Thursday, November 27, 2014

Holding, but not for effect (a future Black Thursday)

Yes, I know that I was supposed to run another post today, but circumstances dictate that I hold that previously written post for a while. And no, I'm not holding for effect.

So to fill the time, I figured that I'd tell a story about the future.

It was before dawn on Thanksgiving morning, and Kent was excited. Sure, it was going to be a long day, but there was still a sense of excitement about it. Kent lived in the United States of America, and all Americans knew what Thanksgiving morning meant.


Not that Kent was going to do any shopping himself, of course, but to Kent this day meant a steady paycheck, because he worked in retail. And when you worked in retail, everyone got a chance to work on Thanksgiving day, whether they wanted to or not.

Kent's father had told him about the old days, back in the 20th century, when stores would actually close on Thanksgiving Day. Back in those days, Black Thursday happened on Friday. (They called it Black Friday, of course.) In those days, Thursday would be the day that you'd relax in anticipation of Friday shopping. Eventually, however, some stores figured that there was no point in waiting for Friday to start the Christmas selling season. Why not start Thursday, when everyone was off of work anyway, and make a bigger splash?

This was Kent's third year of working at Spenacy's - his father remembered when Spenacy's was actually four separate stores, Sears, KMart, J.C. Penney, and Macy's - and Kent had the routine down pat. Get to work early in the morning, before the sun came up, for the very important Black Thursday launch meeting. This was when the store manager provided last minute instructions to the staff on security procedures, sale hours, and the like.

This year, there was a little twist. In past years, there was a marked difference between the Spenacy's "suits" and the people who did the real work. Employee clubs (there were no unions at Spenacy's) often berated the corporate office people who took it easy while the employees were managing the holiday crowds in the stores. Well, that changed this year. The corporate employees, rather than having Thanksgiving Day off, were required to go to a nearby store and help out. Kent's store even had a special guest, a senior vice president from Spenacy's Shanghai headquarters. His English wasn't all that good, but the employees knew what he meant when he said, "Make good sale!"

At 5:55, someone gently reminded the senior vice president that he had to quit speaking. Security left the meeting immediately and rushed to the front doors, ready to manage the crowds. The rest of the Spenacy's employees followed, getting into their positions in their departments. Most of the suits went to the special returns section - the store knew from experience that if the store opened at 6:00, the first returns would start coming in around 7:00, either because the shoppers bought duplicate gifts, or they were able to secure a better deal at one of Spenacy's competitors (Waltareleven was a fierce price competitor).

Kent was in position in automotive when the loudspeaker announced, "Welcome to Spenacy's! The store is now open!"

Then, nothing.

Kent kept looking at the aisle that led toward the front of the store, but there were no shoppers running up the aisle.

After two minutes of no customers, Kent realized that something was seriously wrong. Perhaps security couldn't unlock the doors. Perhaps the shoppers rushed the doors and were being held back while injuries - or even deaths - were being attended to.

Kent was about to ask his supervisor if he could leave his position and go up front to see what was happening, but then his supervisor walked up herself to check things out. Kent followed.

As the employees left their positions and walked toward the front of the store, they saw - nothing.

Not a single shopper had come to the store. The lot was empty except for the employee and corporate cars.

If nothing else, Kent expected to see his neighbor Brandon there. Brandon's kids all had their own cars, and Kent had told Brandon about the 6 AM sales on automotive products. Brandon expressed interest in some of the products, so Kent figured that Brandon would be at Spenacy's bright and early.

Kent snuck back to his locker, pulled out his personal cell phone, and called Brandon's house.

One of Brandon's daughters answered.

"Hey, is your father there?" Kent asked.

"No," answered Brandon's daughter. "He had to go to work early today. He'll probably be working until about 8."

"So he has to go into work for two hours on Thanksgiving?"

"No, fourteen hours. He gets off at 8. Oh, I meant to say 8 pm."

Kent put his phone back in his locker. Then he remembered that Brandon said he'd be having a busy week at work. He worked for a software company that provided a payment application for mobile devices, and his company wanted all employees to be available on Thursday to assist in case there were any payment app problems at the retailers.

As Kent walked back to automotive, he did see a stray customer or two wandering around the store. A mother with a crying baby who was looking for formula. A guy with dirty hands who needed four quarts of oil right then. A couple of kids on their way to school (schools were open that day) who just wanted some candy.

As the day wore on, and as the employees and corporate help spent most of their time standing around, it slowly dawned on the corporate vice president and everyone else:

Everyone was so busy working on the Thanksgiving Day sales, or supporting the Thanksgiving Day sales, or supporting the supporters, that no one had any time to shop.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Offensive Football League, for real

Back in early September 2013, I wrote a parody futuristic post about a mythical sports league called the Offensive Football League. The post consisted of the supposed commentary by sportscaster Marv Albert during the inaugural OFL game. As part of that commentary, Albert explained the rules of the new league.

Now for those of you who haven't paid attention to all of the OFL talk, you'll immediately notice a couple of major differences between the OFL and the NFL. The first is that the Enlightened is not lining up to receive a kickoff from the Resistance. That's because in OFL football, there IS no kickoff. The offense simply lines up at their own 20 yard line.

Now you've also noticed that San Francisco has not yet taken the field. Again, this is because of an OFL rules change. In the OFL, there is no defense. Other than that, it's the same as the NFL. The offense gets four downs to advance ten yards. If they are unable to do so, the opposing team takes the ball at its own 20. This resulted from the wisdom of the crowds, who wanted to see more offense. In that case, why bother with a defense? And the team owners like the arrangement also, since their personnel costs were cut in half. Actually, more than half, since there are no punters and no kickers. Extra points after touchdowns were eliminated because two point conversions bring more -

At this point, Albert interrupted his commentary to provide play-by-play for the first official OFL game. You can see the results of the first play here.

Ha ha ha. As if football would ever switch to an offense-only configuration in real life.

Since I wrote that post, 1 1/2 NFL seasons have gone into the books. And yes, defense still exists in the NFL.

But we rarely talk about it.

Back in 2013, the Philadelphia Eagles played their first games under new coach Chip Kelly, and we're talking about what Kelly is doing. You can bet that Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News is talking about it - Dallas is facing Philadelphia tomorrow.

This isn’t an ideal time in the Cowboys’ schedule for a short week of preparation.

And it has nothing to do with all the earthquakes around Dallas these days.

What has more magnitude for the Cowboys this week has wings.

The energized Philadelphia offense challenges defenses like no other team in the league because of the Eagles’ up-tempo style of play.

Many NFL teams use a hurry-up offense at times. The Eagles do it every play.

P.S. Yes, events in 2014 have conspired to give the title "Offensive Football League" a whole new meaning - such that when Katy Perry was officially announced as the Super Bowl halftime entertainment, one comment thread included the following:

I was hoping for Chris Brown.


No, ConocoPhillips is not suing itself

Another Courthouse News Service piece looks at the dispute between ConocoPhillips and Venezuela from ConocoPhillips' point of view. It begins as follows:

Venezuela's national oil company is selling CITGO to move the money back home and prevent ConocoPhillips from collecting an impending billion-dollar arbitration award, ConocoPhillips claims in court.

So who's reportedly buying CITGO?

CITGO is shopping its assets to energy heavyweights Valero, Chevron, Marathon and Phillips 66

Uh, wait a minute. Isn't Phillips 66 by definition part of ConocoPhillips? So if Phillips 66 buys CITGO, does ConocoPhillips have to sue itself?

No. It turns out that Phillips 66 was spun off from ConocoPhillips and is now an independent company. So the former family members are now separated.

I've run across this myself; after my current company was sold by Motorola, there were obviously questions about why we were using Motorola hardware devices (although those hardware devices have also been spun off by Motorola).

And sometimes it happens the other way. Years ago I was hearing a sales pitch from a company - I won't mention the name of the company, but they like yachts and the color red a lot - and the company salespeople were telling us to buy one of the company's products, and not to buy Product X from a competitor because it was inferior.

Well, next thing you know, this particular company acquired the provider of Product X. (The company also likes acquisitions.)

In my next encounter with the salespeople, they were suddenly singing Product X's praises and saying that it was obviously the superior product.

What have you done for me lately?

P.S. If you couldn't figure out the acquisition deal involving the red yacht-loving company, it's this one. And if I had followed the ORIGINAL sales advice, I would have had to do a migration later.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grover Jackson, Carlton Easton, and the intricacies of racism

When Courthouse News Service runs articles such as this one, they are usually told by one side of the dispute. This obviously leads to an incomplete or possibly skewed version of the legal issues involved.

Grover Jackson sued Policemen's Benevolent Association Local No. 105 on Nov. 10 in Essex County Superior Court.

The complaint comes in the wake of a June 2013 grievance that Jackson filed against Newark's Northern State Prison while he was working as a senior corrections officer there.

That October, Jackson allegedly met to discuss the status of that grievance with Carlton Easton, PBA 105's institutional vice president. Easton is not a party to the action.

Jackson says that Easton "responded in an unnecessarily aggressive and demeaning manner to plaintiff's comments about his grievance" during the meeting.

I won't explicitly identify the demeaning manner that Courthouse News Service documented, but suffice it to say that a word that rhymes with "trigger" was reportedly used about 15 times.

Courthouse News Service then identifies the lawyer representing Grover Jackson and concludes its piece.

Wanting to hear the other side, I went to the Policemen's Benevolent Association Local No. 105 web site. It had no statement on the controversy, but it did identify the union leadership, including Carlton Easton (one of several institutional vice presidents).

If you look at his page, you'll notice something that was not stated in the Courthouse News Service piece.

Is Easton's race a relevant part of this story?

Or is it not a relevant part of this story?

Monday, November 24, 2014

When testimonials don't ring true (so our Flavia coffee machine has Windows registry errors?)

As long-time readers of this blog know, our office has had Flavia coffee machines for years. In fact, we're on our second generation of Flavia machines.

If you're not familiar with a Flavia coffee machine, it is an automated machine based upon the same principles as the Keurig and Nespresso machines. The Flavia machine has a small display screen with buttons that allow you to make your selection - coffee, tea, latte, or whatever. You then put the appropriate packet (or packets) in the machine, and your drink is prepared for you with 21st century technological charm.

Our new generation Flavia machines like to display a particular error code every once in a while, and in an effort to find out more about the error, I turned to the wisdom of the Internet. I ran across this:

Incidentally, I was not getting error 328 on our Flavia machines - I was getting another error - but something about this text struck me as odd. I have no idea what operating system platform is used to run the Flavia software, and it's quite possible that some form of Windows is running behind the scenes. However, errors on devices such as a Flavia coffee machine usually indicate a hardware problem, not a software problem, so I'm not certain that a Windows registry error fixer is the type of tool that I need.

(Incidentally, I am intentionally NOT linking to the page in question - which is NOT - because, after spending a few seconds on the page, I received a suggestion to download some software. While I'm certain that the software is wonderful and free and will never cost you a dime, others may disagree with my opinion.)

My misgivings were only amplified as I continued to read the page and ran across some testimonials for the software, describing the customers' pleasure at its ability to fix Windows Flavia Coffee Machine Error 328.

Yeah, right.

I can just picture the scene now, very early on the morning of September 25.


"Yes, honey?"

"I can't get any coffee from the coffee machine!"

"Why are you getting coffee at 2:47 in the morning?"

"I was thirsty. Erick, maybe it wasn't a good idea to install a corporate coffee machine in our house."

"Now honey, don't worry. I bet it's just a registry error. I heard about some software that can fix those. I'll download it and fix your coffee machine within the hour!"

"Oh, Erick, you're the best husband I ever had!"

"But honey, I'm the only husband you ever had!"

"No, I told you about Jimmy, the Xerox copier repair technician. And before that there was Charlie, the Boeing aircraft engineer. And in high school I dated Fred, who worked after school at the machine gun factory. He's the one who died in that tragic accident. Erick? Erick?"

P.S. After composing this post, I found a 2008 Flavia error codes handbook on Docstoc (downloadable here). Error code 328 is a "pack eject timeout" error (the packet of coffee or tea or whatever is jammed in the machine). I couldn't find the error code that I was looking for, but our current machines were probably manufactured after this 2008 book was published.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My unfortunate mashup of the day

Original tweet here.

If you missed it, my somewhat more serious post on Ubergate is here.

Ethics in crowdsourced taxi journalism (Uber buzzes Lacy)

Up and down.
But in the end it's only round and round.

(Pink Floyd, "Us and Them")

Everyone has weighed in on "Ubergate," including Loren Feldman, but I have kept with my usual non-trendiness and am just now catching up on the brouhaha.

Then again, 99% of the world's population doesn't care about Uber or Sarah Lacy, so I'm not alone.

If you're part of the 99%, here's a quick catchup, starting with Buzzfeed:

Over dinner, [Uber's Emil Michael] outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.

At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

Talk is talk, but Lacy was not amused when she heard about the conversation:

I first heard of this when [Buzzfeed writer Ben] Smith called me for comment over the weekend. I was out late at a work dinner in London and stepped out into the cold to take the call. A chill ran down my spine that had little to do with the weather, as he described the bizarre interaction. I immediately thought of my kids at home halfway around the world, just getting out of their baths and groggily pulling on their pajamas, and how the new line that this company was willing to cross would affect them.

This is not the first time that someone has compiled an "enemies list," of course, and it won't be the last. The question is what you do with that enemies list.

To be frank, there will always be an enemies list - or, at a minimum, a frenemies list. Uber and Lyft may have similar views about overturning the old taxi cartel, but they're obviously going to fight each other - at least until the merger talks begin. (You can't be Sirius, John, suggesting a merger?)

Perhaps Uber would be better off if it took a more positive approach toward its critics, or perhaps not. But negative publicity can't really help your company, unless for some reason you're intentionally courting it.

On the other hand, based upon an admitted reading of only a single article, it appears that Pando Daily (Lacy's outfit) has a longstanding animosity toward Uber. As a writer, I'll admit that I love nothing better than to return to a cherished battle and fire yet another salvo at a particular target. But repeated volleys have diminished effectiveness over time.

Years ago, TechCrunch weighed in on women who complain and complain and complain about sexism.

Are more women not in management decisions by choice or because the chose not to be or because of a glass ceiling? Until we have some new way to look at this issue, I’m done discussing it because the discussion doesn’t ever get us anywhere new. Bloggers saying this needs attention are playing to a crowd or just haven’t been doing their homework....

But suffice to say for all those people who jump up and down about the problem in the Valley: Statistically you are the envy of the world. Statistically, women have enough leadership roles at lower levels that you should be able to move up if you are talented and you want to....

One of the best speakers I’ve heard at Summer Davos was also one of the most successful people, and he came from a far more challenged background than the average American. His advice in an off-the-record mentor session was this: “The most successful people in the world never complain. I’m tired of people saying their opportunities were taken away from them by others.” Amen.

Now I'll grant that this is a different issue than digging up dirt on someone. Which is just as well, because the 2010 TechCrunch article wasn't written by Emil Michael or Michael Arrington or Bill Cosby. The article was written by someone else.

You can't claim employment discrimination if you're not employed, part two

This is a follow-up to my earlier post about two people who were fired from volunteer jobs, possibly because of their religious beliefs.

In this new story, Gary Vander Boegh was a landfill manager employed by Weskem.

During that time, he reported that the uranium enrichment plant had been illegally dumping radiological waste, contaminating the groundwater. This revelation qualified Vander Boegh for whistleblower protections.

In 2005, Weskem lost that particular contract to a new company, EnergySolutions. Vander Boegh applied for the landfill manager job with the new company, and was not hired. He claims that he wasn't hired because of his previous whistleblower activities, and that the failure to hire him was employment discrimination.

But the 6th Circuit (we saw this circuit earlier) disagreed.

The 6th Circuit affirmed Tuesday that Vander Boegh cannot sue EnergySolutions for employment discrimination because he was just an applicant - not an employee.

"The plain meaning of 'employee' does not plausibly extend to Vander Boegh because he never worked for EnergySolutions," U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Griffin said, writing for the three-judge panel.

Now there are legal protections for job applicants - if a particular company continuously refuses to hire black women, the applicants have a case.

However, it doesn't appear that whistleblower protections apply here.

You can't claim employment discrimination if you're not employed

There is often a lot of misunderstanding about the protections that we have. For example, as I noted in an August 2013 post, there is no Constitutional or Federal protection that prevents a private employer from firing an employee because of his or her political views.

Michael Italie was fired by Goodwill Industries in 2001 because he was running for mayor of Miami on the Socialist Workers Party ticket. Italie quickly discovered that while he couldn't be fired for his religious views, and while a government employee couldn't be fired for his or her political views, a private employer could very easily be fired for political views.

So if you're a passionate Republican who wants to work for George Soros, don't bother.

However, religion is clearly protected by Federal and state law, and you can't fire someone because of his or her religious beliefs.

Or can you?

Take the case of Michael Marie and Mary Cabrini, two nuns who are members of the Order of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. If you think that all Roman Catholics have identical beliefs, think again. These nuns believe that Vatican II was a mistake, and that the Mass should not have been changed.

Anyway, these two sisters volunteered with both the Red Cross and the Ross County Emergency Management Agency. In both of these organizations, a woman named Mary McCord holds high executive position. McCord is Catholic, but is not a traditionalist Catholic.

The two nuns claim that McCord not only prevented them from being promoted, but also fired them from the Ross County Emergency Management Agency.

Assuming that McCord orchestrated these job actions for religious reasons, this initially sounds like a clear case of religious discrimination, where two people suffered employment discrimination because of their religious beliefs.

Well, there's only one little problem - since the two were volunteers and not employees, there was no such thing as employment discrimination, according to the 6th Circuit:

"The Red Cross and RCEMA not only did not provide a regular salary to the Sisters, but they also did not provide them with traditional benefits such as medical, vision, or dental insurance. As these types of benefits are often present in the employment relationship, their absence also weighs against a finding that the Sisters were employees," U.S. Circuit Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove said, writing for the three-judge panel....

"Even if RCEMA and the Red Cross would have threatened to sever their volunteer relationship with the Sisters upon their refusal to adhere to a set schedule or to accept the tasks given them, this does not necessarily show that the agencies exercised any real control over the Sisters. Unlike most employees, the Sisters are not economically reliant on RCEMA or the Red Cross in any real or measurable way," since they receive all living expenses from their order, the 28-page opinion states.

Full case here.

Now it's quite possible that this could be overturned on appeal, or that a different court may reach a different conclusion in a similar case. But for now, it appears that you have to actually be an employee to suffer employment discrimination.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Management by fear

Management by fear. The image that is conjured by those words is one that is, to put it mildly, unpleasant. I remember a consulting job that I had decades ago, where the supervisor was making one of his subordinates physically ill. Several months later I ran into the subordinate, who was now smiling - her fearful supervisor had left the company.

But there's another management by fear that is much more common than the verbally or physically threatening hothead. In the course of her article Ten Stupid Rules That Drive Great Employees Away, Liz Ryan asks the following question:

Why do companies install so many stupid rules and policies?

Her answer?

Fear is the reason. Fearful managers don't trust themselves to hire people they could trust to do the right thing. There is a tremendous amount of fear in many corporations, institutions and startups. Small companies are not immune to fear.

The fear often manifests itself when the firm sets a policy to avoid a past mistake. Here's one of Ryan's examples:

There are still employers that require their employees to bring in funeral notices in order to be eligible for a few days' paid bereavement leave. That's shocking and horrifying.

No doubt some employee way back when falsified a family death to get some time off, and ever since then the company has been writing its policies to prevent such a fraud from re-occurring.

Bad employment policies are like bad laws - long after the threat has gone away, the policies are still there, and thirty years later, you still have to get manager approval to replace your name badge.

Can you think of any examples of management by fear at your company?

Monday, November 17, 2014

The problem with being Big Data-Driven

I don't talk about BIG DATA all that much - not because I am not trendy, but because I rarely have anything to say about it. Occasionally the topic will come up, but it's not a major theme in my business blogging.

This is probably a good thing.

Why? Because the term BIG DATA is, on its own, a tool in search of a benefit. Not that you could tell this from the literature:

After transforming customer-facing functions such as sales and marketing, big data is extending its reach to other parts of the enterprise. In research and development, for example, big data and analytics are being adopted across industries, including pharmaceuticals.

And here's another one:

Research firm Gartner said that big data analytics will play a crucial role in detecting crime and security infractions. By 2016, more than 25 percent of global firms will adopt big data analytics for at least one security and fraud detection use case, up from current eight percent.

But if we focus on BIG DATA, we may miss something. Qvidian's Amanda Wilson makes this point in a blog post geared toward sales operations professionals, but applicable to many of us.

One section of this post is entitled "Less Data Driven, More Driving of the Data." This is an important distinction, as Wilson notes:

Data is being captured at almost every point in the marketing and selling process, so the amount of information we can gain on what’s going on is at an all-time high. But the key is to not just look for the new analytics tool of the month, or dazzle your leadership with pretty dashboards and visualizations. Because data doesn’t make decisions, people do.

Read more of Wilson's comments here.

And don't forget Sujatha Das' point that data is just the first step to wisdom.

Friday, November 14, 2014

More on Just (Not?) Mayo

On Monday, I wrote a post that discussed various foods - or not foods, depending upon your point of view. One of the items discussed was a product from Hampton Creek Foods called Just Mayo. As I noted on Monday, the innovation of Hampton Creek Foods is that their products are produced without using animals.

Therefore, Just Mayo contains no eggs.

As I wrote that post, I did not realize the implications of this on the product name. However, as Keith Wilson notes, there are certainly implications:

I have to agree mayo contains eggs. If it doesn't contain eggs it shouldn't be called mayo, it's a mayo-like substance.

Now Hampton Creek Foods may not care what Keith Wilson thinks, but they'll probably have to pay attention to Unilever:

Unilever, the parent company of Hellmann’s, sued a San Francisco-based Hampton Creek for false advertising over the company’s use of the word “mayo” in its eggless sandwich spread’s name.

According to the suit, Unilever claims that the name of the Just Mayo spread misleads consumers because regulators and dictionaries define mayonnaise as a spread that contains eggs.

According to Consumerist, Hampton Creek agrees that mayonnaise is a spread that contains eggs - which is why its product is not called Just Mayonnaise.

However, Hampton Creek could do a lot more to stop Unilever. In fact, Hampton Creek could boldly pronounce that its product is NOT mayonnaise, and if you want to buy true chicken-based mayonnaise, Unilever would be happy to provide it to you.

(Source: PETA)

Of course, Hampton Creek's message would only be effective if it partnered with the (so called) People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. As you may guess, PETA is not a fan of chicken eggs:

The 346 million chickens used each year for their eggs, called “laying hens” by the industry, endure a nightmare that lasts for two years.

At just a few days old, a large portion of each hen’s beak is cut off with a burning-hot blade, and no painkillers are used. Many birds, unable to eat because of the pain, die from dehydration and weakened immune systems.

After enduring these mutilations, hens are shoved into tiny wire “battery” cages, which measure roughly 18 by 20 inches and hold five to 11 hens, each of whom has a wingspan of 32 inches. Even in the best-case scenario, each hen will spend the rest of her life crowded in a space about the size of a file drawer with four other hens, unable to lift even a single wing.

Sounds like hell, man.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Now this is serious. It has a serious name - Photonic Fence.

Back in March 2009, I wrote about some people, including Nathan Myhrvold and Dr. Lowell Wood, who proposed to combat the spread of malaria by killing mosquitoes with lasers. I commented at the time:

I'm sure [that] Dr. Wood acted all serious in the meetings, talking about combating malaria and saving the world, but once he got away from the money people, he jumped up in joy and started talking about really kewl laser action!

Well, the idea has continued to evolve, and now it's no longer a hand-held laser. The new prototype is called the Photonic Fence.

The device creates a virtual fence that detects insects as they cross its plane. Once detected, the photonic fence uses the insect’s wing beat to determine if it’s a mosquito, identify if that mosquito is female (only females bite humans), and then shoot the mosquito out of the sky with a laser. Photonic fence devices could be set along the perimeter of villages or buildings to control mosquito populations without interfering with human traffic.

A fence that kills females - at first I wondered if I was reading about #GamerGate.

But the Wikipedia article on the technology links to criticism of the idea from Dr. Bart Knols. Among other things, the requirement for a stable power supply to operate the Photonic Fence makes the whole idea a non-starter in those areas of Africa that are worried about malaria.

Monday, November 10, 2014

An explanatory note to Europeans

Dear Europe,

Some, but not all, businesses will be closed in the United States on Tuesday, November 11 for the holiday that we call Veterans Day (and that we used to call Armistice Day, back when we thought that the World War was the war to end all wars).

Yes, I know that you call it Remembrance Day, but we do our remembering in late May, on the day that we call Memorial Day.

This gives us a holiday in May. No, most of us don't celebrate May Day, because we're not a bunch of Commies.

What is food? (Just Mayo, GMOs, Soylent, the Impossible Cheeseburger, and good bugs)

Back in March 2009, right about when this particular blog was starting up, I wrote a post that referenced another post in a blog called Small Business Labs. I haven't looked at Small Business Labs in years, but I peeked at it recently, and saw a post entitled The Future of Food.

I've previously discussed Beyond Eggs in a post in my tymshft blog. The product, provided (or should I say manufactured?) by Hampton Creek Foods, has subsequently taken a back seat to two other products, Just Mayo and Just Cookies. The common theme of the new products? Both are considered "sustainable," inasmuch as there aren't any of those chickens laying those messy eggs. Just Mayo, for example, includes the following ingredients:

Non-GMO Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Filtered Water, Lemon Juice, White Vinegar, 2% or less of the following: Organic Sugar, Salt, Pea Protein, Spices, Modified Food Starch, Beta-Carotene.*

Note that Hampton Creek Foods makes a big deal out of the non-GMO nature of its ingredients. There are those who believe that it is important to avoid genetically modified organisms. There are those (such as I do) who would like to be informed whether my food in GMO or non-GMO. And there are those who believe that it doesn't make a hill of beans ("natural" or otherwise) whether a food is a GMO food or not; in fact, Tad Donaghe characterizes anti-GMO people as 21st century Luddites. Donaghe's view is based upon the scientific evidence:

Every major scientific body and regulatory agency in the world has reviewed the research about GMOs and openly declared crop biotechnology and the foods currently available for sale to be safe. GM crops are as safe–and in the case of nutrtionally enhanced varieties, such as Golden Rice, healthier–than conventional and organic crops. The consensus over the health and safety is as strong as the consensus that we are undergoing human induced climate change, vaccines are beneficial and not harmful and evolution is a fact.

Of course, there are other studies....

And I haven't even brought up the food (or "food") that was intentionally given the unfortunate name of Soylent.

Put simply, Soylent 1.0 is healthy, easy, affordable food.

Soylent 1.0 is a simple, efficient and affordable drink that possesses what a body needs to be healthy.

Soylent 1.0 is a new option for maintaining a balanced state of ideal nutrition, just like traditional food.

OK, so what is it?

Soylent is a convenient powder that is mixed with water.

Some tout Soylent as the future of food, but David Tao (who experienced bloating and who aggravated his throat in an admittedly short three-day test) is less enthusiastic.

Soylent may revolutionize nutrition for some, but as my experiences indicate, it’s definitely not for everyone. Yes, there are numerous examples of people who switched to an all-Soylent diet and felt great doing it — including its inventor. But while my three-day trial wasn’t enough to draw conclusions about consuming Soylent long-term, the early side effects have scared me off for now.

I seem to have strayed from my original purpose, which was to discuss the recent Small Business Labs article. It starts off by talking about Impossible Foods, a company that is creating meat (or "meat") out of biomass. As Small Business Labs' Steve summarized it:

We've traditionally used cows as our technology for converting plants into meat. Impossible Foods is replicating this process in a lab, eliminating the need for cows.

Not only is this potentially cheaper, but much better for the environment. Raising cows requires a lot of energy and water. Lab made meat would greatly reduce the use of both of these as well as eliminating the need for land for grazing.

Here's how Impossible Foods describes the process.

We looked at animal products at the molecular level, then selected specific proteins and nutrients from greens, seeds, and grains to recreate the wonderfully complex experience of meats and dairy products. For thousands of years we've relied on animals as our technology to transform plants into meat, milk, and eggs. Impossible Foods has found a better way.

The result?

Well, at least it looks better than Soylent. But how does it taste? According to, a Wall Street Journal taste test (behind a paywall) characterized the taste of the Impossible Cheeseburger as "something like a cross between a turkey burger and regular beef burger."

Small Business Labs also talked about food made from bugs, but hey - I'm about to eat.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What do you do?

We think that it's easy to describe what we do for a living, but is it? I'll use two examples - Gregg Popovich, and myself. (See if you can tell us apart.)

The essence of Popovich's job is to encourage other men to amass four numbers - the San Antonio Spurs' scores in four NBA final games - and ensure that those four numbers are higher than the scores of the other team in the NBA finals. The NBA finals is a best of seven series, so if you win four games - or have four higher scores than the other team - you win the championship. If Popovich can only amass three higher numbers (meaning that the other team has four higher numbers, or four wins), then Popovich didn't do his job. If the Spurs don't even get to the NBA finals, then Popovich didn't do his job.

Incidentally, this is why I was never bent out of shape when Popovich sat his stars during the regular season. His goal is to win four NBA finals games. His goal isn't to make people at a Miami Heat regular season game happy. Heck, his goal isn't even to make his own fans happy during the regular season. His goal is to win the finals.

My job is slightly different from Popovich's job, but it can also be boiled down to its essence - something that I did in a comment on a Colleen Jolly post.

I take contributions from many people and create a pile of paper. Sometimes, the "judges" think that my pile of paper is better than the other piles of paper.

Now you can also extrapolate jobs into abstractions. Popovich makes San Antonio citizens happy. I save lives by keeping dangerous criminals off the streets.

What do you do?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Spending Thanksgiving morning at Kmart

In the course of a post detailing how Kmart will be open for 42 hours straight, beginning Thanksgiving morning, the Consumerist wrote:

Maybe if they keep the doors open for that long, someone will wander in.

While Kmart's early opening hours elicited complaints in 2013, the company is apparently making money by doing it:

Officials decided to open the stores earlier this year after customer feedback indicated shoppers wanted more flexible shopping hours during the holiday, Kmart spokeswoman Shanelle Armstrong wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.

But, according to Forbes, MasterCard has identified another reason for the earlier and earlier shopping hours.

A Black Friday spending analysis from the credit card giant shows a whopping 70% of consumer spending happens at the first two stores a shopper visits.

Every big box chain is therefore competing to be the first port of call for shoppers as they battle long lines, cold, fatigue, and sharp elbows — not to mention dwindling funds.

So even if few people are truly going to Kmart these days, think how many wouldn't show up if Kmart opened Friday, and the customers had already gone to Walmart on Thursday evening.

(Oh, as an aside for MY previously announced Thanksgiving plans - it's still uncertain whether I'll be able to run the post or not. I may be "holding for effect" a little while longer.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Russia may develop a technological center, but it won't be a "Silicon Valley"

Fortune has discussed Russia's annual Open Innovations Forum with the headline "In Russia, an attempt to build its own Silicon Valley on the Moskva River."

But by the time you've finished reading the first paragraph, a quote from Dmitry Repin illustrates the error in the headline.

“There’s foreign media, there’s industry, there’s government—it’s all here.”

While Silicon Valley in the USA certainly includes a confluence of people, government is (at least outwardly) absent. Remember my post from last year that quoted Chamath Palihapitiya?

If companies shut down, the stock market would collapse. If the government shuts down, nothing happens and we all move on, because it just doesn't matter. Stasis in the government is actually good for all of us. It means they can neither do anything semi-useful nor anything really stupid.

Would YOU want to be the Russian startup head that tells Putin that things would be better if he did nothing?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Do we really want authenticity? (the 2014 edition)

Another tragedy.

Another case in which a leader steps before the cameras after the tragedy.

Another case in which the leader's stature is enhanced as a result.

The latest example of such a leader is Richard Branson, responding to the tragic loss of life in a Virgin Galactic test flight last week. A sample:

I am writing this as we refuel on one of the most difficult trips I have ever had to make. I will be in Mojave soon to join the Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composite teams involved in the SpaceShipTwo flight test program. Mojave is also where I want to be – with the dedicated and hard-working people who are now in shock at this devastating loss.

And as a result, people are using this as a teaching moment to suggest how leaders should respond in the future.

Michele Lutz's first derived lesson?

Be human.

Lutz goes on to explain what she means, but her explanation doesn't match her initial two-word statement.

Why not? Because often when we are truly human, we not only expose our greatest strengths, but also our weaknesses and our warts.

I've already talked about my favorite example of a leader who was honest - and human - and who received a ton of negative press as a result. BP's Tony Hayward was certainly human and honest when he said, "I want my life back," and I would probably have done the same. But that response, to put it mildly, wasn't popular.

Another example was exhibited by someone who is usually in control in front of the cameras, Paul McCartney. It must be wonderful to be McCartney's publicist, since the man is gifted in staying on topic and saying the "right" thing.

With one notable exception.

When his long-time songwriting partner John Lennon was murdered, a shocked McCartney was questioned about it. When one looks at his human response, it doesn't seem "right."

It's a drag.

In this case, McCartney's brain was on overload, and he was unable to come up with the right thing to say. Decades later, even McCartney fans debate the topic.

It sounds like we don't want our leaders to be human, but to be superhuman.

Online B2B vertical marketing - a cogent analysis of how some are getting it done

2007 and 2008 were a long time ago.

Part of my reluctance to "twitter" the IAI back then was due to the fact that the online services at the time seemed more targeted to individuals than to companies. With some notable exceptions, the trendy part of the tech industry was focused on consumer rather than enterprise business.

While this persists even today, there are more and more examples of enterprise use of social media. Even my vertical market, the automated fingerprint identification system industry and related industries, is starting to use hashtags. In addition to #99IAI (mentioned here), one of my company's esteemed competitors used a hashtag for its own user conference. Well, sort of - the company used the hashtag once, and a participant used it twice. But that's better than many other companies, I guess.

The big boys, of course, are using hashtags more effectively. Take Grainger, who gets it done:

How did we capture the excitement of the conference? We utilized social media to communicate with event planners and attendees. The Grainger Show hashtag (#GraingerShow) had more than 56,000 impressions on Twitter.

Interestingly enough, the "we" in that passage was not Grainger, but Bags Inc., who supplied bags to the Grainger Show; Grainger's own press release didn't mention the hashtag. Grainger gets it outsourcing to the nimble.

But an online presence will become more important. At about the same time (early 2014) as #GraingerShow, Alex Kantrowitz was discussing future B2B trends.

When compared to editorial content and vendor-created content, social media is currently the least critical source of information for IT buyers, the [IDG Connect] study found. But in two years, buyers expect that equation to flip as they increase the weight given to social media from 31% to 37% for influencing investment decisions. In the same period the weight given to editorial and vendor content will drop to 31% and 32%, respectively.

Kantrowitz further noted that even then (January 2014), 86% of all IT buyers were referring to social media, even if it wasn't a major impact on their decisions - yet.

But if you're in a small vertical, how do you find your B2B information needle in the online haystack?