Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In which I leave the #apmp...again. Farewell, @APMPConnect

I am a secret - OK, not so secret - lover of spectacle, and have been known to attach Ultimate Importance to things that are, frankly, not all that important to many people.

The most recent example of this occurred on a couch in the family room of my home last Saturday evening, when I received an email from the Association of Proposal Management Professionals - and didn't act on it.

The title of the email? "Your APMP membership expires tomorrow. Don't delay, renew today!"

Actually, the moment of Ultimate Importance occurred several days before that, on the preceding Wednesday morning, when I sent an "FYI" email to two people informing them that I wouldn't be renewing my APMP membership. One of them, the head of marketing, is my boss. The other, the head of proposals, is NOT my boss.

While researching this post, I realized that the moment of Ultimate Importance occurred well before that - I don't even remember when, but I edited my LinkedIn profile to add a terminal date of 2015 to my APMP membership.

This of course ties in to other Moments of Ultimate Importance - my transfer from Proposals to Marketing earlier this year, my transfer from Product Management to Proposals in 2009, and my transfer from Proposals to Product Management in 2000. (No link for the oldest one; I wasn't blogging in 2000, so I didn't get the chance to write about my sitting in a cubicle on the opposite side of the building from Proposals, wondering what I had gotten myself into with this whole product managing thingie. Oh, the acronyms that I was about to discover...)

Obviously, my leaving the Association of Proposal Management Professionals is not a reflection on the group itself, which I have found to be extremely helpful during both of my membership stints - not only with proposal issues, but with issues that occur before a proposal is even conceived. (As any APMP member will tell you, much of the work on a proposal SHOULD occur BEFORE the Request for Proposals is released.)

So why didn't I renew? It was just that after my recent job change, the APMP membership, while helpful, was no longer EXTREMELY helpful.

So I've moved on.

Although the way my career has been going over the last quarter century, I wouldn't be surprised if I find myself sending an email to the APMP in 2022 asking, "Hey, can you reactivate that membership from 1999?"

If you are directly involved in proposals, capture management, or business development, I encourage you to visit http://www.apmp.org/, or follow the group on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apmpconnect.

Monday, December 14, 2015


I have yet to formally publish the Empoprises Rule of Fair Food that I have previously mentioned, but I will reveal that part of the rule involves the universal use of the suffix "on a stick." (At this time I am not prepared to reveal the prefix that can be universally used - suffice it to say that it rhymes with "lied" and "died.")

Yet this universality is found in something else - another rule that I'll have to write that will probably be called the Empoprises Rule of Service.

If I ever publish this rule, the word "service" will be used in its technical sense. And the rule will discuss the universality of the phrase "as a service."

I'm not sure whether Software as a Service (SaaS) was the first use of this phrase, but it clearly wasn't the last. I myself claim to work in the Identity as a Service industry, and I'm sure that absolutely everyone - even people who produce physical products - are now referring to themselves in an XaaS way just to be trendy. Do you make cars? Then you can claim that you're in the Transportation as a Service (TaaS) industry, although technically that term may be more correctly applied to car leasing companies, or all of the individual private contractors who are associated with Uber BUT ARE CLEARLY NOT EMPLOYEES OF UBER WINK WINK.

I seem to have digressed.

In fact, the "as a Service" phrase is so widespread, people are coming up with new as a services to replace the old as a services. Combine this with an acronym-loving government agency - I won't reveal the name of the agency, but its acronym is DHS - and you have pandemonium.

The purpose of this procurement is to obtain funding for the transition of Information Technology Systems Management as a Service (ITSMaaS) previously referred to as Raas ( Remedy as a Service) support service...

Of course, since Information Technology is a service that facilitates other business operations, I'm sure that someone will eventually refer to this as Service as a Service. SaaS?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why I don't fear Big Brother, December 2015 edition

Because so much of this affects my industry, I'm going to focus on just a single issue regarding the cybersecurity bills that are presently before Congress. The sticking point - if a business enterprise encounters a cybersecurity threat, which government agency or agencies should be informed? Representative Mike McCaul, who crafted the version of the bill that designates the Department of Homeland Security as the receiving agency, said the following:

"We want DHS to be the lead civilian agency — not the FBI, who can prosecute you; not the NSA, who can spy on you."

Erin Kelly of USA Today explained the distinction between the agencies:

Specifically, coalition members worry that the final bill will be stripped of the requirement that any cyber threat information from the private sector be sent to the Department of Homeland Security, a civilian agency that has stricter privacy regulations than the Pentagon's National Security Agency. The NSA has generated controversy for its mass surveillance of Americans' phone data.

As Kelly's article notes, there is no such thing as a unified Big Brother. In this instance, there's a fight between various factions of Congress to decide which U.S. government agency should get cyberthreat notifications. And presumably people within the agencies themselves are fighting with each other over that data.

Kelly schooled me on one thing - I had always thought that the NSA was an independent agency. It turns out that it IS part of the Department of Defense.

But that doesn't stop Pentagon-NSA fights. Take this one from 2012, which happened before the Snowden revelations:

In the midst of an ongoing turf battle over how big a role the National Security Agency should play in securing the nation’s critical infrastructure, a Defense Department official asserted on Wednesday that the military’s controversial intelligence agency should take a backseat to the Department of Homeland Security in this regard.

When even the Department of Defense is fighting with the Department of Defense over something, comparisons to a monolithic Orwellian supersecurity service fall flat.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Let's get personalized!

So how do you correct all of these "Dear Bredehoft" messages that I've been getting? By creating a personalized video:

Show your audience they’re not just one of the herd. With personalized video, they’re not just a number, and they’re certainly not a farm animal.
Connect with each person by weaving unique details into a video. Include text and images like their:

Company name
Email address
Home page
Phone number
LinkedIn picture

I will confess - when I first read this, the first thing that came to my mind was those personalized childrens' stories that you used to be able to buy. You know, the ones that go something like this:

Who can save our town from the evil dragon? The only person that can do this is xxx BRIAN xxx!

But then I thought that it may be better than that. Vidyard itself points out:

This isn’t just some flashy trick to get noticed. It can have real impact on Empoprises' results.

As you can probably figure out, I entered the requested information at the top of the page. Unfortunately, when I went to play the video, I ran into the bane of all video existence - limited bandwidth.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Keurig 3.0?

Bad news travels faster than good news, and sometimes it prevents the good news from traveling at all.

Remember the Keurig 2.0 DRM brouhaha from 2014 and early 2015? This February article will remind you.

Late last year, Keurig announced a new machine, the 2.0, calling it the "future of brewing" and touting its ability to make both small cups and large carafes. But another, less-publicized feature has been getting most of the attention: the brewer’s advanced scanning system that locks out any coffee pods not bearing a special mark. It’s essentially a digital rights management system, but for coffee, and it’s proving to be the brewer’s downfall.

On an earnings call Wednesday the company announced that brewer sales fell 12 percent last quarter, the first full quarter for which the 2.0 was on sale. "Quite simply our 2.0 launch got off to a slower start than we planned," said CEO Brian Kelley.

The CEO was speaking euphemistically. A more honest statement would have been "Our customers hate our guts."

And frankly, my brain shut off any mention of Keurig after that, so I didn't even realize what Keurig did a few months later:

The one retaliation that seemed to effect change most efficiently, though, was financial. Keurig machine and accessory sales plummeted 23 percent in the first quarter, year over year, thanks in large part to unease over Keurig 2.0.

To help reverse course, Keurig CEO Brian Kelley this week announced the return of My K-Cup. It’s welcome news for those who dislike needlessly tossing hundreds of small plastic containers into the trash every year, but love freedom of choice and competitive business practices.

“Quite honestly, we were wrong,” explained Kelley on a call with analysts to discuss earnings this week. “We underestimated the passion that consumer had for this… We shouldn’t have taken it away.”

For those who are not familiar with all things Keurig, the My K-Cup allows you to use your own coffee with Keurig. However, Keurig didn't take away the DRM, and a number of people (such as myself) didn't even hear of Keurig's minor about-face. The damage had already been done.

And this was confirmed this week:

Keurig Green Mountain Inc. will be acquired by a JAB Holding Co.-led investor group for about $13.9 billion in cash.

This should please stockholders, since the premium on the purchase price should help make up for the money that the stock lost in the last year. But what does this mean, since JAB apparently plans to keep the existing management in place?

It probably means that JAB doesn't plan to keep the existing management - or structure - in place.

JAB owns a controlling stake of Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee, Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Espresso House and Baresso Coffee....JAB’s goal is to be the Budweiser of coffee, Pablo Zuanic, an analyst at Susquehanna International, said on Monday. The conglomerate may follow with other deals, such as a takeover of Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., he said.

Perhaps Kelley will exit within a few months, and JAB will go for a rebranding. Your donut shop, your coffee shop, and your in-home system will be all under a single name. (Unless Starbucks and Tim Hortons merge and copy the idea first.)

So what will the new brand be? Not JAB - that name wouldn't play well here. Unfortunately, "Beatrice" is NOT available.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Let's get data!

I am occasionally the recipient of extremely personal emails that are addressed "Dear Bredehoft." In most if not all cases, the negative reaction to the email greeting is not repaired by the content of the actual email.

For example, I recently received a "Dear Bredehoft" email that was advertising an event entitled "Take Your Marketing Campaigns from Blah to Wow Using Data."

My reaction?


Now I'll grant that, despite the fact that the emailer displayed personal knowledge of my last name, the emailer probably wasn't aware that I consider data to be the lowest form of stuff. Data is not information, data is not knowledge, and data is certainly not wisdom.

However, even if you don't subscribe to a data/information/knowledge/wisdom model or a similar model, you need a little more specifics before you start using "data" for a marketing campaign. Based upon the description of the event, it appears that the "data" in this case will be used to identify "new, targeted contacts similar to your best buyers."

Forget for the moment that I am selling to a very small market of thousands of entities, not millions of entities. How many of us have access to data that will precisely target similar potential customers who will actually buy?

Even Facebook, which does have access to lots and lots of data, seems to get it wrong more often than not. One of my Facebook friends is a graduate of Aalto University's school of business administration in Mikkeli, Finland. I have never been to Mikkeli. I have never been to Finland. The closest that I have ever been to Mikkeli is Paris, or perhaps Zurich. Yet Facebook, in its infinite wisdom, advertised "proud to be from Mikkeli" clothing to me at one point.

Occasionally I respond to these suggested posts with the words "Facebook, you're drunk." Of course, now Facebook will probably start advertising breathalyzers to me.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Even Newer

You know how I sometimes schedule posts way in advance?

Well, I had a scheduled post that was supposed to appear on this day, but it can't be published yet.

Perhaps you will see it in another year.


P.S. The title of this post, and the title of the post that I couldn't publish, do NOT have anything to do with an old Weird Al Yankovic album.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Unintended consequences - right after worldwide terror attacks, let's decrease power plant security!


The California Public Utilities Commission is a regulatory agency. As is the case with all regulatory agencies, the people who have the greatest financial stake in the agency's activities are the people who are being regulated - in this case, the public utilities. There have been claims of corruption, including allegations that "PUC officials, including the former president and executive director, had overly cozy relations with executives at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and other regulated power companies."

The CPUC itself has decided that it needs legal representation. But this causes an issue:

Spokeswoman Terrie Prosper ... said, "our in-house lawyers are not criminal attorneys."

Additionally, in this case, the PUC cannot rely on its regular legal representative, state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, because Harris has launched her own probe into the PUC, Prosper said.

So the CPUC hired outside attorneys - which didn't please the legislature.

“Is the commission too big to succeed?” committee staff wrote in the hearing agenda. “Change is very necessary at the CPUC.” Among their recommendations are a $5 million reduction to the PUC’s budget and requiring legislative approval if the commission directs any ratepayer funds toward outside programs.

The $5 million budget cut was adopted, and legislators presumably congratulated themselves on a job well done. "We showed them!" they chortled to themselves.

So the time came to cut the budget, which was cut in several areas. One in particular:

Last week, commission Executive Director Timothy Sullivan told the agency’s five-member governing panel that he would slash $350,000 needed to implement the security plan as part of the $5 million in cuts that the Legislature ordered.

Um, what security plan?

[The plan], proposed by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, ordered the state’s power providers to draw up security plans to harden the electrical grid against saboteurs. The law was prompted largely by an April 2013 incident in which gunfire knocked out 17 transformers and inflicted $15.4 million in damage to PG&E’s Metcalf substation near San Jose.

Although the FBI said the attack was not the work of terrorists, it raised concern among some experts that it exposed vulnerabilities in the power grid.

There was a second security breach at Metcalf in August 2014, just days before the Legislature approved the law that took effect this year. In that attack, burglars cut through a fence and stole construction equipment. PG&E officials did not notice the breach for hours, prompting the utilities commission to fine the company $50,000 for failing to carry out promised security upgrades.

Now this specific cut probably wasn't decided last week - it takes an agency weeks or months to do anything - but unfortunately it was announced last week - right after ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/the fanatical boobyheads successfully attacked people, buildings, and planes in multiple countries.

Talk about bad timing.

#empotuulwey Nothing is free - if you want Yahoo Mail, you get the ads too

Yahoo isn't getting great press right now. A recent Forbes piece asserted that Yahoo's operations will be scrutinized more closely as time goes on, and that Marissa Mayer may suffer as a result. (Aside: before Yahoo dumps Mayer, is there anyone who can run the company better?)

And now a story comes out saying that Yahoo Mail is blocking some users from reading their own mail.

Which ones? Apparently, the ones who are using ad blockers.

This move of Yahoo, which may just be a limited test, is something that I completely support.

Since the 1940s, there have been a number of "free" services - over-the-air radio, over-the-air television, and Yahoo among them - for which the users of the service have not had to pay a penny. (At least in the United States.) How can these large corporations just give their stuff away? By having other people (advertisers) pay the corporations for the privilege of providing advertisements to the users.

As I have said in the past, tools are tools. Ad blockers in and of themselves are not immoral, but they can certainly be used in "immoral" ways.

Owen Williams argues that ad blockers can serve a purpose - when set correctly, they can block against malicious content delivered by selected ad networks. However, Williams believes that the ad blockers should allow users to see non-malicious ads. He provides an example:

I eventually went back to using an ad blocker, but instead using it thoughtfully and defensively, giving publishers my trust until they abuse it. I’m using uBlock right now, because it’s the easiest to set up this way.

All you need to do is grab uBlock and head to the “third-party filters” tab in the settings. Un-check everything, except the “malware domain list” and “malware domains” then enable the auto-update feature toward the top.

Well why not be really safe by blocking everything?

If you’re blocking every advertisement, you’re stealing from those who rely on them. You’re taking something for free and removing the only way to give back.

Let's say that you're a Yahoo Mail user, and you decide that AdZ sUx and that you don't want to see them. One of two things will happen:

In case number one, not only do you decide to block the ads, but all of the Yahoo Mail users decide to block the ads. Yahoo therefore does not get any revenue for its mail service, and shuts Yahoo Mail down (since Yahoo is required by U.S. securities law to make money).

In case number two, you decide to block the ads, but the unwashed masses don't. Win win, right? Yahoo still gets it money from the dolts, and you the intelligent one get an ad free experience.

Which won't do you any good when everyone in your neighborhood jumps on your wi-fi after getting your password. Wi-fi unblockers, after all, are just as moral as ad blockers -aren't they?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cause-effect on employee engagement

In a post that will appear shortly, I will make brief reference to Miguel Helft's piece The Last Days of Marissa Mayer. The future post will talk about another aspect of Yahoo's business, but there is one thing that struck me about Helft's piece. Since he writes for Forbes, I assume that Helft crafted this sentence very carefully.

But on day two, when the topic shifted to employee engagement, and with CEO Marissa Mayer in and out of the room, things went downhill fast.

For those who haven't read the Forbes piece, the sentence was taken from a paragraph that described an offsite meeting of Yahoo senior executives. In other words, the top people of the company.

And the company CEO couldn't even stay in the meeting. When the top executive is not engaged, how can the employees be engaged?

This issue is not specific to Mayer. There are countless CEOs, presidents, and bosses who talk the talk about "employee engagement," but are absent doing "important stuff" at critical times.

But wait - it gets worse. The employee engagement session was followed by another session, and it appears that Yahoo (and other companies) aren't walking the walk in other areas.

Those murmurs of discontent erupted into outright heckling when another session—billed as an opportunity to improve communication—turned into a lecture from Yahoo’s top brass that many found patronizing. Vice presidents started calling out their superiors for “not listening,” “not understanding” and “not being interested in changing.” Some cursed.

Now perhaps the situation wasn't as cut and dry as Helft described it. I could not find an independent description of the Yahoo offsite meeting, so perhaps the results of the "employee engagement" session and the "communication improvement" session weren't as stark as described.

But, as I said, this is not unique to Yahoo.

And what of the cases in which people become disengaged because of an immediate manager, rather than the CEO? Well, that can be traced to the CEO also:

In a study of 190 organizations, Gallup has found that executive leaders influence front-line employee engagement indirectly and directly. Primarily indirectly through their influence on the people they directly manage, and directly through specific performance management elements, including clear expectations, discussions of progress and a mission or purpose that people can identify with.

The Gallup findings indicate that when executive teams are highly engaged, the organization's managers are 39% more likely to be engaged. When managers are highly engaged, employees are 59% more likely to be engaged.

Apparently, the Yahoo vice presidents who "started calling out their superiors" were not engaged - which means either that the superiors were doing a poor job, or the superiors had hired the wrong vice presidents.

Or perhaps someone else was to blame - and it's not just the CEO, according to Mike Myatt:

Much of my personal practice deals with CEO succession, and the misadventures of Mayer represents the classic case of picking the wrong CEO, and then compounding the error with a poor transition into the role....

I actually don’t fault Mayer for the Yahoo debacle as much as I do the Yahoo board for not recognizing what type of leader they needed for this assignment.

Although, as I will note shortly (and as Helft and Myatt also noted) - if Mayer is canned, who can replace her and do a better job?

#empobld Not helpful

I'm continuing my series on Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption. If you missed the rule, here it is:

No single event is sufficient to disrupt a person's brand loyalty. Multiple events must occur.

This example also has to do with autos, but it's a little bigger than a headlight bulb. This has to do with an entire auto, a much more expensive item. And again in this case, I can't say with absolute certainty that I'd never buy a Honda again. But hear me out.

A little over a decade ago, I bought a Honda automobile. I had heard about Hondas for years - their reliability, their awards, their quality. Initially I was just going to get a used Honda, but I ended up buying a new one and not paying an incredible amount of money for it. And things went well for several years, and for well over 100,000 miles...

...when the transmission gave out. I was a little disappointed, since at the time I also owned an older Ford Taurus that was still humming along (and would continue to hum along for several more years). I sold the Honda for cheap rather than repairing the transmission, and drove the Ford for a while. And despite the failure of this particular Honda, I wasn't averse to buying a Honda again. Except that...

...those advertisements about Honda quality and reliability faded away, replaced with advertisements about the Helpful Honda Persons (at least here in southern California). These people, dressed in blue, would meet in secret locations and figure out ways to be helpful. Now I don't object to promoting the people associated with a company, and I understand that Honda was trying to erase negative perceptions about car salespeople, but Honda was doing it at the expense of the product. Any marketing messages about the quality of the automobiles were drowned out by cute stories about salespeople doing silly things.

But then Honda changed its advertising campaign - and made it worse. Rather than talking about secret meetings of helpful Honda people, the company began airing commercials in which real helpful Honda people (not actors) talked to real live customers and engaged in random acts of helpfulness. They sounded something like this:


Hello. Is this John?


John, I'm Sylvia. And I'm a helpful Honda person.


John, I understand that you like Slim Whitman.


So John, I guess that you really like Slim Whitman.


So I take it that you were sad when Slim finally passed away.


Well, John, because I'm a helpful Honda person, I'm going to engage in a random act of helpfulness. Honda is giving you an all expenses paid trip to Middleburg, Florida, so that you can see Slim Whitman's grave!


OK, perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration. But not much. In essence, the ads are concentrating on everything EXCEPT the car that the helpful Honda people are supposed to be selling.

So now, when I think of Honda, I don't think of cars any more. I think of "who can help me get a cat down from a tree?"

And I don't own a cat.

And what of the Honda dealers elsewhere in the country, who concentrate their advertising on...oh, their cars?

Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System with voice recognition: the way to find the best spots to watch the #July4th fireworks.

They seem to be doing fine - even if they don't have marketing folks drooling over their every move. Like what happened when Coca-Cola came up with a really creative advertising campaign - so clever that one viewer thought that the campaign would do a lot of good for Pepsi. Whoops...

Monday, November 23, 2015

#empobld Zoning out

I promised that I'd continue to talk about the Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption. If you missed the rule, here it is:

No single event is sufficient to disrupt a person's brand loyalty. Multiple events must occur.

I'll start with a personal example that happened to me last week.

As an automobile owner, I need automobile parts from time to time, and for the last few years I have mostly gone to Auto Zone to get these parts. Auto Zone has my information stored under my phone number, and has records on multiple cars that I own or have owned. I can tell you where Auto Zones are located in Ontario, California; Fullerton, California; and even Long Beach, California. Heck, I even have a loyalty card!

Fast forward to one evening last week. Because of the change from Daylight Saving Time, I now drive home in the dark. As I was trailing a truck on the 57 freeway, I looked at the back of the truck, where reflections of my two headlights would be seen.

I only saw the reflection of one headlight, not two.

You can guess what I decided to do next. Go to the Auto Zone in Ontario and buy a new headlight bulb. So I got to the Auto Zone and walked in. I was greeted and asked if I needed anything. I told the employee that I was looking for headlight bulbs. He told me the aisle to go to if I knew what I was looking for. That was a silly question, I thought to myself. I'll just go to the aisle, find the book that lists all the headlight bulbs, and find the correct bulb for my car.

So I got to the aisle...and there was no book there. And no tablet or other electronic device in the aisle to allow me to look up the correct part number. (My car manual had been removed from the car recently when we cleaned the car, and I hadn't yet replaced it.)

Let's briefly return to the Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption. The lack of a way to look up part numbers was not, in and of itself, sufficient to send me fleeing from the Auto Zone. Why should it be? I knew from past experience that Auto Zone employees could look up part numbers on their computers. Plus, since they already had a record of their car, it would be very easy to look up the correct part number. I would just have to show them my card.

So I walked back to the counter and asked the helpful employee to look up the part number for me.

He went to his computer register...but the computer was down.

He walked to another computer...and it was also down.

It turned out that every computer was down except for one - and that one was being used by another employee to help another customer.

Let's briefly return to the Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption. The lack of working computers was not, in and of itself, sufficient to send me fleeing from the Auto Zone. After all, the employee had a helpful suggestion:

"Why don't you pull out the existing light and we can match it up?"

The employee didn't realize that I am not mechanically inclined at all. For me, the process of changing a headlight bulb in a car is an complex process that could take an hour or more. (Fast forward: when I finally did obtain a bulb, I had my father in law help me, and we pulled the old bulb and put the new one in within ten minutes.) In addition, even if I knew how to change a light bulb (how many bloggers does it take to change a lightbulb?), I wasn't sure that I had the proper tools to do so. After all, what was I going to use to remove the existing headlight assembly - my card?

"Uh, I don't have the tools," I replied. And then I said, "I'll come back tomorrow."

To put it bluntly, that was a lie. I tend to avoid conflict, and while I was saying that, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I had no intention of coming back to Auto Zone the next day. Instead, I was going to drive to the O'Reilly Auto Parts store that was just a quarter mile away.

Now those things, in and of themselves, won't particularly drive me away from Auto Zone permanently. But after I went to O'Reilly, got the bulb, and called my father in law to ask him to help me install the new light the next day, he happened to mention to me that he was going to O'Reilly more and more himself. And he had been with me to the Auto Zones in Ontario and Long Beach. In fact, he might have been the one who suggested that I get a card.

But what am I going to do the next time I need a part for my car? Frankly, I don't know.

Maybe I should see if O'Reilly has a loyalty card.

Friday, November 20, 2015

#empobld The Empoprises Rule of Brand Loyalty Disruption

Yes, it's time again to revisit the wonderful world of Empoprises rules. (See the previous one two three four five such rules.)

As you should know, Empoprises rules are statements of truth that are universally acknowledged by sentient beings in multiple galaxies. The one I'm about to state has to do with brand loyalty. You probably know people who are very loyal to a particular brand - the college guy who shouts "Bud for the stud!" and will never drink Miller, the football fan who will support the Dallas Cowboys no matter what, or the 110% Democrat who believes that Republicans are the spawn of Satan.

Yet even dedicated people will change their brand loyalties. Ronald Reagan was a committed New Deal Democrat who eventually became a staunch Republican. David Letterman loved working at the National Broadcasting Company, but eventually found himself at CBS. LeBron James remained in his home state of Ohio until he took his talents to South Beach...and then took them back to Ohio.

In each of these instances, and in others, events occurred that disrupted the individuals' loyalty to a particular brand. So let's look at my Empoprises rule:

No single event is sufficient to disrupt a person's brand loyalty. Multiple events must occur.

A "Damascus road" event, in which a person changes direction immediately, just doesn't happen. Even the original "Damascus Road" event didn't complete until after Saul blindly made his way to Damascus itself.

In my examples above, Reagan, Letterman, and James didn't wake up one day and suddenly decide to change their ways. Multiple events occurred, sometimes over a period of several years, that made the Democratic Party, NBC, and the Cleveland Cavaliers less attractive. Each of these smaller events built upon each other, until the three people involved decided to go to the Republican Party, CBS, and Miami.

To be continued.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The principle errors with an article that I read earlier this week

I have to read a lot of security industry material to keep track of trends. When I encountered one article, I made a point to read it because it touched upon two important topics - biometrics and privacy.

But as I got into the article, I ran across things that began to bug me. I myself am not perfect - after all, I am the "qualtiy" guy - but when enough of these little things build up, you become less interested in the good portions of the article.

The first thing wasn't really an error, but it was something that stuck in my mind. The beginning of the article discussed Alphonse Bertillon - his use of mugshots, his comparisons of fingerprint ridge characteristics...oh, and his use of measurements of the head to create "the science of Anthropometry." However, the author neglected to mention the case of William West and Will West. While Robert D. Olsen of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation notes that the significance of the story may have been exaggerated, the fact remains that West's and West's Bertillon measurements were similar enough to cast doubt that such measurements could uniquely identify an individual.

Second, I ran across this:

Since then, these two biometric markers have been the principle methods used to identify an individual.

Misuse of "principle" and "principal" is all too common - after all, there are a number of "principle engineers" running around. However, in this case the author is claiming that anyone who identifies an individual with an identity card, or even with iris recognition, is unprincipled. (The two biometrics that were being discussed were fingerprint and facial identification.)

At this point, I figured that I was being overly picky, until the author made this statement:

There is a deeply ingrained instinct in the British character that identity is none of your damned business - it’s their personal, private, closely guarded property. The issue is not to prove it, but to use it to identify myself. That’s a subtle but significant distinction.

Perhaps it’s because, as a Brit, legally you wouldn't be a citizen with rights but a subject with liberties. Not counting the Magna Carta incident, we’ve never had a revolution, so we have no constitution or bill of rights.

Now I'm an American, and Americans are woefully ignorant of things that are not American, but even I have heard of a couple of revolutions in Britain. While Cromwell's interlude was relatively temporary, the Glorious Revolution was more substantive, even producing...a Bill of Rights.

So can I trust this final statement that the article made? I'm not sure.

And so, as the science and the arts eye each other warily like two candidates for an arranged marriage, it becomes clear just how complex and all-pervading this topic will become, and how the idea of the individual - what it is and what it means to be one, will be every bit as important as the technologies used to identify them and the channels built to connect them together.

Perhaps that statement reveals the problem. It speaks of science and the arts, but does not speak of history. Is history a science, or is it an art? Or is it inconsequential?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

We don't know what tubes we are using

I can't remember if I told this story before, but years ago, when I was fresh out of Reed College, I was looking at a UNIX display at a trade show. The booth guy walked up to me and stated that he worked for the company that provided UNIX. I immediately assumed that he worked for DEC - Digital Equipment Corporation, the manufacturer of Reed's PDP-11/70 computer that ran an operating system from (the old) AT&T.

(Say along with me: "UNIX is a trademark of Bell Laboratories." But I digress.)

But I am not the only person who sometimes concentrates on surface things and ignores the plumbing underneath. Remember a few years ago when people couldn't log into Facebook? They'd go to their computer, type in "Facebook login," but instead of going to Facebook, they'd go to a ReadWriteWeb article. That's what happens when you go to Google and that ReadWriteWeb article (temporarily) becomes the top search result for "Facebook login." I have previously written about the system ignorance exhibited in that episode - not the ignorance of the people who thought that you could use Google to login to Facebook, but the ignorance of developers who design things that are intuitively incomprehensible.

And today, five years later, we still don't know what we're doing. Loic Le Meur shared this:

Indonesians surveyed by Galpaya told her that they didn’t use the internet. But in focus groups, they would talk enthusiastically about how much time they spent on Facebook. Galpaya, a researcher (and now CEO) with LIRNEasia, a think tank, called Rohan Samarajiva, her boss at the time, to tell him what she had discovered. “It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook,” he concluded.

Leo Mirani argues that this ignorance is a critical issue.

The expectations and behaviors of the next billion people to come online will have profound effects on how the internet evolves. If the majority of the world’s online population spends time on Facebook, then policymakers, businesses, startups, developers, nonprofits, publishers, and anyone else interested in communicating with them will also, if they are to be effective, go to Facebook. That means they, too, must then play by the rules of one company. And that has implications for us all.

One example, not from the developing world, but from the developed world:

Salix Homes manages government-owned subsidized housing in some the poorest parts of Salford, a deprived area in the north of England. Salix recently decided to accept complaints and rent payments from its tenants on Facebook.

“We took the view that let’s go where people are rather than force them to go to our website,” says James Allan, the firm’s marketing manager. As a result, interactions are up 90% while traffic on the website has fallen.

Allan is not in the business of deciding whether Facebook’s omnipresence among less affluent internet users is a good or bad thing. It is simply a thing.

Of course, if Facebook becomes a dominant platform over the next few decades, then the US, the EU, China, and others will eventually take action, and Facebook may be broken up (into "Face" and "Book," presumably).

It's happened before. The AT&T that provided my college with UNIX was broken up, Bell Laboratories became part of Alcatel-Lucent, and AT&T was eventually bought by one of the divested parts, SBC Communications, which renamed itself AT&T.

And all of these companies will deliver their services via - well, I'll let the late Senator Ted Stevens explain it:

The regulatory approach is wrong. Your approach is regulatory in the sense that it says "No one can charge anyone for massively invading this world of the internet". No, I’m not finished. I want people to understand my position, I’m not going to take a lot of time.

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck.

It’s a series of tubes.

And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Now we have a separate Department of Defense internet now, did you know that?

Do you know why?

Because they have to have theirs delivered immediately. They can’t afford getting delayed by other people.

Now I think these people are arguing whether they should be able to dump all that stuff on the internet ought to consider if they should develop a system themselves.

If you access Facebook via a drone, and you don't leave the Facebook ecosystem, perhaps Stevens hit upon the solution.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Who are the competitors of Staples and Office Depot?

In previous posts in this blog, my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog, and other outlets, I have tended to take a rather expansive view of the competitors for any given industry. For example, back when Amazon first emerged as a bookseller, perhaps all of us didn't realize that the bookseller would even be a threat to Borders and Barnes & Noble, much less Tower Records, Radio Shack, and Kroger. Yet as we moved away from the idea that you had to go to a bookstore, or a record store, or an electronics store, or a grocery store, it soon became apparent that Amazon could disrupt numerous markets - well, provided that the OnTrac issue didn't derail it.

Definitions of competition are important to Staples and Office Depot. If the two companies want to merge, they need to convince government regulators that there will still be healthy competition in the market.

Enter the American Postal Workers Union, which opposes the deal. According to the South Florida Business Journal, the APWU contests the companies' claims of healthy competition:

[I]f the FTC gives Staples the regulatory approval to buy Office Depot for $6.3 billion, the resulting company would have $14 billion in combined sales – 14 times greater than its nearest competitor in the office supply market....

It alleges that retailers such as Wal-Mart, Amazon and and Target are not true competitors as Staples implies.

At first glance, this seems ridiculous. Wal-Mart and Target sell basic office supplies, and Amazon sells every office supply known in the Milky Way galaxy. How can the APWU make such a claim?


It says there will be "no reasonable alternatives" for large businesses who contract with Staples and Office Depot, and their costs will rise for office supplies.

APWU reminds people of how businesses operate. Let's say that you're at a medium or large size business and you need pens. Do you send your office assistant out to the store to get pens? Heck no, because then he or she has to record "Get supplies" on a timecard, drive over to the store, use a credit card or petty cash, bring the stuff back, charge the company for miles driven, fill out the appropriate paperwork, and then get back to real work.

No, what the businesspeople do is set up an account with Staples or Office Depot. Now the office assistant can stay at his or her desk, order the supplies online using the corporate account, and be done within a few minutes. Much more convenient.

Now you can certainly set up an online account with Walmart, Target, or Amazon, but with the exception of Amazon, they don't really market their online purchasing services for business customers. Walmart's Corporate Accounts allow businesses to purchase...Walmart gift cards. If Target has any type of corporate account, they certainly don't market it well because I can't find it.

So while I personally believe that Walmart, Target, and Amazon ARE competitors to Staples and Office Depot, I can understand the counter-argument.

Of course, the APWU's opposition to the Staples-Office Depot deal has nothing to do with promoting competition. In fact, the opposite is true:

The APWU is fighting a secretive deal between...the U.S. Postal Service and Staples that jeopardizes mail service and local post offices – along with thousands of living-wage jobs.

The Postal Service and Staples launched a no-bid, trial program in the fall of 2013 that established postal counters in 82 of the office-supply stores, which they planned to expand to locations across the country. The knock-off post offices were staffed with low-wage, poorly-trained Staples employees rather than USPS employees.

The APWU objected to the program, asserting that the American people have a right to post offices staffed by highly-trained, uniformed Postal Service employees, who are sworn to safeguard the mail and who are accountable to the people. The union offered to participate in the trial program if the postal counters in Staples stores were staffed with USPS employees, but postal managers and Staples rejected the idea. They also refused to provide the union with information about the deal.

Just modify "low-wage, poorly-trained Staples employees" with "low-wage, poorly-training, NON-UNION Staples employees" and the APWU's opposition to anything benefiting Staples becomes very clear. From the APWU's perspective, it would be best for the Staples-Office Depot merger to be rejected and for BOTH companies to declare bankruptcy, therefore ending any threat of non-union USPS offices - at least until Walmart, Target, and Amazon contract with the USPS.

Of course, Staples and Office Depot have their own economic motives. If the merger goes through, the combined company would love to get USPS money to operate postal centers in their stores, and to shut every existing USPS location down.

Follow the money.

And one more thing: after I started researching this post, I began seeing ads like this on my browser:

So far I haven't seen any such ads from Staples or Office Depot.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Does your company promote the inefficient people? Perhaps it's been infiltrated by the CIA.

Or, more accurately, the CIA's predecessor, the OSS.

The OSS wanted a way to destabilize enemy production during World War II, so it created a classified guide entitled the "Simple Sabotage Field Manual."

In a masterful move, the head of the OSS, William J. "Will Bill" Donovan, declassified the document and made sure it was distributed. Why was this masterful? Yonatan Zungar:

What's particularly brilliant is that revealing these methods can be even more destructive than concealing them: consider what happens when every time someone does something stupid and inefficient, the response is for people to wonder if that person is actually a saboteur.

So what was in this manual? Here is one of several examples:

Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

And you thought World War II ended in 1945. Obviously the battles are still being fought in some companies.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Those pesky passport questions - male or female or... (Dana Zzyzm and Alex MacFarlane)

Back in 2010, when Bruce Jenner was still Bruce Jenner, I wrote about a question in the United States in which the allowed answers were male, female, or both.

In 2013, when Bruce Jenner was still Bruce Jenner, I wrote about German birth certificates in which the allowed answers were male, female, or blank.

Now it's 2015, and Caitlyn is Caitlyn, but Dana wants to be honest when filling out a passport application. Is Dana male or female? Well...

Dana Zzyym...is claiming the State Department is violating [Zzyym's] constitutional rights by denying...the passport.

Zzyzm's lawyer:

"The State Department in effect is demanding that Dana use incorrect information on the passport application and choose either 'male' or 'female' when, in fact, Dana is neither."

In a prediction of Germany's future, the "sex" question on Zzyzm's birth certificate was left blank. Many years later, when Zzyzm applied for a passport to attend a conference in Mexico, a Joseph Heller situation arose. Here's the lawyer again:

It is against the law to 'willfully and knowingly' make a false statement on a passport application, and yet, in a classic Catch-22, the application itself and State Department 'policy' make it impossible for a person who is inherently neither male or female to list their gender.

If Zzyzm was a citizen of Australia, there would be no problem.

We can issue a passport to sex and gender diverse applicants as M (Male), F (Female) or X (Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified).

This is in part because of the work of Alex MacFarlane, who received an "X" passport in 2003.

However, I'm not sure what is stated on the visas issued by countries that MacFarlane visits.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bait and...wait

How much does it cost?

When many of us review a particular product offering, we often want to rush to the bottom line. If I'm looking at a product for personal use, and it costs 750 billion dollars, then there's no need for me to explore it further.

From the (non-commodity) vendor's perspective, this line of thinking is not good. A simple price check does not necessarily mean that the product will meet the buyer's needs. Let's say that I want to travel across the United States. An automobile may cost $20,000, while a bicycle may cost $200. Based upon a pure price comparison, I should get the bicycle...right?

Because of this, when a potential customer asks about the price, the vendor often replies, "Well, why don't we take a look at your needs, and then I can price the solution that is right for you?" Of course, the vendor will try to upsell as much as possible during this fact-finding process.

Now there are occasions when you run across something, and you think you're going to get a price...but your hopes are dashed.

I ran into an example recently. The name of the company isn't important, because other companies do this. I was reading a white paper for informational purposes - I have no plans to buy the product in question. But after reading the white paper, I was poking around the company's website, which includes the following menu items:

Notice anything about the menu?

Ah, yes, you are now being hypnotized. The Sauron-like glow of the red menu item is drawing you closer, closer, with its promise of PRICING. It's right there, just a menu click away!

You can guess what happened next. Yes, I clicked on the "Pricing" menu item, and this is what I got:

Curses! Hopes dashed again. Now I'd have to fill out a form and receive a call about a needs assessment.

(Of course, I may be asked about a needs assessment anyway. I had to provide my email address to get the original white paper. Which wasn't a paper at all, but a web page. But I digress.)

Not really bait and switch, but bait and wait.

Of course, the buyer could also impose his or her own waits on the purchase cycle.

You have the ability to slow down the negotiation at any point in time. When you do this, the other side will react. Their reaction will tell you a great deal about their situation. They may start to complain that the negotiation is now taking too long. If they do, then you now have an opportunity to renegotiate what they would like to trade speed for: more money, a better delivery schedule, etc.

So if I were truly interested in the product in question, I'd fill out the form...and then go on a month-long vacation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Google and data - there's a cost, but there are benefits

(DISCLAIMER: I face similar issues in my day job.)

As I've previously noted, Google depends upon data to serve its customers - and the average person who enters a Google search is probably NOT one of Google's customers. The advertisers are.

So why should anyone turn personal data over to Google, Facebook, or whoever?

Google is making its case.

The basic premise is that if you give your data to Google (and its customers), Google in return will make your life better. Based upon your personal data, the information that Google provides to you will be more beneficial to you.

For example, if you have entered a search "How can I join the Woman's Christian Temperance Union?" Google will be smart enough to NOT show you The Most Interesting Man in the World.

For more reasons to give your personal data to Google, go here. Or skip it and try to get a map from your local gas station.

Monday, October 26, 2015

What you know about popular websites is wrong

Over the last couple of decades, there have been a number of web companies that have appeared and disappeared. Some were extremely popular a couple of decades ago, or even a decade ago, but since that time have faded away to obscurity.

Or have they?

Most of us would not challenge a statement that I read online on Sunday afternoon. When I noted that Yahoo live-streamed an NFL football game, I received the following reply:

Yahoo doesn't even exist.

Yahoo was, a long time ago, one of the web's big success stories. But afterwards it lost its way as new companies emerged and surpassed Yahoo. The company still makes a splash here and there, but it has shriveled away to nothingness, joining AOL and others in the web graveyard.

After I saw that "Yahoo doesn't even exist" statement, I figured I'd check the actual numbers and see exactly how far Yahoo has fallen with respect to its competition. The first thing that I ran across was a comScore ranking report from January 2015, which ranks the top 50 media properties during that month. To no one's surprise, Google was number 1. But I'd like to see if you can guess the next three sites on the list.




None of those sites even made the top 25.

Nope. The number 2 property in January 2015, with over 221 million unique visitors/viewers (right behind Google's 240 million), was...

...well, it was Yahoo, which had more visitors than Facebook (208+ million).

And number 4?

AOL, with over 194 million.

Both Yahoo and AOL have expanded from their original concepts, primarily through acquisition, and have continued to provide pages that people visit, despite the fact that most people ignore them for the latest shiny thing.

Guess which sites have less than 100 million unique visitors per month - or half of what AOL has?

In addition to the aforementioned Pinterest, Netflix, and WordPress, you can count many other sites in that number. Twitter. ESPN. Yelp. BuzzFeed. Gawker.

But one of our assumptions actually is true - MySpace did not make the top 50.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

True pork barrel politics

"Whether you like it or not," the sheer size of the federal government dictates that its purchases, or lack thereof, will have a huge impact on the economy. This will impact various special interests, who will then contact politicians to save the nation from untold horrors resulting from H.R. whatever.

Which brings us to the Bureau of Prisons. No, this isn't about tilapia. This is about pork. Specifically, the Bureau of Prisons determined that pork should be eliminated from federal prison menus.

The decision didn't stick, in part because of the intervention of Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, who heads a Senate committee that oversees prison menus. Senator Grassley, who happens to be from the state of Iowa, made the following statement:

“The pork industry is responsible for 547,800 jobs, which creates $22.3 billion in personal incomes and contributes $39 billion to the gross domestic product.”

Or, to put it more bluntly, the pork industry has lobbyists who give out money.

Of course, the chicken and beef industries also have lobbyists, which probably helped grease the initial decision to eliminate pork. According to the Bureau of Prisons, prisoners just don't care for pork. Even bacon - which sends social media practitioners into drooling ecstasy - doesn't sit well with the prison population, which caused the Bureau of Prisons to eliminate bacon, sausage, and pork chops from the menu.

According to The Crime Report, one special interest group that didn't take a stand on the issue was the Muslim community. Muslims do not eat pork, and there are active Muslim prison ministries, but Muslim groups apparently feared that any anti-pork statements on their part would result in an anti-Muslim backlash. However, CAIR did lend support to the original proposal.

And Senator Grassley is presumably happy, based upon the kinds of things that he says to the National Pork Producers Council:

I am glad to be here with you, and I hope you had a good breakfast that included either ham or bacon to get your day started.

Of course, there are some types of pork that Grassley just can't stand.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Your money? Yeah, we'll get around to it.

There are a number of people who hate Walmart, and who really want it to fail. In their minds, the demise of Walmart will result in an environment in which kinder, gentler companies will treat employees and customers with respect.

Guess what? Walmart WILL fail - every company fails at some point or another. However, Walmart will fail because a newer company will emerge that makes more money than Walmart does. How? By being even more ruthless.

By definition, the road to success for a company is to maximize profits. In addition to cutting costs - for example, paying low wages and benefits - you can maximize profits by optimizing your cash flow. When you're owed money, get that cash as quickly as possible. When you owe money, hold on to that cash as long as possible.

We all know that large companies such as Walmart have significant purchasing power over their suppliers, and in some cases the suppliers have no choice but to agree. As Bloomberg recently noted, Walmart can take over 30 days to pay its suppliers. And they just have to grin and bear it.

But it could be worse for the suppliers. They could be suppliers for Amazon, who takes over two to three times as long to pay its suppliers. Since 2011, it's taken Amazon over 90 days to pay its suppliers.

Of course, this could lead to trouble for companies in the long run.

Years ago, I knew someone who was an employee at a company (while the company no longer exists, I will not name it). The employee happened to be a musician, and when the local company office hosted a special event, he rounded up a group of musicians to play for the event. The employee paid the musicians, billed his employer...and waited. And waited. After waiting a very long time to get paid (after paying off HIS suppliers), the employee vowed never to play an event for his company again.

Of course, the company didn't care. It just found other musicians to stiff.

And if someone doesn't want to wait three months to get paid by Amazon, Amazon will just find someone else.

And people will long for the good old days, when companies like Walmart ruled the world.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Living wages and family-owned tilapia suppliers, the sequel

Remember my post from July about Quixotic Farming, a family-owned supplier of tilapia to Whole Foods, HyVee, and other grocers? In their heartwarming story, they kinda sorta didn't really promote the fact that their tilapia were farmed by Colorado prison labor.

According to WTOP, Whole Foods has decided not to carry the product (or a similar product, prisoner-produced goat cheese) any more.

Whole Foods will stop selling products made using a prison labor program after a protest against the practice at one of its stores in Texas.

The company said the products should be out of its stores by April 2016, if not sooner. Whole Foods said it has sold tilapia and goat cheese produced through a Colorado inmate program at some stores since at least 2011.

But will this satisfy the prison reform advocates? After all, when Whole Foods was buying the product, prison labor was getting as little as 74 cents an hour. But if everyone discontinues using the product, the prisoners will get zero dollars an hour - which doesn't really help decrease recidivism rates.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The fiction of brands - how Apple, Hilton, McDonald's, Uber, and others are not single entities, but thousands of independent companies and contractors

"Repetition," Jeena Paradies. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Apple. Hilton. McDonald's. Uber.

Four well-known brands that work very hard at protecting their brands.

Except in one significant respect.

I'll illustrate this by taking some information from a Neil Nisperos article that appeared in my local paper, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, on Friday.

According to Nisperos, four housekeepers who worked for - and were fired by - an Inglewood company named Pro Clean have filed a lawsuit. The suit alleges that they were fired for engaging in protected union organizing activities.

So they filed the lawsuit - against Doubletree Hilton Ontario Airport.

But if they were working for Pro Clean, then why did they fire the lawsuit against a Hilton-branded entity?

Because Pro Clean is a staffing agency that assigned the four to work at the Doubletree, where things were allegedly not all that great.

We wear the same uniforms, have the same supervisors, and eat in the same cafeteria. We also suffer under harsh working conditions,” said Maria Sanchez, one of the subcontracted housekeepers fired from the DoubleTree by Hilton.

(Nisperos noted, precisely, that the four were not fired BY the Doubletree, but FROM the Doubletree.)

The Doubletree itself has provided a response to the allegations.

“The Doubletree Ontario Airport Hotel complies with all local and federal labor laws and is an equal opportunity employer. The hotel is committed to providing a positive and supportive environment for all of its employees.”

The general manager who provided that response was also very precise. Note that the response states that the hotel provides a good environment for its EMPLOYEES.

Maria Sanchez and the other three, of course, were not employees of the Doubletree. They were employees of Pro Clean.

But the Doubletree is not the only establishment that has non-employees providing services. A year or two ago, someone that I know went to an Apple Store for a training course. Apple's brand image relies not only on the quality of its products, but the quality of the services that it provides. Thus Apple Stores have Genius Bars, training courses, and the like.

The person who provided the training course - a course upon which Apple's brand image is highly dependent - was not an employee of Apple.

Which brings us to McDonald's, which is kind of a mixed bag. Fast food outlets are a target for the living wage folks, who berate McDonald's and other employers in the industry for their low wages. McDonald's recently responded as follows:

On July 1, 2015, starting wages at McDonald’s company-owned restaurants in the U.S. will be one dollar over the locally-mandated minimum wage. The wages of all employees up to restaurant manager will be adjusted accordingly based on tenure and job performance. By the end of 2016, McDonald’s projects that the average hourly wage rate for McDonald’s employees at company-owned restaurants will be in excess of $10.

Also on July 1, full- and part-time crew employees at company-owned restaurants, with at least one year of service, will begin to accrue personal paid time-off. For example, an employee who works an average of 20 hours per week will be eligible to accrue approximately 20 hours of paid time off per year. If these employees don’t take the time off they’ve earned, they will be paid for the value of that time.

These two benefit enhancements apply to McDonald’s company-owned restaurants, which represent more than 90,000 employees and about 10 percent of McDonald’s restaurants nationwide. The more than 3,100 McDonald’s franchisees operate their individual businesses and make their own decisions on pay and benefits for their employees.

Another precisely worded statement, with repeated mentions of the words "company-owned" - as well as a note of the fact that 9 times out of 10, that so-called "McDonald's" restaurant that you are visiting is not owned by McDonald's.

Last but not least, this brings us to Uber. Uber clearly has a brand, and Uber has an app that allows you to obtain a ride from over 160,000 independent companies in the United States alone.

Yes, 160,000. That's roughly the number of Uber drivers in the U.S. as of last December - and as you've probably heard, Uber drivers are not employees of Uber, but independent contractors. So that "Uber driver" isn't an Uber driver, but just someone who has agreed to take requests from the Uber app.

Of course, that's not the way that Uber - or Apple, Hilton, McDonald's, or other large companies - want you to see it. When you get a ride in an Uber car, or take a training course at an Apple Store, or pick up a cookie at a Doubletree hotel, or get a Big Mac at a McDonald's, the companies want you to think about the Uber, Apple, Hilton, or McDonald's experience. And the companies lay down strict rules for their independent contractors and franchises - the age of the car that you use for "Uber" trips, the quality of the parts assembled for your "Apple" phone, the number of "Hilton" rooms that have to be cleaned, the size of that "McDonald's" Big Mac.

But when push comes to shove, these companies - and most others - say that the entities providing those products and services are legally distinct entities. We're not responsible for the criminal record of the driver, or the working conditions that the Chinese factory worker encounters, or the number of rooms that the room cleaner must clean, or for the wage that the Big Mac assembler makes.

But the companies aren't the only beneficiaries of that brand fiction. The four Doubletree workers could have only sued Pro Clean for firing them, but they saw an advantage in going after the Doubletree itself. Living wage proponents don't want to deal with all of the 3,100+ independent franchisees - it's much easier for them to pressure one entity, McDonald's, into mandating that franchises pay a particular wage.

Where does this leave the consumer? There are countless other examples of cases in which we think we're dealing with Company A, but instead are dealing with some other company that we've never heard of.

The answer is to stay educated. Some things are not what they appear to be.

Oh, and by the way, that Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California is owned by the Blackstone Group. So do you deal with Pro Clean (no website), the Blackstone Group, or Hilton Worldwide if you have a problem with your room?

Monday, September 28, 2015

On unsavory name associations, part two

In mid-July, I wrote a post entitled On unsavory name associations that mentioned an upsetting incident involving the corporate parent of my own employer, as well as George Lucas' upsetting time when both opponents and proponents of the Strategic Defense Initiative referred to the initiative as "Star Wars." (I don't know if you've heard of "Star Wars," but it's a series of movies. There may be another one coming out some time or another.)

Because of our tendency to abbreviate things and make them into acronyms, those unsavory name associations keep right on coming.

Many of you are using Intel products at this very moment. Intel is only one of the most significant companies of the 20th century. Founded in 1968, Intel helped to spur the personal computer industry - and unlike other chipmakers such as Motorola, Intel is still around under its original name.

But bad guys have been around much longer than Intel has. And for the good guys to fight the bad guys, they need intelligence about the enemy. Since these fighters are from the U.S. federal government, "intelligence" is often shortened to "intel."

You see where this is going. Specifically, it's going here.

In case you're confused, ISIS has not hacked American chipmakers.

Of course, this one' a double whammy, since the term "ISIS" itself more accurately refers to an Egyptian goddess - something undecidedly non-Muslim by any stretch of the term.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Content blockers block content. As @danprimack notes, that means that they block content.

It sounded like a really great idea at the time - whether the time was now, when iOS 9 now supports ad blockers, or perhaps when the time was before, when you added that ad blocker to your Internet Explorer web browser back in the day.

Ads and other unwanted content pop up on your phone, or your laptop, or your desktop, causing you irritation. So you decide to install an ad blocker or content blocker to free yourself from the anguish.

But guess what? I hope you're sitting down for this.

Content blockers block content.

Now perhaps I sound like Captain Obvious - and if you're actively using a content blocker, I need to explain to you that I'm referring to a hotels.com ad campaign - but any action that you take can have unintended consequences.

Dan Primack of Fortune has noted that someone with an active content blocker could be on a mobile phone, intending to buy something, and then be unable to buy it, or even see it.

After hearing initial reports from Chris Mason of Branding Brand, Fortune went and replicated the issues. First, it used an iPhone to go go the Bass Pro Shops mobile website, and looked at a picture of a boot, with the accompanying price.

Then Fortune visited the same mobile site, but this time did so with the Crystal content blocker enabled. Guess what? No boot, and no price, was visible.

You can see this example and other ones here. Fortune described a number of cases in which the content blocker blocked content. Maybe individual pictures won't load. Maybe the entire web page won't load. Or maybe the web page will load, but you can't load anything into the shopping cart.

However, there are "benefits" to the technology. Many websites, including the one that you are reading now, incorporate Google Analytics or similar analytic code to measure what you, the reader, are looking at. Content blockers can helpfully block this code from executing. Yes, you preserve your privacy...

...but at the same time, because the website doesn't know about your preferences, 60 year old men are unable to figure out why the websites that they visit serve up an endless array of Justin Bieber and Tampax news. Contextual ads are imprecise enough when they do know about you; what happens when they don't?

Fortune notes that Crystal is working on the specific issues that it reported, but also notes something else:

The trouble for retailers, of course, is that Crystal is just one ad-blocker. Another, Purify Blocker, currently sits at #5 in the App Store, and all of this is just one week after Apple unveiled its new operating system. Even if retailers reach out directly to one, they may be playing whack-a-mole.

It won't happen, but the advertising world is imagining a worst case scenario in which people try to use their phones to shop at mobile websites, give up in frustration because the mobile websites "don't work" (when in reality it's the content blocker that is causing the problem), and then eventually decide that the smartphone is pretty much worthless and that there's no need to buy that latest insanely great smartphone after all.

The more likely scenario is that people will buy the content blockers, hear about the problems they cause, turn them off, and then forget to turn them back on again.

Or maybe this is just this weekend's tempest in a teapot, and a blip - or a Blippy - on the landscape.

What a difference two months makes - the VW Golf goes from eagle to double bogey

Hindsight makes us all experts, but frankly you can't fault the people in the past for not anticipating things.

In March 1865, no one at Ford's Theater in Washington was agonizing about the protection of important patrons.

In August 2001, no one in a tall building was worried about a passenger plane ending up in his or her office.

And back in August 2015, no one was thinking that a Volkswagen diesel engine was a bad thing.

Take this August review of the Volkswagen Tiguan SUV:

The Tiggy cries out for diesel power.

Well, I cry out for it.

Why not? The Golf — which is kin to the Tiggy — is available with VW’s superb TDI four cylinder turbo-diesel, which returns 30 city and 42 highway in the Golf wrapper. In the heavier Tiggy, the TDI’s numbers would probably be lower. But they’d still be spectacular — probably best in class. As would the tow rating. The gas Tiggy’s 2,200 pound max is good — better than the typical 1,500 pound rating of many small crossovers (both the Kia Sportage and the Mazda CX-5 max out at 2,000 pounds). But with a high-torque diesel up front, the Tiggy could probably pull at least 3,500 pounds; maybe more.

Arguably, a diesel in the Tiggy makes more sense than in the Golf. It — the Tiggy — is a crossover SUV, after all.

The Golf is a car.

Diesels are nice in cars. But they’re useful and in SUVs. They endow the vehicle with the capacity to do real work — and they notch up the fuel efficiency to acceptable levels, a critical thing these days. It’s going to be tough enough for cars to make Obama’s 35.5 MPG average mandatory minimum that goes into effect come 2016. It’ll be even tougher for heavier, less aerodynamically efficient crossovers and SUVs to get there.

Diesel power would help.

Well, that Tiguan is looking pretty good right about now, as this report from Hawaii indicates:

Dealers of Volkswagen vehicles in Hawaii say they are cautiously optimistic as the German-based car manufacturer addresses allegations that it installed illegal software into millions of diesel cars that was designed to manipulate the results of U.S. emissions tests.

Tony Group President Stan Masamitsu, whose holdings include Tony Volkswagen, said the manufacturer has instructed his dealership to stop sales of all diesel vehicles with model years ranging from 2009 to 2015 that may have had the software installed on it.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Does the Speaker of the House have to be a Member of the House?

Now that John Boehner has announced his resignation, there is an uproar regarding the selection of the next Speaker of the House.

Which raises the question - does the Speaker of the House actually have to be a Member of the House of Representatives?

In a word, no. Even the House itself says as much:

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states, "The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers."

Although the Constitution does not require the Speaker to be a Member of the House, all Speakers have been Members.

Given the current climate in the country, in which many outside the Beltway are literally rejoicing over Boehner's departure, there is always the possibility that a true outsider could gain the Speakership.

But who would want to do a thing like that?


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Macrobreweries and micromarketing

After reading Trevor Carpenter's comment about Anheuser Busch's acquisition of Golden Road Brewing, I was not only reminded of Anheuser Busch's recent macro brew Super Bowl ad, but was also reminded about the company's worst advertising stumble - its efforts to rally patriotic fervor in the USA vs. Belgium World Cup match, despite the fact that Anheuser Busch is owned by the Belgian company InBev.

But the advertisements work. While a few laugh at the hypocrisy, most people go ahead and buy the beer based upon the resonating message.

But Anheuser Busch and its competitors have even more potent advertising campaigns at the local level - the very local level.

If I were to dare to wear Google Glass into Shotwell's Bar in San Francisco, I would presumably run into some neon signs touting Budweiser and the San Francisco Giants, or Budweiser and the San Francisco 49ers. If I were a San Francisco resident, this would make me feel good, knowing that that brewer guy in Belgium - I mean St. Louis - was rooting for my teams. So I'd order a Budweiser. And another.

(Tangential note: for certain products, including alcohol and casino gambling, the best customer that you can have is an addict who has not yet been diagnosed. He or she will cheerfully run up the bills buying your products, and since the addiction hasn't been diagnosed, the banks and others will do nothing to stop the spending.)

Imagine for the moment that a man somehow grew up in San Francisco and never left the city limits for the first 31 years of his life. This man would have spent some time in bars, with these comforting messages about how his American beer company really loves his team.

Then, one day, the man makes a wrong turn, boards the wrong BART, and ends up in the faraway mystical land of Oakland. Shaken up by the experience, he pops into a bar for relief and is shocked to discover neon signs touting Budweiser and the Oakland Athletics, or Budweiser and the Oakland Raiders.

Heaven help the guy if he stumbled into an airport and ended up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Actually, according to Rodger Sherman, he'd be safe in Dallas, at least from the NFL perspective. Anheuser Busch does not sponsor the Dallas Cowboys (or the Bears, Packers, or Vikings). But they are the official sponsor for the other 28 NFL teams, and have created advertisements about 1972 (for Miami) and shoveling snow (for Buffalo). As the Buffalo ad indicates, the marketing staff began running out of ideas after a while.

Indianapolis Colts: The perfect beer for horsing around with the boys in blue.