Thursday, January 30, 2014

Google is not wise

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about Sujatha Das' definitions of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Jim Ulvog has also written about this; we both referenced Das' original post, in which she defined wisdom as follows:

Wisdom, lastly, has a more active component than data, information, or knowledge. It is the application of knowledge expressed in principles to arrive at prudent, sagacious decisions about conflicting situations. From the viewpoint of the definition given of organizational knowledge, we now ask what an organization is doing when it validates information to produce knowledge, it seems reasonable to propose that the validation process is an essential aspect of the broader organizational learning process, and that validation is a form of learning.

I originally wrote about these definitions in the context of Narrative Science (the algorithm that can automatically create certain types of news articles, such as summaries of earnings reports).

But I recently ran into another case in which the terms apply.

As a member of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals, I receive a weekly newsletter that talks about proposal and procurement trends. While the news is biased toward Federal opportunities (I primarily work in the state and local sphere), the items in the newsletter certainly are interesting. For example, a recent newsletter linked to a Steve Hall post, Why Procurement Isn't Like Google. Hall notes that it is possible to create a procurement algorithm that provides (in Das' terms) data, information, and even knowledge. However:

No-one should know better than a fleet manager whether their company has the most efficient cars or whether there is technology to track fuel consumption in a cost-effective way. Equally, if a food producer is looking to grow into an exciting new market, procurement’s role in building ties with new suppliers and using careful sourcing strategies to obtain ingredients to meet local tastes can be the difference between success and failure.

That wisdom can't be captured in an algorithm. But when the mighty computer screen presents something, we may mistake it for wisdom.

Google does many things, but as an algorithm, it’s constantly saying to you, the user: ’here’s what we think you want’.

However, despite advances that allow companies to detect a woman's pregnancy by the types of searches she performs, these algorithms still have not reached the level of wisdom just yet.

The lesson? If you're using some sort of automated service to obtain knowledge, be sure to apply your wisdom to it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I'm no Scarlett Johansson, but here are MY uncensored comments on SodaStream

Sometimes I wonder why companies even bother to buy Super Bowl ads. As GoDaddy has repeatedly demonstrated, you can get almost as much publicity by getting a Super Bowl ad rejected - and it's certainly a lot cheaper.

Take SodaStream. Their ad has been rejected by Fox, not because of explicit sex acts, but because of four words - one of which is a four-letter word - that Scarlett Johansson utters at the conclusion of the commercial.

If you are a minor, please check with your parents before viewing the video below, or reading the words that appear below it.

Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.

So why am I participating in this viral promotion that is probably intentional? Because it gives me a chance to air MY views about SodaStream, and as long as I have this platform, I'm going to use a NINE letter word. And a four word phrase.

But first, let me tell you what SodaStream is. It's basically a way to make carbonated drinks at home. You take some water, a "carbonator," some syrup, and the SodaStream machine, and you have your own little mini soda machine, kind of like the ones you see in fast food restaurants. Except, of course, that the syrups don't say "Coca-Cola" or "Pepsi."

You buy all the materials from SodaStream itself, or from a retailer - we got ours at Costco. But when you look at the syrups, there's some interesting language in there.

No high-fructose corn syrup in regular flavors. No aspartame in diet flavors.

This raises the question - what DO the flavors contain?

If you look at the ingredients of the cola and the diet cola, both contain sucralose. While I can understand the desire to put an artificial sweetener in a diet cola, why can't the cola just contain sugar? For the record, cola contains both sugar AND sucralose.

LiveStrong (which was previously associated with a person who has intimate knowledge about putting bad things in your body) has said the following about sucralose:

Sucralose may be a trigger for migraines, according to a study published in the August, 2006 issue of ''Headache: Journal of Head and Face Pain.'' Physicians should keep the potential causal relationship between sucralose and migraines in mind when they are taking the health history of people who suffer migraines, recommends lead study author Rajendrakumar M. Patel of the Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Georgia....

A study by Y.F. Sasaki published in the 2002 ''Journal of Mutation Research'' concluded that high doses of sucralose led to DNA damage in the gastrointestinal organs of mice. The dose given was 2,000 mg per kg of body weight. According to, the acceptable intake for sucralose is 9 mg per kg of body weight each day. Based on his study results, Sasaki recommended more extensive study of sucralose and 38 other food additives....

A report from Australia's National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme cites two studies on rats that were given the substance at extremely high doses. These studies found a decrease in mean thymus weight. The report also noted, however, that sucralose would not be classified as hazardous under NOHSC's criteria for classifying a hazardous substance. The amount of sucralose given to the rats was 3,000 mg per kg of body weight daily for some 28 days. That would translate to 240 g sucralose, or more than 20,000 individual packets of Splenda per day, for 28 days for a 176-pound person, translates

While some of these doses are extremely high, it would be nice to have the alternative of having SodaStream mixes with just sugar and nothing else.

As a result, I pretty much use my SodaStream to make soda water, and nothing else. Although I'm still looking for some more natural mixes.

Oh, and a little postscript - if you clicked on my GoDaddy-related link above, you'll see that my old Ontario Empoblog post talked about one Amber Nykola, who was not impressed with GoDaddy's 2005 Super Bowl commercial and who announced that she was going to transition, and her other 35 domains, to another registrar. As she noted in a comment to my post, it takes a long time to transfer 36 domains, especially when at least one of them was set to auto-renew with GoDaddy.

Nearly a decade has passed, is still operational (although it hasn't been updated in over four years), and the domain is registered with...GoDaddy. I wanted to search the site to see if she made any post-2005 comment on her registration, but unfortunately the search engine on her site isn't currently operational. Her Twitter profile describes her as an ex-blogger, so presumably the issue isn't that important any more.

And GoDaddy itself has moved on.

In which I utter the words "East Rutherford." Hardly anyone else will.

If you know how I feel about Rita Moreno of Arte, and if you know how I feel about my local airport that is named for another city, then you can guess how I feel about things like this:

Everything is bigger in New York, and 2014′s Super Bowl XLVIII is no exception. Already the undisputed king of yearly sporting events, this year’s rendition of the big game will have arguably the largest economic impact of any sporting event held on US soil since the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Oh, and this:

Cassella watched a Verizon FiOS commercial featuring former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw competing with a little girl for the opportunity to attend the big game in New York. The little girl eventually won out, but Cassella dismissed the dream image of a game and accompanying crowd in New York.

So why would Cassella - his name is Jim Cassella - dismiss Terry Bradshaw's dream image of a New York football game?

That's an easy question to answer. You see, Jim Cassella doesn't live in New York. He lives across the river in a small town in New Jersey. It's a really small town - population 8,900 - and most people haven't heard of it.

Well, die-hard sports fans have heard of it.

Cassella's home town is the borough of East Rutherford, New Jersey. And while many of us will be glued to our TV this Sunday, the town of East Rutherford will be hosting a football game of its own.

Yet on the day of the game, many viewers will not realize that the game that's being played in East Rutherford, New Jersey is the game that they're watching intently.

East Rutherford, home to the sporting complex that is named MetLife Stadium this week, is used to this.

[H]e’s also been denied at the gate of celebrations, most memorably by the Devils. Cassella says he was invited to a Stanley Cup celebration, and showed up to engage with fans.

He was asked for his name, and an attendant informed him that he was not on the guest list.

But Cassella hasn't been ignored by everybody. The Giants have been to the Super Bowl during his time in office - Cassella, by the way, is the mayor of East Rutherford - and he has twice won bets against the AFC team's home town.

The town is Foxborough, Massachusetts. You probably haven't heard of it.

But at least in that case, the home team isn't named for a non-Foxborough area.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Principles vs. reality

The Air Force does not tolerate cheating, period. It's unacceptable. Most of our airmen believe in, abide by, and live our core values of integrity, service and excellence....When we know of those who don't, it takes courage to speak out, step up and set the right example.

The quote above came from a statement issued by Lieutenant General Stephen Wilson of the Global Strike Command of the United States Air Force. Others, however, allege that officers knew about and DID tolerate cheating at the Air Force's nuclear missile sites.

This is not the first time that an organization has strayed from its principles, and it will not be the last. In a world where a U.S. Attorney General ends up in prison, these things happen.

TorMail? You could always write notes in invisible ink

Back in early 2012, there was a forum thread that discussed a service called TorMail. Even the proponent of TorMail, grandpaflo, made the point of saying this:

...nor should you trust *any* free e-mail provider for *anything*. You and your data *are* the product.

Now we're reminded of this via Kevin Poulsen, who wrote:

While investigating a hosting company known for sheltering child porn last year the FBI incidentally seized the entire e-mail database of a popular anonymous webmail service called TorMail.

Now the FBI is tapping that vast trove of e-mail in unrelated investigations.

Poulsen provided details later in the Wired article:

[T]he FBI obtained a search warrant for the TorMail account, and then accessed it from the bureau’s own copy of “data and information from the TorMail e-mail server, including the content of TorMail e-mail accounts”...

The tactic suggests the FBI is adapting to the age of big-data with an NSA-style collect-everything approach, gathering information into a virtual lock box, and leaving it there until it can obtain specific authority to tap it later. There’s no indication that the FBI searched the trove for incriminating evidence before getting a warrant. But now that it has a copy of TorMail’s servers, the bureau can execute endless search warrants on a mail service that once boasted of being immune to spying.

This brings new meaning to the term "private cloud."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

LinkedIn User Fail of the Day

This morning, I received a request to connect on LinkedIn from someone who identified herself as a "Human Resources Professional."

Even if you're happy at your job, circumstances can change, so it's always good to maintain such contacts.

So I checked her profile to see why she chose to contact me. Is she based in the Los Angeles area? Does she interact with a number of biometric or proposal people? How many of my LinkedIn contacts are directly connected to her?

The answers:

1. She is based in a different state.
2. From what I can tell, she has no specific experience with biometric or proposal people.
3. She is a third level connection, not a second level connection.

Oh, and this:

4. According to her LinkedIn profile, she hasn't worked herself since she left her contract job in September 2011.

I chose not to connect.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Anti-Problem - a brainstorming technique

Jon Williams of Strategic Proposals (one of the Proposal Guys) was looking at a bookshelf in Utrecht and found a book entitled Gamestorming. One of the techniques in the book fascinated him:

I particularly liked their concept of “The Anti-Problem”: ask the team to solve the problem that is the exact opposite to the challenge that they’re currently facing.

Williams then tried to apply the concept to proposals (example: "if we wanted to persuade the client not to choose us, what would we say in the proposal?"). Obviously, the Anti-Problem can be applied to many other situations.

Dave Gray, one of the co-authors of Gamestorming, has discussed the Anti-Problem in a blog post. The post offers some tips on applying the technique:

It is most useful when a team is already working on a problem, but they’re running out of ideas for solutions....

The more extreme the problem’s opposite, the better.

The idea of creating an opposite problem that is as extreme as possible resonates with me. Otherwise, you may be concentrating on trivialities.

Incidentally, Cara Turner takes this idea, an extreme by discussing something called the "Destruction Plan." ( can I write a proposal that not only loses the bid, but also ensures that the customer will never, ever even want to hear my company's name again?)

I'm going to try the technique at some point. I probably won't be able to share the results in this blog, since I'll probably try using it on a confidential job-related item, but if I can, I'll share some generalities about whether the technique was helpful.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

On lead nurturing, from .@jonmiller and .@sladenwest

In business, if you're not talking about stacks, you're talking about funnels. (Now you see why I play with Lego blocks and their equivalents - all these stacks and funnels are very concrete.)

Of course, the term "funnel" refers to an opportunity funnel. Let's say that you sell...Lego blocks. Of the billions of people in the world, there are only some who like to build things, fewer who have a need to build things, even fewer who are receptive to the idea of using Lego blocks to build things, only a select few who will buy Lego blocks, and fewer still who will buy Lego blocks from you.

How do you funnel the universe down to those people who will actually buy your product?

One possible approach is to attack - I mean, contact - people at the early stages of the funnel. As Jon Miller points out, this may not go so well.

Jim, my name is Mike, and I’m your sales rep from Widgets R-Us. I saw you downloaded our whitepaper “10 Ways to Improve Profits through Widget Optimization” and I wanted to know if you have any questions…. Oh, you haven’t read it yet? That’s OK. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?

And that's just the beginning of the attempted - and unsuccessful - pitch. Read the rest here.

Miller and others recommend the use of "lead nurturing" during these early stages, in which an organization other than the sales organization works the earlier stages of the funnel. As Sladen West explains:

The top of the funnel is the informational stage. At this point, you interact with anyone looking for general information about your industry or product. Seek to provide as valuable of information as possible at this stage without asking for anything in return.

The next step is the evaluation stage. When leads are at this stage, they have decided they have a business problem to be addressed and are looking at options of how to solve this problem. Finally, at the consideration stage, the leads have identified the problem and solution and are now selecting the vendor they want to use.

That's when you call sales in.

West then names three things that lead nurturers need to remember. You can find them here.

(West, incidentally, is a freelance writer whom I learned about through the Association of Proposal Management Professionals. His primary area of expertise? He "is dedicated to safe driving skills gained through defensive driving courses." My guess is that he has run into a pushy driving course company - or, more likely, a pushy car salesperson - which led him to research lead nurturing.)

Why a multi-millionaire such as Vince Young needed a high-interest loan

Vince Young's bankruptcy filing is all over the news now. Allegations of things such as $300,000 birthday parties are floating about. In addition, Young has sued his former agent (a family friend), his former financial adviser, and a lending company that loaned Young over a million dollars.

I'm not going to concentrate on Young's spending habits; there's enough about that out there. I'm going to concentrate on the fact that Young, or his advisors, or whoever, ended up getting a loan with interest rates as high as 36%.

That story was pretty much told in April 2011, when the NFL players were on strike. At the time, Rand Getlin wrote:

Much was made of the NFLPA's preparation for the current lockout, which focused on raising players' financial awareness and surviving a months-long battle with no paychecks in sight. The union even went as far as asking players to save a minimum of three game checks from the 2010 season, in hopes of staving off any financial peril this off-season. But one prominent financial adviser, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, told that it's becoming clear many players didn’t follow the union's advice.

One of the lenders was Darien Dash of Pro Player Funding. Although it wasn't revealed at the time, Vince Young was one of the players who had a loan with Pro Player Funding.

One of those sports-specific lenders is Darien Dash, the Managing Director/Sports of Pro Player Funding. His business is one of a handful of boutique lenders which focus primarily on the business of professional athletics, filling a unique niche in an already-exclusive market.

While Dash would not discuss specifics in order to preserve client confidentiality, he said his company has facilitated lending to "several guys" in the NFL. And although Dash declined to discuss whether he has seen an increase in requests for lending in the run up to the lockout, he emphasized the need for players to secure enough money to survive the work stoppage.

"This is a very pivotal and important negotiation for the players," Dash said. "And to the extent that anybody is providing them with a lifeline or a resource to help them to have the financial wherewithal -- to be able to renegotiate what they feel is a fair labor contract -- I think it’s important.

"I know of five, 10, 15 guys in [the sports-lending] space that are all trying to provide resources to players as they [go through the lockout]. I think it's an important dynamic to understand that this is the war chest, or the leverage that players need to be able to get the best deal."

While Dash expressed concern that players might be entering into these agreements without competent legal counsel -- and indicated his company would never close a deal where the borrower wasn’t represented -- he emphasized that players who secure lending are adults and are ultimately responsible for their actions.

"Nobody's out here forcing these guys to do this -- in terms of putting the gun to their head and making them do it," Dash said.

But why would a player have to go to someone such as Dash? Why is there a "sports lending" market anyway? Why can't an NFL player just go down to the local bank and get a loan?

Because, as Getlin revealed, they don't qualify for regular loans.

[S]ome players simply don't qualify for loans from traditional lenders, which typically generate interest in the range of 3.25 to 10 percent. Complicating things further, the unsecured loans many players seek are reserved for top-tier clients and "are mostly a thing of the past," according to one bank executive. And in the absence of lending from traditional institutions, sports-specific lenders have begun to fill the void in the market.

Remember the old saying that you can only get a loan if you already have a bunch of money? Well, in some cases, even having all the money doesn't qualify you for the loan. While we commonly think of professional football players as incredibly wealthy people, the fact remains that NFL players have relatively short careers - even with the most optimistic estimates, a successful player has an average career length of 9 years. And when looking at an individual career, an injury or a deterioration of skills could end a career at any moment.

An auto mechanic with ten years' experience may daydream about the immense wealth of an NFL player, but chances are that the auto mechanic can walk into the local bank and get a loan, while the NFL player will be denied a loan from the same bank.

As a result, people much less prominent than Vince Young really have it hard:

Former 11-year veteran with the Broncos, Bills, Colts, Raiders was living in a FEMA trailer with no running water. Suffers from head injuries and post-concussion syndrome—short-term memory, inability to concentrate/focus, severe depression.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

And I thought that *I* was wordy

You may not believe this, but I have a goal of concise writing - something I don't always achieve.

But even I would pause before writing an article with the title 9 steps to more concise business writing.

Yes, that's 9 steps. Because eight ISN'T enough.

To be fair to the author, he does make the point that "concise writing is not necessarily about having the fewest words. It is about having the strongest and clearest words."

But 9 steps?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The perils of sponsorship - the acronyms P&G, NBC, IOC, and LGBT in the ex-CCCP

In normal cases, a sponsorship deal is a win-win situation for the sponsor and for the entity or person being sponsored. That entity/person gets money, and the sponsor gets name recognition. In addition, both parties profit from the mutual association - think Michael Jordan and Nike, for example.

In normal cases.

Sometimes, the sponsor does something embarrassing that reflects poorly on the entity being sponsored. Remember Enron Field?

But sometimes it's the other way around.

I went to the garage this morning to grab a popular cleaning product, and I happened to notice that the company that produces that product - Procter & Gamble - is an official Olympic sponsor.

So, naturally, what was the first thing that popped into my mind?

"Boy, Procter & Gamble doesn't like the gay people, I guess."

Obviously, this is unfair to Procter & Gamble, and (although this can be debated) may also be unfair to the Olympic movement itself.

P&G certainly isn't responsible for Russia's stance on "gay propaganda" or whatever; Procter & Gamble enjoys a positive relationship in the LGBT community. At the same time, however, its airing of ads in Russia has resulted in controversy within that same community.

The International Olympic Committee may not get off so easily. While the legislation in question was passed after Sochi was selected as the Olympic site, there are people who question whether the IOC's pursuit of the almighty dollar is blinding them to everything else.

Note that I said almighty dollar, not almighty ruble. The International Olympic Committee's funding comes primarily from broadcast rights, and roughly half of the broadcast revenue comes from one country - the United States, where NBC paid $1.2 billion to cover the 2012 London Olympics.

As you may know, I do not care for the way in which NBC broadcasts the Olympics. (Neither does Dave Barry.) But next month, there's going to be a huge new undercurrent to NBC's coverage of the Sochi Olympics. What will Bob Costas say about LGBT rights? What will he say about demonstrations? What is he not saying? Why not?

Now one can debate whether NBC's Olympic coverage should solely focus on sport, or whether it should acknowledge the surrounding issues. But however you feel about this, you have to acknowledge that the coverage is there.

And somewhere in Cincinnati, a Proctor & Gamble marketing executive is burying his or her head in his or her hands.

P.S. regarding the title - yes, the CCCP isn't Russia. But after all, we're talking about Putin here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why the F word is important to business

I enjoy extrapolating things and applying them widely, and I'd like to do that with something that author R. White wrote to people who sell to U.S. Federal agencies. White identified six steps that are necessary to establish a Federal sales network; while White believes that the second step is the most important, I couldn't help but notice that White repeated one word several times in his first step.

1. Focus on a few selected agencies where you have done business or who naturally buy what you sell. The key to federal sales is focus. Focus on select agencies, focus on existing customers, and focus on your competitor’s end-users. Growth will occur naturally outside the targeted agencies based on your reputation and network of relationships.

Of course, as the author of five separate blogs, I'm not the best practitioner of focus, but at least I try to keep myself within those five topics and not veer off into other stuff.

Additional thoughts on focus have been shared by Al Ries:

My company, Ries & Ries, works with clients all the time looking for ways to narrow their focus and get them out of offering too much stuff. However, many businesses aren’t keen on the idea, because when one narrows their focus they have to drop some product.

Ries then cites the example of Burger King, which was selling twelve different hamburgers. Burger King management was afraid that if it dropped some of those hamburgers, those sales would be lost forever. But Ries points out that Burger King forgot something:

[T]hey don’t look at the long term implication. The implication is when you simplify your product line, you make it easier for consumers to know what you’re selling and you’ll sell more, but not necessarily in the short term.

Ries then cites an example of a major automotive brand, and asks if the brand means anything. Read his comments here (excerpts) or here, here, and here (the whole thing).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My 2010 joke became all too serious in 2013

Back in 2010, I wrote a biometric post that included source material derived from the Wikileaks materials. After warning U.S. government employees that they might have to stop reading the post, I proceeded to say the following:

The feed linked to a Zeenews article that quoted from a Wikileaks cable marked as confidential (and available from the Guardian, which has not yet been classified as a terrorist organization).

Ha ha ha.

Fast forward to November 2013:

A senior Conservative politician has intensified pressure for the Guardian newspaper to be prosecuted over its role in disclosing secrets about Britain’s spying capabilities.

Dr Liam Fox has written to Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), urging her to set out whether the newspaper breached counter-terrorism laws by publishing secrets which were stolen by the former US spy contractor Edward Snowden.

The former defence secretary’s letter asks the DPP how a prosecution against the Guardian could be “initiated”, although Dr Fox has not yet indicated whether he would be prepared to trigger such action himself.

This is a very odd situation. As I've already noted, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who believes that Edward Snowden is guilty of treason, was relying on the information leaked by Snowden to criticize the NSA for monitoring Angela Merkel and others. This is called having your cake and eating it too; without Snowden's leaks, Feinstein - chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee - would not have known what her own government was doing.

Wait; it gets better.

Yonatan Zunger and Andreas Schou have shared a Bruce Schneier post in which he was telling a few people about what the NSA was doing.

The people were Members of Congress.

Wait; it gets better.

Surreal part of setting up this meeting: I suggested that we hold this meeting in a SCIF, because they wanted me to talk about top secret documents that had not been made public. The problem is that I, as someone without a clearance, would not be allowed into the SCIF. So we had to have the meeting in a regular room.

I hope they didn't discuss Chinese gait recognition advances in that regular room.

Brand vs. commodity - your favorite brands probably run commodity servers

Consumers couldn't care less about servers. Consumers deal with the hardware that's in front of them - often a laptop or a tablet.

But for enterprises, servers are obviously very important. While enterprises have to buy laptops and tablets (and desktops) for their employees, the businesses themselves run on servers - either an enterprise's own servers, or servers from a cloud provider.

When you look at the server market, it continues to be dominated by the big three - HP, IBM, and Dell. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), these three vendors alone were responsible for two-thirds of all 2013 third quarter server sales. Cisco and Oracle round out the top five.

While there are interesting increases and decreases among the top five, IDC paid special attention to a newly-defined category: "original design manufacturer" (ODM) sales.

In response to evolving market demand within large scale, Web 2.0, and cloud hosting environments, Original Design Manfucturers (ODMs), such as Quanta Computer, Wistron Group/Wiwynn, Inventec Corporation, Compal Electronics, etc., are selling both complete systems and partial sub systems -- where final assembly is completed in the channel by integrators – into the market....

ODM Direct server demand grew 45.2% year over year in 3Q13 to $783 million as unit shipments increased 30.7% to 325,685 servers. ODM Direct servers now represent 6.5% of all server revenue and 14.4% of all server shipments.

And who is buying ODM Direct servers? According to IDC, these are primarily sold in the United States, and are primarily purchased by companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Rackspace.

This is interesting, because all four of the companies mentioned by IDC have very strong brands, and work hard to emphasize their brand identities. But behind the scenes, their offerings are run on servers from manufacturers that most of us don't even know about.

Let's face it - when was the last time that you saw an ad that said, "Amazon proudly runs on Wiwynn"?

When little Timmy saw the headless mouse-man (Apollo Global and Chuck E. Cheese)

Little Timmy was very excited. It was the Saturday before his fourth birthday, and little Timmy's parents were taking him to his favorite place in the world, Chuck E. Cheese. Timmy and his friends were going to eat pizza, drink cola, play games, and see the great Mister Chuck E. Cheese himself. Timmy was so excited that he was jumping around in the back seat of the minivan, but his parents ignored this.

What they couldn't ignore, however, was the scene in the parking lot when they arrived at the restaurant.

Timmy saw it also, and what he saw confused him greatly. There were a bunch of men and women standing next to two limousines in the parking lot. They were well dressed and wore suits, ties, and professional dresses like Timmy's mom and dad had to wear when they went to their boring jobs.

Except that one of those next to the limousines was neither a man nor a woman. This one was as tall as a person, and had the head of a person, but had the body of a large mouse. And shockingly, this mouse-man was holding a mouse's head in his hands.

Timmy stared at the mouse-man, and then realized something even more shocking. The mouse head was the head of his favorite mouse in the entire world, Chuck E. Cheese!

"What happened to Chuck E. Cheese?" asked Timmy, who started to cry.

"I'm sure that Chuck E. Cheese is OK," said Timmy's dad, unconvincingly. "Why don't we go inside and get some pizza, and I'm sure that Chuck will be in there himself in a few minutes?"

Reluctantly, Timmy agreed, and walked into the restaurant with his parents. His parents tried to prevent him from looking at the crowd by the limousine, but as he entered the restaurant, he caught a brief glimpse of the mouse-man apparently shedding his skin and his tail.

The crowd by the limousine ignored the family. They had more important matters on their minds.

The mouse-man, who now looked like a regular man, was saying, "Now that the deal is concluded, and Apollo Global has purchased Chuck E. Cheese, I hereby offer you the official mouse suit. Apollo, go ahead and put it on, and greet your admirers!"

(Note: the conclusion to this story is subject to change if a competing firm comes up with a better offer.)

Why I do not fear Big Brother, the NSA - FBI edition

I have repeatedly said that the nature of bureaucracy serves to prevent any concerted Big Brother event from happening. Conspiracy theorists imagine that Mossad and the CIA and Dow Chemical are all plotting against us from an underground bunker in Brussels, but the truth is that organizations don't want to cooperate with each other.

The New America Foundation, which doesn't really care for this NSA spying stuff, has made the following statement about the challenges facing government security agencies:

[T]he overall problem for U.S. counterterrorism officials is not that they don’t gather enough information from the bulk surveillance of phone data and emails, but that they don’t sufficiently understand or widely share the information they already possess that is derived from conventional law enforcement and intelligence techniques.

The Foundation even cites a specific example, which happens to be the example that justifies bulk surveillance in the first place:

The analysis also shows that the plot the government uses to justify the importance of the bulk collection of phone metadata program – that of a San Diego cabdriver who provided money to and al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia – calls into question the necessity of the Section 215 bulk collection program. In that case, after using the NSA’s controversial database to link a number in Somalia to Moalin, the FBI waited two months to begin an investigation and wiretap his phone. Although it’s unclear why there was a delay between the NSA tip and the FBI wiretapping, court documents show there was a two-month period in which the FBI was not monitoring Moalin’s calls, despite official statements that the bureau had Moalin’s phone number and had identified him. This undercuts the government’s theory that the database of Americans’ telephone metadata is necessary to expedite the investigative process, since it clearly didn’t expedite the process in the single case the government uses to extol its virtues.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

So "organic" means "contains organisms," I guess

Jason Allen shared something from that well-known business publication Mother Jones. However, Tom Philpott's article is certainly relevant to business, disclosures, and truth in advertising. Excerpts:

[W]hile preparing my recent piece on the recent blockbuster Consumer Reports study on supermarket chicken and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I learned that at the industrial hatcheries that churn out chicks for the poultry industry, eggs are commonly injected with tiny amounts of an antibiotic called gentamicin....

Now that was surprising enough, but Philpott was really surprised when he learned something else.

The practice is allowed in organic production, too.

Philpott clarifies that the eggs aren't sold as organic eggs, but meat from the chickens that hatch from the eggs are sold as organic.

Be sure to read Philpott's article. Among other things, it contains some speculation as to why the gentamicin is injected - and it may not just be for antibiotic reasons.

In addition to sterilizing the egg, [Robert Martin from Johns Hopkins] pointed to another possible benefit of the injections—that they "probably aid in rapid growth of the chick in the egg"—i.e., growth promotion....

I fully expect Alex Rodriguez to be downing a dozen eggs a day shortly.

In Pune, India, there are people who WANT biometric attendance machines

Since I am employed in the biometric industry, I do a lot of reading about things that are going on in my industry. In the course of this reading, I've run across many stories about biometric attendance systems in India. Without fail, these stories describe significant objections to these attendance systems by the people who are forced to use them. Here's an example:

March 25, 2013 - The Karnataka Government College Doctorate Teachers’ Association has filed an objection to the Department of Collegiate Education’s (DCE) move to introduce biometric workforce management systems, calling it a “travesty.”

First reported in the New Indian Express, H Prakash, the president of the teachers’ association, thinks if attendance is an issue, school administrators should be the ones to enforce the policy, not machines.

“It is the principal who is responsible for ensuring that teachers com on time,” Prakash said. “Why should we have principals when devices can do their job?”

However, I recently ran across a story about people in India who are IN FAVOR of biometric attendance machines.

PUNE: City based transport unions have urged the Regional Transport Officer (RTO) and the state transport department to install biometric system at the Regional Transport Offices (RTO) to monitor attendance and punctuality of staff and officers.

Why? Because rickshaw owners and other who are represented by the unions claim that they can't get RTO staff to process their forms. Pradeep Bhalerao says:

"Drivers of transport vehicles like autorickshaws and tempos face delays to complete field tests required for permit renewals and licenses at RTO's Alandi road office due to absence of inspectors."

This is an interesting dynamic, and perhaps we'll see customers in other industries demand that vendors use biometrics. Let's face it - I will personally benefit financially if, when you next get into an Uber car, you ask the driver to provide evidence that their fingerprints were submitted to the FBI's NGI system for a civilian background check. Even if you personally think that fingerprint checks are evil, will you support your cab driver or teacher who refuses to get printed?

(Needless to say, my fear/uncertainty/doubt statements are my own and are not necessarily those of my employer.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Remember that NFL concussion settlement from last summer? Re-read the reporting on it.

I was surprised when I heard the latest news about last summer's NFL concussion settlement.

A federal judge denied preliminary approval of a $765 million settlement of NFL concussion claims, fearing it may not be enough to cover 20,000 retired players.

U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody asked for more financial information from the parties, a week after players' lawyers filed a detailed payout plan for her review.

However, I shouldn't have been surprised. I went back and read one of the stories from last August very carefully.

The NFL has reached a tentative $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players, agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research.

Did you catch that sixth word? "Tentative"?

I should have been paying attention.

The odd thing about this denial of preliminary approval is that both sides, including the players' lawyers, had been satisfied with the initial tentative settlement - partially because the players' lawyers were concerned about the costs of players going to trial, and having to prove that any concussion symptoms were caused by football.

Of course, I missed one other tidbit from that August report:

Christopher Seeger, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said ... he expects preliminary approval of the agreement by Brody within the next two months.

Well, it's five months later. Looks like everyone involved missed the deadline. (Elvis Dumervil, by the way, is now a Baltimore Raven - and according to Wikipedia, he fired his agent.)

Big Data from the Retail Equation

I have previously discussed The Retail Equation. For those who missed my previous posts or who haven't heard of this firm, The Retail Equation helps retailers manage merchandise returns, with the purpose of identifying "serial returners" and guarding against things such as "wardrobing" (buying clothing for an event, and returning it for a refund after the event).

But in addition to managing returns, The Retail Equation gathers up a lot of data. (Doesn't everybody?) And since we have just concluded the busiest return days of the year (post-Christmas), the company has shared some of its statistics on holiday returns.

For example, on a state by state basis, the state with the highest rate of returns ("comparing total dollars purchased to total dollars returned and exchanged") was Ohio, with 25.6%. The lowest was Nevada, with 16%. You can see why retailers want to manage this; in the worst-case scenario, only 75% of the products that are purchased remain as purchases.

Oh, and the high point of returns occurred at 12:42 pm Pacific time on December 26. I think I waited on my exchanges (wrong shirt size) until December 27 or 28; no way do I want to brave the December 26 madhouses.

The pros and cons of insulting your integrity to get the business

Many years ago, when I worked for a company that sold licensed Kris Kross products, we had to make a decision between two competing vendors. I made the comment that it was like choosing between Daddy Mack and Mack Daddy.

Back in 2005, a purchaser faced a similar problem when choosing between two vendors - and came up with a novel way to solve the problem.

Takashi Hashiyama, president of Maspro Denkoh Corp., which owned the art work, had asked Sotheby's and Christie's to each choose a weapon — rock, paper or scissors — because he could not decide which auction house to use for the sale.

"I sometimes use such methods when I cannot make a decision," Hashiyama told The New York Times in an April 29 story. "As both companies were equally good and I just could not choose one, I asked them to please decide between themselves and suggested to use such methods as rock paper scissors."

So after making a number of concrete arguments about why one company was better than the other, the entire sales decision rested on chance.

As you can imagine, proposal professionals - who are always keen to emphasize the advantages of their company's products over competitors, and who do not want to reduce a decision to a commodity price decision - can be horrified by this. Jon Williams of The Proposal Guys commented:

And does anyone else rather hope that if their sales director was asked to settle a bid in such a ridiculous way, they’d have the pride, integrity and confidence to walk away?!

Yes, in a sense this IS a matter of integrity. If you truly believe in what your company is doing, you do not want to leave the whole thing to chance.

Or perhaps you do.

For one thing, if you are in a two-person contest and are asked to play a game of rock, paper, scissors to decide a winner, agreeing to play the game only provides you with a 50% chance of winning. But if you don't play the game, you have a 0% chance of winning.

Second, the USA Today article on the Hashiyama case made an interesting point:

Using a game of chance to make a decision is not unusual in Japan.

Now perhaps Jon Williams, who generally competes for contracts in the United Kingdom, or I, who generally competes for contracts in the United States, aren't used to such decision tactics. And, in addition, we are used to making relatively quick decisions. In Japan, people generally do not have all of the information, or authority, to make a decision quickly.

The decision-making process of Japanese firms has its roots in Japan’s feudal period, when a large proportion of the Japanese population lived in rice farming villages. Due to its economies of scale, rice farming is not something that it makes sense to do on ones own. It’s much easier to band together, so whole communities would pool their labor and work all their fields together as a group. Decisions were made collectively as well, with the elders of the village playing an important role.

When you look at it from that perspective, Takashi Hasiyama's trusting to chance makes sense. After all, from his perspective, he did not have all of the information necessary to make the decision. So why not leave it to a rock, paper, scissors game?

Oh, and for those who must know - Christie's chose scissors. Sotheby's chose paper. Scissors cut paper.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Should leaders do grunt work?

In some instances, a leader is distinguished by setting himself/herself apart from the people who are being led.

In other instances, a leader is right there in the fray.

I'll grant that leadership in the United States Marines is somewhat different than cubicle leadership. But perhaps certain circumstances warrant that all leaders do what "the enlisted" are doing.

Take the example of a Marine who recently received a combat meritorious promotion, Gunnery Sergeant Brent Sheets.

Sheets said he was exposed to leaders who have a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality throughout his Marine Corps career. He believes that goes against what his father taught him.

“I never want to be that type of person, and that’s why I do everything with my Marines,” said Sheets. “No matter if it’s working on a vehicle or picking up trash. I’m going to be right beside them.”

This was observed by one of Sheets' corporals, Austin Adams.

“I remember seeing him police call with us,” said Adams. “I was thinking, ‘what is he doing?’ Afterward, I realized he doesn’t just talk up a big game, but he would actually do everything we do.”

Adams, inspired by Sheets, ended up re-enlisting.

All aboard? Why you should dump the hippie bus

It turns out that the University of Michigan has a Transportation Research Institute, and that Professor Michael Sivak has been doing some comparative research on various modes of transportation. Unfortunately, cost is not included in the released measurements; Sivak concentrates on BTU per person mile.

Obviously, when you measure things in person miles, airlines (which travel many miles per flight) end up being favored, and much of the report concentrates on the relative values of airlines versus light duty autmotive vehicles (including SUVs and vans). Airlines came out ahead, at 2,691 BTUs per person mile, compared to 4,218 per person mile for light duty vehicles.

However, both modes of transportation have improved over the 1970-2010 period studied by Sivak:

While the energy intensities of both driving and flying have steadily decreased over the last 40 years, the improvement for flying has been substantially greater than driving—74 percent versus 17 percent.

But before you don your environmentally friendly hemp duds and board the plane, don't forget all of the pollution brouhaha over airplanes. Oh, and one more thing - airlines aren't the best mode of transportation, BTU per person mile-wise.

Other modes of transportation: Amtrak trains (1,668), motorcycles (2,675) and transit buses (3,347).

All aboard?

Architecture and Mortality, revisited

Back in 2009, I wrote a post entitled Architecture and Mortality that talked about some cubicle design ideas from 2002. I have worked both in offices and cubicles, but I have been able to avoid the super-cool startup idea of setting everyone at the same table to interact and co-exist.

Actually, that's a good thing, according to a New Yorker article (shared privately by one of my online friends - I won't say who, but I will say that he remembered his own birthday). If you work in some of these trendy open environments, you could die.

[A] recent study ... found that as the number of people working in a single room went up, the number of employees who took sick leave increased apace.

Add the fact that it's hard for people, even Generation Z people, to get any work done with all the noise around them.

More here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dear Weather Channel and DirecTV - stop it.

This is getting awfully tiring.

Last August, we went through this with Time Warner and CBS.

Back in 2010, it was Dish and News Corp.

And now, we have Keep the Weather Channel.

For over 30 years, The Weather Channel has been the most trusted resource for disseminating timely information to help prepare and protect families across the nation against weather-related emergencies. But now DIRECTV is threatening to remove this critical life-saving community resource from 20 million households. We’re working hard to reach an agreement with DIRECTV to keep The Weather Channel in its lineup. You can help!

Yes, I can help. Here's how I can help:

If you are a DIRECTV subscriber, cancel your DIRECTV immediately. Oh, and don't bother to sign up with Dish or Time Warner or anyone else, because later in 2014, or in 2015, or at some point, you'll have this issue with the Weather Channel again.

Oh, and for your weather, just go to Granted, you won't get any reality shows...but reality shows aren't real anyway.

Of course, everyone and their mother knows what the real issue is here. DirecTV has to pay a certain amount of money to The Weather Channel to get its programming. Neither side has revealed exactly how much this payment is. The Weather Channel would obviously like to get more money from DirecTV. DirecTV would obviously like to pay less to The Weather Channel. That's what all of these dustups are about.

But Rodney Ho reveals that DirecTV took an additional step - one that really got The Weather Channel riled up.

On December 16, 2013, DirecTV added a network called WeatherNation, a competitor to Atlanta-based The Weather Channel, and placed it side by side on the channel dial.

Clearly, DirecTV made this move as leverage. The network said there is no public safety issue because WeatherNation, presumably a cheaper option for DirecTV, can provide weather news as well.

“Customers will continue to get round-the-clock hard weather news, free of any interruptions from reality TV, on Weather Nation,” DirecTV said.


So now the Weather Channel has to face lower-cost competition from DirecTV itself - and therefore wants Congress to intervene.

I'm still waiting - and have been waiting since August - for the Weather Channel and others to pay ME to watch their programming.

But now we have this new wrinkle from DirecTV, where they're setting up their own channels. Will they pay me to watch them?

Friday, January 10, 2014

What are the chief barriers to educational technology adoption? It depends on who you ask.

As I've stated previously, technological solutions to problems can be achieved easily. The real challenge is in creating the business environment in which to employ the technology. Perhaps laws need to be changed, or inter-agency agreements need to be completed. Perhaps laid-off workers need to be compensated. These issues are often much more difficult than the technological issues themselves.

At vsrious times, various people have tried to identify those things that serve as barriers to incorporating advanced technology in classrooms. For example, one person identified ten factors, including this one:

Lack of Leadership. If the superintendent or the principal says, “Teachers, we are going to use technology in our school, but you decide how and when,” then failure to adopt is assured. There is no shortage of excuses for not taking the time to integrate technology into one’s classroom. It takes leadership to say, “Teachers, we are going to use technology in our school—and this is not optional.”

But is this truly a barrier to technology adoption? It certainly is to the organization that provided the list - District Administration: Solutions for School District Management.

However, there was another study that did not mention "lack of leadership" at all. This study, co-sponsored by the National Education Association and the American Federal of Teachers, identified different issues.

"Access, Adequacy, and Equity in Education Technology," published by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, provides several broad recommendations for effecting change over the long term. They include: Improve classroom access to hardware, software, and the Internet, bolster technical support, strengthen professional development around the instructional uses of technology, and enlist teachers unions to advocate for tech funding and support.

That's funny - the district administrators didn't say anything about enlisting teachers unions.

It's not that one group is right and the other group is wrong - it's just that when a study is dominated or influenced by a single stakeholder, concerns of other stakeholders inevitably get left out.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Will Sears recover, or will it follow Montgomery Ward?

Jonathan Langdale shared a Business Insider summary of a Sears press release. Key takeaway:

The retailer sees Q4 adjusted loss of $2.01-$2.98. Analysts were looking for earnings of $0.26 per share.

Hence the premature advisory from Sears, who ordinarily wouldn't announce anything about earnings until late February.

I have to admit that the combination of Sears (who was losing out to other retailers) and KMart (who was losing out to Walmart) didn't seem to promise a viable combined firm.

It may be premature to pronounce an R.I.P. for Sears - they still have cash and a credit line - but if you're about to retire, don't put all your money in Sears stock.

What will ACTUALLY happen regarding chair-CEO separation in 2014?

The desirability, or lack thereof, of separating the chairperson and chief executive officer roles in public corporations has been debated for years. Witness the discussions about Michael Eisner a few years ago, as well as the discussions about Andrew Wiederhorn.

However, according to Eleanor Bloxham, this is the year that changes will take place.

Boards have gained strength this year, as they have over the last decade, and they have more influence on your company's strategy than they ever did before. They don't see their role as just bobbing their heads to management's plan. They expect to test assumptions -- and to ask questions -- no longer just in polite conversation name only....

More boards are willing to address egregious CEO performance issues than in previous years and, more than ever before, directors are willing to speak out in favor of chair and CEO separation. (Fewer are beholden to the CEO for their seat.) Still, most are still getting their sea legs as far as proactive CEO succession is concerned. That will be a 2014 priority for many boards.

Unfortunately, if I want to "test assumptions" that Bloxham made in her piece, I can't. She SAYS that boards more more willing to separate the chair and CEO roles, but she doesn't provide any concrete evidence that boards are doing so. Will this really happen, or is it wishful thinking?

Now I'll grant that it's early in the year, but I began searching for evidence that the 2014 boards are actually moving to separate the chair and CEO roles. Unfortunately, all that I could find was...more wishful thinking.

In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, David Reilly made the case that separating the chairman and CEO roles would pay positive dividends for JPMorgan. In his argument, Reilly says that [Jamie] Dimon’s legacy has been tainted by the numerous settlements the company has been forced to make under his watch, and sharing the load would help provide more executive leadership that he believes the company lacks.

“Forcing him to relinquish the chairman's role wouldn't instantly solve such problems,” Reilly writes. “But it would show the bank is serious about more rigorous checks on management and that accountability starts at the top.”

Brandon Rees, acting director of the AFL-CIO's Office of Investment, also supports a split, saying that JPMorgan’s pattern of loose controls and failed oversight “speaks to the justification for separating the positions of chair and chief executive.”

Interestingly enough, Dimon HAS stepped down as chairman - of a subsidiary. He remains as chair and CEO of the parent firm.

However, it is presumed that any discussion of separation of the two roles will have to wait until an annual shareholder meeting. However, when I tried to find out when the next such meeting would be, I got this response:

Bad Gateway

Processing of this request was delegated to a server that is not functioning properly.

Obviously Dimon is overloaded.

P.S. Speaking of Andrew Wiederhorn, he was still making news in 2012:

Fog Cutter Capital Group Inc. will pay between $1.2 million and $1.8 million to Portland real estate firm American Industries Inc. to settle a $5.1 million lawsuit filed earlier this year.

American Industries sued Fog Cutter and its chief executive, former Portland financier Andy Wiederhorn, in March, saying it made a $3.6 million loan to Fog Cutter in 2008 that was never repaid. The company had disputed the amount owed, but now says the settlement resolves the matter.

These days, Wiederhorn is concentrating on the fast food chain that Fog Cutter owns.

The name of the chain? Fatburger.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

When the market won't meet a requirement - disappearance of the IEEE's Certified Biometrics Professional program

In my industry, a key historical event was the 2009 release of the National Academies of Science report on forensic science. (Quick version: the NAS believes that in most cases, "forensic science" is an oxymoron.) That report included a whole slew of recommendations, including this one:

Laboratory accreditation and individual certification of forensic science professionals should be mandatory, and all forensic science professionals should have access to a certification process. In determining appropriate standards for accreditation and certification, the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) should take into account established and recognized international standards, such as those published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). No person (public or private) should be allowed to practice in a forensic science discipline or testify as a forensic science professional without certification. Certification requirements should include, at a minimum, written examinations, supervised practice, proficiency testing, continuing education, recertification procedures, adherence to a code of ethics, and effective disciplinary procedures. All laboratories and facilities (public or private) should be accredited, and all forensic science professionals should be certified, when eligible, within a time period established by NIFS.

While these recommendations did not have the force of law, their public nature certainly attracted attention, and in that same year (2009) the IEEE established a Certified Biometrics Professional program. This offered one way for forensic science practitioners to meet the NAS recommendation.

This certification has been offered for several years, but apparently was not as popular as some of the other certifications that the IEEE offers. Therefore, the IEEE has made this announcement:

IEEE has proudly offered the IEEE Certified Biometrics Professional® (CBP) Program since 2009, with more than 1,000 individuals using the educational materials and over 400 biometrics professionals earning the IEEE CBP credential to date. However, the number of candidates pursuing the IEEE CBP credential has been lower than needed to sustain the program into the future. In response to current and expected market conditions, the IEEE Educational Activities Board has voted to discontinue offering the IEEE CBP program.

IEEE will continue to recognize the CBP credential, and individuals who have earned the IEEE CBP credential may continue to list the CBP initials after their names. There will no longer be a certification renewal requirement effective immediately. IEEE will maintain records of examinations taken and will continue to verify IEEE CBP certification for employers who inquire about credentials.

For individuals who are interested in earning the CBP credential before the program is discontinued, IEEE will offer the CBP examination until November 30, 2014. The IEEE CBP examination will be available during two examination administration windows scheduled to be open May 24–June 30 and October 18–November 30, 2014. An examination registration is valid only for the window in which it was purchased. Requests to transfer an examination registration to the next available administration window will not be accepted in 2014.

IEEE will continue to offer the IEEE CBP Learning System through November 30, 2014. However, access to the online tools of the Learning System will expire on December 31, 2014. Sales of the IEEE CBP Learning System will cease after November 30, 2014.

For more information on registering for the IEEE CBP examination or purchasing an IEEE CBP Learning System in 2014, please refer to the IEEE Certification Candidate Bulletin and the FAQs on this Web site.

Now this is not the only certification in town - other entities, such as the IAI, offer certification programs that meet the NAS recommendation.

But it does illustrate that if entity A makes a recommendation, the recommendation is meaningless unless either that entity or another entity offers a way for people to satisfy that recommendation.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The invisible hand has arthritis - the inefficiencies of car ownership

For those who don't know me, I should state that in many instances, I believe that a capitalist orientation provides greater benefits to society than a socialist one - specifically, that incentives within the capitalist system will provide more benefits than a socialist system.

One clear exception to this is our vehicle transportation system - our socialist government-owned roadways, implemented on us by Communists such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, are much more efficient than a system in which the vast majority of roads are toll roads.

But one can argue that personal ownership of the vehicles themselves provides advantages over the "socialist" model. I can testify to this - if I were to take mass transit from my home to my office, it would take me well over three hours (one way), and I wouldn't get to work until about 10:00. Of course transportation improvements could reduce this somewhat, but this would require capital investment. (My mass transit commute home is more in the two hour range.)

However, I just saw a statistic that caught my eye. The RAND corporation report on autonomous vehicles (which I mentioned in a recent tymshft post) includes the following sentence on page 26:

Yet, as Shoup notes in his exhaustive examination of parking policy (2005), the typical automobile is parked for about 95 percent of its lifetime.

For Shoup's purposes, he was concentrating on the fact that the idle vehicles have to sit somewhere during that time - in a garage at home, on a public street, in a pay parking lot, or somewhere else.

But look at it from my perspective as a car owner. I'm paying big money (thousands of dollars, when you add everything up) to keep a car, and most of the time it just sits there.

In a true capitalist model, I'd drive to work, have someone pay me to use my car for a few hours, go into the office, leave work, pick up my car, drive home, and then have someone pay me to use my car for the evening. (Yeah, rent my car out on a Friday night. What could go wrong?)

Obviously other models are springing up, including the Uber model that I talked about in a recent post in which people serve as taxi drivers - am I allowed to say taxi drivers? - and others don't buy a car because an Uberman can haul them around. But are the Uber cars sufficiently utilized, or do they sit around a lot also?

If you think about it, every parking lot you see is testament to the fact that cars are underutilized.

Why Lee Baca wants Terri McDonald to replace him

Some organizations work out detailed transition plans. Others don't.

I was listening to the Lee Baca retirement speech online, and noted that he was going to recommend that Terri McDonald replace him on an interim basis. Since I wasn't familiar with McDonald, I looked her up. It turns out that she's been with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department less than a year, but that she's held a politically important position. McDonald, who transferred from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, is currently Assistant Sheriff for Custody. Considering that custody issues may have precipitated Baca's retirement before the end of his term, it's obviously a highly visible position.

However, I don't think that Baca recommended McDonald as his replacement because of this.

I think that Baca recommended McDonald because there is no way that she could be elected. After all, McDonald herself said:

“Corrections law enforcement and street law enforcement are really two different branches of the business."

We all know that there's an election coming up. Even if she suddenly decided to mount an election campaign for sheriff, the chances of someone without "street law enforcement" experience actually winning an election are negligible.

Could the sheriff have worked out a more robust transition plan? Since the office is an elected office, probably not. Eisenhower would probably have preferred to transfer his job to Nixon rather than Kennedy, but that didn't happen. Clinton (Mister) would probably have preferred to tranfer his job to Gore (Mister) rather than Bush (43), but that didn't happen.

I'm sure that organizational specialists will be watching the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department over the next several months.

I thought that the low-priced Channel Number 5 was too good to be true

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is charged to uphold the law. Back in October, I wrote about a case in which the FBI successfully prosecuted someone for "prescription fraud" - despite the fact that in this particular case, the "fraudulent" prescriptions were actually foreign equivalents to prescriptions legally sold in the United States. In that particular case, the patients were not harmed by taking the "fraudulent" prescriptions.

Well, the FBI is now going after fraudulent cosmetics.

The National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Center—of which the FBI is a partner—wants you to know that the volume of all sorts of counterfeit cosmetics and fragrances coming into the U.S. is definitely on the rise…that’s according to our industry partners as well as law enforcement. Why is this happening? Because the Internet has given counterfeiters widespread access to customers, and because criminals increasingly view dealing in counterfeit personal care products—as well as other knock-off consumer goods as well—as a relatively low-risk crime since many of the perpetrators are located outside of the U.S.

The FBI then warns that counterfeit cosmetics can often contain dangerous ingredients, such as arsenic, "dangerous levels of bacteria," and other bad stuff.

Is this the same issue as fraudulent prescriptions, or is it different?

I suspect that this is a different situation.

Due to the intricacies of various health care markets around the world, prescription manufacturers routinely price drugs sold in the U.S. at a higher price than drugs sold in other countries. Therefore, there is an incentive to illegally import LEGITIMATE prescriptions from other countries to the United States.

Unless I'm missing something, there is no such incentive in the cosmetics market. It isn't like U.S. consumers are paying higher prices for perfume than people in France. Therefore, the money in this case can be made by providing cosmetics that are NOT equivalent to those sold legally in the U.S.


Monday, January 6, 2014

The Daveea Whitmire reporting - what is a "Live Scan"?

Too often we focus on visible things, like a piece of computer hardware, and completely ignore the underlying things that make the hardware work.

The latest example can be found in Pando Daily's otherwise excellent reporting on the apparently shoddy background checks administered to Uber driver Daveea Whitmire. You see, despite passing a background check, it turns out that Whitmire had a felony conviction for selling marijuana, an arrest for buying cocaine to resell, and other offenses. Note to prospective taxi drivers - drug convictions and arrests are not a good thing for you.

The Pando Daily writer, Carmel DeAmicis, then took some time to explain some apparent differences between the background checks for Uber employees and the background checks for more closely related taxicab drivers.

Ridesharing startups don’t have the oversight of traditional taxi companies in California. In most major cities, taxi companies are required to do Live Scan, fingerprint-based background checks of their drivers through the Department of Justice and FBI systems. According to William Rouse, the former President of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, the background check results go straight to the transportation regulatory agencies for vetting, not just to the taxi companies themselves.

In addition to combing official databases, the Live Scan also updates after the fact. If a driver gets arrested for raping someone after being hired, the company will be notified. In contrast, other background checks are a static picture in time.

Perhaps it's a minor quibble, but while the statements above are somewhat accurate, the terminology is a little bit off.

A "Live Scan" is a computer with associated hardware and software that is designed for capturing biometric data (usually fingerprints, sometimes other things). My employer sells Live Scans, as do a number of other companies. These devices can capture very good quality digital images of fingerprints and other biometric data.

However, a Live Scan in and of itself is pretty useless. The Live Scan only does any good when it is networked to various computer databases. For example, if you are applying for a taxi driver job in California, your fingerprints will be submitted to the California Department of Justice, who maintains a fingerprint database of all criminals. If your prints are determined to match the prints of a criminal, then this information will be shared with the hiring agency.

Similarly, applicant background checks can be conducted against the national database managed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Again, if your prints match those of a criminal in the FBI's database, then this information will be shared with the hiring agency.

For example, let's say that John Doe was drunkenly driving around in New Hampshire and killed ten people, serving prison time. He would have been fingerprinted at the time of arrest, and his prints would presumably make their way into the FBI database. Several years later, if he tried to get a job with a Yellow Cab outlet in California, the background check would reveal Doe's prior drunk driving arrest and conviction.

The key thing is that this data is revealed only when the Live Scan is configured to search the relevant database. No database search, no results.

Take the sentence "If a driver gets arrested for raping someone after being hired, the company will be notified." A Live Scan by itself does not "update after the fact." Someone needs to design a workflow that detects when an applicant has a subsequent arrest.

However, regardless of the imprecise terminology, DeAmicis' basic point still applies - the "background check" conducted on Daveaa Whitmire was obviously not up to par.

National background checks vary wildly in quality, scope, and validity. “A background check is whatever you want to call it. It’s not necessarily a particular set of instructions,” [private investigator Brian] Willingham says. “You can do anything from $15 background checks, to billing out a client for $100,000 background checks which involve digging into every piece of dirt in a person’s past.”

Obviously you don't want to conduct a $100,000 background check on every potential taxi driver. But in many cases, the $15 background check is not sufficient.

From the flood to the trickle, CompuCure survives

It's tough for any small business to survive. Actually, as General Motors and Montgomery Ward have shown, it's tough for any large business to survive. But small businesses, who often put all of their eggs in a single basket, are more vulnerable to bad times.

Take CompuCure. This was a small company that started in 1988, providing technology services to its clients within the city of its founding - New Orleans, Louisiana.

Things went - um, swimmingly - for nearly two decades. Then:

Hurricane Katrina nearly killed CompuCure. In the wake of the storm, just three of us remained by Oct. 1, 2005, and the weeks ahead promised to be grim for our New Orleans-based IT services firm -- what was left of it anyway. But we weren’t going to let that damn storm chase us away from our city.

By September 2013, eight long years after Katrina wiped out so many lives and businesses, CompuCure had rebounded sufficiently to make Inc. Magazine’s list of the fastest growing businesses in America.

CompuCure grew by concentrating on its key strengths:

CompuCure distinguishes itself through its ability to help government-sector clients transform inefficiencies and misalignment into highly-functioning assets.

Did you catch that phrase "government-sector clients"? Yup, CompuCure concentrated on serving a Federal customer base, which served it well for a time, but by October 2013, a storm bigger than Katrina threatened the company - the government shutdown.

At 4:50 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2013, we received the first of the stop work orders that we knew would come after Congress adjourned the previous night without a budget. As planned, we kept our employees on the payroll and prepared to close operations at the federal sites. Our staff turned off equipment, locked away supplies and closed the doors. We knew we could hold on for a couple of weeks, but it was not a timeline we wanted to test.

Near the end of week two, we were deeply worried. Even though one of our project teams had been declared “critical” and had excess fiscal 2013 budget funds available to continue working, paying for the rest of the company and 100 percent of their health insurance had generated losses approaching $100,000 in just 10 days. We discussed a companywide furlough, an act that could have far-reaching implications.

As it turned out, the government shutdown was resolved before CompuCure had to furlough the entire company. But it was touch and go.

New for 2014 - the Empoprises Rule of Anecdotal Evidence Propagation

I have realized my one great failure of 2013.

I went an entire year without copyrighting any Empoprises Rules.

You see, I copyrighted three of them in 2012, and these three rules have changed civilization as we know it.

If you missed these momentous events, let me repeat these rules for you. Please note that all rules are Copyright 2012 John E. Bredehoft.

The first one, revealed on May 4, 2012, is the Empoprises FECES Rule of Corporate Me-Tooism.

Trust me, if FECES suddenly became a trendy acronym that all the cool kids were talking about, then you would have Microsoft, Google, Apple, Oracle, IBM, and everyone else climbing over each other and loudly declaring, "We are FECES."

And they would be correct. :)

By November 17, 2012, I had moved into the culinary business world with the Empoprises RCDCR Rule of Insider Food Talk.

Anyone who explicitly uses the words "restaurant concept" when addressing a potential diner should be exposed to continuous ridicule.

I concluded the year with a bang with a new credential. On December 12, 2012, I revealed the method of computation of the Phineas-Hirshfield Score.

The Phineas-Hirshfield score measures, on a scale of 0 to 100, the probability that someone will ask exactly what the Phineas-Hirshfield score is.

Please remember that all three of these rules are copyright 2012 John E. Bredehoft. And you don't want to mess with me; I have a Phineas-Hirshfield score of 91. (Yes, it's declined a bit due to massive publicity.)

Well, that was 2012. I pretty much took 2013 off, rule-wise - other than some behind-the-scenes work on the Empoprises Rule of Fair Food (not ready yet; more testing is needed).

But I did spend 2013 observing the power of anecdotal evidence. These are cases in which one person's experience is extrapolated and assumed to apply to the entire population. For example, if I go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis and a bird poops on my head (yes, this really happened), then I could conclude that anyone who goes to Annapolis will have to wash their hair very thoroughly later. After all, it happened to me; it's not the creation of a statistician.

Of course, people would probably listen to me more if I were a beautiful woman who had become famous by taking my clothes off. In that case, a certain segment of the population would believe anything that I said.

However, this power of persuasion is not limited to hot blondes. There are well over a billion people on social media services these days, and within that population, you're sure to find some group of people who will believe anything you say.


Hence, it's time for me to share the Empoprises Rule of Anecdotal Evidence Propagation. Remember, this is copyright 2014 John E. Bredehoft. Here goes:

If a person asserts, from experience, that a certain type of cancer can be cured by applying a certain food and a certain animal's body secretions on a certain part of the body, a minimum of 1,000 people will swear that the cure works, and a minimum of 100,000 people will share the miraculous news.

The propagation is key. If something sounds wonderful enough, it will be shared. Guilt is often used to encourage sharing, and you'll see phrases such as "Most people don't care about sick kittens and won't share this news."

But are my numbers too high? Too low?

I'm not sure.

Tulipmania 2014 - Coinye West (for those who find Bitcoin too stodgy)

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of economic history is well aware of "Tulipmania," and is always on the lookout for a modern counterpart. Back in 2008, the whole Web 2.0 thingie was a candidate for Tulipmania 2.0, but some of these companies have proven to be viable - at lest in the short term.

These days, it appears that the next Tulipmania may occur in the alternative currency realm. Some alternative currencies, such as the Brixton Pound, have not exhibited the Tulipmania characteristic of appreciating to dizzying heights. Bitcoin, of course, has had its ups and downs.

But what of the Bitcoin wannabes?

In a few days, another Bitcoin wannabe is going to emerge - "Coinye West." If you have lived under a rock for the past few years and have never heard of Taylor Swift, Daft Punk, or the Kardashian family, I should explain that the name "Coinye West" is a play on the name of musician Kanye West.

So why do I think that this will be the Tulipmania candidate?

First, people are talking about it. Perhaps it's not being praised as the next big thing, but publicity is publicity, and if you love Daft Punk and the Kardashians but are meh on Ms. Swift, then perhaps you'll want to show your love for Kanye by buying the currency.

Which brings us to the second issue. On the surface, this sounds like a great publicity play. Mr. West thinks highly of himself, so why not create his own currency? (I'm surprised that P.R. Nelson - I mean Prince - didn't think of this first.)

There's only one problem - it appears that Kanye West has nothing to do with Coinye West, if this tweet is any indication.

@kanyewest Kanye, have you ever invested in bitcoin or litecoin? What do you think of @CoinyeWest ?

This was tweeted by @CoinyeWest on December 31, 2013. As of Sunday evening, West has yet to reply - which indicates to me that West is not in on this particular endeavor. In addition, the fact that the website is anonymously registered in Panama seems to indicate that Mr. West is not involved.

This means that someone other than Kanye West is profiting from "Coinye West."

Can you say trademark infringement?

Kanye himself is no stranger to trademark infringement, having created a character named "Evel Kanyevel" who did motorcycle stunts. A man named Evel Knievel, famous for motorcycle stunts, didn't take kindly to this, although West and Knievel settled their differences before Knievel's death.

I wonder if Kanye West would be interested in being on the other side of one of these lawsuits, especially if the alternative currency makes him look bad.

Would you invest in a currency whose very name may be the subject of a lawsuit?