Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thanks to #apmp Socal, the Shipley Capture Guide is on my reading list

Back in 2009, I went to a conference and won a book as a prize, and a guy named Larry was involved. I wrote about this here. The book in question was Judi Doolittle's PeopleSoft Developer's Guide for PeopleTools & PeopleCode: Create and Distribute High-Performance Applications and Reports. As I noted at the time, this book didn't directly impact me, since I was not working with PeopleSoft:

Now this is not the first time this week that I've been pretty much out of my depth....And I think that I would lose wits with many of the 40,000+ people who are here, including Roger Daltrey and Shooter Jennings.

And of course even that analysis is based upon my role as a product manager in the marketing department. What if my role within my company changes?

This is a literary technique known as foreshadowing. I had already performed some fore-foreshadowing the previous week, in a post in which I discussed some changes at a company called Shipley Associates.

Later that same month, I publicly wrote about a change in my role within my company, stating that I was no longer a product manager in the marketing department, but was (again) a proposal writer, and therefore very interested in what companies such as Shipley Associates were doing.

OK, let's fast forward to 2012. Last week, I went to a conference (this year's APMP Socal Training Day) and won a book as a prize, and a guy named Larry was involved. But this time, Larry wasn't the head of the company that sold the product mentioned in the book. This time, Larry was the book's author.

The book in question is the Shipley Capture Guide, written by Larry Newman of the aforementioned Shipley Associates. If you want to buy the book yourself, Amazon sells it (although as I write this, superstorm Sandy may be adversely affecting Amazon delivery times).

Oh, and for FTC disclosure purposes, I should note that this book has a price that ranges between $83.99 and $119.

The book is packed within information about capture planning, which is defined as an early phase in winning a business deal. (The proposal itself is a later phase in this process.) Newman defines capture planning as follows:

The AIM of capture planning is to progress from an initial unknown position to a favored position as viewed by the customer. Initially, the customer is unknown by the seller and the seller is unknown by the customer. Your initial UNKNOWN seller's position is ignorance about customer needs, the customer's view of your organization, and your relative competitive position.

Now some of you may read this and say that it doesn't apply to you. You know your customer, and you know your customer's needs. Or do you? I've been involved in at least one situation in which we had enjoyed a business relationship with a customer for decades - and the next thing we knew, the customer was scheduling meetings with all of our competitors. Obviously something went awry in that relationship, and it could go awry in any relationship.

(To take a more recent example, could anyone have envisioned the day in which Joe Paterno would be fired by Penn State? We were all operating with insufficient information.)

I will definitely be reading this book, not only because of its impact upon my job, but because it coincidentally relates to a topic that I'll briefly address in my ebook - but only briefly.


P.S. I actually won two prizes at the APMP Socal Training Day. In addition to the book, which was donated by Shipley Associates, I also won an Amazon gift card that was donated by the 24 Hour Company. (I've blogged about this company before.) However, I probably won't be using that gift for business purposes.

It's scary when I exhibit more common sense than American Apparel

I recently restrained myself from doing something.

I happen to know someone in Europe who goes by the nickname Sandy, and I almost sent a message to her recently. I was going to say that I was excited when I heard that Sandy was coming to the United States, but disappointed when I learned that it was actually a different Sandy that would be coming. However, once that Sandy - Hurricane Sandy - began killing people, my joke suddenly became much less funny, and I never sent it.

American Apparel, however, did not share my sense of restraint:

The retailer sent an email blast to customers Monday night offering a 20 percent discount for the next 36 hours “in case you’re bored during the storm.” The ad then featured a map that highlighted the northeastern part of the United States, where Hurricane Sandy was hitting the hardest.

The sale offer was available to customers of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. The ad then told customers to “Just Enter SANDYSALE at Checkout” to get the discount.

Well, some people didn't go to American Apparel's checkout page. Instead, they went to Twitter and expressed their displeasure. Electric Pig:

Search ‘American Apparel’ on Twitter...and you’re likely to see a torrent of abuse, with users calling for boycotts, or for the store to take its 20 per cent and donate it to charity. Oops.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lucasfilm reunited under Disney

It's funny when a company splits into multiple parts, only to later be reunited. AT&T is a good example.

And another example was just announced today, when Disney announced that it was buying Lucasfilm for over $4 billion. Lucasfilm will now be under the same umbrella as Pixar, which Disney bought several years ago.

However, Pixar was one of those things that Steve Jobs didn't invent himself (although he made it better). If you think back, you'll recall that Jobs bought Pixar.

From Lucasfilm.

And there are small ramifications that are interesting. I confess that I don't know Brenda Chapman from Brenda Starr, but it was newsworthy when Chapman left Pixar to work for Lucasfilm. I hope that Chapman didn't leave Pixar because of a hatred for Mickey Mouse.

I've been to an HP event. It wasn't that bad.

Several years ago, I was invited to a Hewlett-Packard sales conference in Las Vegas. I only had one minor quibble with the affair - the people in charge of seating at the events forcibly dictated where you were to sit during the events. If you wanted to sit in the back of the room, no dice - you had to sit in the open chair in row 3, seat 21. Other than that, I enjoyed the conference.

Apparently there was a senior network engineer who really, really didn't want to go to an HP conference. InformationWeek provides more detail about this engineer (but not his name). It appears that the engineer received a "written warning a corrective action plan" from his employer. One of the items cited in the memorandum:

The memorandum...also accused the network engineer of "purposely pulling a cable out of a production environment in order that you would not have to travel to Jacksonville to attend an HP event at the request of the CIO."

Hey, if you really don't want to go to an event, you really don't want to go to an event.

The memorandum included a few other items. InformationWeek:

The network slowdown was one of the first clues that something was amiss....It was the spring of 2005. Over a period of roughly seven business days, traffic had slowed to a crawl....

Dan Saccavino...says he and another network engineer eventually pinpointed the cause of the slowdown: A senior network engineer had disabled the company's WatchGuard firewalls and routed all of the [company's] IP traffic...through his home cable modem....

Why would a network engineer route all of his employer's traffic through his home RoadRunner cable modem? "You can direct where your traffic is going, and we found out that he'd sent the traffic home to ensure that his routing patterns at work were correct," Saccavino told InformationWeek in a recent interview. But after a week, Saccavino said, he'd forgotten to turn it off.

One can say that these were the actions of a rogue engineer. But the rogue engineer wasn't the only problem going on at his employer - broker/dealer GunnAllen. The lack of controls on this engineer reflected the lack of controls throughout the firm. Never mind the fact that the engineer's actions resulted in no required logging of stock trades; the company had bigger issues.

Not all of GunnAllen's alleged IT missteps had SEC implications. One incident detailed by two former employees involved unpaid Microsoft SQL Server licenses. The Revere Group had been receiving from Microsoft license-renewal bills for GunnAllen, which the acting CIO had ignored, according to the two former employees. Ultimately, Microsoft issued a final warning with a bill for about $20,000, saying it would disable the license at a specified date and time. "It was like an hour or two before the deadline--before Microsoft shuts the SQL servers down, which would bring GunnAllen to its knees," Saccavino recalled.

That ultimatum led one of DiMarzio's employees to contact Microsoft and share GunnAllen's licensing details. But two former employees say the acting CIO at the time, when given the licensing news and bill by the employee, threatened to fire the employee if he spoke of the matter again.

And it wasn't just IT:

2008 was when FINRA fined GunnAllen $750,000 for a "trade allocation scheme" conducted by former head trader Alexis J. Rivera. "In 2002 and 2003, the firm, acting through Rivera, engaged in a 'cherry picking' scheme in which Rivera allocated profitable stock trades to his wife's personal account instead of to the accounts of firm customers," according to FINRA. "Rivera garnered improper profits of more than $270,000 through this misconduct, which violated the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws and FINRA rules. Rivera was barred in December 2006."

More - much, much more - here. Not every isolated incident is just the tip of the iceberg of widespread corporate corruption - but even isolated incidents need to be checked out to make sure they're not part of a larger problem.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Does Microsoft Surface meet a real need, or is it an engineering solution in search of a problem?

Trust TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) to ridicule Microsoft's Steve Ballmer at every opportunity. For one, the guy's bald - he doesn't have short-cropped hair like You-Know-Who had. For another, the guy makes outrageous statements - never mind that You-Know-Who liked to make outrageous statements also.

Let's look at TUAW's take on a recent CNBC interview. According to TUAW, Ballmer said the following:

"I don't think anybody has done a product that is the product that I see customers wanting. You can go through the products from all those guys ... and none of them has a product that you can really use. Not Apple. Not Google. Not Amazon."

TUAW then marshals some statements that it sourced from allthingssd:

Apple has sold 100 million iPads since it launched the device two and a half years ago. And Amazon, without ever disclosing any sales numbers, perennially maintains that the Kindle Fire is its best-selling product ever.

But TUAW focused on only PART of what Ballmer said. Here, according to allthingssd, is Ballmer's complete quote:

I don’t think anybody has done a product that is the product that I see customers wanting. You can go through the products from all those guys … and none of them has a product that you can really use. Not Apple. Not Google. Not Amazon. Nobody has a product that lets you work and play that can be your tablet and your PC. Not at any price point.

This is a first-class tablet that people can enjoy and appreciate. It’s a PC; it’s a tablet. It’s for play; it’s for work. It’s a got a great price. That product doesn’t exist today.

While TUAW mentions Ballmer's tablet/PC comment in passing at the end of its post, the lead concentrates on the millions of devices that have already been sold.

But what of Ballmer's point that Surface functions as both a tablet and a PC? Is this what customers really want? Two years from now, will people laugh at the old days in which people were forced to use their devices as either business computers OR personal tablets?

You could look at Ballmer's main point and argue that it's complete nonsense. My older readers may recall this Saturday Night Live parody commercial:

Wife: New Shimmer is a floor wax!

Husband: No, new Shimmer is a dessert topping!

Wife: It's a floor wax!

Husband: It's a dessert topping!

Wife: It's a floor wax, I'm telling you!

Husband: It's a dessert topping, you cow!

Spokesman: [ enters quickly ] Hey, hey, hey, calm down, you two. New Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping!

Will people truly want a single device that functions both in the corporate environment (with keyboard) and at home (as a tablet)? Will corporate IT departments buy into the concept? Will workers/players buy into the concept?

According to Techradar, personal users may buy into the idea even if corporate IT departments do not:

According to an independent survey commissioned by Hornbill Service Management of 1,457 British office workers, 53% state that corporate IT is failing to keep pace with the needs of the business. Some are taking drastic steps to resolve this: 40% state that they will use personal devices without getting permission from, or informing, IT in order to improve productivity.

So corporate people might be sneaking Surface in the back door. Hmmm...sounds like what happened with the Macintosh in the 1980s.

But Techradar does go on to say that, while Microsoft is banking on the idea that enterprises will gravitate toward a business-designed device (Surface) rather than a consumer-designed device (iPad), Surface may end up with some hefty competition soon:

And many industry watchers point to the latest range of entry-level Ultrabooks that will be arriving in 2013 that could deliver business machines that evolve the humble notebook PC into a device that enterprises can embrace.

So maybe Surface 1.0 may not be the industry shift that Ballmer is looking for. But Microsoft is certainly able to come up with a version 2.0, and a version 3.0, and to keep on working on a product until it dominates the market. And we all know that Ballmer is sensitive to the needs of developers.

So perhaps a few years from now, Ballmer's statement that none of the early 2012 products can really be used by customers may be a valid one. There's a chance that Ballmer is predicting the future - and TUAW missed it by focusing on the past.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Contingency planning and prioritization - #apmp advice

I work in proposals, which means that I need to respond to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that are issued by a variety of government agencies.

In the ideal world, Government Agency X would tell all of the vendors several months in advance that an RFP would be issued on a particular day - and it would actually be issued on that day.

(Also in the ideal world, Government Agencies X, Y, and Z would all coordinate with each other so that their RFP responses were NOT due on the same day. But that's a topic for another post.)

Well, government agencies are about as perfect as the rest of us. And RFPs are complex documents that have to be reviewed by a number of organizations (technical, financial, purchasing, legal) before they are issued. Because of this, it's nearly impossible to determine when an RFP will actually be released to the public. Maybe it's issued "on time" (whatever that means). Maybe it's issued a few weeks later. Maybe it's issued a few months later. Maybe it's never issued at all.

Now what if you're a vendor who's trying to plan staffing to respond to an RFP?

The Lohfield Consulting Group publishes a regular feature from Wendy Frieman, the Proposal Doctor, and a recent version included a question from a proposal director that discussed this particular topic. In this particular proposal director's case, several of his or her proposal managers had already delayed vacation in anticipation of RFPs that never arrived, and they couldn't delay them any more.

Now I suspect that Proposal Doctor Wendy Frieman does not have a medical degree, but she did provide the following advice.

I don’t postpone vacations or trips or occasions for pending RFPs....When I commit to a family event, I honor that commitment even if I have a high level of confidence that an RFP will appear that day. In my household, we celebrate birthdays on the actual birthday, anniversaries on the actual date, Passover on whatever night it actually occurs (even though it would be so much more convenient to “move” it to a weekend). You get the idea.

I came to this approach after realizing that dates and commitments are what give meaning to my life, and it undermines my sense of order to start moving them in anticipation of something that might or might not happen – usually, not.

Frieman then proceeds to answer the specific question about staffing for RFPs, but the excerpt above has applications well beyond the proposal realm. It's something that I didn't realize when I first joined the ranks of the employed, but it's something that I slowly learned over the years.

Actually, I am facing an issue this week that touches upon this. It's not technically work-related, but it requires this need to prioritize things and balance things. I am involved with a volunteer organization, and I need to complete a particular online training course to be fully qualified as a volunteer. (I should also note that this training is mandated by an agency of the U.S. federal government.) In my part of the country, the online training will be available at 6:00 in the evening.

Ordinarily, this would not be much of a concern. I would hang around late at work, dial in to the conference number, fire up my web browser to see the training slides, and drive home from work after the training is complete. Yes, I'd get home late, which would be a concern, but I'd just have to really really make sure I get the trash out or whatever.

There's only one problem this time. There is a family event that is taking place at 7:00 in the evening that same night. And for me to stay at work, go through the training, and then drive home in time for the family event, I would have to drive home at a speed of approximately 120 miles an hour. In the state of California, this happens to be illegal. During the afternoon rush hour, this happens to be impossible.

Since the volunteer organization will be able to detect this, I'll go ahead and let you in to a little secret right now. I WON'T BE LOOKING AT THE SLIDES WHEN EVERYONE ELSE IS LOOKING AT THEM. I printed the slides a few days ago. And yes, I'll dial in to the audio, but I've recently confirmed that my handy-dandy FM radio broadcasting thingy, which broadcasts audio on my FM radio, can also function pretty well as a hands-free device - especially when I'm supposed to be on mute anyway so that the presenter can give the presentation.

I wish my handy-dandy FM radio broadcasting thingy could solve all of my scheduling problems.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Ventura Police Department weighs in on the Mills fax scam letters

Of course, the main reason that people in the United States pay attention to Ruby Addo and Samuel Kofi Atta Mills is because of a fax scam that has been circulating in various forms for some time.

And around the time (September 10) that I first began writing about the scam, a number of people in the city of Ventura, California began receiving these faxes also. By September 12, the Ventura Police Department issued a warning about the Samuel Kofi Atta Mills fax scam, and also about all other scams of this type. Here is part of that warning from the Ventura Police Department:

The vast majority of individuals who receive such a fax/letter realize the correspondence is a scam and do the right thing by not responding and simply discarding the letter. Scams of this nature, and similarly related scams (e.g., Lotto, Sweepstakes, Mystery Shopper Opportunities, “Grandparent” Scam, etc.) ultimately work because they prey upon people’s ambitions, vulnerabilities, and emotions. Unfortunately some individuals do provide the information requested by the scammer and in turn lose their money and/or become victims of identity theft in one form or another.

Although there is some variation to each particular scam, the premise of each is fairly consistent – that is, in one way or another you are asked to provide personal data, send money, or cash a fraudulent check. Whatever the set-up, the results are always the same for the victim – they end up having their identity compromised, and/or losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in these scams.

Below are some helpful tips to recognize a possible scam:

Ask yourself these questions:

o Does it look to good to be true? Then it probably is.

o Does the text reflect a poor command of the English language? Here’s an example from another letter, “We are therefore with great pleasure to notify you that your e-mail address once again, happened to come out top number (1).”

o Are they asking for money or personal information?

o Is there a sense of urgency to the letter, or are they insisting you must “act now” or lose a good opportunity?

o Did you initiate contact with this company or individual? For example, are you being notified that you won a contest you never entered? Unsolicited offers are often questionable.

o Are there errors or inconsistencies in the information provided? For example, does the letter list a company address in one country/state while the check issued is from a company in a different country/state?

Most of these questions sound obvious and a good dose of common sense is usually good enough to keep you from being a victim. However, the crooks that perpetrate these kinds of scams only do so because they are successful at it and it pays for them.

The faxes, letters, e-mails, and phone calls often sound legitimate and can be very convincing. If in doubt, shred the mail, hang up the phone, delete the e-mail, or refuse to open the door to your home to someone you don’t know and trust.

More on the real Ruby Addo, and President Mills' hockey stick

I've received a number of hits on my September 13 post Truth is stranger than fiction - Samuel Kofi Atta Mills. The Google search terms used to get to the post seem to suggest that a fax-based scam is going around using under the name "Ruby Addo Mills."

As I mentioned in the earlier post, Ruby Addo is the mother of a young man named Samuel Kofi Atta Mills, son of the late President of Ghana, John Evans Atta Mills. However, Ruby Addo was not the wife of former President Mills.

I have found this brief description of their relationship.

The mother of Sam Mills, Madam Ruby Addo is also not someone who is widely known in the country. What is known of her is that she was a student of President Mills in sports (hockey) at the time they met.

This account of President Mills' academic career makes no mention of hockey. Incidentally, it should be noted that when you're talking about hockey in Ghana, you're talking about field hockey, not ice hockey.

At the age of 27, he was awarded his PhD after successfully defending his doctoral thesis in the area of taxation and economic development. He returned to Ghana that year, becoming a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ghana. He became a visiting professor of Temple Law School (Philadelphia, USA), with two stints from 1978 to 1979, and 1986 to 1987, and was a visiting professor at Leiden University (Holland) from 1985 to 1986. During this period, he authored several publications relating to taxation during the 1970s & 1980s.

Outside of his academic pursuits, Professor Mills was the Acting Commissioner of Ghana's Internal Revenue Service from 1986 to 1993, and the substantive Commissioner from 1993 to 1996.By 1992, he had become an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Ghana. Mills was also a Fulbright scholar at Stanford Law School.

I'm guessing, though I could be wrong, that Ruby Addo met future President Mills at the University of Ghana, and not at Temple Law School or Leiden University. So was he a coach of the University of Ghana hockey team? This account suggests otherwise. After noting that Mills played hockey in secondary school and at university before his departure to the United Kingdom for further studies, it says the following:

[Mills] came back years later to be a founder member of the Veterans Hockey team in Accra.

He rose to become the vice president of the club in 1991 and moved up to occupy the presidency following the death of K. N. Owusu in 1994.

However, on rising to become the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana in 1996, and subsequently the presidential candidate for the NDC Party in 2000, Professor Mills was forced to retire from active play.

A testimonial match, as is the tradition of the club, was played in his honour to formally hang his sticks.

From this account, it appears that Mills was not a coach at a university hockey team, but a player for an Accra club team. But Mills was a traditionalist:

Professor Mills is fondly remembered for sticking to the “old system” such that even years after the sport had been transformed, the ex-president stuck to old hockey sticks and never tried the modern sticks.

I was able to find a web page for the Ghana Hockey Association, but was unable to find one for the Veterans Hockey Club. Nor could I find information about Rudy Addo's hockey career.

Blame Arrington - I'm not done with the first draft yet, and I already have to change my book

As I've mentioned in passing on a few occasions, I am currently working on a book. Although the book is (purportedly) a work of fiction, it touches on some themes that I've addressed in this blog as well as my tymshft blog.

The challenge in writing any fiction book, especially in the tech sector, is that the book has to be timely when the reader looks at it. Even if the reader looks at it a year or two later, it should be somewhat timely. (It is very difficult to write a tech book that is timely one hundred years from now.)

Greater writers than I have struggled with this. Take Gene Roddenberry and the other people who were working on the original Star Trek series. They had to create an environment that was supposedly several hundred years in the future. Since they were working in the present, they had to extrapolate what the future might look like. They took concepts from then current Navy ships and used them to create the concept of a "starship," commanded by a captain. The "Federation" that figures so prominently in Star Trek is just an interplanetary version of the United Nations (in which Earth is one of the permanent members of the Federation's equivalent of a Security Council).

Now I didn't have to create a reality that was hundreds of years in the future, but I did have to create a reality that would still be relevant by the time I finally got my book out the door. This week I'm still in the middle of writing the first draft, and I expect that I'll have to go through several revision cycles until you can have the book in your hands.

While working on the first draft, I wrote a passage in which one of the characters leaves the company NLC (you have to read the book to find out what NLC stands for). So I drafted the following passage a couple of days ago. (I should clarify that the "Barack" in this story is not the current President of the United States.)

“John, for your benefit,” Henry began, “I was just telling Gretchen - I mean Barack and Gretchen - of my resignation. Today is my last day at the company - I mean at NLC.”

“So, where are you going?” John asked. Not that he knew the competitors in the market - heck, NLC didn’t even have a market yet - but it was John’s habit to ask departing employees where they were going. Usually they wouldn’t reveal this, but John figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

“I’ve accepted a position at Mashable,” Henry revealed.

“Are you a writer?” John asked.

“Sometimes,” Henry replied, “but I’ve accepted a position as Mashable’s CEO.”

“But what about-” John began to ask.

Henry interrupted John. “He left and went to TechCrunch.”

“But what about Arrington?” John asked, and then slapped his head. “Whoops, he left long ago. Maybe Ellen’s right about us old people being slow.”

“Between you and me,” Henry said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Arrington ended up back at TechCrunch rather soon.”

As Barack snuck peeks at his comic book, Gretchen shook her head. “With Arianna at AOL?” she asked. “Not likely.”

“I can’t say any more,” Henry stated.

When I wrote the passage above a few days ago, I figured that it was relatively safe - I wrote it in a way to avoid the name of Mashable's head (whoever that may be when the book comes out), and I figured that it was pretty unlikely that Arrington would return to TechCrunch to head it up before my book came out.

Well, if you follow the news, you know that Arrington isn't the head of TechCrunch at the moment. But he is back, according to Eric Eldon and Alexia Tsotsis:

We’re excited to introduce two more columnists today.* You might have heard of them.

MG Siegler has been writing for TechCrunch since 2009, covering Apple, startups, goats, whatever else he felt like, plus serving as the resident movie critic and Android troll. He was pretty good at it all. Arguably the best. Since becoming a full-time investor with the CrunchFund a year ago, he’s continued writing for us as a columnist covering Apple. Starting today, he’ll occasionally cover other topics, too (although not his own investments, see below).

Also, founder Michael Arrington is back behind the wheel of his own WordPress account here at TechCrunch. That’s right. The lawyer/entrepreneur/investor-turned-blogger-turned-investor isn’t just doing conferences with us. Starting today, he’ll begin writing occasional pieces on tech topics. TechCrunch is like the Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave!”

Perhaps I'd better rewrite that passage in my book about Arrington not being back at TechCrunch. Perhaps I can just rewrite it to emphasize that Arrington won't be heading up TechCrunch. After all, Eldon and Tsotsis said so in their post:

And no this is not part of some Machiavellian master plan for Michael and MG to regain power/use TC as a vehicle for their own investments/kill baby seals. First of all, a lot of CrunchFund investments are things we’d cover anyways, and also, Alexia and Michael barely even get along most of the time. So yeah, NOTHING SINISTER IS HAPPENING, WE PROMISE.

So we have the denials. Arrington is NOT going to head up TechCrunch.

And that statement is about as solid as a block of original shares of General Motors.

I think I'm going to have some fun rewriting that passage in the book.

Ideally, I should learn a new acronym every day (BCS and GIK)

I'm plugging along on the first draft of my book, and I just wrote a passage in which the dangers of acronyms are well illustrated. Acronyms can mean many different things to many different people. When someone uses an acronym to mean one thing, someone else may think it means a totally different thing, and therefore misinterprets what the first person is saying. As for the specific'll have to wait for the book.

Unfortunately for me, the Breast Cancer Society of Mesa, Arizona does not appear to use the term BCS. But the Arizona charity does share one thing in common with the Bowl Championship Series - it's controversial.

Jim Ulvog has been writing a series of posts about gift-in-kind valuations and how they affect nonprofits. As for why gift-in-kind valuations are important, read this post for an example. The post describes how, because of an accounting standards change, donated medicine (in pill form) that was valued for accounting purposes at $9.07 per pill in one year was re-valued at $0.35 per pill in the following year.

Ulvog has written a number of posts about gift-in-kind valuations, and presumably his fingers get tired at times. For this reason, and because his posts are usually written for people with a background in non-profit accounting issues (needless to say, I'm an exception to this), Ulvog often uses the acronym "GIK" to refer to gift-in-kind valuations.

OK, maybe you have to be an accounting geek to understand GIK. But every line of business has its own acronyms, and yours is probably no exception.

What does this have to do with the Breast Cancer Society? Plenty, as Ulvog points out in another post. Ulvog summarizes the contents of a report that discusses the BCS (sorry, couldn't resist) and other charities, and notes the following:

Key data points for further analysis:

o 38M GIK revenue
o 14M raised by fundraising vendors

o 33M GIK expenses
o 12M fundraising costs

So for this particular charity, gifts in kind have a much higher value than fundraising activities. But that's because of the way that said gifts were valued. If the GIK were grossly overvalued, then the revenue raised by fundraising vendors, and the costs from fundraising expenses, would be much more significant.

Which brings us to this article (which, as you'll see, DOES use the acronym "BCS" to refer to the Breast Cancer Society). Here's an excerpt:

Borochoff says non-cash items like the ones BCS claimed in their tax returns are hard to track.

In the case of BCS, they are medicines and other items donated to the charity, and then sent to help people out of the country. The charity puts a value on them for tax purposes.

But Borochoff says they can be valued much higher than they are actually worth, making the charity appear to be more charitable than it really is.

“It's very convenient for the charities because they can hide not only what the goods are but who specifically receives them,” Borochoff said.

And BCS is not the only charity claiming millions in non-cash donations. The Internal Revenue Service recently fined a different charity for claiming it had given away $75 million in non-cash contributions that the IRS said were actually worth just $93,000.

Now the IRS, to my knowledge, has not fined BCS. But even a layperson such as myself can understand how questions about GIK valuations can have large ramifications.

From my layperson's perspective, it seems to be a very murky area. I performed a Google search for the words "gift in kind valuation," and in addition to a link to Ulvog's blog, I ran across a number of different pages, from a number of different non-profit organizations (such as universities), detailing each organization's procedures for valuing gifts in kind. I also found a page that mentioned a major issue - one that I have personally encountered when donating clothes, books, and other items to charities:

By law, non-profit organizations cannot provide a donor with the dollar value of an In-kind gift. Such valuations when applicable, relative to "fair market value" of In-Kind gifts, need to be professionally assessed and certified elsewhere—if they can be—and that is the responsibility of the donor. This certification subsequently needs to be resolved with the professionals and others who prepare the donor's tax forms—whose work in turn will need to be reconciled with IRS regulations.

Because my in-kind donations are not of the same order of magnitude as those from someone like Bill Gates, my personal solution for valuation of my in-kind gifts is fairly simple. First, I decide if the item in question is in excellent condition, good condition, fair condition, or poor condition. Second, I use the donations add-on that came with my tax software package to choose the value for the item.

When you're as big as the BMGF (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) or the BCS (Breast Cancer Society), things can get a little more complex.

And if an organization such as the one that the IRS fined is doing bad stuff, it's yet another example of the difference between the idealistic goals of an organization and the fallible human beings who actually run the organization.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The first mission statement

Our mission is to bring Catholicism to the Indians.

If you are accusing me of politically incorrect by not using the term "Native Americans," in this case you are wrong. I speak of the Indians in India:

About that time John of Montecorvino came to Rome with similar promising news, and Nicholas IV entrusted him with the important mission to Farther China, where about this time Marco Polo, the celebrated traveller, still lingered. He started on his journey in 1289, provided with letters to the Khan Argun, to the great Emperor Kublai Khan, to Kaidu, Prince of the Tatars, to the King of Armenia and to the Patriarch of the Jacobites. His companions were the Dominican Nicholas of Pistoia and the merchant Peter of Lucalongo. From Persia he went by sea to India, in 1291, where he preached for thirteen months and baptized about one hundred persons. Here also his companion, Nicholas, died.

It's interesting that this religious term "mission," which represented an activity to bring something of value to people who did not have it, has been adopted by numerous businesses and organizations who come up with "mission statements" describing what they do.

This is yet another example of how organizations strive to fulfill ideals.

140 is the new magic number

Depending upon your culture, certain numbers may have deep significance for you. I am part of a Jewish-Christian culture, in which numbers such as 3, 4, 7, and 12 have certain meanings. For other people, numbers such as twenty seven and forty two are awe-inspiring.

I ran across another number this week that is becoming more and more significant.

I was filling out an online form that consisted of multiple choice answers, plus a comment area associated with each of the answers. For the providers of the form, it was not enough to answer the multiple choice questions; they also wanted you to provide a certain amount of commentary in the comments spaces.

How did the form providers decide how much commentary was enough commentary?

According to the form, if the total of all comment text exceeded 140 characters, then the commentary was sufficient.

There are probably other examples of how the number 140, originally conceived based upon delivery of text messages via a single online service, is influencing all sorts of things.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Big Data and the Empoprises FECES Rule of Corporate Me-Tooism

For those who missed my May post, allow me to restate the Empoprises FECES Rule of Corporate Me-Tooism:

Trust me, if FECES suddenly became a trendy acronym that all the cool kids were talking about, then you would have Microsoft, Google, Apple, Oracle, IBM, and everyone else climbing over each other and loudly declaring, "We are FECES."

And they would be correct. :)

Back in May, I was talking about the term "cloud," and how everyone was falling all over themselves to say cloud this and cloud that. Larry Ellison has taken another hack at redefining "cloud" recently.

But in the world of trendy terms, there's a new kid in town - "Big Data."

Now everyone is talking about Big Data. The tech magazines are talking about it. The vendors are talking about it. And it's a life or death issue:

In healthcare, experts say Big Data empowers caregivers, scientists, and management to make better decisions that have the potential to save lives, improve efficiencies, and decrease costs.

But before you start calculating how many more bingo parlors you will need to house all the people whose lives have been saved by Big Data, remember that (1) you actually have to capture the data, (2) you have to convert that data into information, and (3) you have to act on the information.

The third item is especially hard:

Drawing upon my own experience, I know how difficult an organizational transformation is. Even if you have the data and the analysis that shows things need to change, it requires much more than data analysis. Let's assume that the data uncovers opportunities for improvement, either in reducing cost or in increasing revenue. The next step is to design the changes in processes, in people's roles, in org charts and in the systems. This usually entails a two pronged approach; communicate the change in org charts, processes and roles, and engrain these changes in the systems to track the change results.

(And yes, I'll talk about organizational transformation in my forthcoming book also.)

But that won't stop every salesperson from talking about Big Data. Maybe we'll hear about Big Data in the United States in early November, when election returns are analyzed. ("Based upon our Big Data analysis, this network predicts that....")

Eventually (or perhaps sooner) Big Data will jump the shark. Someone will enlarge a picture of Brent Spiner. Some male rapper will talk about his Big Data. Some contrarian will extol the virtues of Small Data.

But no matter. By that time, tech publications will have raked in millions of Big Dollars from advertisers, tech conferences will have had Big Attendance, and everyone will agree that the topic is a Big Deal.

At least until the next trendy term comes along, and the Empoprises FECES Rule of Corporate Me-Tooism needs to be invoked again.

Manifest apology

Remember my Monday post about the controversy surrounding the Gap/Mark McNairy "Manifest Destiny" shirt?

Well, I just learned something courtesy R. Alexander Spoerer, who shared this ABC News item:

Gap has pulled from its shelves a black and white T-shirt printed with “Manifest Destiny” across the chest, after backlash from consumers who say the slogan is racist toward Native Americans.

If you read my earlier post, you already know that McNairy took the slogan from the title of a Dictators album. You also know that he types in all caps because, in his words, "I cannot type." So you well-informed readers are not surprised that McNairy's apology was also in all caps, according to ABC:


Of course, now the shirt will become a collector's item. And The Gap can still proceed with my other suggestions.

Is a trade show demo a poor substitute for the real thing?

I usually don't write about politics in this blog, but I have written about it elsewhere. And if you've seen any of these writings, you know that I'm not watching the current Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. Technically, I did listen to the first twenty minutes of the first Presidential debate, but I haven't listened since. One of the reasons for my boycott is because a candidate's performance in a debate bears no relation to how a candidate performs in office. The next President of the United States will not have to stand in the Oval Office and argue about Big Bird in front of a crowd of millions.

While political debates claim to provide insight into how the candidates will actually govern, they are a poor substitute for the real thing. You'll get better insight by looking at how the candidates have performed while in office - and even that doesn't say how the President of the United States will act on a specific matter on February 27, 2013.

For various reasons, we are often prevented from experiencing reality. We can't stare at President Obama, or former Governors Romney or Johnson, as they sit at their desks and actually govern. Vegetarians cannot experience real bacon, as Lou Perry notes.

And in some cases, people who want to buy a product can't experience the product, so they go to trade shows.

I don't do it much these days, but I have spent a number of years staffing booths at trade shows. This meant that I was in a suit and tie, standing on a nice carpet (our trade show managers made sure that we had nice carpets), and standing in front of a computer monitor. A couple of people would walk by. 90% of the time, they were after the free pens or other stuff that we were giving out. For that other 10% of the time, I would enter into my routine, showing this software feature, then showing that software feature. The software application would display data from a small database that we, the vendor, provided.

What does this tell the potential software buyer? All it tells the buyer is what the screens look like - and that assumes that the vendor is showing actual software, rather than "pre-release" software.

What would you have to do if you wanted to use the software just like you saw it in the trade show? First off, you'd have to leave your office, go to a large convention center, and set up a computer on a pedestal. (Don't forget to bring your business cards with you!) Then you'd have to run the application, but you couldn't run it with your real data. Oh, and there's a good chance that all of the application features aren't set up. If the application relies on local data, you might find that the data isn't for your locality. Perhaps it's for Des Moines, Iowa (because the vendor installed the software in Des Moines a couple of years ago.) Perhaps it's for Anytown, USA.

Yet, despite the fact that a trade show demo is not reality, people make decisions based upon trade show demos, or brochures, or the experience of some other vendor. This software worked great at a Fortune 500 company - it should be super great for my small business startup! (I plan to pursue an example similar to this one in my forthcoming book.)

What's key is that everyone realizes that a trade show demo is just a demo, a brochure is just a collection of pictures and text, and even a simulation is just an approximation of reality like fake bacon.

You're only going to really understand the software when you put it on your computer and you HAVE to use it.

Fallible heads of idealistic organizations

For those who haven't heard, the Livestrong charity made an announcement on October 17:

Lance Armstrong, founder and chairman of LIVESTRONG, made the following announcement today regarding his status as chairman of the cancer non-profit organization's board of directors:

"In 1996, as my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors....

"I have had the great honor of serving as this foundation's chairman for the last five years and its mission and success are my top priorities. Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.

"My duties will transfer to Vice Chairman Jeff Garvey who will serve as chairman. Jeff's guidance and wisdom have been critical to shaping the foundation's work since its earliest days. Jeff was this organization's founding chairman and I have full confidence that under his leadership, the foundation will continue expanding its ability to serve cancer survivors.

Armstrong is not the only person to separate himself from a charity or non-profit organization that he founded. Most of you will recognize the name of a charity called The Second Mile; in September 2010, Jerry Sandusky "retired" from day-to-day involvement with that charity because of allegations about his behavior. There are countless other examples - Jim Bakker's departure from PTL comes to mind.

These events reflect a tension that is always present in charities and non-profits - and even in some profitable businesses.

Without going into great detail into my personal beliefs, I will simply state that I believe that people are not perfect, and that people (of their own accord) cannot become perfect. Therefore, the news of Scandal X or Scandal Y affecting the head of an organization is not surprising. The news may be sad or regrettable, but it's not surprising. People make mistakes.

However, charities and non-profits are often idealistic organizations that paint a picture of perfection. Livestrong has a Manifesto that purports to guide everything that it does. As manifestos do, this Manifesto makes its point through uncompromising, idealistic statements:

Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.

There is no room for shades of gray in such statements. We WILL support cancer victims. We WILL help kids. We WILL bring our religious message to the world.

What happens when you discover that the person heading your idealistic organization is a fallible human being? To those who believe in the ideals of the organization, it's shocking and devastating. It could even kill the organization itself - The Second Mile is on life support - its fundraising abilities have been severely hampered by the negative Sandusky publicity, and its plan to transfer its assets to another charity has been delayed pending outcome of legal proceedings against the organization. And, as I noted in my tymshft blog, Jim Bakker's organization went under very quickly, and its complex of buildings was abandoned a mere few years after Bakker's scandal broke.

Before one dismisses these reactions as unique to the world of non-profits and charities, think again. Many for-profit businesses have small cores of idealistic fanatics who nearly worship their every move. Years ago, I remember meeting a woman who worshipped the very ground that Dick Pick walked upon. And I think that we can all think of more modern examples.

And there are certainly cases in which the heads of these idealistically-viewed businesses are proven to be fallible. After Walter Isaacson's biography was released, a lot of people were talking about Steve Jobs. Some claimed that his faults were outweighed by his brilliance. Others disagreed:

The book talks about how he cultivated a conversational style of long pauses followed by rapid speaking, used to intimidate and control people. The book makes some interesting connections between Jobs’s personality and the dictatorial control he always exercised over his ideas....And it talks about Jobs’s infamous “reality distortion field,” where Jobs seemed to deny reality and expect the impossible from people around him. I always thought this was a metaphor. But no, apparently Jobs really believed this in some fundamental way.

Learning about his absolutely nutbag experimentation in eastern religions and 70s hippie fads is simultaneously amusing and disturbing. I don’t want to know how many drugs this guy did. Sometimes it’s a wonder the man made it out of the 70s alive.

The title of the post quoted above referred to Jobs as a "psychopath."

What do we do when we find out that the organizations that inspire us are run by dopers, child abusers, adulterers, and psychopaths?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What I learned from the AppsLab blog - identity influences performance

I was reading a post in the AppsLab blog entitled What I Learned from "Indie Game: The Movie" and was struck by one line written by Jake Kuramoto. Check the last line of this paragraph:

Since SXSW 2010, I’ve gravitated toward the parallels between game development and traditional software development. Both involve producing lots of code, but games are seen as entertainment, which changes the design and production processes dramatically. Games are overseen by producers, akin to product managers, but the title difference is key.

Kuramoto explains how the mere fact of calling someone a producer can affect what he or she does:

Entertainment exclusively focuses on user experience; this creates a much more intimate connection with the person on the other side of the software....

But this isn't the only job title that affect the way that one works. If you were around in the early 1980s, you remember that the company then known as Apple Computer employed people who were assigned to market the new Macintosh computer.

These people were known as "evangelists." The term is usually used by religious organizations to describe people who are bringing "good news" to people who are not aware of it. Does this sound like the DOS-dominated computer market in early 1984? This fit in well with Apple's idealistic sense of its mission.

Incidentally, I'll have a lot more to say about idealism in a post that is scheduled to appear in this blog tomorrow.

A question for you - if you could change your job title today, what would your new job title be? Why?

LBJ Middle School and Flamin' Hot Cheetos - Warranted, or Unwarranted?

New Mexico.

The state that gave us Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate for President.

The state where a middle school is trying its best to emulate New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Actually, the school hasn't gone that far just yet. The school has NOT banned students from bringing their own Flamin' Hot Cheetos to school. Yes, I know that some of the news reports say that the school has banned the snack, but it hasn't.

What Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School has done, according to New Mexico television station KOAT, is to send a letter home to parents that they had to return and sign. In effect, the parents are acknowledging that they have read the contents of the letter, penned by a health teacher (not named to KOAT - and no, Medical Daily, the teacher is not named Lyndon B. Johnson). The letter names four issues with Flamin' Hot Cheetos, and urges parents not to send them in their kids' school lunches.

The four issues include the poor nutritional value of the snack itself, the fact that some people are eating the snack instead of eating a full lunch, the fact that students are sharing the snack (which is not recommended during the cold/flu season), and the red powder from the snack that causes messy problems for janitorial staff.

One could argue that the letter was merely informational. But others could argue that the letter, and the requirement to sign and return the letter, was unwarranted coercion.

What do you think?

Private affairs and public offices, revisited

Follow-up to this post, in which I stated (among other things) the following:

[T]he truth is that a candidate's contributions to the private sector bear no relation to the candidate's ability to govern in the public sector.

I also said:

Now one can argue that someone who has headed his or her own company - someone, for example, like Ross Perot - has acquired the executive experience to become the President of the United States. Unfortunately, private sector executive experience is also irrelevant.

It may not be obvious when you listen to presidential candidate platitudes and sound bites, but a President of the United States can't really do much of anything. Unlike corporate boards of directors, who are often subservient to the head of a company, the U.S. Congress doesn't let the President do anything he or she wants to do.

In that post, I looked at the private industry careers of most of the presidents from Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter. You'll recall that Obama was a community organizer and university lecturer, Bush 43 was the owner of a sports team, Clinton was a lawyer, Reagan was a union head, and Carter was a peanut farmer.

Regarding the specific issue of control, Bush 43 could do whatever he wanted to do with the Texas Rangers, subject to the limits of Major League Baseball. And Carter could do whatever he wanted to with his peanuts. If Bush wanted to order his manager to bench a shortshop, he didn't have to worry about the baseball team's legislature preventing him from doing so.

But perhaps I should have gone farther back. If I had done so, I would have run across one president who had some private sector experience that paralleled his subsequent service as President of the United States.

Ironically, this particular president didn't have a lot of private sector experience. As a young man he worked as a night supervisor at the Belle Springs Creamery, but then he went to college and became a government bureaucrat. Starting at the lowest levels of the bureaucracy, he continuously advanced to higher positions, eventually becoming a senior manager of a bunch of bureaucrats. He spent over thirty years in the bureaucratic ranks, then left for a private sector job. He took a leave of absence from that private sector job to work for the government again...and then became President of the United States.

The President was Dwight Eisenhower. The "bureaucracy" that he joined was the U.S. Army. His one private sector position (outside of Belle Springs Creamery) was as president of Columbia University. During his leave of absence from Columbia, he was Supreme Commander of NATO.

When you're looking at politicians who spent very little time in the private sector, Eisenhower is obviously at the top of the list. And it's interesting to note that his one private sector job happened to have the title of "President."

When I wrote my earlier post about sports team owners and peanut farmers, I failed to recognize that the president of a university is almost as powerless as the president of a country. In some cases, a university president ends up tangling with the faculty. In other cases, the university president tangles with a popular sports coach. (See Penn State.)

So how should one evaluate Eisenhower's tenure at Columbia University? And does it offer any insights about the way that he governed the country?

Let's start by looking at what Columbia University itself said. In a series that documents the exploits of 250 "Columbians," here's part of what was said about (university) President Eisenhower:

At Columbia, Eisenhower took a moderate position in the face of the Red Scare: He accepted a gift from the Communist government of Poland to establish a chair in Polish studies but also defended the dismissal of a left-wing member from Teachers College and served on a national commission that published a handbook declaring that communists should be excluded from employment as teachers.

But his tenure did not solely consist of stances on political issues.

[H]e prevented legendary football coach Lou Little from leaving for Yale, and regularly attended the Lions' contests at Baker Field.

Rah rah rah! But Columbia itself summed Eisenhower's tenure up as follows:

Never the most engaged of presidents...

This pretty much sums up the evaluation of Eisenhower's term as President of the United States, where (at least on the surface) the President seemed remote from the tanglings of the politicians. He left that to his Vice President, Richard Nixon.

Douglas E. Clark wrote his dissertation on Eisenhower's tenure at Columbia. The abstract summarizes the positive and negative aspects of Eisenhower's (university) presidency:

[U]nder his leadership, Columbia moved forward with an important administrative restructuring plan, improved its finances, and established a professional development operation. Furthermore, Eisenhower's status as a world figure raised Columbia's institutional profile.


[H]is lack of both prior academic experience and a full understanding of academic culture diminished his capacity to lead at Columbia and damaged his credibility with faculty.

One could argue that Eisenhower was more effective with Congress than he was with Columbia's faculty, but that was not how it appeared at the time.

Acting on the premise that presidential efforts to purge a legislator would backfire, Eisenhower worked behind the scenes to encourage the Senate itself to conduct hearings on McCarthy's actions. Carried live on television, the Army-McCarthy hearings contributed to McCarthy's decline in public support and his subsequent formal condemnation by the Senate. His colleagues began to ostracize him, and he soon became politically impotent. Because Eisenhower's contribution to McCarthy's demise was largely indirect and behind the scenes, his seeming inaction with respect to McCarthy helped reinforce the contemporary impression of Eisenhower's political passivity.

Perhaps Eisenhower was working behind the scenes in Manhattan also.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Private affairs and public office

If you believe the commercials and the mailers, the 2012 Presidential Election (send money) is the most monumental election (send money) in our lifetime, and there has never (send money) been a clearer difference between the (send money) candidates.

On the one hand, you have the baby seal clubbers (to borrow a phrase from Dave Barry). They warn us that our country will collapse if we entrust it to someone who spent his formative private sector years as a community organizer and a college lecturer.

On the other hand, you have the Communists (to borrow a phrase from any of thousands of typewritten truth sheets). They warn us that our country will collapse if we entrust it to someone who spent a significant portion of his private sector career as an outsourcing venture capitalist.

Neither the baby seal clubbers nor the Communists are willing to admit the truth. And the truth is that a candidate's contributions to the private sector bear no relation to the candidate's ability to govern in the public sector. In fact, a candidate's private sector contributions are as important to actually governing as a candidate's ability to spout one-minute platitudes in a so-called "debate."

And frankly, if a candidate's contributions to the private sector ARE that important, then we should have rejected ALL of the presidential candidate clowns from the last fifty years - with the exception of Ross Perot.

I mean, look at the private sector careers of the people who actually won elections over the last few decades:

We can dispense with the community organizer/college lecturer right off the bat. No contributions to society there.

One could argue that a sports team owner is making contributions to society; sports team owners themselves certainly make that argument. But when you consider that most of the jobs created are temporary, and that sports teams often benefit from huge tax breaks, it's not necessarily a net gain.

A lawyer? Enough said.

An oil industry guy? Yeah, right.

A former UNION HEAD? Give me a break. (It's funny how those who are so dismissive of a community organizer consider a former union head to be their patron saint.)

OK, maybe a peanut farmer hires people in the economy. But peanuts are bad for you. Heaven help the person who eats a bag of peanuts and drinks a Big Gulp at the same time.

Now one can argue that someone who has headed his or her own company - someone, for example, like Ross Perot - has acquired the executive experience to become the President of the United States. Unfortunately, private sector executive experience is also irrelevant.

It may not be obvious when you listen to presidential candidate platitudes and sound bites, but a President of the United States can't really do much of anything. Unlike corporate boards of directors, who are often subservient to the head of a company, the U.S. Congress doesn't let the President do anything he or she wants to do. Well, the U.S. Congress lets the President declare war - something that technically is the job of the U.S. Congress. But other than that, the President can't fulfill any of his or her campaign promises without Congressional assent.

Maybe we should be asking what these Congresspeople used to do for a living.

Monday, October 15, 2012

More t-shirt ideas for The Gap (when Manifest Destiny is not enough)


Sometimes companies don't think through the ramifications of their actions. While over-analysis can lead to paralysis, it might be helpful to conduct a little bit of analysis before launching a product.

The Gap depends upon continuous sales from younger purchasers, and therefore it needs to be trendy. (Since I am not trendy, I have never purchased from The Gap.) Take a look at one of the company's recent product campaigns:

Gap has created an exclusive menswear collection with GQ's best new designers.

Mark McNairy turns classic America sportswear on its ear. Military, workwear, and athletic influences mesh in his rebellious and playful collections.

Now I don't know Mark McNairy from Mark McGrath, but if McNairy is mentioned in the same breath as both The Gap and GQ, then corporate America apparently looks upon him as a trendsetter. And here's what this trendsetter has produced.

I'd be willing to bet that a large number of The Gap's target audience members have never heard of the phrase "Manifest Destiny" before. For Gap customers outside of the United States, it wouldn't have any relevance. And even for Gap customers within the United States, it might not mean anything.

For those who don't remember the phrase, it first appeared in 1845:

The anonymous author, thought to be its editor John L. O'Sullivan, proclaimed "our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our multiplying millions."

This phrase symbolized American activities in northern Mexico, the Oregon-Washington area, and even Alaska. But eventually...

Gradually, the phrase became seen as a cover for imperialism and political support has died out.

Until the arbiters of fashion decided it was cool again.

Now there are some naysayers that are standing in the way of fashion, as you can see at

GAP is selling a black shirt with the words "MANIFEST DESTINY" written on it. This article of clothing promotes a belief that has resulted in the mass genocide of indigenous people, and it serves to normalize oppression. This shirt is marketed to teens and young adults, and it gives no context for the racism and inequality that persists in our society, to this day, as a result of this doctrine. We are asking that this shirt be discontinued, and that an apology be issued.

At the time that I viewed this petition, nearly 1,000 people had signed it.

Nearly 1,000 people with no sense of fashion.

Don't these people realize that McNairy has been profiled in GQ and has offered these scintillating words of fashionable wisdom? (And yes, I removed one of McNairy's scintillating words.)


Incidentally, McNairy subsequently explained his all caps presentation: "I cannot type."

Well, perhaps I can become trendy too, and then I can be interviewed in GQ and other publications. So Mr. McNairy, I'm providing you with a few more slogans that you can use on trendy t-shirts. And you only have to pay me a 30% royalty.





Am I now a trendy fashion designer also?

P.S. To set the record straight, here is what McNairy has said about this slogan, which he says is his favorite from his t-shirts:

[The slogans] are all things from my life. I learned about Manifest Destiny not from a history lesson at school but from the title of a punk-rock album in high school.

The album in question came from The Dictators. I guess we should be relieved that McNairy didn't design a t-shirt based on the Dead Kennedys anthem "Kill the Poor."

P.S. H/T to Anika Malone for alerting me to the petition cited above.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

In which I belatedly discover the "pop-up" store concept

I am not trendy.

But I could use a good suit, so I read Jesse Stay's recent post with interest. Stay discussed a company called Dress Code that comes to your home or office, takes your measurements, and provides you with a high-quality suit at an affordable price (according to Stay).

While reading Stay's post, I ran across this sentence:

Give them a try - they have reps in a couple states already, and I hear they're doing a "Popup" shop in Los Angeles soon.

For whatever reason, I had never heard of pop-up stores before. My exposure to the pop-up concept was from the old VH1 TV show that presented "pop-up videos" with running text commentary on various music videos. (VH1's favorite comment - "but.")

So I researched the topic, and found this article.

If new products can come and go, why can't the stores that display them do the same? Well, you guessed it, retail outlets increasingly do. From gallery-like shopping spaces with one-off exhibitions to mobile units bringing innercity-chic to rural areas, TRENDWATCHING.COM has noticed an increase in temporary retail manifestations around the world.

We've dubbed this trend POP-UP RETAIL, as these initiatives have a tendency to pop up unannounced, quickly draw in the crowds, and then disappear or morph into something else, adding to retail the fresh feel, exclusivity and surprise that galleries, theatres and Cirque du Soleil-adepts have been using for years.

Oh...I left out one part of the article.

First published in January 2004

I guess I'm a little behind the curve on this one.

In my defense, the product that my company sells is not distributed through retail outlets, much less "pop-up" retail outlets. Perhaps this will change. Perhaps one day you'll see me at the Montclair (California) Plaza, near the elevator, calling out to passersby, "Hey! Got a million bucks for an AFIS?"

Regarding Dress Code, they currently schedule appointments in most of Utah (Stay is from the Salt Lake City area) and in the Las Vegas, Nevada area. Their "pop-up" locations, visited 1-2 times per year, not only include Los Angeles, but also San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Chicago, and New York.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

(empo-utoobd) The Minnesota Lynx is suffering from poor Google customer service

I have previously written posts about the fact that my YouTube account was "permanently disabled" several years ago - and Google doesn't have any way to talk to them about it.

Other than writing about it several times, I haven't really made a huge deal of this, however. Naysayers would argue that I don't have a case - Google is a free service, I am not a Google customer (Google's customers are their advertisers, not their users), and Google can do whatever they want with their services. And frankly, the naysayers are right.

But what about the people who work with Google to use one of Google's properties - and then lose it?

Mari Thomas shared something that was originally shared by Greg Finn. Finn and Thomas shared a story from Marketing Land about the Minnesota Lynx. Now I'll confess that the name "Minnesota Lynx" doesn't ring a bell to me, but the Lynx are a basketball team in the WNBA. And not just any basketball team - they're last year's champions.

The Lynx decided, like many other cool kids, that it might be a good idea to have a Google+ presence. The team worked with local Google marketing people in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and established a Google+ page. That page took off, and eventually had 30,000 subscribers.

There was only one little problem:

It turns out that even though the Minnesota Lynx had multiple page managers, the Google+ user that set up the account left the organization. The email of the user was out of the Lynx’s system (Google+ was not available for Google Apps until 4 months post-launch,) giving the Lynx no options for bringing the account back.

The page disappeared, and when the team went to Google to see what could be done to restore the page, the Lynx were told that they would have to "start over."

Bob Stanke of the Lynx is not pleased:

Hey +Google+ and +Google... All summer long we put a ton of time and resources into building our Minnesota Lynx page with great content and a strong fan base. Then you helped our Minnesota Lynx Google+ page become verified and we were experiencing great growth. Because of our excitement, we even went in and re-evaluated our strategy around Google+. We adopted early and what did we get in return??? Our page is now completely gone! And the advice is to "start over"? All that time we spent with your awesome local marketing team here in Minneapolis is now a complete waste. Unacceptable on every level. You are one of the top technology companies in the world and you can't restore our page? Even as reigning WNBA champions, we might not matter to you, but this action does make us strongly consider moving our entire organization's social marketing efforts to other places and completely cut all ad spending we were going to do with Google.

And before you dismiss Stanke's complaints, bear in mind that he doesn't only work for the Minnesota Lynx. He also works for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

I suspect that the next time a Google salesperson calls on David Stern, the meeting will get VERY unpleasant.

And frankly, even if Stanke is able to raise enough of a stink to get Google to get the Lynx page restored, that really doesn't prove anything. Most people are not able to raise a big enough stink, and many of these cases will end up in the wronged users abandoning Google.

P.S. The Minnesota Lynx Facebook page is at!/minnesotalynx?fref=ts.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

(empo-muvei) Seek broad knowledge


In Chapter 1 of his ebook Mooove Ahead! Of the Corporate Herd, Tony Wong provides this piece of advice:

Seek broad knowledge (and experiences), constantly, even topics that do not connect at the time.

As part of this discussion, Wong cites an example that I have cited myself (most recently in April) about how a college dropout continued to hang around college even after he had dropped out, popping in on courses that interested him. One of those courses was a course in calligraphy, and the dropout soaked up information about the placement of letters:

I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great.

At the time, that seemed like a frivolous endeavor, unless you're going to go around making calligraphy posters for the rest of your life. But the dropout - Steve Jobs - ended up making computers for the rest of his life. A few years later, when Jobs and others were trying to improve the interface between humans and computers, that calligraphy knowledge turned out to be very handy indeed. In fact, it not only changed Jobs' life, but it changed the lives of everyone who is reading this blog post. (Or would you prefer if I switched to a monospaced font?)

Wong mentioned Steve Jobs in another context in Chapter 14 of his ebook. Without going into detail, let's just say that Wong worked at Apple Computer in the 1980s...and he heard stories about Jobs. He discusses Jobs in the section on jerks.

Nobody's perfect.

And I'm not perfect, and Wong isn't perfect either. In Chapter 10 of his ebook, he tells a story on himself. He was taking electronics classes at San Jose City College in the 1970s, and to get to his classes he would cross the track field. Four hours later, he would cross the same track field when he left. It seemed that whenever Wong crossed that track field, he'd see this guy on the field, practicing. Wong asked himself:

What is that guy working so hard for? Can he make a living in Track & Field? Maybe he should get a degree in Electronics (like me) so he has a change to make a living?

Later, Wong learned the name of this ne'er-do-well: Bruce Jenner. And whatever you might say about Jenner's family, he has certainly proven that he has the ability to make a living.

How can you "seek broad knowledge"?

Monday, October 8, 2012

(empo-muvei) My Federal Trade Commission disclosures regarding Mooove Ahead! Of the Corporate Herd

OK, so I mixed up the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. It's the LATTER organization (not the former) that published some new guidelines in October 2009 that included the following:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

Well, I plan to devote a few posts to some topics raised in an ebook entitled Moove Ahead! Of the Corporate Herd. But before I do, I need to make THREE FTC-related disclosures regarding this topic.

First, I received a free copy of this ebook. The ebook has a list price of up to $9.99 depending upon the vendor.

Second, the author of the book, Tony Wong, is a former co-worker of mine. Wong notes that he has worked at several companies, including Motorola/Printrak; I have also worked at Motorola/Printrak.

Third, one of the people associated with the book is currently my boss. So readers should take account of the possibility that if I said something bad about the ebook, I might be out of a job. (Just kidding. I think.)

In the Prologue, Wong describes why he was moooved to write the book:

I began recalling a number of things about working and succeeding in a corporate environment that I wish I had known when I was that age.

Written for both younger readers (in college or just out of college) as well as more mature readers who are interesting in getting ahead, Wong progresses through the process of getting a job, starting a new job, and moving ahead in the job. Wong concentrates on giving practical advice gained from his years at various companies - and as anyone who has worked for any period of time knows, your college professors and textbooks don't prepare you for the reality that you will encounter when you permanently join the working world.

The ebook is available from several sources.


Barnes & Noble:


There is also a Facebook page,!/pages/Mooove-ahead/452834224747150?fref=ts.

I'll have more to say about this in the coming days, both on the Empoprise-BI business blog and on tymshft.

P.S. Yes, I should have used Gray and Schafer's FTC disclosure graphics, but I didn't.

(empo-muvei) Programming note - I'm about to milk an ebook for all it's worth

At some future time, this blog will feature several FCC-mandated disclosures, followed by at least one (or perhaps several) posts concerning various business topics.

One topic that will be discussed was previously discussed in this April 30 blog post, Address the great engineering shortage of 2012 by promoting calligraphy (or something like it).

Oh, and there's the possibility that the discussion may also reach my tymshft blog.

But I can't do anything until I get the FCC disclosures out of the way. There will be several of them; I haven't had to write so many FCC disclosures since Justin Kestelyn gave me beer at Oracle OpenWorld.

More later.

[5:30 PM - UPDATE.]

Friday, October 5, 2012

(empo-plaaybizz) My rant against Electronic Arts - Zuma Blitz ad blocks SimCity Social access

What most of America is completely immersed in issues regarding the Sesame Street character Big Bird, I'm thinking about IMPORTANT stuff.

I should start by saying that I realize that online game companies need to make money. It's impractical to expect that they would provide these games completely for free.

And I understand that if you're playing one game from a game company, you're a logical target for advertising for other company games.

But when Electronic Arts' advertisements for its new online Facebook game, Zuma Blitz, do not allow me to proceed to play EA's existing Facebook game, SimCity Social...that is inexcusable.

When the Zuma Blitz ad appears, all access to SimCity Social is blocked. The only option that appears to be available is the option to play Zuma Blitz.

After several tries, I've found that there are only two ways to proceed:

1. Click on the Zuma Blitz ad and then immediately close the window that opens.

2. Quit SimCity Social altogether, re-enter from Facebook, and hope that the Zuma Blitz ad doesn't pop up again.

And yes, I realize that Gary Johnson is completely in favor of this behavior (or at least believes that government shouldn't get involved). But at least that's more honest than the pandering major party candidates, who will promise to call a Congressional hearing or something. (And yes, I know that Presidents can't call Congressional hearings, which is what makes the pandering worse.)

Oh well, at least my favorite game isn't part of the EA/Zynga oligopoly.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mark Walter making BASKETBALL and SOCCER news?

Now this is interesting.

Several months ago, when Frank McCourt sold the Dodgers, I wrote a post about the real power behind the Dodgers. It's not Magic Johnson. It's not Stan Kasten. It's Mark Walter of Guggenheim Partners, the man who actually had the bulk of the money. And we all know the Golden Rule - the person who has the Gold makes the Rules.

Fox Sports LA is running this story:

Guggenheim Partners Chief Executive Mark Walter, who is also chairman of the Dodgers, said the possible ``synergy" in marketing and sponsorship among the Los Angeles teams could make AEG an attractive investment, the Los Angeles Times reported. But because prospective bidders have yet to receive confidential financial information from AEG, he said he could not say for sure that a Guggenheim bid for AEG would make sense.

More here. The original LA Times story, found here, notes that AEG's expected selling price - north of $5 billion - is well above the price that Walter and others paid for the Dodgers a few months ago.

If Walter, or a team including Walter, were to acquire AEG, that person/group would own a raft of sports and entertainment properties in California...and the rest of North America...and the rest of the world:

AEG is one of the leading sports and entertainment presenters in the world. AEG, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anschutz Company, owns, controls or is affiliated with a collection of companies including over 100 of the world's preeminent facilities such as STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, CA), Sprint Center (Kansas City, MO), Citizen's Business Bank Arena (Ontario, CA), The Rose Garden (Portland, OR), Coliseum (Oakland, CA), American Airlines Arena (Miami), Best Buy Theater (Times Square, NY), Verizon Theatre (Grand Prairie, TX), Colosseum at Caesars Palace (Las Vegas, NV), Target Center (Minneapolis, MN), BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston, TX), Allphones Arena (Sydney, AU), MasterCard Center (Beijing, China), Ahoy Arena (Rotterdam), Ericsson Globe Arenas (Stockholm), Qatar National Convention Centre (Doha), O2 World Hamburg (Hamburg), O2 World (Berlin) and The O2, a 28-acre development located in the eastern part of London along the Thames River which includes a 20,000-seat arena and over 650,000 sf of leisure and entertainment use which are all part of the portfolio of AEG Facilities; AEG Merchandising, a multi-faceted merchandising company; and AEG Global Partnerships, responsible for worldwide sales and servicing of sponsorships naming rights and other strategic partnerships.

In addition, AEG developed and operates The Home Depot Center, a $150 million national training center located on the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills in Carson, CA which is an Official U.S. Olympic Training Site and features elite facilities for soccer, tennis, track & field, track cycling, boxing, lacrosse, rugby, football and other sports, as well as concerts and family shows, and is home to MLS Champion Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA MLS franchises. The company is also spearheading the development of Farmers Field, a 72,000-seat stadium and Event Center in downtown Los Angeles designed to host an NFL franchise, conventions and special events.

Franchises including the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings (NHL), Manchester Monarchs (AHL), Ontario Reign (ECHL), Houston Dynamo & Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS), three hockey franchises in Europe as well as the Hammarby (Sweden) Futbol Club, management of privately held shares of the Los Angeles Lakers, events such as the Amgen Tour of California cycling road race, the Zazzle Bay to Breakers foot race and an ongoing schedule of soccer exhibitions in the United States featuring the most popular international teams are part of the portfolio of AEG Sports.

AEG Live, the live-entertainment division of Los Angeles-based AEG, is dedicated to all aspects of live contemporary music performance. AEG Live is comprised of touring, festival, exhibition, broadcast, merchandise and special event divisions, fifteen regional offices and owns, operates or exclusively books thirty five state-of-the-art venues. The current and recent concert tour roster includes artists such as Taylor Swift, The Black Eyed Peas, Bon Jovi, Usher, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Justin Bieber, Leonard Cohen, Wisin & Yandel, Kenny Chesney, P!nk and Paul McCartney. The company is also currently producing productions including Cher at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Supernatural Santana: A Trip Through the Hits at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The division's exhibition portfolio boasts the most successful exhibition of all time, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, which has attracted more than seven million visitors since 2005. AEG Live is also the largest producer of music festivals in North America from the critically acclaimed Coachella Music & Arts Festival to Stagecoach and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

AEG directed the overall creation and development of L.A. LIVE, the 4 million square foot / $2.5 billion downtown Los Angeles sports, residential & entertainment district featuring venues such as Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE, Club Nokia and The Conga Room; the GRAMMY Museum, saluting the history of music and the genre's best known awards show; a 54-story, 1001-room convention "headquarters" destination (featuring The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels and 224 luxury condominiums — The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton — all in a single tower), Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium 14 movie theatre, "broadcast" facilities for ESPN, along with entertainment, restaurant and office space making it the region's most active 'live content and event campus.'

In 2010, AEG launched its AEG 1EARTH environmental program with the announcement of 2020 environmental goals and the release of the industry's first sustainability report while in 2011, AEG introduced axs Ticketing, the first phase of its new entertainment platform serving as the company's primary consumer brand which will also feature a mobile service as well as a video content service now in development. This summer, in partnership with HDNet, Ryan Seacrest Productions and Creative Artists Agency, AEG will launch axs TV, a new linear cable channel focusing on live entertainment and lifestyle programming.