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 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.