that the tablets weren't hard to use, but that it took a long time to enter stuff into them. She said that she could hand-write orders a lot faster, but that "we're not allowed to do that."

So how long before restaurants move to the next step? Some already have, according to Mashable. Two companies, E La Carte and Tabletop Media, provide tablets that allow customers to enter their orders without giving them to a waiter or waitress.

Why the interest in providing every table with their own touch-screen tablet? For starters, people buy more food when they can do so instantly, without waiting for service. In the six restaurants that ran a pilot scheme, according to CEO Rajat Suri, customers at E la Carte tables spent 10% to 12% more than those at other tables.

But I don't see this trend as being universal. As you can probably guess from the descriptions of the restaurants, both Carrows and Coco's cater to a slightly older clientele. And many of these people would prefer to give their orders to a nice person, rather than punch buttons on a TV.

And what about the wait staff at Catalina Restaurant Group? Presumably they shifted to these devices to improve efficiency, to ensure that orders are input correctly, and to capture metrics. All well and fine, but if your software users are complaining that your software is not useful, then you may have a problem.

I'll grant that it's early in the process, and perhaps a month or two from now both waitresses will be zipping through the tablet menus rapidly. But in the meantime, I wouldn't rely on the metrics being captured at the moment - in some cases, the meals might be entered into the tablets just before the bill comes.

Monday, July 11, 2011

More Google+ and LinkedIn comparisons

As short-term link-following readers of this blog know, The Next Web posted a piece that claimed that LinkedIn was threatened by Google+. I disagree in this Empoprise-BI post. But there are others talking about Google+ and LinkedIn:

(empo-tuulwey) No, Google+ did not just kill LinkedIn

When a shiny new toy comes along, many people initially get excited about the shiny new toy. Even if the S.N.T. doesn't immediately offer everything that you want, the S.N.T. obviously has potential, and that new electric car is bound to include a bacon fryer Real Soon Now.

And the shiny new toy does not only promise to obliterate its immediate competition, but it creates a PARADIGM SHIFT that renders everything else obsolete. Take, for example, the way in which all of the major media companies immediately filed for bankruptcy after version 1.0 gave power to music-making individuals (like Ontario Emperor). Once appeared, the EMIs and BMGs of the world all disappeared, and no one even remembers them today...what, they didn't die? Oops, my bad.

Which brings us to Google+. There is a vocal minority of people that believe that Mark Zuckerberg should close up shop right now. After all, even Facebook's newly introduced video features don't allow you to have ten people in a chat. Google+ is therefore five times better than Facebook, which means that it will have five times 750 million users within months, and will increase its user base exponentially after that. Once Google+ reaches 50 billion users, can Facebook even compete?

Yes, that is the type of thinking that you can find in some circles.

Wait, it gets better. Google+ has not only doomed Facebook, but has also doomed LinkedIn:

It seems to me that Google+, from my initial tinkerings, may actually lend itself better to the professional social world than to the consumer one. For that reason, I’m going to posit that LinkedIn may well be quivering in its little post-IPO boots.

And why should LinkedIn be quivering? Because they have not advanced their platform at any meaningful level.

How do we know that LinkedIn has not advanced at any meaningful level? Look at Google+!

LinkedIn doesn’t have any integrated real-time chat facility, something that’s surely vital these days for any social network? Facebook and Google are both striving to make all social activity take place within the platform, with LinkedIn there’s still too much third-party platforms required to properly network.

There's an issue here - you can't do everything you want in LinkedIn - and one big assumption - that LinkedIn is a social network like any other social network.


Remember that there are business and consumer users of products. Just like certain web browsers are better for business use while others are better for consumer use, you can say the same thing about social networks.
  • Facebook is primary for consumer use, although there are obviously some consumer-business interactions taking place on Facebook also. However, there are very few business-business communications on Facebook, although they conceivably could happen for small companies (IBM is not about to adopt Facebook for inter-office communication).

  • Google+ is still in its infancy, but once it rolls out business support, Google+ has the potential for offering all types of communication - consumer, consumer-to-business, and business. Google+ is pretty much a general-purpose toolkit - not the best tool for every job, but a pretty good tool for a lot of jobs.

  • Unlike the other two networks listed above, LinkedIn is a business network. The end. I'm not going to go to the Procter & Gamble page on LinkedIn to get grocery store coupons.

No, LinkedIn does not have real-time chat. And LinkedIn does not have any built-in videoconferencing - I'll grant that videoconferencing might be a good way to expand. But LinkedIn does have my resume. A Google profile isn't really suited to contain a resume, and on Facebook I have to use the third-party service BranchOut to include my resume.

LinkedIn does not do everything, but it is very good at what it does - keep my resume, maintain business references, and maintain business contacts. Google+ can be tweaked to do some of this stuff, but using a Google+ profile for a resume is substandard, and using a Google+ profile for references is not recommended.

Now for all I know, Google may be working on "Google Resume" in its labs, and once that gets rolled out, it can be integrated with Google+ and Google Voice and everything else to provide you with a stellar business application.

But before assuming that Google Resume (if it exists) will put LinkedIn out of business, remember that everything that Google touches does not turn to gold. In fact, in the same way that you have a vocal minority loudly proclaiming that Google+ renders the entire universe obsolete, you have another vocal minority that is loudly proclaiming that Google+ will be a failure, just like several Google social media attempts before it.

So I'm not trashing my LinkedIn profile just yet.

Then again, consider the source - I haven't trashed my MySpace profile either.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

When there are multiple security programs, is there any security program?


The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reprinted a Chicago Tribune article (and yes, it's from this year) that was originally written by Jon Hilkevitch. The Star-Tribune's article title is "Pilot screening test raises security fears." Hilkevitch contacted a number of organizations regarding the "KnownCrew" test at O'Hare and Miami International Airports. Among the organizations contacted by Hilkevitch were the Reason Foundation, the Air Transport Association, Congressman Bennie Thompson, and the Airports Council International.

I was curious about the Reason Foundation's stand on the KnownCrew program. In the article, the Reason Foundation's Robert Poole decried the lack of biometric verification of KnownCrew participants. (KnownCrew relies on visual examination of a photo ID, coupled with textual information on the person gathered from employment records.)

But when I went to the Reason Foundation's own website, Poole painted a picture of a system that goes well beyond whether or not it uses biometrics. Actually, I shouldn't say "system" - I should say "systems." But first, let's start by looking at the need for a separate system for airline personnel.

It ought to be a no-brainer: provide a simple way to enable cockpit and cabin crew to bypass TSA’s one-size-fits-all screening checkpoints. After all, cockpit crews have control of a potentially lethal guided missile. Some are authorized to carry guns, and all have access to a large rescue axe in the cockpit; surely we don’t need to check them for box-cutters.

So a system was approved for test.

CrewPass .. has been in airport testing (at Pittsburgh, Columbia, and Baltimore) since June 2008. It meets the basic requirements set forth by TSA in June 2009 (real-time verification of employment, biometric confirmation of identity, and capable of handling both cockpit and cabin crew). It uses ARINC’s Cockpit Access Security System (CASS), but many airlines don’t want to pay ARINC to gain access to their own data employee data for this purpose. And CrewPass is intended to be domestic-only, which limits its appeal to many airlines with extensive international routes.

So a second system emerged.

Southwest proposed a test of a different system, which TSA allowed to be implemented for a two-month pilot program at BWI in autumn 2008, jointly sponsored by Southwest, its pilot union, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA), and Priva Technologies (which developed the biometric verification technology). That test was considered a success. Last November, American Airlines proposed an improved version of that system to be implemented first at its DFW hub. Called SecureCrew, it has been endorsed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as the proposed international system, with KLM designated as the first international participant.

The request for KLM participation was denied by TSA, by the way.

Now the third system, KnownCrew, has emerged:

The Air Transport Association (ATA) and pilots’ union ALPA have received TSA approval to test their KnownCrew system at Miami and Chicago O’Hare, beginning as early as the end of June. ATA will provide laptop computers for TSA checkpoints at MIA and ORD, which will tap directly into airline personnel databases to verify employment status (bypassing ARINC’s CASS). It will apparently not include a biometric verification—both SecureCrew and CrewPass use fingerprints for this purpose—which means it does not comply with all of TSA’s June 2009 specifications.

So there are systems, none of which has been approved. Poole blames TSA for the current impasse:

It needs to move speedily to a decision and get the selected system into widespread U.S. airport use.

Now however one might feel about biometrics, or however one might feel about airlines having to pay someone else to access their own data, the fact remains that for whatever reason, there are now three competing security systems. And while competition is certainly good in the economy, the use of three differing security systems causes big security loopholes, since a potential security threat can pick and choose his/her entry into the system based upon the security technology that will let him/her through the security gate.

Multiple security programs result in no security program at all.

Granted that this is a pilot, but based upon the way that government works, who knows how long it will take to resolve the differences between the various systems.

(And I repeat my common assertion: for those who fear that Big Brother will result in a bunch of agencies working together to gang up on you, this is yet another example of how a single agency is unable to work with itself. If the TSA can't agree on something, then how are the TSA and Mossad and the Rockefellers going to work together?)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Shannon Stone and catastrophic events

The mission of the Brownwood Fire Department is to minimize the loss of life and damage to property and the environment resulting from fires, medical emergencies, rescues, and disasters through fire suppression, medical services, prevention, education, and other related emergency and non-emergency activities.

We will actively participate in our community, serve as role models, and strive to effectively and efficiently utilize all of the resources at our command to provide a service deemed excellent by our citizens.

Sadly, the Brownwood Fire Department suffered its own loss of life Thursday evening:

Brownwood Fire Marshal Buddy Preston confirmed that a Brownwood Firefighter died Thursday after he took a fall at a Texas Rangers baseball game in Arlington. Officials state that he is a husband and father.

The firefighter died after taking a head-first fall out of the outfield stands during Thursday night’s game between the Rangers and the Athletics.
The accident happened during the second inning as Josh Hamilton picked up a foul ball and tossed it into the stands for a fan.

Subsequently, the fan was publicly identified as Shannon Stone, who had been with the Brownwood Fire Department for 18 years.

Arguments could probably be made that this tragedy, like the Sundance Resources tragedy that I talked about earlier, could have been prevented. But it's impossible to prevent against any tragedy - the only way to prevent the death of Robert Seamans would have been to eliminate stairway railings, an act which would have resulted in more deaths. And even today I heard a radio caller declaring that he did NOT want any additional barriers between fans and players.

There is a certain level of danger in everyday living, and there is always the risk that something unfortunate could happen. I drive on southern California freeways and roads every day - on one of those days, back in 1991, my car was hit by another vehicle, and my car ended up flipping over.

I'm an advocate of seat belts now, but sometimes there isn't a "seat belt" to protect you.

On false positives (the antivirus kind)

The phrase "false positive" refers to something that is judged as true when it is actually false. For example, if an AFIS (not from my company or any of my esteemed competitors) said that my fingerprints were identical to those of Charles Manson, then that would be considered a false positive. (I was in Illinois at the time. I have witnesses.)

The same phrase can be applied to anti-virus software. Dave Winer is getting infuriated that McAfee claims is dangerous. Winer states that:

The files they [McAfee] claim are trojans are actually archives of back-issues of this site. Snapshots taken on the 10th anniverary, in 2007. They're lying when they say they looked inside these files. They couldn't possibly have. All they contain are text files.

But Winer at least has a platform that is read by influential members of the tech community. Others do not. NirSoft:

Unfortunately, most Antivirus companies goes too far with their Virus/Trojan protection, and in many times they classify completely legit software as Virus/Trojan infection.

One good example for that is my own password recovery tools: Most people need these tools to recover their own lost password. These password tools, like many other utilities out there, can also be used by hackers for bad purposes.

The attitude of many Antivirus companies is very tough in this subject -

If it's a tool that can be used by bad guys, it's classified as Trojan or Virus, even when most users need it and use it for good purposes. Antivirus companies don't care that they block their own customers that want to recover their own passwords, and they don't care that they may cause their customer to think that I'm a Virus distributer.

I must say that some Antivirus companies are a little more gentle, and classify these tools as "Security Threat" or "Riskware" which is much better than classifying them as Virus or Trojan, but they still prevent the user from running them - by deleting them or by putting them in quarantine.

And some detection companies admit their mistakes:

A Slovenian language directory for Windows Live is causing us considerable headaches this morning, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

A Network World article has alleged Samsung laptops of having a keylogger. Unfortunately (and to our dismay), the evidence was based off of a false positive by VIPRE for the StarLogger keylogger.

The detection was based off of a rarely-used and aggressive VIPRE detection method, using folder paths as a heuristic....

The directory in question was C:\WINDOWS\SL, and is the Slovenian language directory for Windows Live. This same directory path is used by the StarLogger keylogger.

GFI Labs apologized, and added the following comment:

False positives do happen, it’s inevitable and like all antivirus companies, we continually strive to improve our detections, while reducing any chance of a false positive. This one (admittedly, an incredibly embarrassing one) made it through our processes, and I have met with the senior managers in the area this morning to handle what happened and to continue to improve our processes.

Let's compare how McAfee - the company that marks Dave Winer's as a red site - apologized in the wake of a recent issue. Compare the opening of the GFI Labs statement with the statement below:

In the past 24 hours, McAfee identified a new threat that impacts Windows PCs. Our researchers worked to address this threat that attacks critical Windows system executables and buries itself deep into a computer’s memory.

The research team created detection and removal to address this threat. The remediation passed our quality testing and was released with the 5958 virus definition file at 2.00 PM GMT+1 (6am Pacific Time) on Wednesday, April 21.

McAfee is aware that a number of customers have incurred a false positive error due to this release. We believe that this incident has impacted a small percentage of our enterprise accounts globally and a fraction of our consumer base–home users of products such as McAfee VirusScan Plus, McAfee Internet Security Suite and McAfee Total Protection. That said, if you’re one of those impacted, this is a significant event for you, we understand that and we’re very sorry.

Yes, McAfee admitted its mistake. In the third paragraph.

The chances of a profuse apology to Dave Winer are somewhat remote.

Although some of the people who see McAfee's reporting on may conclude that the site is dangerous after all. McAfee reports that includes links to sites such as and In some of the circles in which I travel, that's just about as bad as having a Kenyan national as President.