Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Are there other differences between the Brendan Eich and Donald Sterling controversies? And what about Shaq?

The Brendan Eich and Donald Sterling situations have been compared, and contrasted. In a post that I wrote on Monday, before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life, I noted that Sterling, unlike Eich, was the owner of the organization from which he was removed.

There are other differences.

In his radio show this morning, Colin Cowherd noted that sports team owners are not merely private businesspeople, but also have a public responsibility. Governments provide sports teams with a myriad of economic benefits. For example, when protesters show up at Clipper games, the city of Los Angeles - not the Clippers - pays for police protection. Although Cowherd didn't mention Mozilla, the Mozilla Foundation has no such responsibility to the locality in which it does business. The city doesn't sponsor a parade or anything like that for Mozilla.

And there are also differences in what the two individuals did. Andrew Sullivan explained the difference as follows:

If Brendan Eich had made comments telling his friends to keep away from faggots, if he’d used any such terminology or had ever been shown to have discriminated against gays in the workplace or in his daily interactions, then his case would be very similar. But no such comments are in the public or private record, and there’s zero evidence that he ever acted in the workplace to harm gay employees. Au contraire, which is why gay Mozilla employees were divided about his ouster, with some supporting him. Sterling’s remarks, in contrast, reveal him to be a crude, foul bigot – which is why there is no division at all among African-Americans in the league – or beyond the league – about his fate.

In addition, some (not including myself) believe that Sterling is being forced out, while Eich left of his own volition. (I believe differently.)

At the end of the day, however, Eich is no longer with Mozilla, and Sterling (after days, months, or years) will no longer own the Clippers.

But what precedent has been set? Will offensive speech always result in a lifetime ban?

Until a few days ago, most of us had never heard of Jahmel Binion. Most of us had heard of Shaquille O'Neal, who coincidentally used to play basketball in Los Angeles. (Not for the Clippers. There is another professional basketball team in the area called the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq played for this team.) But Shaq brought Binion to the world's attention:

Binion has been made fun of his entire life for having hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, a rare disorder characterized by a reduced ability to sweat, sparse hair growth, missing teeth and facial deformities.

“I’ve been laughed at, pointed at and stared at,” said Binion.

But this was taken to the next level when celebrities, like O’Neal, began making fun of him. Binion took a selfie and posted it to social media. O’Neal took a picture of himself, making a face, and posted a side-by-side comparison of himself and Binion with the words, “Smile today.”

How did Binion feel as Shaq and others made fun of him and his disability? Well, he felt like a black basketball player would feel if he knew his team's owner had a hang-up about seeing certain things in public.

Eventually Shaq apologized...eventually.

Binion said he received a phone call from O’Neal and [athlete Trey] Burke on Tuesday, both personally apologizing for the incident. On his Twitter account, O’Neal wrote, “Made a new friend today when I called and apologized to Jahmel Binion. Great dude.”

But Binion said the apology came several days after the celebrities were criticized nationally by several media sources.

“When they said sorry, I felt like they were saying it to get the pressure off of them for being considered ‘bad people,’” said Binion.

But Shaq apologized, so all is well, isn't it? But remember that Donald Sterling apologized also.

“Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings,” the statement says. “It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them. He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson. He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him — both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. We are investigating this matter.”

But Shaq meant it; Sterling didn't. Right?

Does it matter?

Should Shaquille O'Neal be banned from NBA facilities for life?

Employment agreements in the post-Mozilla/Clippers environment

Jane was ecstatic. She had finally landed her dream job, with her dream company. The salary was generous, and the benefits were superb. She had just finished her interview with the company vice president, and was now headed to Human Resources to complete the final paperwork.

"Here's the employment agreement," said the HR guy. "The signature page is on page 6."

"OK," responded Jane. "Let me take a look at it."

"Oh, it's just standard stuff," said the HR guy - a response that guaranteed that Jane would read every paragraph.

Paragraph 10.2 stopped her cold:

EMPLOYER reserves the right to terminate EMPLOYEE based upon any political activity, including advocacy and monetary contributions.

Jane spoke up. "But paragraph 10.2 is illegal under California law. I can't be fired for political contributions."

The HR guy paused before responding. "We're incorporated in Delaware."

Jane kept reading until she got to paragraph 10.7.

EMPLOYER reserves the right to terminate EMPLOYEE based upon any conversation, public or private. EMPLOYER expressly reserves this right regardless of how the conversation transcript was obtained.

"I can't sign up to paragraph 10.7!" exclaimed Jane.

"Everybody signs up to paragraph 10.7," replied the HR guy. "Even the owner of the company."

Monday, April 28, 2014

There is one difference between the Brendan Eich and Donald Sterling controversies

If you haven't heard, a story about Donald Sterling broke over the weekend. And although it pains me to do this, I'm linking to TMZ because it broke the story originally.

You have to listen to the audio to fully grasp the magnitude of Sterling's racist worldview. Among the comments:

-- "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?" (3:30)

-- "You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games." (5:15)

-- "I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people." (7:45)

-- "...Don't put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games." (9:13)

As I reflected on the story, it struck me that there are a number of similarities between the latest Donald Sterling story, and the whole Brendan Eich story from a few weeks ago.

Both Donald Sterling and Brendan Eich engaged in controversial behavior.

Both Donald Sterling and Brendan Eich engaged in behavior that was perfectly legal. (Regarding Sterling, I should clarify that it is illegal to engage in housing discrimination, or to discriminate against an employee. It is, however, perfectly legal to say that you don't want someone of a particular race to be on someone's personal Instagram feed.)

Both Donald Sterling and Brendan Eich were criticized by the public for their stances.

Both Donald Sterling and Brendan Eich were criticized by influential businesses for their stances. (With Eich, it was OKCupid; with Sterling, it's State Farm, CarMax, Birgin America, Kia, Red Bull, and probably more by the end of the day today.)

But there's one very important difference between the two.

Eich was an employee, hired by the Mozilla Foundation.

Sterling, of course, is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. And while the Clippers are a franchise awarded by the National Basketball Association, and the NBA has some limited control over its franchises, for all practical purposes Sterling is at the top of the heap when it comes to Clippers matters.

That fact will have some important consequences over the next few days...or months...or years.

Friday, April 25, 2014

YIMBY in South Carolina - maybe they can get Boston's health facility also

I recently wrote a post that detailed a controversy in Boston. At least one City Councilman wants to prohibit Boston University from conducting research on Biosafety Level 4 agents. The councilman, Charles Yancey, is concerned that these agents (basically, diseases for which there is no treatment or vaccine) could end up in the wrong hands.

When I titled my post, I used the acronym "NIMBY" in the post title. NIMBY, or "not in my back yard," is often applied to a situation where someone claims to support a particular cause - as long as it doesn't occur next to them. I am sure that Charles Yancey would not raise a great fuss, for example, if the University of South Carolina were to conduct research on Biosafety Level 4 agents.

Speaking of South Carolina, there's a little controversy going on there. The U.S. Department of Energy is operating a nuclear facility near Aiken, South Carolina. The purpose of the facility is to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear reactor fuel. Obviously, such a facility requires plutonium, which means that there's a whole bunch of that deadly material floating around South Carolina. And Charles Yancey thought that BOSTON had problems.

Understandably, there are two sides in this battle. One side asserts that a plutonium conversion facility is extremely dangerous and costly. The other side asserts that the plutonium conversion facility is necessary to implement international agreements, and that it would be un-Constitutional to shut the facility down.

Oh, by the way, it's the STATE that wants to keep the facility open, and the FEDS who want to shut it down.

South Carolina has asked a federal judge to rule in the state’s favor in a lawsuit seeking to keep viable a nuclear reactor fuel project at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.

In court papers filed earlier this week, Attorney General Alan Wilson and other attorneys for the state asked for a decision without a trial.

The state is suing the U.S. Energy Department to keep the government from withdrawing funding from a multi-billion dollar project to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel. Gov. Nikki Haley has said that the closure of the mixed-oxide fuel project would harm an international nonproliferation agreement and eliminate hundreds of jobs.

This is especially odd since South Carolina, which has a tradition of states' rights that goes back to the 1830s, is essentially arguing that the U.S. Congress (which supports the project) should have the power to implement it in South Carolina.

This is not the only YIMBY occurrence, of course - there are regions, usually impoverished, that will actively fight to get business or facilities that other regions don't want to touch. For example, there is a group in Long Island that is campaigning for low-income housing, and a group in Sweden that is campaigning for...something in Swedish. (I think it's beer.)

So could the South Carolina state government make a play to attract Biosafety Level 4 research in the state?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Caption This! #ClipArtIsEvil - the contract signing

Perhaps I've exaggerating here, but clip art is evil.

Someone takes the time to craft a specific message, and the whole thing is ruined by some pseudo-motivational clip art of shiny happy people who don't look like anyone you'd encounter in a real business situation.

Take this example. I won't reveal the website that printed this, but I will say that it is an American company with the express purpose of assisting businesspeople with financial transactions.

So, let's caption it. I'll start.

HIM: If we make enough money from this deal, I'll be able to buy a good razor.

SHE: I am PRAYING that he buys a good razor.

Sometimes principles just don't matter - Theo vs. THEOS, 1998

In a recent post, I discussed my lack of principles. In this specific situation, I was running into problems with Google Chrome, and had to decide whether to install Mozilla Firefox, although I have issues with the way that Mozilla conducts its business.

This caused me to come face-to-face with an important decision - should I install Mozilla Firefox on my pristine new Google Nexus 7 tablet, even though Mozilla actively discriminates in hiring, is non-inclusive, and is non-diverse? I could demonstrate my principles by refusing to download Mozilla Firefox. But I really wanted to use the I downloaded Mozilla Firefox.

However, I'm not the only one that has sacrificed my principles. Take this incident from almost two decades ago.

On the one side was the THEOS Software Corporation, an entity with whom I was very familiar at one time. Which brings me to the disclosure:


Oasis and THEOS, which originated in the late 1970s, were multi-user operating systems that allowed users with dumb terminals to share a single computer. While not as popular as, say, Linux, THEOS competes in some very specific vertical markets. The operating system name was changed to THEOS in the early 1980s, and the THEOS Software Corporation certainly had an interest in protecting its intellectual property.

On the other side of this debate was Theo de Raadt - who, coincidentally, was also involved in operating systems (the OpenBSD project).

By 1995, this thing called the World Wide Web was taking off, and companies and people began populating the web with their domains. Theo (de Raadt) provides the relevant details:

The domain was allocated by Theo de Raadt on 20-Jan-95.
The domain was allocated by Theos Software Corporation on 12-Oct-95.

At some point, the THEOS Software Corporation learned of de Raadt's site, and apparently became concerned about possible loss of its trademark. Now you may pooh-pooh these legal efforts where Disney or whoever gets extremely zealous about protecting its intellectual property. But if you feel that individuals should not be hassled by these evil corporate giants, we'll see how you REALLY feel by conducting one simple test:

1. Tell me your name.

2. I will then open up a series of businesses all over the world. For example, if your name is Joseph Gambolin, I will open up one thousand retail outlets with the name "Joseph Gambolin's Pornography, Tobacco, Sarah Palin Biographies, and Mao Red Books."

3. I will not pay you a cent for the use of your name.

Well, the THEOS/Theo case didn't come to that, but THEOS Software Corporation was concerned enough to get a lawyer. On November 20, 1998, the lawyer sent an email that read in part as follows:

Your domain name,, has come to the attention of my client. I have every reason to believe that your selection of the "" domain name was a consequence of your first name, and not of any desire to create a likelihood of confusion with my client's valuable trademark. Thus, while the domain name dispute policy of Network Solutions would allow us to challenge your use of the "" name, my client would prefer to come to an amicable arrangement with you. Our proposal is that if you transfer your domain name to my client, it would reimburse you for the cost of registering any new domain name that does not contain "theos", as well as for any costs associated with that transfer. We would also of course prepare and provide you with the necessary paperwork. My client would also to agree to forward to you any electronic mail that it receives after the transfer that was intended for you.

For my younger readers, I should explain that Network Solutions is a domain name service, kind of like the GoDaddy of the 20th century. It is still in business today.

de Raadt did not take the THEOS Software Corporation up on its offer, although he was nice enough to place a message on his website clarifying that he was not the THEOS Software Corporation. Oh, and he also reprinted the original letter on his website, with some not-so-nice comments about the THEOS Software Corporation (pointing out that HIS OS was free and didn't cost money like the one that the THEOS Software Corporation promoted).

The lawyer noted this in a March 19, 1999 letter:

I previously made a courteous inquiry on behalf of my client, asking whether you might be willing to consider transferring the "" domain name to my client. In response to that inquiry, you posted my letter, without my permission, on your web site in an effort, as you put it, to show the customers of THEOS Software Corporation "what type of company they are."

We believe that your use of the "" domain name, which is without the permission or approval of THEOS Software Corporation, will create a likelihood of confusion with my client's THEOS mark. The fact that you believe the customers of THEOS Software Corporation will visit your website is an indication that your use and registration of the domain name is a violation of my client's trademark rights. Therefore, on behalf of THEOS Software Corporation, I once again request that you promptly either transfer such domain name to my client or cancel the domain name registration with Network Solutions, Inc, ("NSI").

Both parties were preparing for a battle. The lawyer for the THEOS Software Corporation was presumably preparing to contact Network Solutions to file a formal complaint, and to do who knows what else. Meanwhile, de Raadt was posting stuff on his website, including the latest letter. The battle lines were clearly drawn, with both parties prepared to stand on their principles.

But then a funny thing happened. As de Raadt put it,

Someone posted an article about the dispute to

Slashdot is still around today, and now (as in 1998) caters to the technically inclined. While both de Raadt and the THEOS Software Corporation are clearly technically oriented, and THEOS Software Corporation is much smaller than, say, Microsoft, it's fairly easy to predict how Slashdot readers would side in this particular battle.

People started sending complaint mail to Tim [the CEO of THEOS Software Corporation] and Michael [the lawyer]. In all, they must have received at least a thousand email complaints. I received about 300 copies of mail sent to these people. I am uniformly impressed with the quality of mail these people received -- very well argued and level headed statements. Some mails were from CEO's of 500 employee companies. Reporters mailed them. System administrators from large companies. Decision makers at companies who use their software mailed they, stating that the outcome of this was going to be a key to them buying more systems from Theos Software.

Now 1000 emails doesn't sound like a lot, especially when some of my readers probably get 1000 emails in the course of daily business. But remember - this was 1998, and the Internet was much smaller then.

The web server crashed.

The mail server crashed. This appears to be completely due to load.

Their voice mail system fell down under the load.

Similar problems were seen at the law firm.

According to de Raadt, it's possible that some uglier responses also occurred, but at least some of these responses were "well argued and level headed" - things that a company CEO and his lawyer would notice.

However, this does not negate the principle involved. As was laid out in the two letters, the trademark "THEOS" is of significant value to the THEOS Software Corporation, and therefore it is in the best interest of the corporation to protect it, even if a million emails were to arrived.

So the lawyer prepared a third letter on March 25, this time addressed directly to Network Solutions itself:

This firm represents THEOS Software Corporation. The dispute between THEOS Software Corporation and Mr. Theo de Raadt concerning the "" domain name has been resolved, and THEOS Software will not be making any further claim against Mr. de Raadt at this time or in the future under your company's domain name dispute resolution policy.


What about the principles involved?

The whole episode proves that in the world of business, some things that seem to be inviolable principles can be sacrificed if bigger issues come to bear. The truth is, the THEOS Software Corporation was (and is) a relatively small software company, and even if it was right in its legal argument, the company could have irreparably damaged itself in the tech community if it had insisted on pursuing the matter.

A more succinct explanation of this can be found in an old joke that Darkg0d recently reprinted:

An average looking man walks up to a rather attractive woman and asks her if she would sleep with him for ten million dollars. She smiles brightly and says “yes, of course”. He then takes ten dollars out of his wallet, hands it to her and says “how about for ten dollars?” With a shocked look on her face she says “what kind of woman do you think I am?” He replies, “we’ve already established that. Now we’re just negotiating the price.”

Zebra and Symbol have been together for a long time

Tom greeted Pete. "Hey, did you hear the news? Symbolina is marrying Zebra."

Pete looked puzzled. "I thought that Symbolina married Moto."

"Well, they broke up," answered Tom, "and now Symbolina and Zebra are getting together."

"I didn't even know that they knew each other."

"Of course they know each other. All those members of the Enterprise Club have known each other for years. In fact, a decade ago, Symbolina and Zebra were going out together, but they never got married because Moto swooped in."

"So all those Enterprise Club people are intimate with each other."

"Tell me about it."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

NIMBY in Boston - the town and gown debate preventing, or causing, bioterrorism

When a country is faced with a dangerous threat, the country needs to counteract that threat. Unfortunately, sometimes the counteractive measures are themselves dangerous.

Take Biosafety Level 4 Agents:

Biosafety levels (BSL’s) are assigned to designate the level of biological containment used when an agent is studied or manipulated in the laboratory setting. Biosafety level does not correspond to the level of contagiousness of an agent from one individual to another. Agents studied at BSL-4 are indigenous or exotic agents capable of causing severe disease through the inhalation route of exposure, and for which there is no treatment or vaccine.

Obviously, it would be nice if there WERE treatments or vaccines for such agents.

You know where this is going.

It's going to Boston:

More than 300 Boston University officials and Boston residents attended a hearing at City Hall Wednesday to debate an ordinance that would ban BU from conducting research on deadly pathogens in its National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories.

City Councilor Charles Yancey’s proposed ordinance would prohibit research on Biosafety Level 4 agents in Boston, which look at dangerous and potentially fatal diseases and viruses.

On the one side, you have Boston University, which this research is presently conducted.

“This vital research can be done safely and securely in Boston,” said BU’s Associate Provost for Research Gloria Waters. “Beyond making important scientific contributions, the NEIDL will also spring the local economy. The facility is expected to bring in $45 million in federal funding. It sends a clear message that Boston is open for business, scientific advancements and life-changing research.”

On the other side, you have certain City Council members.

In the proposed ordinance, Yancey claims that deadly biological agents researched at the NEIDL could be released to the public accidentally or stolen and “weaponized.”

“My concern is that the research that will be taking place in this facility can cause very serious risks to the health and safety of the people of Boston,” Yancey said at the hearing.

City Councilor Tito Jackson echoed Yancey’s fears, and said he does not want to put first-responders at risk in the event of an accident at the NEIDL.

“It would be reckless and irresponsible to invite a Level 4 lab into the city of Boston,” he said. “The research would take place on pathogens for which we have no known cure. Just one human mistake can be catastrophic for the rest of society.”

If the ordinance is passed, and such research is banned within the city limits of Boston, this does not necessarily mean that Boston will be a safer place. In fact, it's possible that the entire National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories could just pick up stakes and move outside of the Boston University Medical Campus to a new location outside of Boston's city limits.

And even if it's not worth it for Boston University to remain committed to this research, the research will still be conducted at other places. And as Boston knows all too well, someone with a grudge (a scientist who lost funding, maybe?) could conceivably take a "weaponized" biological agent anywhere.

Monday, April 21, 2014

My first impressions of the second generation Google Nexus 7

I am not trendy.

I wrote the following back in 2011 while discussing low cost computing:

My netbook works fine for most of the things that I use it for, and its low weight and long battery life make it ideal for some situations. If (in the words of my comment on Feldman's thread) I treated computer purchases as short-term expenses rather than capital expenses, I'd go buy a newer computer in the same form factor that has 2 GB of RAM rather than the 1 GB that last year's netbook has. (Tablets or iPhones/iPods don't meet my needs; I like keyboards.)

Yes, I really like keyboards - my phone has one - but a personal use case has recently emerged for something that is lightweight, with a long (business day) battery life, that will allow me to take notes even if no wi-fi or power is available. Since the market for such devices has expanded since 2011, I was able to select a second-generation Google Nexus 7 this past weekend. (I'll eventually add a keyboard.)

I'll admit that my OCD mind is having problems with the name of the device. Back in 2012, Google marketed a device called the Nexus 7. When Google made some changes to the device in 2013, the new model was called...the Nexus 7. Therefore, when I made my purchase, I had to make sure that I was buying a Nexus 7, and not a Nexus 7. Argh.

Why Google? Because I knew that with a Google-branded device, I'd get the true Android experience. As it turns out, my old netbook and my new tablet are both manufactured by Asustek. However, my netbook has a low-end version of the Windows operating system, along with some so-called "value-added" stuff from Asustek that is jarringly different from the base OS. This is not only true of netbooks - take my Samsung Stratosphere phone, in which the Android OS has some "value-added" stuff from Verizon. Or even take the desktop computer on which I'm typing this post (again, I don't have the keyboard add-on for the tablet yet) - the computer has a regular-level Windows OS, with some "value-added" stuff from Hewlett Packard. Of course, Apple has operated that way since forever, but I have a commitment to both Microsoft and Google, so I figured that Android would be the way to go.

Since I set the computer up on Saturday, things have been going well. Most of the sites that I visit on my netbook are available as Android apps, and most of these apps have pretty good functionality. So far, I only have a few quibbles.

My first quibble involves the accessories that come with the Google Nexus 7 - specifically, the USB cable. The cable is two inches long, more or less. I exaggerate, but during my initial setup and charge of the device, it was disconcerting to be turned around sideways and staring at the power outlet all the time. I borrowed the USB cable from my phone a little later, and was then able to charge the device and use it simultaneously.

My second quibble involved the note-taking part. As I mentioned, I wanted to be able to take notes even when wi-fi was not available. I figured that Google Drive would do the job for me, since I had heard that this application can even work offline. And I set it up, and was actually able to VIEW a Google Drive document even when I was offline. Unfortunately, I couldn't EDIT the document - a problem encountered by others such as Benjamin Werres (see the first comment in this thread). However, Quickoffice appears to meet my needs - or will, once I get a keyboard.

My third quibble relates to some of the apps that are available for the Nexus 7. I had already been exposed to the Twitter app on my phone, and found that the tablet version of the Twitter app was equally limited. For example, if lists are available in the app, I can't find them. (Of course, I've recently had problems finding lists in the desktop version of Twitter.) In the Spotify app, I couldn't figure out a way to move a playlist into my folder of older playlists.

And my fourth quibble is a doozy.

I have been playing the online game Starfleet Commander for years. In fact, the planet "Morphing Planetrak" that I mentioned in a 2009 post is still there, although those mines are a lot larger. The biggest news in the Starfleet Commander world - other than the fact that Blue Frog Gaming keeps creating new Starfleet Commander universes every few months - is that a fully legal aid for Starfleet Commander users, OpenParser, has been available for a while.

By installing this script you will automatically and unobtrusively send the data from the galaxy screen in each of the Starfleet Commander and Stardrift Empires Universes to our databases as you play the game as normal. (Data from systems in which you have planets or a Heph/Titan is not parsed.) This information is then stored in the database and is accessible from your galaxy screen.

By clicking on the O! next to the player's name you will be taken to the main database with the players planets listed for you. You can then view tracking information for all of the player's planets, perform further searches by player name or alliance, and access other resources available.

By clicking on the (?) in the actions area you will open up a popup within the game window which will contain all the coordinates known for that person you are searching for. All the coordinates are clickable and will take you there, useful for checking if a target is online.

For the 99.9% of you who don't play Starfleet Commander, I should explain that the script helps you locate your enemies very quickly - an obvious help when playing a battle game. To the 0.1% of you who do play Starfleet Commander, get the script NOW.

So, how do you install the script? It can be installed in two browsers - Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox. (For Firefox, you have to install Greasemonkey first.) After you've installed the script as an extension, you can go merrily away looking for "O!" and "(?)" information.

Well, you can do this...unless you are running Chrome for Android, which does not support extensions.

Does Chrome for Android support apps and extensions?

Chrome apps and extensions are currently not supported on Chrome for Android. We have no plans to announce at this time.

This caused me to come face-to-face with an important decision - should I install Mozilla Firefox on my pristine new Google Nexus 7 tablet, even though Mozilla actively discriminates in hiring, is non-inclusive, and is non-diverse? I could demonstrate my principles by refusing to download Mozilla Firefox. But I really wanted to use the I downloaded Mozilla Firefox.

I then went to install Greasemonkey...but it is not compatible with the current version of Firefox, version 28.

So if you review all four of my quibbles, you'll see that I was able to find workarounds for the first two. At present I have to resort to a Windows operating system computer (netbook, laptop, or desktop) to work around the other two issues.

But the advantages of the Google Nexus 7 outweigh the disadvantages. It has the two gigabytes of RAM that I was lusting after in 2011, and at present that is enough for the types of multi-tasking that I do on the device. Some of the apps work better than their mobile phone counterparts because of the larger screen (my Solitaire app is a key case in point). And the device is much more portable than a netbook, and certainly much more portable than a laptop. And the battery life for this new device is even better than the battery life for the netbook when it was new (over the years, my netbook battery life has understandably decreased dramatically).

More later, I'm sure.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why restaurant patrons may want to turn their menus upside down

I work as a proposal writer for a living, but my proposals are never read by more than a few dozen people. If I wanted to be a widely-read proposal writer, I'd quit my job and go to work for a restaurant chain - or even for a single-location restaurant. More people read the menus in a restaurant in one day than will read one of my proposals over my entire lifetime.

A restaurant menu is a business proposal. The menu offers a variety of items that you can purchase, and then you as a restaurant patron choose which items to buy.

If a restaurant has any smarts about what it's doing, it will use its menu to guide you to the items that it wants you to buy, using a concept known as "menu engineering." Gregg Rapp outlines a four-step process to re-engineer - or re-re-engineer - a restaurant menu:

1. Cost your menu. (You can’t skip this step!)
2. Categorize menu items according to profit and popularity levels.
3. Design your menu.
4. Test your new menu design.

As part of the second step, categorization, the items on the restaurant menu are divided into four categories:

Stars—high profitability and high popularity
Plow-horses—low profitability and high popularity
Puzzles—high profitability and low popularity
Dogs—low profitability and low popularity

While the organization of items on the restaurant menu isn't the only determinant of profitability - waiter/waitress suggestions of menu items are obviously also important - the knowledge that the restaurant owner gains in the first two steps of Rapp's process (costing and categorizing) contributes to the menu design in the third step. For example, if one of the items on a restaurant menu is a "plow-horse" (low profitability, high popularity), you probably don't want to prominently feature it on your menu.

So where SHOULD you place the menu "stars"? Rapp and others have performed studies of various menu types are various positioning options, and have determined that for a two-panel menu, the area that garners the most attention is the top of the right-side panel. So perhaps that is the place that you want to place a "star," or a "puzzle" that you think will do well with just a bit more prominence.

If you're a RESTAURANT OWNER, read more of Rapp's suggestions in the article or at Rapp's company website.

And if you're a the same.

When a police department reads a proposal that I write, the intelligent people in the department figure out what I'm trying to emphasize...and what I'm trying to gloss over. They evaluate what I'm saying against their needs, and if I'm not addressing one of their chief needs, they'll ask questions about it.

Similarly, when a restaurant patron reads a re-engineered menu, and hears the waitress talking about the "two entrees for $39.99" special, an intelligent patron will figure out what's being sold.

Perhaps the patron will turn the menu upside down and see what's featured in the NEW top right corner - which was formerly the bottom left corner. What's being hidden there?

I'm not necessarily arguing that restaurants and patrons should be in an adversarial relationship - and if the featured item in the REAL top right corner best meets your needs, go ahead and order it.

Just remember that knowledge is power.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Glenn Shriver, espionage, and the slippery slope

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is promoting an old story about a man, Glenn Shriver, who was convicted of espionage on behalf of China. But while this particular story involves the recruitment of a U.S. national by the government of China, the same principles apply to the recruitment of a Russian national by the government of the United States - or the recruitment of Starwoods Hotels executives - and their private information - by Hilton Hotels.

The fascinating part of the story is that Shriver didn't wake up one morning and say to himself, "I want to spy for China." While he admitted to eventually receiving $70,000 for espionage, the whole process started with a simple $120 writing request.

Around October 2004, Shriver—living in Shanghai and financially strapped—responded to an English ad offering to pay individuals to write political papers. A woman named “Amanda” contacted him, met with him several times, and then paid him $120 to write a paper.

This part of Shriver's story was dramatized in a U.S. government video entitled "Game of Pawns" (transcript here). Note how innocuous the conversation sounded at the time.

Amanda: Hi, Glenn.

Shriver: Yes, Amanda. Nice to meet you. Thanks for having me.

Amanda: Thank you very much for coming. So how do you think the average American views China today?

Shriver: I think China is an enigma to many in our country. There are some who view China with suspicion, even fear, over the way you control your currency and your people, and quite frankly your fantastic economic growth.

Amanda: Well, what do you think?

Shriver: It’s complicated, but I found the people here to be remarkably free, and there is a fantastic entrepreneurial class emerging.

Amanda: You are a very thoughtful and candid young man, qualities I admire. We want to make Shanghai the business center of the world. We want Americans to think of Shanghai first when they expand to China. To do that we need to know how westerners perceive us as a country and as a city.

Shriver: So you want me to write about the business climate here?

Amanda: First, something political. Use your judgment.

Shriver: O.K. Cool.

Shriver wrote papers, Amanda paid him in cash, and things were going well. After a while, Amanda introduced Shriver to some other people.

Amanda introduced him to two associates who said they were interested in developing a “friendship” with him and who began suggesting that he consider applying for U.S. government jobs. Eventually, Shriver realized that the men and Amanda were affiliated with the PRC government; nonetheless he agreed to seek a government job.

And no, Shriver's friends didn't want him to apply to the National Park Service. We're talking about agencies such as the U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

This is a classic example of a slippery slope. A cash-strapped student in Shanghai finds a job that pays, in cash, for just writing some simple papers. Within the space of a few years, the student is receiving tens of thousands of dollars from people whom he knows are foreign agents, and is applying for a job with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

During the CIA application process, Shriver broke several laws:

Shriver ... made false statements on the CIA questionnaire required for employment stating that he had not had any contact with a foreign government or its representative during the last seven years, when in fact he had met in person with one or more of the officers approximately 20 times since 2004. He also deliberately omitted his travel to PRC in 2007 when he received a $40,000 cash payment from the PRC for applying to the CIA. In addition, Shriver made false statements during a series of screening interviews at the CIA, and he admitted he made each of the false statements to conceal his illicit relationship with the PRC intelligence officers.

As the dramatization notes, if Shriver had been successful in getting a job with the CIA, his Chinese "friends" had already acquired enough information about him to blackmail him into doing anything they wanted.

Which is why the name of the government dramatization is "Game of Pawns."

To be fair, I should note that some people were not as impressed with the video as I was. Business Insider:

The movie ends up being unintentionally hilarious, as many government-sponsored ostensibly cultural artifacts tend to be. It basically looks like an updated version of the shlocky anti-Soviet films the government used to pump out during the Cold War.

Plus, it's nearly a half hour long.

The Wall Street Journal:

What are those bizarre orange candelabras decorating tables in the restaurant where the actor-as-Shriver dines with his attractive Chinese female handler? Why are there large swaths of red fabric randomly draped around Mr. Shriver’s campus? (Presumably they’re there to remind the viewer that this is China, not the U.S.?)

As some observers have pointed out, most glaringly of all, the film actually appears to have been shot in downtown D.C.’s Chinatown, not Shanghai — perhaps because the U.S. government decided it wasn’t a great use of taxpayer money to do an on-site shoot.

Um, I don't think that China would have ALLOWED an on-site shoot.

And I still believe that this video is better than the IRS "Star Trek" video and some other government videos that have been produced over the years.

Keep it uncomplicated, stupid?

Our proposal process includes a mandatory quality assurance step.

When I submitted a recent proposal to QA, it included the word "uncomplicated."

When I received the proposal back, the word "uncomplicated" had been changed to "simple."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No, pay-at-table credit card processing is NOT necessarily more secure

A recent article in PMQ Pizza Magazine describes a security problem:

There aren’t many places where a customer would hand over his credit card to a complete stranger and lose sight of it for several minutes, but this transaction is routine at restaurants. Most consumers don’t give it much thought, but as identity theft becomes more commonplace and more lives are ruined every day by scam artists with pilfered credit card numbers, some technology companies have begun offering alternatives that allow restaurant guests to pay for their meals without having to surrender their plastic to a stranger.

I recently discussed one of these alternatives, the Ziosk device, in a post on my Empoprise-NTN NTN Buzztime blog - not because of its pay-at-table capabilities, but because the device potentially encourages customers to spend more money at restaurants. But the Ziosk device certainly offers the capability to pay your bill without giving a credit or debit card to your server. And there are other devices that offer this, including devices from TablePay of America and PayAnywhere.

However, it's a stretch to think that such a payment system is necessarily more secure. While such a system eliminates one type of fraud, it does not eliminate EVERY type of fraud. A dedicated hacker could presumably hack the device, or the wired or wireless network, and obtain the credit card information from the network. While the devices are relatively small, I'm sure that an enterprising cracker could develop a credit card skimmer. Look at what a skimmer recently did on the New York subway system:

According to New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) City Transit, an unidentified rider discovered [a] device at New York's 59th Street Columbus Circle subway station late Thursday. It consisted of a credit card skimmer placed over the vending machine's official card reader and — here's the ingenious part — a credit card camera situated just above the vending machine.

That camera was actually hidden inside a tiny, two-outlet power adapter. There was a tiny hole in its base for the camera.

Apparently, the camera was activated whenever an unsuspecting MTA customer inserted or removed their card. That meant the thieves would have both the scanned card info and any details about the card (and person) they can glean from the over-the-head photo. The camera was powered by a large battery pack hidden on top of the vending machine.

Of course, my transaction last Thursday was safe. For that particular restaurant visit, we paid with cash.

Do carry cash?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Circle of life, 21st century edition

So you can use Outbrain to drive traffic to your Kickstarter campaign - a fact I learned from a Facebook ad.

Unless Scar - I mean Heartbleed - interferes with the circle...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Brendan Eich, a political rights expansion of the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act...and everybody else

The whole issue of political activity by employees of private organizations is broader than California Proposition 8...or Brendan Eich...or Mozilla...or California law.

At least two writers, Jamelle Bouie and Rod Dreher, believe that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a possible solution to the problem. If you want to prevent Brendan Eich - or anyone - from being fired because of their political activity, then this may be the solution. Dreher wrote:

I would support a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, protecting gay and lesbian employees from being fired over their sexual orientation. I say “a version,” because I would want strong, clear carve-outs for companies and organizations for whom the sexuality of the employee is directly related to the organization’s ability to carry out its mission. (Similarly, I would want a group like the Metropolitan Community Church or the Human Rights Campaign to be able to dismiss an employee whose stated views against same-sex marriage directly affected their missions. The point is, I believe it’s wrong to fire an employee simply because he or she is gay or lesbian, and as long as a few conditions are met, should be illegal. We could have a federal labor law protecting the right of employees to off-the-job political speech, but that wouldn’t protect any employee from the force of boycotts and witch-hunting. Remember, the Hollywood blacklist was not imposed by the government, but by studio heads. This is about culture.

While the Employment Non-Discrimination Act does not specifically address "protecting the right of employees to off-the-job political speech," it could conceivably be expanded to protect such rights. After all, California workers, unlike Florida workers, are protected from losing their jobs because of off-the-job political speech. (Well, theoretically.)

Federal protection for private company employees from firing for off-the-job political activity would address numerous concerns. It would address the concerns of those who believe that Brendan Eich should be able to donate to Proposition 8 and be CEO of Mozilla. It would address the concerns of those who believe that Michael Italie should be able to campaign for mayor of Miami on the Socialist Workers Party ticket and work for Goodwill.

But Dreher raises a point - there may need to be some exceptions to the rule. Using one of his examples, would it be appropriate for Brendan Eich to be an employee of the Metropolitan Community Church?

And there are other examples.

Would it be appropriate for someone to be an employee of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod or the Roman Catholic Church who politically supports an end to gender discrimination in all employment, including the pastorate/priesthood?

Would it be appropriate for someone to be an employee of PETA who owns a cosmetic company? Or who owns stock in a cosmetic company? Or who buys cosmetics?

And could Goodwill/Mozilla argue that it is entirely appropriate to require that employees be "American"/"gay friendly," and that they should therefore be excluded from the proposed act?

Unless these questions can be adequately addressed, the message is clear - people should NOT engage in political activity.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My latest Jim Bakker moment - Brendan Eich's de facto firing may have been illegal under California law

I have previously stated that Mozilla's firing of Brendan Eich was perfectly legal. (Firing? I'll get to that in a minute.) This was based on a comparison of Eich's case with the case of Michael Italie, a Florida Socialist who was fired from Goodwill. From Slate:

[W]hen the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union looked into Italie's case, it discovered...that Goodwill was on strong legal footing. "There is no legal case to be brought," explains Miami chapter president Lida Rodriguez-Taseff. "The law is pretty clear that a private employer can fire someone based on their political speech even when that political speech does not affect the terms and conditions of employment."

But Italie was in Florida. Eich was in California. And Robert Cooper has shared a link to a post at the California Workforce Resource Blog. The post cites a particular California law:

Under California law it is blatantly illegal to fire an employee because he has donated money to a political campaign. This rule is clearly set forth in Labor Code sections 1101-1102:

More details here.

And what of the claim that Eich wasn't fired by Mozilla? OK, he wasn't fired by Mozilla (wink wink), but as a Slashdot commenter notes, Mozilla certainly didn't support its employee.

As Eich stepped down, Re/code reported that Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker said Eich's ability to lead the company had been badly damaged by the continued scrutiny over the hot-button issue. 'It's clear that Brendan cannot lead Mozilla in this setting,' Baker was quoted as saying. 'I think there has been pressure from all sides, of course, but this is Brendan's decision. Given the circumstances, this is not surprising.'

Personally, I doubt that Eich is going to file a wrongful termination suit, since the disadvantages of doing so far outweigh the advantages. However, I'll say it again: Mozilla is going to have a hard time finding a new CEO with any amount of talent.

One person who is clearly unqualified to be CEO of Mozilla is Sam Yagan, for two reasons.

First, as Michael Arrington points out, Yagan gave a $500 political contribution to U.S. Congressman Chris Cannon - who has received a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign regarding support of gay rights. Obviously Mozilla couldn't have anyone like Yagan running Mozilla, since he's just as bad (well, technically, half as bad) as Eich.

Second, as Arrington also notes, Yagan already has a job.

Sam Yagan is the co-founder of OkCupid and CEO of, OkCupid’s parent company

OkCupid, as you may recall, raised a big stink about Eich's appointment as CEO.

Arrington, not one to shy away from harsh words, says this about OkCupid:

I believe that it was a PR stunt by OKCupid, that the company isn’t really committed to gay rights at all, and that OkCupid co-founder Sam Yagan was particularly hypocritical in this.

To go further, I think that a person and/or a company who deliberately destroy a man’s reputation and career under false pretenses just to get a PR bump is being explicitly evil.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why be transparent when Mozilla - and many of your bosses - have the right to discriminate for political reasons?

This post was originally going to be very different.

When I began researching this post, I intended to compare Mozilla's refusal to back up Brendan Eich with the 1970s-era ACLU's willingness to back up the Nazis who wanted to march through Skokie.

There are some parallels between the two, after all.

Both Mozilla and the American Civil Liberties Union espouse a particular set of principles.

Both organizations became involved with entities (Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, ACLU client the American Nazi Party) who espoused different principles.

Both organizations were criticized, from outsiders and from within, about this involvement.

The difference, in my mind? The ACLU (at least at the time) stuck by its principles to defend the free spech rights of everyone, despite the fact that it lost 30,000 members as a result. Mozilla, as you may have heard, pretty much decided that inclusiveness only goes so far.

But as I thought about it more, there was a much more important difference between Eich and the proposed Nazi march through Skokie.

The city of Skokie is a governmental entity, and is therefore somewhat constrained in discriminating against people because of their political views.

Mozilla is not a governmental entity, and therefore can perform as much political discrimination as it wants.

It should be noted that Mozilla is prevented by law from discriminating against people because of their religious beliefs or their sexual preferences. But political discrimination is fair game, as I previously noted when discussing Goodwill's firing of Michael Italie because he was a socialist.

So Mozilla can fire anyone who donated to Proposition 8, and Hobby Lobby can fire anyone who opposes Obamacare.

Is there a lesson in this? Yes, but it's not the lesson that Michelle Quinn derived:

[I]n not explaining why he made a $1,000 donation to support Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ballot initiative, or clarifying his views now, [Eich] let the bubbling controversy over his stance fester and reach a point in which his only option was to step down.

Quinn believes that Eich wasn't transparent enough.

I believe that Eich was too transparent.

The clear lesson from the experiences of Eich, Tony Hayward, and other people who have fallen afoul of public opinion?

Reveal as little as possible about yourself.

Let's face it, I've already endangered my chances of ever becoming CEO of Mozilla. And I'm sure my chances of becoming CEO of Hobby Lobby have been similarly endangered.

I happen to disagree with Nuno Maia:

The next Mozilla CEO better be a vegetarian.

I doubt it; because of the backlash to the backlash, even the selection of a prominent credentialed progressive may be considered too "edgy." Mozilla showed no backbone when everyone criticized Eich, and they're not going to grow a backbone if the American Family Association suddenly urges all families to abandon Mozilla.

No, the next CEO of Mozilla - if Mozilla finds someone willing to take the job - will be a bland individual with no dangerous opinions whatsoever.

And no, don't count on Zelig taking the position - he has troubles of his own.

On the intrinsic value of gold

This may end up launching a series of posts on intrinsic value, but I wanted to start off with gold.

People use a lot of things for currency - Federal Reserve Notes, Bitcoin, and Britxon Pounds among them - but there are those that argue that these pieces of paper or ether have no intrinsic value. What DOES have intrinsic value? Victor J. Aguilar quotes various authorities on this topic:

"Investors seek the intrinsic value of gold to protect themselves from inflation." – Ron Paul

"All political truth can be found in a coin shop." – Jeffrey Tucker

"Basic economic axiom: Money must originate from a commodity with intrinsic value." – Mark Anderson

"Gold and silver have intrinsic value." – Paul 4 Won

"Gold and silver are money made by God. He created them. Paper dollars are made by men! Whose money am I going to trust?" – Sierra HPBT

"The point of buying gold and silver is that the purchasing power of the metals don't change. So, while the dollar goes up and down, gold and silver do not." – Clark St Music

To which I say - poppycock.

While Aguilar has some excellent arguments against the claim that gold has an intrinsic value, I have some of my own.

At the end of the day, a commodity has whatever value we assign to it. If two people think that Bitcoin has a particular value, it has a particular value. If two people think that four-leaf clovers (also created by God) have a particular value, they have a particular value.

To prove this, I suggest that we conduct the following experiment:

(1) Give Ron Paul five pounds of gold.
(2) Lead him twenty miles into the desert in the middle of the summer.
(3) Place him in a locked cage.
(4) Wait two days.
(5) Send someone out to Ron with one liter of water, with an offer to sell the liter of water for three pounds of gold.

Where's that intrinsic value now, gold bugs?

P.S. I realize that I'm endangering my opportunity to ever become CEO of Mozilla, but I would like to cite one Biblical reference here. You see, the Bible does mention gold in hundreds of instances, and one mention appears to pertain to the topic of goldbugs. Revelation 9:20:

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk,

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

There's definitely some idolatry of gold going on in some circles.

P.P.S. A question for the gold salesperson - if gold is truly going to skyrocket in value, why are you so eager to sell it to me?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why Akemi Gaines doesn't care for Nordstrom's customer service

When discussing whether to take a broad look at a business, or to perform a detailed examination on one particular part of the business, two terms that are often used are "forest" and "trees." Well, there are a lot of forests and trees in the Pacific Northwest, which is where Nordstrom is based. Many people, including Guy Kawasaki, have made glowing comments about Nordstrom's exceptional customer service.

Akemi Gaines is not among them.

When referring to the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Gaines referenced two examples of Nordstrom's customer service:

The Nordie who cheerfully gift wrapped products a customer bought at Macy’s

The Nordie who refunded money for a set of tire chains – although Nordstrom doesn’t sell tire chains

(In case you didn't figure it out, "Nordie" is the word that is used internally to refer to Nordstrom employees. As an ex-Motorolan, I can appreciate the internal use of silly terms.)

From the tree perspective, this is great, and perhaps these two customers would actually purchase things at Nordstrom in the future. But Gaines took a forest view, and was concerned.

Why does Nordstrom refund money for something it didn’t sell? Is it because this customer makes other lots of purchases? Or is it because he made a fuss? Do they do this to anyone who wants money for unwanted tire chains?

And where does that money come from? From other customers, of course. So Nordstrom is spending their profit made off from honest customers and making dishonest customers happy. Is this really an example of outstanding customer service?

In my opinion, this is the case of unreasonable customer demand.

How about gift wrapping Macy’s products? This is less of a problem . . . wrapping paper cost is pretty negligible. Still, Nordstrom is using their employee time to do this. And their paycheck comes from – again, from the money customers pay. I think this is a borderline demand that is very close to being unreasonable.

I previously said that Gaines was concerned. Actually, Gaines was VERY concerned.

I like Nordstrom, but after reading this story, I was baffled. And I think twice when I buy anything there.

Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.