Saturday, November 30, 2013

Quote of the day, from Goldieblox's Debbie Sterling

The following quote was provided to Caleb Garling at

There was no intention whatsoever for this campaign to be some kind of marketing ploy.


Had to stick this somewhere for my personal reference This is as good a place as any.

Previous posts in Empoprise-MU: 11/26 10:20 am, 11/26 12:45 pm, 11/27 10:15 am, 11/27 10:45 am.

Previous post in Empoprise-BI: 11/26 11:45.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday - are you part of the one percent? recently published an Associated Press article about Black Friday altercations at a Walmart in Tazewell, Virginia. Since it's the AP, and I don't feel like paying by the word, I'll confine myself to quoting from the comments to the article.

There is absolutely no reason ever to go to Wal-Mart. And if you need proof, here it is....

Walmart shoppers haven't evolved since ancient times....

Gunfight at the white trash corral....

You know these men have to be white, or the AP would have never picked up the story. Go onto youtube later, and see what happens at all of the ghetto Walmarts across the country. See how many people are trampled and assaulted, or even worse.

Isn't it interesting that you see a lot of references to "white trash" and "ghetto" when talking about Walmart customers, but not when talking about...say...Target customers?

After all, as Ryan McMaken noted in a 2008 article:

This loathing of Wal-Mart as unique among big-box retailers is perennially on display as Home Depots and Targets are opened with little to no opposition while Wal-Marts are rewarded with a bevy of anti-Wal-Mart yard signs and protests across the countryside.

While the sheer volume of anti-Wal-Mart articles, books, and documentaries are no doubt a factor, Wal-Mart's woes can also be traced to another phenomenon: its catering to low-income customers.

Alone among major retailers, Wal-Mart is primarily identified with small towns and low-income shoppers. One often hears jokes about unwed mothers shopping at Wal-Mart and about the long lines endured while some customer at the front of the line fumbles with her WIC vouchers.

McMaken's piece was entitled "Class War and Wal-Mart" (the store subsequently changed its branding). It notes that the difference between Walmart and Target is confined to its customers, and not to the way in which the two companies do business.

If we look deeper, we find that Target, Home Depot, Kmart, and others engage in more or less identical labor and retailing practices as Wal-Mart. Target's average wages are no higher than those of Wal-Mart. Target's health care options are no more lucrative. Target imports foreign goods just as much as any other retailer (including Wal-Mart) yet this seems to trouble few. Few big-box stores pay their sales associates "high" wages, and all rely on keeping costs low by finding the least expensive (imported or otherwise) goods available.

So the hatred of some toward Walmart is not primarily motivated by the company itself, but by the people who shop there, which is why People of Walmart is so popular (and why that blog is associated with blogs such as "WTF Tattoos" and "White Trash Repair").

And make no mistake - at least as of 2005, there were clear differences between Walmart shoppers and Target shoppers:

But let us at least create the appearance of propriety by first discussing some findings by consumer shopping analyst Scarborough Research:

Target-exclusive shoppers are more likely to be female, younger and richer. For example, Target-exclusives had an average household income of about $85,000, compared to $57,000 for Walmart-exclusives, according to a 2005 survey.

Walmart-exclusives are most likely to also be in the checkout lanes at Dollar General, Family Dollar and Big Lots, while Target-exclusives are hitting up Nordstrom, Macy’s, Costco and Mervyn’s.

Walmart is big in smaller and Southern markets, while Target performs best in larger urban areas.

It's ironic - or perhaps it isn't - that at the same time some were chanting "Occupy" and criticizing the 1%, they were amusing themselves by looking at funny pictures of poor Southerners with big butt cracks. They justified it by saying that they were opposed to the evil corporate management at Walmart, but you didn't see a lot of pictures of Mike Duke and Bill Simon floating around - just their poor, dirty, trashy, ghetto customers.

When you make fun of the 99%, aren't you part of the 1%?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I ask, whose fault is it when I fail to install updates - mine, or the bloatware providers?

I am not exactly religious in installing updates on my netbook, for two reasons.

First, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Second, this.

As I commented during an April 25 installation of Oracle Java, and yet another attempt by Oracle Java to con me into installing the toolbar and making my default search provider,

It's gotten to the point where I delay updating my Java because I get sick of this.

I was performing some early morning updates on my netbook today, and I decided to bite the bullet and update Java again. After doing that (and again successfully avoiding the malware), I figured that I'd REALLY bite the bullet and update OpenOffice, which I hadn't updated for two reasons.

First, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Second, my OpenOffice, like my Java, is also provided by Oracle.

(Some of you can see where this is going.)

So I began my update of OpenOffice from version 3.3 to version 4.01, and I noticed that the new OpenOffice no longer had Oracle branding, but instead had Apache branding.

After the update completed, I did some research to find out when OpenOffice ceased being an Oracle product and became an Apache product.

It turns out that this happened back in May or June of 2011.

In a statement issued this morning, June 1st, Oracle's Luke Kowalski, VP of Oracle Corporate Architecture Group, stated that the company was going to "contribute the code to The Apache Software Foundation's Incubator. The company then claims that Oracle is doing this to "demonstrate its commitment to the developer and open source communities. [By] Donating to Apache gives this popular consumer software a mature, open, and well established infrastructure to continue well into the future. The Apache Software Foundation's model makes it possible for commercial and individual volunteer contributors to collaborate on open source product development."

Bla bla bla.

So, to recap, because of various things, include fear of bloatware, I waited OVER THREE YEARS to update one of my products. A FREE product. While this worked out just fine for me, it's probably not the optimum solution for product providers.

A little tip for free product providers - if you want people to get the latest versions of your products, you have to have them WANT to get the latest versions of your products.

Oh, and I am not trendy.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No sleep 'til Sunnyvale! Is the Goldieblox-Beastie Boys thingie a Valley plot?

No, I'm not talking about Silicon Valley homeless people sleeping on transit buses. I'm talking about a copyright infringement issue that I just wrote about in a post in my Empoprise-MU music blog. In brief, my Empoprise-MU post concerns competing definitions of "fair use" as they related to Goldieblox's adaptation of the Beastie Boys song "Girls." For more context, see my post.

At the end of the post, I said the following (links at the original post):

For more information, see the Beastie Boys message board thread on this topic. The "boys" are so old, the URL includes "bbs." For a slightly more modern presentation, see Goldieblox's Facebook page.

Let's face it, the Beastie Boys have been around for decades, and they probably originally operated a BBS in their initial heyday. Meanwhile, your average Goldieblox employee is probably complaining that Facebook is so retro, and why isn't Goldieblox on Snapchat already?

But perhaps the differences between Goldieblox and the Beastie Boys go much deeper.

Cara Evangelista has shared something written by Felix Salmon saying that Goldieblox's attitude toward the Beastie Boys, Toys R Us, and others is symptomatic of Silicon Valley's attitude toward outsiders. GoldieBlox, fair use, and the cult of disruption alleges that "disruption" is a key part of the marketing strategy of Goldieblox.

Given the speed with which the GoldieBlox complaint appeared, indeed, it’s reasonable to assume that they had it in their back pocket all along, ready to whip out the minute anybody from the Beastie Boys, or their record label, so much as inquired about what was going on. The strategy here is to maximize ill-will: don’t ask permission, make no attempt to negotiate in good faith, antagonize the other party as much as possible.

Salmon makes another point - one that Dan Sanderson has also made. Part of the argument in favor of Goldieblox in this "fair use" battle is that Goldieblox performed "transformative" actions in converting a sexist jingle into something that empowers women. But is the original version of "Girls" truly sexist? As Sanderson puts it:

Nobody seems to be willing to suggest that the BB lyrics are satirical, and are thus thematically aligned with the GB lyrics.

If that is the case, of course, there's no transformative act going on at all.

Here are my current thoughts on these matters, subject to Jim Bakker "I was wrong" change.

First, beginning with the original "Girls" song. Whatever the Beastie Boys' intent in writing the lyrics, I recall that reasonable members of the general public took those lyrics at face value. This was not a Randy Newman/Steve Taylor thing, where the songwriter's original intent was made clear in the middle of the song ("Short People" or "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good"). Everything about the Beastie Boys during their initial heyday indicated that these guys truly were loudmouthed jerks who would believe these things about girls. These guys, for example, wouldn't be hanging out with the Dalai Lama - that came later.

Second, regarding this whole "the Valley runs roughshod over the unwashed" argument. As you know, I am not necessarily a fan of some of the Valley attitudes, but even if Goldieblox planned this whole thing to snatch some free publicity, these tactics are not unique to the Valley. The Beastie Boys, for example, have themselves done some attention-grabbing here and there. And the whole history of "fair use" battles includes big players against big players, small players against big players, big players against small players, and the like.

Third, what about the merits of the two parties in this particular case? Again, I speak as a layperson, but I think that Goldieblox has a stronger case. Yes, Goldieblox used a substantial part of the song, and yes it was used for a commercial purpose, but I believe that Goldieblox's use of the song was a transformative commentary on the original song (see my first item above), and (despite what I said in my music blog post) I'd be willing to bet that sales of the Beastie Boys song "Girls" have substantially INCREASED over the last few days.

However, the final determination may be made by a court - or by an appeals court - unless there is an out-of-court settlement.

REAL gangster behavior isn't in Scottsdale - go to Pit and Barrel in Nashville

There are a whole slew of "reality" TV shows that feature experts who show up to improve restaurants and bars. One of those shows, Kitchen Nightmares, got some publicity several months ago when host Gordon Ramsay refused to work with the owners of Amy's Baking Company, one of whom, Samy Bouzaglo, would describe himself as a "gangster." As far as I know, however, Bouzaglo never broke anyone's legs or anything like that - he just yelled at people.

Another show of this type is a show called Bar Rescue. I watched a marathon of show episodes a few months ago, partially because I have been to one of the bars that was featured. When you watch a marathon of the show, the formula really stands out. The bar (whichever bar it is) is doing terrible, and they're pouring more drinks than people are paying for. The expert institutes some changes, and they have a dry run of reopening the bar after the changes, and it's a disaster. They do more stuff, remodel the bar, put in new equipment, change the name, and the bar's a success. To the show's credit, they do go back to the bar a few months afterwards, and they note those times when the owner changes the bar's name back to the old one, or undoes some of the other changes that were made.

Well, one of the latest bars to get the Bar Rescue treatment was Pit and Barrel in Nashville, Tennessee. Well, originally it was called BoondoxXx BBQ until Bar Rescue changed its name. I don't know what else Bar Rescue did. The show was actually taped some time ago, and was scheduled to be televised last Sunday.

But, just before the show was supposed to air, something happened.

A veteran country music singer was shot and killed early Saturday morning by a Nashville bar owner after the two got in a heated argument over smoking inside the establishment.

Details remain sketchy, but local authorities say Pit and Barrel owner Chris Ferrell took umbrage at singer Wayne Mills insistence on smoking inside his bar.

The bar was closed at the time....

So the broadcast premiere of this episode of Bar Rescue was cancelled, but due to a mistake, a subsequent showing still aired.

According to the show, Ferrell had a temper.

Monday, November 25, 2013

How some companies strive to hire the worst job candidates

According to Chad Brooks at BusinessNewsDaily, Alessandro Acquisti and Christina Fong of Carnegie Mellon University tried an experiment.

A study from Carnegie Mellon University revealed that while there are a number of personal questions employers are not legally allowed to ask during the interview, job candidates who post those details on social networks are opening themselves up to potential hiring discrimination.

Acquisti and Fong created a number of resumes, then created online profiles for the "candidates" in these resumes. In the online profiles, most of the variables were held constant, but two variables - religion and sexual orientation - changed. The researchers wanted to see if the hiring people at the companies searched for the online profiles, and whether the information in the online profiles made a difference in hiring practices.

According to the researchers, sexual orientation didn't make a big difference. But that wasn't the case with the other variable:

"Both by itself and controlling for a host of demographic and firm variables, our Muslim candidate was less likely to receive an interview invitation compared to our Christian candidate in more politically conservative states and counties."

In a Carnegie Mellon press release, an important point is made:

The researchers point out that, because the political leaning of states and counties in the field experiment cannot be randomly assigned, the results should be interpreted as correlational, not causal.

Even with that point made, the fact remains that some firms, for whatever reason, limit their candidate pool.

Which means that these companies choose from fewer qualified applicants, and may miss the best applicants.

In other words, they shoot themselves in the foot.


A follow-up to yesterday afternoon's post.

Pegasus Librarian has shared a little bit more about the competing claims of what happened to FriendFeed over the weekend. I urge you to read it, as well as her previous post if you haven't already done so.

And, we have received a reminder that FriendFeed is truly an international service. Other than Pegasus Librarian, the only piece that I've seen about FriendFeed's weekend outage is this piece. Let me quote part of it.

Dubito che gli amministratori possano chiuderlo da un momento all’altro, senza avvertire gli utenti: esistono degli obblighi legali sulla gestione delle informazioni personali che devono essere rispettati da entrambe le parti. Tuttavia, non avendo più un account, non posso verificare se sia stata inviata una e-mail agli iscritti e le difficoltà a raggiungere persino il blog ufficiale del social network lasciano intendere che questa comunicazione sia imminente. Tutto sommato, FriendFeed è da tempo una spesa inutile per Facebook.

Now some of my more perceptive readers may have noticed that this particular piece is written in Italian. When I ran the paragraph above through Google Translate, here is what I got:

I doubt that administrators can close it at any moment, without warning users: there are legal obligations on the management of personal information that must be respected by both parties. However, not having an account, I can not verify whether it was sent an e-mail to subscribers, and the difficulty in reaching even the official blog of social networks suggest that this disclosure is imminent . All in all, FriendFeed has long been an unnecessary expense for Facebook.

But at the end of the day, the author had to update the post. FriendFeed was back up. Facebook didn't shut it down. A point that Pegasus Librarian made:

2. Facebook let us live! And even revived us!

Naturalmente. Siamo FriendFeed. Noi siamo legione.

Elbette. Biz FriendFeed bulunmaktadır. Biz kalabalıktır.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

#dysk Pegasus Librarian on FriendFeed's latest outage

I blogged about a 2010 outage on FriendFeed, but I'm really not going to blog about this weekend's outage because Pegasus Librarian covered it thoroughly.

However, I do want to document one particular tweet - - in case the tweeter is subsequently so embarrassed that he or she removes it.

Over the last several hours, a number of people have addressed this claim of censorship. Here's how Pegasus Librarian addressed it:

Apparently, Anonymous has mistaken FriendFeed for “One of the biggest social networks” and is therefore venting spleen in the form of a DDoS attack. Why? Because hashtag searching for something Anonymous was interested in didn’t work and therefore must have been censored. Must have! It couldn’t possibly be that FriendFeed is actually the forgotten stepchild of Facebook and the search function hasn’t worked consistently in years for any of us…

But there's a positive story out of all of this - the story of how FriendFeed came back. At this point I have no idea whether FriendFeed was truly subject to a denial of service attack, or if some Facebook intern tripped over a power cable. But SOMETHING had to be done to bring FriendFeed back, and that something was...well, I can't tell you the details, because they were shared in a private forum. But apparently somebody knew somebody who knew some people. And the first somebody apparently promised the second somebody some beer. After this offer, the site was back up in a couple of hours.

You see, sometimes Soylent Green can't solve everything. Sometimes, you need old-fashioned food and drink to effect change.

Oh, and one more thing, regarding the hashtag applied to this post. Long-time FriendFeed users are familiar with the acronym DYSP, which stands for "Damn You Steven Perez." (In reality, the FriendFeed community loves Mr. Perez, even when he takes too many carrots and lettuce leaves from the FriendFeed garden.) The "dysk" acronym is an adaptation of that older acronym, with the substitution of the word "script kiddies."

P.S. Although I didn't link to him here, Johnny Worthington was a bastion of knowledge and sanity over these last few hours.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ayo Kimathi update

Remember Ayo Kimathi? I wrote about him back in August. He's the guy whose private website caused the Department of Homeland Security to receive unwanted attention. Apparently the mass killing of whites and Uncle Tom blacks is not in complete agreement with DHS' objectives. I also noted that people are loudly clamoring for Kimathi to be fired, despite the fact that government employees who voice support for Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden (both of whom are criminals from the Federal Government perspective). And, for good measure, I observed that Kimathi as a government employee has First Amendment protections that may not be enjoyed by people who work for private firms.

So, what does this mean?

First, let's go to the DHS web page that I mentioned earlier. It has changed.

Paulette Creighton, ICE Office of Acquisition Management, is the ICE Small Business Specialist, who serves as a point of contact for private firms seeking agency-specific acquisition information. Meetings with the ICE Small Business Specialist are scheduled through the DHS open for business website.

Well, I found Ms. Creighton's LinkedIn page and discovered some shocking news.

She attended the University of Maryland.

While this may cause some heartburn to some of the rivals of that particular university, Creighton's 20+ years of contracting/acquisition experience have probably resulted in a huge sigh of relief for various DHS employees and contractors.

As for Kimathi, he is officially still employed at DHS.

Kimathi was placed on administrative leave four months ago after it came to light that he was operating a Web site which calls for the mass murder of whites. DHS has condemned Kimathi’s political views and said his employment is under review.

According to Homeland Security News Wire, Kimathi is being paid during this administrative leave.

In the end, the DHS may have to result to an "Al Capone" type of solution. You'll recall that Capone wasn't imprisoned for being a gangster; he was imprisoned for tax evasion. Similarly, Kimathi may lose his job for something other than stating his Constitutionally protected First Amendment views - for example, for lying about the nature of his website.

Kimathi insists that his Web site, War is on the Horizon, is just an entertainment site that sells concerts and lecture videos.

And the 1960s Black Panthers were just a group of idealistic young men who liked to discuss the Second Amendment.

Just remember, however, that if Kimathi is fired despite First Amendment protections, other government employees may be fired in the same way. Is this desirable?

What if Walmart DID adopt the Henry Ford wage program?

Chris Kim A shared an article by Robert Reich that discussed Henry Ford's payment of his workers, and how Ford's ideas could be applied to Walmart. Here's part of what Reich said:

...what Walmart’s CEO doesn’t get is that a large portion of Walmart’s customers are lower-wage workers who are working at places like … Walmart. And Walmart, not incidentally, refuses to raise its median wage (including its army of part-timers) of $8.80 an hour.

After noting Walmart's dominance of retail and its resulting influence, Reich then offered the following proposal.

Walmart could learn a thing or two from Henry Ford, who almost exactly a century ago decided to pay his workers three times the typical factory wage at the time. The Wall Street Journal called Ford a traitor to his class but he proved to be a cunning businessman.

Ford’s decision helped boost factory wages across the board — enabling so many working people to buy Model Ts that Ford’s revenues soared far ahead of his increased payrolls, and he made a fortune.

While a raise in Walmart employee wages would result in some level of increased sales for Walmart, there are important differences between the Ford situation in the early 20th century and the Walmart situation in the early 21st.

First, there are differences between the products sold by both firms. Ford manufactured and sold a single product, a high technology item requiring a significant capital expense. Walmart sells items manufactured by others (although I'm not sure if Walmart contracts out the manufacture of its store brand goods), many of the items sold are not capital goods, and the items are available from other retailers. Back in the early 20th century you couldn't buy a new Ford Model T from the Dodges, but you can buy Charmin toilet paper from Walmart, or Target, or Kroger, or 7-Eleven, or a multitude of other retailers. What's to stop a Walmart employees from taking his or her larger paycheck and spending it at Costco?

But more importantly, the complete Ford package is very different from the complete Walmart package that supporters of Walmart employees envision. At the end of the day, Walmart employee supporters would like to see Walmart employees have a "living wage" - and also to be represented by a labor union. One of the reasons that Ford implemented his plan was to keep the unions out - and if Walmart ever were to increase its wages, that would be a primary goal of Walmart also.

But there's one other big issue with Henry Ford's plan - one that I've discussed before. Robert Reich doesn't do this, but many people commonly assume that Ford's plan gave employees $5 a day. Well, there was a catch to that.

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

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

I don't think that part of the Henry Ford plan would be all that popular with Walmart employees and their supporters.

On the other hand, you see that part of the Henry Ford plan being implemented all the time at a variety of companies.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Improved online security - banking with Rorschach

Security is hard, and nothing can ever be completely secure.

Banks, large and small, have tried to improve security of online transactions. One way in which this can be done is to enhance the login process. Rather than just having a user enter a username and a password, the system (called PassMark or SiteKey depending upon the bank) requires the person to view a picture, and then enter text associated with the picture. In the Bank of America example, a picture of an animal appears, and the person who set up the account chose to associate the phrase "Ground Hog" with that picture.

Of course, even such a complex method is not 100% secure, since brute force or pattern recognition can be applied to try to guess the sitekey/passmark associated with a particular picture.

But what if the picture were more abstract?

Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists have developed a new password system that incorporates inkblots to provide an extra measure of protection when, as so often occurs, lists of passwords get stolen from websites.

This new type of password, dubbed a GOTCHA (Generating panOptic Turing Tests to Tell Computers and Humans Apart), would be suitable for protecting high-value accounts, such as bank accounts, medical records and other sensitive information.

To create a GOTCHA, a user chooses a password and a computer then generates several random, multi-colored inkblots. The user describes each inkblot with a text phrase. These phrases are then stored in a random order along with the password. When the user returns to the site and signs in with the password, the inkblots are displayed again along with the list of descriptive phrases; the user then matches each phrase with the appropriate inkblot.

This, of course, is more difficult, since an inkblot is not a direct representation of a specific object. Perhaps to you, a particular inkblot may look like a dog, while to me, that same inkblot may appear to be Salma Hayek stepping out of the shower just after...well, you get the idea.

Of course, this system is not 100% secure either, since it may even be possible for an algorithm to be developed that can interpret the meaning of an inkblot. But it's a start.

The workspace tables are turned (GIGO part two)

Part one of this story appeared previously.

It was the middle of Sara's second week at the GatoForte startup. Other than one minor incident with one of her bosses during her first week, she had consistently impressed everyone with her hard work, and her eagerness to learn. A few co-workers even noticed that Sara had perceptive insight into a lot of things.

So it was no surprise when Pablo came up to Sara's workspace and told her that Martin wanted to see her. Martin was the CEO at GatoForte, and he rarely met with anyone, much less second-week hires.

A few people even heard the words that Pablo whispered to Sara. "Martin wants to meet you in the data analysis center," Pablo said. Scott, who overheard the remark, was so smitten with jealousy that he missed Pablo's next comment: "There will be company."

Sara was a little disappointed when she actually entered the data analysis center for the first time. Even though she knew it was a crock, part of her wanted to believe that there was at least some super technical secret in the room. But there was nothing except for a bare table, the four GatoForte employees authorized to be in the room...and a few guests.

Now the guests were pretty impressive. Robert Scoble was there, as was Louis Gray. Sara didn't recognize the others, but saw words such as "Huffington Post" and "Mashable" emblazoned on their t-shirts.

"Have a seat, Sara," said Martin. He was smiling, but Sara was not. She knew that this conversation could turn really sour very quickly. As she was walking from her workspace to the data analysis center, she had resolved to be truthful, whatever may result. At least her dad would be proud of her.

"Sara," continued Martin, "I think you know why you're here, but for the benefit of these people, could you identify this?" Martin placed a small pink bag on the table, and opened it so that the contents could be seen.

"That," replied Sara, unable to suppress a smile, "is crap from my dog."

"I wasn't talking about that, Sara," continued Martin. "I was talking about the other thing in the bag. Would you care to examine it?"

Sara took a deep breath. "I don't need to examine it, sir," she replied in a slightly shaky voice. "The other thing in the bag appears to be a Motorola iPhone X."

The guests gasped, then looked at Sara.

"So," replied Martin, "who do you know at Apple or Google who could have given you a Motorola iPhone X?"

Sara took a deep breath again. "My ex-boyfriend owns an Apple," she replied, "and I read the blog of Louis here, who works at Google."

Robert Scoble looked like he had just been punked by his friend Ashton Kutcher.

Sara continued. "And to answer your next question, sir, the branding and lettering for the phone was created on my Sizzix machine." Some of the single men in the room looked confused. "It's a die cutting machine used by crafters for scrapbook projects." She paused. "And other things."

One of the reporters shook his head. "So it's all just a startup prank."

"Yes," Martin replied. "Now remember our deal. You cannot reveal the name of the employee who pulled the prank on me - and on you. We agreed on this, right?"

All of the guests nodded their heads. Sara's name would not appear in print. Well, not for a few weeks, anyway. And by that time it wouldn't matter, based upon Martin's answer to Robert Scoble's follow-up question:

"You're not going to fire her, are you?"

Martin smiled. "No, I can assure you that she won't be fired."

After Pablo had escorted the guests and the other employees out of the data analysis center, Martin and Sara were alone at the table.

"OK," Martin said, still smiling. "Fess up."

"Well," Sara began, "it started on my second day of work, when Scott made a major deal about my going to take out my trash. He then talked about this data analysis center, and it all sounded like a load of crap to me."

"Which reminds me," interrupted Martin as he turned to Pablo, who had just returned. "Pablo, of course we want to save the Motorola iPhone X, but I don't think we need to save the dog crap any more. Take it out to the dumpster when no one's looking."

Sara grinned. "Well, Martin, I know something that you probably don't know. If you're in the right-most stall of the women's bathroom, there's a pipe there that lets you hear all of the conversations that go on in this room."

Martin was stunned. "I did not know that." He sat there for a moment. "That explains why Tina resigned her position so suddenly a few weeks ago."

"Well," Sara continued, "even if I hadn't heard your conversations, I probably would have spotted Pablo or Fernando at the dumpster anyway. But it became clear to me that everyone else in the office was enamored with this data analysis center idea. Last Friday, when Scott secretly showed me the analytics report, you would have thought that he was carrying the Holy Grail. I didn't have the heart to tell him that much of it was lifted from a Dungeons and Dragons manual."

"People believe what they want to believe," explained Martin. "One time the so-called analytics report was composed entirely of quotes from Hitler's diaries. Pretty meta, when you think about it."

"Well, everyone in the office believed in it," continued Sara. "But I wanted to find out if you believed it, even though you knew it was a crock. So I dummied up the fake phone, stuck it in the bag with my dog crap, and waited to see what happened."

There was silence around the table.

Martin turned to Pablo. "Well, Pablo," Martin asked, "what did happen?"

Pablo paused for a brief second. "Well, sir," he began, "that was the day that you had your meeting with the new VC people, so you didn't get into work until late in the afternoon. Fernando and I emptied the trash at lunchtime, and that's when we found the phone. I got a little excited, and I owed a journalist a favor, so I took the picture and mailed it to him at about 2:00. I figured that I'd tell you about it when you came in and that we could quash the story if we had to, but by the time you got in a couple of hours later-"

Martin interrupted. "Robert Scoble was being interviewed on CNBC about the Apple-Google partnership. And that's when I went out and hired a private investigator to figure out how a recent college graduate could have access to such company secrets-"

Sara then interrupted. "And that's when my dad's golfing buddy got the weird phone call in the middle of the night, asking why he had purchased Google stock the previous day."

Sara then chose her words carefully. "In my defense," she began. "While I had no idea that the story would have exploded this quickly, all of you - and all of these so-called reporters - should have known better. Every one of you rushed out this story without doing the slightest bit of fact checking. Not that I'm pointing fingers, but I'm not the only one at fault here."

To Sara's relief, Martin's smile seemed genuine. "You're right, Sara. And I was serious when I said that you wouldn't be fired. In fact, you're one of the few clear-headed people around here, and I'm thinking about giving you some special assignments."

"I appreciate that, sir," Sara replied. "But could I ask you a private question?" She looked at Pablo. "Alone?"

"Sure," Martin replied. "Pablo, if you could step out of the room for a minute. And don't go to the right stall of the women's bathroom, please."

Pablo closed the door behind him.

"Your question?" asked Martin.

"Sir, this whole GPS tracking to find piano-playing cats. That's all a crock too, isn't it?"

Sara was referring to the GatoForte application, the one that was the sole project of the company, the one that had resulted in $20 million in startup funding so far.

Martin chose his words carefully. "I expected the question," he said, "and am prepared to offer you the position of Senior Vice President of New Product Development. I'm getting sick of talking about cats all the time."

Sara smiled. "We haven't tackled bacon yet."

Monday, November 18, 2013

KSINF is the acronym for Kiefer Sutherland Is Not Fat. Kiefer is Tim Woodsy's process loving friend.

So I guess all the cool kids are doing Lean these days, and most all of them are talking about the seven types of waste that Lean is supposed to combat. Those types of waste are:


If you look close at the first letters of those seven lines, you will see that they spell "Tim Wood." Ross Graham talks about Tim:

He is not a good man. He is a low life. He has been underneath minding everything you do with great ease and effectiveness. His work may be seen in just in regards to each area of your business. He is very clever in that a great deal of of you do not even comprehend what he has been up to…

His plan is to suck the very lifeblood out of your business. He wants to make it a place with little future, where exuberance is frowned upon, and blame is more comfortable than praise.

But not everyone agrees that Tim Wood is a bad man. Remember how I said that most all of the cool kids are talking about Tim Wood? Well, it turns out that some of them are talking about Tim Woods. Take the seven wastes above, and add an "S" at the end:

S – Skills – Under utilizing capabilities, delegating tasks with inadequate training

While you're processing this bit of confusion over what Lean is supposed to combat, let me tell you why the confusion exists.

I blame Kiefer Sutherland.

Sutherland is probably best known for his recurring role on the television series 24, and it turns out that in season seven, there was a character on the show named Tim Woods, Secretary of Homeland Security.

Naturally, the character had to return for season 8.

As it turned out, the series 24 only broadcast eight seasons in its standard form. What if there had been a ninth season? Would Tim Woods have become Tim Woodsy? Would "Yammer overuse" have become a threat to business?

One person's trash is one bot's treasure (GIGO part one)

Sara's second day at her new job started off relatively normally. The new startup wasn't as weird as her worried parents feared that it would be. "Why join a startup when you can join a real company?" her father had asked. Her parents were placated when they learned that leading Silicon Valley and New York venture capitalists had poured $20 million into the venture. However, when Sara's father asked what she was working on, she simply replied that it was a secret. The secret wasn't closely guarded - most of the industry blogs were talking about it - but Sara didn't want to tell her parents that her company's "killer app" was an Android application that combined GPS with "big data" to find the nearest piano-playing cat.

Despite the odd product, the job itself was pretty normal, and actually wasn't that different from her senior year in college - until 8:30 on the second day, when Sara was walking down the hall.

"What are you doing?" asked Scott, one of Sara's matrixed bosses.

"Taking the trash out to the dumpster," Sara replied.

"You're what?" asked a shocked Scott.

"Hey, it's OK," Sara replied. "I understand that we probably don't have a janitor, so I'm happy to pitch in and take it out myself."

Scott put his hand up. "No!" he barked.

Sara looked at him.

"Sara, I know you're new, but no one should violate the Prime Directive here at GatoForte." Sara half expected Scott to put up his hand in the Vulcan salute, but Scott continued. "Never, ever destroy data."

Sara was starting to get annoyed. "Scott, this is trash, not data."

"Sara," Scott shook his head. "Data is data. Can you imagine the reaction from the press if they found out that our employees were discarding data? Think of the security implications, much less the loss of knowledge."

Sara reached into her trash can and pulled out a gum wrapper, with the gum inside. "Analyze this, Scott," she said, putting it in his hand so that the gum stuck to his finger.

Scott stared at his hand for a second. "Your purchasing habits, your entire health history, possibly information on your dental provider. This is a treasure trove of information, Sara, and we don't just throw it away. And what's the small pink bag, if I may ask?"

"Well, Scott, since you work at a pet-friendly company, you will not be surprised to learn that this pink bag contains dog crap." Sara almost threw it in Scott's face, but restrained herself. "And my dog doesn't have a credit card, so there's no purchasing history there."

"You'd be surprised at what can be gleaned from that data," Scott replied.

"So what am I supposed to do? Leave a pile of dog crap next to my workspace?"

"Of course not, Sara. Pablo!" barked Scott, and a man with a bright yellow uniform ran to Scott's side. "Take this" - and Scott peeled the gum off his hand and put it in the bag - "and this to the data analysis center."

"Data analysis center?" asked Sara, not believing it.

"Yes," replied Scott. "A highly secure area that only four people in the company are allowed to enter. All data delivered to the data analysis center is analyzed by expert software developed on an open-source platform and incorporating the highest levels of security. The NSA couldn't get this data if they tried. So if you have things to get rid of, don't take it to the dumpster. Call Pablo or Fernando, and they'll take care of it for you."

Sara, sufficiently creeped out, felt queasy. She had to go to the bathroom, but was wondering if the pipes were being redirected to Pablo and his data analysis center.

A few hours later, during lunch when the office was empty, Martin walked into the office. As the CEO of GatoForte, he could choose his own work hours, and rarely came in before noon. He immediately went to the data analysis center, pressed his finger on the door lock, and went in to find Pablo and Fernando sitting at a table. No software analysis tools were in sight.

"Anything good today?" asked Martin.

"Nothing," replied Pablo. "Some dog crap from the new girl, but no racy photos or anything like that."

"Any bank receipts?" asked Martin.

"Not on Tuesday," said Fernando. "The employees don't start their drinking binges until Wednesday night."

Martin looked disappointed. "Well, keep an eye on things," he said. "And it looks like everyone is at lunch. Why don't you take this stuff out to the dumpster before they come back?"

Sara, listening to the entire conversation via a pipe in a bathroom stall, quietly smiled to herself. As far as she could tell, everyone else in the office bought this "data analysis center" story. Well, she thought to herself, let's have a little fun and make Martin's day a little more interesting.

To be continued...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Garbage in, garbage out isn't usually about garbage. Usually.

I'm going to share a private post, but since I was the original author of the private post in question, I guess it's OK. In addition, the fact that this post was "privately" shared with over 2,000 people lessens the impact of its privacy setting.

I wrote this back in January on Google+:

Garbage in, garbage out.

Google+ just suggested that I invite my father to join Google+, because it had access to his email address.

Unfortunately for Google+, my father died a couple of years ago.

I really need to clean out my old email addresses.

The phrase "Garbage in, garbage out" (abbreviated as GIGO) is one that you often hear in the tech world, and refers to the practice of drawing conclusions from data that is faulty. In this example, Google extracted a list of email addresses and figured that since these addresses were stored with my data, I'd want to invite these people to join Google+. Google simply grabbed the addresses, not realizing that at least one of those people was never, ever, ever going to join Google+.

Of course, when we use the phrase "garbage in, garbage out," we're not talking about real garbage. We're talking about data that isn't useful.

But what if "garbage in, garbage out" actually involved real garbage?

Stay tuned.

But we're not READING your mail...we're just using tools and capturing the essence of it

I haven’t even finished reading an article and I already want to share A SECOND something out of it. (For the first something, see my post in my tymshft blog about futuristic - or not futuristic - advertising guidance.)

Phil Baumann shared an article by Evgeny Morozov that, among other things, notes that Silicon Valley is not subject to the same critical analysis that is applied to, say, the oil industry. As I said, I’m still reading the article, but I was struck by a particular illustration that Morozov used.

Imagine I told you that the post office could run on a different, innovation-friendly business model. Forget stamps. They cost money – and why pay money when there’s a way to send letters for free? Just think about the world-changing potential: the poor kids in Africa can finally reach you with their pleas for more laptops! So, instead of stamps, we would switch to an advertising-backed system: we’d open every letter that you send, scan its contents, insert a relevant ad, seal it, and then forward it to the recipient.

Sounds crazy? It does. But this is how we have chosen to run our email.

Some time ago, a number of privacy organizations, joined by an entirely disinterested and objective company called Microsoft, alerted the world to Gmail's practices. However, way back in 2004, Tim O'Reilly noted that in essence "everybody does it."

There are already hundreds of millions of users of hosted mail services at AOL, Hotmail, MSN, and Yahoo! These services routinely scan all mail for viruses and spam. Despite the claims of critics, I don't see that the kind of automated text scanning that Google would need to do to insert context-sensitive ads is all that different from the kind of automated text scanning that is used to detect spam.

O'Reilly has a valid point here. I have email accounts with a variety of vendors, and they all have a "junk" folder and have a way to magically place junk in that junk folder. Why am I not calling Congress to complain that my email provider is putting stuff in a junk folder?

A subsequent point that O'Reilly made - to be fair, back before we all had Facebook and Foursquare on our mobile phones - is weaker:

The amount of personal data already collected by credit agencies and direct marketers dwarfs what might be gleaned from email.

However, credit agencies only know what you have already purchased. Other tools, as illustrated in my tymshft post, show what you MAY purchase.

But even O'Reilly had some concerns.

The big question to me isn't privacy, or control over software APIs, it's who will own the data. What's critical is that gmail makes a commitment to data migration capabilities, so the service isn't a one way door to the future. I want to be able to switch to alternate providers if the competition makes a better offer. The critical enabler is going to be the ability to extract my data and connections so that I can work with them on multiple devices, for example, syncing my laptop or phone with my gmail account rather than having to work only in a tethered fashion.

In reality, O'Reilly asked two different questions. The question of whether I can get to my data (and Google has certainly made positive commitments in this area) is a distinctly different question from "who will own the data."

But back to the original question. Let's say that you don't want advertisements in your mail, and that you don't want a bot making the decision regarding whether a piece of mail is "junk" or not. There is a service that allows you to do this, and it will keep all of the Silicon Valley engineers out of your mail. For details on this service, available throughout the United States, visit

Friday, November 15, 2013

Unintended consequences - in Chinese homes

When we Americans look at changes in China, we often think "well those Commies are at it again" or "finally those Commies are using some common sense." OK, maybe you don't look at it that way; perhaps it's just a personal problem.

But when the Chinese government makes a change, it's not doing so to address the American public. It's doing so to address Chinese interests.

And it's important to look at China's relaxing of the "one child" policy through Chinese eyes.

The policy was initially established to address a rapidly expanding population, on the assumption that if China reduced its population growth, it would become more prosperous.

But the decline in the birth rate had an unintended consequence:

Traditionally in China, a son or daughter is often relied upon to provide material assistance to parents and grandparents.

And when there are fewer sons and daughters...

The one-child policy is having a distorting effect on a modernizing society of 1.3 billion whose 194 million citizens over age 60 have few children to rely on for aid. China also needs more workers to maintain economic growth and generate tax revenues to care for a growing elderly population.

And the balance of the population was also affected:

Last year, a government think tank urged China's leaders to start phasing out the policy and allow two children for every family by 2015, saying the country had paid a "huge political and social cost."

The China Development Research Foundation said the policy had resulted in social conflict, high administrative costs and led indirectly to a long-term gender imbalance because of illegal abortions of female fetuses and the infanticide of baby girls by parents who cling to a traditional preference for a son.

So now there are few young Chinese men, and even fewer young Chinese women. I wonder if Russian women are advertising in Chinese newspapers, offering to become brides.

Unintended consequences - in Flanders fields?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

The cultivation of opium poppy in Afghanistan—a nation under the military control of US and NATO forces for more than twelve years—has risen to an all-time high, according to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey released Wednesday by the United Nations.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Though the opium industry is well known to help fuel the insurgency against US and NATO military forces, most opium farmers in Afghanistan continue to say that it is simply the only way they can make a living. Meanwhile, despite having spent billions on eradication efforts in the country, the U.S. military has allowed poppy cultivation to continue in order to appease farmers and government officials involved with the drug trade who might otherwise turn against the Afghan Karzai government in Kabul. Fueling both sides, in fact, the opium and heroin industry is both a product of the war and an essential source for continued conflict.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(Wikipedia, Common Dreams)

If you have a quality event, promote it

Eugene Loj specializes in advance ticket sales and event promotions, but he offers this caution to potential clients:

I don’t think it’s right to hype or advertise something where you can’t meet or exceed the customers expectations. For the purpose of this article, the word hype and promoting/advertising are one and the same. If you can’t [deliver] on your promises, don’t hype it.

But then he continues:

Here is the interesting part ... I’ve seen more instances of great events not being hyped enough as opposed to over hyped. I honestly think too many events fail because they don’t advertise or [promote] enough. Not because the event wasn’t well planned or well executed.

As an example, he cites the Canadian International Air Show, reprinting a letter from Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of the show:

At Canadian International Air Show (CIAS) HQ, we receive a TONNE of calls and e-mails from people interested in scoring access to our exclusive VIP waterfront enclosure. I knew there was a market to sell the CIAS VIP Experience to; but I needed help getting it off the ground.

So you have a customer base clamoring - whoops, they're Canadian, I guess they're clamouring - for VIP tickets, and Loj helped Brown to sell them.

In 2009, we were able to generate $61,645. of VIP tiket sales; $21,270 of which came in the first 60 minutes of tickets going on sale!

And there's one more thing that Brown makes a point of noting:

And the most shocking part? The Canadian International Air Show is a FREE event.

Let's face it - any air show (planes, fireworks, whatever) is by definition a free event, since you can look up into the sky and see the stuff in the air. But in this case, people were willing to pay a premium for a more exclusive experience, and Brown delivered.

No, that doesn't mean that I'm putting my Empoprises blogs behind a paywall.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Do you want to eliminate ALL the tax loopholes? Well, do you?

Whether you're an Occupier, a Tea Partier, or whoever, you're probably mad at the unfair nature of the tax code, and how people take advantage of loopholes to avoid paying their fair share of tax.

And perhaps you're wondering why those terrible tax loopholes aren't eliminated. After all, the 99% outnumbers the 1%, and people outside the Beltway outnumber people within the Beltway.

In fact, why don't we go ahead and eliminate the three largest tax loopholes? Over two years ago, David Leonhardt even helpfully identified the big three.

So, who's going to go to Congress and demand that these be eliminated?

After all, if they're the biggest three loopholes, then they should be eliminated, right?

I detect a pause in your call to action. Oh, very well, I'll let you know the big three that Leonhardt identified.

No. 1 is the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance. [The 2010] health overhaul will start to shrink this loophole in coming years, but the pace will be slow.

Tax health insurance! Get rid of the loophole! Um...who's with me?

OK, let's look at the other two.

Nos. 2 and 3 are the mortgage-interest deduction and the tax break for 401(k) contributions.

Uh, yeah, let's...eliminate...

Leonhardt astutely observed:

If Democrats and Republicans can come together to reduce these tax breaks, which will simplify the tax code and bring down the deficit, it will be very good news. It will also be surprising.

Even so-called "flat tax" proposals aren't that flat. If you read the Heritage Foundation's 2012 flat tax proposal, you'll find the ever-popular exceptions:

The only remaining deductions are for higher education, gifts and charitable contributions, and an optional home mortgage interest deduction.

And even this proposal is considered "radical."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Understanding your competition - a lesson from Afghanistan

Nathan Peterson was an Oklahoma State University football player who is now a coach at OSU. But between his playing and coaching days, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a first lieutenant, deployed to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, of course, the U.S. (and other) forces are fighting against the Taliban. In the course of an April 2013 interview, Peterson noted something interesting about the enemy.

They don't even know who they're fighting sometimes. They called us Russians plenty of times.

Your average U.S. person will react with a jolt at that revelation, especially if they're older. Those of us who left college long ago well remember the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, an invasion that the U.S. opposed. So to an American, being called a "Russian" by an Afghan is especially jarring.

But we have to remember the Taliban perspective. As far as the Taliban is concerned, there's no difference between a Soviet and an American. The Taliban considers both of them to be invaders in their country.

Whether in war or in business, if you fail to understand your enemy/competitor, you cannot defeat your enemy/competitor.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Slice and dice, or turn and burn? You can't be completely environmentally friendly

Everything has unintended consequences.

You want to be an environmentally responsible citizen, and you fear the effects of coal, oil, and especially nuclear energy. So you turn to something much more environmentally friendly - such as wind farms.

Or, as James Ulvog describes them, slice and dice operations. You see, birds fly into the turbines, and as a result hundreds of birds are killed per year at a single site at Altamont Pass. (Altamont just can't get any good press, can it?)

Well, what about solar? Solar power won't chop up birds, will it?

Well, solar power can do other things:

A small bird, barely the size of a human hand, had its wings reduced to a web of charred spines. No longer able to keep aloft, the bird was found on the ground after it had flown through the intense heat of a solar thermal project soon to go online in the California desert.

There is no perfect energy solution, so people are forced to make tough choices.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The customer is always wrong - that lulu of an idea is a lemon

From the Chicago Tribune:

Lululemon has long been known for making athletic clothing that could withstand many years of wear and washes.

But trouble surfaced in March when the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company recalled its top-selling item, women's black yoga pants containing its proprietary Luon fabric, after determining the pants were too sheer.

The Tribune went on to quote from a Bloomberg TV interview.

"Frankly, some women's bodies just don't actually work [for the yoga pants]," Chip Wilson said Tuesday in an interview on Bloomberg TV.

"It's about the rubbing through the thighs ... how much pressure is there," he said.

You can imagine how that went over with Tribune writer "Tribune Staff Report."

The founder of Lululemon said women's bodies may have caused the sheerness problems that plagued its high-priced yoga pants earlier this year.

When the Los Angeles Times got a hold of the story, Susan Denley summed it up as follows.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

St. Joseph's Aspirin - at least on my computer, definitely not for children

Remembering the aspirin that used to be "for children" and is now part of a "doctor approved aspirin regimen," I was surprised to visit and see the embedded links.

Somehow, "a doctor-approved aspirin regimen may reduce the risk of heart mail order viagra without prescription attack viagra or stroke" doesn't sound quite right.

But when one of my Facebook friends checked, he saw nothing out of the ordinary.

What do you see?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My answer on facial detection sex accuracy is answered

(The usual disclaimer applies. Although I do not work with face detection software, I do work in the biometrics industry.)

In a previous post, I blogged about the Amscreen technology that Tesco is using for several purposes, including determination of the sex of the person who is viewing an onscreen ad. I wondered about the accuracy of the technology.

It turns out that Amscreen's facial detection technology is provided by a company called Quividi, and in a December blog post, Quividi provided an answer to that very question.

A test was performed by an independent research company in the USA to evaluate the accuracy of Quividi’s classification algorithms.

Viewers saw a short video clip and at the end of that clip the system ‘read’ them and showed a male video clip to males and a female video clip to females.

The test was very successful and overall we saw a 93% “instant” accuracy rate (i.e. the ability to tell for each single person his or her precise gender) after scanning 856 people.

Specifics are available here, including this interesting tidbit:

52 of the females were wearing baseball caps and our accuracy of this group was only 42%. If we look at the accuracy of the software without any women wearing hats, the accuracy rate increases to over 96%

So when you removed the baseball caps, the female sex detection software was in a league of their own. But shouldn't it be the other way around?

Horse without a face? Tesco, the Biometrics Institute, and Mister Broad

I need to start this with the disclosure that I work in the biometrics industry, and in this role I have been involved with products that offer facial recognition.

But not facial detection:

Tesco's introduction of facial detection (not recognition) systems at its petrol forecourts (The Telegraph, 5 November 2013) is just another example of the public getting exposed to new technology without fully understanding what is happening. But who is asking the consumers what they really want?

"While Tesco is saying that currently images, pictures or personal data of customers are not being recorded or captured, there is a very small step from detection and categorisation to recognition", explains Isabelle Moeller, Chief Executive of the Biometrics Institute. "The main concern is that personal data could be collected without prior consent of the individual. The key privacy principle that must be observed is the principle of informed customer consent."

Ms. Moeller is raising some valid questions, but I found myself all caught up in the use of the phrase "facial detection." When I first read it, I wondered if the software was detecting whether a face was present or not - a situation previously explored by society expert William Broad, whom you may know by another name.

The reason that Moeller used the phrase "facial detection" is because the software is not used to specifically identify a person, according to the referenced Telegraph article:

The 'OptimEyes' system will be rolled out into 450 Tesco petrol forecourts, which serve millions of customers a week.

It works by using inbuilt cameras in a TV-style screen above the till that identify whether a customer is male or female, estimate their age and judge how long they look at the ad.

I am not familiar with this particular product, but the task before it seems difficult. I speak from experience - when a phone solicitor calls me and hears my voice, half the time the solicitor refers to me as "ma'am." (Note to cold-call solicitors: when you refer to someone by the wrong sex, your chances of making the sale are reduced.) I need to investigate and see what level of accuracy this software provides in identifying sex, but it's clearly not 100% - just throw Boy George and Chaz Bono before the cameras and see what happens.

And to top it off, this is being implemented at Tesco - a company that has previously been unable to distinguish a cow from a horse.

At some future point I'll pay an exteneded visit to Amscreen's website to find out more about the technology, and we certainly have to consider the issues that the Biometrics Institute raised.

But for now, let's see what Mr. Broad had to say about age detection.

(Time for another playlist?)

#page462 Buying and selling athlete futures - welcome to Fantex

When I speculated about the company that will eventually replace Walmart (and Amazon), I assumed that this company would reduce cost by passing most employee costs and all inventory costs on to other parties. In my example, a store (Empoprisorium) would provide a company (for example, Vizio) with an area of floor space within the store. Empoprisorium would operate the cash registers for the entire store, but (unlike Walmart) Vizio would be responsible for providing the employees to staff its store area, and would also be responsible for managing the inventory and stocking the shelves. Vizio would end up paying Empoprisorium - among other things, Empoprisorium would get 25% of all of the gross sales from Vizio.

The idea of one business taking a cut from another business is nothing new. We see it all the time. Think of the world of athletes and sports agents; the agent gets a cut of the athlete's earnings.

But what if an entire business is based upon getting a cut from the earnings of others?

Welcome to Fantex:

Fantex Inc. has agreed to buy 10 percent of the future earnings of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis for $4 million in advance of selling shares to the public.

Two weeks ago, Fantex announced the first public offering for an athlete when it filed to raise $10.6 million priced at $10 a share, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Fantex’s main source of income was listed as Arian Foster, a running back for the Houston Texans who has pledged 20 percent of the money he earns both inside and outside the National Football League to the company in exchange for most of the proceeds of the IPO.

But that's only part of it. Fantex also lets you "buy" and "sell" shares in these athletes. Here's how it works:

Fantex is an all-new marketplace where you can buy and sell shares linked to the value and performance of the brand of an athlete — It's real money, real investments, and a real athlete’s brand. However, because you can only trade Fantex, Inc. tracking stocks on this platform, there is no assurance as to the development or liquidity of any trading market.

Now in the social media world there is a lot of starry-eyed wonder (and a lot of jokes) about a social media "expert's" personal brand. However, in the case of professional athletes, they truly are personal brands. Fantex counts on this relationship:

Fantex, Inc. creates a unique brand building platform for athletes to increase the reach and engagement of their brand. Fantex, Inc. signs a contract with an athlete to acquire a minority interest in their brand and builds a plan with a goal to increase its value, leveraging its marketing expertise.

So what does Fantex get?

To finance the acquisition of the contracts, Fantex, Inc. intends to offer equity securities in Fantex, Inc. and establish a tracking stock linked to the separate economic performance and value of the brand associated with the tracking stock – such as income earned from contracts, endorsements and appearance fees. Fantex, Inc. will typically attribute 95% of the acquired brand income under the brand contract to the tracking stock. In addition Fantex, Inc. will attribute to the brand certain expenses of Fantex, Inc. including in certain cases specified expenses related to other tracking stocks that may be issued in the future. Holders of shares of a tracking stock will have no direct investment in the business or assets attributed to the brand contract, associated brand or athlete. Rather an investment in a tracking stock will represent an ownership interest in Fantex, Inc. as a whole.

However, as is true of any investment, there are risks:

[Vernon] Davis lost an endorsement deal with Vita Coco brand coconut water when he talked about a rival drink on his Twitter site this month, according to ESPN....

[Arian] Foster injured his hamstring in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 20.

And later, Foster left a November game with a back injury.

It's no secret why "Fan" is part of the name of Fantex. In the same way that stamp collectors buy stamps and get nothing tangible in return, Fantex presumably hopes that fans will snap up tracking stock in specific athletes that they like. It takes the game of fantasy football to a whole new level. I'd call it "fantasy football on steroids," but perhaps that isn't the best choice of words.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

#page462 OK, we won't kill you, but you had better not make any sandwiches

In an earlier post about the company that will eventually replace Walmart (and Amazon) at the top of the business heap, I included my proposed letter to Vizio, enticing them to participate in my planned store, the Empoprisesorium. A portion of the letter read as follows:

Within your little space, you have complete freedom to sell the stuff any way you want - well, except for a few little rules that we'll impose on how you sell things. If you're a franchise operation yourself, you'll recognize some of the things that you'll see in our 1,000 page guide that we provide to sellers.

Which reminds me - on about page 383 of the guide, you'll see that all sales that you conduct in our store have to pass through our cash registers. None of this booking sales on the floor that go some other way.
If we catch you making sales that don't go through our cash registers, we will kill you. Literally. See page 462.

Of course, this is ridiculous. Outside of criminal activity, no one would kill someone else in a business dispute.

But there's a lot that business can put into an agreement.

Rick Holman, who has shared stuff with me in the past after I wrote about former WAAY reporter Shea Allen, has shared something with me again - and this one involves a franchise that I recently visited (well, not the Michigan location in this article).

A woman is fighting to work at another sandwich shop after Subway enforced her non-compete contract, which she regrets not fully understanding when she was young and signed it....

Several weeks later [Leah] Benene got a job at another sandwich shop. But then she got a letter which contained a copy of the non-compete contract she signed back in December of 2009....

It's a document - she signed - saying she can't work at a competing business within one hundred miles for a full year after leaving Subway. Benene also received this letter from the company attorney telling her she must honor the contract, and the lawyer contacted her new employer as well.

"They also sent the non-compete letter and the lawyer letter directly to that franchise, and, since then, I've been terminated from there," says Benene.

This is just part of the story - the whole thing is here.

I'm not sure how lawyers define "competing business." Is a McDonald's a competing business? An Outback steakhouse? The Swedish meatball area at an Ikea? Of course, the broader the definition of "competing business," the less likely that Leah Benene will be able to find work, meaning that she could theoretically starve to death.

See page 462.

P.S. I was curious to know whether The Wrath of the Internet had struck the Yelp page for Benene's former employer, but as of now it has not.

P.P.S. Not sure what Shea Allen is doing these days. She may (or may not) be writing a book.

#page462 What will the company that replaces Walmart (and Amazon) look like?

If you were to ask anyone who the defining retailer is in the United States today, the answer would probably be Walmart. Some people love the place, and then there are a number of people like Cory Briggs (see my Empoprise-IE posts on Briggs) and Sprawl Busters who are fighting Walmart.

But - and this may surprise some people - Walmart will not last forever, and will eventually be replaced by some other company. Amazon is already threatening Walmart.

In the aforementioned Empoprise-IE blog, I recently addressed this at a local level. A new Walmart opened in Ontario, California at the end of last month; when will it close? It's quite possible that the Walmart that opened with great fanfare just a few days ago may be closed by 2023.

Perhaps it's impossible to speculate what the replacement to Walmart will look like, but I'd be willing to bet that the replacement will pay fanatical devotion to cost control.

Now I know what you're saying - how can any company contain costs more than Walmart? Walmart's non-union policies keep its wages low, its vast buying power exercises supplier control, and it long-standing technological innovation helps manage the Walmart empire efficiently.

However, it's a truth of business that if there's a company that excels at something, a company will pop up that can do it better.

Let's look at two parts of Walmart's financials.

First, take a look at the "Operating, selling, general and administrative expenses, as a percentage of net sales." For the five fiscal years up to January 31, 2012, this percentage was about 19% to 20%.

So all that a competing firm has to do is to get that percentage down to 18%. Or 15%. Or 10%. Or lower?

Now let's take a look at another line - inventories. On January 31, 2012, Walmart inventories were over $40 BILLION dollars.

That's a lot of inventory that's on hand, even with Walmart's vaunted controls. What if Walmart could get the same amount of sales with inventories of only $30 billion? Or $20 billion?

Or $0?

Hear me out. What if we had a company that could do the business that Walmart did, but with a lot less employees and with no inventory - AND could do it by maintaining brick-and-mortar stores where people could walk in and IMMEDIATELY purchase products, unlike Amazon where you might have to wait a day (or longer) to get your stuff?

And interestingly enough, Amazon itself may offer the solution to this problem.

When you buy things from Amazon, you're often not buying from Amazon. In the fine print, you often see that a particular item is not being sold by Amazon, but by some other company. As of March, these third party sellers accounted for 40% of the unit sales conducted through Amazon. Amazon charged fees to those third party sellers, thus getting a cut of their sales. Those fees covered things such as the use of Amazon's website, and the use of Amazon's warehouses.

What if Amazon - or some other company, perhaps a new company - carried this same concept to brick-and-mortar stores, but added more innovation (or more ruthlessness) to it?

This is, of course, nothing new. Every week, there are physical stores that are mere shells, in which independent sellers hawk their wares. These stores are more commonly known as swap meets. But what if you get rid of the cheap Vietnamese trinkets, and replaced those with high-end items, provided directly from the manufacturers? The manufacturers would be ecstatic because they'd have control over the selling of their stuff without depending upon distributors, retailers, and other middlemen - but there would be a price.

So, although I still have to raise a teeny tiny bit of capital to execute this, let me share the first draft of my sales pitch. This is for my future store, the Empoprisorium (Empoprises Emporium). And I'm sending the pitch to well-known electronic manufacturer Vizio.

William Wang
Irvine, California


Here's the deal.

Right now your products are the at mercy of Costco employees and Walmart employees that don't really care about your products, and who may be transferred to the dog food aisle next week. Perhaps you could start your own store, but why not place your products in a store where a lot of people go, and where you can have complete control - and I mean complete control - over how your products are sold?

Here's how it will work.

We provide the store, the cashiers, and the delivery docks. We'll provide you with one or more aisles of floor space to sell your stuff. If you rent space in the back, you'll pay a certain amount. If you rent space in the front, it will cost you a little more.

You provide the salespeople for your part of the store. Rather than depending upon a clueless store employee, you provide the people directly. You compensate them any way you want to; we don't care. You see, the Empoprisorium operating and SGA costs are kept below 5%, so we can't provide employees for anything but the cash registers. You provide the salespeople.

Oh, and you provide the products that you want to sell in the store, and you get them on the floor. None of this "send it to the distribution center and add it to inventory" stuff. Empoprisorium doesn't carry any inventory. And again, we can't provide employees for anything but the cash registers. And our cash register people won't unload your trucks. Get your salespeople to do it.

Within your little space, you have complete freedom to sell the stuff any way you want - well, except for a few little rules that we'll impose on how you sell things. If you're a franchise operation yourself, you'll recognize some of the things that you'll see in our 1,000 page guide that we provide to sellers.

Which reminds me - on about page 383 of the guide, you'll see that all sales that you conduct in our store have to pass through our cash registers. None of this booking sales on the floor that go some other way.
If we catch you making sales that don't go through our cash registers, we will kill you. Literally. See page 462.

Oh, and those sales that pass through our cash registers? We take 25% of the gross sales. That's in addition to the fees that we charge you for floor space. Oh, and a few other charges that are listed on pages 668 through 724 of the guide.

At this point, you're probably hemming and hawing and saying that Vizio would never do business like that, and that Walmart never does anything like that to Vizio. Well, If you don't like our terms, you can keep on selling through Walmart. And Costco. And as far as we're concerned, you can go ahead and sell through Kroger and A&P while you're at it. And you can watch your business go down the toilet while you're at it. (Whoops, that's supposed to go into the Moen letter; I don't think that Vizio makes toilets yet.)

You see, it really doesn't matter to us at the Empoprisorium. You know those Walmarts that are near and dear to your heart? Well, they're all going to close pretty soon - look at the Walmart that just opened in Ontario in 2013 and is about to close because of lack of business. The Montclair Costco and the Montclair Target and the Montclair Best Buy already closed after we opened our superstore in Upland.

So if you're counting on selling your stuff through those stores, forget it. You have to deal with us now.

By the way, Sony has already claimed the space right up front. If I were you, I'd claim the space right behind them right now, before that gets claimed by KitchenAid.

I await your reply.

John Bredehoft
CEO Empoprises d/b/a Empoprisorium
"No inventory. Few employees. Immense profits. Plus page 462."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Giving complex kitchen applicances the finger

I need to start with two disclosures.

First, I have a personal bias toward product designs that are simple. In my view, simple designs mean that fewer things can break.

Second, I must disclose that I work in the biometrics industry.

The second disclosure is required because I am going to talk about a Whirlpool patent application. IPWatchDog:

Today, we’re featuring one patent application that may provide an incredible improvement to computer control systems on home appliances. This application would protect a system of analyzing user characteristics to determine the individual’s identity and bring up a personalized interface....

This patent application, filed by Whirlpool with the USPTO, would protect a system of personalizing the user interface for appliance computing systems. Sensors included on an appliance would be capable of logging biometric information of a user, such as height, appearance and voice. This data can be analyzed to determine the exact identity of a user.

Once the user’s identity has been determined, the appliance user interface can display a personalized interface template.

This is all right and fine, and in a way I support all this stuff, because it has the potential to make more money for me.

But before the applicance industry goes down the biometric route, shouldn't it get its oven temperature sensors to work reliably first?

Freedom to talk about failing (sequel to my earlier post)

Larry Rosenthal has reshared a series of pictures from an event called FailCon - yes, a conference about embracing failure. If you saw my previous post, the conference organizers clearly fall into the positive (Zach Epstein) camp rather than the negative (Scott D. Anthony) camp.

As is his wont, Rosenthal summarized the conference succinctly:

Mother of all #MIPS Conferences. FAILCON 2013!?

you cant make this stuff up.... really... no seriously.

If you are unfamiliar with the #MIPS hashtag, it stands for "media induced psychosis." I provided an example of it here.

So why does FailCon rank in the #MIPS category? While I personally believe that there can be valid conversations about risk and failure, the FailCon discussions appear to be...well, rather insular. Let's look at the conference's about page:

Stop being afraid of failure and start embracing it.

As Anthony notes, however, you don't want to embrace it too tightly.

FailCon is a one-day conference for technology entrepreneurs, investors, developers, and designers to study their own and others' failures and prepare for success.

No problem here, but the next sentence is a doozy.

We all have founded, worked for or invested in startups that have failed.

ALL of us? Again, this points out the myopic nature of Valley "experts" - something I've discussed for years. The entire business world does not revolve around tech startups. Some people work for startups that sell posters. Some people work for companies that are well past the startup stage. But when decision-makers in the Valley assume that the world is just like them, well...failures can happen. Let me share a very prominent example. Steven Edward Streight has shared an article that appeared back in June of this year:

As the first website to be demonstrated by a sitting President of the United States, already occupies an unusual place in history. In October, it will take on an even more important historic role, guiding millions of Americans through the process of choosing health insurance.

How a website is built or designed may seem mundane to many people, but when the site in question is focused upon such an important function, what it looks like and how it works matter. Last week, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) relaunched with a new appearance and modern technology that is unusual in federal-government websites.

"It's fast, built in static HTML, completely scalable and secure," said Bryan Sivak, chief technology officer of HHS, in an interview. "It's basically setting up a web server. That's the beauty of it."

The article goes on to praise the wonderful technologies that were going to be part of the new website, using important words such as "open" and "transparent."

This is better than a big block of proprietary code locked up in a CMS [content management system].

Well, if you've been paying attention to the news over the last few weeks, launched - and offered huge opportunities to, as the cool kids say, "embrace failure."

But let's go back to FailCon's "About" page:

We're smart, we keep up with the latest in technology trends, but sometimes things just don't go as planned. How can you predict what will work and what won't? Well, you can't.

Once you've performed your Stuart Smalley daily affirmation saying how smart you are, you then turn around and say that there's no way to predict what will work and what won't. There is a kernel of truth in the statement, but only a kernel. If one looks at past performance, incorporates simulations, and (most importantly) does a ton of testing, you can get a pretty good idea about whether something will work or whether it won't work.

But that involves too much effort. Better to quote a few buzzwords, throw something against the wall, and hope it sticks.

And just hope that your VC sources are a little patient.

But when your VC source is the U.S. taxpayer, and there's a large group of people that really WANT your project to fail, then the "embrace failure" mantra will NOT lead to success.