Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Engage the viewer...when you're already married

I apologize in advance for returning to last week's tempest in a teapot, but it just gets stranger and stranger.

Even if you don't religiously read this blog, you probably heard about the story that I blogged about last week. An advertising agency decided to get "edgy," and produced an ad - praised by the Guardian in a weekly list of advertisements - in which a Hyundai owner tries to commit suicide in his car, but is unable to do so because of the car's clean emissions.

For some reason, people took offense at the ad - especially a person who worked in the advertising industry whose own father had committed suicide. This person questioned how suicide would be a good way to sell cars. (It sure didn't work for computers, as Apple found out decades ago with its "Lemmings" ad.)

From the tenor of the coverage that I read at the time of my post, it was apparent that two entities were involved - Hyundai, the car manufacturer that requested the ad, and Innocean, the ad agency that created it. When I wrote my post, Hyundai was apologetic, but Innocean was silent.

Which brings us to this week, when I got around to reading B.L. Ochman's take on the incident - and I learned something else.

The Hyundai ad, entitled “Pipe Job,” was created by the ad agency Innocean Europe. Despite Hyundai’s denials, Forbes says Innocean is an in-house agency at Hyundai.

Hmm...that's interesting. Hyundai didn't mention that little tidbit in its apology.


Hyundai initially said the ad had no official approval.

I don’t believe them, and I wonder if you do. I think Hyundai Europe, like Ford India and many other companies that issue denials for ads that have already delivered their marketing messages, knew full well that “Pipe Job” existed, even though they denied it and apologized.

Otherwise, how else could the ad have been conceived, storyboarded, cast, shot, and edited without Hyundai’s knowledge? Frankly, if it was, I’m Queen Elizabeth.

I was about ready to cue the corgis, but I researched Innocean a little bit and found this 2011 article.

If there is a forbidden word around the quaint, seaside offices of ad agency Innocean's Huntington Beach, Calif., headquarters, it's "in-house."

"We don't use the term here," said Exec VP-Chief Operating Officer Jim Sanfilippo, tasked by Innocean and Hyundai in late 2008 with forming and staffing the agency, which today is building non-Hyundai clients abroad, and will soon begin a push for new clients in the U.S. "It's not how we feel, and it's not how we operate."

The 2011 article described Innocean's ownership (it is part of the Hyundai Group chaebol). And the article included the following:

Innocean drew snarky whispers when it was announced in late 2008 it would be assigned the Hyundai business....The undertone of that whispering was negative, skeptical even, that a shop so closely tied to the client could carry out needle-moving creative work.

Well, Innocean carried out needle-moving work. The only problem is that it scratched the record in doing so.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Henry Ford's $2.50 a day program

There is a consistent concern by some (not all) people that if manufacturing workers do not receive adequate wages, they will not be able to buy the products that they are manufacturing. And if there is no market for their products, then the business itself will have to shut down.

If you remember, or dimly remember, or mis-remember your history, you may recall that Henry Ford solved this issue a long time ago. When Ford introduced its five dollar per day wage - a very high wage at the time - this created the middle class that could afford Model T cars, and everything was wonderful except for that teeny tiny little Great Depression that happened fifteen years later.

I kind of suspected that Henry Ford didn't set out to create a middle class, and that he had other reasons for increasing the wages. Even the Ford Motor Company admits this:

...Henry's primary objective was to reduce worker attrition—labor turnover from monotonous assembly line work was high...

However, there were other reasons for introducing the high wage. Not only would this lessen employee attrition, but it would also lessen employee desire to join a labor union.

Oh, and there's one other detail. Ford didn't offer a flat wage of five dollars per day.

The program attempted to solve attitudinal and behavioral problems by changing the worker's domestic environment. The company divided the employee's $5 daily income into half wages and half profits. Each worker received his regular wages but only got his profits when he met specific standards of efficiency and improved his home life.

Now that's an interesting little catch. How do you know if the employee has improved his (they were probably all male in those days) home life?

The company recorded the amount of withheld "profits" on the worker's pay stub so that each payday the worker had a reminder of the money he was losing when his home life was found unsatisfactory by Ford's investigators. If the worker acquiesced to the demands of the Sociological Department (to stop drinking, for example) he could receive a percentage of the lost profits. Thus, the Ford worker traded pride and privacy for economic security and a job with high pay.

For many, this was an acceptable trade-off; in fact, more people wanted to work for Ford than there were jobs available.

However, Ford's experiment was a victim of bad timing. The war in Europe (which eventually involved the United States) resulted in inflation, and also contributed to the very labor turnover that Ford was attempting to avoid - 51 percent in 1918, according to encyclopedia.com. After the war ended, inflation made a $5 daily wage look unattractive, so the wage was increased to $6. And the sociological element of the experiment disappeared:

The six-dollar day was introduced in January 1919 and was adopted as the basic wage rate a few years later. Managers increased the speed of the assembly lines and workers faced "the six-dollar speed-up." Ford's creditors demanded payment after the war and the company began a ruthless cost-cutting program. Ford Motor Company officials drastically reduced the size and power of the Sociological Department and then dismantled the outfit during the recession of 1920-1921.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Engage the viewer? Sometimes it works too well.

Out philosophy is reaching for the consumer's heart!

(from Innocean website)

Boring advertisements are boring.

If you are advertising, you want to create an ad that speaks to your potential customers at some level. One word that is often used is "engage" - you want to engage your customers.

Holly Brockwell is an advertising copywriter, who did some work at Honda at one point. So when she saw a recent ad from Hyundai, produced by the firm Innocean, she was certainly engaged by the ad. So much so that she was moved to write to Hyundai and Innocean.

As an advertising creative, I would like to congratulate you on achieving the visceral reaction we all hope for. On prompting me to share it on my Twitter page and my blog.

The ad really spoke to Brockwell. Really.

I would not like to congratulate you on making me cry for my dad.

When your ad started to play, and I saw the beautifully-shot scenes of taped-up car windows with exhaust feeding in, I began to shake. I shook so hard that I had to put down my drink before I spilt it. And then I started to cry. I remembered looking out of the window to see the police and ambulance, wondering what was happening. I remember mum sitting me down to explain that daddy had gone to sleep and would not be waking up, and no, he wouldn’t be able to take me to my friend’s birthday party next week. No, he couldn’t come back from heaven just for that day, but he would like to if he could. I remember finding out that he had died holding my sister’s soft toy rabbit in his lap.

Surprisingly, when I reached the conclusion of your video, where we see that the man has in fact not died thanks to Hyundai’s clean emissions, I did not stop crying. I did not suddenly feel that my tears were justified by your amusing message. I just felt empty. And sick. And I wanted my dad.

The ad is no longer available at the place where Brockwell originally found it (surprise! It's "subject to a trademark claim!"), but you can find it in Gawker's account of the story.

But when I went to read an account of Hyundai's apology, I learned something else:

The Guardian has also come under fire after it picked the video as one of the 'best adverts of the week' in a column. The text has now been changed, but it originally said: "In order to demonstrate the benign nature of the advertised vehicle's emissions, we find out what happens when a desperate man feeds his exhaust pipe into the car in a bid to end his life. Mind you, as he trudges back to his house to continue his meaningless existence, it doesn't seem likely that the car has saved his life for very long - unless, of course, his suicide attempt was prompted by despair about global warming."

So far at least two apologies have resulted. Well, you can judge whether the Guardian apologized or not:

Innocean was unavailable for comment at the time of writing, but a Hyundai spokeswoman said: "Hyundai understands that the video has caused offence. We apologize unreservedly. The video has been taken down and will not be used in any of our advertising or marketing."

A Guardian News & Media spokeswoman said: "The Guardian's weekly 'Ad break' section takes a look at the latest new ads from around the world. However, it was inappropriate to include the Hyundai 'Pipe Job' advert in this round-up and it has now been removed from our website."

The downside of "upside," from Tedy Bruschi, Timothy Rapp, and Vivek Wadhwa

The National Football League will begin its annual draft this evening, where teams select the rights to college players. When selecting these players, the NFL teams have to examine the college careers of these players, along with other data, and extrapolate how these college players will perform at the professional level.

To simplify the evaluation of a player, there are four possibilities:

1. Player was outstanding at the college level and will be outstanding at the professional level.
2. Player was outstanding in college, but will be a bust at the pro level.
3. Player was bad at college and will be bad in the pros.
4. Player was bad at college, but will be outstanding at the professional level.

Colin Cowherd and Tedy Bruschi were discussing the fourth possibility on Cowherd's show this morning. Now I normally wouldn't take the advice of a guy whose name reminds me of a fraternity hobby, but Bruschi had undeniable success at the professional level.

Bruschi discussed the term "upside." Those who select a player based upon his upside are claiming that the player falls into the fourth category, and that there was some reason that the player was prevented from performing well at the college level. While Bruschi grants that there are exceptions, he believes that the most important indicator of professional success is the ability to succeed at the college level. If you can't succeed there, then you usually can't succeed in the NFL, so to Bruschi, the term "upside" is merely an excuse to justify selecting a poor player.

For a concurring view, see Timothy Rapp's discussion of a particular player:

...I know there are NFL teams and draft pundits who absolutely love Dion Jordan, and I get it. There aren't many human beings that stand 6'6", weigh 250 pounds and can run a 4.6 40-yard dash or post a 32-inch vertical jump, after all.

But where was the production? In 2012, Jordan accumulated 44 tackles (10.5 going for loss), five sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception. The year before wasn't much different (42 tackles, 13 for loss, 7.5 sacks)....

All the athleticism in the world can't make up for a natural feel on the game or actual production on the field.

And the upside vs. proven ability debate can also be found in other industries - especially when those with proven ability cost two to three times as much as those with upside. But Vivek Wadhwa argues:

What the tech industry often forgets is that with age comes wisdom. Older workers are usually better at following direction, mentoring, and leading. They tend to be more pragmatic and loyal, and to know the importance of being team players. And ego and arrogance usually fade with age.

During my tech days, I hired several programmers who were over 50. They were the steadiest performers and stayed with me through the most difficult times.

While it's appropriate to disclose that I myself am over...35, and therefore have a financial interest in sharing Wadhwa's comments, it does illustrate one side of the discussion.

P.S. Bruschi himself was selected in the third round of the NFL draft, at the 86th pick.

Who else is attending a conference that you are attending?

Conferences often publish a list of companies attending their conferences. This is partly done to promote the conference ("If Raytheon is here, you should be here also!"). But it also helps the attendees figure out who else will be there. As the Association of Proposal Management Professionals noted in its attendee list for Bid & Proposal Con 2013:

Some of these companies are your competitors, some are your partners and all of them are coming together to learn real-life, take-away trips, trends and techniques to help them become a better proposal professionals and lead their company to more wins.

While it's interesting to see the names of companies who are attending, sometimes that doesn't tell you that much. The aforementioned Raytheon is sending people to this conference. But even though Raytheon registrants used three different company names (Raytheon - Integrated Defense Systems; Raytheon Company; Raytheon Missile Systems), that still doesn't tell you a lot about who will be there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Should I delete my Monster account?

Usually, I am a strong advocate of retaining old accounts, even ones that I don't use. My rationale is that if I abandon a user name on a particular service, a spammer could subsequently claim that user name and spam everything using my name (or my well-known pseudonym).

But I'm beginning to wonder if I should change my policy and delete my monster.com account.

Long, long ago, Monster was a service that met my needs. It allowed creation of multiple resumes, letting me emphasize specific strengths for specific types of positions.

But Monster has become less useful to me, and the only time that I have any interaction with the service is when Monster sends me weekly emails (which I often ignore) based upon key words that I specified however many years ago.

Oh, and Monster occasionally gets proactive and suggests jobs for me.

First, I have no idea how Monster determined that I'd be the ideal candidate to become a search specialist at Guitar Center.

Second, I don't really get the warm fuzzies when I get an email from someone with no last name.

Third, why would "Brooke" (or Irving, or whatever the person's real name is) write a sentence such as this?

Monster is committed to helping you find better.

Sorry, Brooke, but when I want to find better, I use Google or Bing. "Find better" appears to be Monster's slogan, but it's one of the most vague and incomprehensible slogans that I've ever heard. Even "We're Beatrice" is more specific, since at least you know who wrote the slogan.

And at the corporate level, Monster isn't faring much better:

[President Sal] Iannuzzi told analysts that selling or closing parts of the Monster operation had been discussed internally, but until the last few months officials held off while pursuing a sale of all of Monster. The decision to go forward was made after it become apparent that they didn’t interest potential buyers as much as was initially thought.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tools, People, and Knots of Incompetency (Elaborating on Lauren Weinstein's points)


I'm going to start this with a disclaimer. I am employed by a firm that provides a number of forensic and biometric identification technologies - not only automated fingerprint identification systems, but other technologies such as facial recognition. I'll also note that the views that I'm expressing in this post are my own views and not necessarily the views of my employer or of any organizations with which I am associated.

With that out of the way...

While I have certainly commented on the events of the past week in various online forums, I have not specifically blogged about either Massachusetts (or Texas) until now. Instead, I have chosen to blog on less deadly topics, such as vibrating underwear that can be controlled via smartphones, museum pieces, and restaurants that play music. (Incidentally, I still have to write the follow-up to that post; suffice it to say that I had to go to two separate locations on the night of the webinar itself.)

But now that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is dead and Dzhokar Tsarnaev is in custody, people are taking a breath and looking back at the ramifications of the events of the past week. One such person is Lauren Weinstein, who, after writing a number of things on Google+, has taken the time to write a more analytical blog post entitled The Boston Bombings, Knee-Jerks, Arthur C. Clarke, and CISPA.

Now I am not going to write about the Boston Bombings, Knee-Jerks, Arthur C. Clarke, or CISPA. Instead, I am going to confine myself to responding to two specific things that Weinstein wrote about.

The first of these is Weinstein's statement about the proper use of some specific technologies that I know a bit about. Weinstein:

[W]e also already see these same elected officials now scrambling to jump on the knee-jerk technological surveillance bandwagon, even if a week ago they were taking an essentially contrary stand.

Technological realities are generally not germane to their analytical viewpoints.

We know a lot about domestic video surveillance now, and the overwhelming bulk of evidence suggests that it is relatively useless in stopping terrorist attacks (or even much ordinary crime) and is mainly of use to track down culprits after the damage is already done -- if then.

This proved true even in the case of the Boston bombings, the locale of which must have represented one of the densest concentrations of video and still photography in a single location in history. And even there, despite what you might have heard, highly touted tech such as facial recognition systems apparently played virtually no role at all. The reality is that these systems are only useful under very narrowly defined conditions, the breathless pronouncements of their vested supporters notwithstanding.

Technological tools are just that - tools. I have talked about tools repeatedly on this blog over the years. An automated fingerprint identification system, or a facial recognition system, or any type of video surveillance system, is in the end just a tool that is employed by people. And even as these tools improve over the years - perhaps to a point where the "narrowly defined conditions" are less narrowly defined - they will still be just tools that are employed by people.

So even if (for whatever reason) Tamerlan Tsarnaev were put into a watchlist because of the 2011 FBI investigation, and even if "on the fly" facial recognition systems were able to detect his presence at the Boston Marathon, that data would need to be reviewed by a human being before it could be converted to actionable information - much less knowledge or wisdom.

Which brings us to one of Weinstein's other points. I'm going to quote an extensive portion of Weinstein's essay, but then I'm going to focus on three words within it.

Since the capture of the teenage bombing suspect now in hospital -- a naturalized U.S. citizen, by the way -- we've already seen the specter of GOP senators expressing their disdain for the U.S. justice system, demanding that he be declared an "enemy combatant." This despite the fact that based on what we know right now, there is no legal justification for such a determination, and in fact the enemy combatant system -- which could have been better run by "The Three Stooges" -- is tied up in knots of incompetency which make the worst problems in the conventional justice system look trivial by comparison.

As you can probably guess by the title of this post, I'm going to focus on the words "knots of incompetency" - not in relation to the enemy combatant system [1:30 PM - SEE BELOW], but in relation to government - and business, and life - in general.

There are many people, some who are avowed "conspiracy theorists" and some who are not, who believe that systems and organizations work in tandem. After the bombing, according to these people, the FBI should have immediately found the information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev in its files, and immediately shared this with the Massachusetts State Police and all of the local police departments. This information could then be immediately cross-referenced, and they could have gone to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, nabbed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev there while he was on campus, and prevented the additional killing that took place on Thursday.

Yeah, right. We have the benefit of hindsight, but when the Boston Marathon bombing originally occurred, authorities were investigating an entirely different type of suspect:

Federal investigators are looking into possible connections between today's bomb attack on the Boston Marathon and the Patriot's Day anniversaries of the Branch Davidian compound seige in Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma City bombing, a Justice Department source tells MailOnline.

Today's attack took place on Patriots' Day, which marks the first battle of the Revolutionary War and the 'shot heard 'round the world.' It is a day held in reverence by right-wing domestic groups and others who oppose the federal government.

Now I'll grant that Islamists were also suspected - in this country, Islamists are ALWAYS suspected, even when American Idol voting results are disappointing - but the vision of "the government" nabbing the Tsarnaev brothers within hours is highly unlikely - even if the Tsarnaev brothers could have miraculously been connected to the bombing in those early hours. There is no guarantee that an FBI analyst in Washington could set the forces in motion to immediately dispatch a local police officer to U Mass Dartmouth. As I've said before:

[W]e don't need to worry about the U.S. Federal Government agencies working together to take away our freedoms, because the U.S. Federal Government agencies all hate each other. People from Department X think that people in Department Y are all bozos, and they're not going to share information with those bozos in Department Y because (a) they're all bozos and they'll probably lose the information, and (b) if they don't lose the information, they'll probably claim the credit that should rightfully go to Department X.

The absolute lack of cooperation, even between people in the same department, hits us every day.

So, in summary: we cannot expect technological gizmos to do miraculous things, because those gizmos have to be used by people. And we can't expect a bunch of people from different government agencies (or companies) to work together in tandem, because each agency - and each person - has individual self-interests.

[ADDED 1:30 PM]

Lauren Weinstein has offered the following comment in this thread. I'm reproducing it here just to ensure that Weinstein's original intent is clear.

Just for the record, my knots of incompetency wording in my piece was specifically directed at the system in place (i.e., at Gitmo) to deal with "enemy combatants" -- as opposed to the mainline DOJ track. I believe it's hard to argue that the former is anything but in incompetent disarray. I did not address in this piece (one way or the other) the issue of coordination and/or cooperation between different government agencies or divisions.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Motorola Solutions and Oracle - the world moves on

LinkedIn recently informed me that one of my former Motorola colleagues has a new job. This person, who had a major role in Motorola's relationship with Oracle several years ago, jumped from the "solutions" side of Motorola to the "mobility" side of Motorola in 2009 - at about the same time that Motorola was selling my division. It appears that this person hung around Motorola Mobility for a while, but recently moved away from the batwings altogether.

Before I myself left Motorola, I had responsibilities on the marketing end for managing the relationship between the biometrics division and Oracle. During this time, I was quoted in a 2006 interview by Mark Brunelli about Oracle Database 10g.

"Counting all of our [biometric] product lines, we have over 300 installations and we're in nearly 40 countries," Bredehoft said. "We have everything from small local systems like in Bullhead City, Arizona, all the way to large national systems."...

"One of the challenges we had with the previous generation was that every agency had a different way that they wanted to do their data. It wasn't driven by standards," Bredehoft said. "With Oracle, we were able to take whatever XML came into the workstation, store it into the database and come up with different database schemas for every customer."

True technical experts were probably groaning by this point, but that interview served as a mere prelude to this 2009 video:

OK, so maybe the lighting wasn't so good, but Motorola's biometric unit and Oracle derived mutual benefits from our marketing relationship - and, more importantly, our technical relationship (which was handled by someone else). And while Motorola engaged in a number of cooperative efforts with Oracle, biometrics was a significant one.

Until Motorola sold its biometrics business unit (and I switched jobs). And Motorola itself split into two. (As I subsequently noted, Google got the "mobility" part.)

Upon reading the news about my former co-worker, I was curious about the relationship between Motorola Solutions (I came from the "solutions" part of the company) and Oracle today. There is still an ongoing relationship, but the product focus has naturally changed.

Motorola and Oracle have an ongoing relationship committed to bringing customers integrated mobility solutions. Enterprise-class companies use Oracle databases, middleware, and applications to run their businesses....

The Motorola-Oracle alliance focuses on the retail, healthcare, and travel and transportation vertical markets and cross-industry solutions for warehouse management.

So why the new focus? Because of a business unit that Motorola acquired - and kept: the old Symbol organization.

Motorola has engaged in several projects with Oracle in recent years. In particular, our MC50 enterprise digital assistant (EDA) and MC9000 industrial mobile computer have been extensively tested to ensure smooth running of the Oracle E-Business Suite applications.

Technology - and time - marches on.

Postscript - since I mentioned Google's takeover of Motorola Mobility, I began asking myself the question "Where in the world is Sanjay Jha?" It turns out that he was being considered for the Intel CEO job.

Tech news site CNET reported last month that Intel had settled on three finalists: Chief operating officer Brian Krzanich, chief product officer Dadi Perlmutter, and one candidate from outside the company --Sanjay Jha, former CEO of Motorola Mobility.

"I personally expect them to go internal," said JoAnne Feeney, who follows Intel for Longbow Research. "The Intel culture is so strong and there's so much knowledge inside the company that it's probably more productive to go inside."

A decision is expected soon - maybe.

(empo-fioy) Why geographic targeting doesn't work

I'm sure that many of you have tried to view or do something on the Internet and have been prevented from doing so with a message along the lines of "This video cannot be shown in your country" or something like that. Because of contractual obligations, some content is only authorized for use in certain countries of the world, and not others.

Similarly, let's say that you want to buy advertisements via a popular advertising service. Since most people don't want to advertise to the entire world, the advertiser can choose where the advertisements can be shown. So if I have a product that is only available in the United States, I can specify that my ads only be shown in the United States.

Why does this work? Because there are various ways to identify the location of someone on the Internet. If I travel to China, my last.fm won't work. When I log on at home, it presents ads for my local geographic area. When I log on at work, it presents ads for...

...um, in that case it presents ads for the location where my employer's servers are. Since we have several offices in the United States, this may or may not be my own local geographical area.

But it could be worse. Look at the story of Dr. Harlan Kilstein (H/T David Cohen), who purchased ads on Facebook that were intended to be shown to United States users. Only one minor problem:

Airtel Nigeria has recently begun offering free Facebook connectivity to its subscribers without using the Internet. Just by dialing *688#, the Nigerian Facebook user has free and unlimited access to Facebook.

Apparently, Facebook’s targeting does not detect Airtel’s Nigerian subscribers who click on ads and subscribe to lists they are interested in.

Ordinarily, this would be fine. For so-called "SEO experts," this would be great, since there are a lot of ad clicks and list subscriptions. But if you really want to make money, there's a big problem. As I noted back in 2010, online purchasing systems that work well in the United States do not work in other parts of the world. Kilstein:

If you buy ads targeting the U.S., it is now very likely that you are getting traffic from Nigeria and other parts of Africa, as well.

These leads are unable to purchase your products or services because most merchant accounts and PayPal block these countries due to massive fraud claims.

So what happens is that a Nigerian (or South African, or someone from another part of Africa) uses Airtel Nigeria to get onto Facebook, sees an interesting ad, but then doesn't buy.

Am really interested but I don't have a credit card to make payment but have Naira (cash)....

Now I don't know if Kilstein even knows what "Naira" is. I certainly didn't until now.

What Kilstein does know is that he's paying Facebook good money to advertise to U.S. customers, and between 17 to 20 percent of his leads come from outside the United States.

And the Airtel Nigeria users are honest users. What of the people who use spoofing and other tactics to mask their true locations?

Of course you can implement other workarounds, such as a "we only ship to U.S. addresses" policy. But there are mail forwarders everywhere.

So how can you GUARANTEE that your product will only be sold to U.S. customers?

There's only one way. Design a product that is beloved by Americans, but that is totally odious to the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, I can't think of any such product. A baseball-themed product is a possible choice, but the game of baseball is played in Canada (Blue Jay fever), the Caribbean, and eastern Asia.

Country music has similar issues. I recently saw a YouTube video featuring a Finnish bluegrass band.

And American talk show hosts don't offer a differentiator. Conan O'Brien is beloved in Finland.

So do we give up on geotargeting (geotarding)?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Was Apple vs. IBM a one-sided rivalry?

I get a lot of my business thought from sports radio broadcaster Colin Cowherd. Which I guess is better than getting it from Rick Dees.

This morning, Cowherd was talking about rivalries. One of his specific examples was the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers. From the perspective of the Clippers, there's a rivalry with the Lakers. But from the perspective of the Lakers - at least publicly - there is no such rivalry. Perhaps the Boston Celtics are rivals of the Lakers, but the Clippers?

From Colin Cowherd's perspective, it's not a rivalry unless both teams acknowledge that a rivalry exists.

Which brings us to Apple and IBM in the 1980s.

Clearly Apple considered IBM a rival. From "Welcome, IBM. Seriously." to the 1984 commercial, Apple in general and Steve Jobs in particular continuously targeted IBM - and subsequently Microsoft, who provided a windowed environment for IBM and compatible personal computers.

But how did IBM regard the rivalry with Apple? Like the Lakers of old, IBM treated Steve Jobs as a tech version of Donald Sterling - not even worthy of consideration.

When IBM wrote its history of the personal computer on its website, it started as follows:

In the beginning, there was the IBM Personal Computer.

Well, not really.

Of course not, most of you are saying. There were a number of personal computers that were available before the IBM PC gracelessly graced store shelves. The Apple II and TRS-80 were just two personal computers that had become popular.

But that's not how IBM views personal computer history.

Although IBM's launch of the Personal Computer (IBM 5150) in 1981 set the industry standard for personal computing, IBM had introduced a variety of small computers for individual users several years before that. So while now is certainly an appropriate moment to salute the legendary IBM PC on its 20th birthday, it's also a good time to take a brief look back at some of the pioneering IBM products that immediately preceded it.

One of the earliest IBM attempts to move computing into the hands of single users was the "SCAMP" project in 1973. This six-month development effort by the company's General Systems Division (GSD) produced a prototype device dubbed "Special Computer, APL Machine Portable" (SCAMP) that PC Magazine in 1983 called a "revolutionary concept" and "the world's first personal computer." To build the prototype in the short half-year allowed, its creators acquired off-the-shelf materials for major components. SCAMP could be used as a desktop calculator, an interactive APL programming device and as a "dispenser" of canned applications. The successful demonstration of the prototype in 1973 led to the launch of the IBM 5100 Portable Computer two years later.

So as far as IBM is concerned, its Personal Computer was part of an evolution of IBM products, and not a response to some bozos in garages.

Well, that's IBM's public story. But how did they really feel? Under oath, former IBM employee Mark Papermaster said the following when IBM sued to keep him from joining Apple in 2009:

"Until this litigation effort by IBM, aside from the divested IBM personal computer business and a single sale several years ago of Apple's Xserve product to a university, I do not recall a single instance of Apple being described as a competitor of IBM during my entire tenure at IBM."

So while IBM wouldn't publicly admit that Apple was a rival, privately they acknowledged the fact.

And I bet that if you press a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, they aren't taking that Clippers Pacific Division banner as lightly as they claim.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On rape - false accusations vs. no accusation at all

Some tempests in a teapot just won't go away.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few days about rape and other allegations against Michael Arrington. Well, there's been a lot of discussion in the tech community about it. If you are a normal person rather than a techie, here are some links to help you catch up:

The March 28 Facebook status update from Jenn Allen is here.

The April 1 story from Gawker that initially talked about the sexual abuse allegations is here.

Loren Feldman's April 3 comments are here.

Michael Arrington's April 7 comments are here.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of everything that's been said, but it should catch you up.

And the allegations here are not unique to one individual. Sexual assaults, whether they occur in the workplace or not, have an adverse impact on business, to say nothing of the impact on the person who was assaulted.

And let me throw one more link in here - one that you may not have seen - a post from Paul O'Flaherty entitled "Innocent Until Proven Guilty - Except on the Internet."

O'Flaherty is talking in the general sense:

The Michael Arrington case which continues to evolve, is just the latest example of the internet becoming the judge and jury for what truly should be a legal matter, and not reported by reputable sites until the facts are in. It’s a “he said, she said” clusterfuck of emotionally charged endorsements, vilification and witch hunting, that would make the Spanish Inquisition proud....

I find it largely depressing , and shameful, that in the year 2013 technological advances have enabled us to come back to mob justice, public humiliation, and public trials without evidence. True, these “trials” do not have any legal standing, but what need is there for a courts justice when a person’s livelihood and reputation can be dismantled by spending 15 minutes at the keyboard followed by smidgen of social sharing?

The discussion continued into the comments, with Patrick Davis brining up this point:

[S]ometimes [a public accusation] is the only recourse after all other’s have been exhausted. We have all heard about a customer wronged by a company who only got justice after a blog post or a youtube video. In the case of the Steubenville rape, it was the only way to get the authorities to act.

O'Flaherty responded, in part:

Some studies have shown that as high as 41% of rape claims are false (sticking with that crime as these are the catalyst to the post), however this is an outlier number. The mean in these studies appears to be in the range of 8% to 10%.

This means that for every 9 people who get accused correctly, there is 1 person getting their life destroyed and the emotional mob really has no mean with which to verify most of these claims.


At the time that O'Flaherty linked to the Wikipedia page above, it included a variety of statistics from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the British Home Office, and other sources. The Wikipedia page also linked to another Wikipedia page that discussed a very famous false allegation (and one to which I had indirectly alluded) - the Duke lacrosse case. Nancy Grace's role in the affair is a troubling one, since this resulted in exactly what O'Flaherty feared - innocent people were accused of rape, and a media person fanned up the flames against them.

Nancy Grace even vilified those who cautioned the rush to judgment might be premature. During one interview Stephen Miller of the Duke Conservative Union began to worry that “two innocent people may have possibly …” But Grace quickly cut him off: “Oh, good lord! … I assume you’ve got a mother. I mean, your first concern is that somebody is falsely accused?”

When charges were dropped against the Duke lacrosse players, Nancy Grace's show announced it - but Grace herself was absent.

So there is certainly a concern about false accusations. But there is also a concern about those rape cases that are never filed and never reported. I want to cite some statistics from the Enliven Project, but before I do so, I want to share a little bit about them:

The Enliven Project is a truth-telling campaign to bring sexual violence out of the closet and convert the most powerful bystanders to new allies.

Sexual violence is the biggest issue we aren’t talking about in America. Incorporating lessons from the gay rights and AIDS movements and campaigns like Opportunity Nation, The Enliven Project will tell the truth about sexual violence in classrooms, break-rooms, and board-rooms, enlisting the most powerful bystanders to join the movement, promoting the most promising interventions, and increasing justice and acceptance for survivors everywhere.

Here are some of the statistics that the Enliven Project cites in its page about false rape accusations:

The purpose of this graphic is to compare (primarily men’s) fear of being falsely accused of being a rapist to the many challenges around reporting, prosecuting, and punishing rapists.

Two key figures drive that point home:
•A reporting rate of 10%
•A false reporting rate of 2%

The details are listed later on the page:

1,000 Rapists (technically 1,000 rapes as pointed out by Slate, a distinction we missed in an effort to bring some reality to the numbers.)

Of those 1,000 rapes, we applied a 10% reporting rate (100)
•Source: http://www.hmic.gov.uk/media/without-consent-20061231.pdf
Page 8: “Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 per cent of rape crimes are never reported to the police.”
•Source:http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=245 (2011 Criminal Victimization Survey): Reported to the police (US): 27% in 2011, 49% in 2010

Of those 100 reported rapes, we show 30 faced trial (this includes those that were jailed). This is 30%. Faced trial, for the purpose of this graphic, uses composite data reflecting the terms prosecution, arrested, and faced trial.
•RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates) lists for 46 rapes, 9 get prosecuted. This is 19.5%.
•Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2006). Extent, nature and consequences of rape victimization: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. – 37% of reported rapes are prosecuted
•Patterson, D., & Campbell, R. (2010). Why rape survivors participate in the criminal justice system. Journal of Community Psychology, 38(2), 191-205. – 14-18% of reported rapes lead to prosecution
•http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/clearances - 40% clearance rate in 2010 (arrested or cleared by exceptional means)

Of the 100 rapes brought to trial, 10 are jailed. This is 10%. Or, of the 30 rapes prosecuted, 10 are jailed. This is 33.3%.
•When considered 10% of the 100 reported rapes: http://www.ncpa.org/pub/st229?pg=11Table A-4 in 1997, Probability of prison for rape is 9%.
•When considered 10% of the 100 reported rapes: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/fdluc06.pdf
page 11 in 2006: 62% of felony rape defendants are convicted, 50% of a felony
page 12 in 2006: most severe sentence of convicted offenders
For rape: 80% incarcerated. Combining these, 0.62 * 0.8 = 0.496 (49.6%)
•When considered as a portion of prosecuted rapes that are jailed: RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates) lists for 9 prosecuted rapes, 3 are jailed. This is 33.3%.

Of the 100 rapes reported, 2 are false accusations. The 2% false accusation rate was applied only to the number of reported rapes.
•Source: http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf page 2: “when more methodologically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false reports begin to converge around 2-8%.”

So, while the Enliven Project did NOT make this specific comparison, the number of false accusations was much lower than the number of rape victims who never file a report in the first place. And there's a reason why the Enliven Project didn't make that specific comparison - the fact that so many people get away with rape is of no comfort to the person who is falsely accused of rape. However, it does show that false accusations of rape are just one problem associated with rape. Another problem (of lesser, equal, or greater importance depending upon your point of view) is that many rapes are never reported.

I previously noted that sexual assaults have an adverse impact on business. Here are some examples:

Victims often lose their jobs because of absenteeism due to illness as a result of the violence. Absences occasioned by court appearances can also jeopardize their livelihood. Victims may have to move many times to avoid violence. Moving is costly and can interfere with continuity of employment. Many victims have had to forgo financial security during divorce proceedings to avoid further abuse. As a result they are impoverished as they grow older. (Kurz, 1989).

Victims are not the only ones who pay the price. Women who were victims of intimate partner violence costs health plans approximately 92% more than a random sample of general female enrollees. Findings of significantly higher mental health service use are supported by other studies. (Wisner, 1999).

So this is something that businesses are addressing in the workplace - while walking that careful tightrope between promoting false accusations and ignoring valid ones.

When cuts in headcount don't save money

Who needs secretaries or executive assistants any more?

Why have someone type a letter when anyone with a computer can do it himself?

Why have someone book travel when anyone can do it on the web?

There's a reason, as Businessweek points out after reviewing a Harvard Business Review piece:

A 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review, “The Case for Executive Assistants,” points out that surfing Expedia (EXPE) to book business trips and itemizing expense reports is hardly an efficient use of a senior executive’s time. For someone earning close to $1 million a year, an $80,000-a-year assistant needs to help the boss become only 8 percent more productive for the company to break even.

Attention to detail (Mel Brooks)

Marc Flanagan was a writer for The Tracey Ullman Show (for you young people, it was a live action predecessor to The Simpsons). Mel Brooks was...Mel Brooks. He was guesting on Ullman's show, and Flanagan (who had admired Brooks for years) was assigned to work on a sketch for Ullman and Brooks.

As Flanagan describes it, he worked on the piece "with great trepidation," completed it, and then submitted it for Brooks' review. Brooks liked the sketch, but during rehearsals, he suggested a change.

One of the punch lines was, "Yeah, he's going up Thursday." Mel asked if he could change "Thursday" to "Tuesday.” Of course, I responded. Mel instructs, "Tuesday is a lot funnier then Thursday.”

Now THAT is attention to detail.

Read Flanagan's entire story here, including the account of Flanagan's first meeting with Brooks while trespassing on his property.

And for more wisdom from Mel Brooks, read this piece.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Some business disputes are motivated by other factors (Unitas vs. Unitas)

Derogatory comments about Joe Flacco from a son and grandson of Johnny Unitas? It's not what you think.

While there are some instances in which older sports figures have a high regard for younger players (Don Drysdale held Orel Hershiser in high regard), there are also times when older players have been known to denigrate younger players. This year, a number of former Lakers from the Showtime era did not always have the kindest words for Dwight Howard, for example.

So it may not be surprising that the son and grandson of Baltimore Colts legend Johnny Unitas don't necessarily praise current Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. (If you're a resident of Baltimore, it's appropriate to compare current Ravens to older Colts. The new Colts, who fled Baltimore, are not worthy of consideration.)

In a recent article about a new film about Johnny Unitas, the son and grandson do not praise Flacco.

"If you want a real movie, hire a real actor," wrote J.C. Unitas [Johnny's grandson] on Facebook.

Added the 24-year-old former Villanova quarterback: "My grandfather and his legacy deserves only the best, and this is not it. Has Baltimore forgotten that Trent Dilfer also won a Super Bowl while playing for Baltimore?"

J.C.'s father, John Unitas Jr., calls Flacco a "goofball."

"If you want a quarterback, go with Peyton Manning," John said. "My father was just like that. This is a joke."

But if you dig a little deeper into the story, you see why J.C. Unitas and John Unitas Jr. are critical of the film.

The film, based on a book written by Tom Callahan, is being produced by Johnny's son, Joe, from the quarterback's second marriage. Joe's mother, Sandra Unitas, unsuccessfully sued John Jr., Johnny's eldest son from his first marriage, over control of Unitas Management, which owns the rights to the family name.

Now you can see what's going on. The family from the first marriage owns the rights, and the family from the second marriage is the one who is making the film. And the family from the first marriage isn't happy with anything about the way the film is being made. The casting of Flacco is not the only issue.

Joe Unitas told the Baltimore Sun the projected budget for the film is $12.8 million, and he's seeking "sponsorships" from individual fans to produce the film....

"It disgusts me that one of the son's of my grandfather would put his hands out and ask for donations to make a movie based off of a book that was mostly built off of non-factual events in my grandfather's life," J.C. writes. "Moreover, a movie of my grandfather conceptualized by a son who never saw my grandfather play a down of football.

"The Unitas family is a family that never asked for handouts, although it appears there is a hand out, shaking a proverbial soup can for money to fund a movie."

So Joe Flacco is just a pawn in a family fight.

Extraordinary athletes (and others) working in the United States

After I got into a discussion with Mark Wilson about working across borders, I began researching athletes who are citizens of one country but who work in another. This is a common occurrence - there are many members of the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors who are not Canadian, and there are similarly many members of U.S. hockey teams who are not American.

For those athletes who want to work in my country, there are a variety of different visas depending upon the specific circumstances of the athlete. Liebl & Kirkwood's usimmigrationlaw.net website lists them.

The top category is the O-1 category, which Liebl & Kirkwood describes as being used for athletes of "extraordinary ability." One of the examples that they give is Wayne Gretzky.

Not everyone is Wayne Gretzky, of course, so there are separate categories such as P-1 (any athlete under a major league contract), H-2B (temporary visas for athletes under minor league contracts), B-1 (unsalaried professionals who compete for prize money in a sporting event), and B-2 (amateurs who competing in a sporting event).

These visas are not solely for sports figures. The O-1 visa, for example, is also used for people with extraordinary abilities in education, the sciences, the arts, and other disciplines. Presumably Jonathan Ive has an O-1 visa. Rupert Murdoch does not; because of Federal Communications Commission regulations about majority ownership of television networks, Murdoch became a U.S. citizen in 1985.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why iStores are not Indian

(I know that I said that I was going to blog more about India yesterday, but the decision to post this was actually unrelated to that pledge.)

If you've studied the biography of Steve Jobs, you realize that he didn't spend all of his formative years with geeks, hunched over a keyboard.

Not at all.

After dropping out of Reed College, he hung around the campus and dropped in on a calligraphy class. Then he went to India.

Apparently the lessons from India didn't necessarily rub off on his company, as this Feld Thought notes.

[W]e’ve actually just returned from almost a year away, the last 6 months in India. I realize that a lot of what I see is colored with the lens of India, but maybe that’s helping to make things more clear....

One of the first things I planned on doing once home was to buy a shiny new macbook to replace my 4 year old white macbook. Maybe going to the mall, rather than just buying it online was my first mistake, but the cult of apple and the temple that is that store made me gag the second I walked in there....

[I]n the store, what I noticed was a culture of elitism and insincerity. I had a 4 year old laptop with me, and was treated like a Luddite because I didn’t look up to speed.

But perhaps there's a reason why iStores don't reflect an Indian spiritual mentality. Unlike the calligraphy classes, the time in India had a negative effect on Jobs:

After his India trip, he concluded: “We weren’t going to find a place where we could go for a month to be enlightened. It was one of the first times that I started to realise that maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Kairolie Baba put together.”

That statement tells a lot about who Jobs really was – and why his Indian connection never really happened beyond a broad interest in Buddhism.

Jobs wouldn't be the first or the last person to seek spiritual enlightenment in India and leave with some disappointment. But the episode again demonstrates my belief that there is no universal set of ethics in the world; a place that seems like a temple to (some) Americans appears obscene to people from other parts of the world.

Snubbing your champions - Jason Alba asks "LinkedIn, now what?"

After Jason Alba wrote the book I'm on LinkedIn - Now What?, he created a blog to go with the book. His April 3, 2013 post in the blog is not good news for LinkedIn. Excerpt:

When I was writing my book I reached out to LinkedIn and to some LinkedIn communities. The response I got from LinkedIn “go away!” was surprising. Over the years I’ve learned that’s how they engage with most everyone. People who evangelize LinkedIn are snubbed.

Considering LinkedIn's purpose, this is especially distressing to Alba.

[I]t’s a shame that a company based around networking, who says “relationships matter,” have zero interest in developing relationships with users, power users, etc.

And this is just one of five (actually, more than five) blunders that Alba documents in his April 3 post.

And this is a guy who, at least at one point, LIKED LinkedIn.

Are you qualified to work at McDonald's?

According to the Washington Examiner,

A job opening at a Massachusetts McDonald's restaurant for a full-time cashier requires one to two years experience and a bachelor's degree.

Thanks to Nora, Nathan, and Jack for letting us know that fast food apparently now requires critical thinking skills.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Devaluing your own brand, baseball edition

This tweet, in which the Los Angeles Dodgers work a Bank of America sponsorship into a discussion of Opening Day, was probably conceived as a win-win. The Dodgers get a lot of money, and Bank of America gets a lot of publicity.

Of course, sponsorships are not unique to baseball. The concert venue in Devore, California has changed sponsorships numerous times. NASCAR drivers and cars are walking billboards. But the worst offender is soccer, in which the team name is not visible at all - if a southern California reader sees me talking about the Herbalifes, they know exactly who I'm talking about.

At the end of the day, doesn't this devalue your own brand?

The Dodgers have spent over a hundred years building up their brand, and now when people think of the Dodgers, they think of Farmer John hot dogs and Bank of America banking. In fact, because of one of the owners of the Dodgers, they'll also think about the Lakers.

So what are the Dodgers? What are the Herbalifes? Does Beckham still get free Herbalife junk, or does he have to get new junk from his new team's sponsor?

And what if the sponsor has problems? Remember the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood? Remember Manchester United's old sponsor, AIG?

Of course, business owners aren't charged with getting a brand. Business owners are charged with getting a profit. And we're probably at the stage where we don't care how the Dodgers or the Galaxy prostitute themselves.

More on #diseasedobesewombat

In a prior post, I included an example that incorporated a fake game:

For example, let's say that a new game comes out called Diseased Obese Wombat. All of a sudden, DOW becomes the most popular game on the planet, Fred Wilson and Michael Arrington are investing in it, and even non-tech publications (yes, there are non-tech publications) are talking about it. And since Peter, Craig, Kim, and Steve are all playing it, I start playing it too.

And things go fine - for a few months.

But after a while, Peter drops out to start playing the American Idol retro game, and Kim drops out because she has gotten really interested in the Pink Floyd Wall game. Craig and Steve also drop out of DOW, but it's unclear whether they're playing a new game, or whether they're doing something work-related that they can't talk about.

So you've run off to adopt a new social game to play with your friends, and after a while you're all alone.

Of course, now that I've come up with this example, it's imperative that I come up with a game called Diseased Obese Wombat.

To do this, I need to look at games that have been successful in the past.

Let's start with Pong. A paddle that can only move in one dimension is positioned to hit a bouncing object.

Then we moved to Pac Man. Now the game piece can move in two dimensions - and eat little pellet thingies.

Super Mario Brothers is another two-dimensional game baed upon the House of Pain song "Jump Around."

Farmville qualifies as three dimensions, I guess, since the crops go toward the sky.

And that leads us to Angry Birds, in which birds are shot at objects. As far as I know, PETA hasn't objected to the game itself, but it's used it to mount protests against Kentucky Fried Chicken.

With games like that, it's obvious that a game called Diseased Obese Wombat would be hugely successful.

So here's my proposed gameplay:


Copyright April 4, 2013 by John E. Bredehoft. All rights reserved. Send me billions of dollars for my game idea.

(empo-plaaybizz) When social games are anti-social (why Robert Scoble's personal concerns with Ingress are valid)

I want to get into an aspect of online gaming that I didn't explore in my 2010 post, The Farmville Sociopaths? It's been bouncing around my brain for a few days, but I finally put it down in written form in response to a Robert Scoble Google+ thread on Ingress.

Scoble started the thread by listing three roadblocks that prevented him from enjoying the game:

1. I don't like playing games (update: unless I can get value out of them immediately, IE I'm a casual gamer, think Angry Birds). Especially ones that require more than a few minutes of commitment.

2. I don't often have time to walk around a city. My first experience, opening up Ingress in front of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, was that I needed to walk up and down the street to hit various things.

3. Lots of people think I have invites. I don't and if I did I don't have time to take the hundreds of requests I have gotten so far.

In a comment, Trevor Schadt took on Scoble's first question.

Well, if you don't like playing games, especially ones that take more than a few minutes, you're not going to like Ingress. Pretty much period.

It's a game, and it takes more than a few minutes. QED.

I then answered Scoble's second question. I'm reprinting the whole thing here, but I'm going to concentrate on just one part of the response after that.

+Trevor Schadt addressed your first point, so I'll confine myself to your second point. (Until "the Bredehoft effect" becomes common terminology, I can't help you with your third point.)

If you happen to have time to walk around a city at some point, Ingress can be an enjoyable way to pass the time. A few weeks ago, I was waiting for a museum to open at noon, so I passed the time by walking up an down Euclid Avenue in Ontario, California visiting Ingress "portals." In addition, if you start Runkeeper first and THEN start Ingress, you can measure your exercise while playing the game. In this case, 0.8 miles walking with visits to 6 portals. http://empoprise-ie.blogspot.com/2013/03/empo-plaaybizz-first-e-is-exercise.html

Of course, those who live in and walk around urban areas have an advantage here, since there are more portals in such places. If you're in a less populated area, you have to drive to get between the various portals - and with the way gas prices are going, this makes Ingress an expensive habit.

After playing extensively in November and then pretty much quitting entirely, now I'm playing Ingress on my own terms. Yes, I'm only a Level 3 (a relatively low level) after five calendar months of play ("John, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!(tm)"), but I'm deriving satisfaction from the way that I play it.

Of course, our reaction and devotion to any game can be greatly affected if our IRL friends are playing it. If your IRL friends aren't playing it, a "social" game can become very anti-social.

Let me elaborate on my statement in the last paragraph.

I've played dozens upon dozens of online games over the years on Yahoo!, Facebook, Google+, and other platforms. Of those games, only two of them were consistently played by "in real life" (IRL) friends (in this case, co-workers): Farm Town and Starfleet Commander.

When you're playing games with IRL friends, then playing the game does not subtract from your daily routine. If you're going to see Peter or Craig or Kim or Steve anyway, then it doesn't really subtract from your life to play these games. But if you're playing games that don't involve your IRL friends, then you have to take time away from your IRL friends to play the game.

As of now, I am unaware of any IRL friends who are playing Ingress. So when I play Ingress, I'm doing it on my own.

Whoops, here comes the Correctness crowd:

John, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG(tm). You are supposed to play Ingress as a collaborative game. If your friends don't play Ingress, then it's time to make some new friends.

But if anyone has been in the online gaming world for a long time, they know how this goes.

For example, let's say that a new game comes out called Diseased Obese Wombat. All of a sudden, DOW becomes the most popular game on the planet, Fred Wilson and Michael Arrington are investing in it, and even non-tech publications (yes, there are non-tech publications) are talking about it. And since Peter, Craig, Kim, and Steve are all playing it, I start playing it too.

And things go fine - for a few months.

But after a while, Peter drops out to start playing the American Idol retro game, and Kim drops out because she has gotten really interested in the Pink Floyd Wall game. Craig and Steve also drop out of DOW, but it's unclear whether they're playing a new game, or whether they're doing something work-related that they can't talk about.

So you've run off to adopt a new social game to play with your friends, and after a while you're all alone.

(In real life, I'm not actively playing in the Starfleet Commander universe in which Craig and Steve are playing, and Kim is still waiting for me to answer her SongPop challenge.)

If a game fits into your lifestyle, then there is a much greater chance that you will play it. And that's something that Zynga and EA and the other companies cannot control.

Texas is pro-business...provided that you're a Texas business (and Kristofferson's Law of Economics)

Tad Donaghe recently shared a story from Motor Trend about the difficulties that Tesla Motors is encountering when trying to do business in Texas.

Tesla Motors is no stranger to resistance from state dealer associations, which oppose the electric automaker’s factory-owned store approach....

[I]n order to comply with current state franchise law, [Tesla] representatives cannot initiate or complete a sales transaction or deliver a vehicle on-site. Customers must contact a representative in California to complete the sales transaction, as well as arrange their own transport and delivery arrangements....

To combat the contorted, Goldbergian work-arounds to sell and service vehicles in the state, Tesla is backing a bill in the Texas legislature that would change the states inflexible franchise laws to make it easier to operate factory-owned dealerships and service centers. But the state dealer association has been actively lobbying legislators....

Now such anti-business tactics (or pro-business tactics, depending upon your point of view) are not unique to Texas, as the Motor Trend article notes. But when I was reading about Tesla's struggles in Texas, I remembered another company that had struggles in Texas a number of years ago.

When I started my working career just out of college, the company where I worked used United Parcel Service (UPS) for its deliveries. From reading the fine print in the UPS guides, I discovered that UPS could deliver anywhere in the country - unless you were in Texas. If you were in Texas, UPS could not be used to deliver a package to another point in Texas.

This abstract of a 1986 New York Times article briefly recounts UPS' twenty-year struggle to be approved for intrastate deliveries.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which for years held it had no jurisdiction in the matter, has opened the way for the parcel company to begin intrastate operations.

Who opposed UPS' bid? I'll give you one guess:

But Texas package carriers, which maintain that the huge shipping company would cut deeply into their business, have promised to continue the battle....

Again, this is not limited to Texas - and it is not surprising.

A business is going to pursue its own self-interests, and if a company's self-interest is promoted by keeping other companies out of the market, then the company will obviously pursue that objective.

And even when a business organization talks about "freedom," that freedom is couched in a certain manner. Take this excerpt from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce:

What is economic freedom? It’s the ability to decide how to produce, sell and consume without unnecessary government interference. Economic freedom powers prosperity and is the key to greater opportunity, more jobs and a better quality of life for all Ohioans.

Since 1893, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce has been aggressively championing free enterprise, economic competitiveness and growth for the benefit of all Ohioans. Our united voice in the state’s legislative matters speaks for the thousands of individual businesses that we represent, thus strengthening the business climate in Ohio.

There's a lot of "in Ohio" language in there that suggests that the Ohio Chamber of Commerce supports Ohio business - as it should. So would the Ohio Chamber of Commerce - and other Chambers of Commerce - support candidates who oppose government regulation? Um...no - at least not in 2009:

[A] column in the Washington Examiner ... noted in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s congressional ratings: “Texas libertarian GOPer Rep. Ron Paul — the most steadfast congressional opponent of regulation, taxation, and any sort of government intervention in business — scored lower than 90% of Democrats last year on the Chamber’s scorecard.”

Indeed, Congressman Ron Paul has top ratings from the American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayer’s Union and The New American’s own Freedom Index (FI). He earned a perfect 100 percent in 2007-08 for the Freedom Index (FI), but rated only a 47 percent on the Chamber of Commerce’s ratings. Meanwhile, Massachusetts liberal Democrat Barney Frank earned a 61 percent rating from the chamber....

Rep. Paul and Senator [Jim] DeMint lost points twice for voting against the wasteful $700 billion federal bailout that created the wasteful TARP and once for voting against expanded federal educational spending. The Chamber seems to believe that learning should flow from Washington, and that the Chamber would assist “in developing long-term solutions to expand the pool of educated and qualified American workers and improve excellence in education.”

Whatever one may claim about the benefits of federal educational spending, it's not "freedom" in terms of laissez faire. Do higher taxes to promote education provide "the ability to decide how to produce, sell and consume without unnecessary government interference?" No.

So what is freedom? According to Rhodes scholar Kris Kristofferson, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." And if you as a business are receiving government handouts, and if the government is helping keep competitors out of your market, then you do have something left to lose.

And you are not free.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

More on ignoble professions

An earlier post compared noble professions (such as police officers and firefighters) to ignoble professions (such as garbage collectors). There's another comparison between these professions, shared by Heather Horn of the Atlantic:

Sanitation workers, it turns out, have twice the fatality rates of police officers, and nearly seven times the fatality rates of firefighters.

And, despite some high profile cases (the Challenger, the Newtown shootings), sanitation workers have a much higher fatality rate than teachers.

But it's also appropriate for me to condemn myself. In a previous post, I asserted that the proposals industry is one of the few industries that is forced to honor a deadline. Let's add sanitation workers to that list:

You can't telecommute as a sanitation worker. You can't say, "Oh, I'll do it tomorrow." Yeah, you will do it tomorrow, but you'll also do it today. And the day after that, and the day after that.

Are noble professions less important than ignoble ones?

It's easy to find conversations regarding noble professions, and which professions can be classified as "noble."

Over the weekend, I ran across this list from Nischala Murthy Kaushik: educators, healers, and writers.

Kaushik hit one of the biggies, because there are any number of essays that identify teaching as the most noble profession of all. But many of these essays have a common theme. Take this one:

Teachers have always been taken for granted, despite doing the most important work in the world. In recent years it has gotten worse, as teachers have been absorbing the misplaced blame for the state of education in America.

Some writers (again, a noble profession) call for teachers to get more pay. Most writers call for teachers to get more respect.

But if there are noble professions, then it follows that there are ignoble professions. Tony Cookson notes that these professions do not have parades, public gratitude, or love. Note that the "Subway" in Cookson's paragraph refers to a sandwich shop, not a transit agency - but the principle remains the same.

These Subway workers go to work everyday, and they have to deal with customers who show them very little respect. When they return home, they cannot talk about their time at work as something that was meaningful in their life because ... well... society does not respect sandwich artists. That kind of sentiment can wear on you. Not many people thank the worker for making our sandwich, or tell the cashier at the food court to have a nice day.

In fact, I am willing to submit that noble professions are often less important than ignoble ones.

At this point, some of you are looking at me with a horrified stare. "John!" you exclaim. "Teachers shape young minds and prepare them for a future of service! Doctors and firefighters and police officers have the power of life and death! What can be more important than that?"

That's an easy question to answer:

Now if I were one of those people who wrote manipulative memes, I'd declare that most of you aren't willing to spam everyone with the trash collector video above, and that most of you weren't even willing to watch the entire six minutes of the video. (I'll admit that I wasn't.) Despite the title, most of us perceive nothing noble about the six minutes shown here.

But think about this - what would happen if that trash collector had never shown up at all - and didn't show up for several days? This is what would happen.

Mountains of rubbish are piling up in the Spanish city of Seville after a strike by binmen reached its tenth day.

Rubbish collectors are protesting at proposed cuts to their working conditions as the Andalusian city's municipal government battles to balance its books. So far around 6,000 tons of rubbish have been left uncollected since the strike started.

And did people step in with heartfelt pleas for the plight of the noble, underpaid garbage workers? No. Those commenters who weren't railing against the European Union were offering comments like this:

Sack the bin men, employ others that want the work. Get the managers to also do the work 1 or 2 days a month. Just so they dont get above themselves I`d soon get the Country back on it`s feet. Where`s my whip ?

And of course, there are ripple effects. The Daily Mail article noted that the piles of trash could adversely affect tourism.

They can also affect the lives of others, such as the person who has trouble navigating to his favorite sandwich shop because of the piles of trash on the street. And perhaps the trash may become so smelly that the sandwich shop itself would have to close - then the lunch eater, rather than being limited to two choices of bread, would be limited to no choices of bread. The angry person, hungry and with the smell of trash invading his nostrils, decides that he's not going to go back for his afternoon shift as a bagger at a grocery store. This makes life harder for the cashier at the grocery store (who brown-bagged her lunch that day), as she has to do the bagging herself. The lines pile up at the cash register, and the smell of trash wafts into the grocery store every time the automatic doors open.

Angry and fed up, the cashier ends her shift, walks home (the buses weren't running because of a fuel shortage), dodges the trash outside her apartment, looks in vain for her newspaper (they're on strike also), and finally plops down, exhausted, on her couch.

Perhaps the cashier, and the grocery bagger, and the sandwich maker, and the garbage collector are not employed in noble professions. But try doing without them.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

CurbTXT and the question of sharing

We share private information about ourselves all of the time.

Sometimes this is not by choice. I recently discovered that anyone who checked the website of a particular county can read all about my traffic violation, the amount that I paid to go to traffic school, and the disposition of this case by the court. (Of course, this is a prime example of "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear." If I had not run that red light, my name would not be in that database.)

Sometimes, however, we choose to share things. When we sign up for a service, we are often asked if we want to share all of our service activity with Facebook, Twitter, and other means. This allows us to know about breast pump rentals and everything else. (Braden is presumably eating big boy food these days.)

All of us, whether we are in the Bredehoft family, the Gray family, or the Scoble family, make conscious choices about what we will share and what we will not share. And even people who are reputed to share everything really don't share everything. For one, it would be awfully boring. For two, there are some things that people just won't share. (Even when Madonna was romping around with her clothes off all the time, she was not printing her 1040 tax forms for public consumption.)

So, San Francisco drivers, do you want people to text you when they see your car?

The company that provides this service, CurbTXT, explains its service as follows:

A lot of things can go wrong when parking your car in the city. We think instant, direct, and anonymous communication can alleviate a lot of the parking issues people have with their vehicles and the vehicles of others. Before CurbTXT, no one could reach you if your left your car’s lights on or you were accidentally blocking their driveway, unless they knew you and your car. Now with CurbTXT, neighbors are helping each other make parking in the city a little easier.

As B.L. Ochman explains, anyone can contact someone who is registered with the service by sending a text message that includes the person's license plate number. For example, you could send this text to the universal CurbTXT phone number of (415) 529-5775: "CA3214567 you’re blocking my driveway - pls move." If the owner of the car with California license plate 3214567 is a CurbTXT user, then CurbTXT would forward the message to the car owner's phone, and the car owner could then move.

The CurbTXT technology is neutral. The technology itself is not good or bad. It can be used, however, in good or bad ways.

CA3214567 you just ran a red light you stupid fool

As I have admitted, there is certainly the possibility that I could receive a text like that. However, since I am God's gift to women (whoops, let's be politically correct - "to women and men"), it is much more likely that I could receive a text that reads as follows:

CA3214567 you are incredibly hot - take me!

As it turns out, CurbTXT has thought of this problem - well, not this specific problem, but the problem of inappropriate texts.

If you believe you have received an inappropriate CurbTXT, simply text “#block” to block the user and flag the message. CurbTXT will investigate any users sending inappropriate messages and keep a record of it. As a community organization, CurbTXT will not tolerate abuse of the service, and we rely on users reporting abuse to keep the service functioning properly.

The community is not a completely closed community, since you only have to register to RECEIVE messages - anyone can send messages. However, any text messages that break the law could certainly be prosecuted in the same way that any abusive text message can be prosecuted.

Which brings us back to the question - do you see a net benefit from allowing people to contact you based upon your license plate number? If you do, contact CurbTXT via its website curbtxt.com or its Twitter account @CurbTXT.

Monday, April 1, 2013

On Apple's purchase of Microsoft


I learn about these things at odd hours. For example, back in 2008 I learned that my own company (Motorola) was selling my own division (the biometrics unit) to the French company Safran. Because of time zone differences, I learned about this late at night.

Now I learn about this really, really early in the morning.

Everybody and their mother are reporting and blogging about this, and rather than regurgitate what they're saying, I'm going to throw in my own views, based upon my own experiences in various corporate acquisitions.

And in this case, I really really don't see how this can work - even if it clears the expected antitrust hurdles.

The big issue here is culture. Cupertino has its culture, and Redmond has its culture. Perhaps Redmond could be run as a stand-alone entity with its own culture, but in that case Apple will not reap any benefits from its takeover of Microsoft. (Believe me - I know.)

The only way that this is going to work is if Apple imposes its culture on Microsoft, and I'm not sure if Redmond is ready to bleed six colors.

Even if Ballmer is becoming the President under Tim Cook's CEO role, and Gates (who is not fully engaged anyway) becomes the Chairman. That theoretically means that Redmond could conceivably be taking over Cupertino instead of the other way around, but you can bet that Cook has retained enough power to make sure that he is running things.

Anyway, those are my first jumbled half-asleep thoughts. If I have more thoughts, I'll certainly share them.