Monday, April 30, 2012

Address the great engineering shortage of 2012 by promoting calligraphy (or something like it)

I ran across an interesting argument that was sabotaged by a really bad example.

Mari Thomas was among those who shared a TechCrunch post by Jon Bischke. The title of the post? "They Ain’t Making Any More of Them: The Great Engineering Shortage of 2012."

This is one of those posts that you'll see in tech publications that talk about the United States' need for engineers. These posts usually talk about modifying the foreign visa requirements or modifying the American educational system. Bischke looks at the latter, and quotes from Alex Tabarrok:

In 2009 the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985.

So what wisdom does Bischke derive from this information?

We are raising a generation of American Idols and So You Think You Can Dancers when what we really need is a generation of Gateses and Zuckerbergs.

And with that one sentence, Bischke pretty much invalidated every single thought in his post about engineering education.

Why? Because the underlying thought behind the sentence is that college students, instead of majoring in the visual and performing arts, should instead major in computer science.

But let's look at the two examples he cited. What type of degree did Bill Gates earn?

Um...he never graduated from college.

What type of degree did Mark Zuckerberg earn?

Um...he never graduated from college.

Let's throw a third name in there. What type of degree did Steve Jobs earn?

Um...he never graduated from college.

Now all three of these people went to college, and derived some knowledge out of college. But they all left before they got that college degree that everyone is talking about so much.

Why? Because they wanted to "make stuff" - something that Tom Scott discussed recently (see the postscript to this Empoprise-BI post).

If Gates, Zuckerberg, and Jobs had graduated, they could have gotten their degrees in computer science or physics or interpretive dance or even (horrors) economics. Wouldn't have made a bit of difference.

Actually, the stuff that you study in college can make a huge difference. Steve Jobs didn't spend a lot of time at Reed College, but he did learn one thing at Reed that literally changed the world of computing forever, shaping the destiny of not only Apple but also Microsoft and just about every other computer company out there.

So what am I talking about? Pascal programming? Reed's nuclear reactor? Laser experimentation?

Nope. I'm talking about something that I blogged about last August, just before Steve Jobs passed away. At the time, a lot of people were understandably drawn to Jobs' 2005 speech at Stanford University - a speech that I blogged about in 2006 - and in that speech Jobs talked about one thing that he learned about at Reed College.

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.

So don't come arguing that we're going to produce the next Jobs, Gates, or Zuckerberg by increasing the number of college graduates in the hard sciences. Perhaps you can get some skilled people who can crank out code for you, but you're not going to get a Jobs, Gates, or Zuckerberg.

And before you start slamming the irrelevance of "So You Think You Can Dance" and those types of shows, don't forget this dancer:

He travels the world, dances on TV, tinkers with hardware—oh, and designed the Apple I & II personal computers. Steve Wozniak answers our questions and shares his hacker-ish means of getting things done.

Now unlike Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg, Steve Wozniak actually has a degree in electrical engineering and computer sciences...which he completed in 1986. Needless to say, his lack of a degree didn't hinder him in the preceding years.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why a talking lamb is more impressive than a high Klout score

I've always known that I am not trendy, but apparently there are a lot of other people who are also not trendy, because I've seen two mentions of Klout in the last two days.

On Friday afternoon, Kimberly Reynolds shared a Mashable story about Tom Scott's new site Klouchebag. Yes, that's a combination of the words "Klout" and "douchebag." Scott's site looks at the kinds of things that you tweet and assigns a Klouchebag score. Of course I got my own score:

Klouchebag score for @empoprises: 38, or 'a bit of a prat'.

Be sure to check your own.

The other Klout-related item that I've seen comes from a Loren Feldman share of a Jeremiah Owyang post. It's fair to say that Feldman does not necessarily agree with Owyang's view.

Owyang starts with the premise that the facial recognition algorithms that are being incorporated into Google and Facebook can be used to bring up other information that is associated with the person that is identified. As some of you know, I work in biometrics, and the available facial recognition algorithms have become appreciably better over the years - when used with a small database size, such as a list of Facebook friends, there is a good chance that you can identify someone, despite all of the background noise in the pictures.

(Biometric aside: When your mugshot - whoops, I mean facial image - is taken for identification purposes, you usually face forward, refrain from smiling, and stand in front of an 18% gray backdrop. This is usually not the case for your typical Facebook party picture, unless you're arrested a lot.)

I'll buy that it's likely that your face will be used as a starting point to get information about you. But what information?

According to Owyang:

Logic tells us that new mobile applications will emerge that will allow digital content about us, in fact, we should expect apps to emerge that instantly allow us to tell one’s Twitter follower count, Klout score, and Facebook fans.

So Owyang would have us believe that the nearly 1 billion people in Facebook will use this technology to find a stranger's...KLOUT SCORE?

Unfortunately, Owyang found an example of someone who has a higher regard for the almighty Klout score than Tom Scott. Wired:

Last spring Sam Fiorella was recruited for a VP position at a large Toronto marketing agency. With 15 years of experience consulting for major brands like AOL, Ford, and Kraft, Fiorella felt confident in his qualifications. But midway through the interview, he was caught off guard when his interviewer asked him for his Klout score. Fiorella hesitated awkwardly before confessing that he had no idea what a Klout score was.

The interviewer pulled up the web page for—a service that purports to measure users’ online influence on a scale from 1 to 100—and angled the monitor so that Fiorella could see the humbling result for himself: His score was 34. “He cut the interview short pretty soon after that,” Fiorella says. Later he learned that he’d been eliminated as a candidate specifically because his Klout score was too low. “They hired a guy whose score was 67.”

Yes, Fiorella is in marketing, and you could claim that Fiorella needs to market himself. But a human resources department spending more time looking at a Klout score than at a list of accomplishments at AOL, Ford, and Kraft? That sounds like an HR department that doesn't want to do its homework. Erik Kain of Forbes agrees:

I can understand on one level why a marketing firm might want someone with social media influence, but simply having a decent Klout score doesn’t mean you’re any good at marketing. I can pretty much guarantee that Fiorella’s 15 years of marketing experience make him a better candidate than me, for instance, with my zero years of marketing experience.

And yet, my Klout score tends to hover around 64, a full 30 points above Fiorella’s. That hardly makes me a better marketing employee than him, however, though it does mean that I’ve done passably well when it comes to marketing myself on social media.

People get caught up in someone's Klout score of Alexa ranking or Wonderlic score or SAT score or whatever. Why? Because it's a single number, and it supposedly easy to use as a pass-fail item. But humans are more complex than that, and can't be evaluted based upon a single item.

But you can evaluate lambs based upon a single item. And at the end of the day, that's what is important. I found another share - this one from Richard Walker - of a YouTube video of a lamb who says "yeah."

Now this lamb may have a Klout score of 0. And this lamb may have a Wonderlic score of 0. But this lamb provides more wisdom than Tom Scott and Loren Feldman and Jeremiah Owyang and myself combined.

P.S. Actually, I was wrong in one thing. Tom Scott has as much wisdom as the lamb. I was intrigued about the guy who created Klouchebag - I had never heard of him (perhaps his Klout score isn't that high) - and I ended up reading this essay that Scott wrote. It begins as follows:

I'm not a particularly good programmer. I never studied computer science at school or university, the same way Charles never studied electronics and Colin never studied mechanical engineering. My degree's in linguistics - and if I'm honest, I didn't really go to university to study.

I'm competent, don't get me wrong: but I didn't learn the academic theory of programming. I couldn't tell you what a pointer does; I can't solve a memory leak other than by rebooting; and I couldn't write an efficient sort algorithm if my life depended on it. I can't code in any variant of C, and I don't think I've ever chosen one compiler over another.

What I can do is make things.

And that's important: there are plenty of computer science graduates who are fully versed in theory but completely unable to actually make things. That's fine if they're angling for certain industry jobs - but I never wanted to work with computers for a living. Programming was a means to an end: I had an idea; I wanted to make it; therefore I had to learn to code.

Read the rest here.

What can I say? "Yeah."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

(empo-plaaybizz) News FTW?!?

I was visiting my Google News page, and I noticed that I had earned a basketball badge.

A badge? For news?


The U.S. Edition of Google News now lets you collect private, sharable badges for your favorite topics. The more articles you read on Google News, the more your badges level up: you can reach Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and finally Ultimate. Keep your badges to yourself, or show them off to your friends.

The default behavior is to hide a badge, but you can hover over the badge and choose to share it.

I admit that badges and sharing can motivate people to do things, but this is sounding a little ridiculous even for me. I was about to joke about the IRS issuing an "I paid my taxes" badge...until I remembered that my tax preparation software gave me the option of sharing my tax completion on Facebook.

I guess now the question is as follows: what actions CANNOT succumb to the badge frenzy?

I challenge you to think of one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Data myths - can the IRS do your taxes?

Jesse Harris alerted me to a story about the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and the entities surrounding it. While the story touched upon a number of interesting topics - for example, the fact that tax preparation firms want to reduce competition (surprise), the story also raised the question - could the IRS do our taxes for us, saving us the trouble?

Matthew Yglesias:

Why don’t you just lie on your taxes? You don’t lie because you’re worried that the IRS will catch you. And why do you worry about that? Because all the various entities who’ve paid you over the course of the past year have to submit paperwork about your income. Your employer, your bank, your stock broker, etc.—record and transmit almost all relevant information about your money to the IRS, meaning that if you lie you’ll get caught. But by the same token, the IRS could simply collect all this information and send you a tax bill. You could read it over, sign at the bottom, and either include a check or wait for your refund. It wouldn’t be fun, exactly, but it would sure be simple.

Could the IRS "simply collect all this information" and compile it into a tax form that you could sign?

Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, I was unable to pay my taxes on time. I talked to someone at the IRS and worked out a payment schedule. The person at the IRS told me, "Every month our computer system will print out a nasty letter. Ignore it." Sure enough, I got a few of those nasty letters before I paid off my tax debt. Why? Because the IRS computers at the time were not designed to accommodate payment plans.

Now I'll grant that this was some time ago, and we all know that the IRS has implemented vastly improved software that can properly handle every contingency, and that can easily accommodate new changes such as a need for the IRS to generate tax forms for us. How do we know this? Because the General Services Administration is looking out for our interests, and has spent a lot of money to make sure that the IRS can handle future needs...wait a minute, the General Services Administration has spent a lot of money, but for other purposes.

Remember that just because the IRS has data doesn't mean that it can be converted into knowledge. I'll grant that I don't know the internal workings of the IRS, but chances are high that the IRS has a system to get information from employers, then another system to get information from banks, and still another system to get information from stock sales. And all of these bits of data are identified by taxpayer identification numbers. Great - that's like finding three needles in a haystack.

The supposedly "simple" process of the IRS preparing our tax returns for us would require the IRS to create yet another system - one that would extract data from the other IRS systems, format it into the proper forms, and send the completed forms to us for our review.

How much time and money would it take to get such a system working? Probably a few years and a few billion dollars.

Which, of course, means that we'd have to pay more taxes...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Road More Traveled (Jan Babiak)

LadyRomp recently shared the news of Jan Babiak's appointment to Walgreens' Board of Directors as an independent director. As I was reading her biography, I became fascinated.

Babiak recently retired from Ernst & Young, where she spent nearly three decades. And she has literally been everywhere during that time.

She joined Ernst & Young in Oklahoma City, after receiving her degree from the University of Oklahoma. A few years later, she found herself in Ohio, where she was working in Ernst & Young's Cleveland office while earning her MBA. One year after completing her MBA, she transferred again - to London. That's when her career really took off:

Babiak was founder and managing partner of Ernst &Young’s fastest growing and most profitable UK practice, which provided IT security, transformation, program management and advisory and assurance services. With full P&L and operational responsibility, she grew the technology security and risk services practice in the United Kingdom, later adding Northern Europe, Middle East, India and Africa (NEMIA), for more than 10 years while also serving on Ernst & Young’s UK operating board.

Following her success in these roles, Babiak was appointed in 2006 to the NEMIA executive management board and as managing partner for regulatory and public policy in NEMIA, and was the board level sponsor leading all services related to climate change and sustainability across the NEMIA area.

In 2008 she created a new practice as Ernst & Young’s global leader for climate change & sustainability services, operating from the firm’s London headquarters. She was responsible for the strategy and delivery of commercially focused climate change transformation and sustainability services to clients, as well as providing coordination with government offices, regulatory bodies, national professional bodies and other stakeholders. She has led teams delivering advisory, assurance, tax and transaction services focused on clean tech, renewable energy, carbon trading, environmental policy and taxation, green building, green supply chain, carbon measurement and modeling.

However, her career could have taken an entirely different term. According to Babiak's public LinkedIn profile, she was working as a dispatcher in Norman, Oklahoma while attending college. But she left that job after graduating, and public safety's loss was Ernst & Young's gain.

And the gain of other companies. After retiring from Ernst & Young, she set about with her new career:

Now building a full time board portfolio focused on large global public companies where a diverse combination of leadership roles will provide value on a wide range of strategic and commercial considerations as well as delivering practical global experience as a member of Board Committees such as Audit, Finance, Technology, Governance, Risk, Compensation and/or Sustainability.

The first component of Babiak's "board portfolio" was a position on the Board of Directors of UK-based Logica, which she joined in 2010. Now she's accepted her second position, with Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens.

So how does she participate in an American company after living in the UK for over twenty years? Well, according to her LinkedIn profile, she now lives in the United States. Not in Oklahoma, not in Cleveland - but in the Nashville, Tennessee area.

I wonder if Babiak can get decent fish and chips in Nashville. If not, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin's David Allen notes that Babiak can come to Ontario, California to get some.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Who are you facing when you give a presentation?

Beth MacNeil Stinson wrote a recent post about a presentation gone awry. I encourage you to read her post, which detailed a number of issues with the presentation in question - the presenter was making negative comments about the attendees' employers, the demonstration was unscripted, the demonstration didn't work, and the balance of lecture vs. demo was wrong.

But I want to concentrate on one of the problems with the presentation.

The presenter sat with her back to the audience to drive the avatar during the demo, so her voice was muffled. The audience immediately tuned out and the presenter had no way of knowing that most of us were now checking email and whispering back and forth.

The entire day was devoted to virtual worlds, and it appears that the presenter was well versed in the topic. Perhaps too well versed, when you consider that the presenter was paying attention to the virtual world rather than the physical world around her.

This is a common issue in presentations. Presenters, including myself, often want to focus our attention on the demonstration, or on the slides (the dreaded "slide reading"). But we forget that we are presenting to people.

I recently wrote about churches that perform to the camera rather than directly to the people in the church, but at least in that instance the goal of the church is to present to the people - just through an intermediate means.

It's better to turn your face to a camera than to turn to a projected PowerPoint slide or to a computer screen.

P.S. Speaking of presentations, you might want to check out the work of Michael Alley. I mentioned him in this post.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ireland - where trendy figures go to get killed by trains

What's going on in Ireland?

Over the last few days, there's been a brouhaha about Galway's plan to honor Ernesto "Che" Guevara with a monument (Guevara has Irish ancestry). While this has resulted in an expected outcry from countries such as the United States, the outcry has actually been a longstanding one, and there are those within Ireland who have opposed the plan.

[B]usinessman Declan Ganley described the plan as having the potential to “damage the reputation of Galway around the world”....

Businessman Declan Ganley criticised the decision to honour a man he describes as a “mass murderer” and said that it could “damage the reputation of Galway around the world.”

But while the Cuban exile community in Miami is probably content to stop there, I have to join with Keelan Foley in questioning a rail safety ad that is airing in Ireland.

I spotted this television ad last summer and haven’t stopped laughing since. I know this sounds odd seeing as I am talking about a rail safety advertisement. But If you watch it I’m sure you’ll be laughing for the next few mouths also.

But judge for yourself.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

(empo-utoobd) The short shelf life of videos

As you may know, I have been blogging since 2003, and have created a number of blogs over the last nine years.

For five months in 2006 and 2007, I authored a blog entitled KOET Synthetica Television Transcripts. The premise of this was that I (in my then-online identity of Ontario Emperor) was running a television station based in Guasti, California, and that the blog posts documented things that I broadcasted on my television station. (I had done something similar with a previous blog, KOER Synthetica Radio Transcripts.)

During the period that the KOET blog was active, I wrote a number of posts that linked to YouTube videos. The videos covered a wide range of topics: the Cure's song "A Forest"; Dana Carvey's impersonation of Tom Brokaw reading pre-recorded obituaries for Gerald Ford; some Kiira Korpi skating videos; and several other things that I found on YouTube.

I recently revisted that blog and discovered something interesting - every one of the videos that I linked to in 2006-2007 is no longer on YouTube.

A variety of reasons are given for the deletions of the videos, but the two major reasons for removal were copyright claims from various content providers, and termination of various accounts by YouTube. (I don't know if the accounts were "permanently disabled," or literally terminated.)

Since the KOET blog consisted solely of YouTube videos, this means that the KOET blog is today devoid of meaningful content. Compare this to my text-based blogs, some of which date back to 2003. They are also devoid of meaningful content, but at least there is some content there. (It's just not all that meaningful.)

And it's just not my blog that's affected. Check this 2009 post from Sparkups. And here's a 2006 post from Videomixer that can't be viewed in the United States. And check out this expired video.

For a variety of reasons, I prefer text posts to video posts. One of those reasons is evident here - why create a video post when it probably won't survive for more than a couple of years?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What if you scheduled a meeting and no one showed up?

Everything would depend upon the type of meeting, as well as the status of the meeting organizer vs. the meeting attendees.

Steven M. Smith has listed five basic meeting types:

feedforward (status reporting and new information presentations)
feedback (reacting and evaluating)

You can have a meeting with a single attendee, and the meeting can still accomplish things. How much it can accomplish, however, depends upon the status of the meeting organizer.

Why? Because if the CEO of a company calls a meeting of his or her subordinates to make a decision, the CEO is empowered to make the decision regardless of who does or does not attend.

I am not the CEO of my company, and many of the decision-making meetings that I've organized over the years have included people who outrank me. And while some companies empower subordinates, most don't. If I work at Microsoft and Steve Ballmer doesn't show up at my meeting, I can't go to him afterwards and say "Steve, here's what we're going to do."

Similarly, a planning meeting depends upon status. Planning is a managerial function, and I as a meeting organizer cannot commit my bosses to plans without their consent.

Some of the other meeting types are less dependent upon the status of the organizer and non-attendees. A problem-solving meeting, for example, is hampered if people regardless of rank are not available to help solve the problem. However, if I'm the meeting organizer and no one shows up, I could go ahead and solve the problem myself. Of course, I am liable for the consequences if my solution fails.

This brings us to the feed meetings. (Sounds like lunch.) These meetings (and, when you think of it, the other meetings) do not necessarily have to be conducted in meeting format. If I am running a project, and I want people to report the status of their tasks, I don't need to call a meeting; I can just have people email me their status. (Unless they're Generation Z or whatever you call young adults these days; those people can text me.)

So the world doesn't necessarily end if the meeting is never held. I hate meetings, but I must admit that the advantage of meetings is that you can get a bunch of people together at the same time to get something done.

In some cases, a meeting is beneficial to the asynchronous communication methods that I prefer. For example, my company has a particular process that requires a meeting. Several people thought the the subject in question was so simple that the decision could be made via email, rather than require some high-priced people to stop what they were doing and sit down around a table for an hour. Ten emails later, one participant commented that it would have been more efficient to just have a meeting in this particular case.

What is your experience with meetings vs. email collaboration? And if you're sending an SMS message to a co-worker, are smiley faces allowed?

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Not always best" practices

Eddie Awad linked to an item written by Karen Morton regarding best practices. Morton shared a concern:

An unfortunate side effect the label "best practice" has when it is attached to any method or technique is that it makes people blind to the context in which the practice should/could be applied. Can you think of any examples where a practice that is "best" in one context is questionable within another? Sure you can....But, so often, many people will take a best practice at face value without considering the context of their own situation.

Morton prefers the term "contextual practice."

Morton's idea of using the context of a problem when designing a solution ties into Sujatha Das' thoughts on wisdom, which both Jim Ulvog and yours truly have blogged about. To recast Karen Morton's concern in Sujatha Das' terms, the knowledge that you acquire has to be thorough enough to allow a proper application of wisdom to the problem in question.

Here's an example of an ironclad rule from krisandro:

I have this blogging rule that I set upon myself a few months back. As much as possible, I will not write a short entry. I try hard to make every post a ‘worthy’ read so that one will remember some of the contents or be interested to come back for more.

That sounds like a best practice, doesn't it?

Krisandro then proceeeds to write a 100+ word entry that is decidedly not short. It clearly fits into the stated best practice.

He then rewrites the entry into an entry of only six words, which is just as effective.

You'll have to go here to read the two versions, and then you can judge whether either version, or both versions, are a worthy read.

And perhaps krisandro should check the best practices in Wikihow.

Friday, April 13, 2012

How long will it take to resolve the Enron bankruptcy issues?

Since the Dodgers' bankruptcy is very much on my mind, I began to think about other bankruptcies. This led me to the big one in terms of bankruptcy - Enron.

Enron declared bankruptcy on November 30, 2011 (in Europe) and December 2, 2011 (in the United States).

But Enron didn't disappear - technically. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2004, finished selling off its assets in 2006, and changed its name in 2007. Now called the "Enron Creditors Recovery Corp," its sole purpose is to pay off various claims. And, as of 2011, it was continuing to do just that:

Enron Creditors Recovery Corp. distributed approximately $100 million to creditors in May 2011, bringing the total amount recovered to date to $21.738 billion. There are a limited number of pending litigation and collection matters and contingent liabilities that continue to affect the timing of the closure of the Enron bankruptcy case.

Yes, the closure of the case. Over ten years after bankruptcy was initially declared, the litigation isn't all done yet. I'm not sure how long it will take for Enron to cease to exist - if it ever does.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Will the Dodgers bankruptcy court approve the Guggenheim purchase on Friday?

While El-Lay radio continues to talk about Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten and all of the wonderful things that will be happening now that the Dodgers have been sold, people in the real world are trying to complete the sale.

In the real world, that means that representatives from Mark Walter's Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC will be appearing before bankruptcy judge Kevin Gross in Delaware on Friday.

J.P. Hoornstra notes that Judge Gross will have a couple of objections to consider:

Fox's Prime Ticket subsidiary filed [an] objection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. It asked for written assurance Time Warner wasn't contributing funds being used for Guggenheim's purchase of the team from Frank McCourt and the incoming owners don't have any formal or informal agreements for the team's broadcast rights starting in 2014.

You'll recall that Fox has been involved in the Dodgers saga for years. In fact, I personally became signficantly less enthusiastic about the Dodgers during the period that Fox owned the team, and when the team jettisoned manager Bill Russell and players Mike Piazza and Hideo Nomo within a relatively short period. And you will recall that the present Dodgers bankruptcy occurred because Major League Baseball rejected a TV deal between current owner Frank McCourt and Fox - a deal which would have provided McCourt with a lot of personal cash.

Well, McCourt found another avenue to get his cash, and considering that Fox is not in MLB's good graces these days, I don't know if MLB is really concerned about Fox's objections.

Of course, the bankruptcy court is not controlled by MLB, so it is going to deal with Fox's objections based upon its own criteria.

And the other objections to the Guggenheim Baseball Management sale? They were raised by MLB itself.

Major League Baseball filed an objection by saying Guggenheim had not set aside enough money to satisfy what it is owed by the Dodgers.

Are these two objections deal-breakers? Hoornstra, a writer with the Daily News, says that the sale is "cast into doubt." But Los Angeles Times writer Bill Shaikin is less pessimistic:

In Tuesday's filing, MLB repeated its contention that the court should compel McCourt to pay the league about $8 million, mostly in legal fees. The matter already has been submitted to the court-appointed mediator.

Fox asked for explicit written assurances that rival Time Warner Cable is not part of the Guggenheim group. TWC is not involved, according to multiple people familiar with the sale process but not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Ballpark Digest also characterizes the Fox and MLB objections as "minor requests for clarification."

So perhaps Judge Gross will see no objections and will approve the deal.

But then again, it will be Friday the 13th tomorrow...

P.S. In some respects, this is not your usual court case. Judge Gross' July 22, 2011 opinion (PDF) includes the following explanatory footnote:

[The Dodgers'] rich and successful history is of mythical proportions. Its great former players, managers, and executives could justify their own hall of fame.

I don't think I'll find such a footnote in American Airlines' paperwork.

The Retail Equation - how many returns are too many returns?

Regardless of whether we buy something online or at a brick-and-mortar store, there's always a chance that we might have second thoughts about the purchase. Maybe we buy clothing that doesn't fit, or media that's defective, or something that has some other problem.

Depending upon the rules of the store in question, you can often return the item and get some type of refund, ranging from a store credit to a cash refund.

Thus, many of us buy something and think that we can return it if there's a problem.

Not so fast, according to an article shared by one of my Facebook friends. In the article, Kevin Hunt of The Bottom Line told the story of Peter Peel. It seems that Peel had returned some items during the Christmas season, as many of us do. Then he bought a Blu-ray disc from Best Buy that proved to be defective. He brought his receipt and the defective disc to the Best Buy, but was asked to provide one other item:

Despite having the receipt, Peel was also asked for his driver's license. (Unlike the "French Connection, however, no one asked if he had ever picked his feet in Poughkeepsie.) After an employee swiped the license, Peel was told the movie-disc return would be accepted but the store would not authorize any other returns or exchanges for 90 days.

It turns out that Best Buy contracts with The Retail Equation, which analyzed Peel's purchasing and return history.

The Retail Equation says its Verify-2 software identifies the 1 percent of consumers whose behavior can be identified as return fraud or abuse. The company, whose software is in 20,000 stores throughout the country, says return fraud ranges from $14.3 billion to $18.4 billion each year.

"Verify-2 enables retailers to rely on objective, verifiable data," says spokeswoman Lisa Mendenhall, "to determine whether a return is valid rather than relying on subjective observations and guesswork by sales clerks. This objectivity ensures that only those with highly suspect return-and-exchange behavior are affected. The vast majority — approximately 99 percent — of returns are accepted."

It does not appear that Peel was committing fraud - for example, buying a big screen TV on the Friday before the Super Bowl and returning it on Monday. Nevertheless, his return activity triggered the "highly suspect" category.

And Peel isn't the only one. There's a thread on the Best Buy forums that was started by BigCTM, a Best Buy Premier Silver Member who fell into the 90 day category after returning a defective $30 Invisible Shield, which was purchased along with an iPad.

After BigCTM posted the comment, two Best Buy "Community Connectors" popped into the thread. For those who automatically assume that a corporate social media presence is the magical thing that can solve all problems, check your assumptions. When a company's underlying policies are the problem, it doesn't matter what your social media people do. BigCTM:

This is honestly a pretty generic reply and does absolutely no good. This is a typical response that honestly favors a outside company (TRE) over its customers. That is exactly what is happening here. Best Buy is basically outsourcing customer service to a firm (TRE) that obviously has no clue about how to treat customers. In the end, it makes Best Buy look bad and is causing Best Buy to lose customers. I know for a fact that I am not the only one who has voiced concern over this issue.

Oh well, I will take my 2500 a year and spend it elsewhere.

According to Kevin Hunt, Peel and BigCTM (and others) can appeal a 90-day return ban decision.

And for those who claim that Best Buy's policies are "illegal," they're stated right in the company's return & exchange policy:

Returns Tracking

When you return or exchange an item in store, we require a valid photo ID. Some of the information from your ID may be stored in a secure database used to track returns and exchanges. Based on return/exchange patterns, some customers will be warned that subsequent purchases will not be eligible for returns or exchanges for 90 days. Customers who are warned or have been denied an exchange/return may request a copy of their Return Activity Report by calling 1-800-652-2331 or by mail at P.O. Box 51373, Irvine, CA 92619-1373. Please be prepared to provide your transaction ID, ID number, full name, address and phone number.

Valid forms of ID accepted are: US, Canadian or Mexican Driver's License, US State ID, Canadian Province ID, Matricula Consular, US Military ID, Passport, US Laser Visa, or US Permanent Resident Card.

And The Retail Equation's services are used by a variety of companies:

A name-brand, nationwide specialty retailer of women’s apparel, lingerie, and personal care products evaluated the impact of The Retail Equation's solutions in two of their largest market areas....

Learn how a home improvement retailer modernized their returns procedures with The Retail Equation’s solutions....

See how a national sporting goods retailer implemented The Retail Equation’s solutions and delivered better service....

Learn how a outdoor outfitter retailer rolled out an entire return optimization program with The Retail Equation’s....

Learn how an auto parts retailer implemented The Retail Equation’s solutions and reduced returns and shrink....

See how returns can lead to new sales as a footwear retailer partners with The Retail Equation....

For the record, The Retail Equation apparently doesn't compare your Best Buy purchases with your lingerie purchases.

TRE (The Retail Equation) states that it does not share its data among retailers. Access to information in their returns database is limited to the consumer, TRE, and the retailer that provided the data to TRE. In other words, TRE does not create a compilation of the shopper’s return activity across all merchants with which that individual shops. If the shopper has returned merchandise to several companies, a merchant will only see the returns for that specific retailer.

So what's the lesson learned? The next time that fast-talking salesperson tries to sell you that electronic device or that lingerie or whatever, simply reply:

It's too risky. I can't commit to a purchase until I receive confirmation from an independent authority that the product has low defect rates and high customer satisfaction. I can't risk losing my money if the product is defective.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If you think it's hard to go from sports to news...

In a post last Wednesday, I talked about Janet Paskin, who started off as a sports reporter and eventually became a business reporter.

Paskin is not the only person who has moved from sports to "hard news." Take Bryant Gumbel. Gumbel, like his brother Greg Gumbel, was initially a sports guy. When (Bryant) Gumbel was tapped to be one of the hosts of the TODAY show, some people were not necessarily worried about his race - they were worried about him being a sports guy doing the news. However, Gumbel proved that he could be serious over the years - and, as Willard Scott can attest, VERY serious.

Howard Cosell was able to break out of sports, but only in a limited sense. According to his biography, he really wanted to become the co-anchor of ABC World News Tonight. He never got the opportunity, despite the fact that Roone Arledge, who headed ABC Sports, eventually became the head of ABC News. This meant that Dick Ebersol, Arledge's protege, would also transition from heading NBC Sports to heading NBC News - just in time to deal with the whole Pauley/Norville fracas of who would be Bryant Gumbel's co-host on the TODAY show. (It's a small world after all.)

Incidentally, if you were to ask Dick Ebersol, "If Roone Arledge jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?" I suspect that Ebersol would reply "Yes." But Arledge was pretty taleneted - it's better for Ebersol to pattern himself after Arledge than after some other people.

So there have been many people who have transitioned from sports to news, and although some of them met resistance, some of them eventually were accepted.

But if it's hard to transition from "silly" sports to "hard" news, then it should be easy to transition from news to sports, right?

This video shows Maria Bartiromo shooting sky hooks with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bartiromo is a well-known business reporter and anchor with CNBC. But what would happen if Bartiromo went up to her bosses at NBC (not Dick Ebersol, who has left the company) and said, "I really want to stay with NBC, but I want to do color commentary for football games"?

Fans would accept an Al Michaels-Maria Bartiromo pairing on Sunday nights, right?

Wrong. If you think that news junkies can get snobbish, you need to see how snobbish sports junkies can be.

Ignore the fact for the moment that Bartiromo is female - which in itself would render her unacceptable to some sports fans. The true sin of Bartiromo, in the eyes of some sports fans, is that she has "never played the game." A common line of thinking - vigorously refuted by Howard Cosell, without success - is that only people who have played a particular sports are qualified to provide commentary on the sport. And if you're honest with yourself, who would you trust to explain how a quarterback prepares for a play - Don Meredith, or Howard Cosell?

Interestingly enough, this insistence that the sports commentary field be limited to ex-players is not necessarily embraced in the so-called "hard" news world.

How could Walter Cronkite talk about the Apollo moon landings? He had never landed on the moon himself, after all. (More seriously, Cronkite had been a journalist his entire life, and had never served in the military - the preperatory ground for many astronauts.)

How can Keith Olbermann talk about politics? What office has he held?

While Jerry Springer is qualified to talk about politics, he is certainly unqualified to host his present show. After all, how many times has Springer been involved in sexual relationships with an Arkansas woman, and her mother, and her stepfather?

So this insistence on only using ex-players as sports commentators can be silly. But it does show that as hard as it is for someone to transition from sports reporting to news reporting, it's even harder for someone to transition from news reporting to sports reporting.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Face the facts - you won't get sued for poking someone in the eye

First off, let me say that I am not a lawyer.

Second off, let me say that I suspect that Dara Kerr is not a lawyer either.

Kerr is the author of a post that I've run across a few times in the last few days, entitled Facebook users beware: Don't use the word 'Book'. The subheading says:

The social-networking site is updating its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities -- if approved, account holders must agree not to use the words "Face," "Poke," or "Book."

Well, that's not exactly what the updated Statement will say.

Kerr notes that the new revised Statement is only a slight change from the current Statement. The current Statement, which you can read at, says the following (section 5.6):

You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Wall and 32665), or any confusingly similar marks, without our written permission.

So are we Facebook users ALREADY prohibited from using the words "face," "poke," and "wall" on Facebook without Facebook's permission?

Not exactly.

We Facebook users are prohibited from using COPYRIGHTS OR TRADEMARKS such as those listed, or "confusingly similar marks."

Let me give you an example. Let's say that you go to a restaurant and have a bowl of soup. You really like that bowl of soup. In fact, you think that bowl of soup is "super." You get so excited that you run to Yelp and write a review about that "super bowl." Do you think that the National Football League's lawyers are going to come knocking at your door? Of course not, because your description of your restaurant visit is not "confusingly similar" to a certain piece of intellectual property that the NFL zealously protects.

Now bring this back to the original subject. I'm sure that countless numbers of people have discussed Pink Floyd's late 1970s double album, and I'm sure that other people have put their left foot in/out, and many people (probably including myself) have described various biometric modalities, including the finger, the iris, the veins, and other ones.

So how many people have been hammered by Facebook for random uses of the words "wall," "poke," and "face" under the PRESENT Statement?

No, I haven't heard of any either.

Now using these words as part of a trademark or copyright? That's another story, and that's what Facebook is trying to counter - Facebook isn't trying to prevent you from using the word "book."

D.C. Toedt, unlike myself (and probably unlike Kerr), actually IS a lawyer. And on the specific question of whether Facebook can legally protect the term "book" as a trademark, Toedt has written the following:

I think if I were challenging this provision, I might argue that the user’s agreement not to use a particular Facebook trademark implicitly rests on a condition precedent, namely that Facebook in fact has trademark rights in the stated terms. So if Facebook turned out not to have trademark rights in term “book,” then the user’s agreement not to use that term would be automat­ic­ally nullified.

Toedt refers to this post from the Pillsbury Law Firm that discusses Facebook's claim:

While there is no record of a current US trademark application on "BOOK", Facebook does have a pending application in the European Union's trademark database. Moreover, Facebook has brought several suits against online sites incorporating the word "BOOK" in their domain name, with mixed results. Several of these suits have settled while others are still pending. Under US law a certain level of trademark protection can be gained merely by use of an unregistered mark.

Note that even if the proposed change to the Statement is never made, and even if Facebook never registers "BOOK" as a registered trademark, Facebook will probably still go after people and companies who use confusingly similar trademarks. After all, Facebook started going after Teachbook in 2010, and despite an initial dismissal because of an improper jurisdiction, even the judge who dismissed the complaint had some choice words for Teachbook:

Teachbook, somewhat implausibly, insists that it did not intend to trade on Facebook’s mark, and that it selected the TEACHBOOK mark in 2009 because of the connection between teachers and books… Facebook has made a prima facie showing that Teachbook committed an intentional act by selecting a confusingly similar trademark, and that the act caused harm that Teachbook knew was likely to be suffered in the Northern District of California.

In the new jurisdiction, the new judge said that the case should go to trial.

Unless, of course, Teachbook changes its name to Teachspace. Or iTeach.

Oh, and by the way, if you think that Teachbook is a brave little company, standing up for reason against the evil lawyers from big huge multinationals, think again:

2. Trademarks

The trademarks, trade names, trade dress, logos, and service marks (collectively, the "Trademarks") displayed on this Site are the registered and/or unregistered Trademarks of Teachbook, or such third party licensors that may own the displayed Trademarks. Nothing contained on this Site or in the TOU serves to grant to you, by implication or otherwise, any license or right to use any Trademarks displayed on this Site without the written permission of Teachbook or such third party licensors that may own the displayed Trademarks.

3. Site Contents and Copyright

The text, Trademarks, logos, images, graphics, photos, video files, application functionality, or any other digital media, Submissions (as defined below), and their arrangement on this Site (“Content”) are all subject to patent, copyright, trademark, third-party licenses and other intellectual property protection. Content may not be copied for commercial use or distribution, nor may Content be modified, processed, or reposted to other websites without our written permission for uses other than those contemplated by this Site. Access to and use of this Site are allowed solely for your personal use of Teachbook services, information, education, entertainment, and communication with Teachbook and within the Teachbook community. You may download, copy, use, modify or print certain portions of the Content of this Site for your non-commercial limited use, but only as that use relates to the school Teachbook community. No right, title, or interest in any of the Content of this Site is transferred to you as a result of any downloading, copying, printing or use of this Site.

Oh, and take a look at this excerpt from section 5 regarding user submissions:

If you make a Submission to this Site in a public mode or designate a private Submission as public, you automatically grant Teachbook a perpetual, worldwide, unlimited, irrevocable, transferable, assignable, royalty-free license for Teachbook to use that Submission for any lawful purpose whatsoever, including, without limitation, the right to sublicense that Submission to third parties for their lawful uses and purposes, including, without limitation, to adapt, perform, display, create derivative works, copy, sell and otherwise use. Subject to existing laws, you waive any moral rights that you or your licensors may have in any Submission. Once offered as a public Submission, the Submission or any of its derivatives cannot be re-designated as private.

Hmmm...maybe Teachbook is more like Facebook than it would care to admit...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Speaking of wisdom...

In a recent post I discussed the difference between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. And because we use tools that are primitive, we certainly need a lot of wisdom.

For example, let's say that I hate peanut butter ice cream, and that I therefore go to a web page with the title "Do you hate peanut butter ice cream?" The page includes numerous mentions of peanut butter ice cream, along with all of the reasons why we should hate it.

If that page happens to host advertisements - guess what product is likely to be advertised on that page?

Despite the knowledge that the advertisement pertains to the topic at hand, I need to have the wisdom to know that I would not be interested in the item being advertised.

Lewis Cunningham recently shared another example in which wisdom is required. One potential threat to Internet users (does anyone say "web surfers" any more?) is the possibility of ending up at a malware site masquerading as another site. You might think that you're looking at pictures of cute puppies, or going to a special security page at your favorite bank, or getting ready to look at hot pictures of Betty White, but instead you are redirected to a malware or phishing site or a site that shows hot pictures of Abe Vigoda.

Well, most modern web browsers are designed to protect you from such misdirections, and Cunningham received some helpful advice when he tried to navigate to a secure (https) page on a blog on the domain.

His browser warned him that the site was trying to redirect him from, and warned him of the possible consequences.

An attacker on your network could be trying to get you to visit a fake (and potentially harmful) version of You should not proceed.

This warning was followed by two buttons - one labeled "Proceed anyway," and the other labeled "Back to safety." And just in case the paragraph of text was not explanatory enough, Cunningham could click on the text "Help me understand" to get a more thorough explanation of the disaster that was about to befall him.

The warning itself contained the domain of the potential target site - the one to which Cunningham was being redirected. As far as the browser was concerned, this site bore no relation to - hence the browser's dire warnings.

As you have probably already guessed, Cunningham was being routed from to a site in the domain *

I'd be willing to say that 85% of North Americans and Europeans, and a majority of computer users in other parts of the world, had the wisdom to click "Proceed anyway," knowing that Oracle acquired Sun several years ago, and that companies often retire the domain names of companies that they acquire.

Incidentally, using my own web browser, I tried going to (note that I used http, not https) and got an error of my own:

There is a problem with this website's security certificate.

The security certificate presented by this website was issued for a different website's address.

Security certificate problems may indicate an attempt to fool you or intercept any data you send to the server.
We recommend that you close this webpage and do not continue to this website.
Click here to close this webpage.
Continue to this website (not recommended).
More information

Unfortunately, my web browser's message neglected to state the "different website's address" to which the security certificate belonged.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Returning to business reporters vs. sports reporters

In an earlier post, I made a crack regarding how business reporters are often serious, and sports reporters are not - and then noted that Jim Cramer was similar to the latter.

But then I continued doing some reading, and ran across the biography of Janet Paskin, recently hired by the Wall Street Journal as Digital Editor, Markets. This was interesting:

Janet worked as a reporter at SmartMoney magazine and Money magazine – honing skills first developed as a ferocious sports reporter in Long Island and Philadelphia.

So it sounds like Janet's sports reporting bore more of a similarity to Howard Cosell than to, say, Fred Roggin. So I searched for Paskin's byline, and found this 2005 article co-written by Paskin and Bill Hughes. It began as follows:

Mark Sabia, yellow-flagged microphone in tow, has been a regular in press boxes at Yankee Stadium, Shea and Madison Square Garden for years. He pushed his way to the front in post-game interviews, button-holed players for one-on-ones, and complained when he felt he wasn't being treated fairly. In other words, he was indistinguishable from the rest of the small-market television sports reporters in New York's locker rooms.

Except the outlet Sabia represents — Westchester Cable Services — doesn't exist, according to the Queens County District Attorney. Sabia, who lives in Ossining, was arrested Monday when he showed up to cover Opening Day at Shea and was charged with scamming season passes for almost all of New York's professional teams, as well as for several World Series and League Championship Series dating to 1998. He was charged with five felony counts of falsifying business records and 16 misdemeanor counts ranging from petit larceny to criminal impersonation.

The tone of the article certainly isn't of the yuk-yuk variety - although even the most flippant sports journalist would probably get serious with the issue of press credentialing.

It could have been worse, however. Imagine if, back in 2005, Mark Sabia had claimed to be a blogger. In those days, that would have merited the death penalty.

(empo-plaaybizz) GameStop has competition - for the Worst Company in America, that is

Remember my January post about Christine Cavalier's scrutiny of GameStop's business practices - which lead the company to aggressively push customers to take used games rather than new ones, since used games are much more profitable to GameStop.

Steven Hodson linked to a VentureBeat story that mentioned GameStop - and a company even worse than GameStop:

Video game publisher Electronic Arts has a new feather in its cap: it has won The Consumerist’s Worst Company in America award.

The tournament rookie beat out America’s other most-hated companies by a landslide 64% vote. Rival honorees included Walmart, PayPal, Bank of America, and even fellow game industry villain, Gamestop.

Although I missed the earlier rounds, it appears that the Consumerist modeled its voting on the National Collegitate Athletic Association's recent college basketball championships, in which entities compete against each other until only four are left, and then only two are left, and then a final entity survives. Which means that Electronic Arts is Kentucky/Baylor and Bank of America is Kansas/Notre Dame.

The Consumerist explained the decision:

After more than 250,000 votes, Consumerist readers ultimately decided that the type of greed exhibited by EA, which is supposed to be making the world a more fun place, is worse than Bank of America's avarice, which some would argue is the entire point of operating a bank.

The vote has outraged some people who believe that Bank of America's sins are serious and EA's are not. The Consumerist addressed this line of thought:

To those who might sneer at something as "non-essential" as a video game company winning the Worst Company In America vote: It's that exact kind of attitude that allows people to ignore the complaints as companies like EA to nickel and dime consumers to death.

And it's not just companies like Electronic Arts and GameStop. Turn on your television and look at your local television news. Compare the business reporter and the sports reporter. One of them appears in conservative attire, is probably wearing glasses, and never cracks a smile. The other one is yukking it up, and may be wearing a silly cap. Yet the "fun and games" guy is talking about multi-billion dollar industries - industries which are not taken seriously. Imagine if Wall Street were covered in a sports style - oh, wait, we don't have to imagine it; I forgot about Jim Cramer.

Returning to Electronic Arts, how did they react to the news that tens of thousands of people loudly declared that EA sucks? According to Kotaku, EA was not humbled by the experience:

In a statement to Kotaku, EA Senior Director of Corporate Communications John Reseburg said:

"We're sure that British Petroleum, AIG, Philip Morris, and Halliburton are all relieved they weren't nominated this year. We're going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide."

Perhaps when GameStop goes to Lamar Smith to enlist him in the battle against a rogue game market, Electronic Arts will also go to Lamar Smith to enlist him in a battle to make sure that rogue groups like the Consumerist and its 200,000+ voters don't illegally use the concepts derived by such outstanding groups as the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Even more on the false scarcity of qualified magazine subscriptions

I receive a free subscription to a magazine, and my latest copy of the magazine included this text on the cover - in red, no less:

Unless You Renew Now

To prevent your subscription from being cancelled,
you must renew by April 27, 2012
Renew now at [website redacted]

...Or you will be replaced by another IT professional.
Demand is high!

This might sound familiar to long-time readers of this blog. Back on June 16, 2011, I received a similar message from the same magazine:

Unless You Renew Now

To prevent your subscription from being cancelled,
you must renew by July 1, 2011

Renew now at [website redacted]

...Or you will be replaced by another IT professional.
Demand is high!

A few months later, in September 2011, I provided an update:

[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.

If you believe the bright red text that I saw back in June, this meant that the person would immediately release my indefensible hold on the qualified magazine subscription, much to the joy of a qualified IT professional who would now receive the magazine in my place. After all,

Demand is high!

But obviously that didn't happen.

But again, there are stories more humorous than mine. Remember the woman whose husband's subscription to Muscle Car magazine expired several years ago, but they're still getting the magazine? Well, there are even more stories of people who don't get charged for magazines but still keep getting them. Here's my favorite:

I received a gift sub for a computer (I'm in IT!) mag, and then bought a few other mags as gifts when it was time for renewal, and also a motorcycle rag for me.
I then received a free sub to a powerboat mag.
Which "qualified" me for a wooden boat mag sub. This one I liked!
These then qualified me for Cosmo, then BHG.
After some time my computer, both boat and the motorcycle mags expired, but I started getting some young female fashion rags I never heard of.
I ended with a couple years of a teen scene thing.
I knew they were all related to the first sub because of the wrong middle initial.
It was just odd getting happy happy joy joy little sappy girl paparazzi crap.
I did NOT know the Hanson Brothers drummer was a boy until then.

What can you say? Mmm-BOP!

(Incidentally, Hanson's Google+ page is here. And I wrote about Hanson last October in my Empoprise-MU music blog.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Yucaipa Johnson - will we be able to buy pink slime at Dodger Stadium?

If you can't tell, I'm somewhat miffed at the inaccurate reporting that has been masquerading as news during the past few days - to the point that whenever I hear a radio report claiming that Magic Johnson is "leading" the group that is buying the Los Angeles Dodgers, I change the station. (If you haven't heard, the person who holds the title "controlling partner" is NOT Johnson, and the name of the group buying the team is NOT the Magic Johnson group.)

The truth is that Johnson is an investor - not the lead investor in the case of the Dodgers, but an investor nonetheless.

Another Magic Johnson investment has made the news today (oh boy). Again, based upon the name of the company, it does not appear that Johnson is the lead investor in this group.

The Yucaipa Johnson Corporate Initiatives Growth Fund, is the country’s premiere private equity growth fund focusing on strategic investments in companies located in and/or serving America’s under-served markets. With over $500 Million in capital, the fund also provides capital for suppliers in our Corporate Partners’ supply chains requiring growth capital to support the organization on a larger scale.

No fund is perfect, and it turns out that Ron Burkle (the Yucaipa guy) and Magic Johnson have run into a bad investment.

Roughly 850 workers at AFA Foods, which is owned by Los Angeles-based private equity firm Yucaipa Cos. and basketball great Magic Johnson, are facing layoffs.

The Pennsylvania-based filing for bankruptcy....

What happened at AFA Foods? Well, it turns out that one of its meat processing techniques, despite being approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has received a negative backlash lately. In fact, perhaps you yourself have raised objections to lean, finely textured beef:

Dr. Russell Cross, head of the department of animal science at Texas A&M, said lean, finely textured beef is nutritious, and a production process he approved while serving as administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food Safety Inspection Service in 1993.

"The simplest way to describe this is that it is meat, it’s beef," he said. "The protein content is similar to what is ground in a steak. This product is no different than meat; that’s the reason USDA calls it meat."

However, over the last few weeks people have been talking about lean, finely textured beef without talking about lean, finely textured beef. Lately, people have applied a different name to the beef. David Katz, MD used the alternative term recently:

Pink slime is rather yucky. As you likely know by now, this less-than-flattering but well-deserved moniker applies to lean finely textured beef, a widely-used food additive. Some of you now know that you have been eating the stuff all along, in blissful ignorance.

Whether or not pink slime is bad for health -- a topic generating impassioned debate -- may be moot. If people don't like the idea of eating it, it will go away.

And pink slime apparently is going away - and 850 jobs are going away along with it. But Dr. Katz points out something else:

Pink slime tells us much about the character of a modern food supply comprising hundreds of thousands of packaged foods, and a whole industry devoted to additives. Pink slime has been "outed," so you can get it out of your diet. But how many other variations on the theme of pink slime might there be? What IS that purple snot salad dressing, anyway? How many food components have yet to be outed, and thus are still finding their way into you -- and your family -- as a matter of routine? Food for thought.

So is Magic Johnson a bad investor? It's fair to say that no one could have predicted how "pink slime" hate could go viral. And whenever you invest in "under-served markets," you are automatically taking on a greater level of risk - and, of course, a greater level of reward.

Sujatha Das on data, information, knowledge, and wisdom

Jim Ulvog has expanded my thinking on Narrative Science and what the company does. You'll recall that Narrative Science takes raw data and turns it into a readable story. Ulvog notes that this is one example of "creative visualization." He has previously discussed other examples:

I’ve discussed rap videos to explain economics, the federal budget illustrated on a one-page chart, and using one map to show the destruction of Napoleon’s army during his invasion of Russia. That one map does a better job of telling the story that a 1,000 word article and far faster than a 100 page book.

In essence, Narrative Science and the economic rappers and the Euro-centric mapmakers are all converting data into information.

But actually, they're doing much more.

In July 2007, Sujatha Das defined four words - data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. I was familiar with the definitions of the first two words - data is raw stuff, while information is (in Das' words) "data plus conceptual commitments and interpretations."

Das then goes on to define knowledge. Here is an excerpt of the definition (read the rest here):

Knowledge is a subset of information. But it is a subset that has been extracted, filtered, or formatted in a very special way.

Using this definition, it's more appropriate to say that Narrative Science et al do not provide information - they provide knowledge.

But Das defines one more term. the application of knowledge expressed in principles to arrive at prudent, sagacious decisions about conflicting situations.

Without wisdom, the other steps are meaningless. After all, Narrative Science can provide us with an easy-to-read digest of a company's quarterly performance, but what do we do with that knowledge once we have gained it?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Is personalized news "Orwellian"? (Slate on Narrative Science)

How very Orwellian!

Seth Mnookin

Chris Kim A and I are not the only people who have written about Narrative Science. Evgeny Morozov is worried that the technology will "hurt civil discourse." Morozov cites an example:

Imagine that my online history suggests that I hold an advanced degree and that I spend a lot of time on the websites of the Economist or the New York Review of Books; as a result, I get to see a more sophisticated, challenging, and informative version of the same story than my USA Today-reading neighbor. If one can infer that I'm also interested in international news and global justice, a computer-generated news article about Angelina Jolie might end by mentioning her new film about the war in Bosnia. My celebrity-obsessed neighbor, on the other hand, would see the same story end with some useless gossipy tidbit about Brad Pitt.

Morozov goes on to cite another example:

Advertisers and publishers love such individuation, which could push users to spend more time on their sites. But the social implications are quite dubious. At the very least, there's a danger that some people might get stuck in a vicious news circle, consuming nothing but information junk food and having little clue that there is a different, more intelligent world out there.

The Slate article goes on to worry about all the information that Amazon and Google have about us.

But do we really need to worry about a world in which we are fed information about Brad Pitt? The horror!

Not everyone agrees that personalized ads are the death of social discourse. Louis Gray wrote about the topic back in January 2011:

For almost two years now, I've been asking ad companies to leverage my social profiles online. I am tired of getting singles ads, or mortgage ads or used car ads or any type of ads that don't match me as an individual. I've complained about low-quality offensive ads on sites just out to make a buck, embraced Twitter advertisements, assuming relevancy, and did the reverse for the poor Facebook ad experience. So whether you're like and want to make me the poster child for the seeming end of privacy or not, my stance on this has been consistent for some time. I would be more than eager to put more data into the system to make it a better system, including all the ads everywhere I go.

Gray would actually LIKE to see articles about things that interest him - yes, including breast pumps.

And while I do not lead my life as publicly as Gray does, I would not mind seeing advertisements - and stories - that are tailored to my interests. Hopefully my interests are broad enough that the resulting story feed would result in the occasional article that is NOT thoroughly compliant with every provision of the Book of Concord. Heck, I'd even be happy if there were 1530 non-Lutheran articles that interested me.

Even articles about Brad Pitt.