Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In which I mention Rita Moreno of Arte and Frank Black in the same post

Sit down, everyone, while I share a little truth with you.

Many blogs and many news organizations publish stories that merely consist of company press releases, or stories from other sources.

Yes, I know you're shocked.

Frankly I do the same thing myself, but when I do this, I try to add some original content. For example, my recent story on the death of Mindy McCready included personal observations going back to the 1990s, as well as links to material that I had written in the past. Similarly, I consulted multiple sources when writing about the Crash at Crush.

But what happens if someone adds original content, and the content itself is flawed? (Remember what happened when Gregory Smith quoted Mark Traphagen?)

Time for the really big disclosure.


OK, so we issued a press release, and a number of news sources picked it up. One particular news source, however, chose to add a very puzzling introductory sentence to the original press release.

The Los Angeles district of Orange County will be supplied with MorphoBIS Biometric Identification System in its crime labe for real-time identification of crime suspects

"The Los Angeles district of Orange County?" This is the reverse of what usually happens around here, most notably with the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" and the "LA/Ontario International Airport." In ract, a few of you may recall that I parodied the whole "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" name when it originally came out.

Angels Owner Announces Official Name Change

01/03/2005 11:07 AM ET

ANAHEIM -- Angels Baseball Monday announced the team owner has changed his official name to Rita Moreno of Arte. This change is effective January 3, 2005.

The inclusion of Rita reflects the original celebrity name recognized by the Hollywood elite in December 1960 and again returns Moreno as Hollywood's representative in the Greater Los Angeles territory that Major League Baseball expects the team to serve.

The Los Angeles region, which is comprised of Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties, is the second largest media market in the country. This name change will strengthen Mr. Moreno's long-term economic health by enhancing the marketability through this metropolitan area and beyond.

To emphasize the name change, Rita Moreno of Arte will appear on Broadway as the female lead in a stage production of "The King and I," produced by former Angels owner Disney.

Despite my best efforts, the name "Rita Moreno of Arte" never caught on, which is why I'm trying again.

Of course, when you talk about the "Los Angeles district of Orange County," you have to ask which "Los Angeles" is being referenced. As Frank Black reminds us, you can't be sure.

P.S. Love that hovercraft.

P.P.S. What is a crime labe, anyway?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

If only President Skroob had data visualization

I don't watch a lot of movies, but I did watch Spaceballs, and as a former system administrator I could certainly appreciate the jokes regarding a five-digit combination.

I've already talked about the large number of Syrian officials who used the sequential numbers "12345" as a numeric combination.

They aren't alone in using sequential combination numbers.

The Data Genetics website includes an analysis of a number of numeric combinations. After pointing out that the only reason that this analysis could be performed was because so many people leave their password files unencrypted, the author proceeded to analyze the numeric passwords that people chose.

The analysis began with the four-digit numeric passwords. If numeric passwords were evenly distributed, then you would have a 1 in 10,000 chance of guessing a numeric password on the first try. But when the data was examined, it turned out that the password "1234" was used for 10.713% of the passwords. That's not 1 in 10,000; that's 1 in 10.

[T]he more popular password selections dominate the frequency tables. The most popular PIN code of 1234 is more popular than the lowest 4,200 codes combined!

That's right, you might be able to crack over 10% of all codes with one guess! Expanding this, you could get 20% by using just five numbers!...

Statistically, one third of all codes can be guessed by trying just 61 distinct combinations!

The 50% cumulative chance threshold is passed at just 426 codes (far less than the 5,000 that a random uniformly distribution would predict). Paranoid yet?

Think about this the next time you use your mother's year of birth as a password. "No one knows when my mother was born," you may think. However, the mere fact that many people use birth or anniversary years as passwords means that you can have a great deal of success by guessing a password that begins with the number "19," followed by any two other numbers.

But sometimes when you want to attack a problem, it's best to visualize it.

I love pretty ways to graphically vizualize data. Pictures really do paint thousands of words.

Another interesting way to visualize the PIN data is in this grid plot of the distribution. In this heatmap, the x-axis depicts the left two digits from [00] to [99] and the y-axis depicts the right two digits from [00] to [99]. The bottom left is 0000 and the top right is 9999 .

Color is used to represent frequency. The higher frequency occurences are yellow to white hot, and the lower frequency occurences are red, through dark red to black.

Geek Note The scaling is logarithmic.

Here is the heatmap that resulted.

Now some of the yellow stuff is fairly obvious. The diagonal line from lower left to supper right is for cases in which the same two digits are repeated: 0000, 0101, 0202, etc. The bright line on the left that gets brighter toward the top corresponds to numbers beginning with "19."

But why is the lower left area so bright? The author didn't realize the reason for this until after the post was originally published:

Since publishing this article, it's been brought to my attention that, of course, in addition to anniversary years, many people encapsulate dates in the format MMDD (such as birthdays …) for their PIN codes.

This clearly explains the lower left corner where, if you look at the heatmap, there is a huge contrast change at the height of around 30-31 (the number of days in a month), extending to 12 on the x-axis. (Thanks to zero79 for first pointing this out).

Other items are revealed in the visual data, and these suggest further avenues for study. A knowledge of telephone keypads explains the significance of 2580. A knowledge of Korean explains the significance of 1004.

This comes from Korean speakers. When spoken, "1004" is cheonsa (cheon = 1000, sa=4).

"Cheonsa" also happens to be the Korean word for Angel.

And this just covers the four-digit passwords. The password data included information for passwords of other lengths. For five-digit passwords, 22.8% of all people select the same password used by President Skroob. And for seven-digit passwords, 0.465% of all people chose Jenny's telephone number of 867-5309 - and the only reason that percentage was so low is because many of us use our OWN telephone numbers.

And you learn something new every day. The 20th most popular five-digit password was "42069." I understood 40% of this password, but had to go to the Urban Dictionary to learn about the other 60%.

But is the problem solved by creating a "harder" password? According to XKCD, not necessarily.

Through 20 years of effort, we've successfully trained everyone to use passwords that are hard for humans to remember, but easy for computers go guess.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How to create demand for your transportation service - give people somewhere to go (Crush, Texas)

Shared transportation services only work if the people using the service have somewhere to go. Planes that fly to Honolulu, Hawaii attract passengers. Planes that fly to Lusk, Wyoming don't attract that many passengers.

Sometimes, people will use a transportation service to get to a particular event. Until a couple of years ago, I had never even heard of the city of Sochi. Next year, people will be flocking to Sochi for the Winter Olympics, and that city will be very, very busy for a few weeks.

But what if the transportation service itself were to set up an event? An event that would last, say, for...a few minutes?

If the event is spectacular enough, the people will come. But they may get more than they bargained for.

In the late 1800s, the most popular form of transportation in the United States was train travel. You could get anywhere in the country by train, and the people who owned the railroad lines were making a lot of money. This resulted in a lot of resentment, as Allen Lee Hamilton has noted:

[This was] a time of economic distress when railroads symbolized to many the evils of the big business "octopus" and were a target of attack for populist politicians.

So there was a large group of people who would enjoy seeing something really bad happen to the railroads. And there was someone who was prepared to give this to the people. Brilliantly, if you wanted to see this spectacle, you had to use the railroad to get there. Win-win; what could go wrong?

The idea of the "Monster Crash" was conceived by William George Crush, passenger agent for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, also known as the Katy. Allen Lee Hamilton continues:

In 1895 Crush proposed to Katy officials that the company stage a train wreck as an attraction; he planned to advertise the event months in advance, sell tickets to transport spectators to and from the site on Katy trains, and then run two old locomotives head-on into each other. The officials agreed.

The event itself did not occur until September 15, 1896, after months of publicity. Two brightly-colored trains were displayed throughout Texas. Four miles of special track were laid (they didn't want the train wreck to happen on a track that was used by other trains). Discount $2 tickets to get to the site were sold. Ringling Brothers tents were procured, and a special depot was built for the temporary town of Crush, Texas, named after George Crush, who had conceived the entire idea. Donald Trump would be proud.

And, like Trump, Crush certainly knew how to generate publicity for an event named after him. This August, 1896 newspaper article quotes Crush:

I can't make the exact spot known yet, but fifty excursion trains will unload big loads there on Sept. 1st (15th), the day that we have chosen for the two big passenger engines pulling six cars each to come together. The spot affords a straight away track, where each engine can have two miles start, that they may gain a speed of 60 or 65 miles an hour before coming together. The site is between Waco and Hillsboro and is a natural amphitheater that will hold 250,000 persons, and all will be in full view of the track.

It will be a great smash-up, something exciting and interesting, and will be a great value from a scientific point of view. You can't imagine the excitement attendant upon such an occurrence. The papers have such happenings almost every day. A man when he starts to travel insures his life against them; he chooses his seat with the idea of being exposed to the least possible danger and sleeps with one eye open, but few people have ever seen the actual occurrence.

One eye open - those words would come back to haunt Crush later. But at the time, he was still in promotional mode:

We are going to have it in all of its details except the passengers. No one will be on board either of the trains. Tests will be made as to time and speed so that the engines will come together within 50 feet of a given point. This will be on of the main line. Thirty-five or forty minutes after the collision two large wrecking trains which will be on hand will have the trains cleared away....

Finally, the day arrived. Hamilton:

The first of thirty-three fully loaded excursion trains arrived at daybreak on September 15, and by 3:00 P.M. more than 40,000 people were on the grounds picnicking, listening to political speeches, and waiting for the great crash.

The two trains were positioned at opposite ends of the four-mile track. The start was delayed for several hours, however, to ensure that people were kept a safe distance from the spot where the collision would occur. The two trains were started, and the engineers jumped off the trains before the crash occurred. Engineers had been consulted, and officials had been assured that the possibility of a boiler explosion was remote. What could go wrong? Perfesser Bill Edwards:

The 90 mph collision (each train was traveling at least 45 mph)...was spectacular as promised. In spite of precautions that were taken, including Crush interviewing many mechanics about possibility of boiler explosions, both boilers exploded and three spectators were killed while many more were injured from the debris. The photographer, Joe Deane lost an eye from a flying bolt.

Which made it twice as difficult for Deane, in Crush's words, to sleep with one eye open.

Naturally, after a disaster of this magnitude, George Crush was unceremoniously fired.

And hired back again. According to a 1930 list of railroaders, Crush remained as a passenger agent and traffic manager for several decades thereafter. However, his subsequent endeavors weren't quite as spectacular. As of 1906, his promotions looked like this:

Let us Arrange Your SUMMER TOURS. Your comfort our first consideration. The MK AND T MISSOURI, KANSAS & TEXAS R'Y. Address W. G. Crush G.P.aT.A. Dallas, TEX.

The railroad itself was merged with the Union Pacific in 1988. You may recall that there was a train crash in Texas last year during a veterans parade; this crash, of course, was NOT a planned occurrence.

As for the one-day "town" of Crush, Texas? The debris was removed, and the incident was almost forgotten.

By midnight the town of Crush, which had grown to the second largest town in Texas, amounted to nothing more than scraps of red and green metal pieces, mud, and pools of lemonade served at the event....

More than 100 years later the location is occupied by cows on the prairie, and there is hardly any indication that the event ever took place save for the historical marker that was placed at the roadside in 1976.

I was unable to find a picture of the historical marker that I could commercially post on this blog, but you can find one here. The marker reads:

A head-on collision between two locomotives was staged on Sept. 15, 1896, as a publicity stunt for the Missouri, Kansas & Texas railroad. Over 30,000 spectators gathered at the crash site, named "crush" for MKT passenger agent William G. Crush, who conceived the idea. About 4 p.m. the trains were sent speeding toward each other. Contrary to mechanics' predictions, the steam boilers exploded on impact, propelling pieces of metal into the crowd. Two persons were killed and many others injured, including Jarvis Deane of Waco, who was photographing the event. (1976)

P.S. I wasn't able to work this into the blog post, but here's an extra link for your listening pleasure.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A steering wheel desk - where you do draw the line between personal and corporate responsibility?

I have previously commented that tools are tools, and they have no moral or immoral value whatsoever. Take a very simple example, water. I can praise water and the people who provide water to us, because (clean) water can be used for drinking. At the same time I can condemn water and the people who provide water to us, because water can be used for waterboarding.

Things get murky, however, when a particular tool is clearly targeted for a particular use or misuse.

This morning, the New Media Expo shared a link on Facebook. The New Media Expo shared the link with the following editorial comment:

This takes texting while driving to a whole new level.

The link went to an Amazon page for the Wheelmate Laptop Steering Wheel Desk.

This is a perfect example of a tool that can be used for good or ill. Obviously, the New Media Expo writer immediately thought of an example in which this tool could be used in a bad way - in fact, an extremely dangerous way. But a commenter, Mark Davidson, offered a positive use:

My wife and I each have one. It's a great product. On long road trips, it's much easier to change the baby.

Of course, I'm making the assumption that Mr. and Ms. Davidson park the car before changing the baby.

So what does the seller say about this? Here is the product description:

Introducing the AutoExec WM-01 Wheelmate Steering Wheel Desk Tray - Gray - , featured in our Other Vehicle Parts department. This product generally ships within 2 business day(s) from Pinellas Park, Florida, and weighs 2 pound(s). Attaches to your steering wheel for easy access to a writing and drink storage surface. The Go Office Wheel Mate Steering Wheel Desk is flat for writing and perfect for lunch or a snack. This Go Office Wheel Mate Steering Wheel Desk stores neatly in your car when used with the larger Auto Exec Laptop Car Desk. For safety reasons, never use this product while driving. Easily convert your car into your personal automobile office with the Wheel Mate car desk by MobileOffice.

So the warning is in the product description, in the second to last sentence. I suspect, however, that the warning would be more prominent if I were to buy this product. I'm sure that the company that manufactures the product has encountered a lawyer somewhere along the line - and you know what any lawyer would advise for the product instructions and packaging.

However, for some people, the dangers clearly outweigh the benefits. Because of the danger of someone misusing the steering wheel desk, I'm sure that some people would suggest that the product be banned. Where do you draw the line?

Some people (particularly those who belong to an organization with the initials M.A.D.D.) may have similar feelings about other potentially dangerous activities. M.A.D.D. supports various legislative endeavors, including one to "support a stronger child endangerment law." Specifically, the following is advocated:

In 2004, MADD issued a child endangerment report outlining a number of science-based solutions that should be taken to help stop of DUI/DWI child endangerment:

- Adding administrative license revocation/suspension as a sanction
- Requiring alcohol/drug assessment and treatment (if necessary)
- Requiring the use of an ignition interlock device by offenders
- Considering the offense of DUI child endangerment to be a felony
- Eliminating eligibility of offenders for diversion programs that circumvent a record

Now M.A.D.D. does not go as far as advocating a ban on the sale of alcohol. But some argue that their advocacy results in a de facto prohibition:

By the mid-1990s, deaths from drunk driving began to level off, after 15 years of progress. The sensible conclusion to draw from this was that the occasional drunk driver had all but been eradicated. MADD's successes had boiled the problem down to a small group of hard-core alcoholics.

It was at about this time that MADD began to move in a different direction, one not so much aimed at reducing drunk driving fatalities but at stripping DWI defendants of basic criminal rights. MADD also seemed to expand its mission to one of discouraging the consumption of alcohol in general — what critics call "neo-prohibition."

MADD's biggest victory on this front was a nationwide blood-alcohol threshold of .08, down from .10. But when two-thirds of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involve blood-alcohol levels of .14 and above, and the average fatal accident occurs at .17, this move doesn't make much sense. It's like lowering the speed limit from 65 to 60 to catch people who drive 100 miles per hour. In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewed all the statistical data and concluded "the evidence does not conclusively establish that .08 BAC laws by themselves result in reductions in the number and severity of crashes involving alcohol."

Evidence, schmedivence, some might say. If a .08 BAC can save just one life, isn't it worth it?

But if that is the criterion that we will use, I would propose an even more effective method to combat the deadly dangers of drunk driving.

Ban automobiles.

Such a move would reduce drunk driving deaths to 0, and would provide other benefits besides. After all, cars pollute the air, land, and water; have adverse impacts on human sexuality; and provide terrorist targets.

Where do you draw the line?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Whatever happened to Chelsea Welch?

Remember the Applebee's waitress who posted a nasty statement on a check and was fired for breaching privacy? I wrote about her a couple of weeks ago.

On February 12, In These Times posted an interview with the waitress, Chelsea Welch. The interview touched upon a lot of topics, but one topic that came up was the job offers that Welch has received since the fracas.

I have had a couple of offers forwarded to me from the St. Louis area. I’m in contact with some of those people right now; I had a woman from a gaming company contact me and say, “Whatever you can do, let me know. I could use somebody with a strong spirit like you on our team.” I’m just blown away by the generosity of people like that.

Welch went on to say:

My very dear friend at Applebee’s quit that day. When the news came out that I was going to be fired, he put in his two weeks and said, “I can’t work here if you’re going to do this.” As I’ve come across job offers that have been less suitable for me I’ve forwarded his information to them and said, “Please hire him. He’s the best bartender, best server and best friend I’ve ever worked with,” so hopefully this kind of strangely gotten celebrity will at least secure him a job.

Read the rest of Melinda Tuhus' article for In These Times here - including Welch's thoughts on topics such as unionization, boycotts, and the goodness of people.

What is the five year plan for your SEO business?

Most small businesses fail. But sometimes I wonder if SEO businesses fail more quickly than others.

In the process of searching for a post in which I wrote my "qualtiy" story, I ran across this June 2010 post. It talked about an ad that I saw which read as follows:

Hire Me Dennis Crowley

Dennis Crowley, please hire David Gokhshtein to work for foursquare.

But Gokhshtein didn't want to work as an employee at Foursquare. He wanted to provide services:

Your Lane Media, founded by David E. Gokhshtein, is an Internet Marketing company dedicated to bringing your vision to life. It is comprised of a team of experts who have a wide and concrete background in internet marketing and web design. Our company offers a variety of services, each of which are mastered by professionals. We possess the tools and skills required to make a business grow and succeed. Dealing with companies that range from every day moms and pops shops to big corporations, looking to advertise their products and services via the Internet, Your Lane Media has what it takes to stay ahead of its competition. We work rapidly, efficiently and professionally.

And I for one would be willing to admit that Gokhshtein's advertising methods were effective. Some might quibble that the original ad was somewhat misleading, but I don't think so.

You might have noticed, however, that this 2013 post does not link to Your Lane Media's website. That's because the website no longer exists. And perhaps his marketing skills aren't as good as I thought; has 0 connections.

So which existing 2013 SEO business will become SOL by 2016? There's one candidate that several people are talking about. is a Kentucky-based (or perhaps North Carolina-based) SEO firm. The company recently shared a post with the title "@MarkTraphagen Has Eric Scmidt Really Just Confirmed Author Rank?" After referring to Traphagen's article, notes:

Google Employees have what they refer to as a privacy act. They're not suppose to publicly discuss algorithm factors, unless otherwise given permission. So, it's fiesable to say that it's been a while since a Google employee has made a public statement, concerning the Google algorithm, up until now that is.
Has Eric Scmidt Just Confirmed Author Rank? - Mark Traphagen

(Remember how I started this post, talking about my "qualtiy" story? So it's not fiesable for me to discuss the qualtiy of RxSEO's statements about Scmidt.)

The author of the RxSEO post, Gregory Smith, is not the first to cite another person's work. Obviously I'm doing that right now by citing Smith's work. But when Smith cited Mark Traphagen's work, he received a comment from Traphagen himself:

I just left a comment on your post +gregory smith. It's in moderation because I linked you to my post where I say THE EXACT OPPOSITE TO WHAT YOU ARE ASSOCIATING MY NAME WITH. Please immediately correct your post or remove my name from it. Author Rank is NOT yet a factor in search, and Eric Schmidt is NOT saying it is (at present). I you'd bothered to read my original post ( you'd know what I really said, but of course, you just scraped pieces of quotes from a forum, so you didn't actually research anything.

If I don't have notice that you have removed my name from your post in the next 30 minutes, I am sharing what you are doing to my 30,000 followers here on Google+

Traphagen left his comment on Google+ on Thursday morning. As of Friday morning, I see no approved comment on Smith's post.

For the record, Traphagen's post wasn't sure whether an Eric Schmidt comment in a general purpose book necessarily indicated a peek into Google's specific strategies.

Would you build your business strategy off a fortune cookie? This quote is not from a Google technical document. It’s from a book of visionary speculation about possible futures. It doesn’t sound like it’s intended to be a tell-all of insider Google strategy for the coming years. While it’s true that as former president and now chairman of Google, Schmidt is obviously privy to information not available to the rest of us, that doesn’t mean that he’s guaranteeing anything. He could just be saying, “Look, this is where we’d like to head, or think search should head.” But it’s possible that these plans may still be visionary, and not actually on the launch pad waiting for lift-off.

But Gregory Smith and his RxSEO company received a lot of attention from Traphagen and others, who began looking at Smith's two Google+ accounts (one for Gregory Smith, and one for Greg Smith), the Google+ account for Lynette Helton, the two Google+ accounts for itself (neither of which have any public posts), the Twitter account...and the MrPowerHouse SEO YouTube account.

This is where you can see this video:

If you are going to talk about "PowerHouse SEO," do you really want to post a video that starts with a shot of the ground, includes a handheld camera, and is marred by the sound of wind another other items interfering with the sound?

There is a more informative video that talks about's services:

But before you sign up for that $599/month Standard SEO Plan or the $1999/month Power SEO Plan, consider that neither this video nor the other video - nor any of Smith's five videos - has received more than 50 views as of this morning.

Why is no one viewing the videos of an SEO service?

I started a Google+ thread about the first video, and Steven Streight (who provides legitimate social media advice in the Peoria, Illinois area) offered the following comment:

It's incredibly stupid to do a video outside with car sounds and wind blowing on the microphone. This video sucks.

This prompted the following response:

I am forced to conclude that Greg Smith not only has a lot to learn about SEO, but also has a lot to learn about computer security. It's obvious that Smith's Google+ account has been hacked, since an SEO expert would never write an online comment such as "You suck you old ass fart.. Lame!"

After all, if you put it online, someone might find it.

The purposes of surveys - Safelite repair, Safelite replace, Safelite sell

When you do business with a company, you are sometimes asked to complete a survey about your experience. Often it becomes very clear how this survey is used. Has a service provider ever said this to you?

Thank you for using BigCo's Widget Cleaning Service. In two days, you will receive a survey and will be asked to rate my performance. I hope that you give me an extremely high rating as your service provider.

Survey results are often used for employee compensation and bonuses, as you can guess. But they are also used for other purposes.

Last Friday morning I was driving down the freeway to work and found myself behind a truck that was spitting out some gravel. On Friday afternoon, I noticed a nice big crack in the lower left corner of my windshield.

Before I got a chance to ask Jimmy Voitel for his recommendation, I called my auto insurance company to find out their procedures. I didn't know if they had a preferred provider, but if they did, I assumed that it would be some company that I had never heard of, and probably not a company that appears to spend its entire budget on advertising.

When I called my insurance company, they emphasized that I could use any service provider that I wished, but that they would be happy to set me up with - Safelite.

Another Jim Bakker "I was wrong" moment for me. Yes, I'm admittedly suspicious of companies that seem to advertise all over the place, but in this case it appears that my insurance provider was happy to recommend them. Perhaps Safelite has agreed to standard rates that are beneficial to the insurance company, but on the other hand an insurance company isn't going to recommend a service provider that does shoddy work, since it would require more effort for the insurance company itself to keep the customer happy.

So I set up an appointment with Safelite, and the technician did the work (even taking the trouble to transfer a parking sticker from the old windshield to the new).

Oh, and the technician said that I'd be receiving an email survey that would only take a couple of minutes to complete, and it would be nice if I completed it.

I received the survey, and as expected, Safelite asked a number of questions about their service. Did the technician perform the work to your satisfaction? Was our telephone staff helpful? That sort of thing.

But at the end of the survey, there was a slightly different question.

Yes, surveys can be used for multiple purposes. Remember that people with cars are not the only customers of Safelite; insurance companies are also customers. Obviously Safelite will use this data - if it's positive - in its dealings with the insurance companies. They'll probably say something like this:

96.7 percent of all survey respondents say that Safelite windshield repair and replacement is an important feature of their VroomVroom Auto Insurance policy. Now you want to keep your customers happy, don't you? So you'll keep recommending us, won't you?

When you construct a survey for your business, take the opportunity to include questions that provide data for all segments of your business. Which reminds me of the final question that I saw:

Now I work with a bunch of writers, and when I shared this question with them, one of them pointed out that the question didn't ask about making a POSITIVE difference. For example, I could certainly make a difference working for Safelite, but it wouldn't be a good one.

Whoops, sorry! I dropped your new windshield before I installed it. Here, let me gather up the pieces for you, since you already paid for it. And here's some duct tape to attach the pieces together if you want to try to put it in yourself. I certainly can't do it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Are benefits benefits? (The Mary Kay car)

Many companies provide their employees with a variety of benefits. These benefits may be valuable to different people...or they may not be.

Probably the item that is most associated with Mary Kay is the pink cars that some Mary Kay sales directors receive. Hey, it's Valentines Day - let's talk about pink cars.

There are a number of stories like this one:

Nancy Butler, a Mary Kay independent sales director, was getting her 11th free car from the company for being a team builder and high sales.

She calls it her “trophy on wheels.”

Butler, 60, is one of more than 120,000 independent sales force members with Mary Kay to qualify or re-qualify for the Mary Kay Career Car Program since it started in 1969.

Mary Kay sets certain levels of production a consultant or sales director must reach in order to receive a vehicle for a two-year span. The type of vehicle they’re eligible for varies depending on what goal they reach.

Now I believe that it's obvious to all that Mary Kay doesn't just give the cars away - you have to work for them. But there are people who are decidedly not fans of Mary Kay, and they let you know about some of the fine print:

If you manage to reach that level, you will be rewarded with the USE of a Pink Cadillac. That's right: the use of it. It isn't yours. The Pink Cadillac is leased to you by the company for two years.

Here's the most important part: The amount you pay in lease payment to Mary Kay Corp. each month depends guessed much Mary Kay products your team has ordered from the company that month. If your team orders enough, you don't have a lease payment that month. But if you fall short, you will have to make a lease payment to the company, and that payment is on a graduated scale based on the amount of product your team ordered.

BOTTOM LINE: There are no "free cars" in Mary Kay and the lease on a Mary Kay car can be much more expensive than getting your own car lease -- in many ways.

As the previous quote illustrates, a sales director's compensation depends upon the production of those working under him/her (there are male Mary Kay consultants). Ideally, a sales director's underlings are totally committed to Mary Kay. But sometimes, there will be Mary Kay workers who read things like How to Drive Your Mary Kay Sales Director Nuts. Here's one suggestion:

Tell her how much you love your new car. You may think that directors looooooooooove their “free” cars in Mary Kay. They certainly talk a big story like they do. But really – Chevrolet Malibu? Please. Gush to your SD about how you really couldn’t decide between the luxury of a Lexus or the great mileage of a Prius. So many choices! You’re so glad you got to test-drive them all, then pick the one you really wanted.

Incidentally, thanks to Steven Streight for sharing the link to the Pink Truth website.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why you need both form AND function; Steven Reed vs. Rachael Ray

I know my strengths, and I know my weaknesses. When you talk about form vs. function, I'm pretty good on the function part, but perhaps not so good on the form part. Because I recognize this, I need to constantly remind myself to pay attention to form.

One could argue that function is all that is needed. If you convey the important information, it doesn't really matter if you've prettied it up or not.

I'm going to illustrate this by talking about something in which I am decidedly not an expert - cooking shows. (Although by the end of this illustration, perhaps I'm a better cooking expert than I thought.)

Let's take a look at two very similar cooking shows. Both cooks are in a kitchen. Both cooks are preparing a derivative of Mexican food. Both dishes serve a large number of people. Both cooking show segments last about three minutes.

However, there are several differences between the shows.

  • The first cooking show is targeted toward people who enjoy cooking and want to spend time in the kitchen. The second cooking show is targeted toward students at Weber State University, who presumably want to just make a meal and be done with it.
  • The first cooking show provides no information on the cost of the ingredients. The second cooking show provides specific information on this topic.

Now there are several other differences between the first and the second cooking shows.

For the moment, ignore the fact that the first cook, Rachael Ray, is using an oven and freshly prepared foods, and the second cook, Steven Weber, is heating canned food in a microwave.

Do you notice one other significant difference between the two?

Ray is able to speak in an engaging way. Reed, to put it kindly, is not an extremely riveting speaker.

Those of us who prefer function to form might think that this doesn't make a difference. But take a moment and imagine what it would sound like if Rachael Ray were making the chili and cheese nacho dip in the microwave. Ray could actually make it sound interesting. Here's what I think it would sound like:

Hey Weber Wildcats!

OK, so let's say that it's Saturday night and you're going to have a bunch of people together in the dorm or at the frat house. What are you gonna make? Well, if you're pressed for time, why don't you just make some chili cheese dip in the microwave?

Just open up the can of chili and put it in a microwave safe bowl - you see the bowls that are NOT warped from the heat? Those are the microwave safe bowls.

OK, and then you open the cheese dip, pop them both in the microwave...

Now I don't know if your Weber State professors have told you this, but when things come out the microwave, they're hot! Yes, I know that college students should know this, but after a few brewskis you sometimes forget.

OK, let's open the chips, and now you're ready to PARTY!

Imagine Ray smiling and saying all of this in her rapid speaking style, without the hemming and hawing, and with a smile on her face. She's conveying the same information that Steven Reed did - she isn't adding cilantro or deep frying the chips or anything like that. But even though she's conveying the same information (the function), she's doing it in a style (the form) that is much more riveting.

That is why Rachael Ray is on national television and Steven Reed is not. But Reed doesn't have to worry - he has a steady day job.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Christopher Dorner, and why there are no universal ethics

As much as we like, we are unsuccessful when we try to set up standards of ethics that apply to all people on earth.

We have tried this from a religious perspective. My religious group recognizes the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, as well the Bible as a number of other documents that have been collected in a document called the Book of Concord. But these cannot serve as a universal ethical standard when different people recognize other documents - the Doctrine and Covenants, the Koran, the Humanist Manifesto, whatever.

We have tried this from a governmental perspective. The United Nations has a document called The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But is there any person or any government that agrees with every article of this Declaration? And what does it mean to agree? Article 3 reads "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." Who is "everyone"? Bradley Manning? Christopher Dorner? (We'll return to him later.) An unborn child?

And we have tried this from a business perspective. Apple and Facebook and Google and Twitter have established rules about what you can do online on their services. Your employer probably has a handbook that says what you can or cannot do as an employee. All of these ethical guidelines differ.

Despite these attempts, there is no universally recognized standard of ethics. A picture of a man, woman, and six children may be entirely acceptable in Rome or Salt Lake City, but it may be considered extremely offensive in Beijing.

In the United States, we try to get around this by talking about something called "community standards." This recognizes that different parts of the country may have different cultural perspectives. Guin, Alabama is different than Dearborn, Michigan, which is different than West Hollywood, California.

But we can't even establish standards for a community.

A document has been made public today. This document includes the following statement (names redacted by the publisher, KTLA television):

Never allow a LAPPL union attorney to be a retired LAPD Captain,(XXXX). He doesn’t work for you, your interest, or your name. He works for the department, period. His job is to protect the department from civil lawsuits being filed and their best interest which is the almighty dollar. His loyalty is to the department, not his client. Even when he knowingly knows your innocent and the BOR also knows your innocent after XXXX stated on videotape that he was kicked and XXXX attorney confessed to the BOR off the record that she kicked XXXX.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants-TJ. This quote is not directed toward the US government which I fully support 100%. This is toward the LAPD who can not monitor itself. The consent decree should not have been lifted, ever.

I know your TTP’s, (techniques, tactics, and procedures). Any threat assessments you generate will be useless. This is simple, I know your TTP’s and PPR’s. I will mitigate any of your attempts at preservation. ORM is my friend. I will mitigate all risks, threats and hazards. I assure you that Incident Command Posts will be target rich environments. KMA-367 license plate frames are great target indicators and make target selection even easier.

I will conduct DA operations to destroy, exploit and seize designated targets. If unsuccessful or unable to meet objectives in these initial small-scale offensive actions, I will reassess my BDA and re-attack until objectives are met. I have nothing to lose. My personal casualty means nothing. Just alike AAF’s, ACM’s, and AIF’s, you can not prevail against an enemy combatant who has no fear of death. An enemy who embraces death is a lose, lose situation for their enemy combatants.

The author, the aforementioned Christopher Dorner, has advanced his ethical theory, which basically states that because of the wrongs done to him by a variety of people, including the LAPPL union attorney who was a retired LAPD captain, Dorner is now entitled to "advance justice" by adopting Jefferson's statement to refresh the tree of liberty.

Because of Dorner's ethical outlook, Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence were shot dead on Sunday. Why? Because Quan was the daughter of the LAPPL union attorney who was unsuccessful in preventing Dorner from losing his job at the LAPD.

Some of you will say that Dorner's actions were clearly unethical. You condemn them. I condemn them. The student bodies at Concordia University Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, and the University of Southern California condemn them.

But are they universally condemned?

How many "Christopher Dorner is a hero" groups have been set up on Facebook? He's already receiving support in a comment on a Google+ thread.

When was the last time you sung along to the song "Cop Killer"? Hmm...

When was the last time you sung along to the song "I Shot The Sheriff"?

Now I will grant that there is a significant difference between singing "I shot the sheriff" and actually doing it. But is it ethically acceptable to sing about shooting sheriffs?

There's no universal agreement on that.

More evidence that systems are silos

We can claim all day that we develop unified computer systems, but in reality you have one person developing one computer system, and another person developing another computer system.

And sometimes they don't exactly agree.

At 6:29 this morning, I received an email from a credit card company. (I'll refer to the company as BigCardCo.) The title of the email was "Account Alert: A Payment was Received." The email said that BigCardCo had received my $xx.yy payment, and included the following sentence:

Please remember that it can take up to 24 hours for your account to reflect this payment.

You can probably guess what email I received at 11:11 this morning from BigCardCo.

Yep - "Account Alert: Your Payment Reminder." Specifically, my payment due date is fast approaching, and I need to pay $xx.yy to BigCardCo.

And because BigCardCo cares, the following question appeared at the bottom of the email:

Was this e-mail helpful?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What is being starred in those search results?

There is a sad story tonight about a young woman who has disappeared. The woman, Elisa Lam, was last seen at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. Since I had not heard of this particular hotel, I performed a Google search for the hotel. As usually occurs, the top of the search results included related advertisements.

Now I have no objection to ads, especially when they convey information that is of interest to me. And in this case, the ads did convey something. I wasn't sure exactly what type of hotel the Cecil Hotel was, but if the hotel has such high star ratings, then it must be a pretty good hotel.

Then I scrolled past the ads and down to the search results themselves, and found something interesting.

Now that's odd. When I get down to the actual search results, the Cecil Hotel appears to have much lower ratings.

And if you take a careful look, you'll see that appears in both the ads and in the search results. In the ad, the Cecil Hotel appears to have a five star rating. But in the search results, the hotel has a 2 1/2 star rating.

I wondered if the ad linked to a different page than the search result, but it turns out that both links go to And that page lists a two star rating, which is closer to the search result than to the ad.

Then I looked at the ad a little more closely. If you also look at the ad, you'll notice this text next to the five star result:

209 reviews for

So that five star rating isn't for the Cecil Hotel, but for

A little misleading, don't you think?

We probably won't entertain ourselves

Their show gets real high ratings, they think they have a hit.
There might even be a spinoff, but they're not sure 'bout that.

The quote above is taken from the Talking Heads song "Found a Job" (full lyrics here). The song, written in the late 1970s, describes a couple who tire of watching television on the three networks, and end up creating their own content for their own entertainment.

The lyrics, obviously were written a long time ago. Cable television was in its infancy. Even over-the-air television was still waiting for a fourth network - something that would not happen for several years.

And, of course, it would be decades before YouTube would appear - a computer service that would literally allow people to create their own content.

But do they?

Yes, I know that YouTube is reputed to be the home of people making stupid videos. And yes, you have the occasional "numa numa" or whatever - a video made by an ordinary person that somehow catches fire.

But what are people really watching on YouTube?

If my experience is any indication, 99% of all content viewed on YouTube falls into two categories:

  • Content uploaded by major media companies.
  • Content uploaded by people who stole it from major media companies.

Let's face it - despite all of the new technologies, such as YouTube and Twitter, the majority of people continue to be content consumers rather than content providers.

And no matter how easy content creation systems become, this will continue to be the case.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Other things that tech people shouldn't wear to bars

There's a lot of controversy in the tech world today because of a comment that a Baltimore bar owner made on his Facebook page. Perhaps you've missed this little bit of news, but I'll catch you up on the story that YOU WON'T FIND ANYWHERE ELSE. (Hint, hint.)

The Babe Ruth Bar is a very popular bar in downtown Baltimore, and on Monday, bar co-owner Tom Lauper wrote the following:

Last night around 9:45 two people walked into the bar. Looked me square in the eye, and acting as if everything was normal they ordered beers.. Oh did I mention they wear wearing San Francisco 49ers jerseys! In public! In A Baltimore BAR!

This prompted a long-ish article in The Verge (known as the Beatles of tech journalism). New Verge columnist Greg Sandoval wrote the following:

Two people wearing San Francisco 49ers jerseys walk into a bar.


Nope, that's the whole joke.

Don't get me wrong: I'm as excited about the 49ers as the next Silicon Valley nerd, but I'm not so sure the rest of the world is going to love their arrival.

Sandoval interviewed Lauper, who not only spoke about the jersey incident, but also spoke about three people in a corner of the bar (and one person participating from another location) who were arguing whether Jerry Rice or Randy Moss was the greatest wide receiver of all time.

Needless to say, some Silicon Valley residents were not pleased with the Babe Ruth Bar or with The Verge. One in particular said:

Where do you get off deriding customers for the clothing that they choose to wear in your establishment? Don't forget that there are a lot of influential people, especially in the tech world, who admire the San Francisco 49ers. If you're going to ridicule 49ers fans - and what would prompt you to do this? - then I am going to use my influence to inform my followers of your backward policies. Don't be surprised if 49ers fans choose to visit other bars when they are in Baltimore.

Local football player Joe Flacco, sporting an "I am Elite, Just Like Johnny Unitas" t-shirt, had no comment. Randy Moss had a comment, but he always has a comment; go find it on CNET if you're really interested.

Sometimes it's OK to be a Luddite (Shotwell's vs. Scoble)

Depending upon your point of view, you consider Luddites either as backward people who resist inevitable change, or forward-thinking people who cherish the reality of the old days. Sometimes you can hold both opinions at once - I'm sure that there are a lot of people who adopt the latest tech gadgets, but at the same time condemn Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, and the like for applying technical innovations in their fields. (If HGH were invented by Silicon Valley, the tech press would fall all over themselves promoting it.)

Well, over the last few days, a single message on Facebook has spawned an article in The Atlantic. The message, posted by the San Francisco bar Shotwell's, read as follows:

Last night around 9:45 two people walked into the bar. Looked me square in the eye, and acting as if everything was normal they ordered beers.. Oh did I mention they were wearing Google Glasses! In public! In A BAR!

Atlantic reporter Alexis Madrigal quoted Shotwell's co-owner Tom Madonna:

"When you buy a new phone, it's in your pocket, but this, you're wearing something on your face. Anyone that cares what they look like is not gonna wear Google glasses. That's my opinion," Madonna said. "If you are super nerdy and you like to show off that you're in tech and smart and all those things, I can see you probably wearing Google Glasses, but you are probably in a bubble or ... new. We've all heard all this stuff. Like, this guy moved to SF and he comes to the bar. He's from Scottsdale and he's using all these [tech] words. I had to stop him. I said, 'You sound interesting and different in Phoenix, but you sound boring here. You are cliche.'"...

"In Brooklyn, you don't see people put their phones on the tables. They have it in their pockets. That is the culture of San Franaciso. It's so pervasive, it just dones't seem weird. It seems *normal* to them to walk into a bar with Google Glasses, even though everyone's smirking at them," Madonna continued.

Everyone? "Ok, maybe a couple people were jealous," he admitted.

Enter Robert Scoble, who has commented on the original Facebook post and elsewhere, making two points. First, Shotwell's shouldn't be making fun of its clients. Second, Scoble will use his influence to steer people away from Shotwell's. Here's part of what Scoble said in a Quora thread:

[S]oon I'll be directed to the best bars by the Google Glass and if the bartender doesn't like me wearing them I'll change the review so that people get guided to go somewhere else!

So, if you are a bartender, you better watch out. Those of us who will be wearing Google Glass are often influencers, rich, and willing to change OUR behavior when it comes to spending our money, time, attention. Hint: I tip well and drink a lot of expensive Scotch (although I'm trying to cut down, which the Glass will help me with too).

Scoble did make other points about how we do need some common understanding about how such technologies are used. But it's safe to say that Shotwell's has dropped way down on his favorite list of bars.

But in a world in which 6 BILLION people are NOT on Facebook, is the Google Glasses-loving demographic truly that influential? Here's part of what I said (in response to Robert Scoble) in that same Quora thread:

Every business, whether physical or virtual, has a target market and caters to a particular clientele. And every business sets up rules. Shotwell's is clearly catering to a market that wants old-fashioned interaction, rather than people wearing Google Glasses....

One problem encountered by anyone (including me) who writes about tech is the assumption that everyone is just like us. And this also leads to the related view, that those people who are not like us are not as good as we are. For example, when Google+ was first introduced, there were a whole bunch of animated GIFs that showed Google+ beating Facebook up. Why? Because, in the eyes of the GIF creators, Facebook users were complete morons. And who knows what the GIF creators would think about the six billion people who don't use Facebook.

I'll cite another example; I can't remember if I've blogged about this before. Many people think of Footloose as a fictional movie from back in the 1980s. Well, if you come to the present day, in 2013, you can find Liberty Christian Academy in Guin, Alabama. Their policies include the following:

The school, therefore, requires each student...whether at home, school, or elsewhere... refrain from swearing, attendance at movie theaters, indecent language, smoking, drinking, alcoholic beverages, the abuse of drugs, gambling, dancing, involvement in rock music, touching or over familiarity with the opposite sex.

Yes, students at Liberty Christian Academy cannot dance. Not that they'd know about the movie Footloose, since they can't go to theaters either.

Now while I personally disagree with some aspects of Liberty's policies, including their policies on dancing, I recognize that there are a significant number of people in the United States who hold those views. And if parents want to send their kids there, I'm not going to run around and condemn them for it.

And similarly, I'm not going to condemn Shotwell's for laughing at people who wear Google Glasses.

Because at the end of the day, there are more Mark Maddoxes (Maddox is the pastor of the church that sponsors Liberty Christian Academy) than Robert Scobles.

P.S. Scoble replied to a comment that I made in the original Facebook thread:

John E. Bredehoft then make it an official policy "wearables not allowed here" kind of sign. Lots of businesses get ahead by making it clear who isn't welcome inside. But it sure doesn't seem like a good business strategy to me, especially in a city where so many tech elite live and spend money.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

When "we care" rings hollow (My CHELSEA Welch post)


This weekend's tempest in a teapot concerns a particular restaurant check, which has been seen in imgur, Reddit, the Consumerist, and probably about everywhere else by now.

The short version: Pastor goes to a franchised Applebee's with a large party. Pastor receives automatic 18% gratuity on bill, based upon size of party. Pastor writes "I give God 10% why do you get 18" on bill. A waitress who wasn't working that table takes a picture of the bill, neglecting to remove personally identifying information from the bill. The picture causes a sensation on Reddit. The waitress is fired.

That's the part of the story that I already knew. But according to an R.L. Stollar story shared by Shawn Rossi, there's more. Much more. Rossi referred to this as "the next social media textbook example," and she's correct.

Here's a bit of what Stollar said:

Applebee’s fired the waitress in question, named Chelsea Welch. This created a fury of rage on the Internet, with social media users taking to their weapons of choice and lambasting away, thousands at a time, against the restaurant’s decisions. Numerous “Boycott Applebee’s” groups sprung up on Facebook, along with “Rehire Chelsea Welch” and other similar groups. Applebee’s website has a “What’s the Buzz” widget, that shows what people are saying on Twitter about the company. It’s been non-stop attacks, all publicly displayed on Applebee’s own page...

Stollar then talked specifically about what was happening at Applebee's own Facebook page. Go here for all of the details; I'm just going to concentrate on one little part of this.

It seems that whenever a company has to deliver bad news, it always prefaces it with a statement about how much the company cares about things. And the Stollar post documents plenty of examples from Applebee's. Here are a few:

We wish this situation hadn't happened. Our Guests' personal information - including their meal check - and neither Applebee's nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests' trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest's right to privacy.

Even with the nice-sounding preface "we wish this situation hadn't happened," this statement did not satisfy the mob, and resulted in thousands of negative comments on its own. Eventually, Applebee's added its own comment to the thread, which read in part as follows:

Please let us assure you that Applebee's and every one of our franchisees values our hard working team members and the amazing job they do serving our guests. We recognize the extraordinary effort required and the tremendous contribution they make, and appreciate your recognition and support of our colleagues.

At the same time, as we know you will agree, the guests who visit Applebee's -- people like you -- expect and deserve to be treated with professionalism and care in everything we do. That is a universal standard in the hospitality business. That includes respecting and protecting the privacy of every guest, which is why our franchisees who own and operate Applebee's have strict policies to protect personal information -- even guest's names....

So now we get the first of many examples (you'll see more below) of the "We value our team members, BUT" comments. Amazingly, even though Applebee's truly stated how much they cared about their employees, for some odd reason the mob of commenters was not impressed. So the negative comments kept on coming. At that point, someone at Applebee's took to responding to individual comments - with the same text. And that text itself was a beauty.

We can understand why you are upset. But the details circulating about this story do not represent all the facts....

But the mob kept coming, even though Applebee's said that they understood. Multiple times. Eventually the Applebee's commenter moved away from canned responses and wrote individual responses - using the same formula.

Hi James I'm really sorry your upset. will you please read the comment we posted above yours....

I can understand that TL. You should know though that the server was not stiffed....

Sorry you feel that way. If you knew me or we were face to face you'd know how much I care. No one's asking me to comment at 5 am in the morning. I am because I care, we care. I totally understand why you're upset and hate that I can't fix it.

But the best comment came some time later...presumably after some people had gotten some sleep:

As a company that relies on literally hundreds of thousands of incredibly hard working Team Members, we can assure you that we and our franchisees value and support them and their efforts. However this unfortunate situation has nothing to do with work....

Again, the same formula - we care about our workers, but this worker was a moron.

But keep on reading that message. Remember the first statement that Applebee's wrote, about how important their Guests are, and how they apologized to the Guest whose identify was revealed? Well, after several thousand comments, it appears that the Guest was a moron too:

Please note that we are also not excusing the Guest's behavior in this matter and the unacceptable comment she wrote on the receipt, which is offensive to us and all our hard working team members....

The thing that gets to me about this whole episode is that Applebee's messages are twice as long as they should have been.

Yes, I know that the cardinal rule of customer support is that when a customer is mad, you need to start your response by demonstrating your empathy with the customer. Let the customer know that you care.

As far as I'm concerned, however, that cardinal rule falls apart when the words that follow directly contradict that original empathy statement. In fact, if I can sum up all of the Applebee's statements above, my summary would sound like this:

We really really care about your feelings, but we fired Chelsea Welch anyway despite your feelings. In other words, your feelings suck.

In this case, the statement of empathy sounds like a lie.

So, with the benefit of hindsight, how would I have handled it? Perhaps a different type of empathy would have been in order. Instead of saying contradictory things about how our employees are important but if they screw up, they're gone (according to Welch, her posting of personally identifying information was unintentional), what about THIS type of empathy?

We at Applebee's know that you would be horrified if your bill were publicly posted without your permission. When this happened to the pastor - a customer just like you - our franchisee fired the jerk who did it.

None of this "we truly care about our team members" stuff. You see, everyone ended up identifying with the employee. Why not encourage the mob to identify with the customer?

Just a thought.

Which reminds me - now that Facebook has this new search facility, I'd better see if I've liked Applebee's. I'll have to remove that like.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The only commercial I want to see on Sunday - and I don't know if Letterman will do it

Hey! It's 2013! Time to look back at a 2011 blog post.

First there was the 2007 ad with David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey.

Then there was the 2010 ad with Dave, Oprah, and Jay Leno.

The 2007 spot aired after a 2005 reconciliation between Letterman and Winfrey, while the 2010 spot aired during the midst of the Conan-Jay moves at NBC which had elicited comment from Letterman.

As I started thinking about the upcoming Super Bowl, I began wondering - would this be the time for a foursome, with Conan invited to the party?

But as I looked into it further, I realized that this was not to be - at least in 2011.

Why? Because CBS, where Letterman's show airs, did not have the rights to the 2011 Super Bowl.

NBC had the rights to the 2012 Super Bowl, but for Leno to tape a similar ad would require Leno to be creative.

Back in that 2011 post, I did note:

But CBS has the Super Bowl rights in 2013. Now there's a commercial to look forward to...assuming that Letterman is still at CBS in 2013.

Well, Letterman hasn't lost his job, and it turns out that CBS really wants a Letterman promo on Sunday:

In a quick a CBS media event about the network's Super Bowl plans, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves strongly hinted that Mr. Letterman may once again serve in a Super Bowl slot. Securing the wee-hours comedian's services, however, has previously proved to be "a pretty tall order," Mr. Moonves said then. "Whether we can pull it off we don't know yet."

If you have not seen Letterman's previous ads, Ad Age explains their appeal:

Part of the appeal of the Letterman work is its easy feel. Each shows Mr. Letterman sitting on a couch watching football. The surprise comes after viewers discover who is sharing the sofa. In a time when so many Super Bowl ads are previewed endlessly in the weeks before the Big Game, the CBS promos have provided nice curve balls, showing feuding personalities putting aside their differences to enjoy the simple pleasures of watching a big sports event.

But who would join Letterman on the couch? Conan O'Brien, subject of much discussion back in 2011, is old news today. (Yes, Conan is still on the air, although I don't know if his show airs in Finland yet.) Ad Age tosses out names such as Paris Hilton or Sarah Palin, but neither of those people are topical either. Even Robert "Joe" Halderman (the guy who blackmailed Letterman and led to the revelations which could have cost Letterman his job) is old news.

Well, there is one person who would make for an attention-getting commercial. A person who has been the subject of Letterman's wit in the past. Someone who just resigned from her government job today, and therefore has no pressing commitments.

Yes, Hillary Clinton. And yes, Letterman has joked about her over the years. Here's one:

"Hillary Clinton is going to be secretary of State in the Obama Administration. Well, political insiders are now saying that Barack and Hillary actually have a good working relationship, but they don't have a close personal relationship. No, wait a minute, that's Hill and Bill."

However, it's doubtful that my dream of Clinton on Letterman's couch could come to pass. The spot would have to be taped in advance, and because no one could predict when John Kerry would be confirmed as Secretary of State, Clinton wouldn't be able to shoot up to New York for a quick taping.

So if Letterman does appear, I'm not sure who could appear on the couch that would grab our attention.

Well, I can think of one other name - Johnny Carson. Hey, if Tupac Shakur can appear in holographic form, Carson could.