Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Privacy issues with biometrics - what if the criminals use it?

[NOTE: The opinions expressed below do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.]

I have been employed in biometrics, mostly in automated fingerprint identification systems, for nearly two decades now. I have primarily worked on systems for law enforcement agencies, but have been exposed to systems used by benefits recipients, driver's license holders, and even people who get services from private companies.

In the popular media, there has been a long-standing concern about privacy and the use of biometrics. In my view, some of this is silly - the thumbprint that you provide for your gym membership, and even the thumbprint that you provide for your driver's license, is NOT going to make its way to the FBI or Mossad or Interpol or whoever; for both technical reasons and bureaucratic reasons, the chance of multiple agencies ganging up on you in a "Big Brother" style is extremely remote. As another example, people who get really weirded out about giving someone a fingerprint have no problem whatsoever in giving someone an ID card with a picture of a face on it - despite that fact that the face itself is a biometric, and facial recognition systems merely try to duplicate the human activities that take place when we look at a face and "recognize" someone.

However, there are certainly possibilities in particular circumstances for biometric data to be abused. We can partially mitigate this by controlling access to law enforcement systems, making sure that these systems are only used for their intended and legal purposes, and making sure that the people who do access these systems are reputable people. In short, the same safeguards that need to be employed by grocery and other stores when they hire people to handle YOUR credit cards.

But even if we were able to achieve 100% legitimate use of biometrics by law enforcement agencies, we would not be safe. You see, biometrics is merely a tool - and law enforcement officials aren't the only people with access to this tool.


In a survey last winter, they found the vast majority of law enforcement officers were using social media — 90 percent of females and 81 percent of males, with Facebook and Twitter the top two sites, respectively....

“All respondents aged 26 years or younger had uploaded photos of themselves onto the Internet,” ComputerWorld reports. And 85 percent of respondents said someone else had uploaded photos of them. What’s more, 42 percent of respondents said they could identify someone based on his or her social media relationships, ComputerWorld says.

On the face of it, this doesn't seem like a big concern. Cops should have the same rights to use the Internet as anyone else, shouldn't they?

But - what if the cops are UNDERCOVER cops? And their pictures are posted on Facebook? Now it gets interesting.

What happens if the gang you’ve infiltrated finds your grinning mug in Facebook photos from the police union annual picnic?

We’ve seen how easily biometrics can be used to identify people based on their Internet photos, using something as simple as an iPhone app. Cops themselves are using this technology to ID people on the street — so why wouldn’t intrepid motorcycle gang leaders do the same?

More here.

Banks, image, and payday loans

I'm not an expert on architecture, but even I realize that until recently, the architecture employed in bank buildings was significant. Banks need to evoke an image of permanence and trust, so many bank buildings were designed with a very solid appearance. Some even have massive columns.

Of course, this has changed now that you can find banks in many grocery stores, but banks clearly maintain their solid image in other ways - especially after the recent financial crises. Banks want to assure their customers that they are sound, conservative (in a financial sense) institutions. They don't throw your money into Enron. They don't offer payday loans like the corner store down the street. They don't...

Uh...hold on a minute. From the Riverside (California) Press-Enterprise:

They're marketed under a different name, but a handful of major banks already let customers borrow against their paychecks for a fee. And there are signs the option may soon become more widely available.

Banks say their loans are intended for emergencies and they are quick to distance themselves from the payday lending industry. But consumer advocates say these direct deposit loans -- as banks prefer to call them -- bear the same predatory trademarks as the payday loans commonly found in low-income neighborhoods.

More here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Close may count in horseshoes, but not in Federal proposal submissions

As a proposal writer, I get a number of proposal-related emails. While most of the people who write such emails in this country are focused on the Federal market, some of the things in the newsletters apply to state & local government proposals also.

Fedmarket is obviously trying to get people to buy their services, but they make a compelling case for the need for their services:

Companies that either miss or nearly miss proposal submittal deadlines usually don't trumpet their stories to their cohorts. After all, it is not exactly a badge of courage. Yet, at countless bars throughout the Metro area, you frequently will overhear the story....

Why would such a thing happen to supposedly sophisticated federal contractors? Pure and simple. It's a failure on the part of management to pay attention to the preparation of the proposal. In fact, it is a problem that may never be solved. Proposal writing is the ugly stepchild of federal contracting. Management hates it and many bury their heads in the sand and hope it will get out on time

More here, including links to Fedmarket's service offerings.

Laura Durity lists some examples of missed deadlines.

In 2009...the GAO upheld an agency’s decision to reject the proposal of a contractor which arrived (in person) just minutes late. The contractor’s representative arrived at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas only eight minutes before a 2:00 pm deadline to file its proposal in response to a NASA solicitation. The representative (surprise, surprise) found it difficult to clear security and make it across the base in eight minutes, and, consequently, submitted its proposal 29 minutes late. The agency rejected the proposal as untimely.

[T]he GAO concluded that the contractor should have anticipated delays in gaining access to the government facility, and that the delays encountered could not be blamed on the agency....

U.S. Aerospace, which teamed with Ukrainian state-owned Antonov to propose an An-70 tanker to replace the KC-135, protested the Air Force’s removal of its proposal from the KC-X bidding for tardiness. The RFP clearly advised offerors that proposals must be received in person at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base by 2:00 pm on July 9, 2010. A U.S. Aerospace messenger delivered U.S. Aerospace’s proposal on July 9 to the contracting officer’s representative and received a receipt indicating that proposal was delivered at 2:05 pm. A few days later, the Air Force notified U.S. Aerospace that its proposal was late and would not be considered. In its initial protest, U.S. Aerospace argued, among other things, that its messenger had been given bad directions by the Government guard.

GAO held that, even if the guard’s inaccurate directions did delay the submission of U.S. Aerospace’s proposal, U.S. Aerospace was responsible for its late submission. It was U.S. Aerospace’s “decision to attempt entry at a gate not designated for non-military visitors” less than an hour before the deadline, to “not obtain advance approval for entry,” and to not “previously ascertain the location of, and directions to, the building designated for proposal submission.”

Durity's advice?

While it is comforting to see the Court recognize that not all late submissions are the fault of the contractor, this recognition should not obscure the real lesson here. Late usually is late, and demonstrating that a late submission is the Government’s fault is a steep uphill task. So file early folks. No contractor (or counsel) wants to be in the position of having to say to the boss (to quote the late great secret agent Maxwell Smart) “missed it by that much.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Planning for large documents

This nugget comes from the second edition of Shipley Associates' Proposal Guide, in the "Production" section.

A multimillion dollar, multiple-volume proposal was completed by an aircraft manufacturer for a large Federal bid. The plane was waiting at the local airport to deliver the proposal. Unfortunately, the small aircraft could not take off when they discovered the packaged documents weighed more than 3,000 pounds.

The importance of planning...

P.S. I'm no longer an Amazon Associate (I live in California) so I can no longer sell this to you, but the third edition of the guide is available on Amazon.

Us And Them (Dave Winer on Google's real names policy)

A little while ago, I posted Us And Them (Fred Wilson on Google's real names policy). That post included the following:

"Thomas Hawk" is as real as...well, as real as Logical Extremes. Hawk blogs and shares under a pseudonym. Granted it's a very well-known pseudonym AND it looks like a real name, but it's still not the name that Hawk uses when he cashes his stockbroker paychecks. (His real name is available online from several sources, not that I know how accurate they are.)

Now if you're a Google customer (i.e. an advertiser), would you rather know that some guy named Andrew is talking about your camera equipment, or that Thomas Hawk is talking about your camera equipment?

It's all a little murky.

But it's not murky to Dave Winer:

On 7/26/11 I wrote that Google-Plus is a bank.

They want to move money around the same way Amazon does. They need your real name because it's a business.

However, as one of Winer's commenters (Moshe Eshel) noted, Amazon doesn't require that your profile include a real name.

So why does Google require it?

Us And Them (Fred Wilson on Google's real names policy)

For those who don't know, Fred Wilson is one of the major financiers of Twitter, a competitor (of sorts) to Google+. And last weekend's tempest in a teapot revolves around the real names policy of Google+.

But let's start with Andy Carvin:

I'm at the Edinburgh Intl TV Festival and just got to ask a question to Google CEO Eric Schmidt regarding real names on G+. I asked him how Google justifies the policy given that real identities could put people at risk.

He replied by saying that G+ was build primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names if they're going to build future products that leverage that information.

Regarding people who are concerned about their safety, he said G+ is completely optional. No one is forcing you to use it. It's obvious for people at risk if they use their real names, they shouldn't use G+.

Carvin went on to note that these were paraphrases, and that he did not have an opportunity to ask a follow-up.

But the paraphrases got Fred Wilson thinking.

It begs the question of whom Google built this service for? You or them. And the answer to why you need to use your real name in the service is because they need you to.

Again, let me reiterate two points. First, Google has the right to do whatever they want with this real names stuff. Second, Google's customers are (for the most part) NOT the people who sign up for Google services. As I've noted previously, Google has explicitly stated that Google's customers are the advertisers that buy ads on the service. So if Google's advertisers need to know who is seeing the ads, then Google is going to serve its customers.

But are Google's advertisers truly demanding to know the exact identities of the people who use Google?

Let me cite a rather well-known example. I've mentioned Thomas Hawk in this blog a few times (here's an example). Hawk is obviously someone that Google's advertisers would covet, since Hawk shares his photography in numerous places online. I don't know Hawk's endorsement policies, but I'm sure that if we were to mention that he uses Brand X camera equipment, the manufacturers of Brand X would see a nice return.

But guess what? "Thomas Hawk" is as real as...well, as real as Logical Extremes. Hawk blogs and shares under a pseudonym. Granted it's a very well-known pseudonym AND it looks like a real name, but it's still not the name that Hawk uses when he cashes his stockbroker paychecks. (His real name is available online from several sources, not that I know how accurate they are.)

Now if you're a Google customer (i.e. an advertiser), would you rather know that some guy named Andrew is talking about your camera equipment, or that Thomas Hawk is talking about your camera equipment?

It's all a little murky.

But if I were selling a privacy product, I'd want to know if Logical Extremes were commenting on it - something that Google does not allow at this stage.

And yes, LogEx has discussed privacy. This post, written before the appearance of Google+, is ironic in retrospect:

A basic Google Account can be extended with Gmail. In this case, Google asks for an additional (minimal) set of information):

+ First Name
+ Last Name
+ Desired Login Name (this becomes your Gmail address
+ Security Question & Answer (choose a question from the menu, or make up your own)
+ OPTIONAL Recovery email address

Again followed by a word verification to thwart bots, and a button to click to agree to the Terms of Service, the Gmail Program Policy, and the Privacy Policy. That's it.

Again note that there is NO mention of Name (or Birthday) in the Terms of Service or the Gmail Program Policy. You can use your real name or a pseudonym. Google doesn't care.

By 2011, Google had introduced a third tier of account, including Google+, and it suddenly DID care.

Oddly enough, however, I found this.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Revisiting my post on Steve Jobs, Reed College, and adoption

With Steve Jobs' resignation as CEO of Apple, there is naturally a lot of attention to all things Jobs.

Therefore, this is as good a time as any to dredge up a post that I wrote back in October 2006 in the Ontario Empoblog. The post was entitled Adoption, Reed College, Nurture, and Nature.

The original post began with excerpts from Steve Jobs' address to Stanford University.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

The college that he chose was a college that I would choose several years later.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it....So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting....

And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

If you go to the original post, you can read additional details about Jobs' adoption and his reunion with his biological family.

However, my post concentrated on the first of three parts of Jobs' speech. Obviously, a lot of information is being paid right now to the third part of the speech.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Isn't generalization special?

Individual businesses, and industries, often bounce between two extremes. On the one hand, you have businesses that offer a lot of different products. On the other hand, you have businesses that specialize in one thing.

Anyone remember Mita? This was a Japanese firm that consistently talked about how they only produced copiers. Here is an Australian Mita commercial from the 1980s.

Although I can't find any documented evidence of this, I seem to recall that Mita eventually had to tweak their message a little bit. They got into some other business - perhaps it was fax machines - and they were then forced to say that fax machines were just specialized versions of copiers, so Mita was good at those also.

Well, Mita no longer exists as an independent company - Kyocera Corp bought them out in the late 1990s. And today, Kyocera Mita is all about making great...printers and multifunction devices. And the parent company is all over the map - over 20% of its sales comes from ceramic products and components.

Mita isn't the only "one product company" to go away. Jake Kuramoto cites a number of tech companies that have a variety of offerings, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. One of these companies, Google, acquired a chunk of my former employer - back when I worked for Motorola, the company offered everything from AFIS to police radios to cell phones to set-top boxes. Motorola then consolidated (selling off the AFIS, dividing the radios and phones into two companies), which gave Google what it needed to expand.

The "soup to nuts" approach isn't limited to the consumer sector. Kuramoto's employer Oracle continues to expand, creating a "stack" that now goes from hardware all the way to business-specific applications.

Perhaps this is all a reflection of the economy - some companies are selling out because they can't make it alone, and other companies are buying them up as a defensive move. Of course, Motorola chose to break up rather than expand because of the economy, so the argument doesn't always hold.

So, where will we be five years from now? Will we have a number of companies providing everything to everyone, or will we have a myriad of specialty firms?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More on the real CSI - there aren't even resources to solve the notorious cases

Here's an oversimplification of the CSI effect - based upon television shows, jurors expect that police departments submit every case to every forensic method, and get the results immediately. Want to catch a jaywalker? Go to the street pole that the jaywalker leaned on, then dust for fingerprints and get DNA analysis and examine fibers and send the webcam results through facial recognition. Within 30 minutes.

Obviously this is unrealistic. Government agencies are always cash-strapped, and agencies need to concentrate their resources on the most serious cases.

Just to cite an example, most of us have probably heard of Ted Bundy, who was convicted of three murders. Bundy's case was so notorious that Mark Harmon portrayed Bundy in a 1986 TV movie.

Now it turns out that Bundy is suspected of committing other murders, so the real-life CSIs have added Bundy's DNA to the FBI's CODIS DNA database, in hopes of finding other victims of Bundy.

When was Bundy's DNA added to CODIS? Just recently.

If it takes a quarter century to add Ted Bundy's DNA to a database, don't expect your assailant's DNA to be added to a database any time soon.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The job mismatch

In the United States, and in many other societies, preparation for employment is usually not managed by the employers. Our education system is generally managed by a number of state and local governments, with some Federal participation and numerous non-government alternatives at all levels (for example, I received my undergraduate degree from a private institution, Reed College).

In theory, the educational sector should prepare people for employment in the employment sector. However, this is an extremely difficult task. There's no 1-2-3 method to prepare someone for work as a proposal writer, or even in an assembly line job. The educational sector can take you up to a certain level, but then the employer needs to provide some level of on-the-job training. This is true for any position - I bet that when Leo Apotheker reported for his first day of work at Hewlett-Packard, he received some extensive on-the-job training in the HP way (presumably, considering the circumstances of his predecessor's resignation, including some training on sexual harrassment).

But society is not perfect, as this story demonstrates:

Bill Begal says he has spent almost $2,000 since March on help-wanted ads in newspapers, websites and state employment services up and down the East Coast to find sales and administrative staff for his Rockville, Md.-based disaster-cleanup company.

"I want people to come out and work for me," said Begal, 42, whose teams responded to hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, which struck New Orleans and Florida in 2005. "Where are they? I just don't see it."...

Begal, founder of Begal Enterprises Inc., is among a half dozen entrepreneurs who said during interviews that they are having a hard time landing new employees in the Washington, D.C., area....

Some candidates lack the "right set of skills"; others fail to meet the "most basic of qualifications," such as proper spelling on their applications, the business owners said.

[Screen shot from Cityville. Zynga must have the same problem.]

More here.

From the point of view of the employers, it's the education system that's at fault here. The education system should be producing people who can spell, with the right set of skills, at no cost to the employers. Regarding poor spelling, employers may have a point.

Concentrating on the "right set of skills" issue, however, this is difficult to achieve. Let's say that the 2011 job market demands people who can work in the disaster recovery industry. Assuming that this need can be met solely by retooling colleges (with no need to retool secondary school curriculum), qualified applicants could be produced by the educational system by 2015. By that time, however, the job market may be completely different.

So is there a solution to this? If there is, what is the solution?

Monday, August 22, 2011

(empo-plaaybizz) If a company were run like a Zynga game

As I walked into the conference room, a woman rose to greet me.

"You must be John Bredehoft," she said.

I replied. "And you must be Ms. Johnson."

"Please," she said. "Call me Amelia. We're all on a first name basis here. Welcome to your first day at NewCorp."

"Thank you, Amelia," I replied. "I'm ready to get started."

"OK," Amelia said. "We'll start you in one of our groups. Would you like to start in telemarketing?"

I tried to conceal my disappointment. "Hmm, telemarketing. What options are available?"

"Numerous options," replied Amelia, smiling. "You can also start in finance, marketing, engineering, purchasing...the list is endless."

I thought for a moment. "Could I start in finance?"

"Certainly," replied Amelia. "Right this way."

We walked down several halls, then entered a room in which a bunch of people were sitting at banks of phones.

After a moment, I said, "This looks like telemarketing."

"Actually, it's finance," replied Amelia. "Getting our customers to FINANCE our continued profitability." She let this sink in. "You see, at NewCorp, our chief business is business. We need our customers to purchase products from us, and therefore we must constantly contact our customers and give them opportunities to purchase things from us." She walked toward a desk in the back. "You'll be based right here. Any questions?"

"I have one," I replied. "No one has ever told me the specific duties of my job. Do I have one or two goals that I should fulfill?"

"Good question," replied Amelia. "NewCorp believes that goals are important, and we constantly give our employees goals to strive for. Now if you look at the left side of your computer screen right here, you can see that you already have one goal that you need to meet. As you progress in your employment, you will be provided with additional goals. For example..." Amelia said as she gestured at another computer "...Joe here has been with NewCorp for two weeks already. As you can see, Joe has so many goals that they don't all fit on the left side of the screen any more. But if you click on this icon at the bottom, you can see that Joe has many additional goals that he needs to meet. NewCorp clearly believes in the importance of goals, and we try to give our employees as many goals as possible."

While Amelia was talking, I was keeping an eye on Joe. He was furiously contacting customers by clicking at icons on his screen. When customers replied positively, "Task Achieved!" messages would appear next to the goals on his left. Joe could then choose to share his accomplishments with other employees, and the other employees could then click on his accomplishment notices and use them to achieve their own goals.

I need to befriend Joe, I thought to myself; that should help me advance...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why I don't understand the stock market, part 51 and falling

Public companies are financially, legally, and morally mandated to make money for their stockholders. (OK, some people might say "immorally," but I'm an heir to the Protestant tradition.)

Public companies are also required to disclose certain material facts.

One leading public company, Hewlett-Packard, recently disclosed such a material fact during my two-day vacation:

HP today announced that its board of directors has authorized the evaluation of strategic alternatives for its Personal Systems Group (PSG), including the exploration of the separation of its PC business into a separate company through a spin-off or other transaction.

PSG has a proud history of innovation and technological leadership as well as a strong operating track record and industry-leading profitability. PSG is the leading manufacturer of personal computers in the world and had annual revenues of approximately $41 billion in fiscal year 2010. PSG enjoys leading global market positions in consumer and commercial PCs.

HP is implementing a plan to fundamentally transform the company. An important component of the plan is focusing its investments, resources and management attention to drive higher value solutions to enterprise, small and midsize business and public sector customers. HP believes that the exploration of alternatives for PSG will help the company accomplish its strategic goals and pursue profitable growth and enhanced shareholder value. A post-transaction HP would continue to help its customers manage the information explosion and address their most critical needs through a portfolio that spans printing, software, services, servers, storage and networking.

Or, to put it briefly, HP wants higher margins, and jettisoning the consumer hardware group helps it achieve higher margins.

Later in the release, the following statement appears:

HP management, together with its financial and legal advisers, will explore strategic alternatives, including the exploration of the separation of its PC business into a separate company through a spin-off or other transaction that would likely be tax free to U.S. shareholders. HP expects that the process could be completed within approximately 12-18 months.

This isn't surprising. How many years elapsed between the time that Motorola announced its "strategic alternatives" and the time that Google purchased Motorola Mobility?

So upon this news, how did the market react?

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) shares plummeted more than 20% Friday to $23.54 after the tech company and Dow component announced a complete corporate restructuring late Thursday. HP said it plans to spin off its computer business, which it acquired after a $25 billion merger with Compaq.

The odd part about this is that presumably if HP had announced that it was RETAINED its low-revenue consumer PC business, the stock would NOT have dropped significantly.

Granted that the drop isn't entirely due to the spinoff announcement - HP missed revenue targets, and it spent $11 billion buying a software company - but I fail to see the logic here.

Did the market expect that HP would announce that it's spinning off the personal computing business, and that it had already lined up Lenovo or whoever as a buyer? No, in that case HP would have been sued by people claiming that HP should have waited 12-18 months to find a better offer.

The lunacy continues...

P.S. Oddly enough, while HP is shifting from hardware to software, Steven Hodson reports that Microsoft may be moving in the other direction.

Assimilate in your company

I recently read a reference to "training and assimilation" in a document that was not written by a native English speaker. When I first saw the word "assimilation," I immediately thought of the Borg from the Star Trek universe.

However, it turns out that assimilation can be used in a business context. Here's an example:

VOLARO is highly experienced in assimilating enterprise information systems such as ERP - SAP, Billing & CRM systems, which require in-depth understanding of large scale organizational IT Systems. VOALRO experts study the specific customer's software creating a comprehensive assimilation program for the software, including training material and implementation plans.

Microsoft's Encarta dictionary illuminates the meaning:

learning process: the integration of new knowledge or information with what is already known

Of course, the term "assimilation" can also be used in a religious context.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Self bag tagging, and a bit of airline humor

The Airport Consultants Council is hosting a webinar later this month on self bag tagging.

The process of passengers self tagging their checked baggage is growing in European airports, and there is great interest in when this process will be available in the United States.

But I had to laugh when I read the beginning of the next sentence:

While there are a few pilots underway in the U.S....

Pilots? So, when are these pilots going to take off? Will self bag tagging result in additional cabin pressure? Will there be turbulence?

Be sure to tip your waitresses, I'll be back in this comedy club in September.

Seriously, the webinar is scheduled for August 23 and September 16, should you have an interest in the topic. And yes, the TSA will participate in the webinar, since there are obviously security concerns about the practice.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Change requires patience

All of us hate change.

Even those people who supposedly thrive on change hate change. If you don't believe me, go up to an early adopter, yank all of his/her technology away, and provide technology from a competing platform. If the early adopter is an Android fanatic, give him/her a Windows Mobile phone. If the early adopter has every Chrome tweak imaginable, provide Safari instead. Or better yet, replace their notebook with...a notebook - the pen and paper kind. You will hear howls that you didn't think were humanly possible.

Even when change is a win-win situation, we hate it. Change is disruptive; change temporarily makes it harder for us to do things; and, most importantly, change may result in a temporary or permanent loss of power.

That's the situation encountered by Application Advocate:

I started a new position at a media giant in New York City. I was given the responsibility to lead and manage the effort to replace a financial mainframe app, which had been around for 35 years. My only resources were the business users who used the app. There was one person who used to head that group who had resisted the creation of a new app that he'd never wanted.

The first time I met that guy, his first words were "There were many attempts in the past for this effort, and no one was successful. What makes you think you could do this now? I am always busy and will not be able to spend any time with you showing the app or the process here."

The story was related in a column by "Emily Postal," and the name was chosen carefully, because Application Advocate was in danger of "going postal" over the actions and inactions of this department head.

A.A. took many steps to bring this department head around. While patience was "the key factor in handling this person," other steps were needed.

No matter what his response was, I'd explain how a new application would make his life much easier and would make daily operations more efficient by reducing manual efforts. I presented a lot of prototype demos for him. Those things started making him enthusiastic about the new application. He began asking questions and requesting specifics. This initiated a better professional relationship between us.

Even after the successful rollout, this department head wasn't completely happy.

The unwilling head was still uncomfortable with the new system and its high amount of automation. He was a little upset that many things that he had kept locked in his mind were now in the system; he felt that he'd lost his key importance to the company.

But by that time, with a successful project, the department head's influence had waned:

But he couldn't really complain, because the system (and the financial investment) worked. He had no other option but to accept the new application....

[W]hat made me really happy were the success of the project and the satisfaction of upper management.

But upper management would never have gotten the chance to express their satisfaction if the department manager had continued to refuse to cooperate.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

OK, I found a GOOD use of the IRM acronym

There are certain people who are good to read if you need a reality check. One is Loren Feldman. The other is Steven Hodson. Both are welcome antidotes to some things that pass for wisdom, especially in the world of technology.

Hodson, for example, has a low tolerance for people who speak of the social media world as if it consists of entirely new and revolutionary and magical things that never existed before.

Take Hodson's recent Shooting at Bubbles post that quoted from Appinions. The Appinions post, written on August 10, urges everyone to become familiar with the acronym IRM. And it does so in an oh-so-breathless sort of way.

[IRM] stands for influencer relationship management, and make no mistake, it’s a term that will grow in popularity. In fact, as we become a world more reliant on digital convergence and communication, IRM will be the word on the tip of every brand, agency and organization’s tongue.

This is such a revelation because people are not only buying into the value of influencers but the value of building mutually-beneficial relationships with them.

But this was the clincher.

It won’t be long until we see IRM experts and specialists pop up, just like we saw the advent of social media experts.

General rule of thumb - if you have to refer to yourself as a social media expert, you probably aren't one. And Hodson was particularly dismissive about the breathless tone.

Now I don't have a problem per se with IRM, but I prefer to refer to it as common sense. If you want an influencer to work for you instead of against you, do the right things and don't do anything stupid. (For example, if you want to influence Steven Hodson himself, don't ask him for his zip code. Since Hodson is Canadian, he doesn't have a zip code.)

And if you're going to share the concept of influencer relationship management, it helps to share something helpful.

I was looking for other people who used the term IRM to refer to influencer relationship management. It took a while, but I finally found something written by John Bell. He wrote it back in 2009. (Which suggests to me that Appinions is not necessarily on the cutting edge.) Here's part of what Bell wrote:

Social IRM is the discipline of managing relationships between influencers and brands. It's built on the principles of social media - respect, trust, and a true value exchange between brand and influencer. The goal of Social IRM is to activate genuine word of mouth online at a scale that can positively impact business.

OK, that paragraph in and of itself could just be a bunch of buzzwords strung together. But Bell goes on:

We identify influencers by looking at data that tells us how conversational they are, how many people link to them, what their affiliations are, the combined reach of their social platforms from their blog to their Facebook page and Twitter handle. Seven different criteria come together to plot them on a map of relevance and influence. We build a segmented database of these influencers. For Ford we identified over 2 hundred influencers in 6 new segments we had never spoke directly to before....

Now perhaps you aren't going to go through all that trouble and identify seven different criteria and six new segments and the like. But the principle is the same no matter what you do. You need to identify the influencers who impact your product. You need to learn about the influencers (are they Canadian? do they respond to Twitter DMs? do they even have any interest in your product?). Once you've done this, you may end up segmenting the influencers - maybe not to the detail that Bell does, but at a bare minimum you will weed out the influencers who will not respond to your message. Then you can intelligently work on influencing the influencers.

P.S. Here's Bell's follow-up.

If you hate coffee snobs, you'll really hate what's coming next

I am old.

I am so old that I remember a time when we DIDN'T have flannel-clad yuppies ordering a triple decaf something latte hold the anchovies.

Back when I was growing up, coffee was coffee, and the most exotic thing that people would do would be to put cream and sugar in it. But by the 1990s, the art of ordering coffee and coffee drinks became incredibly complex, and most of us (myself included) have been known to get a coffee drink that was not 100% coffee.

Even the beans have become more complex. Juan Valdez is spinning his head as different coffee beans from different countries are discussed ad nauseum. And that's not counting all the "fair trade" conversation.

So, if you're one of those people who are sick of all of the coffee specialization...I have sad news for you. You see, the next trend - and this is in the United States of America, mind you - is tea shops.

Matcha. Sencha. Rooibos. Oolong.

In the Inland region and around the country, consumers are adding new words to their vocabularies as they explore the growing world of specialty teas. And entrepreneurs are offering better access through a growing number of retail shops and tea rooms....

Merkaba [a tea shop] sells more than 100 varieties of specialty or loose-leaf teas, along with crafts from around the world.

And it looks like a "Starbucks" is already emerging.

Teavana has seen explosive growth in recent years. There are about 165 stores today, and the company plans to grow to around 500 by 2015. The company generated more than $121 million from investors during its initial public offering July 28. Shares closed nearly 64 percent above the offering price in the first day of trading at $27.80.

Patrick Farrell, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based chain, said the industry is tapping into consumers' increasing interest in healthy lifestyles, and their growing appreciation for specialty items.

If this takes off, the reverberations will spread throughout the world as more established players try to latch onto the trend. Imagine a McDonalds with varieties of tea in addition to "sweet" and "unsweet."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Motorola Mobility's Mobility - is Google the Solution?

Early this morning, I read a random comment from Loic LeMeur that talked about how some phone vendors were obviously going to switch from Android to Windows Mobile. It was only a snippet, and I didn't really think about it further.

That is, until I received an email from my mom later this morning. Actually I didn't receive the email; I received a text message with the first couple of lines of the email. One of those lines was "Hope you still hold some Motorola stock!"

[DISCLOSURE: Read the next several paragraphs.]

Back when I worked for Motorola, there was only one Motorola. However, that one Motorola sold different products, and even then there were two major product lines plus some other lines. The one product line that was obvious to everyone was the phone part of the business. The other part, the one that I worked for, was the police radio part of the business. As time went on, this part expanded, and Motorola began to acquire stuff that was complementary to police radios. For example, computer aided dispatch systems were obviously complementary to police radios. And my line of business, automated fingerprint identification systems, was complementary to police radios because ... well, because ... now you see why Motorola sold our division.

After my departure, Motorola finally implemented its long-planned split, with the radio business going to a company called Motorola Solutions, and the phone business going to a company called Motorola Mobility. My former co-workers scattered between the two, with one of my co-workers working in a group that managed Android applications for Motorola Mobility's emerging line of Android phones.

Fast forward to this morning, when I belatedly learned the news that my mom was talking about, and that Loic LeMeur was obviously referencing:

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA and LIBERTYVILLE, IL – AUGUST 15, 2011 – Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Motorola Mobility Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: MMI) today announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Google will acquire Motorola Mobility for $40.00 per share in cash, or a total of about $12.5 billion, a premium of 63% to the closing price of Motorola Mobility shares on Friday, August 12, 2011. The transaction was unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies.

The acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a dedicated Android partner, will enable Google to supercharge the Android ecosystem and will enhance competition in mobile computing. Motorola Mobility will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. Google will run Motorola Mobility as a separate business.

Larry Page, CEO of Google, said, “Motorola Mobility’s total commitment to Android has created a natural fit for our two companies. Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers. I look forward to welcoming Motorolans to our family of Googlers.”

Sanjay Jha, CEO of Motorola Mobility, said, “This transaction offers significant value for Motorola Mobility’s stockholders and provides compelling new opportunities for our employees, customers, and partners around the world. We have shared a productive partnership with Google to advance the Android platform, and now through this combination we will be able to do even more to innovate and deliver outstanding mobility solutions across our mobile devices and home businesses.”

Andy Rubin, Senior Vice President of Mobile at Google, said, “We expect that this combination will enable us to break new ground for the Android ecosystem. However, our vision for Android is unchanged and Google remains firmly committed to Android as an open platform and a vibrant open source community. We will continue to work with all of our valued Android partners to develop and distribute innovative Android-powered devices.”

The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including the receipt of regulatory approvals in the US, the European Union and other jurisdictions, and the approval of Motorola Mobility’s stockholders. The transaction is expected to close by the end of 2011 or early 2012.

So what happens now? Will Google's hit-or-miss success in integrating its acquisitions result in a win here, or will Motorola Mobility drift?

And why didn't this happen several years ago? One reason was the price. As you can see above, Google paid about $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility. That wasn't what was envisioned back in 2007-2008, when Carl Icahn was pressing Motorola to sell the cell phone division off. At the time:

Investors including Carl Icahn, dismayed by the company's worsening performance, advocated for a spin-off of the phone unit for nearly a year (, 5/7/07). "I am pleased to see that Motorola is finally exploring that proposal," Icahn said in a statement. Icahn has also said he believes the cell-phone division could sell for about $20 billion, roughly the amount of the unit's annual revenue.

Of course, if Icahn had really believed that the cell phone group was worth $20 billion, he could have bought it himself. He didn't. Google did. And Icahn is pleased:

Press Release Source: Carl C. Icahn On Monday August 15, 2011, 8:43 am EDT
NEW YORK, Aug. 15, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Motorola Mobility Holdings, Inc. today announced that Google Inc. and Motorola Mobility have entered into an agreement under which Google will acquire Motorola Mobility for $40.00 per share in cash, a premium of 63% to the closing price of Motorola Mobility shares on August 12, 2011. Carl. C. Icahn commented:

This is a great outcome for ALL shareholders of Motorola Mobility, especially in light of today's markets. In the past three years we have fought long and hard to separate Motorola Mobility from Motorola Solutions, as well as bring Sanjay Jha., as co-CEO.

Additionally, we have been strong proponents of the company exploring multiple ways to enhance the value of its patent portfolio. Motorola is activism at its best and we applaud management and the Board for acting so responsibly.

Now we just need to see where Sanjay Jha ends up. Presumably he'll settle in at Google's patents division, since he's expressed an interest in this topic:

During its Q2 earnings conference call Motorola hinted that it is ready to join Android patent racket, and start demanding licensing fees for its IP from other Android manufacturers.

This week Motorola’s CEO Sanjay Jha reiterated this message, and made it even more clear – they do indeed have plans to start collecting IP royalties from other Android makers.

However, if Loic LeMeur is right and other companies switch away from Android to more "open" phone environments (Microsoft?) rather than the "closed" environment in which Google makes its own phones, there might not be many royalties to connect.

If Huell Howser were an early adopter

I'm sure that most people in southern California have heard of Huell Howser, the chronicler of things traditional. Howser approaches his topics with a "Gee whiz! This is amazing!" attitude. If you haven't seen Howser, here's a sample:

Now Howser has traditionally looked at traditional things, such as diners, but what would happen if he applied his sense of wonder to the 2.0 world?


It's called Zynga.


From my dog.


Well, why don't we just show you? Let's step over here to this laptop, and if you take a look at the screen, you can see a farm.


That's a laptop, Huell.




Yes. And here's how you harvest your crops...and here's how you plant new crops.

THAT'S AMAZING! SO CAN I EAT THAT EAR OF CORN RIGHT THERE?, you can't. But you can sell it and get virtual money.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

(empo-fioy) Seppo Paju - Finland's next sports hero

I have blogged about Finnish sports figures (primarily figure skaters) in the past, but I have not yet blogged about the person who will become Finland's next sports hero - Seppo Paju.

Paju, who is all of 16 years old, made the news in the United States in a recent sports competition.

Paju's sport? Disc golf.

The competition? The Pro Disc Gold World Championships, recently held in Santa Cruz, California. Those who have heard of Santa Cruz will not be surprised that a "disc golf" championship was held there.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on Paju's triumph, and his massive monetary winnings.

In a distance exhibition event that was part of the Pro Disc Golf World Championships, competitors flung discs off the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf toward a basket 360 feet away on Main Beach for a cash prize.

And Paju's second throw was right on the money....

Competitors were given three chances in 90 seconds each to make an ace. Their first throws had the potential to net $5,000, and the second and third opportunities were for $500.

So Paju qualified for the $500. Now that's $500 in U.S. money, which is probably something like €20 at the moment. But it's still something - if Paju were an American, he'd probably lose his amateur status over it.

But that doesn't matter, because Paju is a member of the PROFESSIONAL Disc Gold Association. He has had a relatively good 2011, placing 8th in the European Open. Total winnings for the year (as of July 24) were over $3,000 (again, that's presumably something like €120).

And yes, I kid about the exchange rate. The Euro itself has had its share of troubles. I just wanted the opportunity to type the Euro symbol (€), now that I've reset my keyboards to recognize the "U.S. International layout"; this allows me to type all sorts of non-English symbols. I feel distinctly non-"ugly American" at the moment.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Brian Hogan, Sage Wallower, Steve Jobs. Guess which one made the headlines.

In July 2010, I wrote a post entitled On a Bruised Apple that contained this comment:

But whether you're talking about Apple's reaction to the iPhone 4 antenna discussion, or Steve Jobs' attitude toward porn, or the merits and demerits of the Gizmodo police raid, it's clear that an image of Apple is emerging in some quarters...and it's not a pretty image.

Note the one phrase "the merits and demerits of the Gizmodo police raid." That is all of the time that I spent on Gizmodogate, or whatever you want to call it.

Luckily for history, CNET covered it in a little more detail:

The story began in March, when Gray Powell, a 27-year-old Apple computer engineer, forgot what may be a 4G iPhone phone at a German beer garden in Redwood City, Calif., after a night of drinking. With the help of friends, [Brian] Hogan allegedly approached multiple tech news sites before finally selling the handset to Gizmodo for $5,000.

Prosecutors in the case say they are conducting a felony theft investigation, but no charges have been filed. Feasel, the deputy district attorney, told reporters on Friday [in May 2010] that police are "still investigating," and that media organizations that commit crimes should not expect to be immune from criminal laws.

On April 23 [2010], just hours after CNET reported that Apple had contacted law enforcement officials about the phone and an investigation was under way, police showed up at Chen's home in Fremont, Calif., across the bay from San Francisco. After breaking down his door, they confiscated three Apple laptops, a Samsung digital camera, a 32GB Apple iPad, a 16GB iPhone, and other electronic gear, according to documents Gizmodo posted.

A little over a year ago, the story was huge in tech circles, since it touched a number of issues. What are the ethical limitations in pursuing a story? What are the ethical limitations in getting someone NOT to pursue a story? Where can I get a bottle of this beer that's so powerful that I leave prototypes lying around?

Time passed, and people started looking at Angry Birds or whatever. But, according to Duncan Riley's new venture Medacity, this story has reached a conclusion:

The team at tech blog Gizmodo are breathing a touch easier today with news that police will not being pursuing charges against any writers of the site over the now infamous lost iPhone 4 prototype story.

More here.

I could spin this as a defeat for Apple. After all, the entire company was pressing for a criminal investigation, and made a lot of noise about it - and in the end, no charges were filed. Paint this as a huge multinational company trying, and failing, to throw some pesky media people in prison.

But was that Apple's goal? After all, if Gizmodo people had been thrown into prison for receiving stolen property or whatever, would Apple have received good press from that? Definitely not.

I suspect that Apple's goals were more short-term - namely, to stop people from talking about the iPhone 4. Now that the iPhone 4 is announced and available, who cares about the prototype? Frankly, Apple should have gone to the police the day after iPhone 4's announcement and BEGGED them to drop the case.

But, as many of you know, government doesn't work that way. Once police and the district attorney (two separate government entities, by the way) get assigned a case, they don't really care what other people think. For example, if a person suddenly becomes reluctant to press abuse charges against someone else, the government is still going to continue its investigation. Similar thing here - the investigation began to take a life of its own, and even if Apple had purchased Gawker Media, the police probably would have continued their work.

Now we get into bureaucratic dynamics - how do you kill a project (in this instance, the case against Gizmodo)? You have some parties that want to kill the case so that they can work on more important things. You have other parties who are committed to seeing justice done, and continuing the investigation to uncover whatever wrongdoing took place.

But then there are other players. There's the guy who plays with his Android phone all day and wants to see Steve Jobs be really embarrassed. There's the woman who was passed over for a promotion and wants to get even. There's the guy who wants to conduct additional investigations at the beer garden - preferably on a daily basis.

Lesson learned? If someone like Apple wants to get someone else (the police task force) to do their dirty work for them, remember that when you surrender your power to another party, you no longer have any control over the situation. Don't believe me? Try a news search for "Apple loses go Gizmodo." Apple is getting a lot of bad press right now, and hardly anyone is looking at the REAL story here. Ironically, one outlet who IS discussing the real news is called The Escapist:

More than a year after it happened, the two men who found a mislaid iPhone 4 and sold it to Gizmodo have been formally charged....

The unit was apparently left in a bar by an Apple engineer, where it was discovered by Brian Hogan and Sage Wallower, an enterprising duo who promptly began shopping it around....

Hogan has been charged with one misdemeanor count of misappropriation of lost property, while Wallower is facing one misdemeanor charge of misappropriation of lost property and one of possession of stolen property. The pair will be arraigned later this month.

But no one cares about Brian Hogan and Sage Wallower (and to be honest, I hadn't even heard of Sage Wallower before this point). The sexy story is that Steve Jobs couldn't throw Gizmodo into the slammer.

The empire strikes back - mobile phone legalese

Just about any product that you buy is going to include some type of legal notice. Verizon's offering of the DROID Pro by MOTOROLA (my former employer) has two.

The second one is rather lengthy:




Didn't someone tell Verizon that shouting is unpopular?

But that notice wasn't judged to be the most important one. Here's the FIRST notice:

DROID is a trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd. and its related companies. Used under license.

Friday, August 12, 2011

(empo-tymshft) More on changes in portability

In our previous installment, Joe was in a coffee shop in August 1981 when he met a strange man named Zynga who talked about "why fie" and and "eye phone," looked around and realized where he was, and then was suddenly thankful that he didn't have to deal with trillion dollar deficits any more.

All of this talk was very strange to Joe, although he was beginning to suspect that the person (who wore a "Zynga" t-shirt) was from the future.

But if Joe thought that his friend Zynga was strange, things were going to get much more strange indeed.

As Zynga was singing an odd song with the lyrics "don't you want me baby," there was suddenly a brilliant flash of light, and the scene around Joe and Zynga changed completely.

They were still in the same coffee shop, but now it looked completely different. There was all sorts of coffees now with weird names...and the prices were a LOT higher. What's more, just about everybody in the coffee shop had those "net books" and "eye phones" that Zynga had. Actually, some people had "net books" with no keyboards at all.

Joe wondered if he had been transported to the future, so he began looking around for a newspaper so that he could check the date. But he couldn't find any.

Zynga was smiling, but had a look of wistfulness in his eye.

"Oh well," he said. "It would have been nice to stay there. Life was so simple back in 1981."

All of a sudden, Zynga's eye phone started playing a song with words like "sugar how you get so fly."

Zynga put the eye phone to his cheek. "Hey," he said, and it became apparent that the eye phone really was a phone. "No, I was out for a bit....You wouldn't believe....Yeah, Gail's in Finland right now....We could Skype her, but Matt's in Italy and he has the freebie version. We could try a hangout, if I can get my crappy one gig computer to support the video."

Zynga leaned over to Joe. "Watch this," he said. Then he whispered: "Oh, and by the way, don't say anything about how a black man can never become president. I'll explain later."

Joe looked at Zynga's net book, and he immediately became mesmerized. A blue and white screen appeared, and all this text appeared. Unlike a real computer, this "net book" didn't show the text in green letters on a black background.

What's more, this computer actually displayed real pictures.

"Wait til you see this," said Zynga.

Zynga then moved his finger around below the keyboard, and a "tube" page (whatever that was) appeared on the screen. After a few more wiggles of the finger, the computer actually showed a music video. Just like that brand new service MTV, although I guess if you're in the future MTV isn't new any more.

The video showed a guy dancing. The guy had an English accent. Joe had never heard the song before, but it had a catchy chorus: "never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down."

For some strange reason, Zynga was laughing uncontrollably.

"Welcome to the future," Zynga said between laughs. "We're a trillion dollars in debt, China owns us, and you've been rick rolled! But at least you can tell your five thousand closest personal friends about it."

More here.

(empo-tymshft) What if modern portability existed, or didn't exist, 30 years ago?

Joe was sitting in his favorite coffee shop, eating breakfast and reading a big, fat paper. He was looking at the sports section, reading stories about the upcoming NFL season, when he happened to notice an oddly-dressed - and odd - person in the booth next to his.

The person, who looked a little disoriented as if he were somewhere that he shouldn't be, was wearing a t-shirt that said "Zynga." His eyes were riveted on a small electronic device in front of him. The bottom of the device was a keyboard, and the top of the device was a very thin display. It was almost like a computer screen, only it was much thinner - and much smaller; Joe's trained eye estimated that the screen was a 10.1" screen, ridiculously small.

The Zynga guy was staring at the device in disbelief and muttering to himself. Joe caught him saying something like "Where's the why fie connection."

"Is something wrong?" Joe asked.

Zynga replied. "I was right in the middle of writing a reply to Loren Feldman on Google Plus when I lost my why fie." Normally this espresso bar has a pretty good connection, but now my net book isn't finding ANY why fie in the area."

Suddenly Zynga had an idea. "Duh, why didn't I think of this sooner? I'll just get my eye phone."

Joe had no idea what an eye phone was, but he watched as Zynga pulled out a device that was smaller than a calculator, and also had a dark screen on it - a very small dark screen. Whatever it was, it obviously wasn't a phone - no earpiece, no mouthpiece, not even any keys to dial a number.

"Bachmann balls!" cried Zynga in the strangest expletive that Joe had ever heard. "No connection on the eye phone either!"

"Do you need a phone?" asked Joe. He pointed to the wall. "There's a pay phone right over there, but it's a ripoff. They raised the charge from ten cents to twenty-five cents. AT&T is such a robber baron. They oughta break it up."

Zynga looked at Joe with a quizzical look. Then he glanced at Joe's paper, and slowly extended his finger toward the top of the page.

Zynga spoke slowly. "August...12...1981?!?"

Clutching his eye phone in his hand, he slowly sat down. Joe was puzzled by the stream of words that came out of Zynga's mouth.

"No eye phone, no why fie, no Google Plus. Heck, no Google. Not even A Oh El. No Mac. No hard drive on an IBM P C."

Joe had heard of the IBM P C, since it was in the news, although he had no idea why anyone would want anything like that.

Zynga continued his monologue.

"And if I want to find out what's going on in the world, I have to read THE PAPER." He shook his head.

Zynga then turned to Joe. "But there are good things about this. I don't have to worry about trillion dollar deficits, I don't have to have Tee Ess Ay people looking at my junk every time I get on a plane, and I don't have to pay a hundred bucks a month for phone service. And when I leave the house, no one can call me!"

For the first time since they had met each other, Zynga smiled. "I'm think I'm gonna like the eighties."

Zynga then began singing a strange song that Joe had never heard.

"Don't you want me baby..."

Just then...

Groupthink en masse - when the media's performance is worse than Dave Kingman's

I've lived in Los Angeles for over a quarter century, but I wasn't around in the 1970s for one of the most colorful incidents in Los Angeles sports history. Here's how the Associated Press related the story back on June 3, 2006:

Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of Lasorda’s most famous — or infamous — postgame tirade as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Since it's the AP, we'll stop right there. I quoted this particular story from NBC, but obviously a lot of people ran the AP story. And a lot of other people celebrated that 30th anniversary, including WFMU.

However, back in 2006, some people refused to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Lasorda's comments on Dave Kingman's performance. One such person was Tom Hoffarth:

Pete Weber, the former L.A. Kings colorman ('78-81) and now with the Nashville Predators, was the first to smell something wrong when he read a column on about "This Date In Baseball." He emailed us first:

"Dave Kingman DID hit three homers in a game at Chavez Ravine on June 4, 1976 as the Mets beat the Dodgers 11-0, but there is no available recording of what then-Dodgers' manager Walter Alston had to say," Weber correctly pointed out.

FOR THE RECORD: The Olden game, as we'll call it, came after Kingman his the third of his three homers in the 15th inning of a 10-8 Cubs' win at Dodger Stadium. On May 14, 1978 -- two years later. On Mother's Day....

The Diamond Fan wrote about the confusion in 2009, roughly a year after the TRUE 30th anniversary.

How did this error happen? Sloppy research. At some point someone had a copy of the tape and wanted to associate a date with it. They did some kind of perfunctory research and found the June 4, 1976 game and, without looking further or deeper into the matter, assumed that this was the date for the famous interview. Once that date got associated with the recording, everyone else (including a lot of people who should have known better) just accepted it without question and without looking into it on their own, even though it would have been very easy to find the discrepancies with a little bit of research. Both Lasorda and the reporter (Paul Olden) were interviewed in the media coverage of the anniversary and neither of them questioned the date either.

Actually, according to Hoffarth, Olden was one of those who pointed out the incorrect date.

But Lasorda WAS interviewed in the AP article. How could he have gotten it wrong? It's quite possible that Lasorda didn't know that the article was talking about the 30th anniversary of the event. And even if Lasorda did know the purpose of the article, memories sometimes slip - Lasorda was in his late seventies in 2006.

All of this goes to show that even when you try to appeal to the original sources for information, you may STILL get the wrong information.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

(empo-fioy) Broadband? NOW! An update to Finland's "legal right" to fast broadband

In October 2009, I wrote a post detailing Finland's plans to make 1 Mbps broadband a "legal right." Subsequent to my post, Point Topic described exactly what that meant:

In December 2008, Finland committed to meeting a universal service obligation of 1 Mbps broadband throughout the country at a "reasonable price" without public funding by the end of 2010. In October 2009, the country adopted a law obliging telecom operators to provide all Finnish residents with broadband connections with at least 1 Mbps, effectively becoming the first country in the world to make broadband access a legal right. The obligation came into force on 1 July 2010....

But that is just the start:

Finnish government is committed, as part of the “Broadband 2015” project, to providing 100 Mbps access to 99 per cent of the population by 2015. The aim of this project is to ensure that end users are no further than 2 km from a 100 Mbps fibre or cable network.

So how are things progressing?

According to data from 2010, 95 per cent of all Finnish counties are connected to fibre. This represents 99 per cent of the population. Over 50 per cent of the counties have more than one fibre network provider.

However, private industry is already exceeding present and future government mandates:

DNA claims to have the largest number of TV channels in Finland, nearly 160 in total, including 18 HD channels, a combination of which can be chosen under the new Mix HD offering.

As part of the fixed network upgrade, the maximum speed of the broadband connections is 200 Mbps thanks to DOCSIS 3.0 technology, while entry-level speeds are now 10 Mbps.

Incidentally, that text was quoted from a site called CSI, and it talks about a company called DNA. If you've read my blog before, you won't be surprised to know that I'm confused at this point. If you take those acronyms at face value, you have to eyeball them for a while before you can put your finger on what they really mean.

Now let's watch as the early adopters flee Google+ because of the G-word

Back on July 1, Robert Scoble wrote a post entitled Why yo momma won’t use Google+ (and why that thrills me to no end). While he received some grief about his use of the word "momma," the main point of Scoble's post needs to be examined a little more closely:

So, what is Google+ for then?

It’s for us!

Come on now, we geeks and early adopters and social media gurus need a place to talk free of folks who think Justin Bieber is the second coming of Christ. That’s what we have in Google+ right now. Do we really want to mess that up?

Plus, let’s just be honest here. There are pieces of Google+ that are mighty geeky.

On that same day, I wrote a response post that made a few points:
  • Most Google+ users are not Google's customers. Google's advertisers are Google's customers.

  • For Google's customers to be happy, Google+ needs to attract a lot of eyeballs to Google ads.

As I said in my post:

Expect Google to incrementally add features to Google+ that will draw more eyeballs to Google. That's how Google will keep its true customers happy.

Well, Google+ has just announced a new feature - one that will not please Facebook-haters.

Are you ready for games?

Today we’re adding games to Google+. With the Google+ project, we want to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to the web. But sharing is about more than just conversations. The experiences we have together are just as important to our relationships. We want to make playing games online just as fun, and just as meaningful, as playing in real life.

That means giving you control over when you see games, how you play them and with whom you share your experiences. Games in Google+ are there when you want them and gone when you don’t.

I first learned about this from my Google+ stream. I didn't see the announcement itself; I saw all of the negative reaction to the announcement.

Things along the lines of "if you invite me to games, I will block you." And "this is the end of Google+."

Please remember that Google has a fiduciary duty to make money, and Google isn't going to make money off a a million people that hate advertisements. They're going to make money off hundreds of millions of people who don't mind advertisements if it funds content that is compelling to them.

And if you're horrified by this change and are ready to quit Google+ right now (if you haven't already quit due to the haphazardly-applied real names policy), perhaps you can go and join The WELL.

Which, incidentally, is now "a community."

And doesn't allow members to be anonymous.

(empo-tuulwey) David Wagner sounds a hypocrisy alert

In a piece for Enterprise Efficiency entitled Don't Blame the Tool, David Wagner takes politicians to task for praising technology as a tool of freedom in one instance (the so-called "Arab Spring") and as a tool of terrorism in another instance (the London riots). Excerpt:

Governments and corporations have sent experts with information to help dissidents keep access to these tools, even when governments have blacked out the Internet in their country, killing their economy to try to keep their power. We’ve sat here smugly believing that a few social networking tools would be the answer to freedom and an end to long-term enemies.

But when the unrest turns on the UK, they are quick to blame the very tools they praised in the hands of others. When someone had the gall to question their power, social networking went from a harbinger of freedom to a tool of evil.

More here.

Also see my Monday post on the topic.

The March 11 bill from the Outback Pizza & Nightclub in Ludlow, Vermont - real, or fake?

Paul O'Flaherty recently posted an image from Imgur/Reddit entitled My friends (sic) bar bill.


The person who posted the bar bill took great care to delete certain information from the image. The bar name at the top of the image was whited out, as was the state in which the bar was located. However, the person failed to delete the phone number, 8022286600, which made it a trivial task to locate the Outback Pizza & Nightclub in Ludlow, Vermont (Facebook page here).

So, was the $2 "farting charge" on ticket #79 on 3/11/2011 9:15:36 PM legit, or did someone doctor up the ticket before posting the image?

However, this is not the first time that the words "farting" and "Ludlow" have been associated. Let's go back to 1607:

In 1607, Henry Ludlow farted in Parliament during a debate about the naturalization of the Scots. This may have been an accident – his father Sir Edward Ludlow was renowned for having farted in a committee meeting – but the House fell about and Ludlow’s farting Nay-vote passed into folklore.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Puzzling comment grammar in the HOA management industry

In August 2010, I wrote a post in my Empoprise-MU music blog entitled Real estate agent from the stars. The reason that this post appeared in my music blog (rather than my business blog) was because it talked about real estate agent Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford. Note the name "Wilson," which is connected with two prominent musical groups.

Anyway, I received an email notification today that someone had commented on the post. A year after I wrote it.

The email included a portion of the comment - enough to ring warning bells in my head.

As one of the arch absolute acreage professionals on the Westside, she artlessly never compromises if it comes to allowance her audience accomplish their goals.

Whenever I see a comment with such poor grammar/usage, my first thought is that the comment includes a link content. So I immediately went to the comment itself to see if there was a link.

And there was a link - for a property management information website, HOA In the context of the post, this comment is entirely APPROPRIATE content. Wilson-Rutherford is a real estate agent, and HOA Management deals in that arena.

However, I did visit the site, just to make sure that it was what it claimed to be. I went to the About Us page:

HOA MANAGEMENT .COM is easy to find, easy to navigate, and an astounding leap forward for anyone involved in the COA (Condominium Owner Association), POA (Property Owners Association), or HOA (Homeowner Association) industry. This large group of individuals includes: Board Members, Committee Members, Management Companies, Service Providers, and Contractors - all of whom work directly with the over 300,000 planned communities in the United States. Planned communities will spend approximately $38.2 Billion dollars a year in the US on everything from management services to siding replacement. The list of industries and trades that are associated with COA/POA/HOA's is countless.

It's important to keep in mind that while many communities are professionally managed, 70% of communities are in fact self managed and vastly contribute to the $41 Billion operating revenue that is typically spent on local and regional goods and services. HOA MANAGEMENT .COM was carefully chosen and designed by some of the most competent and qualified professionals in the field.

Read the rest here.

Do you notice a difference in the quality of the writing on the website, vs. the quality of the writing in the comment on the Empoprise-MU blog?

Obviously people pay more attention (and probably pay more money) to the people who write the text for a website vs. the people who write text for promotional comments posted on blogs.

But at the end of the day, do poorly written comments reflect negatively on your corporate image, and decrease your business?

Probably not. After all, I just wrote an entire blog post about HOA Management.

But just to be fair, I'll also slip in mentions of,,, and

Moonlighting on the job? With an illegal second job?

Most employees are required during their work shifts to devote themselves to their job, and to no other job. Employers frown on someone working a second job during their shift. And if the second job is illegal...well...

Not that Melissa Redmond, a currently-suspended employee of the Dunkin Donuts in Rockaway Borough, claims that she was doing anything illegal:

"I have a lot of friends, and sometimes people I know give me money because they know I need it," she said. "I build friendships with people and sometimes those people could use a little company."

The local police have a different view. After receiving a tip, an undercover officer went to the donut shop.

Officer Scott Haigh pulled up to the drive-thru window and pretended he was new in town, looking for some fun.

"He hit on me," Redmond said. "He told me he was a softball player."

There is a dispute over what took place next. Schwarzmann said Redmond told Haigh that she was a fun girl, met him outside the store and told him what sexual services she provided at what cost.

Redmond said it was Haigh who made the first offer.

"He asked if we could hang out some time," Redmond said. She was flattered.

Haigh returned a few days later.

"He said, ‘can you take care of me real quick,’" according to Redmond.

She went outside and money changed hands. She was arrested, served a complaint and released.

"I thought he wanted to be my friend," she said. "He seemed nice."

Dunkin Donuts was asked to comment, and their comment was worded very carefully, probably after extensive legal review.

"We are aware of the situation," said Jessica Gioglio, a spokeswoman. "Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants are owned and operated by individual franchise owners who are responsible for all hiring and other employment related decisions. Upon learning of this situation, the franchise owner placed the crew member on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of the police investigation."

So, what are the chances that a lawyer representing Redmond will attempt to file a wrongful termination suit in a year or two?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Paperwork, paperwork - or why Skylar Capo may become a process improvement professional someday

Those who preach simplicity say that complexity can lead to errors. And an error certainly happened in a particular case, noted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

On June 13, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service observed a woman carrying a cage that contained a woodpecker at a home improvement store in Fredericksburg, Virginia. As possession of a bird may potentially violate the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the agent initiated an inquiry to determine whether a potential violation had occurred.

Upon speaking with Ms. Capo, on June 27, the agent determined that no further action was warranted. A citation that had been previously drafted by the agent was cancelled on June 28.

Or, as WUSA 9 told the story:

Eleven-year-old aspiring veterinarian, Skylar Capo, sprang into action the second she learned that a baby woodpecker in her Dad's backyard was about to be eaten by the family cat....

But on the drive home, the Capo family stopped at a Lowes in Fredericksburg and they brought the bird inside because of the heat. That's when they were confronted by a fellow shopper who said she worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service....

The problem was that the woodpecker is a protected species under the Federal Migratory Bird Act. Therefore, it is illegal to take or transport a baby woodpecker. The Capo family says they had no idea....

So as soon as the Capo family returned home, they say they opened the cage, the bird flew away, and they reported it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"They said that's great, that's exactly what we want to see," said Capo.

And, as mentioned above, the Fish & Wildlife Service cancelled the citation that was drafted. Only one problem - for some reason, the cancellation didn't go through. WUSA 9 describes what happened next:

But roughly two weeks later, that same woman from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed up at Capo's front door. This time, Capo says the woman was accompanied by a state trooper. Capo refused to accept a citation, but was later mailed a notice to appear in U.S. District Court for unlawfully taking a migratory bird. She's also been slapped with a $535 fine.

The media got a hold of the story, prominently mentioning the 11 year old girl, which put the Virginia State Police in an uncomfortable situation.

"We have confirmed that the US Fish and Wildlife agent requested our presence when they served their federal summons. The trooper stood on the porch and said nothing. We had nothing to do with the charge."

In its statement, the Fish & Wildlife Service explained what happened:

Unfortunately, the citation was processed unintentionally through an automated system despite our office’s request to cancel the ticket. The Service has contacted Ms. Capo to express our regret. The Service is also sending Ms. Capo a formal letter explaining the clerical error and confirming that ticket should never have been issued. The ticket is null and void.

But how did all of this affect Skylar Capo? Perhaps her enthusiasm about becoming a veterinarian has waned (maybe she's discovered the word "malpractice"). But at least she's been exposed to the world of process improvement, and maybe she'll find a rewarding career in that arena.