Friday, May 31, 2013

Before you slam the evil tax-dodging also have to slam the evil tax-dodging small businesses

In certain circles, it is taken as fact that corporations are evil. They are not people, but pretend to be people - people who are literally soullless.

One of the main criticisms of corporations is their practice of avoiding taxes wherever possible. While I believe that a corporation is legally mandated to maximize its profit in any legal way possible, even I have had a little fun with this corporate practice.

There have been a number of tax reform suggestions that address various tax issues related to corporations. But Steve Wozniak - who helped to found one of the corporations that has gotten a lot of criticism about its tax avoidance strategies - has proposed something that I've never seen proposed before.

"People are not taxed on profit; they are taxed on income," [Wozniak] said. "Corporations should be taxed the same as people, in my mind that is how it should be, that would make things fair and right.

"That means corporations pay taxes on all of their revenues or people only pay it on a tiny amount called profit and until we rectify that, the whole problem is just with us forever."

It's a distinction that I've never really thought about before, and even the maniacal devotees of Jimmy Wales apparently have missed it.

Company income subject to tax is often determined much like taxable income for individuals.

Um, not exactly.

Take Widget Company, which (in my immensely simplified example) received revenues of $50,000,000 in 2012. Widget Company had transportation expenses of $10,000,000, uniform expenses of $5,000,000, and building lease costs of $10,000,000. Widget Company pays tax on the NET income, or $25,000,000.

Meanwhile, John Doe is a valued employee at Widget Company and received a salary of $50,000 in 2012. John drives to work every day and racks of $10,000 in transportation expenses. He also has to do a lot of laundry and dry cleaning to make himself presentable for work, so he racks up clothing expenses of $5,000. Oh, and John pays $10,000 a year in rent. But John is unable to deduct the transportation expenses, clothing expenses, or rent, so he pays tax on the TOTAL income, or $50,000.

But before you complain that corporations are evil, consider this - similar tax rules apply to businesses that are NOT corporations.

Let's say that John Doe, rather than working for Widget Company, starts a small business and calls it DoeCo. DoeCo earned $50,000 in income in 2012. Assume that 100% of DoeCo's transportation expenses are business-related (Doe the person NEVER goes out at night); that means that $10,000 is deductible. Now assume that 100% of DoeCo's uniform expenses are business-related (in his personal life, Doe is a nudist); that means that another $5,000 is deductible. I can't think of a way to dodge at least some housing expenses, so let's assume that DoeCo's business office takes up 10% of John Doe's home. DoeCo can therefore deduct 10% of the rent, or $1,000.

So compare the individual John Doe, who has to pay tax on $50,000, and DoeCo, which only has to pay tax on $34,000.

And that has nothing to do with the evil corporations; it's just the way that business taxes work, as opposed to personal taxes.

Now Woz's radical proposal certainly deserves some thought - and if you want to share some thoughts on it, please visit Alex Scoble's Google+ thread on the topic. But just remember that this goes well beyond the corporations.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Splitting off to perform a startup - when you're splitting from al-Qaida

It's a common occurrence at multinationals.

A talented employee who wants to get the attention of central headquarters is instead dickering with regional office people over submitting expense reports.

Finally, the employee decides to resign and start his own company.

The ex-employee has immediate success with his new startup, catching the eye of his old employer's headquarters and causing possible embarrassment for the regional office.

This tale, told by Rukmini Callamachi, would be an amusing business tale. Except for the minor little detail that the "multinational" was al-Qaida, and the "success" of the new startup resulted in the deaths of over 100 people.

It's an AP article, and I think AP still gets really picky about quoting more than a few words from their articles, so I won't.

Actually, I've confirmed that AP still doesn't like this. Take this recent press release:

In clear and sweeping

(Whew, I dodged it again.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Plug and play enterprise conferencing - real soon now?

Before I launch into this post, I should note that I'm talking about enterprise conferencing, rather than personal conferencing. There are too many times that technology discussions focus upon consumer use, and ignore the idiosyncracies of enterprise use. For example, a consumer blog post would just tell you to trash Browser X and get the newest version of Browser Y - which is of no help to enterprise users whose computers are locked down, and for whom Browser X is the only corporate-approved browser.

So let's talk about enterprise conferencing.

I recently attended a webinar on enterprise conferencing. The webinar was sponsored by a leading enterprise conferencing software vendor, and used the vendor's own tool. (For those who haven't figured this out yet, it was a sales pitch.) The theme of the pitch was that people are working remotely, and that work teams are distributed, and that you need some way to get these people working together. But this collaboration tool has to be easy to use.

Unfortunately, I was laughing to myself even before the webinar sponsor talked about ease of use. Why? Because it took a great effort for me to join the webinar in the first place.

You see, for some reason the enterprise conferencing tool is incompatible with my company's firewall. This is not necessarily the "fault" of the enterprise conferencing vendor, but it's something that has to be addressed. Enterprises take a variety of steps to ensure that their internal networks are secure, and sometimes the security methods end up locking out legitimate business traffic.

Well, I had a solution for that - Plan B. The enterprise conferencing vendor has an Android app. I'd just fire up the Android app on my personal phone and listen to the webinar that way. So I open up the app, and see the place where I'm supposed to enter the 9 digit number for the conference.

Only one problem - when I registered for the conference, I received a return email with a URL for my own use (this allows the conference organizers to track who actually attends the conference). And this URL included TWO 9 digit numbers. The Android app only allowed me to enter one 9 digit number.

I tried entering the second number in the Android app, and was told that this code had expired.

I tried entering the first number in the Android app, and my phone browser opened to the conference registration page. Nice, except that I had already registered.

This meant that I had to go to Plan C, and all that I can say about Plan C is that it didn't involve my Android phone, and I was unable to receive work emails during the time period that the webinar lasted. Don't ask me anything else.

Needless to say, this is not what I'd call "plug and play." If it can be this hard to join a webinar, what are the chances that it will easily work for a worldwide enterprise deployment? (Especially when the support boards include a lot of questions along the lines of "When will you support Linux?")

You'll note that I haven't named the enterprise conferencing vendor in question, although if you've read other stuff that I've written online, you'll know who it is. But this is not a case in which this vendor is bad, and all of the others are good. While you may sound off in the comments and say that your preferred enterprise conferencing solution is the best thing since sliced bread and that everyone should use it, there's another reader who would reply and say that the enterprise conferencing solution that you named is the buggiest piece of software ever and never works.

In the end, the standards bodies will probably have to get involved to ensure that enterprise conferencing will work around the world, on a bunch of platforms. You might not recall this, but it took a couple of decades to get email to work so that two people could exchange email with each other. And when connectivity first came out, it took a lot of effort for you to send an email from your GEnie account to someone's CompuServe account. Eventually all of that smoothed out, and now we don't give email communications a second thought.

Even before email, there was a similar challenge in enabling telephones to talk with each other. Call Sri Lanka? Heck, it was hard enough just to call someone in a neighboring state. But eventually all of that got worked out, and we all learned out to use area codes and country codes to talk to people all over the place.

But enterprise conferencing isn't quite there yet.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sambor's Rule of Averages

Sambor is a Polish motorcyclist who toured the 'Stans in 2009 and posted about his journey.

In answer to a question

Can you tell us what the average day, evening and night temperature were while you were in the region, and how they varied at elevation?

Sambor replied,

Average? Me and my dog have average 3 legs :)

Go down to the bar and get a drink of...rubbing alcohol?

"The problem with the human race, of course, is the humans"
(Don McArthur)

This particular story centers on some locations in New Jersey, but I wonder if this problem is actually more widespread.

New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa has announced the results of "Operation Swill," and says that liquor provided by 29 restaurants and bars is being tested to see if the liquor provided to customers is the liquor advertised.

The most notorious allegation?

State investigators say at least one bar in New Jersey was mixing food dye with rubbing alcohol and serving it as scotch.

That particular bar was unidentified, but Philadelphia's ABC Action News found a woman who had been served at one of the bars being investigated:

Kristen Ferrari of Pitman, New Jersey suspected she was getting cheated at happy hour at Villari's Lakeside in Sicklerville a couple weeks ago. Villari's is another of the restaurants under investigation by the Attorney General and visited by Alcohol Beverage Control agents today.

"I ordered their mojito and it was horrible," Ferrari said.

She said her taste buds told her her drink was made with low quality liquor, but she was still charged the cost of a premium drink.

"They charged me $10 for the drink and it's just wrong," Ferrari said.

Now at this point Alcohol Beverage Control is testing the samples taken from the 29 establishments, and is supposedly using "new technology used to test samples taken covertly by undercover detectives."

So how long until this technology is available to consumers?

And is it just a bizarre coincidence that none of the 29 bars and restaurants has an Atlantic City address?

Railroad Café, East Rutherford
The Brick House, Wycoff
Sunset Tavern, Burlington
Graziano's Ristorante, Chesilhurst
Villari's Lakeside, Gloucester Township
Yesterdays, Marmora
TGI Fridays, West Orange
Italian Affair, Glassboro
Bells Tavern, Lambertville
TGI Fridays, East Windsor
Brunswick Grove, East Brunswick
TGI Fridays, Old Bridge
TGI Fridays, North Brunswick
TGI Fridays, Piscataway
TGI Fridays, Freehold
TGI Fridays, Marlboro
TGI Fridays, Hazlet
Murray's, Dover
TGI Fridays, East Hanover
Sona Thirteen, Morristown
Blackthorn Restaurant, Parsippany
Ruby Tuesday, Bridgewater
TGI Fridays, Linden
Café 34, Matawan
Applebee's, Kearny
Cucina Calandara, Fairfield
TGI Fridays, Woodridge
TGI Fridays, Springfield
TGI Fridays, Clifton

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Those who know more know less

I've had a post idea in mind for a few days now based upon the title - "those who know more know less." And even though it turns out that I wrote a similar post in 2011, I'll write it anyway.

There is always a danger in only hearing one side of an argument. Even when dealing with honest people, argument positions are merely opinions, and may obscure relevant facts.

When you hear two sides of an argument, you are better able to judge statements from each of the two sides.

When you hear three sides of an argument, it's even better.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On money laundering, and two businesses that have been discussed in the Empoprise-BI business blog

I've discussed a number of different businesses in the Empoprise-BI business blog. Two of them have become rather notorious - a Mobil gas station in West Covina, California, and a restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. The gas station seems to always charge extremely high prices, while the restaurant is purported to abuse its customers and its workers.

When businesses have such negative vibes, a few people start wondering about those businesses...and they begin to speculate.

There's been a lot of speculation about the West Covina gas station. A sample can be found in the comments to this post.

I live nearby and when ever I pass the mobil the same two dirty vehicles are just parked by the gas pumps. If they are charging more for gas because of financial difficulties from embezzlement,how can it help by not selling ANY gas. It's not working. No one is EVER buying gas there. What are they doing there ??? Not selling gas that's for sure... It sure seems fishy.

Something fishier than embezzlement? Whatever could the writer be referencing? Well, perhaps this Google+ thread on the restaurant may illustrate what's being discussed:

Others say that it is very possible the restaurant is a front to launder money and that such a thing is quite common in Scottsdale when it comes to crime. That most crime there is "White Collar" crime.

Now personally I doubt that either businesses is a money laundering front. If I were laundering money via a legitimate business, I wouldn't want to do things that would attract unwanted attention to my business.

I wouldn't advertise prices that are much higher than anyone else's.

And I certainly wouldn't consent to appear on a television show.

Why bad user interface design keeps me up at night

At around 3:00 this morning, I was awakened from sleep by a high-pitched intermittent beep.

After a few seconds, I heard it again.

I groggily looked at my phone, but I knew that my phone didn't make that noise.

Eventually I figured out that the beeping sound came from the carbon monoxide detector that we installed years and years ago - so long ago, in fact, that my groggy brain first thought that it was a carbon DIOXIDE detector, so I went to close the outside door.

As we slowly woke up, and as the carbon monoxide detector continued to beep, I noticed that a message had appeared on the detector's digital display. It was in calculator font - the font in which, if you hold the number 71077345 upside down you can see SHELLOIL. But the message that was being displayed was unmistakable, even to my groggy brain. L6 - level 6.

Unfortunately, even when I read the message, it was incomprehensible. What does "level 6" mean? Does it mean that I'm already dead, or does it mean that someone is running a car a mile away?

I had already removed the detector from the wall, so I read the back of the detector for a clue. Despite the fine print, and despite my grogginess, I eventually found what I was looking for - and it turned out that the message wasn't "L6."

It was "Lb" - for "low battery." (Although the device plugs into the wall, it has battery backup power.)

I found another battery, but it was also used, so I ended up pulling out the battery altogether. Yes, this meant that there was a risk that I would die of carbon monoxide poisoning within the next three hours, but at that point that was a risk I was willing to take.

Monday, May 20, 2013

If you're getting upset about Amy's Baking Company's PR're too late

Jaw drop.

Earlier today, I wrote a post entitled If you're getting upset about Amy's Baking Company's tipping're too late. Short version: ABC now allows its workers to keep tips (while lowering their base wage). I concluded the post with some observations:'s also interesting to note that Amy's Baking Company and its hired PR firm have already done a quick reversal. As of the 15th, they were declaring that workers were paid $8 or more an hour, and claims "that the restaurant confiscates tips from servers" were "falsehoods."

Two days later, that wage was changed to $5 an hour plus tips.

Whether a formal press conference is held before tomorrow's grand re-opening, or if the press merely asks questions during the grand re-opening (if they're not barred from the premises), it promises to be interesting.

The "PR firm" is Rose+Moser+Allyn, who secure the Bouzaglos as a client last week.

Now, a few hours later, I can refer to Rose+Moser+Allyn as the FORMER PR firm for the Bouzaglos. The Phoenix New Times, which has followed this story, reports:

Rose+Moser+Allyn Public & Online Relations, the Scottsdale-based PR firm helmed by Jason Rose, has announced it has ended its relationship with Amy's Baking Company -- if you could even call it a relationship. The Scottsdale-based company picked up the controversial restaurant (and its high-strung owners Amy and Samy Bouzaglo) as clients less than a week ago.

How's that for a publicity stunt for a publicity company's sake?

Rose+Moser+Allyn also claims that the Bouzaglos have cancelled a press conference scheduled for Tuesday - although if you carefully read Rose+Moser+Allyn's original press release (which I reproduced here), a press conference was only announced as "likely."

A mixed martial arts match between Amy Bouzaglo and Dennis Rodman is appearing more and more likely.

If you're getting upset about Amy's Baking Company's tipping're too late

I was re-examining the Rose+Moser+Allyn press release of May 15, which I quoted in this post. Part of that press release said:

The owners will likely be holding a press conference before the Grand Re-Opening and answer falsehoods depicted on a reality television show, including assertions that the restaurant confiscates tips from servers.

In fact, wait staff is paid $8-$14 per hour, two and half to nearly five times the standard hourly wage for servers.

Well, I haven't heard anything else about any press conference, but a lot of other people are talking about the tip policy at Amy's Baking Company. In fact, the most powerful force known to humankind, the petition, is being used by nearly 35,000 people, all agreeing with this statement:

Tipped employees are a valuable, intrinsic part of the Hospitality Industry. They are hardworking men and women who have fought long and nobly to be afforded fair, legal wages and tip income in exchange for service on a daily basis. Amy's Baking Company (ABC) in Scottsdale, AZ, has come out publicly that their policy is to confiscate every single penny earned through tipping patrons, without informing customers, and instead, only pay their servers an hourly wage. This policy is 100% in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and given their extraordinary turn-over rate of employees, it is reasonable to assume 100 - 200+ individuals have been negatively affected by this illegal policy. In the interests of so many hardworking Americans, this company needs to be investigated immediately, and their unsavoury actions need to be halted at once.

Extra points for working in the word "unsavoury" when talking about a restaurant.

And just this morning, a New York labor law blog has addressed the issue:

We are interested in this story because Amy's is accused of stealing tips from their wait staff. On Kitchen Nightmares, viewers learned that Amy's pays their servers an hourly rate while pocketing their tips.

It is common---and legal---to pay tipped employees an hourly rate below minimum wage, as long as the workers' tips make up the difference. This is known as a tip credit. Amy's Baking Company's practice is much less common, and probably illegal. A local Arizona news station called the Department of Labor to clarify:

"DOL regulations make clear that under the Fair Labor Standards Act tips are the property of the employee whether or not the employer has taken a tip credit," said [a DOL representative] in an email. "An employer is prohibited from using an employee's tips, whether or not it has taken a tip credit, for any reason other than as a partial credit against its minimum wage obligation to the employee or in furtherance of a valid tip pool (i.e., a pool including only customarily and regularly tipped employees)."

It isn't every day that reality TV provides lessons in labor law.

So today - and especially tomorrow, when the grand re-opening is scheduled to occur - everyone is going to be talking about how Amy's Baking Company servers are being ripped off.

Hold your horses. Your information is out of date, according to a Saturday story from KTAR, which announced that Amy's Baking Company was scheduling a job fair for Sunday to hire 30 people. KTAR noted the following:

Amy's will now be changing their tipping policy, after getting heat for not adhering to the standard tip-based system. They will now pay $5.00 per hour plus employees will get to keep all their tips. The staff was previously paid $8-$14 an hour.

This is understandable, since news emerges in so many places and we can't all keep up. But now the next time that someone claims that Amy's is withholding tips, I'll have to share the KTAR article and note that this practice has apparently changed.

Inasmuch as this is an announced condition of employment, I think it very unlikely that the owners will try to keep the tips this time around. And yes, $5 per hour is below Arizona's current minimum wage of $7.80 per hour, but as noted above, this is completely legal.

So our outrage is out of date and out of sync, but it's also interesting to note that Amy's Baking Company and its hired PR firm have already done a quick reversal. As of the 15th, they were declaring that workers were paid $8 or more an hour, and claims "that the restaurant confiscates tips from servers" were "falsehoods."

Two days later, that wage was changed to $5 an hour plus tips.

Whether a formal press conference is held before tomorrow's grand re-opening, or if the press merely asks questions during the grand re-opening (if they're not barred from the premises), it promises to be interesting.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Striking the balance between profit and transparency, and why the FTC's recommendations won't be implemented

This is the third post in a series - and I never intended to write a series in the first place.

The first post appeared in this blog, the Empoprise-BI business blog, back on May 14. It was entitled Striking the balance between freedom and privacy, and the other Empoprises rule. It starts by talking about a video of someone being removed from a plane - while another person is repeatedly barking the order "no photos." It then mentions the emerging trend of establishments banning Google Glass in an attempt to protect the privacy of their other customers. I thought that I had hit upon the perfect solution between the conflicting needs of freedom vs. privacy:

So let me present my Empoprises Rule Regarding Recording Freedom and Privacy:

I am allowed to record anything that I want.

No one, however, is allowed to record me unless I say that it's OK.

For some reason, some of you may think that this is not a good rule to apply to society. However, I don't see any problem with it myself. :)

Apparently there were problems with my proposal, which caused me to perform some further research.

This resulted in the second post in the series, which was posted in my tymshft blog. This post, which appeared earlier this evening, was called Freedom vs. privacy – the Federal Trade Commission’s view. It starts by noting how James Ulvog pointed out a teeny tiny little problem with my proposal - it doesn't work if two people adopt the exact same set of rules. The post then looks at a few technological and business issues - how Jesse Stay combined two Google technologies to hack a facial recognition system with Google Glass; how the steps that you use to protect your data are of no value if someone else shares your data; and, finally, how the FTC proposed some guidelines for commercial entities to follow to protect the privacy of individuals. Seth Colaner summarized the FTC recommendations as follows:

The FTC report boils the above down into three short and sweet principles:

1. Privacy by Design: Companies should build in privacy at every stage of product development.
2. Simplified Consumer Choice: For practices that are not consistent with the context of a transaction or a consumer’s relationship with a business, companies should provide consumers with choices at a relevant time and context.
3. Transparency: Companies should make information collection and use practices transparent.

But then I noted that the FTC's recommendations will not be widely adopted. Not because of the tension between freedom and privacy, but because of the tension between profit and transparency.

To illustrate what I'm talking about, I'm going to talk about a particular company that is well known for collecting your data and making money off of it. To remove any bias, I am going to refer to the company as "COMPANY." Now if COMPANY were to implement the three FTC principles of privacy by design, simplified consumer choice, and transparency, then the following message would appear when you use the service. It would not only appear when you sign up for the service, and at regular reminders thereafter, but it would also appear after every single click that you executed on the service.

COMPANY makes a lot of money because of you. COMPANY doesn't make money by charging you a fee; COMPANY makes money by selling your data to other people. Every click that you make on the COMPANY website - and even on the websites of other companies that provide their data to COMPANY - is recorded. This data, when compared with other data, is used to generate a profile of you so that COMPANY, as well as other companies, can sell you services. You have the right to prevent COMPANY from using this information, but we make it really really hard for you to do so because it's not profitable for us. Oh, and by the way, we allow, and encourage, others to enter information about you.

Now some of you have read that paragraph above, nodded your head in agreement, and said, "Yeah, John's right. Facebook would never be as transparent as to publish a notice like that."

Others of you read the paragraph, nodded in agreement, and said, "Yeah, John's right. Google would never be as transparent as to publish a notice like that."

Others of you thought of other companies - MySpace, Twitter, Foursquare, Verizon, AT&T, Walmart, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the White House. Frankly, you probably thought about every single website out there.

However, some of you may have been surprised that I included the Electronic Frontier Foundation in this list. "They're the good guys," you say. "They're the ones that reveal when all of the other websites are ripping us off." Well, guess what? The EFF uses your information to make money also. And if you go to the EFF web page, scroll all the way down to the very bottom of the page, click on the words "Privacy Policy," and then scroll halfway down that page, you'll run across this language:

Voluntarily Submitted Information: In addition, EFF collects and retains information you voluntarily submit to us. It is up to you whether to submit information to us, and how much information to provide. If you choose to become an EFF member or otherwise donate to EFF, we ask for your name, email address, mailing address and phone number. For online donors and shoppers, we also ask for your credit card number. We also maintain records of our members' use of the Action Center. If you use the EFF Shop, you are asked to provide personal information, such as a shipping address, necessary to complete your transaction.

Now this should be painfully obvious, but it bears repeating - when you give information to a website - any website - they retain the information for a limited period of time, or perhaps permanently.

And the EFF may collect information about you, and you may not even know it:

Invitees to EFF: If you invite another person to join EFF or take action in one of our alerts, we will ask for that person's name and online contact information. We use this information to contact and, if necessary, remind that person that he or she has been invited to join EFF.

Incidentally, if you're a freedom-loving EFF member and you have an opponent who is a totalitarian evil data hog, here's something that you can do - invite the person to join EFF. Not that I'm advocating this, mind you.

Oh, and by the way, even when you're on the EFF website, sometimes you're interacting with other organizations. In some cases (grassroots campaign service providers, credit card processors), EFF has some level of control over what those organizations do with your data. But that's not true for ALL third-party providers:

EFF's site also provides links to a wide variety of third-party websites, including interactive links to sites like Twitter or mapping services. EFF is not responsible for, and does not have any control over, the privacy practices or the content of such third parties. We encourage users to read the privacy policies of any website visited via links from EFF’s website.

We do occasionally allow our website to interact with other services, like social networking, mapping, and video hosting websites. It is our policy not to include third-party resources when users initially load our web pages, but we may dynamically include them later after giving the user a chance to opt-in. If you believe a third-party resource is automatically loading, please let us know so we can address it.

Now this is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has somewhat of a financial interest in supporting the FTC's guidelines of privacy by design, simplified consumer choice, and transparency. And even the EFF buries its disclosures on a page that requires a scroll down, a click through, and a bunch of reading before you discover that even the EFF collects information about you.

What about all of the other companies that are dependent upon a revenue stream, and who have no financial incentive to take steps to protect your privacy - steps that may endanger that financial revenue stream?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rose+Moser+Allyn, part two

At about the same time that my post on Rose+Moser+Allyn was published, the Phoenix New Times published its post. And, being from Phoenix, they have a perspective that I don't have.


And now, better late to the shit show than never, comes the Johnnie Cochran of public relations, Jason Rose. A partner of the Scottsdale public relations firm, Rose+Moser+Allyn Public & Online Relations, Rose is best known for the politically fueled Stingray Sushi ads, getting Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to shill for Pink Taco, and being fired by Special Olympics for comparing "knucklehead" to someone with special needs.

Read the rest here.

Rose+Moser+Allyn and their new clients Samy and Amy Bouzaglo - too little, too late?


Yesterday, the principals at Amy's Baking Company (see my Tuesday post if you are unfamiliar with this firm) released the following statement:

Other Side of Amy’s Baking Company Controversy in Scottsdale To Soon Be Told

SCOTTSDALE, AZ. MAY 15, 2013 -- Amy’s Baking Company will host a Grand Re-Opening on Tuesday night, May 21, following unflattering portrayals on national television.

Customers will be able to decide who is correct: a famous celebrity chef or the marketplace that has supported the small, locally-owned business for six years.

When re-opened, a portion of proceeds will benefit a charity organized to bring awareness to cyber bullying.

Seating is limited. Reservations may be made by emailing

Diners will also have the opportunity to meet, and judge for themselves the character of owners Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, who have devoted their lives to and earn their living from their small restaurant. The Bouzaglos have been married for 10 years, after Sammy emigrated from Israel.

The owners will likely be holding a press conference before the Grand Re-Opening and answer falsehoods depicted on a reality television show, including assertions that the restaurant confiscates tips from servers.

In fact, wait staff is paid $8-$14 per hour, two and half to nearly five times the standard hourly wage for servers.

Questions will also be answered about what happened to their Facebook page.

Amy’s Baking Company was recently featured on the hit PBS show “Check Please” and has received A+ reports from CBS 5 for kitchen preparedness.

“We are very upset by what has taken place, apologize about the acrimony that has ensued but now must fight back to save our business. We hope and believe much good can result from what has transpired. We ask the public to keep an open mind as we begin to tell our side of the story,” Samy Bouzaglo said.

For more details, please contact Michael Saucier.


The key is the email address that appears in the middle of the statement. is the website for Rose+Moser+Allyn, a public and online relations firm that lists "crisis communication" as one of its specialties.

Clearly, Rose+Moser+Allyn wants to highlight the positives of the Bouzaglos. The strong marriage, and the way that Samy turned Amy's life around after her previous legal difficulties. Their charitable work. Their impeccably clean kitchen. Amy's charming nature, shown on the show when at one point she talks very sweetly to one of her workers. (And no, I'm not joking. Check the tape.)

At the same time, however, the firm needs to address and mitigate the negatives. As I've said in a Loren Feldman thread, this might involve some intensive roleplay betwen now and May 21.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall of the offices of Rose, Moser, and Allyn over the next few days. "OK, Samy, we're going to do this roleplay ONE MORE TIME. And this time when I say 'The pizza is undercooked,' remember that you do NOT want to reply with 'Don't mess with this gangster, baby.'"

Can Samy and Amy, after a week of intense preparation, manage to keep their cool for an entire evening?

And what if they can't? Well, I addressed that issue in another Loren Feldman thread, in which (before the Bouzaglos' hiring of Rose+Moser+Allyn was known), Loren asked the question, "What would you do if you were Amy, or maybe what would you tell her to do?"



Imagine the heart-rending story of a woman who got mixed up in identity theft and pole dancing or whatever, the pain of a divorce, etc. Then she met the man who turned her life around, and she was able to realize her dream of opening a restaurant. But because of the pain that she was suffering from her former life, and the hard shell that she had built around herself to protect herself, she could never enjoy it. She did charitable work, she tried to provide the best cuisine in Arizona, but then...(chokes back tears) went...ALL...WRONG!

(As Oprah shows various videos from 2010 and 2012, she continues)

Yes, I'm embarrassed to say that was me. I was lashing out at the world. I was afraid that everything that I had worked for since I met Samy would all be taken away from me. And I - I -

(She dissolves in tears, and Oprah hugs her.)

Complete contrition may be the only way to save the restaurant's reputation. The current offensive can only work if the negatives about the business - namely, the angry attitude of the owners - can be completely doused. From the tone of the press release, which suggests that everyone else is WRONG, I'm not sure that this has entirely gone away.

You'll notice a few references to Loren Feldman in this thread. Why? Because he's performed public relations for companies. Now to my knowledge, Feldman has never had to respond to a crisis situation like this one. But if you see the work that Feldman has done for his clients, you will see that he works at getting the business owners to tell a story about their businesses. If you look at 1938 Media's "Strategy" page, you will get an idea of what Feldman, or any media advisor, wants to do for a client:

Strategy – We assist in helping companies find their corporate voices, and then telling their story via digital tools. From website design to video production we help to create a defined message, voice, and goal.

Social Media - We help companies to develop sound digital strategies designed to have laser like purpose designed to reach not millions of people, but very specific people. Not just pandering to social media “fans” or “followers” who mean nothing to your business.

Content Marketing – A company needs to talk about more than itself. By developing a strong content marketing strategy a company can drive awareness and start conversations based on creative content.

Intelligence - We help to find signal amongst all the noise. What the market, competitors, and people are talking about.

For the record, Samy and Amy Bouzaglo did not hire Loren Feldman. They hired Jason Rose and his associates. I was unable to find a business philosophy statement on the Rose+Moser+Allyn website, but I did find an account of some of the work that the firm did in 2012. Here are a few excerpts:

RMA co-consulted on Arizona State Representative Jerry Weiers’ successful bid to succeed Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs. He emerged as the top vote getter in the primary election and the ultimate victor in November....

RMA was a key player in providing media relations for the successful November fundraising event for Kevin Kolb’s charity, the Pass It 4ward Foundation. The exclusive event drew about a dozen of Kolb’s Cardinal teammates and garnered a wealth of local media coverage. Founding partner Jason Rose serves on the Foundation’s Board of Directors....

Bob Parsons
The Go Daddy founder asked RMA to help promote the 1st Annual Bob’s Biker Blast at Harley-Davidson of Scottsdale and Go AZ Motorcycles in October. The event featured performances by legendary rockers .38 Special and George Thorogood. Early work for The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation has been even more gratifying....

Hidden Meadow Ranch
Arizona’s top luxury guest ranch is on track to have its best tourism year yet. That’s quite an achievement just one year removed from The Wallow Fire which although not scarring the property scarred many in the Greer area. Hidden Meadow Ranch hired RMA one year ago after seeing success at the Polo Party.

We'll have to wait and see if Amy's Baking Company is part of the list of Rose+Moser+Allyn's 2013 successes. Perhaps the firm is good...but is it THAT good?

Asking questions about a Request for Proposal #apmp

A portion of my work is spent in responding to Requests for Proposal (RFPs), normally from state and local government agencies. These RFPs have been developed by the customer (often with the help of one or more consultants), and describe exactly what vendors such as my employer should include in our proposals.

In the ideal world, the RFP is clear, concise, and not contradictory. However, there is a chance that the RFP may not be ideal, which is why most RFPs allow vendors to ask questions about the RFP by a certain date. This ability to ask questions is used often; in fact, there have been a very few cases in which I have been tempted to submit the following question to the agency that issued the RFP.

Are you insane?

(Incidentally, if you work for an agency or a consulting firm that issued an RFP for the AFIS industry, I can assure you that your RFP was absolutely perfect. It was some other agency's/consultant's RFP that was messed up.)

As you can imagine, this can potentially get more complex when you are responding to a FEDERAL RFP. And if you're in the proposal response industry, you probably saw this question that was addressed to Wendy Frieman, the Proposal Doctor.

Dear Proposal Doctor,

The battle over which questions to send to the government customer on a long and not-very-well-written RFP has begun. The desktop publishers want to ask about fonts. The graphics people want to ask about color and foldout pages. The solution architect wants to ask about specifications and performance metrics. The contracts people want to suggest new terms and conditions. The pricing people want to ask about….everything.

Just collecting, vetting, discussing, formatting, and submitting the questions could eat up our entire response time. What is a proposal manager to do? How can we streamline this process?

-Questioning the Questions

Many medium or large proposals require input from all over the company; the departments listed in the questions are just some of the departments that could be stakeholders in a proposal.

Go here to see the Proposal Doctor's answer.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

WebP, and how standards evolve

I'm sure that many people imagine that standards are developed by a group of reasonable people, sitting in a room, who are pursuing things for the good of the world.

You can stop laughing now.

I am not trendy, so I managed to miss all of the discussion about WebP, despite the fact that I work in an industry that depends heavily upon image compression. When you have a 5.5" x 8" image of a palmprint at 1,000 pixels per inch, use of 15:1 JPEG 2000 compression is critical.

Then I saw Christopher Gaul's post:

I really hope WebP takes off.
It's open and can replace JPEG, PNG, and animated GIF.

As you can see from the comments in the thread, WebP claims to provide support for multiple uses AND provides them in a smaller file size. (We'll return to that later.)

Here's some of what Google says about the format:

WebP is a new image format that provides lossless and lossy compression for images on the web. WebP lossless images are 26% smaller in size compared to PNGs. WebP lossy images are 25-34% smaller in size compared to JPEG images at equivalent SSIM index. WebP supports lossless transparency (also known as alpha channel) with just 22% additional bytes. Transparency is also supported with lossy compression and typically provides 3x smaller file sizes compared to PNG when lossy compression is acceptable for the red/green/blue color channels.

Webmasters and web developers can use the WebP image format to create smaller and richer images that can help make the web faster.

Now in the ideal world, Google would go to some standards committee, propose the adoption of WebP as an image compression standard, and the committee member would reasonably approve of this. This approval would then flow down to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification would be modified to allow use of WebP.

However, as you presumably know, other organizations will only adopt a new technology when it is in their own interest.

Enter Facebook. While Facebook is normally not an ally of Google, Facebook has to store a LOT of image data, and anything that reduces Facebook's storage costs is a benefit for Facebook.

There's only one teeny tiny problem.

When people upload JPEG photos, the social-networking juggernaut converts them into the WebP format. And now it also apparently has begun delivering those images to people with browsers that can handle them, which today means Chrome and Opera.

Even if it's just a limited test, Facebook's scale and influence means that's a major endorsement of Google's image format.

But problems arise when it's time for people to do something with those images beside gaze upon them in the browser. Google has positioned WebP as an image format for the Web, at least to start, but when people save them to their hard drives, edit them, or reshare them, problems arise. Windows, OS X, Photoshop, and most other software can't handle WebP.

Because you see, while Google and Facebook are behind the format, other companies have not yet adopted it. If you buy a Microsoft operating system, you can't work with WebP files. If you use an Adobe product, you can't work with WebP files.

So those who are committed to WebP are trying to evangelize its use - not in the standards committees, but with the organizations that matter. Such as Mozilla, creator of the Firefox browser. A Facebook representative penned the following on a Mozilla board:

I am the Facebook engineer examining the adoption of webp as a serving format. We are very excited about the new format and keeping a close eye on the community to monitor adoption. It is entirely likely we will be serving webp images in some capacity in the short term after we address user complaints from our limited testing. It goes without saying, we would love to see webp support coming to Firefox soon.

So why doesn't everybody support WebP already? Because it costs money to support a new platform, that's why. As I said back in 2009:

So any application developer has to balance the need for rapid response to customers (i.e. fewer platforms) with the need to support as many customers as possible (i.e. more platforms). It's a tough balancing act, and someone's bound to be upset in the end.

And there are a number of costs when you adopt more platforms - planning time, coding time, testing time, implementation time, and sales/marketing/proposal time. If it turns out that the customers DON'T demand WebP, then all those costs will be sunk costs. Better to wait a while and see.

And I'm sure that politics will also get involved; unless it's in their best interest, Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe aren't going to be willing to do Google any favors.

On taking advice

An article by Allison Lami Sawyer of Rebellion Photonics began as follows:

[N]o entrepreneur I know ever actually listened to advice—otherwise, we would all be IP lawyers like our parents wanted us to be.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Another look at organizational centralization - this time at the infamous Amy's Baking Company

Lately the Empoprise-BI business blog has been looking at organizational centralization vs. decentralization - which, to my mind, is more fun than looking at computing centralization vs. decentralization.

The last time that I looked at this topic was in connection to the Department of Homeland Security and the Richard Spires "departure." But earlier today, I ran across organizational centralization again - this time in the context of a nationally-televised bad restaurant review.

There was a lot that happened before, and a lot that happened after. For purposes of this post, however, I will concentrate on what happened last December.

There is a business in Scottsdale, Arizona called Amy's Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro. Because of the current brouhaha its website is unavailable, but the business' Facebook page is (for the moment) here. This is a small business, co-owned by the husband and wife team of Samy and Amy Bouzaglo. Amy, the person who gave her name to Amy's Baking Company, works in the kitchen, while her husband Samy manages the front of the restaurant.

Now many family-owned businesses have centralized organizations, and Amy's Baking Company certainly fits in that category. Amy, and only Amy, is responsible for what goes on in the kitchen. Each patron's dish is prepared, one at a time, by Amy herself. During Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares show, the couple mentioned that if Amy is not available, the restaurant is not open. This is borne out by a February 2012 post on the business Facebook page:

Due to Amy's Medical Emergency, we will be closed until further notice.Please continue to follow us for updates.Amy & Samy

Now this is not unusual in a small business, and even a large business such as Apple can have issues because of a medical emergency with its CEO. However, the lack of delegation in the kitchen has its consequences. Even positive reviews of the business, such as a March 2013 review at TripAdvisor, take the time to mention that the food was "worth the wait." And if you've seen the negative reviews of the restaurant, you know that some unhappy patrons complain that it takes forever for the food to be served.

Now there are also complaints that the food is not prepared that well. Since my family will agree that I myself am not a cooking expert, I am not willing to say that this is a problem here. Yes, I know that there is video evidence of Gordon Ramsay complaining about the food, but despite Ramsay's reputation as a chef, I'm not quite willing to say that his meal was 100% bad. After all, he was on a show called Kitchen Nightmares, and you can't have a show if there isn't a nightmare. And while the Bouzaglos may complain a little too loudly and imply that every other meal that they have served is perfect, the fact remains that there are people who DO enjoy their cooking, and who have rated it highly. But let's suffice it to say that there have been multiple examples of food from the kitchen that did not meet a high quality standard - something that is likely to happen if the kitchen staff is overloaded.

Now there are two solutions to this problem. Either you improve the processes in the kitchen so that multiple dishes can be prepared at once, or you limit service at the tables by reducing the number of tables, requiring reservations, or doing something else to make sure that the demand for food can match the kitchen's ability to supply the food. All of the evidence suggests that Amy may not feel comfortable delegating the kitchen duties, so perhaps the latter is the solution.

But organizational centralization isn't only a problem in Amy's part of the business. Take a look at the front of the business - Samy's domain.

Now for this part of the story I'm primarily relying on the Kitchen Nightmares video. And yes, "reality" shows often are not reality, but in this case there are statements from Samy himself about the centralization of the "front office" operation at Amy's Baking Company. Not that Samy does EVERYTHING up front - the restaurant does have waitresses. Well, maybe not. They do have food runners or food servers or whatever you want to call them, but they're not waitresses. Because, you see, there are two important differences between waitresses and whatever the Amy's Baking Company people are.

First, waitresses are actually responsible for taking the order and conveying it to the kitchen. That isn't what happens at Amy's Baking Company. The people take the orders...and then give the paper to Samy, who then inputs it into the computer system. During their brief time at the restaurant, the Kitchen Nightmare folks were able to capture one on-camera incident where someone ordered something and Samy entered the order incorrectly - something that was proven when the food server fished her original order sheet out of the trash and showed Samy his mistake.

In this case, the problems from organizational centralization are obvious. Whenever you implement a process, it's best to use the easiest method to implement it. In this case, you would want the food server to convey the order directly to the kitchen, to ensure that no mistakes were made.

But there's another huge difference between regular waitresses and the people who work at Amy's Baking Company. Regular waitresses receive tips. And despite the restaurant's protestations to the contrary, the Kitchen Nightmares people captured Samy on camera saying that the tips go to him.

Is it any wonder that Amy's Baking Company has, by its own on-camera admission, gone through over 100 employees? Granted the lack of tips is only part of the reason for employee turnover - one person was fired on the spot for asking "Are you sure?" when she was told a particular table number. (In my view, she DID ask the question in a less-than-reverential manner, but that often happens in high-pressure situations, and people usually don't get fired for a small outburst like that.) But if you're not going to be compensated for putting up with an admittedly stressful situation, you're not going to be that inclined to stick around - and if you do stick around, you're not going to perform well.

Now again, let me emphasize that Amy's Baking Company is not unusual in its level of organizational centralization - many family-owned businesses are run the same way. But if you're going to centralize your operation, you have to realize that you will not be able to do that many things.

If you try to do too much, you may find that you've bitten off more than you can chew.

Striking the balance between freedom and privacy, and the other Empoprises rule


When Chris Kim A shared this video, two things struck me.

First, I was struck by the fact that the woman chose to sing the inferior verison of the song. Dolly Parton's understated version of the song is preferable to Whitney Houston's.

Second, anyone who watches the video can't help but notice the "no photos" commands being barked.

This is terrible, you may be thinking to your self. What is it with Amerikkka the police state and its "no photos" regulations? I have the right to document everything I see!

Ah, but what happens when the camera is turned and pointed toward YOU?

As Google Glass continues to roll out, business owners have gone beyond laughing at odd-looking Glass owners. Some are banning the product from their establishments:

Dave Meinert, who runs the 5 Point Cafe in Seattle, said those wearing the spectacles will have to remove them if they want to come in.

He has put up a sign on the wall which reads: ‘Respect our customers’ privacy as we’d expect them to respect yours.’

In one sense, this is ridiculous. I don't need Google Glass to record conversations in the 5 Point Cafe - or on an airplane.

But it does illustrate our divided views on recording things in public places.

On one side you have the late Rodney King, Robert Scoble, and others who believe that recording events in public places is a good thing that can ultimately protect people from crime.

On the other side you have people who have been victimized by recordings in public places, who content that the right to privacy is a very important right.

Now some may argue that it is very difficult to strike a balance between freedom and privacy, but I contend that it's not hard at all.

So let me present my Empoprises Rule Regarding Recording Freedom and Privacy:

I am allowed to record anything that I want.

No one, however, is allowed to record me unless I say that it's OK.

For some reason, some of you may think that this is not a good rule to apply to society. However, I don't see any problem with it myself. :)

One thing that I will note, however, is that this is not exclusive to a particular Google product - or even to technology in general. While a technological product can help you to record potentially private things in public places, it is also possible to record such things with a very low-tech pen and piece of paper.


I get moist around the eyes when thinking about oven temperature probes

Do product decisions sometimes make you cry?

Take the ongoing issues with several oven temperature probe sensors that I've talked about in this blog over the years (see this example). And the problem continues to crop up - see this example from last month.

The meat probe for our Kenmore Elite elec. range will not work and gives an F33 error message when plugged in.

Now to a consumer, an F33 error message is meaningless - just as meaningless as a message to remove your oven temperature probe sensor when it's not plugged in.

Now these cryptic messages are not confined to ovens; I remember how early Macintosh computers would provide error messages like "ID 01."

The problem is that the error messages are written from the point of view of the product manufacturer, and because of this are sometimes written poorly - either giving information which is of no use to the consumer (F33, ID 01), or information which is of no use to anybody.

However, I can see why this happens. Let's say that Empoprises was about to release its own oven. There are a lot of things that we have to do before that oven can be released to the general public. First, we need the technical specifications to build the oven. Then we need procurement people to buy all of the parts. Then we need to hire people to build the things. At the same time, we're thinking about countless other issues - whether the oven looks sexy (for those who choose to have sex with their ovens; I will not judge), whether the oven's price is at the optimum point, whether dealers will put the Empoprises oven in front of all of the other ovens, and the like.

When you're thinking about all of that, how much time are you going to spend making sure that error messages can be understood by someone who purchases your products?

When correlation apparently becomes causation - another Richard Spires post

One piece of fallout from the departure, either voluntary or involuntary, or a person from an organization - when problems subsequently happen at the organization, the person's departure is blamed for the problem - even if the person had nothing to do with solving - or creating - that particular problem.

The chief information officer of the Department of Homeland Security doesn't keep an eye on cyberattack attempts, any more than he staffs airport scanners. Other people do those things. But Richard Spires' departure seems to be becoming a hook in recent DHS stories, such as this one that begins as follows.

A new wave of cyber-attacks is striking American corporations, prompting warnings from federal officials, including a vague one issued last week by the Department of Homeland Security. This time, officials say, the attackers' aim is not espionage but sabotage, and the source seems to be somewhere in the Middle East.

Now this has nothing to do with the INTERNAL IT workings of DHS, such as whether procurement is centralized or decentralized. But that didn't stop the author from mentioning Spires' departure in the closing paragraph.

For the last four years, the Department of Homeland Security has said it needs to expand its cyber-security force by as many as 600 hacking specialists to keep pace with the rising number of threats. But in the last four months, the department has been grappling with an exodus of top officials, including Jane Holl Lute, the agency's deputy secretary; Mark Weatherford, the department's top cyber-security official; Michael Locatis, the assistant secretary for cyber-security; and Richard Spires, the agency's chief information officer, all of whom resigned.

Now even if Spires had remained in his position, the lead of the article would have been the same. But that doesn't stop people from adding 2 and 3 and getting 6.

People like me. Although I'm sure that all of you would agree that the poor performance of the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, and now Ducks is entirely related to the fact that Democrats are running California's state government. It's fairly obvious, isn't it?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Organizational centralization vs. organizational decentralization - another look at Richard Spires

As I previously mentioned, Richard Spires did not announce his reasons for resigning his position as Chief Information Officer at the Department of Homeland Security.

But that hasn't stopped people from speculating about his reasons.

One such speculator was Larry Allen, who shared his speculation almost a month ago:

Spires wanted greater central control over the acquisition and management of DHS’ IT resources. [DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano, however, deferred to individual agencies inside DHS that wanted to maintain their own flexibility.

Allen goes on to state:

In this case, Napolitano essentially acknowledged the obvious: Her agency’s IT needs cannot be met by a “one size fits all” solution. DHS is not one customer, but many different components.

Uh, but wait a minute. This isn't what we were told over a decade ago.

The National Strategy for Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Act of 2002 called for the formation of the DHS, which was established to provide a unifying agency for the many national organizations that serve to secure the United States.

Back in 2002, when people objected to yanking all of these little agencies from their respective departments and putting them into this new department, the argument was that these organizations needed to be unified and working together as one.

But now, a little over ten years later, the reported attempt to have the agencies be unified and work together as one in information technology - something that the DHS itself argues is critical to security - has reportedly met with opposition. "These agencies are really really different," the opponents say. "You can't expect the Secret Service to use the same software as the Coast Guard, can you?"

Those who are surprised by this reaction are, in a word, clueless.

Those who expected the creation of the DHS to result in a single unified organization do not understand anything about how organizations work.

The DHS is not a single organization. The Secret Service is not a single organization. The Birmingham, Alabama field office of the Secret Service thinks that the Montgomery, Alabama office is a bunch of bozos. However, both field offices agree that the Secret Service headquarters is a bunch of bozos. And everyone in the Secret Service agrees that the Coast Guard is a bunch of bozos. But the Secret Service and the Coast Guard agree that the DHS central staff - and its CIO - are a bunch of bozos.

And guess what? When Janet Napolitano hears from a bunch of people in her constituent agencies, and when Napolitano hears something different from a single person - her own CIO - she's probably going to listen to the people out in the agencies.

Now perhaps Richard Nixon, who loved centralized control, would do things differently - "inside" people such as Haldeman, Erlichman, and Kissinger had more power than Secretary of State William Rogers and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford. But it's quite obvious that Richard Nixon is not running the Department of Homeland Security. And even Nixon's attempts to impose his will on a countless number of different agencies were doomed to failure.

A bunch of different agencies will only cooperate when it's in their best interests to do so. And it seems likely that the agencies did not see any advantage in yielding power to a central DHS CIO.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The LinkedIn cold call

I recently received a request to connect via LinkedIn.

I did not recognize the name of the person, but I thought that perhaps the person was an Association of Proposal Management Professionals member, or maybe the person was in the biometrics industry.

Neither was the case.

The person requesting the connection was an insurance agent who is based in a town 40 miles away from me.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the person didn't want to connect to me because of my proposals or biometrics expertise.

If Billy Mays were still alive, would he use LinkedIn to tout his products?

Note that this is not the fault of LinkedIn, and it's not the fault of the insurance company. It might not even be the fault of the agent who tried to connect to me; everyone and their mother has been telling this agent that social media services are used to connect and make friends. This agent actually listened to all the hype.

Richard Spires and rampant speculation about his resignation from DHS

The first sign that something was amiss came on March 19, when the House Homeland Security Committee was holding a hearing. The committee expected to see Richard Spires, Chief Information Officer of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, Deputy Chief Information Officer Maggie Graves appeared.

A couple of weeks later - unfortunately, on the date of April 1, when all announcements are suspect - it was publicly revealed that Spires was on administrative leave.

Now normally when companies (or government agencies) make personnel moves, the companies do not provide further information on why the personnel move is being made. It is argued that the silence protects the privacy of the individual who has been sacked - whoops, I mean, who has elected to pursue new opportunities. And when a person is not removed, but placed in some type of limbo, the silence can be deafening.

Of course, most companies don't have independent boards of directors. The Department of Homeland Security does - Congress. And representatives have ways of making news.

In a letter dated April 19, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked DHS to provide an explanation for Spires "being placed on either voluntary or non-voluntary leave on March 15"....

In the letter, Thompson stated that he was apprised that Spires "was placed on a non-voluntary leave status," which a subcommittee official clarified to FCW as meaning "status not of Spires' choosing."

"I am concerned about Mr. Spires' absence and the reason behind this sudden turn of events," Thompson said in the letter....

You know how when a decision gets questioned for one reason, the decision can get questioned for a bunch of other reasons? Well, that certainly applied here. Congressman Thompson had one more question:

The letter also seeks a "detailed statement regarding how Ms. Graves became officially employed by DHS." "It appears from other sources that Ms. Graves may have been converted from a contractor to a direct hire in the OCIO and then placed in a position of authority over projects that she initially served on as a contractor," Thompson said, highlighting a potential conflict of interest.

Thompson requested that the DHS answer his questions by May 6. DHS did not do so, although one anonymous source implied that Spires was supposed to provide the answers. But how can Spires answer things if he's on leave?

And over the last couple of days, the story took one more turn:

After months of uncertainty about his whereabouts — and plenty of speculation — Homeland Security Department Chief Information Officer Richard Spires has announced his plans to step down.

To no one's surprise, Spires did not provide any details. It is bad form for a resignation letter to criticize your now-former employer, since if you talk bad about this employer, you may talk bad about future employers. This is not the way to build a career.

But if you're looking to build your career, please be advised that the Chief Information Officer, despite the title, is not listed among the senior leadership positions at the Department of Homeland Security. This seems to be confirmed by other anonymous sources:

As CIO for the second largest agency in the federal government, Spires oversaw more than $6 billion in information technology spending and served as the vice chairman of the Federal CIO Council.

However, he recently ran into stiff resistance with a plan to centralize DHS IT investments and budgeting, a conflict that has fueled the rumor mill as to the reason behind his initial decision to take a leave of absence.

A long-time personal friend of Spires, who spoke to Homeland Security Today on background, confirmed that Spires "had no authority" and felt "powerless" to do what he believed needed to be done as CIO.

Meanwhile, the first anonymous source - the one who implied that Spires was supposed to respond to Thompson's inquiry - professed to be clueless:

The senior DHS official who spoke to Homeland Security Today said nobody at the department was sure what the circumstances were behind his decision to resign.

It is worrisome when the agency that is supposed to know what terrorists are thinking has no idea what its (now former) CIO is thinking.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The other end of the no-support spectrum - ONLY the older systems are supported

If you've read me for a while, you'll recall that I was slightly displeased in 2008 when websites began to display hate speech when I visited them on my work computer - my work computer for which Internet Explorer 6 was the only authorized web browser. At the time the browser was still supported by Microsoft, and (as I noted) there were enterprise users for which the newer browsers had not yet been approved.

But I just heard about something that takes things to the other extreme. Remember that it is now 2013, five years after my rant was written. Elisa T has shared a link to a United Kingdom benefits site for the Department of Work and Pensions that has specific computer requirements. The site cautions you that only selected operating system and web browser combinations will work with the service. Here's an example of the listings, in this case for Windows XP.

Microsoft Windows XP
•Internet Explorer 6.0
•Netscape 7.2
•Mozilla 1.7.7

Now some of you will be pleased that the DWP supports a service as old as Windows XP, although you may not care for the limited choice of browser software and versions.

Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you.

Windows XP is not the oldest operating system that the DWP system supports - it's the NEWEST. No Vista, no Windows 7, no Windows 8. Oh, and no Mac or Unix operating systems either. (Linux isn't even mentioned; nor is Windows 7 or Windows 8, come to think of it.)

Now perhaps the DWP figures that the people that use this site haven't been able to buy a new computer for the last decade.

Or something.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Is Adobe's future cloudy, or cloudy?

From Forbes:

This morning at its annual MAX conference in Los Angeles, the keynote of which is being streamed online, Adobe said it will no longer release new versions of its Creative Suite desktop software. Although it will continue to sell and support its latest version, all its new features will go into its Creative Cloud, the online suite of all its products.

According to Forbes, this is not a complete cloud play; some elements of Creative Cloud are loaded onto computers since "bandwidth limitations would limit performance too much on complex programs and rich media files."

Many moves from traditional distribution to the cloud involve a new pricing strategy. Instead of paying for the software once (excluding maintenance contracts), Creative Cloud has a monthly fee - about $50 for individuals, less for corporate volume discounts. The companies, naturally, hope that the monthly fees exceed the revenue that would have been achieved under the traditional model.

Forbes also notes that traditional applications will continue to be made available to certain government entities, supposedly because of government regulations that limit the use of cloud-based applications. I suspect another reason - it's hard enough to get traditional applications on the GSA schedule; who wants to fight to get a monthly subscription application on the GSA?

So, what's in it for the customers? It is claimed that new updates will be available more quickly:

The move is intended to speed the pace of innovation at Adobe, replacing one-year product cycles with continual updates online.

Of course, this will have to be handled with care. Adobe has presumably observed the loud complaints every time Facebook modifies its interface. How are paying customers going to react when their interface changes - and they have no way to opt out?

Actually, according to Lauren Weinstein, they do have a way to opt out:

Adobe gives Open Source Software one of the biggest boosts in history, as they try turn their own software into an endless money minting machine.

However, what if the open source people move to cloud-based applications also? And, as I am well aware, even open source applications and components have their own ways to make money.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why do short-term successes fail? A look at the National Football League

Some sports teams excel almost consistently, some sports teams fail almost consistently, but most sports teams alternate between good and bad times.

According to these statistics, which show win-loss records for the lifetime of National Football League franchises, my Washington Redskins are in the middle of the pack, with a lifetime win-loss percentage of 0.513. Not embarrassing, but certainly below the record among active franchises, the 0.578 win-loss record for the Chicago Bears. (I hate to say it, but the Dallas Cowboys are second among active franchises with a lifetime 0.573 record - and that includes their initial years of futility.)

But the Bears' 0.578 record is dwarfed by the records of some teams that are no longer in the NFL. Here are the lifetime records for some of the leading inactive teams, according to Pro Football

Detroit Wolverines (1928) - 0.778
New York Yankees (1946-1949) - 0.673
Canton Bulldogs (1920-1926) - 0.667
Los Angeles Buccaneers (1926) - 0.667
Rock Island Independents (1920-1925) - 0.650
Cleveland Bulldogs (1923-1927) - 0.622
Toledo Maroons (1922-1923) - 0.615
Frankford Yellow Jackets (1924-1931) - 0.605
Detroit Panthers (1925-1926) - 0.600

All of these teams had better lifetime records than the Chicago Bears and every other existing NFL team - but they all failed. While one year of success may be an anomaly, I was curious about some of the other teams. I read up on the Canton Bulldogs - after all, Canton is the historical birthplace of the National Football League itself.

According to this source, the team eventually known as the Canton Bulldogs started life in 1911 as the Canton Professionals. During those first years, the Professionals and Bulldogs enjoyed success, primarily due to the talents of one Jim Thorpe. Despite success, the various football teams were engaged in competition that bid up the rates of labor, and the teams decided to take action in 1920:

[Canton Bulldogs owner] Ralph Hay's auto showroom was the setting for two meetings, in August and September of 1920, at which the American Professional Football Association was organized. Hay was probably the instigator and Jim Thorpe of the Bulldogs was named the APFA's first president, solely because he was the most famous name in the game.

Eventually the APFA was renamed the NFL, and Canton won championships in 1922 and 1923. However, those pesky salaries caused trouble again:

But the players who won the championships were too expensive for Canton. Reportedly, the team lost about $13,000 in 1923 and the Canton Athletic Company sold the franchise to Cleveland promoter Sam Deutsch for $2,500 in August of 1924.

There was only one minor little teeny tiny issue with this - Deutsch already owned an NFL franchise, the Cleveland Indians. He pretty much combined the two franchises, created the Cleveland Bulldogs, and won the 1924 championship.

Deutsch then sold the franchise formerly known as the Canton Bulldogs, so in 1925 both the Canton Bulldogs and the Cleveland Bulldogs fielded teams. However, Canton never regained its championship form, and in 1927 the Canton franchise was one of twelve teams that were closed down by the NFL. Other teams with winning percentages, including the Los Angeles Buccaneers and the Detroit Panthers, were axed at the same time, and the Cleveland Bulldogs would only survive one more year.

One issue was travel time - when the NFL was reconfigured in 1927, it had a greater presence in the East, as opposed to the league's early Midwest orientation. The winning team that season was the New York Giants, although the Providence Steam Roller had a respectable record. However, many of those East Coast teams eventually folded themselves - only the Giants, the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, and the (then) Chicago Cardinals have survived to the present day.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Would Samuel Gompers recognize May Day 2013? Perhaps.

In a sense, it's unfair to compare the attitudes of one generation with the attitudes of another. Just because Thomas Jefferson didn't endorse interracial gay atheist marriage doesn't mean that he's a fascist - especially since fascism didn't exist in the 18th century.

But it is illuminating the compare the attitudes of different generations.

Last year at about this time, I wrote a post in my tymshft blog that explained why those of us in the United States don't join in the worldwide May Day celebrations. As part of that post, I quoted extensively from a page at the Massachusetts AFL-CIO web site. This site explains why one of the AFL-CIO's predecessors, the American Federaion of Labor and its leader Samuel Gompers, opposed May 1 labor celebrations. An excerpt:

Especially after the 1886 Haymarket riot, where several police officers and union members were killed in Chicago, May Day had become a day to protest the arrests of anarchists, socialists, and unionists, as well as an opportunity to push for better working conditions. Samuel Gompers and the AFL saw that the presence of more extreme elements of the Labor Movement would be detrimental to perception of the festival. To solve this, the AFL worked to elevate Labor Day over May Day, and also made an effort to bring a more moderate attitude to the Labor Day festivities. The AFL, whose city labor councils sponsored many of the Labor Day celebrations, banned radical speakers, red flags, internationalist slogans, and anything else that could shed an unfavorable light upon Labor Day or organized labor.

Which is why we celebrate Labor Day in September - and why I titled my 2012 tymshft post with the title The American perspective on May Day – or, I am not a Commie.

But when I searched for a modern-day American perspective on May Day, I ran across a number of press releases from - well, from the AFL-CIO. Here's an excerpt from one of them:

Los Angeles, CA – Immigration reform advocates from a diverse coalition of community, faith, student and labor organizations will be preparing for a massive march on May 1st calling for commonsense immigration reform. Preparation activities will include sign making, banner painting and a creative art workshop featuring political artist Favianna Rodriguez

Immigrant families and local leaders will be available for media interviews in Spanish and English.

The May 1st coalition is united behind a comprehensive solution to fix our broken immigration system – one that raises the quality of jobs for all workers, keeps families together and creates a realistic roadmap for aspiring citizens.

Does this align with AFL objectives of over a century ago? It depends upon how you feel about illegal immigration (those two words alone draw battle lines). Some believe that a May Day march for immigration reform is an un-American act that threatens our nation's security and economy. Others believe that a May Day march is the most American thing that can be done, and is in complete accord with Gompers' ideals - many 19th century laborers, after all, were immigrants.

But why would it be in the economic interest of labor unions to support immigration reform? One answer can be found here:

As recently as the mid-1990s, many unions took protectionist stances against allowing new immigrants to come to this country. It was only after these unions saw the abuses that became prevalent under an employer-driven system for verifying immigration status that the labor movement embraced a new position. The movement recognized that for working people to thrive, all employees had to have full rights in the workplace.

However, support of immigration reform puts the AFL-CIO in alliance with some uncomfortable bedfellows, as Trevor Loudon gleefully noted:

The Communist Party’s interest in immigrants has nothing to do with compassion or humanity. The communists want amnesty for current illegals and to encourage further illegal immigration for several reasons.

Firstly, they want to dilute the existing patriot culture in the US by creating large immigrant communities, with little allegiance to the ideas that gave birth to the American republic.

Secondly, they want to overload taxpayers with increased crime, education, welfare and healthcare costs, to impoverish middle America and spread revolutionary discontent.

Thirdly, and in the short term most importantly, the Communists want to give several million illegals the vote – knowing that they tend to vote overwhelmingly Democrat.

Several million more Democrat voters would almost certainly deliver the US to the Democrats and their communist allies, forever.

Then again, you can't necessarily judge someone by his or her bedfellows. After all, the isolationists in the United States who opposed fighting the Nazis in World War II were, of all things, allied with the Communist Party USA themselves - at least until Hitler declared war on the Soviet Union. Take a look at this account of a protest, which may have been in Boston:

This protest parade (I think in Boston) was a demonstration against America's entering the war against Hitler and the Axis powers. The signs carried in the street demand that America stay out of the war and, collaterally, call for more bread for the underprivileged and economically stressed families at home. What we don't know is if the photograph here from news reel footagewas was taken in 1940 or 1941. We tend to think it was 1940, because of the Communist/left-wing tennor [sic] of the protest signs. When Stalin signed the Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler (August 1939), Moscow ordered American Communist to reverse course and protest against defense spending and to join the isolationists in pushing the peace issue. After the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941), however, Moscow ordered American Communist to reserse course again and demand intervention.

So, happy May Day everyone. Wave the flag! No, the flag that has blue in it.