Thursday, October 31, 2013

What tools can the German press safely use, and what sources can Feinstein consider reliable?

The Deutscher Journalisten-verband (DJV), the union of German journalists, has released the following statement, which I am reproducing in the original German as released:

Konsequenzen ziehen

Der Deutsche Journalisten-Verband rät Journalisten dazu, bei Recherchen und digitaler Kommunikation auf die Suchmaschinen und E-Mail-Dienste von Google und Yahoo bis auf weiteres zu verzichten.

Hintergrund sind aktuelle Berichte über die mutmaßliche Ausspähung der beiden Anbieter durch die Geheimdienste NSA und GCHQ. „Die Recherchen von Journalistinnen und Journalisten sind genauso vertraulich wie die Kontaktdaten der Informanten und die Inhalte der Kommunikation mit ihnen“, sagte DJV-Bundesvorsitzender Michael Konken. Es sei skandalös, dass die Geheimdienste in ihrem Überwachungswahn offenbar keine Grenzen kennen. Appelle an die Regierungen, den Informantenschutz und die Freiheit der Berichterstattung zu garantieren, blieben offenbar wirkungslos. Wo es möglich sei, müssten Journalisten die Konsequenzen ziehen und ihre Arbeitsweise verändern.

„Es gibt durchaus andere Suchmaschinen und Anbieter von E-Mail-Diensten, die nach bisherigem Kenntnisstand als sicher gelten“, sagte Konken. Bei vergleichbarem Leistungsspektrum dieser Dienstleister sollten Journalisten wechseln, mindestens aber Verschlüsselungstechniken anwenden.

Die massenhafte Überwachung durch Geheimdienste und der Schutz der Pressefreiheit sind Themen, mit denen sich auch der DJV-Verbandstag 2013 vom 4. bis 6. November in Hannover beschäftigen wird.

Referat Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit:
Hendrik Zörner
Bei Rückfragen: Tel. 030/72 62 79 20, Fax 030/726 27 92 13

Reuters explains what it all means:

The union representing German journalists advised its members on Thursday to stop using Google and Yahoo because of reported snooping by U.S. and British intelligence....

"The searches made by journalists are just as confidential as the contact details of their sources and the contents of their communication with them," said Michael Konken, head of the union which represents about 38,000 journalists.

More here. Konken notes that there are other search engines or email providers that may be used, but did not specifically endorse any one or the other. (With reason; the NSA may have hacked those also.)

Oh, and as long as I'm talking about NSA activities, I might as well address a little tidbit regarding Dianne Feinstein's current outrage.

For those who missed it, Senator Feinstein issued a statement on October 28 about U.S. intelligence monitoring of foreign leaders. The statement read (in part):

Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed. Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.

So, how did Feinstein learn about these U.S. government abuses? Hint: she's talked about the source before, back in June.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Monday said the 29-year-old man who leaked information about two national security programs is guilty of treason.

Feinstein said that she doesn’t see National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden as a hero or a whistle blower.

“I don't look at this as being a whistleblower. I think it's an act of treason,” the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee told reporters.
The California lawmaker went on to say that Snowden had violated his oath to defend the Constitution.

“He violated the oath, he violated the law. It's treason.”

But now that Snowden has revealed rogue intelligence actions that even Feinstein didn't know about, has she changed her previous assessment of Snowden?

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) lashed out at the National Security Agency on Monday after learning it spied on foreign leaders, but she still thinks NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a traitor.

“I’ve said what I’ve said. I stand by it,” Feinstein told The Hill Tuesday when asked about her past comments on Snowden.

Well, if he's a traitor, then you can't trust what he said. So why is Feinstein claiming that the NSA didn't provide her committee with sufficient information?

And I bet that they didn't check the applicants' homes for violent video games either - polygraph tests and employment

Well, we now have our latest example of government incompetence, and both Bush and Obama are implicated. Witness this shocking revelation:

But what the media and other agency watchdogs ignored are carefully parsed statements by the CBP that place the quality and character of its workforce in even deeper jeopardy. The surge of CBP recruits to the training academy began in 2006. CBP’s own figures, for example, show that Border Patrol recruits to the academy doubled from 2005 to 2006, then doubled again the following year; there were 926 trainees in 2005, 1,889 in 2006, and 3,912 in 2007.

However, CBP Internal Affairs waited until 2008, fully three years after the surge in recruitment by the CBP, to begin “…implementing a requirement that CBP conduct polygraph examinations of all prospective CBP law enforcement agents and officers by January 2013.”...

Does CBP have the numbers of agents and officers who were never given the polygraph? Has it identified them as possible risks? Has it followed up with regularly scheduled polygraphs of all agents and officers? The answer to all of these questions seems to be “no.”

A pretty sexy story - Customs and Border Protection, required by law to implement polygraph tests, failed to do so in some instances. And you know what that means! It means...well, what does it mean?

Let's ask the National Academy of Sciences (yeah, I know them), who issued a 2003 report on the scientific basis behind polygraph tests. Here's an excerpt:

Almost a century of research in scientific psychology and physiology provides little basis for the expectation that a polygraph test could have extremely high accuracy.

So, what does CBP's polygraph failure mean? We really don't know.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Before you loudly proclaim that Silicon Valley could implement a health care website better than the government did...

...consider that it took Google YEARS to roll friendly URLs out for Google+ users, despite the fact that a committed friendly URL lover was on the Google+ team.

My friendly URL, by the way, is

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ridiculous ends to business associations, the McDonald's edition

Compared to other industries, my industry is a relative lovefest.

Take McDonald's. Ketchup is obviously an important condiment for McDonald's, and although most ketchup at U.S. locations is unidentified, there are two markets that use Heinz ketchup. Heinz is also used at McDonald's locations outside of the United States, the result of a 40 year relationship between the two firms.

That relationship is ending. Why? Because Heinz's new CEO used to have another job:

McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) on Friday said it plans to end its 40-year relationship with ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co, since that company is now led by Bernardo Hees, the former chief executive of hamburger rival Burger King Worldwide Inc (BKW.N).

Note that Hees USED TO work at Burger King. He does not work at Burger King any longer, having left in June 2013 when he accepted the Heinz position. However, his mere presence at Heinz appears, stain the company's reputation with McDonald's.

Despite the fact that Hees presumably knows McDonald's industry better than any previous Heinz CEO.

And despite the fact that Heinz's hiring of Hees presumably deprives McDonald's competitor of a key asset.

Oh well. If you decide to smuggle Heinz ketchup into a McDonald's, please let me know.

The downside of being a nation of law

On the whole, businesses prefer to operate under a system of law. While this can have some disadvantages for a business, the upside is that everyone works under a predictable environment, and an even playing field.

But some instances make you wonder if the laws should be changed.

Take this example, where the Federal Bureau of Investigation sentenced one person and imposed other penalties on two other people for something described as "prescription fraud."

A Florida man has been sentenced to prison for his role in importing cancer drugs manufactured overseas and then illegally selling them to doctors in the U.S.—and two doctors who bought the deeply discounted medicines have been held accountable as well.

Martin Paul Bean pled guilty to selling unapproved and misbranded drugs, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and other federal violations and was sentenced recently to two years in prison....

Two doctors have admitted knowingly buying the foreign drugs. One of them, a Pennsylvania oncologist whose practice purchased nearly $1 million worth of the misbranded drugs, was recently fined $100,000 and ordered to place ads in two medical journals warning of the dangers of unapproved drugs....

In its article, the FBI explained the economic motivations for breaking the law.

Cancer medicine is expensive, [Special Agent Brad] Godshall explained. “A single course of chemotherapy can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.” At the same time, many cancer patients being treated by oncologists are eligible for Medicare, and reimbursements to doctors from Medicare have been cut, providing further incentive for physicians to buy non-approved discounted drugs. “All those factors added to Bean being able to successfully carry on his fraud for so long,” Godshall said.

But then, buried in the middle of the FBI's article, you can find this little tidbit.

The drugs Bean fraudulently sold turned out to be the foreign equivalents of the same drugs manufactured for the U.S. market.

While Godshall notes that the drugs easily could have been counterfeit, the fact remains that in THIS particular case, patients were given lower-cost drugs that were equivalent to the higher-cost legal drugs. So the patients were not harmed by the "fraudulent" drugs that they received, and in fact benefited from them because they were obtained at lower cost.

So who was harmed by this fradulent activity, if the patients were not? Actually, there were people who were harmed: the Food and Drug Administration (whose rules were flouted), the pharmaceutical companies (who received less net revenue than they would have otherwise), the stockholders of those pharmaceutical companies (whose return on investment was similarly depressed), and the doctors who obeyed the law (who lost patients to the doctors who obtained the discounted drugs).

But a question could be asked - does this particular law hurt the patients that it was intended to protect?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Nicolae Popescu's e-commerce listings were fake, but his release wasn't

Business depends upon trust, and Nicolae Popescu and others are alleged to have violated that trust:

Charges were unsealed against Romanian national Nicolae Popescu, currently a fugitive, along with five of his compatriots and one Albanian who also remain at large. U.S. law enforcement officials have issued alerts for the men through Interpol, the international police agency.

The seven are accused of putting fake listings on eBay,, and other sites (including self-created phony sites) that purported to list cars and motorcycles.

Prosecutors say the gang secured bank transfers from victims using fake invoices purporting to be from PayPal and other online payment services.

But the real story is why Popescu is a fugitive. It turns out that he was arrested in 2010 - but released himself. Oops.

One of the ringleaders of the group captured last week, Nicolae Popescu, 'released himself' from custody and is now at large. Apparently when the initial arrests were made, the legal documents under which they were being held were set to expire at 1830 on the day of their arrest. The DIICOT prosecutors were working madly to make their claims to hold each of those arrested for 29 days further investigative period, as is typical in Romanian law, but when 6:30 PM came and went and no papers had been served against Nicolae, he asked to be released, and legally, there was nothing that could be done to stop him!

This is yet another case in which a deadline, rather than being negotiated away, actually had some sway. Therefore, Popescu is a free man today.

The definition of a successful TWTR IPO, in 140 characters or less

A successful IPO is one with max money for the company not the investor. If prices rise post IPO, the company left $ on the table.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

More feature creepiness - dimensional obfuscation and multi-gigapixel digital images

In a post that appeared earlier today, I said the following:

There are numerous examples of ways in which feature creep results in us buying features that we never use. How many people use their sport utility vehicles (SUVs) for...well, for sport utility?

In that earlier post, I failed to mention the one product that REALLY exhibits feature creepiness.

Digital cameras.

Before I talk about today's digital cameras, let's go back a few years to 2003 and see what the New York Institute of Photography was recommending for digital camera resolution.

At this point, we recommend purchasing a camera that is capable of capturing images of three million pixels (that's three megapixels) or more. There are lots of situations when you'll want to capture smaller files, but if you want to print a good "8x10" image you'll need a minimum of three megapixels. Four megapixels might be even better if you find a camera that's in your price range.

Again, this was written in 2003, when you had to pay a pretty penny to get four megapixel resolution on your camera. Fast-forward eight years, and you still had to lay out a pretty penny to get a high-resolution camera - but the scale had changed a bit.

The new top-end model from medium-format camera maker Hasselblad is now on the market, and it's not cheap: the 200-megapixel H4D-200MS will set you back 32,000 euros, or about $45,000.

If you've decided to hold off on that BMW purchase and buy a camera instead, go here for information.

But hey, isn't that 200 megapixel camera a hundred times better than a 2 megapixel camera? According to Ken Rockwell, no.

For normal 4x6" (10x15cm) prints, even VGA (640 x 480 or 0.3MP) resolution is just fine. Digital cameras did this back in 1991!

In 1999 when digital cameras were only 1.2 or 2 MP, each megapixel mattered if you were making bigger prints.

Today, even the cheapest cameras have at least 5 or 6 MP, which enough for any size print. How? Simple: when you print three-feet (1m) wide, you stand further back. Print a billboard, and you stand 100 feet back. 6MP is plenty.

Sharpness depends more on your photographic skill than the number of megapixels, because most people's sloppy technique or subject motion blurs the image more than the width of a microscopic pixel.

And there's a mathematical basis for Rockwell's assertion:

Pixel Count, expressed as Megapixels, is simply multiplying the number of horizontal pixels by the number of vertical pixels. It's exactly like calculating area. A 3 MP camera has 2,048 (horizontal) x 1,536 (vertical) pixels, or 3,145,728 pixels. We call this simply 3 MP....

It only takes a 40% increase in linear dimensions to double the pixel count! Doubling pixel count only increases the real, linear resolution by 40%, which is pretty much invisible.

"But," you may be saying to yourself, "there are multi-GIGApixel images floating around. And that's like cool and stuff."

Let's take a look at one such image, the 150 gigapixel image of Tokyo.

Over the course of six hours, photographer and founder Jeffery Martin captured the fascinating 600,000 pixel-wide panorama upon the roof of the lower observation deck on the Tokyo Tower. A high-powered Fujitsu computer -- packing 192GB of RAM, 2 quad-core Xeon processors, and a 4GB graphics card -- spent three months stitching together the mosaic from 10,000 individual photos captured by Martin.

Yes, that 150 gigapixel image consists of 10,000 mere mortal images (OK, they're still pretty high resolution, but not by much). Interestingly enough, the $45,000 camera does something similar, but it only combines six images into a single image.

So we only have to wait a few months, or perhaps a few weeks, for someone to create a TERApixel image to make everyone drool. Just combine 100,000 10 megapixel images and you've got it. Or spend $45,000 for the 200 megapixel camera, stitch a mere 5,000 pixels together, and you have your terapixel panorama.

Meanwhile, most of us will still take 640 x 480 pictures and be happy.

Just in time for Halloween - The Noise from My Kitchen (and Laundry Room)

My previous post quoted from advice (given in 2008) by someone who calls himself Technician Brian. While his personal website has disappeared, his corporate website is still online. And, as it turns out, Technician Brian does not limit his advice to fancy ovens. Here's how a recent blog post began:

Late at night, when the house is dark and quiet, perhaps you have heard a whirring or a gurgling sound and you wondered to yourself if it might signal a problem with one of your household appliances. You are not alone, many of us have had this experience. Especially when your appliance is new, these noises can cause concern for the homeowner.

Technician Brian wrote this post on September 25, but it would have been more timely if he had written it on October 25. Halloween is approaching, and unless you're a Lutheran running around with a hammer and nails, your thoughts often turn to the spooky.

The teenagers had brought the beer up to the creepy abandoned summer home and were having a good time when they suddenly heard a gurgling noise coming from the kitchen. Petrified with fear, two of the teens decided that the best course of action was to go to the kitchen itself and make out.

Actually, considering how bad some of these movies are, perhaps it's better that Technician Brian didn't go that route. He probably likes the sensible horror film that's been making the rounds lately.

So what does Technician Brian talk about in his post? He talks about possible causes for the noises from two of our most common appliances - refrigerator/freezers and washer/dryers. Go here to read his advice.

Incidentally, Technician Brian's company, All Tech Appliance Service in the Portland, Oregon area, also has a presence on Google+ and Facebook.

Oven temperature probes are feature creepily too smart for their own good

As Thanksgiving approaches in the United States, I'm sure that I'll be seeing many more hits on this blog for malfunctioning Kitchenaid oven temperature probe stories.

If this is your first visit to the blog, you may want to see what I've previously written in September 2012. And October 2011. And November 2009. In these posts, I've documented cases in which the Kitchenaid oven temperature probe mechanisms give a false reading. This could be due to moisture near the oven probe temperature sensor connection, for example.

However, there are other causes.

The jacks will tend to corrode and create resistance between terminals after many years causing just the symptoms you are seeing. The correct way to solve the problem would be to replace the probe jack part#8186589 , or you can try and unplug the jack from the harness.

Unfortunately, to do this you have to pull the entire oven away from the wall - and this happened to be a combination microwave/stove unit.

Then you have to find the specific wires.

The two wires from the meat probe are attached to connector 5 along with those of the oven temperature probe so you cant just pull that connector, but will either need to removed pins 4 and 5 of that connector, or look for the in-line connector from the probe jack. Those should run up the side, but they may run around to the back to join with the oven temp probe harness. With the oven out a bit, you should be able to remove the control panel with screws on the side and gain access to the connector.

After receiving these and other tips from Technician Brian (whose personal website seems to have gone offline since these tips were provided in 2008), the person seeking help (TheRASGuy) was able to fix his Kitchenaid oven temperature probe problem. Another Internet success story.

But two things struck me about this whole episode. The first was a comment from TheRASGuy:

8 years of Electircal Engineering school and I am worried about operating on my appliances geez..........

Think about it; our ovens - yes, the things that we use to cook food - have evolved in such a way that someone with 8 years of electrical engineering school needed advice to fix them.

And the second thing? TheRASGuy didn't even fix the oven - he just disconnected the faulty part:

Since we do not use the probe and it is flaky at best I am going to leave it disconnected - we never probe cook anyhow.

Think about it. Kitchenaid (and, to be fair, other manufacturers) have gone to great lengths to develop this technology to allow ovens to automatically shut off when the food being cooked reaches a certain temperature. The technology, like all technology, is not 100% accurate, and is susceptible to failure due to things such as moisture and corrosion. When problems are encountered, they may be easily fixed (by using a hair dryer to remove moisture) or they may be, if I may use an electrical engineering acronym, a PITA to fix.

And guess what? Most of the people who buy these high-end ovens never use the feature.

There are numerous examples of ways in which feature creep results in us buying features that we never use. How many people use their sport utility vehicles (SUVs) for...well, for sport utility?

And it looks like these automatic oven temperature probes fall into the same category.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

That's a turkey of a blog post idea

It's no secret that most of my blog posts are written in advance of their publication. I hope this doesn't shatter the illusions of some of you that I'm awake at 4:55 am on weekday mornings, trying to get my 5:00 am post ready.

In some cases, the post is written well in advance. For example, some of the posts in my empo-jooryst series were written three months in advance of their publication. There was a reason for this - some of these posts were written from my perspective as an alternate juror while a trial was going on, and I did not want anyone to see these posts until long after the trial had ended.

(Incidentally, if you've been following my comments on that trial, the oft-rescheduled sentencing hearing was held on October 18...and was promptly rescheduled to November 8. If all goes well, the defendant will be sentenced before he dies of old age.)

Well, I've written another "scheduled in advance" post - this time for this blog, the Empoprise-BI business blog. I wrote it a few weeks ago, and I scheduled the post to appear on Thanksgiving.

That's Thanksgiving 2014.

As for why I don't want this post to appear until then...well, I can't exactly say that yet.

Hopefully the Blogger platform will still be around late next year.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Know your target demographic, the Reader's Digest Edition

A business can't be all things to all people. Home Depot is not going to reach out to people who constantly travel and live in hotels. HBO is not going to reach out to people who hate movies, boxing, and dirty words.

And Reader's Digest apparently knows its target demographic. The following message appeared on its Facebook page:

Finish this sentence: Before I die...

What if you CAN'T use technological devices?

Every industry is based upon particular assumptions - assumptions that will not hold in all circumstances. For example, my industry - the automated fingerprint identification system industry - is based upon the assumption that a person has readable fingerprints. For some people, such as bricklayers or people who work with a lot of paper, this is not true.

Many of the industries based upon social media - and, for that matter, many other industries - are based upon the assumption that everyone is online. However, this is not true for a variety of reasons - economic reasons, religious reasons, philosophical reasons...and the danger of addiction:

Isaac Veisburg was born in Venezuela and raised between there and Miami. He's all done with the reSTART program and is now working as a personal trainer. But it was a long road. He went through the six-week, in-patient part of the program twice....

He bailed on the program after a few weeks and went back to college in Washington, D.C. At first he tried to stay away from gaming, but he was depressed, fighting with his parents and had car problems.

The stress started to mount, and the Saturday before classes even began, Veisburg was back in front of the computer. He says he downloaded a game and didn't leave his computer for 42 hours.

"And then I slept. I slept through my first class Monday, and I didn't go to class the rest of that day, and the day after, or for five weeks after that," he says.

So what does a technology addict do in a world filled with technology? Not much, as it turns out.

After a year in rehab, [Will is] finally done and planning to move back home to Oklahoma to try to find a job. But that's tough to do without using a computer and an Internet connection.

"It's a constant struggle," he says. "It's just that I have to structure my life to a point where I don't feel tempted to waste time on it."

He says he has to hold himself accountable, by having a job, a social life and exercising — and by setting time limits on his Internet usage. He's not planning to get a smartphone any time soon, either.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason, the Michael Hiltzik Edition

In case you missed it, I posted two opposing items early this morning - Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason, the Monday Edition and Silicon Valley is Incredibly Attractive, the Monday Edition.

As you can figure out from the title of this post, I found something online that supports the first of the two arguments. (I'm on vacation today, and have time to do all sorts of things - install doorknobs, ride around in my nephew's Jeep without my nephew present, and read about BART.) But before I present what I found online, let me quote from the conclusion of my first post:

Oh, and there is (if I may borrow a Valley phrase) "one more thing" -

If we ever reach the stage where we can completely automate government to a point where it doesn't need any of those pesky humans around - then we can perform the same thing and automate all of those Silicon Valley companies, and get rid of you.

Well, Michael Hiltzik just wrote something in the Los Angeles Times that goes well beyond anything I said in my post. I don't know Hiltzik, but The BART strike brings out class ugliness in Silicon Valley was obviously not written by a Tea Partier. After noting some of the anti-union comments from the Valley's elite, Hiltzik concludes HIS post as follows:

Blaming the workers for the impasse is a peculiarly one-sided interpretation of what's happening. Sure, you could say that 2,400 non-automated, human employees stand in the way of Silicon Valley's determination to "build something." But it's equally true to say that BART's nine board members and its general manager are the real obstacles to a settlement. Maybe Silicon Valley should figure out a way to automate them.

Silicon Valley is Incredibly Attractive, the Monday Edition

Decades ago, I happened to see a piece of correspondence from Walmart to one of its suppliers. The letter was apparently in response to a letter from the supplier, and it concerned Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). This standard, fairly revolutionary at the time, allowed a supplier to communicate with a retailer via electronic means, so that purchase orders and the like could be sent by modem, from computer to computer, rather than by paper.

Walmart, with its dedication to managing stores and inventories as intelligently as possible, was a pioneer in EDI. For some of the suppliers, however, EDI merely represented a set of onerous new requirements and controls.

The one thing that I remember from the letter was that Walmart was assuring the supplier (presumably in response to a sarcastic comment in the supplier's original letter) that the supplier would NOT have to move to Bentonville, Arkansas.

Walmart understood, long before anyone else did, that location didn't matter. The increasing power of computers, and the ability to connect these computers via modem networks, meant that a buyer in Bentonville could communicate with a supplier anywhere in the world and complete a business transaction in seconds. The money would transfer from Walmart's computer to the supplier's computer (or to their respective banks), and the inventory status would be updated on both computers also - pending, of course, the actual arrival of the trucks at the desired locations.

It's a lesson that I've taken to heart, most recently in a post entitled Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason, the Monday Edition. That particular post, like most of my posts, was written in advance of its publication.

But before my rant could be published, I ran across a story about a company that specifically desires a geographic presence in Silicon Valley.

The company? Walmart.

The country’s largest retailer, which for years didn’t blink at would-be competitors, is now under such a threat from Amazon that it is frantically playing catch-up by learning the technology business, including starting @WalmartLabs, its dot-com headquarters....

The company has had a small presence near Silicon Valley for more than a decade, but until recently, engineers in the area barely knew it existed. It signed a lease three years ago for the San Bruno office, north of the valley — and across the street from YouTube — and is opening another this fall in Sunnyvale, home of Yahoo, in the heart of the valley.

And in order to attract talent, Walmart California has to do things a little differently than Walmart Arkansas.

For example, at press events in Bentonville, Ark., Walmart’s headquarters, the menu tends to be ham sandwiches, chips and iced tea. At a recent event in San Bruno, it was white asparagus panna cotta with house-smoked salmon tartar, morel mushroom macaroons and charcuterie from a whole pig.

So perhaps geographic proximity matters a little more than I thought. After all, the Walton family has a few billion dollars more than the Bredehoft family, so perhaps they know what they're doing.

Incidentally, the story illustrates something else - nothing lasts forever. About a century ago, all of the small markets were wiped out by the A&P stores that sprung up across the land. A&P, in its turn, was wiped out by the Safeways and Krogers. Those stores, in turn, are being adversely affected by the Walmarts - and now the Safeways and Krogers are crying foul, ignoring the fact that they had destroyed competition back in their own heyday. Today, it's quite possible that all the people who want to see Walmart destroyed are going to get their wish - and when Amazon takes over, with ruthless business processes that make Walmart look like amateurs, those protestors will long for the days when the Bentonville company actually hired people at welfare wages, rather than not hiring anyone at all.

Meanwhile, the consumers should enjoy the moment. As Don McArthur commented about the forthcoming competition between Amazon and Walmart,

I see free virtual servers in my future.

And what about men? And others?

Have you heard about the UN Women auto-complete campaign, in which predicted search results from Google effectively demonstrate how many people feel about women? For example, if someone types "women need to" into Google search, the most popular suggested search at the time was "women need to be put into their place."

Well, just for fun, I figured that I'd try a few searches about men.

(Men shoulder bag?)

But then I thought I'd make this a little interesting. While there are claims that there are "wars" on various religious and ethnic minorities, there is a common claim that there is a culture war against Christians. Well, let's run that thesis through Google auto-complete:

I'm sure the United Nations will get right on this problematic "christians must die" message...but will they object to it, and support it?

But let's take a look at a few related searches; perhaps Christians aren't the only ones being threatened.

Well, if nothing else, Christians, Muslims, and atheists can all come together and mutually protect each other from death threats. We CAN all just get along...

Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason, the Monday Edition

I am this close to starting a new blog and entitling it "Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason."

Let's face it, the blog would get plenty of traffic.

Note that I'm not speaking of the tech world in general - we certainly have our own issues. I'm speaking specifically about the geographic location of Silicon Valley, in which people think foreign accents are bad, Microsoft users are worthless, you should NEVER be ridiculed for wearing Google Glass, tract housing is beneath the Valley (despite the fact that many of the Valley's advances took place in tract housing), rural people are idiots, women don't belong in the boardroom, every employee of a company should be a "social media expert"", and so on and so forth.

One of the most amusing ones to me is when Valley people - those people who are pushing for a virtual lifestyle - insist that you have to be geographically located in the Valley to be worthwhile. Erick Schonfeld wasn't qualified to lead TechCrunch because of his New York address. MySpace failed because of its Los Angeles location.

But that's nothing compared to Silicon Valley's latest delusion.

Remember when Kinja was briefly down? When it came back up, I got to the Valleywag article that I wanted to read, and then proceeded to the New York magazine article that was the source for Valleywag's information.

Now I know what some of you are saying - a media publication that isn't based in Santa Clara, San Mateo, or San Francisco counties is worthless. But hear them out.

[I]t's surprising that in an interview last week, [Chamath] Palihapitiya revealed that he is entirely emblematic of Silicon Valley's extreme myopia when it comes to the political system, and dismissive of those who suffer when the system grinds to a halt.

At the beginning of the government shutdown - something that eventually was estimated to have caused $24 billion in damage to the economy - Palihapitiya said the following:

We're in this really interesting shift. The center of power is here, make no mistake. I think we've known it now for probably four or five years. But it's becoming excruciatingly, obviously clear to everyone else that where value is created is no longer in New York, it's no longer in Washington, it's no longer in LA. It's in San Francisco and the Bay Area. And when you look at sort of, like, how markets react to things like that, and when there's no reaction, it should be taken as a very subtle signal that the power dynamics have changed. Because markets value meaningful events, markets discount meaningless events. And so the functional value of the government is effectively discounted to zero ...

This analysis was based upon the stock market's reaction to the first day of the government shutdown. As anyone with any sense would know, extrapolating economic trends from one day of stock trading is equivalent to judging Twitter's uptime based upon a one-minute sample.

But then he went on.

Companies are transcending power now. We are becoming the eminent vehicles for change and influence, and capital structures that matter. If companies shut down, the stock market would collapse. If the government shuts down, nothing happens and we all move on, because it just doesn't matter. Stasis in the government is actually good for all of us. It means they can neither do anything semi-useful nor anything really stupid.

New York magazine noted - correctly - that Palihapitiya's analysis was just a teeny bit faulty. He ignored the hundreds of thousands of government employees who were suddenly without paychecks, and who therefore probably weren't going to buy any Zynga virtual goods or buy something from a web advertisement. Just think if the government shutdown had lasted for a couple of months - some of the hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees may have even resorted to CANCELLING THEIR INTERNET SERVICE.

But eventually, most Silicon Valley folks realized that government might be a good thing.

The first blow came when NASA shut off its Google+ feed of kewl stuff. In the hierarchy of virtual things, NASA kewl stuff easily falls into third place behind cat pictures and pictures of bacon. And when NASA shut off the spigot, most of the tech-weenies realized that this government shutdown was serious business.

Most of them. I remember seeing a complaint from one person who was incensed that NASA wasn't posting. Google+ is free, the person reasoned; why can't they just keep on posting their stuff? This person sadly didn't realize that the Anti Deficiency Act, based upon Constitutional principles, explicitly prohibited volunteer work. See my Google+ post on the topic.

Now I of course do not share the delusions of those virtual alfalfa farmers in Silicon Valley. I didn't cry and freak out when NASA shut down. I didn't even cry and freak out when NIST (essential to my work) shut down. Not at all...but I'll admit that when Loren Feldman's "Monday Matters" was affected by the government shutdown, I whimpered a little bit.

Meanwhile, other government services shut down, and techies soon realized that Palihapitiya's assertion was incorrect. For example, I'm sure that many were arguing about whether the government shutdown would have a negative impact on employment. Well, they argued and argued, but couldn't settle the argument - because of the government shutdown, unemployment figures were unavailable.

But if there were any Silicon Valley people who clung to the conclusion that government didn't matter, those illusions were shattered last Friday - and it had nothing to do with the Federal government shutdown. You see, local government matters also:

Tony Sanchez was frustrated by the extra time the bus took, “I work in Hayward. It took two hours, rather than an hour, to get down here. I have to waste more money because the bus was more expensive than BART.”

The Valley, of course, has come up with a solution:

The BART strike is disrupting life for almost a half-million Bay Area commuters, including Silicon Valley workers, to the point where it’s sparked a debate over whether the region should use driverless trains.

Problem solved! Right?

Well, even if BART has driverless trains, you still need people to maintain the tracks.

And even if you were able to completely automate BART, you still have all of those buses that need drivers and mechanics and everything else.

And even if all of the mass transit were completely automated and did not require a single employee, you still have all the roads that are built by the government. And no one who is serious has advanced the idea of a self-building road.

Oh, and there is (if I may borrow a Valley phrase) "one more thing" -

If we ever reach the stage where we can completely automate government to a point where it doesn't need any of those pesky humans around - then we can perform the same thing and automate all of those Silicon Valley companies, and get rid of you.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Kinja is down (OR, WAS DOWN)

I received a 503 error when I tried to read a couple of Gawker articles this morning. So I went to and confirmed the issue.

As of now, there's no update at Kinja's Twitter account.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

English is funny

One day recently, I received an e-mail reply that said

I resent it as well.

I was puzzled, and couldn't figure out why the person who sent me the e-mail was so mad. All that my original e-mail said was that I had sent an e-mail to someone else. Why would this person be resentful about my sending an e-mail that I was supposed to send...

...oh, never mind.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My 2008 mrontemp rant about those who ignore the enterprise

One of my pet peeves about Silicon Valley is that the residents often assume that everyone in the world is just like them. Everyone in the world agonizes over Android vs. iOS wars. Everyone in the world works for really cool startups with great stock options and an on-premises chef. Everyone in the world obsesses over Michael Arrington's sex life. And, everyone in the world always uses cool and shiny things, and never does anything that the Valley considers uncool. And if you do something that they Valley considers uncool...well, you obviously have a serious mental problem.

By the summer of 2008, Internet Explorer 6 was definitely in the Valley's "uncool" category. And yes, the concerns about Internet Explorer 6 were legitimate. However, the hipsters forgot that there were millions of people who had legitimate reasons for continuing to use Internet Explorer 6.

To the Valley, such a stance was unforgivable - so they took online action.

Now I could have responded in the Ontario Empoblog, but I had quit writing in that blog by 2008. My then-current blog was called mrontemp. So my response appeared there. (In-line links can be found at the original post; not sure how many of them still work.)

Rant of the day - why YOU are to blame for the continuing use of Internet Explorer 6.0

(Rant on.)

When I am at work, many of you take the time to tell me, and others like me, how much of an idiot I am.

Perhaps I'll visit Cristian Neagu's site. Or Mark Theunissen's site. And I'll get THE MESSAGE.

Or I'll go to TechCrunch, and I won't get THE MESSAGE, but I'll read about THE MESSAGE.

Or I'll hear what 37signals did.

Or I'll try to visit - and be unsuccessful in doing so.

Or I'll ask a question in FriendFeed - and get a response similar to THE MESSAGE.

Now, some of you may be wondering what THE MESSAGE is, because you don't receive it. Well, I do receive it.

And what, pray tell, is the solution to all of these issues? If I don't want to get THE MESSAGE, what should I do?

Hey, it's easy.

If all those folks using a version of any browser older than IE7 could just upgrade, get with the program and do their bit (it’s only a few moments to download and install and it doesn’t even insist on a legal copy of Windows these days!) then developers could concentrate on making great web applications using all the cool Ajax, Silverlight and Javascript features without having to worry about testing a load of different quirky behaviors.

Gosh, that's so easy, I'll go ahead and do it right now.

Um...there's one condition.

Are you willing to pay my salary?

Because, you see, the computer that I'm using now isn't mine. My computer at home is not using IE6, but that's a computer that I control. When I'm at lunch, however, I'm using a computer that I don't own - and if I insist on updating this computer, I might have a little minor problem with my future employment.

So after I pack up my things and am escorted off the premises, I can go home and play with a non-IE6 web browser all I want - well, that is, until I have to cancel the Internet access, sell the computer, and move my family to Tent City.

Or perhaps you're a businessman like RJ Owen, and 37signals is telling you to tell your customers to upgrade so that they can continue to use 37signals products. Owen points out how well THAT will work out:

[T]here's no assistance I can provide that will get these khakis-and-polo-shirts companies to upgrade any more than I can get them to quit thinking buying cake for their employees once a month will keep they happy....[W]hile they're only a few blips on your radar, they're the type of client most small to mid-sized software companies can't afford to lose. We can't stop supporting them, and we can't make them upgrade either.

37signals decision to quit supporting IE 6 forces us to choose between using Basecamp and supporting our customers, so the answer is pretty clear: goodbye, Basecamp. You're losing 100% of our business by refusing to support only 14% of our users - how's that for a bad customer experience?

OK, so Owen isn't an employee of a company using IE6, but I am. "Surely, O," you say, "you can just tell your employer to get with the program."

Let me clue you in on a little secret. If I march into the boardroom of my Fortune 500 employer, with my "save the developers" banner and my "IE6 sUxX, d00d!", I don't think that will be cause enough for my employer to see the error of its ways.

Because, you see, publicly traded Fortune 500 companies do not listen to employees. They listen to investors and the market.

If investors quit investing in a company because of a company's business practices, you can believe that the company will change its ways.

Which brings me to you.

Do you have some stock investments? Mutual funds? An IRA or 401k? If so, in which companies have you chosen to invest? What web browsers are these companies using? If you don't know this, then you're part of the problem.

OK, maybe you don't have any investments because you're a student or investments are fascist or something like that. Where do you shop? Which web browsers are used at your store's corporate headquarters? Are your purchases funding the abuse of Web developers? If you don't know this, then you're part of the problem.

So unless you want to pay my salary, get off my back - and onto your own.

P.S. Because everyone agrees that newer Microsoft applications are better than the old ones, I assume that I will soon be slammed for using Microsoft Windows XP and not upgrading to Vista. I will, right?

(Rant off.)


My 2005 "Rita Moreno of Arte" parody that regretfully never took off

I tried.

I really tried.

If there's any one thing that I wanted millions of people to see, it was an article that I wrote in the Ontario Empoblog back on January 4, 2005.

One of my pet peeves is when something is named after a famous city, even though it's not located in that city. One example of this is in my own backyard - the "LA/Ontario International Airport." The airport received this hybrid name because, although it is located in the city of Ontario, the airport is actually owned by the city of Los Angeles.

As it turns out, there are a lot of people who are irritated about Los Angeles' control of the airport, but not because of the name. However, that's a story for another time.

The chief offender in this regard, however, is not airports, but sports teams. Many suburbs go out of their way to host a sports team, granting tax incentives and who knows what else. But at the end of the day, the suburb itself is virtually ignored as everyone talks about the so-called "Washington" Redskins or the so-called "Dallas" Cowboys or the so-called "New York" Giants.

Anaheim, California thought that they had guarded against this. Anaheim had already lost the so-called "Los Angeles" Rams, and when they made improvements to the local stadium for the local baseball team, the city required that the team include "Anaheim" in its designation. Frankly, it makes sense - Anaheim wanted to be known worldwide as a tourist destination, so the city wanted to get its name out there.

But Angels owner Arte Moreno was rubbed the wrong way by all of this. How can he sell Angels gear in China if it has to be tagged with the word "Anaheim"? People have heard of Los Angeles, but have never heard of Anaheim. (An empty argument, by the way - the Green Bay Packers do just fine with their merchandising.)

So Arte Moreno hit upon a solution that would supposedly please both sides - the new team name "the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim," as trumpeted in a press release.

I was irked by this, because of my whole thing about naming. And who was Arte Moreno to pull a stunt like this? For that matter, who was Arte Moreno? Who has even heard of Arte Moreno? And thus an idea was germinated.

Here's the original 2005 post - again, a parody of the Angels' initial press release.

Angels Owner Announces Official Name Change

Angels Owner Announces Official Name Change

01/03/2005 11:07 AM ET

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

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

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

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

A 2004 Annie Jacobsen parody from the Ontario Empoblog

My ten-year blogging career has been interspersed with a number of parodies. One of my favorites is one that I wrote in July 2004, right when the "Terror in the Skies" brouhaha was at its peak. If you're not familiar with the whole "Terror in the Skies" incident, just search for "Annie Jacobsen" to catch up. has a good account of the whole thing. (Women's Wall Street, by the way, is defunct; as a British philosopher once said, all things must pass.)

The following is a parody of her original article - I didn't bother to parody the numerous articles that followed.

They Weren't Terrorists...They Weren't Desert Casino-Bound Musicians...They Were Girlie Men!

Note from the E-ditors: You are about to read an account of what DIDN'T happen during a NON-EXISTENT restaurant visit by one of our writers, Ontario Emperor. The Empoblog Editorial Team debated long and hard about how to handle this information and ultimately we decided it was something that should be shared. What does it have to do with synthetica or NTN trivia? Nothing, and everything. Here is Ontario's story. (P.S. Who is Annie Jacobsen?)

On July 21, 2004, at 7:37 p.m., I ate at the Denny's Restaurant in Guasti, California with my wife and our young daughter. Also in our restaurant were 14 Scandinavian men between the ages of approximately 20 and 50 years old. What I experienced during that meal has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from moral threats.

On that Wednesday, our dinner began uneventfully. Starting out that evening in Ontario, California, we drove to the Denny's in Guasti. Guasti is a small enclave in Ontario, less than one-half mile from a major international airport. With no security check required at the door we waited for our table. Standing near us, also waiting to eat, was a group of six Finnish men. They were carrying passports with a lot of i's and u's. Two men wore tracksuits with the word "SUOMI" across the back. Two carried musical instrument cases - thin, flat, 18" long. One wore a yellow T-shirt and held a McDonald's bag. And the sixth man had a bad leg -- he wore an orthopedic shoe and limped.

My thirteen-year-old daughter was determined to get an adult menu, so I turned to the men behind me and said, "You go ahead, this could be awhile." "No, you go ahead," one of the men replied. He smiled pleasantly and extended his arm for me to pass. He was young, maybe late 20's and had a goatee. I thanked him and we went to our table.

Once in the restaurant, we took our seats at table 6. The man with the yellow shirt and the McDonald's bag sat across the aisle from us (at table 7). The pleasant man with the goatee sat a few tables back (in table 11). The rest of the men were seated throughout the restaurant.

As we sat waiting for the waitress to take our drink order, we noticed another large group of Finnish men entering. The first man wore a dark suit and sunglasses. He sat at table 1. The other seven men were seated at other tables. As "aware" Americans, my wife and I exchanged glances, and then continued to get comfortable. I noticed some of the other diners paying attention to the situation as well. As seating continued, we watched as, one by one, most of the Finnish men made eye contact with each other. They continued to look at each other and nod, as if they were all in agreement about something. I could tell that my wife was beginning to feel "anxious."

Once we ordered our iced teas and club sodas, the unusual activity began. I overheard someone asking for a tuna fish pizza. Meanwhile, the man in the yellow T-shirt got out of his seat and went to the lavatory -- taking his full McDonald's bag with him. When he came out of the lavatory he still had the McDonald's bag, but it was now almost empty. He walked to the back of the restaurant, still holding the bag. When he passed two of the men, he gave a thumbs-up sign. When he returned to his seat, he no longer had the McDonald's bag.

Then another man from the group stood up and took something from his duffel bag. It was about a foot long and was rolled in cloth. He headed toward the back of the restaurant with the object. Five minutes later, several more of the Finnish men began using the lavatory consecutively.

Watching all of this, my wife was now beyond "anxious." I decided to try to reassure my wife (and maybe myself) by walking to the back bathroom. I knew the goateed-man I had exchanged friendly words with as we entered the restaurant was seated nearby, so I thought I would say hello to the man to get some reassurance that everything was fine. As I stood up and turned around, I glanced in his direction and we made eye contact. I threw out my friendliest "remember-me-we-had-a-nice-exchange-just-a-short-time-ago" smile. The man did not smile back. His face did not move. In fact, the cold, defiant look he gave me sent shivers down my spine.

When I returned to my seat I was unable to assure my wife that all was well. My wife immediately walked to the front of the restaurant to talk with the hostess. "I might be overreacting, but I've been watching some really suspicious things..." Before she could complete her statement, the flight attendant pulled her outside into the parking lot. In a quiet voice she explained that they were all concerned about what was going on. The manager was aware. The waitresses were passing notes to each other. She said that there were people in the restaurant "higher up than you and me watching the men." My wife returned to her seat and relayed this information to me. He was feeling slightly better. I was feeling much worse.

Then, when the waitress was showing us the dessert menu, it hit me. In a quiet voice, I whispered to the waitress, "Please have the manager meet me in the parking lot." I then quietly got up from my seat, walked outside, and waited.

Two minutes later, the manager came out, accompanied by a second man with a military haircut, a neatly ironed dress shirt, military boots, and cut-off jeans shorts. I suspected that this person was an undercover Federal agent. As they approached me, I quietly stated what I had observed.

"They're a bunch of girlie men."

The second man looked at me quizically.

"They're girlie men! Isn't it obvious? Would any real men go to the lavatory in a group? Only women and girlie men do that!"

The manager looked at me in disgust. "I am nonplused by your comment," he said. "I don't know what the definition of 'girlie man' is. As opposed to their being he-men? I've undergone 80 hours of Denny's sensitivity training over the last two years, and quite frankly your statement offends me."

The second man walked a short distance away from us and started whispering into a cellular phone. When I saw that the man was using a Nokia phone, I knew that I was in trouble....

Through a series of events, The Los Angeles Times heard about my story. I talked briefly about my experience with a representative from the newspaper. Within a few hours I received a call from Dave Adams, the public spokesperson for San Bernardino County's restaurant inspection team. Adams told me what he knew:

There were 14 Finns in the Guasti Denny's. They were questioned at length by Ontario police, San Bernardino Sheriff's deputies, and a salesman from Mark Christopher Chevrolet upon leaving the restaurant. The 14 Finns had been hired as musicians to play at a casino in the desert. Adams said they were "scrubbed." None had arrest records (in America, I presume), none showed up on the FBI's "no eat" list or the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List. The men checked out and they were let go.

As for me, I'm brown-bagging...but I'm a little suspicious of that checker at Stater Brothers...

Ten-year anniversary of my first blog post

Yes, I know that I already acknowledged this in tymshft, but today is the actual anniversary so I'll do it again.

On Tuesday, October 14, 2003 at 9:46 pm, the online world was greeted by the first post of the Ontario Empoblog.

Why did synthetica start with fake bluegrass sounds? Why not? This is the Ontario Empoblog, or the blog for Ontario Emperor, which has nothing and everything to do with Canada, New Mexico, and Texas, but also California, which is a location in California. It exists in cyberspace, which is also synthetic.

The Ontario Empoblog may or may not touch on a variety of subjects, including music, poetry, poker, the supposed familial relationship between Brian Eno and Slim Whitman, the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop (1,121 - I checked), various comments about frogs, and the nature of nature.

Not an auspicious start.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

I wasn't supposed to read about inContact...but I did anyway

I recently received a brochure, which I initially assumed was an invitation to some training seminar. I began reading it..and then saw that the brochure was "Exclusively for Contact Center Managers."

I continued reading anyway, even though I don't manage a contact center. But it's good to see what is happening in other industries.

I soon discovered that this was not a seminar advertisement, but an advertisement to use the customer contact services of the company inContact. And despite the unique nature of the customer contact industry, the story is one that we've seen elsewhere - companies with silos of different information that don't work toegher, resulting in poor deliveries to potential customers.

From my years attending Oracle OpenWorld, I knew Oracle's solution to this - get all or part of THE STACK. Oracle's standard-compliant software all works together, and if you insist on keeping your own software, Oracle pieces can work with your pieces also.

It turns out the pitch to call centers is similar, although inContact adds another wrinkle by using a word even more potent than STACK - inContact uses the word CLOUD.

Now you know and I know that the cloud, in and of itself, cannot cure cancer, feed hungry children, or improve your call center performance. In fact, while perusing through the brochure, the only feature that was specific to the cloud was scalability to meet peak demand.

The brochure was meant to pique the interest of your average call center manager, but since I'm not a call center manager, I couldn't really complete the offered assessment. Instead, I went to inContact's web site and looked at the company's list of solutions that it offers. And inContact has a host (heh) of solutions:

Blended Predictive Dialer
Use the best calling method to reach out to your customers.

Contact Center Infrastructure
Reduce costs and improve customer interactions.

CRM Integrated Contact Center Solutions
Personalize customer interactions with CRM data.

Disaster Recovery
Get 99.99% guaranteed availability and disaster protection.

ECHO Customer Satisfaction Feedback Survey
Drive loyalty and insight via the voice of your customer.

Interactive Voice Response Solutions
Give callers a flexible customized self-service experience.

Multi-Channel ACD
Quickly match customers to agents who can best help them.

Network Connectivity
Contact center software and telecom from one provider.

Personal Connection™ Outbound Solution
With Personal Connection, your customers will never hear a delay again

Quality Monitoring
Gain insight into your processes and customer interactions.

Reporting & Analytics
Get critical information for making business decisions.

Supervisor On-The-Go™ Mobile Application
Supervisor On-The-Go™ is a mobile application that untethers managers

Workforce Management
Align staffing with the work needs of your contact center.

Workforce Optimization Software
Improve everything that impacts the customer experience.

What does this mean? I tried to find a review of inContact software, but all of the "reviews" that I found seemed to list all of the good things about inContact, but none of the bad things. (In inContact's defense, it's quite possible that no one is performing independent reviews of ANY customer contact solutions.)

Oh well. On average, people seem to enjoy working there...

Well, I tried to find more oven temperature probe information

Some of you may not realize this, but the Empoprise-BI business blog is famous in some circles for its discussions about malfunctioning oven temperature probes. Since the American Thanksgiving holiday is coming up, I thought I'd seek out some new information on this topic.

Unfortunately, this site did not provide, illumination.

Oven temperature probe.
■measures oven temperature.

Glad that this was cleared up. But what else does the site say?

■ideal for use in in ovens

I hope my readers find this to be helpful. It make my eyes moist just realizing how much I've given to the online community.

Friday, October 11, 2013

#occupy .@oscommerce (or, .@ucdavis pokes the world again)

Back in 2011, students at the University of California Davis caused trouble by blocking the path of some pepper spray. (Why didn't protests emerge with "Save the pepper spray!" slogans?)

Now, people from UC Davis are finding some issues with a particular commerce application, osCommerce.

Frankly, I had never heard of osCommerce, even though it's been around for a while and is reportedly used by over 14,000 online retailers. But osCommerce has a mission:

We're geeks. And we love what we do.

We provide you the tools to create your very own online store to start selling products and services to customers worldwide.

We want to make our products available to everyone worldwide and to make that possible we release all of our products for free with Open Source licenses.

We also manage a thriving community of store owners, developers, and service providers who help each other during the many stages of an online business.

Sounds like a good idea, and this provides a way for a number of small businesses to set up secure online websites.

Well, almost secure.

Now I'd be the first to admit that no piece of software is 100% secure. But UC Davis researchers have uncovered some issues with osCommerce:

"The majority of the payment modules in osCommerce are vulnerable to logic attacks that allow you to pay less or even pay nothing at all," said Fangqi Sun, a graduate student working with Professor Zhendong Su in the UC Davis Department of Computer Science.

The researchers have been attempting to notify osCommerce of the discovered vulnerabilities and to help the developers patch the software. They have also refunded the vendors for items they purchased at below cost during their research.

And how did the researchers purchase items below cost?

Sun found for example, that with a few simple changes to HTTP requests she could pay for an item in U.S. dollars instead of the same amount of British pounds, a marked discount depending on the exchange rate. It was also possible to trick a merchant into believing that an item had been paid when in fact it had not.

No idea whether they tried to use this with osCommerce-powered pepper spray vendors. And yes, there are some out there.

(H/T Homeland Security News Wire.)

It's appropriate to be reminded that the may be similar vulnerabilities in competing programs, including non-open source programs. The important thing is to see how osCommerce responds to this report.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Retail Equation, revisited

I noticed an uptick in interest in my April 2012 post about The Retail Equation, a company that is hired by other companies to track returns and report on serial returners. No such system is 100% accurate, and you will encounter a number of false positives (i.e. people who are trying to legitimately return items but who have been flagged by the system as abusers). In my earlier post, I suggested the following:

The next time that fast-talking salesperson tries to sell you that electronic device or that lingerie or whatever, simply reply:

It's too risky. I can't commit to a purchase until I receive confirmation from an independent authority that the product has low defect rates and high customer satisfaction. I can't risk losing my money if the product is defective.

I tried to see if The Retail Equation has been in the news lately, but all that I could find was a brief mention in a BusinessWeek article about "wardrobing" (buying a piece of clothing for an event, and then returning it for a refund after the event if over):

About 70 percent of retailers now require an ID for a return without a receipt, Hayes says, and an increasing number won’t accept a return without a receipt. Stores operated by L Brands’ (LTD) Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works chains, are using return databases such as the one offered by consultant the Retail Equation to track patterns to identify customers whose continual returns are suspicious; they’ll then be refused future return privileges. Hayes says others are exploring such loss-prevention technologies as those developed by SmartWater CSI, which rely on applying code-laced liquids to valuable products; a merchant can then use ultraviolet light to view the code and verify the authenticity of a purchase.

It doesn't matter - Loren Feldman and some Catholic priests walk into a government shutdown/slimdown

When someone performs a particular action, the ripple effects of that action can extend way, way out.

Loren Feldman produces a weekly video called "Monday Matters," in which he comments on various tech and non-tech stories, and then follows it up by proclaiming, "It doesn't matter!"

Sometimes Feldman may do Monday Matters, but not release it on a Monday.

It doesn't matter!

Last week, there was no Monday Matters. I figured that Feldman was doing something more important.

It doesn't matter!

Well, there was no Monday Matters today either, and Feldman took the time to explain why. It turns out that the current showings of Monday Matters are funded by a government agency; Feldman has chosen not to disclose which agency is funding the show, but he does provide some detail about the conversations between himself and the agency on reviving Monday Matters.

Feldman then states:

Anyhoo, this agency has been impacted by the shutdown and they asked that the show be put on hold until they are fully funded again.

The Republicans and Democrats inside the Beltway who have been fighting over government funding were probably able to predict some of the results of a failure to pass a budget or a continuing resolution. Perhaps they predicted that people would be upset when the NASA social media websites stopped sharing goodies. Perhaps they predicted that it would become more difficult to track flu outbreaks or unemployment. But I seriously doub that any of the politicians predicted that the shutdown would bring a temporary close to a Loren Feldman video series.

Oh well, it doesn't matter. As long as they don't try to pry the puppets from Feldman's hands.

Now I know that some of you are saying that Feldman should just go ahead and produce the videos anyway. Unfortunately, there may be a law against that. Just ask Catholic priests who contract with the U.S. military:

The U.S. government shutdown is affecting religious services in the U.S. military, as the military has furloughed as many as fifty Catholic chaplains because of the partial government shutdown.

The furloughed chaplains were not allowed to celebrate weekend Mass, and Todd Starnes reports for Fox News that at least one chaplain was told that he would be subjected to disciplinary action if he engaged in ministry activity.

While some claim that this is part of Obama's continuing war on religious people, Homeland Security News Wire does not agree.

The decision to ban contract priest from offering their services, even voluntarily, may be the result of more prosaic consideration having to do with the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA), though. The ADA codifies the Constitutional requirement that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by Law.” Federal officials are prohibited from entering into contracts, incurring obligations, or performing activities without having a current appropriation. ADA specifically restricts acceptance of voluntary services or personal services beyond authorized levels “except for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

From a legal standpoint, the service of Catholic priests does not impact emergencies involving the safety of human life (oddly enough, Catholic priests are usually pro-life, so this claim could be disputed). And apparently Loren Feldman's video services aren't needed in emergency situations either.

Friday, October 4, 2013

LinkedIn is weird, the October 3rd edition

Last night I spent a little bit of time on my LinkedIn profile. While on LinkedIn, I saw the box at the top of the screen that allowed me to endorse people for various suggested skills. I would be presented with a name, and a suggested endorsement. These endorsement suggestions fall into three categories.

The first category is "Yes, the person has this skill." There were a few of those obvious ones.

The second category is "LinkedIn, you're #durnk." In these cases, I knew for a fact that the person did not have this skill.

The third category is "I don't know." I'll give you an illustration. At my company I work with a number of engineers. I worked more closely with some of them during my product management days, but do so less now that I'm in proposals. Even when I was in product management, I wouldn't necessarily know the tools that every one of the engineers was using - and these days, I have even less exposure to this part of their work. So when I'm asked whether engineer X should be endorsed for Agile methodologies, I pause. "Well," I say to myself, "person X presumably keeps up with the industry, and probably has had some exposure to Agile, but I don't really know."

In my case, I end up NOT endorsing people in the third category. But because endorsements only require a single click, I'm sure that some LinkedIn users have no hesitation endorsing people in the third category - and even in the second category ("I know that person Y doesn't know this, but LinkedIn suggested it and it looks good").

So if you're a LinkedIn user and wonder why you're getting bizarre endorsements, now you know why.

But endorsement snafus were nothing compared to the results from the change made to my job history. No, I haven't left MorphoTrak, but I figured that since I've been doing this blogging thing for nearly ten years now, I might as well list it on my LinkedIn profile. It's obviously a marketable skill, complementary to the writing that I do for my day job, so I might as well get credit for it. So I added this:

LinkedIn requires you to list an employer name, so I wrote "self-employed." Technically I DO receive compensation for my blogging, but let's just say that it's not enough to pay the mortgage.

I then took care to list the blogging position BELOW my current position, so that there would be no confusion.

LinkedIn, however, blasted a message to my contacts, telling them to congratulate me on my new job.

When I next checked LinkedIn, I had received two messages from former co-workers, one congratulating me on my freelancing career, and the other wondering how MorphoTrak let me get away. I had to explain to both of them that I was still with MorphoTrak.

Oh well. At least LinkedIn doesn't send me bizarre job suggestions like Monster has been doing. (I'm not updating my Monster resume with this information; who knows how many odd blogging job suggestions I would get?)

The Department of State isn't COMPLETELY shut down - exchange student local coordinator training is still functional

As you may have heard, people within the Beltway are going through a bit of unpleasantness right now. It's referred to as a Federal government shutdown, unless you work for Fox News, which refers to this as a "slimdown" rather than a shutdown. And frankly, Fox News is right. I have a relative who is deployed in a war zone right now; he wasn't told to come home. Even the famous incident a few days ago in which veterans toured the closed World War II memorial showed that at least the (National) Park Police are still on the job.

And automated websites are on the job also. I think.

As I have previously mentioned, I serve as a volunteer with Youth for Understanding USA, one of many organizations that manage exchange student programs. In these programs, students from foreign countries spend a semester or year in the United States, or students from the United States spend time in a foreign country. All of these exchange programs are monitored by the U.S. Department of State, and the State Department requires that volunteers (or, in State Department terms, "local coordinators"), complete annual training once a year. The training consists of a review of the relevant State Department regulations, followed by a 30 question multiple choice test that has to be completed by the local coordinator. You need to get 27 correct answers (out of 30) to pass the test and be certified for another year.

Luckily for me, all of this is automated, requiring no manual intervention by State Department personnel. (Unless the computer goes down.) Therefore, I was able to complete the training and the test. (I scored 30 out of 30, not that I'm bragging or anything.)

However, there's one thing that I don't know - is the Department of State's notification to the exchange organization (in my case YFU USA) also automated? I didn't take any chances; I sent an e-mail to YFU staff letting them know that I completed the requirement.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

In praise of travel agents

Author Elizabeth Becker was interviewed by Sales and Marketing Management, and at one point priased travel agents:

I gained a renewed respect for travel agents after traveling around the world for this book.

Sales and Marketing Management asked a follow-up question:

You mentioned in an interview on your website that you learned that lesson the hard way. Can we get more details?

Becker replied:

I conducted an experiment on my own to see how well I could navigate and act as my own travel agent through Brazil. Even though I had the map out and I went through all of these different websites, I had the craziest itinerary and I eventually had to drop one leg of it because I was crisscrossing the entire country. It was like a spaghetti noodle. It was horrible.

Becker's book is entitled Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism. A review of the book, which explores some of Becker's criticism of what is happening to travel, can be found here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My PC (private cloud) conversation with .@mitchwagner

Mitch Wagner has held a number of tech journalism jobs, and is currently the editor-in-chief of Internet Evolution. He also maintains an active Google+ presence, and threw this into his stream yesterday (on the first day of the Obamacard insurance exchanges).

Problems on the launch day of a big system like this are predictable. But if the technical glitches don't get resolved fast, they'll badly hurt Obamacare politically.

The comments that Wagner received were generally from a technical perspective, noting that this was a technical problem that could easily be solved. For example, Chris Lau asked, "How hard is it to forecast the volume?" My reply touched upon the business issues that go beyond the technical issues.

Forecasting the volume is the easy part. The hard part is getting corporate approval to build a system to support peak loads rather than average loads - CFOs balk at those kind of so-called "unnecessary" expenses, especially when they are orders of magnitude above a non-peak load system.

Think about it. Go to your Chief Financial Officer and say that for most of the six month period, and thereafter, the requirements can be handled by a $10 million system, but because of peak load at the beginning of the six months and at the end of the six months, you need a $100 million system. The chances of your CFO saying, "Wow, let's spend all of that money and handle the peak loads properly!" is nil. (Which is why many technologists make lousy CFOs, and vice versa.)

Anticipating the possible next question - why not use cloud technology to scale to meet the peak load? - I continued my comment on Wagner's feed:

And before you reply "cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud," remember that the sites are dealing with medical data, and therefore the site managers will want ironclad assurances from the cloud provider that they are completely compliant with every sub-paragraph of HIPAA. They'd rather risk a site shutdown than a lawsuit.

In my day job I mostly deal with law enforcement customers, and many of those customers in my home country have to deal with something known as the CJIS Security Policy. It's not HIPAA, but it has its own set of regulations. Can a cloud provider be expected to effectively handle HIPAA AND the CJIS Security Policy AND the hundreds of other government regulations?

That's where Mitch Wagner entered the conversation. He began:

Private cloud private cloud private cloud private cloud private cloud private cloud private cloud.

Then Wagner continued:

We're talking about the US government here-- hardly a startup. It would make sense to build elasticity to handle extraordinary loads that would be available to any federal agency that needs it. One day it's used for a rush in demand at On April 15 it would be used for last-minute tax filers. And so forth.

Wagner has a point. And IBM's Sujatha Perepa recently talked about government cloud use:

While cloud deployments are mainly considered to contain costs by sharing services and infrastructures, government agencies have also devised innovative means of ensuring compliance across the enterprise (FedRAMP, for example). They’ve also been able to lower barriers to new business creation. Additionally, cloud adoption is helping governments to improve business flexibility despite their back-end silo systems. The U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, DOJ, USDA, Department of Education and more have been early cloud adopters, setting the trend and direction for others to follow.

The federal government isn’t solely relying on the same cloud computing model that hosts some of your favorite consumer applications delivered via the cloud like Netflix or Instagram. The private cloud environments they operate in definitely leverage some of the characteristics of elasticity in those public clouds but they need to be more reliable to handle mission critical workloads. That’s why IDC says that by FY 2014 U.S. Federal government spending on private cloud will be $1.7 billion vs. just $118.3 million on public cloud.

Now I'll certainly admit that there are challenges in allowing the IRS to use cloud services one day, and allowing Health & Human Services to allow it the next - you may know how I feel about the chances of bureaucracies working together - but there's admittedly a better chance of having U.S. government agencies share a private cloud than to share services on, say, Amazon.

And I may even be wrong about that:

AWS GovCloud (US) is an isolated AWS Region designed to allow US government agencies and customers to move sensitive workloads into the cloud by addressing their specific regulatory and compliance requirements. The AWS GovCloud (US) framework adheres to U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regulations as well as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMPSM) requirements. FedRAMP is a U.S. government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. AWS GovCloud (US) has received an Agency Authorization to Operate (ATO) from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) utilizing a FedRAMP accredited Third Party Assessment Organization (3PAO).

Leveraging the HHS authorization, U.S. government agencies can evaluate AWS GovCloud (US) for their applications and workloads, complete their own authorizations to use AWS, and deploy systems into the AWS environment.

Hmm...wonder if they support the CJIS security requirements?