Friday, September 30, 2011

The empty symbolism of the one dollar annual salary


It's happened again.

We have another chief executive officer - this time, HP's new CEO Meg Whitman - who has accepted a one dollar annual salary.

And not a penny more - except, of course, for all of the stock options that she was granted as part of the deal.

On one hand, I can appreciate the sentiment. The CEO's job is tied to the performance of the company, and what better way to do so than to tie compensation to the stock price? The theory, of course, is that if the stock does well, the CEO gets a lot of money. If the stock doesn't do well, then - at least theoretically - the CEO has to split up that dollar so that it lasts the entire year. ("Don't buy that bubble gum! You'll blow your monthly budget!")

Of course, it never works out that way. Just ask HP's predecessor, Léo Apotheker. The guy was kicked to the curb, and the company spoke poorly of him after he left. And he got a severance package of $13 million. Now that's nothing like the $140 million that Michael Ovitz got when he left Disney, but it's a pretty good chunk of change nonetheless.

And Apotheker's severance package was, according to experts, par for the course:

Experts said Mr. Apotheker had what amounts these days to a fairly standard termination agreement for a chief executive. In the event he was terminated for “cause,” his contract, a summary of which HP filed as an exhibit to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, provided a cash payment of twice his base pay (of $1.2 million, or $2.4 million); his earned but unpaid bonus (his “target” bonus was $2.4 million per year); any accrued but unused vacation — and “no further compensation.” That would add up to a maximum of about $4.8 million. But he wasn’t fired for cause.

(And it doesn't seem that Mark Hurd was fired for cause, either. Neither was Carly Fiorina, my prediction for the next CEO at eBay.)

Of course, in most cases when a company is looking for a CEO, the company is desperate to get one. (That certainly applies to the last three CEO searches conducted by HP.) And when you're desperate, you don't necessarily attract people by saying "By the way, if you leave, you WON'T get millions of dollars to walk out the door."

So despite today's momentary outrage, don't expect any changes in executive compensation any time soon.

Things managers should not say

The Riverside Press-Enterprise recently published a reminder of five things managers should not say. Basically, the advice suggests that people should tread carefully, since even certain innocuous comments could result in major corporate trouble.

Here are two of the things that managers should not say:

You look nice in that outfit.

What are you doing this weekend?

Read the other three, and the reasons not to say these things, here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

To infinity and your browser!

I got involved in a Google+ discussion about infinite scrolling in Google+. For those not familiar with the term "infinite scrolling," here's a definition:

By definition, infinite scroll, means that there are no pages to switch to and from, everything is in one long page.

The concept has been adapted by many sites that feature a content stream, such as the news feeds in Facebook or Twitter, or, indeed, search results.

In its favor, infinite scrolling (usually) reduces clicks, since the additional information appears without you having to do anything except scroll downwards.

However, some people (including Patricia, the person who initiated the Google+ thread cited above) would rather have a finite thread, thank you very much. Or, at a minimum, the option to choose whether you have an infinite thread or a finite thread.

Such discussions occur all the time, especially (as Patricia noted) for free services where we aren't paying anything to use them. Whether you're talking about infinite scrolling, real-time feeds, ads, automatic sharing of information, or what have you, there are people who want the option to turn "feature X" off.

But, in truth, the majority of people couldn't care less. "If [service] wants to turn [feature X] on and not allow me to turn it off, fine. Just as long as they don't implement that monthly user fee that all my friends are talking about."

More techie people usually understand this attitude, even if they personally don't agree with it. But the more elitist of the techie people can't stand it.

What the elitists forget, however, is that the vast majority of people don't want an infinite "settings" page in which you can customize a service to your specific likings. While Facebook has implemented detailed settings in response to critics, I wouldn't be surprised if 95% of all Facebook users have never touched those settings. If they wanted to spend time setting every thing imaginable, then they'd go ahead and get a computer science degree instead of having a real life (or, in the case of games addicts, a virtual life).

Call it the anti-MySpace, but it seems that a lot of services are moving toward more standard offerings. such as Stumbleupon's future black and white pages. Or a device (take your pick) that only lets you buy applications from a single source.

Are we moving toward an online world with fewer options? Or will there be a rebellion in which a large number of people (rather than just a limited few) demand a wide variety of options and settings?


Matisse Enzer's Glossary of Internet Terms in 2008 and 1994

If you go to, you can see a "Glossary of Internet Terms" assembled by Matisse Enzer. The version that I read online today was last updated on December 25, 2008.

However, I was going through an old notebook and found a hardcopy verison of this glossary from 1994.

Times have definitely changed.

Back in 1994, Enzer included a definition for a "56K Line," an "Ethernet" that could handle "about 10,000,000 bits-per-second," and a "T-1" line that "is still not fast enough for full-screen, full-motion video." The "Bandwidth" definition notes that "Full-motion full-screen video would require roughly 10,000,000 bits-per-second" (emphasis mine); at the time Enzer hadn't experienced full-motion video.

Well, the 2008 version doesn't even include a "56K Line" definition any more, and the "Ethernet" definition has been updated to mention 100-BaseT.

The 1994 edition mentioned things such as the WELL (Enzer worked for the WELL at the time) and the Mosaic browser. The entry for "BBS" notes that "the line between a BBS and a system like CompuServe gets crossed at some point."

The 2008 edition includes terms that Enzer may not have even conceived of in 1994, such as Applet, Blog (Weblog), Broadband, Cookie, IPv6, and other terms. The 1994 edition didn't define anything beyond a megabyte, while the 2008 edition includes gigabyte and terabyte. (No petabyte, though.)

And there's one item in the 2008 version that wasn't seen in the 1994 edition, even though it clearly existed in the 20th century:

CATP -- (Caffeine Access Transport Protocol)
Common method of moving caffeine across Wide Area Networks such as the Internet
CATP was first used at the Binary Cafe in Cybertown and quickly spread world-wide.

There are reported problems with short-circuits and rust and decaffinated beverages were not supported until version 1.5.3

Despite all of these changes, there is a lot of commonality between the 1994 and 2008 editions. Despite some changes (such as IPv6), much of the backbone of the Internet spans the entire fourteen-year period, and in fact in some instances goes back to the decades before 1994. And the 2008 edition continues to mention some technologies that are no longer used much if at all, such as Archie, BITNET, and Finger.

I'm sure that Enzer's glossary has helped many over the years, and I hope that he continues to maintain it for years to come, so that people can learn what a sortabyte is.

Going for the mass market

Another goodie from way back in my reader feeds. This August post from Everything, Everywhere talks about some recent changes to the Travel Chanel. Excerpt:

Outside of Anthony Bourdain, who is really a food guy when you get right down to it, Travel Channel basically has nothing to do with travel anymore....

What I don’t get is that the lesson they [the Travel Channel] seem to have taken from No Reservations is to create more food shows, not more shows showing interesting people traveling. Travel being the raison d’être for the entire network of course.

After listing the various non-travel shows on the Travel Channel today, Gary Arndt proceeds to look at what the Travel Channel is doing with online properties.

Several years ago they purchased which is one of the best travel writing sites on the internet. What did they do with this amazing asset? Did they integrate it into their website or promote it on TV? Nope. They basically killed it and currently the founders of World Hum are trying to keep it afloat without any real assistance from the part of the Travel Channel.

So much for synergy. Arndt's conclusion:

The travel channel is now just another cable channel that just happens to have Anthony Borudain....If they can’t get back to their travel roots then they should be upfront and honest about it and just change their name to the Paranormal Food Network.

Or maybe they'll just change their name to TC. A lot of cable and satellite channels end up changing their name when they change their focus. Case in point:

Looking for Court TV's shows based on exciting, real-life stories? Go to

In a way, this makes sense. Back when Court TV was founded in 1991, you had interest in court cases such as the Menendez brothers and O. J. Simpson. But presumably the audience for these cases declined, or people preferred to watch Nancy Grace instead, so Court TV became truTV and expanded its programming.

The one problem, as Arndt notes, is that eventually all of the channels look the same as they all chase the next big trend. Eventually every cable channel will have its own Kardashian sister (and Wayans brother), at least until the next big thing comes.

I'm seeing the same thing in gaming. You'd thing that if you wanted to farm, you'd go to Zynga's FarmVille game, and if you wanted to build cities, you'd go to CityVille. Well, I don't play FarmVille, but I still do a lot of farming. And for all I know you can probably build cities in FarmVille.

And can anyone tell me the major differences between smartphones today? They all have apps, and you go to an app store to buy them. And they probably all have Angry Birds, and your Facebook app, and your Twitter app, and what have you.

Sounds like the mall that I visited in Pentagon City several years ago, that had pretty much the same stores as our malls here in California. (The audioblogs, which have since disappeared, consisted of me reading the names of the stores. They'll sound familiar to everyone in the USA, and probably in Canada and Europe also.)

Now certainly there are arguments for going for the general audience - my business blog is more popular than my Inland Empire and NTN Buzztime blogs (although there are other reasons for this). But sometimes it's nice to go on the path less traveled.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Changing the rules to get the sale

Companies often try to change the rules in their favor to get the sale.

Decades ago, I was involved in a car accident that was the fault of the other person. That person's insurance company required me to get two estimates for the work that needed to be done. I walked into one repair shop, and was greeted by big signs that pretty much said, "You don't need to get two estimates! Give us the job and we'll work things out with the insurance company!" The person that greeted me was equally hard sell - so hard sell that I walked out.

High Probability Selling tells a story with a happier ending. A customer had set up a six person task force, and the vendor asked to set up a meeting with the decision maker. The vendor arrived at the meeting with the decision maker, and got a surprise:

When we arrived, we were unexpectedly shown into a conference room next to the VP's office where all of the members of the team were waiting for us. On one wall there was a 5'X 8' white board which was being used as a decision matrix. It had the names of our leading competitors on the left, with the model numbers of their equipment and their specifications. Our company was listed on the left side at the bottom of the chart - we were the last one in - and there was room for our equipment and specifications to be listed. Across the top of the chart, a physical or performance specification and a "Factor of Importance" rating number headed each column for that spec. They asked us for the specifications of each model of machine we had....

For those who don't know, this is clearly NOT high probability selling.

So what did the vendor do?

I said that we understood we were to meet with the VP to discuss their plans and we weren't prepared to provide all of the machine specifications they required at this meeting. I said that we wanted to meet with each of them separately and learn what their most important concerns were, and that we would follow up with all of our physical and performance specifications within a few days. They agreed to meet with us separately, for about 40 minutes each.

The vendor did as promised, meeting with the task force members and THEN providing the data. And guess what?

[W]e noticed that our machines had the highest ratings on their decision matrix. We also noticed that the Factors of Importance rating numbers for the physical and performance specifications had been changed to favor our machines.

The customer then proceeded to make the "rational" decision to buy machines from that vendor.

No, this is not necessarily logical. But as Jake Kuramoto says, inconsistency rules, deal with it. (Kuramoto's example concerns open source advocates who own iPhones. See his 2008 post on the topic.)

Red Sox and other fans, games (and seasons) are won or lost at the beginning, not the end

In sports, there are too many sports about teams winning or losing games in the final seconds. There is even a strong current of thinking that points scored in the final seconds, when "the game is on the line," are more important than points scored at other times. Similarly, winning the last game of the season, when "the season is on the line," supposedly proves the mettle of the team.


Take the Boston Red Sox. As I write this, the baseball team from Boston is trying to get into the post season. A month ago, Boston and Tampa Bay were something like ten games apart in the standings. But Tampa Bay has made up ground, or Boston has lost it, depending upon your way of thinking. Either way, Boston and Tampa Bay currently have identical win-loss records.

So it all boils down to tonight, or possibly tomorrow. If Boston wins and Tampa Bay loses tonight, they're in. If they lose and Tampa Bay wins tonight, they're out. If both Boston and Tampa Bay have the same result (win or lose), there will be a one-game playoff.

Now if Boston loses tonight, or loses tomorrow, there are going to be a ton of people who will loudly claim that Boston "choked" in September, when "the season is on the line."

All of these people are concentrating on Boston's performance in September.

But they're all missing one thing.

Boston played over 100 games before we even entered September. And those games counted just as much as the ones in September.

Yes, Boston played over 100 games. Including the six games that they lost to start the season. If Boston had won even one of those six games in the spring, Tampa Bay would be on the outside looking in right now.

Oh, and there's another oddity about this whole thing. When Boston beat the New York Yankees on April 8, they were no longer tied for the worst record in the U.S.-Canadian major leagues. Who was the other team with an 0-6 record? Tampa Bay. So if Boston wins and Tampa Bay loses today, Tampa Bay can look back at ITS first six games to find out what went wrong.

Why am I writing about this in my business blog? Two reasons:
  • I like baseball.
  • In the sales and pre-sales world, the moves that you make at the beginning of the sales cycle are just as important as the moves that you make at the end of the sales cycle. In a competitive environment, you would prefer that your customers sign sole-source deals with you, rather than going out to bid. You would also prefer that your competitor's customers go out to bid, rather than signing sole-source deals with your competitors. Now I'll admit that there are times when a customer HAS to go out to bid...but there are also times when this is not the case. If the customer likes you enough to give you the business at the beginning - or, conversely, if the customer's relationship with your competitor has deteriorated so much that they go out to bid to get a new vendor - then that's the equivalent of winning on opening day - in a one-game season.

On anti-marketing

I'm catching up with my feeds, and this gem from August 10 is still relevant. It discusses anti-marketing, or the phenomenon in which people who see your advertisements are less likely to buy than people who don't see your advertisements.

In Empoprises terms, it means that my readership metrics would increase if I didn't post. Luckily that hasn't happened - yet.

So how to you practice anti-marketing? Here are some ways:

1. By sending me stuff that is irrelevant and no possible interest to me.

2. By constantly pitching me. I want value from my relationships and not constant “buy me” messages. Yes there has to be a balance because if you don’t make an offer, then you won’t get much action.

More here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How "real names" creates the unreal me


After reading Robert Scoble's post on the Washington Post Social Reader application for Facebook, I decided to give the application a try. In addition to trying to figure out how to actually customize the feed to my interests (currently there are no "Lutheran biometric Redskins online games featuring Depeche Mode" stories in my feed, and my friends aren't helping), I was made keenly aware that I was on a stage of sorts.

Everything that I read via the app would be seen by my friends. Both Robert Scoble and Don Graham noted that you don't want to use this to watch porn, and you don't want to use this to read about a company before you begin a hostile takeover of the company. Therefore, when you're using the app, you begin to think about things, such as "Do I want to read this story now, or do I want to wait and read it somewhere else, where Robert Scoble, Jesse Stay, Susan Beebe, et al won't see that I'm reading it?"

This is just one example of how "real names" results in unreal behavior.

While some people don't care, other people are going to be very conscious about the persona that they display online. This has been a concern since Paddy O'Furniture jokes were bouncing around on Usenet 30 years ago, but it's more of a concern now as family, friends, people from church, co-workers, customers, competitors, and others can potentially monitor everything that I do.

Because these "real name" services are becoming more and more common, many people will naturally have two selves. The private self may be off-line, or it may be online via services that don't have a real name requirement. "How can I trust him? He's on Twitter."

Tristowne, who for all I know spends his/her offline time watching Larry the Cable Guy over and over, put it best:

It should be a very key concept in writing studies that writing online means creating a version of yourself that will ultimately reflect on your reputation. Most social media users probably wouldn’t think of themselves as writer, when, in fact, that is what they are. We are creators of internet versions of ourselves, which can be both empowering and detrimental at once.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A different Foursquare application (or, not everyone is a techno geek)

The beauty of Facebook is that because of its appeal to many different types of people, you can find all sorts of people on Facebook. "Yo momma" is probably on Facebook...and yo grandmomma is probably on Facebook also.

However, this can sometimes lead to confusion.

One of my Facebook friends happens to be a technologically-oriented person who is known for advising people on the best ways to use social media. She is also a committed Christian. And she has a life outside of social media, and freely admits it.

On Friday night I was having a wall-based conversation with this person on Facebook. She was wondering about the privacy implications of Facebook's new timeline, and had shared a link to the post The Facebook Timeline is the nearest thing I’ve seen to a digital identity (and it’s creepy as hell). I made some comments about the Facebook timeline and privacy.

And then I brought Foursquare into the conversation.

One thing shared by Foursquare and Facebook's new timeline - and by a lot of other services - is that when you reveal information about yourself, you may be revealing information about others. I blogged about this at length back in August 2010, in a post that discussed this issue from several angles:
  • My reluctance, even today, to publicly post about my August 2010 trip to "Deer University," because that would violate the privacy of someone that I know.
  • How a tweet that discussed my presence at the El Toro restaurant in Tacoma, Washington could reveal a lot to those who know a little bit about my employer. As I said in the post, "even though my employer never joined Foursquare ... they're part of the Foursquare exonetwork."
  • How the things that we share about our infant children could come back to haunt them later. (A 2011 update: think before posting those baby pictures of your kids in your Facebook timeline.)
  • The story of Kunur Patel, who was out dining in New York one night, checked her entire party in via the then-new Facebook Places...and then incurred the wrath of her friends - her technically-savvy friends - when she revealed the check-in, thus revealing the whereabouts of all four individuals.
I didn't get into all of this in the Facebook wall conversation, but there were three of us on the Facebook wall who were talking about Foursquare and "checkins" and "GPS" and things like that.

And then a fourth person chimed in, to an initial impression that the three of us were talking about checking in at Foursquare churches. For those who don't know, there is a large group (I don't know if they'd appreciate the term "denomination") called the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, commonly known as the Foursquare Church. The church, which was started in the 1920s by Aimee Semple McPherson, is still popular in the United States today, and is very popular in other parts of the world.

So when a bunch of techno geeks talk about "Foursquare" around a bunch of religious geeks, there's always the possibility of confusion.

And to add to the confusion, I subsequently found this "Foursquare app" in the Android Market. Its description?

Locate Foursquare churches close to your current location via GPS, read official headlines and tweets.

No word on whether the app allows you to earn badges.

So now I'm wondering if there are other terms that techno geeks use that can cause confusion with non techno geeks. I'm sure there are a bunch of them; what are your favorites?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Returning to the Mobil gas station in West Covina, and Daniel Choi and/or Mohamed Khidr

Back in February, I wrote a post about a gas station in West Covina that was charging $4.69 a gallon for gas. One of my sources for my post was a Pasadena Star News article, which stated the following:

clerk at the Mobil station referred questions about prices to the owner, Mohamed R. Khidr, who couldn't be reached Thursday.

Well, I apparently missed this bit of news from June, but it sounds like the owner of that gas station may be a man named Daniel Choi.

Now some people think that Choi, or Khidr, or whoever should be thrown in jail and strung up simply because of the high gas prices charged at the station. I disagree; if someone wants to charge a high price for gas, they have the freedom to do so.

But according to the June article, Daniel Choi is accused of something that IS fraudulent:

The Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner/Weights & Measures department has charged Choi with nine counts of false advertising. He allegedly would take numbers off his sign, put them on the ground and tell people they fell off.

"He was given a warning initially a year ago, which generally people comply with and for some reason he didn't," said Larry Godwin of the Department of Weights & Measures.

Choi paid a fine of $3,000 last year.

And according to this June article, Choi had other problems:

Choi told Superior Court Judge Victor D. Martinez he was having financial difficulties partly because former employees had embezzled and extorted him.

He did not provide details at the time, and I couldn't find any accounts of what happened after June. But Choi, or Khidr, or someone, was still charging $4.89/gallon earlier this week, according to

Perhaps Paul Kedrosky has some thoughts on the matter.

P.S. Here's the Manta listing for Daniel's Auto.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Is increased access to medical information a good thing, or a bad thing?

Steven Hodson wrote a post in the Inquisitr about the website This is what the website is about:

AdverseEvents, Inc. (AEI) is the first service provider to deliver accurate, real-time information on adverse drug events reported to the FDA. AEI utilizes a unique data sourcing method called RxFilter™, a proprietary 17-step data refinement process that standardizes and normalizes the data from the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS) into a user-friendly, fully searchable, database of over 4,000 approved medications. Over 500,000 medication adverse events are reported yearly to the FDA; estimated to be only 10% of all actual adverse events. As a leading resource for the pharmaceutical industry, AEI supports companies with competitive intelligence and data to inform drug marketing decisions and business development strategies. With AEI, the healthcare industry is able to quantify the benefit-risk assessments of FDA approved drugs to fully understand the scope of safety issues, based on accurate rates of side effects from such medications.

But while AdverseEvents supplies this information to companies and the healthcare industry, Hodson notes that there is another beneficiary:

Of course the big pharma companies only let you know what side effects a drug might have under duress and public pressure; because we all know the government and the FDA wouldn’t do squat about the problem without that pressure; and even when they let you know it is the barest details that are hidden away in the small print.

When it comes to the drugs that we are told that we need in order to stop our legs from shaking or our scalp to stop itching we have no easy way to know what they are, what side effects they have, or how prevalent the danger of those drugs are.

Well, a new start-up in California called AdverseEvents is looking to change that and in the process they are going to cause many a drug company executive some sleepless nights.

Now this is just the latest example of something that has been going on for years. Back when Steven Hodson and I were little kids, there were two sources of medical information - your doctor, and the kids on the street. The latter source may not have always been reliable, but we always knew that the doctor, who was well-trained, was a reliable source of information.

As time passed, patients began to get information from sources other than their doctors. I'm not familiar with the situation in Hodson's home country of Canada, but on this side of the border we began to get information from laypersons' medical books, from the drug companies themselves, and increasingly from the Internet.

And in the process we learned that doctors were not perfect. Some doctors had been hauled before disciplinary boards, and we were able to learn about it. Some doctors were unduly influenced by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their drugs, and we were able to learn about it. Some doctors and medical associations, and the United States Food and Drug Administration itself, rejected certain types of treatments, and we were able to learn about it.

Now instead of one source, we could get our medical information from a dizzying variety of sources. We'd open up our favorite magazine and read an advertisement about Drug X - along with a page of fine print about possible side effects. Or we'd read or hear about some other type of treatment, along with a statement that said treatment had not been evaluated by the FDA. (Or, in Canada, the FD Eh.) And then you had a bunch of groups forming for this or that or the other thing, some telling the FDA to approve Drug X sooner, while others were telling the FDA that Drug X should never be approved.

And now we have AdverseEffects. I happened to look up one medication on the website that was used to treat a particular illness, and it listed 83 reports of cases in which this medication was the primary one used to treat the illness in question. Of those 83 reports, 10 were reports of deaths. (One of the reported effects of this medication was an increase in suicidal thoughts.)

While Hodson believes that the information provides a valuable service, I sounded a word of caution ina comment to Hodson's post.

While the site appears to be a valuable resource, its reports should not be misinterpreted.

For example, I was reviewing a report for condition X for drug Y in which there were 83 reports, and 10 of those reports resulted in death (in this case suicide). This does not necessarily mean that you have a 10% chance of dying if you take drug Y, since (as we know) those who report such things tend to be those who have had a bad experience.

In addition, one has to consider whether, even with the side effects, you're better off taking the drug than not taking it at all. While I'll admit that there are cases in which some drugs (e.g. Ritalin) are prescribed when they shouldn't be, on the other hand there are cases in which the drugs are necessary.

And no, I'm not a doctor, but I do know patients who has to deal with various issues.

However, I have a more basic concern - not just with AdverseEffects, but with all of the information available to us today. Do laypeople have the knowledge to make intelligent decisions based upon the information available? Or do we even have enough information to make an intelligent decision? For example, did the 10 people who died from the drug above die because they abused the drug? Did they fail to see a doctor? Did they fail to disclose their complete medical history to their doctors?

There is always a danger of making medical decisions based upon sound bites. These could be either positive or negative sound bites - "Paul stuck tea leaves up his nose, and his cancer was cured!" or "Peter stuck tea leaves up his nose, and he suffocated and died!"

So do we listen to Jason Vale, or do we listen to Jenny McCarthy, or do we listen to someone else?

P.S. No, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is NOT called the FD Eh. It's actually called Health Canada/Santé Canada.

(empo-tymshft) Breaker breaker - what's your hashtag? #70scbflashback

C. W. McCall had been taking it easy for the last several decades. No, he hadn't been listening to weirdo electronic music that sounds like a danged parade. And no, he hadn't been doing advertising or some such. The real C. W. McCall had taken his earnings and bought himself a cabin out West, and pretty much stayed there (except when he went into town), talking to people on his beloved CB radio. Not that there were many people talking on the CB radio any more (C. W. didn't know it, but the FCC hadn't updated its CB web page since 2003), but C. W. still liked to chat a bit.

Then one day C. W. lingered in town a little bit, and he got to talking to some kid who was playing with a calculator. Or at least it looked like a calculator.

"Ell oh ell!" said the kid.

"What's that you got in your hand, son?" asked C. W.

"It's an eye phone," said the kid. "I'm on Twitter right now."

"You're a twitter?" asked C. W. "Or is a twitter a thing?"

The kid showed the device to C. W. Once the kid figured out that C. W. wasn't all that knowledgeable about smartphones, or even computers, the kid explained the nature of Twitter. Strangely enough, the kid realized that the old guy was very familiar with communication services that allowed people to talk publicly with each other - even if C. W. kept on worrying about the text entry input ("Won't that force you to take your eyes off the road?" he kept on muttering).

C. W. was impressed that Twitter allowed you to talk with people thousands of miles away (rather than just the one to five miles supported by C. W.'s current service), and was impressed with the number of people on the "channel" (the kid happened to be following about 2,000 people, so his feed was pretty active). And C. W. was impressed with the evolution of acronyms that allowed concepts to be communicated quickly. In fact, the new service even dispensed with the need to ask "What's your 20?" since the location could automatically be published (unless you didn't want the smokeys to know where you were).

But the part that really impressed C. W. was the concept of hashtags.

"So," asked C. W., "if a few friends want to publicize something, all that they have to do is agree to use the pound sign and a certain word, and then anyone can find out about the thing?"

"Sure," replied the kid, who showed C. W. a search for #oow11.


"Hmm," said C. W. who then scrawled this word on a piece of paper.


P.S. Obviously I am not the first person to place Twitter in a timeline with citizens band radio. For example, James Poniewozik of TIME wrote a piece on this earlier this year. Here's an excerpt:

For critics of Twitter et al., the CB comparison is meant to diminish social media as a fad with little actual value. But the analogy is unfair — to CB radio. Sure, for most polyester-clad hobbyists with CBs in their living rooms, the radios were essentially electronic pet rocks. But for truckers in the pre-GPS, pre-cell-phone era, CB was very useful: it was an ad hoc micro-news network. Drivers on a stretch of highway could share word about gas availability during the energy crisis or speed traps in the days of the 55 m.p.h. (about 90 km/h) limit. No one made them do it; there was no payoff except karma and the feeling of connectedness on a lonely job. And as each traveler went his or her separate way, this news network would dissolve and new ones would form along another stretch of road.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stumbleupon doesn't want to stumble

I received a "Dear John" letter this morning.

However, since my name is John, I actually get a lot of these letters.

This one was from StumbleUpon:

Dear John,
You've been a valuable member of our community for a long time, so we wanted to tell you in advance about some upcoming changes to StumbleUpon that may affect you.

Our primary goal at StumbleUpon is to help you discover great things. Our focus is on delivering you faster, better and more personalized recommendations, so that each time you click the "Stumble!" button you see more amazing content from every corner of the web!
In order to focus on improving the discovery experience for you, and after careful consideration, we have decided to remove Groups, discontinue the ability to select Themes, and simplify Blogging capabilities. We know some of you have enjoyed having these features, but we believe that these changes will allow us to better focus on making stumbling amazing for you.

Here's how these changes will take place:

Groups: Groups will be visible until October 24th, then will be removed permanently from the site. You can manually copy anything you'd like to keep, or will be able to export group information. We are working on an export option and will send more specific details in a few weeks.

Themes: Your current theme will remain up until October 24th. At that time all themes will be changed to a default theme that is a white background with black type. To see how your profile will look with the default theme, change your settings here.

Blog Posts/HTML Reviews: After October 24th we will no longer offer HTML/Blogging functionality, but you'll still be able to access blog posts and reviews created before October 24th which will exist in plain text format. We are working on an export option and will send more specific details about this in a few weeks.

Your feedback and questions continue to be important to us as we make changes. You should expect to hear from us again in about a month, when we'll have more details around export options. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to us directly if you have questions, or go to our Help Center to learn more about these changes.

Thank you for your understanding and support as we work on making StumbleUpon better for you!

- The StumbleUpon Team

Now the StumbleUpon people are obviously trying to be careful - they saw how the whole Netflix thingie blew up in Netflix's face (or is it Qwikster's face?). But you still get a funny feeling when you read something that says "we're taking away functionality...and we're doing it to benefit you."

In my case, it doesn't look like the changes will impact me one bit. For example, my default FriendFeed layout is a white background with black type. I don't think I'll die if the StumbleUpon look is similar.

However, the major reason that the changes won't impact me is because I've only visited the StumbleUpon site a few times in the past few months. For various reasons that I won't get into here, I haven't accessed StumbleUpon that much lately.

I'm sure, however, that there are die-hard StumbleUpon users who are completely dependent upon sharing their blog posts with their groups while using a purple background with green lettering. Those people will be outraged.

And others will use the opportunity to loudly declare that StumbleUpon is dead.

We'll see how this plays out.

P.S. Speaking of Netflix (or Qwikster), Al Lewis is not impressed:

The Netflix Inc. /quotes/zigman/87598/quotes/nls/nflx NFLX +0.53% CEO sent me and millions of other video customers an email on Sunday, saying he’s sorry “many members felt we lacked respect and humility.”

I know this trick. I’ve used it myself: “I am sorry that YOU were offended.” It is a non-apology. And whenever I use it, I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

More on the false scarcity of qualified magazine subscriptions

This is a follow-up to my June 16 post, which read in part:

I paid rapt attention to the notice that appeared on one of the magazines that I received this afternoon. I won't reveal the name of the magazine, but I will say that it talks about Information and it's published every Week.

The notice said that if I didn't renew by July 1, I "will be replaced by another IT professional."

Well, a couple of months later, that magazine called and asked to qualify my renewal information. The call was surprisingly short; I told them that I had changed jobs and no longer qualified, and the person thanked me.

But I'm still on the magazine's mailing list - or, technically, on the list of one of the entities associated with the magazine. I just got an email about 21st century mainframe costs.

And I know that as of a couple of weeks ago (well after July 1, by the way) I was still getting the magazine itself.

Maybe I should buy a one year subscription to Muscle Car.

Some things just can't be predicted

Companies and individuals like to name things. Sometimes they're named with no research whatsoever, and problems ensue. Sometimes the company or individual do a lot of research before naming something, and then something happens later that causes problems for the name.

How much later can a problem crop up?

Well, let's look at a Canadian band that came up with its name way back in 1990. Naming themselves after a euphemism used by Beat poets, the band developed a style that was called "Moroccan roll." The band issued eight albums, toured the world a few times, and at some point set up a website to publicize the band's efforts. Even after the band broke up fifteen years later, the website remained, pretty much dormant.

But the website is now so popular that the band could sell it for a million dollars (Canadian or American, take your pick; the exchange rate is about 1:1 these days).

Not because of the band, but because of other stuff that's intervened in the last couple of decades.

If you want to see the website, go to

Who could have predicted THAT name would be so popular a couple of decades later?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lost in translation (the Rapunzel security system)


A co-worker happened across an article that puzzled her. The article, by Craig Padilla, is entitled "How Biometric Technology is Used in Video Surveillance." The article ended with this puzzling biography of the author:

Were a first class designer of Fingerprint door head of hair, keyless door locks, plus biometric access control techniques.

Both of us were trying to figure out what a "Fingerprint door head of hair" was supposed to be.

Finally, I figured it out after reading a second article. This one, by Trenton Palmer, is entitled "Advantages and Disadvantages of New Bump Resistant Door Locks." It closes with a similar biography:

About the Author

I am a first class company of Fingerprint door head of hair, keyless door locks, as well as biometric access control systems.

But once I read the third paragraph of Palmer's article, everything made sense.

However, consumers still ought to be very careful of deceptive locksmith companies employing this as an excuse to help you drill every lock they see as a way to price gauge consumers. Locks by using this new technology can conveniently be identified. There are just two vendors with easily obtainable product: Kwikset and Schlage. The Kwikset brand boasts a pin hole next into the main key hole. The Schlage brand is known for a plus sign directly above the important hole. If your hair don't have these identifiers, they have no reason to be drilled. Don't allow anyone to drill locks without all of these identifiers. You will be paying for work that doesn't need to be accomplished and new locks that you don't need.

Did you notice the sentence that began "If you hair don't have these identifiers"?

Have you ever referred to a "lock of hair"?

Apparently Palmer wanted to use the word "lock" but used the word "hair" instead.

For a more blatant example of this confusion, read the article entitled "Fingerprint Entry Tresses and just how Biometric Entrance Hair Function."

It reminds me of the story of Rapunzel. As you recall, Rapunzel's predicament is as follows:

Rapunzel grows up to be the most beautiful child in the world with long golden hair. When Rapunzel reaches her twelfth year, the enchantress shuts her away in a tower in the middle of the woods, with neither stairs nor door, and only one room and one window.

But the enchantress' secret method of entry is discovered by a prince, who repeats the passcode:

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair.

It is uncertain whether Rapunzel's hair was manufactured by Kwikset or Schlage. Or Hair Club. (And no, I don't know the rules of Hair Club.)

Are buildings necessary? (with a little Minnesota Lutheran parody)

Everyone tells us that we live in a virtual world, and that location really doesn't matter. Then in the next breath we hear that some company or person doesn't matter because the company/person isn't located in the right place.

Take, for example, former TechCrunch writer Paul Carr. Carr's former employer talks about all sorts of startups who promote a virtual presence via social media, but Carr himself appears to be a Luddite when he rants about Michael Arrington's replacement, Erick Schonfeld:

Mike felt that current Senior Editor Sarah Lacy might be a better choice: she has the right personality — and sources — for the job and she actually lives in Silicon Valley (Erick is based in New York). Unfortunately she’s also away for four months, on maternity leave....

Putting aside my professional feelings towards Erick — and I’ve been writing about those for a long time — the notion that a Silicon Valley blog should be run by a guy in New York is just ludicrous. As such, Huffington’s short-term victory is likely to prove a medium and long term disaster.

Oddly enough, Carr didn't appear to mind that Schonfeld's predecessor didn't live in Silicon Valley either. But I digress.

At the end of the day, location is important. Even if you have the best videoconferencing equipment - and most of us don't - a virtual presence cannot substitute for a physical one.

One of the benefits of a physical presence is that you have, in the words of George Carlin, a place for your stuff. While some argue that acquisition of buildings and land can distract a person or organization from its true mission, it can be argued that business acquisition, when done correctly, can enhance the mission.

But to humor those who think that building ownership is a waste of money, I've prepared a resolution just for you (note the date, which was chosen with care):


September 31, 2011

Resolved, that the Treasurer of the District effectuate the sale of the District's headquarters property at 14301 Grand Avenue South, Burnsville, MN 55306 under the following conditions:

1) The district retain a broker for the purpose of selling the District's headquarters property for the highest market price available.
2) The Treasurer is authorized to negotiate terms of the listing agreement on behalf of the board without further ratification.

Most of you won't realize this, but this is a parody of the District's unanimously-passed September 13 resolution (PDF) to sell the University Lutheran Chapel and some property in Mankato. The resolutionis obviously of concern to the members of the University Lutheran Chapel itself, and they have mounted a campaign to "save our chapel."

It stands to reason that if it is a net good for the Minnesota South District to sell the campus properties to enhance their campus outreach, wouldn't sale of their own headquarters enhance their overall outreach?

All fun aside, there are obviously times when a physical location provides a benefit. Now I'll admit that Empoprises does not have a plush suite of corporate offices (no, we do not have offices at 1 Empire Way Suite 2525, Guasti, California 91743). But rest assured that if Empoprises ever needs offices to complete its mission, I will acquire them.

Much larger enterprises DO devote some time to thinking about their physical presence. Apple is developing its second campus, and is starting to think about its third. According to accounts, Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas is not quite as inspirational. But at least they have a place to put their stuff.

Monday, September 19, 2011

One advantage of touch computing

I knew that I was a Luddite, but I didn't know that Jake Kuramoto has Luddite tendencies also. But then I read his post regarding efforts to promote touch computing in the newest Microsoft and Apple operating systems. Kuramoto believes that the result is not good.

Here's how he begins his post:

There’s an excellent chance I’m being a complete fuddy-duddy, waving my arms and yelling at those damn kids to get off my lawn. That said, it’s a horrible idea to force everyone into touch-based computing.

The unveiling of Windows 8, coupled with Apple’s nudging of OS X closer to iOS with Lion, has me shaking my head.

Why monkey around with happy users by combining their experiences? Some people love iOS. Some people love OS X. I don’t think this is a peanut butter and chocolate moment though. Using Lion as an example, out-of-the-box it enables an option called “Move content in the direction of finger movement when scrolling or navigating” which creates backward scrolling for wheel mouses.

Disabling this option was one of the first things I had to do after my upgrade because every single window scrolled the wrong way.

Kuramoto then goes on to mention the drawbacks for keyboard/mouse users, the need to redesign the applications that run on these operating systems, and the ergonomic issues.

But in the process of replying to his post, I was forced to admit a couple of things.

I was forced to admit that the usability comparison between touch and keyboard/mouse is unfair. In a computing context, I have very little experience with touch computing (where I define touch computing as MOVING your fingers across a screen to perform a particular action). I have over a quarter century of experience in using a mouse (dating back to the Macintosh Plus), and I have over 35 years of experience in using a keyboard (dating back to Miss Jack's typing class). So I'm naturally going to find keyboards and mice easier to use than a touch screen. Give me a couple of years of experience with a touch screen, though, and I'll probably have a different view.

Why will I have a different view? Because I was also forced to admit that a touch screen is more intuitive than a mouse or a keyboard.

Think about how these older devices work.

Let's start with the keyboard, because it's been around longer. Whether you're using a typewriter or a computer or my beloved LG env3 phone, the way in which you use a keyboard is to set your hands on a table (or another flat object), then move your fingers around. When you move your fingers around on the table, things change in another location. As I type these words right now, the movement of my fingers is causing letters to appear on a screen that is several inches away from my fingers. If I were on a typewriter, something similar would be happening; my keystrokes would cause letters to appear on a piece of paper. While the actions and reactions are perfectly understandable in the realm of physics, the fact remains that there is a type of separation between what my fingers do on a keyboard, and the results of those actions.

If anything, a mouse - the vaunted mouse, part of the long-standing effort to make things easier - is even more of a problem than the keyboard. Take the classic example of using a mouse to drag a file to a trash can. Now if I were in the real world, I would walk to the piece of paper, pick it up with my hand, walk to the trash can, and throw the paper into the trash can. But that's not how it happens in the so-called "intuitive" world of computing. Let's go through the steps:
  • First, you take your right hand and rest it on a horizontal table. This table is several inches away from the item that you want to modify - namely, an icon on a computer screen.
  • Next, you "move your mouse" to the file. This involves sliding your hand horizontally across the table. This causes a movement on the screen above you that is not identical to what your hand is doing. If I move my hand away from me, the pointer on the screen moves up. If I move my hand toward me, the pointer on the screen goes down. Your brain is going through all sorts of mental calculations to move things on the screen. You don't think about all this, because you have 5 years or 10 years or 25 years of experience moving a mouse. But if you end up with a native on a desert island who has never seen a computer before, how are you going to explain a mouse to the native?
  • But now it gets better. To get the file to the trash can, you have to perform something called "click and drag." In the real world, I would do this by using my hand to grab the paper, then tightly hold the piece of paper as I walk to the trash can. But that's the real world. In the fake world, you hold one finger down and then move your entire hand - and again, moving your hand away from you moves the item up on the screen. Take a moment and find a piece of paper near you. Tap your finger on the piece of paper. Now move your hand. Unless you press really hard, chances are that the paper is going to stay right where it is. And this is intuitive?
  • OK, let's assume that you have your paper near the trash can. In the real world, it's conceivable that you could place your hand (the hand grabbing the paper) right over the trash can, then unclench your hand. When you do this, the paper surrenders to gravity and drops down into the trash can. (Well, unless the wind starts blowing.) In the fake world of computing, you have to move your hand in such a way that the trash can changes (in the old days, a white trash can would become black), and then you would lift up the finger that you pressed down earlier. While this action is admittedly more intuitive than the other actions, you still are depending upon the trash can to change - something that doesn't happen in real life - and you're still moving your hand in a horizontal fashion to make changes on a vertical plane.
And this, my friends, is the wonderful "intuitive" way in which we've been working for the last quarter century.
Now imagine doing that same thing with a touch screen. There's still an air of unreality to the entire affair, but all of the mental calculations and gyrations have been removed. When I want to "click" on a file, I don't move my hand in one location to make a change several inches away. I touch the screen, and I make a change to an object that is underneath my finger. When I move my finger up, the icon for the file moves up. I don't have to move my hand away from me to make the file move up. When I position the file over the trash can, the trash can is right underneath my finger. I'm not doing something in one place to make a change in another place; my hand is directly interacting with the thing that I want to change.

Sounds more intuitive to me.

For the record, here's the original comment that I left at Jake Kuramoto's post:

First off, I hate Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Second off, I have a belief (completely unsubstantiated on my part) that keyboard/mouse hardware is simpler than touch screen hardware, and therefore is less prone to breaking. When certainly family members bought the LG env Touch phone, I stubbornly stuck to the LG env3 (no touchscreen) for that reason.

Third off, I agree that using touch on some applications might not be all that efficient. Perhaps it's because of years of practice, but I can be very precise when I use a keyboard or use a mouse. Stick my fingers on a touchscreen, and I know that I'll have less precision. In my mind (again, probably due to lack of practice), a mouse allows me to specify a particular pixel, while a finger occupies a great blob of space on the screen with no precision whatsoever. I shudder to think of the users of my company's software using their fingers to precisely identify fingerprint ridge endings and bifurcations.

But if I'm honest with myself, I'll admit that given a few years of practice, we will be just as adept at using touchscreens as we are in using mice. After all, the touchscreen is more intuitive, since you are directly interacting with the item that you want to modify (rather than interacting with an item on the side of your computer, and having that cause changes several inches away on the screen of your computer). I can't remember how long it took me to learn how to use a mouse when I encountered my first Macintosh Plus in the mid 1980s, but I'm pretty sure that I didn't master the mouse on day one. After some practice, I could probably be just as good on touchscreens as I am with a mouse.

But I'm still worried about the touchscreen breaking.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Compliance with request of copyright holder

On June 20, 2011, I posted an item that relied extensively on quotes from the website. The site includes the following copyright notice and disclaimer:

© 1998: LHOON
No one but the author of these pages
for their contents.

On September 13, 2011, my post received four comments, the third of which is significant:

BAloon 13 hours ago

Why does Anyone think that phrenology can POSSIBLY be a science???

BAloon 13 hours ago

This page is violating a copyright

Auctionhead 13 hours ago

this page is violating a copyright LHoon

Auctionhead 13 hours ago

This page is violating a copyright

I have no idea whether the third comment, which was posted from IP address: and has a listed email address in the domain, was truly written by L Hoon.

However, in the event that it was, I have removed all copyrighted material from the post in qustion.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

About that bubbly Beverly from Italy

If you've been to Las Vegas, perhaps you've done this. Near the MGM Grand is an Everything Coca-Cola that has...well, everything Coca-Cola. Now Coca-Cola is a worldwide firm, and one of the things that you can do is sample soft drinks from all over the world. You pay a few bucks, and you get a couple of trays with 16 cups and a quick guide with the name of the soft drink and the country of origin.

I first did this a few years ago, and was unpleasantly surprised when I tried one of the drinks and nearly gagged.

I was back in Las Vegas recently, and found myself at Everything Coca-Cola again. I remembered the bad drink, but couldn't remember its name; all that I remember was that it was European. So I was somewhat prepared when I sampled the drink called Beverly from Italy. In fact, I was so prepared that I took a second sip. I didn't get much farther than that.

I'm not the only person who had this reaction. A writer at the Daily Ping called it the worst drink ever.when he/she tried it in Las Vegas.

But there are other reactions. Jennifer tried it at Club Cool at Epcot Center and liked it, although she was forced to point out that she was not pregnant.

Have you noticed something interesting yet? All of these mentions of the Italian soft drink Beverly are based upon tastings in the United States. In fact, Jennifer went on to say:

[I] went shopping in Boston’s North End, a strong Italian neighborhood with many stores specializing in groceries imported from Italy. Beverly was nowhere to be found.

I work with a woman whose family is from Italy, and who maintains close ties there. She’d never heard of Beverly, and neither had anyone she talked to. We both searched the interwebs, she in Italian and me in English, and found nothing to indicate that Beverly’s actually distributed in Italy.

And there's a whole thread on (a Disney-themed site) that addresses the drink:

A couple of my relatives just went on a trip to Italy. It was one of those multi city tour group excursions.

I told them to try some Beverly when they got there.

They said they checked in every store and restaurant and asked everyone they met about it.

They told me NO ONE had any idea what Beverly was.

So is Beverly, as Jennifer claims, a big practical joke by Coca-Cola?

I figured that I'd find Coca-Cola's Italian website, and I ended up at Coca-Cola HBC Italia, a franchised bottler. Among their sparking beverages I found this:

Kinley is the ideal range of sparkling drinks for preparing long drinks and cocktails. In the Italian market it is available in two versions: Tonic Water and Bitter Lemon.

Kinley Tonic Water is a tonic water with a distinctive bitter flavour.
Kinley Bitter Lemon is a non-alcoholic lemon juice beverage that adds a pleasant lemon twist to your cocktails.

But no mention of Beverly. Although after searching, I found this:

Nogara plant

The plant is located in Nogara (Verona) and it was opened in 1975. Coca-Cola HBC Italia operates in Nogara since 1995.

Nogara is the biggest production plant in Italia (covered area of 62.000 sqm including 35.000 mq of the new warehouses). In this plant we produce: Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite, Nestea, Powerade, Beverly. Kinley and Aquarius, in : PET, glass, cans and Bag in Box.
Awards won by the plant:

2007 - Best Factory award for the management of logistics and production activities – International Best Factory Award

And there is only one other mention of Beverly on the entire site:

Coca-Cola, the new dynamic ribbon device, the Contour bottle, Coca-Cola Light, Sprite, Fanta, Fruit Cooler, Kinley, Beverly, Burn, Powerade and Aquarius are all registered trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company.

So it sounds like Coca-Cola has registered the trademark for Beverly, and that they have a place where they bottle it, but they don't SELL it in Italy - just in Nevada, Georgia, and Florida.

But what of Kinley? It appears that the brand is used for a variety of drinks in many different countries. Not only is there a carbonated beverage in various flavors, but there's even a bottled water.

Many of the carbonated beverage's flavors include the b-word:

Kinley is a carbonated water that comes in wide array of variants such as tonic, bitter lemon, club soda and a myriad of fruit flavors.

Available in the following flavors: Apple Peach, Bitter Grapefruit, Bitter Herbal, Bitter Lemon, Bitter Water, Blueberry Pomegranate, Club Soda, Ginger Ale, Lemon and Raspberry.

Available in the following locations: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, United States, West Bank-Gaza and Zambia.

So, other than the fact that you can buy one of them throughout the world but can only buy the other in this country, what is the difference between Kinley "bitter water" and Beverly?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Explaining the "warning" in yesterday's post

I goofed. Not a bad goof, but it will take this post to correct the goof that I made in another post. Not a goof as in an error, but a goof as in an omission.

When I was preparing yesterday's post on bloggers and ethics, I was merrily writing away and added a line to the post. As I wrote it, I was thinking to myself, "I'll go back and add the link."

And yes, I forgot to add the link.

The line in question occurs in the third paragraph of my post Another story about bloggers and ethics - but there's a surprise!

Let me cut to the chase and quote the relevant piece of the New York Times article (warning: this is a New York Times article):

No, I didn't forget to link to the New York Times article.

What I forgot to do is to add a link explaining my warning.

You see, my warning was based upon a post by Dave Winer, which I'll belatedly link to now. Here's how his post begins:

First a few recitals:

1. I read a lot of NYT stories.

2. I link to a lot of NYT stories. My qualification for pushing a link is "Would an informed person want to be aware of the information, ideas or opinions in this piece?" If I read it, the answer is likely yes.

3. If the person who clicks on the link is not a "digital subscriber" it counts against their quota of free articles for the current month.

And this matters, because of the paywall that the New York Times has implemented. Rather than putting the whole site behind a paywall, they hit on an alternative solution. Their system allows readers to look at a few articles per month without paying, but (at least in theory) prevents you from reading the whole danged paper online every day.

Winer's post (which I'll link to again) describes this issue, and requests from his readers to put some type of warning before a New York Times link so that the user doesn't inadvertently use up their free articles. Winer answers this, noting that it's a bigger issue than the New York Times.

Heck, one could argue that I should post a warning before linking within my own blog. After all, people could argue that I'm misleading them by claiming to provide new information but instead providing that same old junk that I always write.

Perhaps Louis Gray (warning: Louis Gray works for Google) could come up with some graphics for link disclosures to supplement Gray's and Jeannine Schafer's graphics for FTC disclosures.

(And no, I don't have a warning for Jeannine Schafer. But maybe I'll think of one later.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another story about bloggers and ethics - but there's a surprise!

Yes, bloggers and ethics have been discussed ad nauseum over the last few days. I recently blogged about Frédéric Filloux's "soft corruption" post which demanded that bloggers (but no one else) institute a code of ethics. Steven Hodson has also written about it at Medacity. And both of us have been involved in a Google+ discussion of the topic.

And I just ran across a story (h/t The Future Buzz) in which bloggers and ethics figure prominently.

Let me cut to the chase and quote the relevant piece of the New York Times article (warning: this is a New York Times article):

The promotion was “unfortunate” and “struck me as being not quite where they should be in terms of honesty,” said Deborah A. Silverman, who heads the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards at the Public Relations Society of America.

Now some of you are probably wondering what outrage we in the blogging community have committed now. And I'm sure that a few of you are wondering if Izea (you remember them?) were involved.

Well, I hate to disappoint you, but the ethical violation that occurred was committed AGAINST bloggers, not BY.

You see, some food bloggers and mommy bloggers were invited to an oh-so-exclusive restaurant, advertised as being run by George Duran of TLC fame, to talk about healthy foods, and were served a dinner during their visit. Then - surprise! - it was revealed that the bloggers and their guests had been served frozen Marie Callender's dinners.

What the Ketchum public relations group thought would happen, and what they probably told the Marie Callender's frozen dinner maker, a company with the delightfully friendly name of ConAgra Foods, was that if we do this neat fun thing with the bloggers, we'll get all sorts of positive press. (And heck, these bloggers love freebies anyway, so we'll buy their love.)

Well, the bloggers weren't the only ones who were surprised. Let's look at some of what Mom Confessionals wrote after the experience:

The other evening I was invited to attend an intimate dinner at an exclusive underground restaurant called Sotto Terra hosted by Food Network chef George Duran and Supermarket Guru Phillip Lempert. We were promised a delicious Italian 4-course meal and scintillating conversation on the latest food trends with other foodies. I was salivating at the thought of this meal and it was long due for a date night with my husband. He doesn’t often partake in my Blogger perks but he was definitely interested in this one.

Even more exciting was that I was allowed to offer this same amazing experience to one of my readers and their guest. My excitement was palpable. I was tweeting away, getting my friends to share and spread the news. When it was time to draw the winner, I was pleasantly surprised to see the entrant and winner (out of 119 entries) was none other than my children’s pediatrician and his wife (who is a loyal Mom Confessionals reader)!

And after the surprise was revealed?

Our entire meal was a SHAM! We were unwilling participants in a bait-and-switch for Marie Callender’s new frozen three cheese lasagna and there were cameras watching our reactions. I’ve got a sense of humor so I was okay with it and I had been enjoying myself up until that point, but I could tell that the rest of the participants were not. Everyone feigned weak shock and faked approval of the frozen meal. My guests were eager to leave all of a sudden and refused to sign the release. I felt awful! The conversation had fallen to an awkward silence as our hosts tried to fill in the empty air. When suggested we move the conversation back upstairs, everyone took themselves upstairs and out the door, include myself, my husband and our guests. I must have been still somewhat hopeful when my guest asked me so is Sotto Terra real or not? I said I thought it still might be a project that chef George and Phil were working on. I realize how stupid and gullible I must have sounded later.

The first thing out of my husband’s mouth was waste of time and I was reduced to tears. Not only had I been duped but now my husband was mad at me and my guests/pediatrician must of thought of me terribly. Its even crossed my mind that I may need to find a new pediatrician, I was that embarrassed. My only comfort was as we left, his wife said to me, Thank God he at least cooked the rest of the meal. But that also hinted at the major disappointment.

By the way, be sure to take a look at the comments such as this one. The blogger in question is transparent and ethical - and is STILL criticized as a whiner.

However, the commenter in question didn't realize that Mom Confessional's reaction would be the lead reaction in a New York Times article. In the middle of the article, it was revealed that ConAgra had made a decision:

As negative comments on blogs, Twitter and Facebook grew, ConAgra canceled the fifth evening and vowed not to use the hidden-camera footage for promotional purposes.

That's so noble of ConAgra to voluntarily abstain from using the hidden-camera footage. Frankly, I suspect a lot of people would like to see it - especially the part where the Mom Confessional guests refuse to sign the release.

In closing this post, however, I want to shift gears and ask a question - is this story validated because Mom Confessional blogged about it, or is this story validated because the New York Times reported it? (This same question arose during the 1960s and 1970s, but in that case it was the upstart television that dared to report things that hadn't been on the front page of the New York Times yet. And television got no respect, even though it had a code at the time.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Wikipedia will never graduate from Reed College

Any sub-culture has its rules, and Wikipedia certainly has its share of rules.

For example, it is well known that Wikipedia discourages original research. Let's say, for example, that Robert Scoble chose to edit the Wikipedia article on Robert Scoble. Should he do so, he would get slapped with nastygrams from tons of Wikipedia editors, claiming that he did not identify a written source for his edits. Never mind the fact that Robert Scoble should presumably know stuff about Robert Scoble; if it's not documented somehwere, it doesn't meet Wikipedia's standards.

In a sense this is understandable, since Wikipedia should ideally lead you to original sources where you can learn more about the topic in question.

But one of Wikipedia's rules borders on the ridiculous.

I was reading a Wikipedia article on Schools of Chinese Tea Ceremony, and I ran across this nastygram at the top of the article.

This article relies on references to primary sources or sources affiliated with the subject, rather than references from independent authors and third-party publications. Please add more appropriate citations from reliable sources.

Horror of horrors!

As an example of the extremely offensive material in this Wikipedia article, it refers to Tenfu Tea College, and includes a link to ... Tenfu Tea College.

The worry of the Wikipedia editors is that Tenfu Tea College will have a positive outlook on Tenfu Tea College. And that obviously won't do. (That's as bad as Microsoft expressing its views about Microsoft.)

What Wikipedia wants is a separate account of Tenfu Tea College - a non-biased view.

So rather than linking to the college itself, presumably Wikipedia would prefer a link to someone who visited the area once:

I also visited the local aquarium and did a day trip to the TenFu Tea Museum in Zhan'Pu (sp?). I had an amazing time at the museum. Since it was in the middle of the week, I pretty much had the place to myself. According to them, it's the largest tea museum in the world. We (myself and 5 chinese business men who were the only other guests there) watched a presentation on traditional Chinese tea ceremony and one on Japanese tea ceremony. The Chinese one was simple and very nice. The Chinese one was put on by about 8 girls with very new looking period costumes who did the whole thing coriographed (sp?) to a rather nice classical Chinese folk sound track. They served us 3 types of tea, all of wich were delicious (well at least two out of three were delicous and one was really interesting, if not quite delicious - it was bitter tea.) My guide who spent the whole time with me at no extra cost was very helpfull and informative. She showed me the cave where they age their Pu Ehr teas and we walked around their lovely lake that is fed by a local mountain spring.

You will note that this 2003 post does not mention the college at all. That's because the college didn't open until four years after the visit chronicled above.

But whatever keeps Wikipedia happy. Oh, we know what keeps Wikipedia happy.

Needless to say, if I want to know about item X, I definitely want to ask item X itself/himself/herself. I'll grant that I'll want to contact other sources also, but I wouldn't ignore item X entirely.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whatever happened to the Television Code? And what can bloggers learn from its disappearance?

Frédéric Filloux's post on the "soft corruption" of bloggers has certainly elicited some comment. Not only did I respond to the post, but Steven Hodson did also.

As I was reading Hodson's post, I recalled another code - not necessarily a code of ethics, but a code of practices - that had existed in my childhood, but which had subsequently disappeared. I began to wonder why.

Now to be fair, the Television Code that I referred to is not directly comparable to some type of ethics code for bloggers, primarily because over-the-air television is a finite commodity due to the limited extent of the airwaves. Therefore, over-the-air television (and over-the-air radio before it) are subject to more intense scrutiny than you can find for blogs, or for that matter newspapers.

But other than that major difference, there were some similarities between the Television Code and Filloux's proposed blogger code. First off, the Television Code was originated by the broadcasters themselves, in the guise of their trade organization, the National Association of Broadcasters. The thought was that if the broadcasters policed themselves, the government wouldn't come in and police them. (You can see a similar intent in Tipper Gore's warning labels on recorded music.) The Museum of Broadcast Communications describes the Code:

More than 67% of all television stations subscribed to the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Code adopted in 1950 (a similar radio code had been in operation since 1935). In addition to provisions which addressed historic concerns respecting the "advancement of education and culture," responsibility toward children, community responsibility, and general program standards, the NAB Code also included advertising standards and time limits for non-program material defined as "billboards, commercials, promotional announcements and all credits in excess of 30 seconds per program."

But little by little, the Code went away.

The Code program standards had been suspended in 1976 after a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that the Family Hour violated the First Amendment.

The Family Hour was the idea that in the early evening hours, before they went to bed, kids would not be assaulted with the view of Farrah Fawcett-Majors in a swimsuit. Today, with the advent of cable and satellite television, the effectiveness of any Family Hour is diminished. I live in the western United States, and at 8:00 pm my time (the old "Family Hour" time) I can pick up feeds from the eastern United States, where it's 11:00 pm. And Conan (which often has a TV-14 rating) airs at 8:00 pm out here.

But the First Amendment wasn't the only thing that doomed the Television Code.

In 1982, in settlement of an anti-trust suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, the NAB and the federal government entered into a consent decree abolishing the time standards and the industry-wide limitations on the number and length of commercials they provided.

And with that, the Television Code went away, and the television networks policed themselves. With the result that for the last thirty years, society has completely fallen apart.

Well, I'm sure that some people believe that, but I don't think that Filloux is one of them.

I still maintain that there are ethical and unethical bloggers, and that the existence or non-existence of a blogger code of ethics is not going to change that - any more than codes of ethics are going to change the industries I mentioned in my previous post, such as sports talk radio.

Monday, September 12, 2011

If Michael Arrington ran Izea

Over the weekend, Loren Feldman shared a link to a Monday Note post by Frédéric Filloux. The note started by talking about the ethical implications of the Arrington/CrunchFund dustup:

Even the most twisted ethicist would have detected a looming conflict of interest. Not Arrington. Because he is one of most arrogant pricks in this business.

But then he went on:

And because he lives elsewhere. He resides in the blogosphere, where the simplest ethical issues are distorted like space-time at the edge of the universe.

Later, Filloux again implies that Arrington's view is universal in the blogosphere:

Anyway: I do find the revolving door is a good thing. As long as the previous door has been properly locked.
Enter the blogosphere and its tolerance for conflicts of interest and — let’s use the word – soft corruption.

There is a caveat toward the end of the post, but the damage had been done:

I’m not going to denigrate the blogosphere as a whole or TechCrunch itself, which harbors good reporters. Blogs are part of my daily media routine and, for the record, I’ll say many bloggers do a better job than presumed professional writers. Still, by construction, bloggers are more prone to serve third party agendas: many are penniless, young, untrained, unsupervised and their writing is unedited. A target of choice for manipulation.

Since it was Feldman who shared the post, I immediately thought of Feldman's (and Julia Roy's) participate in an Izea campaign in 2008. As I noted, both Feldman and Roy fully disclosed that they were compensated for their posts. I subsequently noted that Stowe Boyd still objected to the practice, but I replied as follows:

In my view, there's no difference between a blogger talking about K Mart and Lucy & Desi talking about cigarettes.

Subsequently, I provided an example of how "pay per post" practices are tolerated, and even encouraged, in other media such as talk radio. I concluded my example by citing a particular company several years before it had Arrington or Huffington as employees.

Listen, buster, let me do my commercial, and why don't you just relax? Go watch a movie or something. I hear "You've Got Mail" is playing.

So whatever happened to Izea, the company that was controversial a few years back? They're still around - here's their CrunchBase profile - but CNET has not bothered to run an article on Izea in over two years. In fact, the big news about Izea lately is that it is now a publicly traded company.

So Izea is now associated with Wall Street. Talk about ethics...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why did Google (temporarily) let me block from search results?

In the course of researching my posts on Michael Silver, I noticed something interesting in Google.

In my search, I only noticed the "Block all results." I didn't see any similar capability to block results from, say, YouTube. Or Laplink, or ZDNet, or Gartner, or anyone else.

My first suspicion was that a Wikipedia editor was controlling Google, and since my search was on Windows 7, the editor was allowing me to skip Windows 7 items that were obviously written with a biased viewpoint. (I have more thoughts on this.)

My second suspicion was that this was part of the Google-Microsoft (Bing) search war.

Neither suspicion panned out. A few minutes later, I tried the same search again, and was not asked if I wanted to block results from

So what did I see? I don't know. Do you?

Before migration fatigue, migration necessity

After writing my post Michael Silver, Gartner, Windows 8, and time travel, I began wondering what Silver talked about BEFORE he talked about migration fatigue. You'll recall that Michael Silver is the Gartner analyst who has been talking about "migration fatigue" since October 2010, stating that corporate America will not upgrade to Windows 8 because corporate America just upgraded to Windows 7.

So I found this April 2008 ComputerWorld article - again written by Gregg Keizer - which included Silver's then-current views.

Calling the situation "untenable" and describing Windows as "collapsing," a pair of Gartner analysts yesterday said Microsoft Corp. must make radical changes to its operating system or risk becoming a has-been.

In a presentation at a Gartner-sponsored conference in Las Vegas, analysts Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald said Microsoft has not responded to the market, is overburdened by nearly two decades of legacy code and decisions, and faces serious competition on a whole host of fronts that will make Windows moot unless the software developer acts.

"For Microsoft, its ecosystem and its customers, the situation is untenable," said Silver and MacDonald in their prepared presentation, titled "Windows Is Collapsing: How What Comes Next Will Improve."

Now to put this in context, Silver and MacDonald were speaking over a year before Windows 7 was released, so their comments applied to Windows Vista.

In April 2008, Silver's tune wasn't "migration fatigue." It was "migration necessity."

Apparently after Windows 7 came out, the necessity for migration diminished...