Friday, June 28, 2013

I've solved my enterprise-related feed reading issue. Well, sort of.

Since late 2000, I have been employed by two different large multinational firms. If you've ever worked for a multinational firm, you know that such firms like to set standards. In both firms, Internet Explorer (in various versions) has been adopted as the corporate standard browser. This has caused problems with certain technology firms that, to put it mildly, sometimes neglect to cater to the needs of enterprise users.

My most recent example was Feedly, the feed reader that all the cool kids on the block are adopting in the wake of Google Reader's impending demise. As I previously mentioned, Feedly supports reading feeds on the Chrome, Safari, and Firefox web browsers - although you have to install a plug-in for Feedly to work. Internet Explorer support? Of course not, you stupid enterprise cubicle-dwelling person!

So I was faced with the problem of how to read various work-related feeds, including feeds on biometrics, public safety, and proposals. I've been trying out for the last couple of months, but am not really sold on it.

With the demise of Google Reader growing closer every day, and with promised solutions from companies such as Facebook and AOL (companies that generally offer better support for enterprises) failing to materialize before the deadline, I went all the way down to Plan Z.

My current Internet Explorer-compatible feed reader for work-related feeds is...Internet Explorer.

Yes, there are drawbacks to this solution - the biggest of which is that to follow these work-related feeds, I need my work computer. The current read status of my feeds isn't stored somewhere where I can access it on other devices.

But, unlike Feedly, it works.

And sometimes that's about all you can do.

P.S. Earlier in this post, I linked to a March 2013 post of mine that included this quote:

Yes, I know. People who build their service on a third party service can't cry when the third party service disappears. (See every third party Twitter developer out there.)

For the latest trouble that third party Twitter developers are facing, see Jesse Stay's post from last Friday.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

No, El-Lay, the billboards are NOT for Dwight Howard. They're for the fans.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers' campaign to keep free-agent center Dwight Howard continued Wednesday with two public pleas for Howard to stay.

The first, a billboard at Staples Center, features a photo of the center with the words, "Stay. #stayD12."

Another variation of the theme has been erected in Hollywood.

Wow. A hashtag, and (according to Eric Pincus) an associated tweet. The Lakers must really be sending a message to Dwight Howard, right?

Not in the least.

Think about it. Both billboards and tweets are not designed to be seen by a single person; they are designed to be seen by multiple people. If the Lakers wanted to send a message to Dwight Howard, they would use a registered letter instead of a billboard, and a direct message instead of a public tweet.

This whole thing is merely a demonstration by the Buss family that they're really, really trying to keep Dwight - a sideshow for the vocal Lakers fans who labor under the belief that every young boy in the world dreams of becoming a Los Angeles Laker.

If Howard signs a contract extension with the Lakers, then the Buss family can proudly say that they kept him.

If Howard signs a contract with another team, then the Buss family can say that they really, really tried to keep him - remember those billboards that they put up?

However, remember that it's both cheaper and more public-relations friendly to put up billboards than it would be to do what is REALLY needed to keep Dwight Howard.

First, the Lakers would have to kick Kobe Bryant off the team, but do it in such a way that Howard's name is kept out of the matter.

Second, the Lakers would have to fire head coach Mike D'Antoni - and it would probably be OK for Howard's name to be connected to that.

Third, the Lakers would have to choose a coach of Howard's choosing.

Fourth, the Lakers would have to acquire some players of Howard's choosing. Those four things would be much more effective than a billboard campaign to keep Dwight Howard, but they would be costly - and it would probably be impossible to get rid of Kobe AND to stress that Howard had nothing to do with it.

But a billboard campaign keeps the fans happy.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Even more on ignoble professions - they used to be REALLY ignoble

My April 3 post referenced a Heather Horn article that referenced the work of Robin Nagle. Joyce Donahue has shared another article that quotes extensively from Nagle, this one from Hunter Oatman-Stanford. There's a ton of information in the article, but I'm going to confine myself to one point - if we think that trash collecting is an ignoble profession today, just imagine what New Yorkers thought about the profession in the 1890s.

New York, you see, had not had good success with trash collection. Other cities seemed to be able to do it, but New York had problems. According to Nagle, one person who was unafraid of many challenges was afraid of New York's trash challenge:

There was a police corruption scandal in the early 1890s that was so spectacular the Tammany political machine could not control the reaction. So they were kicked out of office in the mayoral elections of 1894. A guy named William Strong took over as mayor, and he swore to appoint people of integrity as his commissioners. For street cleaning, he first reached out to Teddy Roosevelt, who basically said, ‘What, are you nuts? Nobody should do that. That’s an impossible job. I’m not going to do that.’ So Roosevelt took over the police department, which was also in dire need of reform.

Strong had better success when he reached out to George Waring, who then proceeded to do such revolutionary things as assigning responsibility for trash collection in certain sections of the city - including the poor sections. That's when the trouble began:

In the really poor corners of the city, like Five Points, to see anyone from the local government come into the neighborhood was not good news for local residents. They threw bricks at the street cleaners and came out to fight them with sticks.

Waring didn't give up:

Waring said to his men, “You keep going back. You show them what we’re going to do and you see if you don’t change their hearts.” By the end of two weeks, he had tenements full of ardent fans because he cleaned their neighborhoods.

More here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Time for another Woz story - and I'm kinda sorta in it (kinda sorta)

Steve Wozniak left the company once known as Apple Computer many years ago, but still makes comments on Apple and other computer products frequently.

And he will make those comments to anyone.

Back in October 2011, I wrote a post that described how Wozniak happily answered questions from a woman who was not a professional interviewer. Just giving back to the community, as it were.

Fast-forward to June 2013. Perhaps you've heard that a film about Steve Jobs is coming out, and that it stars Ashton Kutcher. Admittedly some people plain just don't like Kutcher, but it seems that the movie is getting some deserved criticism even before its release, just based upon the trailer. In a Los Angeles Times article, Chris O'Brien wrote:

Woz, the guy who actually built the original Apple computers, might be a tad dismayed to see one of the lines that proclaims: "It only takes one person to start a revolution." Because, you know, it took two.

I shared O'Brien's article, as well as the quote above, on Google+, and it started a conversation. Other people took objections to other portions of the trailer, I snuck in a mention of Mike Markkula, and Joachim Kessel added a comment on the other Steve:

Who did all the work and created the first Apple computer?
+Steve Wozniak !
I hope this is not once again a movie focusing only on the fancy good looking, eloquent guy.
Where are the engineers, that have built Apple?

Now when Kessel offered his comment, he tagged Wozniak in the comment. This notified Wozniak that there was a comment in Google+ that mentioned his name. (Facebook and Twitter offer similar tagging functionality.) Now I bet that Wozniak gets a ton of these tags every day, asking him about everything from long distance calling strategies to dance moves. And, in this case (and probably in many others), Steve Wozniak chose to respond:

Only 1 person?

Apple only had one successful product for the first 10 years, and that was the Apple ][, which kept pouring in revenues. The Apple ///, LISA and Macintosh, all under Jobs, failed. The Macintosh market was only built up in the 3 years after Jobs' departure, by others.

The revolution beginning with the iPod was later as significant and come under a [different] Jobs, a more measured and cautious and patient one.

The statement itself is not surprising; John Sculley quotes Wozniak as making a similar statement about the Apple II in his autobiography. But perhaps there are some people who haven't heard it before, or who believe that everything that Jobs (or Bill Gates) touched immediately turned to gold.

Now we just have to wait for the TechCrunch commenters who will criticize Kessel, Isaac Garcia, Morgan Hayes, and myself for our inept interviewing. :)

P.S. Here's another account of a Woz encounter - from someone who was prepared.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lowest price, technically unacceptable?

As a consumer, most of us prefer to buy things at a lower price than at a higher price - all other things being equal.

But what if all other things are not equal? Jim Pinto describes this scenario:

Products and equipment are "differentiated" by the FABS (features, advantages, and benefits) that competitors cannot offer. When a product becomes a commodity (no special FABS) the differentiation that remains is quality, delivery and price. And losers, or lazy salespeople, fall back all too quickly on price as the determining factor that wins a purchase order.

Pinto instead urges that salespeople emphasize another factor, such as quality. Those who can demonstrate higher quality can command a price premium.

If the evaluators are allowed to take that into consideration.

Some evaluators can't. One method used by Federal Governement agencies to evaluate bids is "lowest price, technically acceptable." (Of course, it has its own acronym - LPTA.) Technical acceptability could be evaluated as pass/fail criteria - or, a particular bid is either technically acceptable or technically unacceptable. There's no room to say that one bid is superior to another from a technical standpoint.

While this evaluation criteria can work in some situations, Bob Lohfeld describes a situation in which it clearly DIDN'T work:

Proposals were competed using LPTA as the evaluation criteria. As it turns out, the incumbent contractor’s performance had been pretty terrible with multiple cure letters having been issued over the preceding 2 years. Clearly the company was struggling to perform the work.

When the proposals for the recompete were received and evaluated, there was much discussion about how to evaluate the incumbent’s past performance and how to score it on a pass/fail basis. While some of the evaluators wanted to fail the incumbent contractor due to marginal performance on the previous contract, they conceded that since the company was doing the work currently, it would be illogical to conclude that the company couldn’t to do the work.

As a result, the company received a passing score for past performance, even though their performance had been less than desirable.

So the decision was going to be solely based upon price. And guess what?

The incumbent contractor, fearing that they would lose on price, took a dive on price and bid lower wages—probably making a bad situation worse.

As Lohfeld notes, people were surprised when "the contractor who had repeatedly delivered marginal performance had been selected again." Oh, and the contractor was going to do the work with lower-wage employees.

Granted that this is just a single data point, but if there are enough of these data points, Lohfeld (who is a proposal consultant who prefers to emphasize quality over price) will be able to make his case that LPTA should just go away.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

George Zimmer responds

According to Bloomberg, George Zimmer has responded to news of his firing from Men's Wearhouse:

“Over the past several months I have expressed my concerns to the board about the direction the company is currently heading,” Zimmer said in a statement. “Instead of fostering the kind of dialogue in the boardroom that has, in part, contributed to our success, the board has inappropriately chosen to silence my concerns by terminating me as an executive officer.”

At least George Zimmer will be well dressed for his job interviews

Apparently George Zimmer is no Dave Thomas. Thomas was valued by his company, Wendy's, until his death. Men's Wearhouse has just fired Zimmer as its Executive Chairman:

[I]n a surprise move Wednesday, the company put off its annual shareholders meeting and gave Mr. Zimmer the boot, The Associated Press reported. Company officials didn’t say why, but the move was particularly shocking, given the firm’s first-quarter report, which showed a 23 percent increase in profit.

Presumably this means that the company is currently being run by Vice Chairman David H. Edwab.

Or perhaps a leading role has been given to board member Deepak Chopra.

Yeah, Deepak Chopra.

So I guess if you think you like the way you look, you look great.


Acronym confusion could be bad, but name confusion can be much worse

I've previously talked about how an acronym can be confusing if two people interpret the acronym differently.

But the same thing can happen with names.

Now I have to tread carefully here because this is a family publication, but let's just say that an altercation ensued between 60 year old Barbara Hall and her 45 year old boyfriend - and it was all due to name confusion.

The boyfriend had brought some olive oil from the kitchen to another room in the house (for a non-cooking purpose), and Hall, thinking of a particular brand of cooking spray, asked her boyfriend if he had also brought the PAM from the kitchen.

Unfortunately, mention of "Pam" reminded the boyfriend of something, and he volunteered that he had enjoyed the company of a woman named Pam while he and Hall were "broke up" for a time.

Hall then came up with a novel new use for the olive oil that her boyfriend had brought to her. She threw the bottle at his head.

Will Greenlee, who described the incident and the subsequent arrest of Hall for battery, offered the following comment on the olive oil:

The report didn't state whether the olive oil was virgin or extra virgin.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Terrorists, or Rotary Club members? (The Outlaw Bridge)

Imagine if, during a time of war, determined groups from two countries mounted an illegal border crossing endeavor. Would the perpetrators be sent to Gitmo...or would the endeavor be recognized at the next Rotary Club meeting?

Here's a story from Ontario (not the one in California, but the one in Canada). These are the words that were written on a plaque southwest of Neebing:

The first bridge across the Pigeon River was opened near here on August 18, 1917. In the previous year the government of Ontario had completed a road from Port Arthur to link up with one which the state of Minnesota had earlier constructed from Duluth. Since no provision for a bridge had been made, the Rotary Clubs of Port Arthur-Fort William and Duluth collected funds and materials to construct one and bore the greater part of the cost. The bridge, erected without any formal international agreement, was therefore locally named "The Outlaw". This route soon became a popular tourist road, thus greatly benefitting the Lakehead area. The original wooden bridge was replaced in 1930.

For more information, read a Minnesota account. According to Wikipedia, the Rotary Clubs were surprised when an Ontario government official appeared at the grand opening - and agreed to pay for the bridge.

Oh, and the plaque that I quoted from above? It was stolen a few years ago. Maybe the so-called "juice" sellers are covering up the illegal activity.

When the new head of a nonprofit meets stakeholders (Michael Hill of YFU USA)

There are a variety of different types of nonprofit organizations, but most of them have one thing in common. The nonprofit has a small paid staff, but also has a number of stakeholders that are interested in the doings on the nonprofit.

A church may have a paid pastor and perhaps a few other employees, but it also has a number of parishoners who are vitally interested in what the church does.

A theater group may similarly have a small paid staff, but they also have a number of stakeholders, including the people who act in the productions and the people who attend the performances.

A service organization has its paid staff, the people who receive the services, and probably a number of volunteers who help out.

Similarly, a professional organization has the paid staff who manage the organization, and the unpaid staff who participate in (and sometimes run) the organization.

Over the last few years, I have been a stakeholder in all four of these types of organizations, and two of them have undergone changes at the top during that period - one of which occurred two weeks ago.

Regardless of the organization type, the new leader has two important things that he or she must do when (or before) the new job begins. The new leader must establish relations with the paid staff, and the new leader must establish relations with the unpaid stakeholders.

I mentioned that an organization for whom I am a stakeholder recently underwent a leadership change. The organization is Youth for Understanding USA, and the new leader is Michael Hill.

YFU USA has a massive volunteer organization, with approximately 1,400 volunteers in this country. To meet the needs of this group, the paid staff arrange for periodic web meetings to allow volunteers to learn new things and ask questions.

One such meeting occurred last week. Although I usually don't participate in these calls, I decided to do so this time - because Michael Hill was going to introduce himself to the volunteers.

I won't get into the details of what Hill said, and I definitely won't get into the details of the conversations that ensued, but I will note that it definitely served to introduce Hill to the volunteers and for us to get to know him. And this was just one of Hill's efforts to get to know the stakeholders in the new organization.

Despite the varying purposes of nonprofits, they all do this. If a church gets a new pastor, he (or she; I suspect most of my readers are not LCMS or Roman Catholic) is introduced to the new congregation via a whirlwind of events and opportunities. Service organizations and others often plan transitions to introduce new leaders. This happens in for-profit businesses also; I participated in such a transition 3 1/2 years ago when I moved from product management back to proposals.

But how should the organizational stakehoders welcome a new leader? Brian McLaren has written Ten Commandements for Welcoming a New Pastor, but the second commandment can be used (with some adaptation) by stakeholders at any nonprofit.

Thou shalt not expect everything to stay the same when the new Pastor arrives. Nor shalt thou resist change, nor assume that change is bad, but thou shalt trust that the Lord thy God isn’t finished with your church yet and is bringing change for your good and the good of your mission.

And don't forget that even atheist organizations have a mission, even if they may refrain from using that particular term. "About" seems to be a safe term with no supernatural connotations.

By the way, here's the "about" statement for the aforementioned YFU USA:

Youth For Understanding (YFU) is a non-profit international educational organization with programs in 64 countries. One of the world's oldest, largest, and most respected exchange organizations, YFU has exemplified excellence in exchange worldwide since 1951.

YFU USA administers the Youth For Understanding programs in the United States and is committed to preparing young people for their responsibilities and opportunities in a changing, interdependent world. Working in partnership with governments, corporations, foundations, schools, and educators worldwide to create global learning opportunities, YFU promotes international understanding and world peace.

YFU international offices and partners have a long and successful track record. As of this year 250,000 students and their host families have benefited from YFU exchanges worldwide. Youth For Understanding is a worldwide coalition of committed organizations and individuals. These people are joined by the belief that full cultural immersion is the most effective means to acquire the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly multicultural, interconnected, and competitive global society.

Whether the impact of globalization will be for better or worse - whether it becomes a threat or an opportunity - depends on how the next generation responds to its challenges. Youth For Understanding is uniquely positioned to empower and prepare young people to rise to these challenges in the 21st century.

Thorough preparation and program support differentiate YFU from other student exchange organizations. Youth For Understanding has earned an excellent reputation for its comprehensive orientation programs for students and host families. YFU has partner offices around the world. The YFU USA National Office located in the Washington, DC metropolitan area with five district offices throughout the United States. A global network of YFU staff and volunteers, subscribing to a common set of quality program standards, helps our students every step of the way. That is why YFU offices have been selected to administer more government and corporate scholarships than any other high school exchange organization. And that is why thousands of parents across the globe trust YFU with their teenagers every year.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What if computer science had been invented by men?

If computer science had been invented by men, programs would have been recorded on beer bottles.

If computer science had been invented by men, there wouldn't be any compilers. The program would take its own dang time to run; get off my back!

If computer science had been invented by men, cash register companies wouldn't be dabbling in computing. (See the aforementioned comment on beer.)

If computer science had been invented by men, there would be no "how to" books on computing. Men don't need directions, you know.

If computer science had been invented by men, the leading Hollywood figure to contribute to computing would have been W.C. Fields. (Yeah, see the aforementioned comment. I', milking it for all it's worth.)

If you're puzzled by this post, see this Mara Mascaro share on Google+ and Kenneth Love's comment on this post.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Let's just admit it - spies are in your juice

Come on, people.

As I write this, Google+ is erupting, shock and awe about this disclosure:

Rep. Nadler's disclosure that NSA analysts can listen to calls without court orders came during a House Judiciary hearing on Thursday that included FBI director Robert Mueller as a witness.

Mueller initially sought to downplay concerns about NSA surveillance by claiming that, to listen to a phone call, the government would need to seek "a special, a particularized order from the FISA court directed at that particular phone of that particular individual."

Is information about that procedure "classified in any way?" Nadler asked.
"I don't think so," Mueller replied.

"Then I can say the following," Nadler said. "We heard precisely the opposite at the briefing the other day. We heard precisely that you could get the specific information from that telephone simply based on an analyst deciding that...In other words, what you just said is incorrect. So there's a conflict."

And everyone is now running around, lamenting that our freedom has been lost.

Well, if you're lamenting about the loss of your freedom under Obama and Bush, you'd better sit down. Because you ain't heard nothing yet.

It's very likely that the Department of Transportation is monitoring your odometer, your speedometer, and just about every other ometer in your car.

And it's very likely that the Department of the Interior is measuring the amount of dirt on the bottom of your shoes.

And it's extremely likely that the Centers for Disease Control is keeping detailed records of your condom purchases.

And it's almost certain that the NSA is in your juice.

Actually, I didn't make that last one up, because the NSA is in your juice. Sort of.

I had never heard of Juice Plus+ before, but they have to be owned by Google. Not only are they using the Plus symbol, but they're pioneering the establishment of virtual franchises.

Now that you enjoy the healthful benefits of Juice Plus+, you understand its potential to help you create a healthier lifestyle. Likewise, when you become a Juice Plus+ representative and start your own Virtual Franchise, you’ll understand its potential to help you build a part-time income while making a difference in the lives of others.

So you're at the Juice Plus Virtual Franchise website, and as a curious person, you want to learn a little more about the company. That's where you run into this.

NSA, the maker of Juice Plus+®, is a privately owned company headquartered in Collierville, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis.

Founded in 1970 by its current president Jay Martin, NSA has evolved its person-to-person marketing model into the unique Juice Plus+ Virtual Franchise® system of today.

Under Jay’s leadership, NSA has grown from a small direct sales company into a highly profitable, multi-million dollar company operating in more than 20 countries.

And that's just what they'll talk about publicly. But even here, NSA admits that they're active in more than 20 countries, including the United States.

We're all worried about our emails and phone calls, and all the time NSA has been controlling our juice. And also our smoke detectors and our air filtration devices. Yeah, it's worse than any of you thought.

OK, yes, I know that in this case "NSA" is not the National Security Agency. But I searched throughout the entire Juice Plus+ Virtual Franchise website and was unable to find anything that said what the acronym NSA actually represented. As far as the company is concerned, the company wants to be known only as "NSA."

What could go wrong?

Actually, after some investigation I found the actual name of the company at a site called MLM Watch - a site that National Safety Associates would probably prefer that you not visit. Although this source says that the company name is really National Security Associates. Well, whatever name they used to use, they are now officially NSA, LLC.

I bet that the company is regretting that fact at this moment.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Has the government been "snowden" by claims that private contractors are cheaper?

Inasmuch as I work for a company that does business with the Federal government, I'm going to decline to venture a personal opinion on the matter. But one byproduct of the Edward Snowden brouhaha is that the use of private contractors, such as Snowden, to work for the Federal government is being re-examined. USA Today:

"I don't see this as a major breach where the company was hacked, or a hard drive, or a server walked out of their facility or thousands or millions of records on individuals have been leaked," says Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group. "This leak has been fairly small."

In addition, it's not as if contractors are uniquely prone to leaks. The government is just as capable of unwanted releases of sensitive information; one needs to look no further than Bradley Manning for proof of that.

Still, Amey says he believes the case may cause the government to rethink its reliance on contractors....

The government has three key reasons why it chooses contractors, says Amey: cheaper employees (due to not having to pay for benefits like pensions), a perception that the private sector is better at innovating than the government and greater flexibility, in the sense that it's harder to fire government employees than private-sector workers.

However, Amey considers those "myths." In one 2011 report, for example, Amey and a colleague at the Project on Government Oversight found that federal employees were less costly than contractors in 33 of 35 occupations.

More here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

If you're searching for an RSS reader for the enterprise, Feedly isn't for you (or, Silicon Valley is not like normal people)

It's a common problem that we have. We assume that since the people that we know act a certain way, every one of the 7 billion people in the world act in the same way.

I have to constantly remind myself that there are 6,999,999,999 people in the world who do not profess a common interest in biometrics, Luther's Small Catechism, Marnie, and Shetland Sheepdogs. (This explains why I have fewer readers than

Apparently some companies need that reminder.

I have previously vented about tech startups that ignore enterprise users. My latest example of such a company is Feedly.

When Google Reader announced its pending retirement, the one name that kept on cropping up as a potential replacement was Feedly. This is great, I thought, because then I can use Feedly to read all of the biometrics RSS feeds. Oh, and by the way, I work at a biometrics company that has standardized on a single web browser application.

If you know me, and if you know Feedly, you know what happened next.

Feedly is available on Chrome, Safari, Firefox.

So I'm reading my biometrics feeds on (and dealing with the lack of customization on Pulse; just today, I tried adding a feed to the business category and was informed that I had already subscribed to the maximum number of feeds for that category).

"Wait a minute," I thought. "Maybe the wise people in Silicon Valley are right. Maybe I should quit my job and only work for companies that support browsers other than Internet Explorer. Maybe I'm the only one who has this problem."

Then I ran across this Feedly support thread. Here are some excerpts:

In the university, IE is the only browser available, and not the most up to date one either, unfortunately. It's obvious from the responses in here that some businesses restrict browsers, too. So if Feedly is just a sort of hobbyist app for home use, that's fine - but if it's going to be a serious replacement for Google Reader, it has to cater for business and academic users too....

Can't believe you can't just use feedly in a browser window... why should we need an extension for something such an rss reader? IE support is completely needed; like others here I'm restricted to IE at work....

Without support for IE, feedly is no real alternative for Google Reader. I mainly use Reader to keep up to date for my job but at work they use IE and I can't even install other browsers....

Now imagine what percentage of these people (like myself) are surprised and disappointed that there is no support for IE9/IE10 (one of the most popular browser versions in use)....

There is NO reason why you can't support Internet Explorer. In fact I see no reason why Feedly needs to be as extension at all....

I had installed firefox (and then chrome) at my previous work and I was called immediatelly to the IT dpt & received a warning. The next thing was a universal ban of firefox installments through out the company (and it was a big one :-) ... That's why we need Feedly for IE but noone cares obviously....

I notice that my Feedly home page is now showing a survey from Feedly about making it a paid service. I think there is one simple answer to that - only when you provide complete browser support, especially for a browser that a large part of the potential user population is locked into by policies outside of their control. If you commit to that, I would be willing to pay a reasonable yearly subscription fee for the service....

Incidentally, note that in addition to supporting Internet Explorer, enterprise users need Internet Explorer support that doesn't require a plugin. Without that, enterprise users have two solutions - read their feeds within Internet Explorer itself (thus losing portability), or finding another app.

But hey, if it's good enough for Palo Alto, then it's good enough for the rest of the world. Isn't it?

Monday, June 10, 2013

I was wrong, yet again - UWUA Local 246 has a supporter in Jerry Pournelle

I love my Jim Bakker "I was wrong" moments. I really do. They effectively double my blog output.

My most recent Jim Bakker moment - well, the most recent one that I know about - can be found in the title of my recent post, Everyone supports the shutdown of San Onofre - well, except for 1,100 members of UWUA Local 246.

I really have to watch out about using that word "everyone."

But in my defense, I wrote my post on June 7 - Jerry Pournelle didn't write his post until June 8.

Here are two brief excerpts:

Southern California Edison has given in to the regulators and the anti-Nuke demonstrator[s], and will permanently close the San Onofre nuclear power plant, leaving the regulators free to pounce on the rest of the nuclear power industry. The result will be more CO2 added to the atmosphere....

And meanwhile the No Nukes! crowd headed by people of the sort who like to tell the press that “The only physics I ever took was Ex-Lax, yuk, yuk” kept the pressure on, the regulators multiplied as Parkinson’s Law and my Iron Law predict, and the terror propaganda escalated. After Fukushima it reached a crescendo, and a tiny minor leak in the steam generation side of San Onofre put a just measurable quantity of Tritium into the building. Tritium has been used to make fishing lures glow, as well as for gun sights, and the amount released was in the order of the amount in those devices, but the media immediately feigned fear of a new Fukushima disaster right there near Mission San Juan Capistrano (actually it is many miles away from Capistrano) and the plant was shut down....

Incidentally, the San Onofre shutdown was the first of two nightmares Pournelle described in his post. The other was PRISM. Read his post. And for a less authoritative view, read mine.

Golf courses or wind farms? For avian ethicists, it's neither

I recently wrote a longish rant that, while primarily being religion-focused, touched on some non-religious points. In essence, those humans who speak on behalf of non-humans really aren't speaking on their behalf.

You see a similar humanism in the so-called "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals." Ignore the controversies surrounding this group for the moment. Take a look at the group's very name, and ask yourself - whose ethics? Apparently not the ethics of the animals themselves, if you watch videos of animals hunting and killing each other.

At the end of the rant, I began talking about a group called Rocks for the Ethical Treatment of Carbon-based Humans - the acronym is RETCH.

Well, if RETCH has an avian equivalent, the avian organization's membership isn't pleased at the debate going on in Scotland.

Donald Trump has visited the site of his proposed second golf course on the Menie estate in Aberdeenshire....

The US tycoon flew into Aberdeen the previous day, when he reiterated his opposition to a planned offshore wind farm off his development.

The wind farm, known as the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) plans to deploy enough wind from its centre to provide energy for more than 49,000 homes.

To some people, it's an easy decision. Golf courses are not necessarily the most efficient use of a parcel of land, so why not provide power to real people instead of indulging the habits of the wealthy?

Yes, it's an easy choice for some people. But it's not that easy a choice if you're a bird.

Why would a bird care about a wind farm? James Ulvog explains by citing a story in the United States:

[A Los Angeles Times] article said the [Department of Water and Power] wind farm in the Tehachapie Mountains has killed 8 golden eagles in the two years ending February 2012. That’s four a year done in by the 90 turbines in the wind farm.

Four a year is small potatoes compared to the staggering toll at the Altamont Pass wind farm in California.

Multiple sources put the toll at around 70 a year.

Now if I take a gun and kill a golden eagle, a bird that is protected under Federal law, I'm liable for a fine of $250,000 and two years in jail. But if I set up a "slice-and-dice" (Ulvog's term) wind farm and kill a few thousand protected birds, the state and Federal governments look the other way.

And what of the aforementioned PEOPLE who are dedicated to the ethical treatment of animals? Well...

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also expressed concern about the high number of bird deaths that result from wind turbines, but has not gone so far as to call for a ban.

“Unfortunately they do kill and maim birds and bats. Not only do they harm these birds, but they also hurt the young who depend on them and end up suffering as well. There are ways to reduce harm,” senior PETA campaigner Ashley Byrne told TheDC “There are more wildlife friendly turbines that spin more slowly and pose less of a risk and there is even a company that manufactures hoop shaped blades that are far more wildlife friendly.”

Ulvog addressed these kinder, gentler turbines also:

Mitigation efforts cut the death count by about 50% from 2005 to 2010. The article reports the fatalities for American krestels, burrowing owls, red-tail hawks, and golden eagles:

"At the start of the study period, deaths of all those species combined averaged 1,245 per year. By the end, the total had fallen to 625."

I guess that’s good news. ONLY 625 raptors a year.

Of course, in all of these debates, the birds themselves are not heard. Birds certainly don't like being hit by golf balls, and they definitely don't like being sliced and diced.

But we had better watch out, because we don't want the birds to get mad. Alfred Hitchcock already made that movie:

And if a bird believes that he or she is defending his or her life, the behavior is entirely...ethical.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The private PRISM - it's not the government that collected this information on narcotics and boltcutters

As I write this, many are up in arms over the fact that the U.S. government obtained extensive records of Verizon phone calls. And while Loren Feldman has noted that companies obtain your private information all the time, the debate still rages.

And it's not a new debate. Way back in 2009, there was a New York Times article that discussed another case of overzealous government data-gathering:

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional....

The Justice Department, in response to inquiries from The New York Times, acknowledged Wednesday night that there had been problems with the N.S.A. surveillance operation, but said they had been resolved.


As the New York Times allows comments on its articles, this particular article received some comments. One highlighted comment was from Paul (no last name given) from Milwaukee:

Speaking for myself and my family, we have nothing to hide, and I know that only certain "Buzzwords" will amount to a further investigation. As a son of a Pearl Harbor Survivor we must use any and all means to "Keep America Alert" It is my firm belief that the only people opposed to this, to have the government listening in, have something to hide. If you don't like it I suggest that maybe you should have a conversation in your home or a restaurant. For crying out loud stop being a baby and grow up, and keep all your personal stuff off twitter,or facebook or whatever sites that you guys use.

This reminded me of a Mike Royko column that appeared in his book Sez Who Sez Me. I unfortunately no longer have the book, but I recall that Royko would get calls at his desk at the newspaper from people who had sentiments similar to Paul's - the whole "if you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to worry about" argument. When Royko received these calls, he'd ask for the identity of the caller - some requirement at the newspaper, he would say - and then would continue to ask more personal questions until the caller ended up balking.

Which naturally leads us to the question - what information did the New York Times gather on Paul from Milwaukee?

A lot. You see, while Paul derides people who post stuff on Facebook and Twitter, Paul created a New York Times account and posted some personal information. We already know that he's apparently connected to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and that he is the son of a Pearl Harbor survivor. What else do we know?

Paul commented on a blog post:
May 19, 2009
Should You Have an Autopsy Done?

The year was 1965 and my sister got sick at about 2 years of age and for the next 3 years she had a team of doctors working on her to try and make her well. They tried Cobalt treatments and chemo but nothing worked except we were able to receive 3 more years of her life...

Paul commented on a blog post:
May 30, 2009
Ozzy Osbourne Says He’s Suing Band Mate ‘With Regret’

Saw there tenth year reunion in Hampton Roads VA. There opening act was a new band called Van Halen. The best shoe I have ever attended...

Paul commented on a blog post:
Jun 19, 2009
Managing Chronic Illness at Work

I have a chronic back issue that requires me to take a certain type of medication. On my last job, the company found out what I was taking. I had asked them if their was a problem with me taking this medication, and of course I get the (squirm,squirm) no , no problem. 2 weeks later I am out of a...

Paul commented on an article:
Jan 14, 2010
The No Lock People

Not only do I not lock my doors, were we live we can leave our valuables outside as well,(Bicycles,gas grills, tools). If my freinds came over and knocked or rang the doorbell,I would be angry because they are True Friends and my home is always open to them, and their home to me.The real plus is that were we live in a townhouse complex, we all know who should or should not be there,so there is always an eyeball out for something or we are just plain nosy of our neighbors, and having nosy neighbors is always your best security ala Rear Window....

Paul commented on a blog post:
Jan 25, 2010
Complaint Box | The E-Snub

I have applied to a nationaly known retail outfit about 2 years ago. One month went by when I recieved a phone interview which would lead to a second interview. About an hour later a recieve a call from a different H.R. associate who also wants to start a phone interview, when I informed her that I was just contacted she seemed befuddled that I was contacted and would talk to the person that had initialy called me. Upon doing my follow up, and leaving the usual e-mails,I recieved no answer from either of these people.About 3 months go by and I recieve a call and I am invited in for a face-to-face interview. I arrive on time,( the recruiter did not), and I am given the standard psych questions i.e. what are your strong points, what are your weak points, what do you do for fun, have you ever stole from your employer, and than I am given the standard tour of the office. I was than directed to the office manager who basically gave me the same questions and than thanked me for coming in. I e-mailed thanking them for their time, but I recieved no response, so I called,again no response. One year goes by and I am asked if I am interested in the job that I RECENTLY applied for. I agreed but I never recieved any response and to this very day they are still advertising to fill the position. I can understand if some companies are using a credit rating to weed out some prospective employees because I have gone through all of my assets and the medical bills are behind...

Paul commented on a blog post:
Aug 10, 2010
Your ‘Last Straws’ Recounted

I was working in a foundry in the summer. For a little relief we would have the large shipping doors open for some cross-breezes, which, given the heat really did help. The doors had been open all evening and when the super came out of his AC room he decided that the doors had to be closed because we need to have "Negative Pressure" running through the plant. I understand the whole concept of air pressure but the fact was there was not enough fans to create this type of pressure he was referring to. So after he closed the doors I went over and opened them back up again,than he went over and closed them, and I went over and opened them. He finally got some locks to make sure the doors would remain closed. I explained to my boss that the benifits to the employee were far greater than keeping some "Negative Pressure" going through the plant. My explaination fell on deaf ears. As my boss went back to the AC room, I took a boltcutters and opened the doors up again but this time I kept on walking. My freinds called me the next day to offer kudo's,and although I lost my job it was just so worth it....

Paul commented on a blog post:
Aug 24, 2010
Doctors Who Mock Their Patients - Well Blog#comments

I used to have a Doctor, (well she had a paper saying she was), that would demean me not only in front of my face but in front of the whole waiting room, and the reason for this was because I was on narcotic medicine at the time and she would not fill my presciptions when they were due, so I would call her at home asking her why. She had no reason but I think she liked to see me come into the clinic,in a wheelchair, sick as a dog from being without my meds and than berate me for not exercising...

All of this information wasn't collected by the government, but by a private party. And all of it was willingly provided by Paul.

So Paul, the next time that you are unsuccessful in getting a job because of that little incident with the boltcutters, or the next time that burglars show up at your unlocked townhouse looking for narcotics, don't worry about it. After all, you don't have anything to hide.

That's DOCTOR Ballmer to you

In the process of researching some stuff on Ming Hsieh (DISCLOSURE: I am employed by a company that competes against a company founded by Ming Hsieh), I uncovered a list of people who have received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from the University of Southern California.

Top of the list for May 2011 - Steven Ballmer. (Remember that Ballmer, unlike Bill Gates, DID graduate from Harvard.)

Other recipients of USC honorary doctorates include William J. Bratton (who received a Doctor of Laws), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Iger, Norman Lear, Ted Koppel, Clint Eastwood, and Antonio Villaraigosa.

Personal note - Ming Hsieh, unlike many of the other people on the list, actually attended USC as a student, receiving a BS and an MSEE. It's fair to say that he put his USC degree to good use.

Everyone supports the shutdown of San Onofre - well, except for 1,100 members of UWUA Local 246

Every issue - and I mean every issue - has its proponents and opponents.

In a sprout-loving state such as California, nukes are really really evil. And when it was discovered that the San Onofre nuclear power plant had unusual wear and tear, there were immediate demands to close the plant. Much of the establishment in California lined up to demand the plant's closure, most notably Senator Barbara "Banks are cool when they're your bank" Boxer. Anti-nuke organizations such as Friends of the Earth also demanded action.

And they got it. Southern California Edison has announced that the plant will be permanently closed.

So Barbara Boxer is happy, Friends of the Earth are happy, and everyone's happy.


Um, no.

The shutdown of the plant will mean a reduction in staff at the plant from about 1,500 to 400.

Dan Dominguez, business manager for the Utility Workers Union of America Local 246, said he had gotten word of Edison's decision early Friday morning. Although Edison had hinted that the plant might be retired, Dominguez said the news still came as a shock.

Dominguez said he was disappointed and thought that the plant could have run safely if allowed to restart.

If you want to see 1,100 really angry people, head to a Best Western in San Clemente in a couple of weeks. This, from the UWUA 246 website, indicates that there will only be one agenda item for this union local meeting:

Meeting Information
June 2013

Regular Order of Business
San Onofre

Best Western Casablanca Inn
1601 N El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 @ 1:00 PM
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 @ 4:00 PM

I'd be willing to bet that the meeting won't end at 4:00 pm.

And I'd also be willing to bet that this local won't be donating money to Senator Boxer any time soon.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

When proposal writers get uppity #apmp

You know how there are jobs that ANYONE can do?

Now the people who twirl signs on the street would object to this statement. "Yeah, right," they'd reply. "I'd like to see you try to stand on a corner for several hours straight, performing in an entertaining manner so that people pay attention to the company you're advertising."

And administrative assistants to nuclear engineers would object to this statement. "Yeah, right," they'd reply. "You try dealing with a nuclear engineer day in and day out."

And, if you haven't figured it out by now, proposal writers would object to this statement also. See my prior post on this.

In fact, within the past few months, I've had occasion to send this statement to a co-worker:

We’ve made a deal with the engineers: we (usually) don’t code, and the engineers (usually) don’t write.

Don't cross us proposal writers. We have our red pens - well, unless the flight attendants and pilots won't let us take them on planes any more.

P.S. For the record, I performed some Hypertalk programming in the late 1980s. Not that this particular skill is in current demand...

Garbage in, garbage out always applies - no matter who you are

In the process of writing a post for my tymshft blog, I linked to a web page that explained how the Central Intelligence Agency's location used to be concealed in various ways. The page is part of an "invisible government" series of pages, and the - um, narrative - seems to have been written some time between 1963 and 1965.

As part of the narrative, a then state-of-the-art CIA computer system is described.

One of the really spooky instruments at Langley is the CIA's electronic "brain," which stores and retrieves the mountains of information that flow into the building....

The brain is called WALNUT and it was developed just for the CIA by IBM. A desired document is flashed in front of the CIA viewer by means of a photo tape robot called Intellofax.

WALNUT and Intellofax, unlike humans, are infallible.

Um, hold it right there. NOTHING is infallible. (DISCLOSURE: I am a Lutheran, not a Roman Catholic.)

WALNUT worked by allowing a person to enter up to 25 search terms, which could then be used to retrieve a particular piece of microfilm.

But what if the search terms were entered incorrectly? It's been known to happen. As Dave Barry joked in his 1980s book on American History, the CIA apparently misplaced a file during the Bay of Pigs fiasco. According to Barry, the file revealed that Cuba had just overthrown its government to install Castro - and therefore would be very unlikely to overthrow its government to remove Castro.

Seriously, the CIA system relied upon the data that was supplied to it. Even if the search terms were entered correctly, and the data was retrievable, there is no guarantee that the data itself is correct. I joked about this in my tymshft post by noting that someone could purposely alter the data to fool the CIA. Or perhaps someone made an honest mistake - "whoops, I thought that Chairman Mao was absent from the meeting; I guess I was wrong."

More importantly, the WALNUT system - and many other systems - only provided data. In the early and mid 1960s, and even today, humans are required to interpret the data to derive the meaning behind it.

For example, let's say that WALNUT tells you that Nikita Khrushchev was absent from a particular public event. Does that mean that he was sick? Does that mean that he was attending a super-secret meeting with Lyndon Johnson? Or does that mean that he had been ousted from power?

That's why it's called the Central INTELLIGENCE Agency. Although its mission has changed at times, the primary responsibility of the CIA has usually been to gather the data and interpret its meaning. This allows the President - or, these days, the Director of National Intelligence - to use the CIA's interpretation and its recommendations to make policy decisions. (Or, to put it another way, to convert this raw data into wisdom.)

The same thing occurs outside of the spy world. For example, right now I am monitoring a specific situation as part of my job. Like a CIA agent, I am unable to tell you what I am monitoring. Unlike a CIA agent, the thing that I'm monitoring doesn't involve enemy agents. But I am relying upon data that I and others have gathered, and we are making decisions based upon this data.

And there has never been a case in which the data used to make policy decisions was known to be "infallible."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When a subsidiary business is an afterthought - Bloglines in 2004, 2008, 2010...and 2010

I ran across a mention of Bloglines and was trying to recall whether I ever used that service.

It turns out that I did. Back in 2004.

In 2005, the founder of Bloglines, Mark Fletcher, sold it to By 2008, TechCrunch was reporting that Bloglines was not updating feeds, and that everyone, even including Mark Fletcher himself, was jumping to Google Reader. I happened to read that TechCrunch article a few months ago, when Google Reader announced its own demise.

Former blogger Tom figured that Bloglines got lost in the world.

Bloglines is run by IAC/InterActiveCorp which owns about 75 web properties including the Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster,, Evite,, and others.

Now, before I begin, let me say I have no inside information about IAC. But the wide range of completely unrelated properties gives me a good idea of what kind of company IAC is. I have consulted in the past for organizations like this and I have a good idea of how they work.

How do they work? Well, they don't work. Tom guessed that the last person assigned full-time to Bloglines was reassigned to something else, and that the alert about the unstaffed status of Bloglines went up the corporate chain.

7. This e-mail gets forwarded up the management chain until it reaches the "skimmer." This is a guy who gets CC'd on tons of things so he's taken to only skimming the titles of e-mails and reads only about 30% of the ones he gets.

8. The Skimmer sees the title "Bloglines Problem" and assumes its some issue that someone CC'd him on. He doesn't care about Bloglines so he ignores it. This effectively stops the e-mail in it's tracks with no one having responded to the problem.

Tom was probably right.

Now some may compare this to the current situation of FriendFeed, where even the aggregation feeds themselves aren't working any more. But I see a difference here; when Facebook bought FriendFeed, no one promised that FriendFeed would continue to function, or how long it would function. The fact that FriendFeed is still at least somewhat functional nearly four years later has to be some sort of victory. With Bloglines, the service was at least theoretically a going concern from, and the 2008 problems apparently weren't addressed at the time.

Well, they were finally addressed in 2010, when this press release was issued.

Mountain View, CA, November 4, 2010 — MerchantCircle, largest online network of local business owners in the nation, today announced that it has reached an agreement with, an operating business of IAC to assume the management of the Bloglines personal news aggregation platform. This agreement will allow the popular service to continue uninterrupted for its 2.7 million users. Beginning on December 1st, MerchantCircle will offer a richer, more local Bloglines experience for existing and future users.

So now with MerchantCircle, Bloglines was going to be revitalized and becoming an incredibly rich service.

Except...when you go to the Bloglines web site, you can't help but notice the dates on the copyright notice.

Copyright © 2006-2010 MerchantCircle. All rights reserved.

When a company doesn't even bother to update copyright notices, it's clear that the website isn't a premier property.

And that's why I didn't return to Bloglines after my absence of nearly a decade.