Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hey, I never saw any job ads from that company! Oh...

When I was last laid off from a job over 25 years ago, one of the ways in which I looked for jobs was to use something called "classified ads." These were short pieces of text, printed on paper, that you could use to learn about available jobs.

Of course, now the technology is a little bit different. I don't even know if printed newspapers even run help wanted ads any more - the last time I saw a newspaper, the classified section was very short. Today, of course, you access job information via the web. Perhaps you go to a company's own website. Perhaps you go to a website that aggregates jobs from different companies.

Or perhaps the jobs come to you.

Maybe you're on a social media service, and you see an add pop up for a job. And because the social media service probably already knows a lot about you - where you live, what your current job is - the service can tailor the ads that it presents to you so that you only see ads that are relevant to you.

Or ads that the employer THINKS are relevant to you.

And therein lies the problem, according to ProPublica:

A few weeks ago, Verizon placed an ad on Facebook to recruit applicants for a unit focused on financial planning and analysis. The ad showed a smiling, millennial-aged woman seated at a computer and promised that new hires could look forward to a rewarding career in which they would be “more than just a number.”

Some relevant numbers were not immediately evident. The promotion was set to run on the Facebook feeds of users 25 to 36 years old who lived in the nation’s capital, or had recently visited there, and had demonstrated an interest in finance.

Cool. What's the problem?

For a vast majority of the hundreds of millions of people who check Facebook every day, the ad did not exist.

Well, so what? If it's a finance job in Washington DC, you're not going to want to show it to bricklayers in Oklahoma. ProPublica is obviously getting silly.

And then they start showing other examples:

In a search for “part-time package handlers,” United Parcel Service ran an ad aimed at people 18 to 24. State Farm pitched its hiring promotion to those 19 to 35.

Ah, perhaps you see the issue now. Age targeting can, in some cases, be illegal.

Now in certain instances age targeting is perfectly legal. The U.S. Army can legally exclude 70 year olds from job recruiting ads.

But it's much more problematic in other cases. Could a 37 year old - or a 57 year old, or a 24 year old - work at Verizon? Could a 25 year old be a part-time package handler for UPS?

Several experts questioned whether the practice is in keeping with the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits bias against people 40 or older in hiring or employment. Many jurisdictions make it a crime to “aid” or “abet” age discrimination, a provision that could apply to companies like Facebook that distribute job ads.

“It’s blatantly unlawful,” said Debra Katz, a Washington employment lawyer who represents victims of discrimination.

And some companies have changed their practices to ensure that they comply with anti-discrimination laws.

After being contacted by ProPublica, LinkedIn changed its system to prevent such targeting in employment ads....

After being contacted by ProPublica and the Times, other employers, including Amazon, Northwestern Mutual and the New York City Department of Education, said they had changed or were changing their recruiting strategies.

“We recently audited our recruiting ads on Facebook and discovered some had targeting that was inconsistent with our approach of searching for any candidate over the age of 18,” said Nina Lindsey, a spokeswoman for Amazon, which targeted some ads for workers at its distribution centers between the ages of 18 and 50. “We have corrected those ads.”

Of course, there are dissenting views on the value of a diverse workforce, including people over the age of 40. The following was written by someone at Brazen in 2009.

We now have youngsters who can’t find jobs not only because this recession sucks, but also because old people are choosing not to retire. They are not retiring because this new generation of “old people” think they will never die due to modern advances in medicine. They are ambitious workaholics who are also too selfish and egocentric to step aside and believe that a younger person could do just a good of a job, if not a better one. They are the first generation who have received so much: peace, prosperity and technology.

And now, they don’t want to give it all up after squandering away our environment and screwing up our market. So next time when you can’t find a job, don’t blame the minority for filling some quota (that is extremely rarely the reason why you don’t get hired); just go ahead and blame the people at the top.

Now that eight years have passed...and another ten years will pass quickly - I wonder if the Brazen writer feels the same way.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Revisiting my nine year old rant on sites that support limited browsers

Back in 2008, when I was working for Motorola, the company needed to ensure that all of its software worked with all of its internal systems. It can take time to test internal systems with new browsers, and as a result, Motorola's "approved" browser at the time was Internet Explorer 6.

This offended certain developers, who adopted an attitude that Ramblings of an Offbeat Mammal expressed in a phrase that I quoted at the time:

If all those folks using a version of any browser older than IE7 could just upgrade, get with the program and do their bit (it’s only a few moments to download and install and it doesn’t even insist on a legal copy of Windows these days!) then developers could concentrate on making great web applications using all the cool Ajax, Silverlight and Javascript features without having to worry about testing a load of different quirky behaviors.

Despite my rather strident opposition to this attitude, I did grant, and still do, that there are costs to supporting multiple platforms, and at the time, the need to support IE6 and IE7 and other browsers could certainly add up. Developers could support a lot of browsers and browser versions and run up those costs, or they could support a limited number of browsers and browser versions and limit their reach.

I could have lived with that, if the developers hadn't adopted the snotty "Why are you using IE6, you imbecile?" attitude. An especially ironic stance, since many of these same people were loudly clamoring that there was no need to upgrade to Windows Vista, and that people should be permitted to stay on Windows XP.

Well, that ridiculousness ended, or so I thought until I visited the new MySpace in 2012 and found that it didn't support any version of Internet Explorer.

You know, I've rarely visited MySpace since. (It didn't help that they deleted my original profile page. But I digress.)

Well, that ridiculousness ended, or so I thought until I read this piece.

Someone tweeted [Airbnb] about an issue with the website. Apparently, it’s impossible to make a reservation in Safari 9.1 The astute members of [The Next Web] know what the issue is here. That particular version of Safari came out in March, 2016. At the time of writing, the most current version of Safari is 11.0.1.

Instead of telling the user to update his browser (which is reasonable), Airbnb told him to install Chrome instead, as the site was “optimized” for it.

(Note: the Airbnb tweet was written in 2016, but as you'll see, Airbnb's current policy isn't much better.)

The story continues.

Another company that’s openly telling users to use Chrome rather than any modern competing browser — like Firefox, Safari, and Opera — is Groupon.

These two companies attracted the Twitter ire of one Jeffrey Yasskin. In a couple of tweets, he implored the two companies to not optimize for a single browser.

Yasskin, by the way, is on the Google Chrome Web Platform team. Perhaps in some weird alternative universe Yasskin would be fired, but Google, Apple, Mozilla, and other web browser developers realize that the secret to browser success isn't to go silo.

And even Airbnb's story has changed over time. Its "get with the program" page says to use the latest versions of Chrome OR FIREFOX. You can use IE9 or higher, but Microsoft Edge, Safari, Opera, and other browsers aren't mentioned at all. The 2016 tweet to which Yasskin responded didn't mention Mozilla, which apparently has now joined Airbnb's "blessed" list. Maybe they'll get around to support Microsoft Edge in a few years.


As I was working on this post over the weekend and tweeting about it, Jordan Harband responded with two tweets:

We definitely support Safari and Edge. Opera is just Blink now, so Opera always === Chrome anyways.

In general, we support ES5+.

Regardless, our internal support policy for engineers is distinct from our general support advice, which *obviously* is “use the latest version of your browser” at a minimum.

Compare this with Behance, which displays "creative work." In order to get more creatives to sign up, Behance has a broader browser support policy:

Behance supports:

Evergreen browsers (supporting the two most recent versions):
Google Chrome
Mozilla Firefox
Microsoft Edge

Other browsers:
Microsoft Internet Explorer 11
Apple Safari, version 8 and above
Opera, limited support for all versions

As for MySpace, it still doesn't support any Microsoft browser or Opera. Of course, this could be considered a security feature, since it limits the ways in which someone can hack into a MySpace account.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

When brands are king

Before yesterday, you could have forgiven me for not knowing about a relationship between the roast beef fast food chain Arby's and the sports restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings - namely because there was no such relationship until yesterday.

But I didn't know that there was a relationship between Wendy's and Arby's. Turns out Wendy's owns 18.5% of Arby's (and thus will benefit from any price increase resulting from the BWW acquisition).

I work in a different environment - one in which you know when brands are associated with each other. This was most apparent during my years working for (pre-split) Motorola, in which Motorola WAS the brand. Whether talking about a RAZR or a police radio, you knew that the product came from Motorola.

But this appears to be the exception rather than the rule. I'm sure that there are LinkedIn users who don't realize that LinkedIn is part of Microsoft. And I wouldn't be surprised to find YouTube users who don't realize that YouTube is part of Google.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Did I not show enough goodwill to Henry-Alex Rubin?

So in my post last Saturday, I was somewhat negative about Burger King's Bullying Jr. ad. Excerpts:

The ad has received deserved praise from various people, but it appears that the key constituency was not consulted.

Burger King customers....

Now there may be times when a corporation DOES choose to make a strong social or political statement. A store that sells guns, for example, has a customer base that is interested in the Second Amendment, and therefore would make statements consistent with their customers' beliefs.

But how does Burger King's anti-bullying statement resonate with its audience?

Will Burger King have a net GAIN of customers as a result of this ad? How many people will say, "I don't eat junk food, but Burger King hates bullies so I'll go there"?

Joel Garry responded on Twitter.

Net gain of customers is the wrong metric. Buzz and goodwill are the right metrics, but difficult to measure in sales lift.

And difficult to measure in the short-term, quarterly world in which U.S. (and Canadian, and Brazilian) business operates. Burger King's commitment to do good things isn't a one-off:

The better job we do at being responsible today, the better our business will be in the future. We know that from a pure business sense, it can help us manage risk, enhance employee morale and retention, strengthen brand loyalty, build goodwill in and strengthen the communities in which we operate and can directly affect the bottom line in terms of energy savings and waste reduction. We also know that it must be a way of thinking and fully embedded within our brand.

And perhaps the strategy is working, despite concerns about Burger King's tax status. The American Customer Satisfaction Index released its 2017 report on full-service and limited-service restaurants, and Burger King did well in the survey.

Hamburger chains all score below the industry average. After lagging Wendy’s for more than two decades, Burger King grabs the crown among burger chains with a 1% uptick to 77. Wendy’s (unchanged at 76) and Jack in the Box (+1% to 75) follow closely behind. McDonald’s continues its run at the bottom of the industry, flat at 69.

So what restaurant sits atop the fast food industry?

Chick-fil-A remains the leader, unchanged at an ACSI score of 87.

This despite the fact that some believe that Chick-fil-A's corporate responsibility stand

Maybe Burger King should close on Sunday.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Did Henry-Alex Rubin unintentionally bully Burger King's customers?

When a company creates an advertisement, it has to decide who the audience is.

One would think that the audience would be potential customers.

But sometimes the audience is someone else - employees at other ad agencies, influential press, or other people who are clearly not customers.

Take the example that I cited in 2013, in which a frozen yogurt company launched a Snapchat-based campaign which got loads of coverage on Ad Age and Mashable. As far as I could tell, however, they ended their Snapchat focus fairly quickly, meaning that the yogurt chain's own customers couldn't benefit. (Yes, they returned to Snapchat a couple of years later, but kinda sorta forgot to link to their Snapchat account on their website. Marketing is hard.)

So now there's another ad that is being talked about and is probably going to get a lot of industry awards and things. Yes, I'm talking about the Burger King ad.

In case you haven't seen the video yet, here's how Burger King describes it.

Scrawny. Short. Ugly. Fat. Weird. 30% of school kids worldwide are bullied each year and bullying is the #1 act of violence against young people in America today (Source: The BURGER KING® brand is known for putting the crown on everyone’s head and allowing people to have it their way. Bullying is the exact opposite of that. So the BURGER KING® brand is speaking up against bullying during National Bullying Prevention Month.

In the BURGER KING® brand Bullying Jr. experiment, more people stood up for a bullied WHOPPER JR.® than a bullied high school Jr. Visit to learn how you can take a stand against bullying.

Basically what they did is to stage a situation. Teenage actors portrayed a kid being bullied, and the other kids who were bullying him. Most of the customers didn't notice.

Meanwhile, the Burger King workers were smashing Whopper Jrs. with their fists and giving them to customers. Most of the customers DID notice.

The ad has received deserved praise from various people, but it appears that the key constituency was not consulted.

Burger King customers.

Now the YouTube video is getting positive comments - here's a portion of one.

I don't eat at BK I don't like the food but at the same time in a world that is full of public stunts that are designed to humiliate others this one stands out as different and shows people how selfish people are by being only willing to speak out when it effects themselves but no one has the guts to stand up for someone else. Burger King is showing they have the guts and the hate people are showing shows that this world is ruled by bullies. If you do nothing your a secondhand bully so stand up for people that are being bullied.

Re-read that. The person doesn't eat at Burger King, loves the commercial...but still won't eat at Burger King.

And the video is also getting negative comments. Here's one (profanity excluded):

Nice way to bully your customers, BK.

Like, no really. I may not have time to put up with your BS.

[EXPLETIVE DELETED] bullying, but that's a stupid publicity stunt.

And that's tame compared to some of the comments at LiveLeak.

Bullying is bad. So is leftist propaganda.

Or this.

Since Merkel let in millions of refugees and Muslims people get killed or beaten down or raped when they try to help the bullied human being!

[EXPLETIVE DELETED] off with your politically correct propaganda and start to ban the extremely violent system that Islam is!

Now there may be times when a corporation DOES choose to make a strong social or political statement. A store that sells guns, for example, has a customer base that is interested in the Second Amendment, and therefore would make statements consistent with their customers' beliefs.

But how does Burger King's anti-bullying statement resonate with its audience?

Will Burger King have a net GAIN of customers as a result of this ad? How many people will say, "I don't eat junk food, but Burger King hates bullies so I'll go there"?

Or will Burger King (or Henry-Alex Rubin) just win some advertising awards and be done with it?

At least the creative Louise Delage campaign was designed to increase "business" for Addict Aide.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Food and Drug Administration does not want Nashoba Brook Bakery's love

We are a nation of laws. Justice is blind. The law should be applied equally to all. Bla bla bla.

In the course of an inspection of Nashoba Brook Bakery, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered some violations, and wrote a letter to Nashoba detailing those violations. One of the violations is documented as follows:

Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient "Love". Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name [21 CFR 101.4(a)(1). "Love" is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.

Unfortunately, I could not find a copy of the completely fraudulent and misleading label on Nashoba Breads' website, but I don't doubt the FDA. And the FDA's letter has gotten the attention of everyone (I heard about the story via a Bloomberg article.)

One comforting thing - since Nashoba is known as the "slow rise" company, presumably the owners weren't immediately boiled over with anger when they received the FDA's letter.

I'd take the time to warn these people, but they're in Montreal which is outside of the FDA's jurisdiction.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Flat iPhone revenue does not mean that Apple is dying

Via a Google Plus share, I ran across a ZDNet article that is guaranteed to anger the Apple fanbois. Author Adrian Kingsley-Hughes notes the following:

There's a problem facing Apple that the fanboys want to ignore and that the executives in Cupertino won't acknowledge: Stalled revenue growth.

Not stalled revenue, but stalled revenue growth. Kingsley-Hughes refers to a report from Guggenheim Securities that looks at five sectors of Apple - iPhone, iPad, Mac, services, and other products. Of those five sectors, only services revenue is growing consistently.

Fair enough. But then Kingsley-Hughes spends the rest of the article talking about the anticipated iPhone 8.

But does the iPhone 8 have enough to restore revenue growth? Is AR, face unlocking, wireless charging, and an OLED display really going to get people to part with more than $1,000 for an iPhone?

In my view, Kingsley-Hughes made a mistake here by concentrating on an older product. And yes, the iPhone is an old, mainstream product - one step above the iPod.

Now the article does state that Apple has "nothing new on the horizon that is going to pick up the slack." And perhaps this is correct.

But perhaps it isn't.

In a longish post on Google Plus (that I'll reproduce below in case Google Plus bites the dust before Blogger does), I noted that it's not necessarily correct to analyze the future of a company based upon its current offerings. After all, what would be the result of an analysis of Apple Computer circa 1983, before the Macintosh was released and changed computing forever? (Admittedly with a few bumps along the way.)

One thing that I didn't state in my Google Plus post is that all companies that exist for a long time go through changes. Nokia no longer depends upon wood pulp. IBM no longer makes meat slicers. Microsoft no longer depends upon BASIC - or MS-DOS - for its revenue. And "Apple Computer" hasn't manufactured an Apple II in over twenty years.

And someday, Apple will no longer offer an iPhone. Yet there's still a chance that the company will survive. It's certainly survived many downturns in the past.

OK, here's the text from my Google Plus post:

Yes, the fanbois are being overly optimistic - and yes, the naysayers MAY be overly pessimistic.

The Cliffs Notes version of the +ZDNet article reads as follows:

1. The only growing sector in Apple is services.
2. The iPhone isn't growing.
3. The iPhone 8 isn't earth shaking.
4. This is bad.

This is accompanied by a chart that shows revenue growth (and lack thereof) since 2010.

However, I counter that a seven-year time horizon may or may not predict future growth of a company.

Let me give you an example of another seven-year timeframe - the time between Apple's founding (April 1, 1976) and 1983. And how did Apple look in 1983?

1. The Apple II was doing great, but it had been around for a while.
2. Its new product, the Apple III, was running into problems.
3. Apple was facing competition from the increasingly popular IBM PC.
4. Its new-new product, the Lisa, was incredibly high priced.

So at that juncture in 1983, an argument could clearly be made that Apple's time has passed. Sure, the two Steves had a bit of success, but now that experienced companies like IBM were moving in, there was absolutely no way that Apple could turn the Apple II into a long-term success.

"You stupid idiot," you're saying to me. "Good companies always innovate, and Apple was at that time readying the Macintosh for delivery. The Mac had its ups and downs, but it eventually became a viable product. And a couple of decades later, Apple revolutionized the world again, morphing from its "Apple Computer" past to offer the iPod and iPhone. Anyone who would judge Apple's success based upon its 1983 product line is completely clueless."


So why are people judging Apple's post-2017 success on the anticipated feature set of the iPhone 8?

Yes, it's quite possible that the iPhone will go the way of the iPod. And if Apple makes the mistake of putting all its eggs in the iPhone basket, Apple will go away also.

But if Apple has its smarts, it's doing all sorts of development activities inside its spaceship - development that has nothing to do with iPhones.

Now some of those development efforts will probably fail. But perhaps some of them will be insanely great successes.

So much so that ten years from now, when everyone is busily using Apple's latest gizmo, one teenager will turn to another and say:

"Did you know that Apple used to make phones? You know, those things for voice calls? My mom used to have one."

And the teenager's friend will reply:

"You think that's wild? My grandpa said they used to make something called a computer."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Revisiting the Retail Equation - why customers should love them

I've previously written about The Retail Equation four times. April 2012. October 2013. January 2014. February 2014.

I've always covered them from the store side of the, um, equation - basically, the algorithmic efforts to reduce fraudulent returns. I've also covered the customers who are caught up in the algorithm and haven't been allowed to return things that they think they should be able to return.

With the negative press that The Retail Equation has received, I began wondering - has the company tried to make the case that its service is actually GOOD for customers?

It has:

The Retail Equation’s Verify Return Authorization solution offers you a tremendous alternative to strict, across-the-board return policies used by some retailers.

It also covers "Retail Rewards," which appears to be a new name for the Return Rewards I previously discussed.

TRE's Retail Rewards targeted incentives ... help accommodate you for the inconvenience of the returned item and persuade you to keep shopping in their store.

Finally, The Retail Equation states that its service lowers retailer costs "and helps lower prices." While the "consumer benefits" statement doesn't provide justification, this release does make one interesting claim:

The Retail Equation/Sysrepublic has conducted studies to substantiate the fact that return rate and return fraud are closely tied to shrink. These studies indicate that if a retailer takes actions to prevent return fraud and abuse, shrink can be reduced by a significant amount. This suggests that paying close attention to returns is a powerful weapon to combat shrink. As companies look to improve their loss prevention metrics in the coming months, they should consider implementing strategies to reduce return rate and fraud and, ultimately, shrink.

And it's obvious that reducing shrink lowers retailer costs, although in the quarterly public company pressure to profit profit profit, it's uncertain whether that reduction in costs actually lowers prices that customers pay.

Friday, September 1, 2017

When cultural references are lost on potential customers

Businesses desperately want ways to connect with customers, and - provided that it's done tastefully - they can connect with customers by insightful references to current trends.

So someone tried to do this recently, with the following statement:

Federal CIOs are going down like Lannister banner men.

Many of you will read this sentence and either appreciate the reference, or comment that the reference is totally inappropriate.

The rest of us will sit here and go "Huh?"

For the benefit of those who, like me, are in the last category, this is from an article entitled "CIO Game of Thrones?" So once I Bing or Google the reference, I'll presumably figure out who Lannister banner men are.

"But John, you are an obvious outlier," many of you are saying. "You don't watch any TV other than sporting events, Whose Line, and Jeopardy. EVERYONE watches Game of Thrones."

And that technology machine Mashable agrees with this assessment about Game of Thrones' popularity.

As everyone learned this season on Game of Thrones, you don't need three fire-breathing dragons to dominate the competition, but it certainly helps.

That's right - EVERYONE learned this. Didn't they?

According to the network, Game of Thrones Season 7 has averaged 31 million viewers per episode – up 34% over Season 6 last year – once live, DVR, on-demand, and streaming views are all factored in.

Mind you, that's not even counting the numbers for the Season 7 finale. An all-time high of 16.5 million viewers caught the episode Sunday night.

So, follow the numbers. That season finale that everyone watched was seen by 16.5 million people. Generously assume that another 14 million or so pirated the show to get around HBO's fees. That means that around 290 million people in the United States did NOT see the Game of Thrones finale that everyone is supposedly talking about. That's 90 percent.

Well perhaps the numbers are different in specific demographics. What about IT people who love fire-breathing dragons, some chair in Croatia or wherever, and Bannister - I mean Lannister banner men? (Still haven't Binged that yet.) Maybe the percentage there will increase from 10 percent to, say, 25 percent.

Now I love obscure references more than everyone else, but I don't expect everyone to understand them when I use or misuse them. So if you want your Lannister banner men to fight fire-breathing dragons in multiples (the dragons), make sure you're not leaving your target audience behind.

Because the points DO matter.

Could business needs restore pre-9/11 airport gate access?

It was less than twenty years ago, but it seems like forever.

In the late 1990s, my then-young daughter and I - well, my daughter's still young, but not as young as she was then - anyway, my then-young daughter and I visited the grand opening of Terminals 2 and 4 at Ontario International Airport in Ontario, California. While I primarily remember walking around the runway area, the terminals themselves were very impressive. There were ticket counters on the first floor, and escalators leading to the second floor gates and shops, where passengers and their families could eat something near the gate -

Hold it. Did I just say "passengers and their families"?

Yes, I did. People who are younger than my young daughter cannot even remember a time when a family could accompany a passenger all the way to his or her gate. Because after 9/11, extensive security controls were introduced, and at my local airport in Ontario, non-ticketed people were restricted to the first floor. Only ticketed passengers could go up to the second floor, and because there were fewer people in the shops, there were fewer sales. And as passenger traffic declined at Ontario International Airport because of 9/11 (and other reasons), there were even fewer sales, and these days the shops are only open at limited hours.

Thus, the 9/11 security restrictions resulted in a reduction of revenue for airport shops, and therefore for the airports themselves.

(Oh, and by the way, if you have this nagging question about why Ontario opened Terminals 2 and 4, it's because they were planning to build a Terminal 3 in the future as air traffic increased. Because of 9/11, those traffic increases never materialized.)

But now things are changing in Pittsburgh:

For the first time in almost 16 years, a U.S. airport will let non-passengers head past security and mingle in gate areas. Starting next week at Pittsburgh International Airport, you'll be able to greet your long-distance girlfriend at the gate and grab one last (hopefully decent) meal with the in-laws, even if you don't have a ticket, through the TSA-approved "myPITpass."

It's still somewhat restricted - non-passengers can only enter during daytime hours on weekdays, and not at all on the weekends. But this is an eye-catching development. Hopefully the additional airport revenue will offset the increased security costs.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When giving sharp objects to your employees is a good thing

I often get unsolicited emails that are completely ridiculous. While this particular email did not interest me personally, I was still intrigued by the idea.

There is a popular line of thinking that states that employees are not all that motivated by money, but are more motivated by other forms of motivation. In that vein, this email sender, PremStar Incentives, wants employers to give knives to their high performers.

But not just any knives.

Ginsu Knives.

I guess these are still popular in certain age brackets, and they certainly have the name recognition.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Another story about the real soon now end of Sears

This one is from a former Sears employee who left before the merger with K-mart. A brief excerpt:

More broadly--and most stupefyingly--Lampert continues to claim turnaround efforts are on track. This from a company that has had precisely one-quarter of positive sales growth in seven years, operating losses that continue to worsen, an acceleration in store closings and rampant departures of key executives. Moreover, the moves detailed in the most recent press release are all about financial restructuring and say nothing about actions to improve customer relevance. If Sears does not quickly and dramatically improve its performance with its customers nothing else matters. Period.

Read the rest.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sonn Beverage Systems - or, I should have paid more attention in Neal Haygood's chemistry class

In the course of an online discussion about the pH balances of certain liquids, a friend of a friend entered the conversation. The friend of a friend, Glen Poss, encouraged me to look at the in-development product from his company.

Now my employer has used Flavia, my family has used Nespresso, and we have also used Keurig. So what does this forthcoming product from Sonn Beverage Systems offer that the others don't?

Well, the science is a bit beyond me, but perhaps it isn't beyond you.

Using the sonn when brewing allows the solvent (water is the universal solvent after all) to work more effectively and more quickly while using lower water temps to achieve the extraction. This lower temperature is very important because the prime reason that coffee or tea becomes bitter or astringent is the creation of acids that follows with high brewing temperatures. High temperatures are needed for a fast brew, and that is one reason why cold brew coffee is not acid. The other thing that is happening contribute to the silky mouth feel and bigger aroma and taste, the creation of nano sized and micron sized particles. These super tiny particles not only give the water a fresh surface to extract from but increase the total dissolved solids that contribute to the silky feel and big aroma, they are in effect little tiny flavor packets.

The technology can also be used with spirits.

A couple of other resources - here's a Consumer Electronics Show interview with Glen Poss' co-founder. Denis Londry.

And here's an independent review from 2015. Excerpt:

It's going to be interesting to see where it fits into the brewing/home beverage preparation world. It seems early on to have a lot of promise, and is fortunately, going to be quite affordable (estimates around $200). The inventor, Glen Poss, holds several patents on the device, as well as many that he's created for other coffee related gear, a small countertop coffee roaster/brewer....

I have no idea if the $200 target is still attainable, but if so, it will certainly be price competitive with other brewers in this space.

Oh, and one more thing (since I'm thinking proprietary) - does it make sense for Sonn to launch into a crowded market?

Yes, it does, as Agorapulse's founder has noted.

In 2001, my co-founder and I started our first startup. It was a revolutionary new concept that didn’t exist at the time: online social networking.

I know, we were visionaries ;-)

But there was no market for an online social network in 2001. It failed.

In 2004, we pivoted to a B2B play, trying to sell our technology to large businesses and organizations wanting to build their own private social network.

Here again, there was little existing interest. It barely survived.

But when you enter a market with hundreds of thousands, or even millions of potential customers, there’s a big difference! When we entered this space, we no longer had to:

educate our market
convince them they need a product like ours or
fight on prices because there is a market value for your “thing”

Good point.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What @laurenweinstein and @kevinmarks are saying about the unreadable web

During my time as a Motorola product manager, I occasionally had to deal with Section 508.

What is Section 508?

In June 2001 Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act went into effect specifying the requirements for accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that each federal agency needed to follow.

And if I skip over a lot of gobbledygook from the GSA page quoted above, we get to this:

Ensuring that government acquisitions of information and communication technology meet federal accessibility requirements for use by people with disabilities;

I'd guess that the majority of my readers have working eyes and ears, but what if you didn't? Section 508 and its related regulations ensure that you can still continue to read important blog posts like this one, and that you can get something out of pictures and visual content - even if you can't see the content.

(Confession: I was stymied as a product manager to figure out how Section 508 could apply to one of my scenarios, that in which a latent fingerprint examiner compared the ridges and bifurcations of two fingerprint images. Motorola wasn't selling a lot of latent workstations to the federal government when I was a product manager, but I was still musing about how a latent fingerprint examiner would compare images in the Section 508 world. How was he or she supposed to do this if blind - by a 3D physical representation of the contents of the screen? Tooltips ain't gonna help here.)

OK, now I'm going to show you a picture. Before I tell you where the picture came from, I'd like you to look at it and form your impressions. Don't worry about the words - just the general feel of the two images. Go ahead - I'll wait.

Now that you've looked at the picture, I'll give proper credit. This is taken from a post by Lauren Weinstein, and compares two separate blogs authored by Google. One of them uses a new visual format, while the other uses an old format. Can you guess which is new, and which is old?

Here, let me let Lauren help you answer that question.

Let’s compare the readability of two Google blogs. On the right, a recent item from Google’s main blog, which has converted to Google’s new low readability design. On the left, a recent entry from the Google Security Blog, which is currently still using the traditional high-readability design.

The differences are obvious, and the low contrast on the right is especially bad for persons with aging vision (this degrading of vision typically begins around age 18, by the way).

I should note that the terms "low readability" and "high readability" are not (obviously) used by Google itself, but were probably coined by Weinstein (or by someone else who doesn't care for the change). Weinstein is quite passionate about his dislike of the new format. He has not only expressed this dislike in the post that contained this comparison, but also in two prior posts on the topic.

How did we get into this mess in the first place? A Kevin Marks article in WIRED provides, background.

So why are designers resorting to lighter and lighter text? When I asked designers why gray type has become so popular, many pointed me to the Typography Handbook, a reference guide to web design. The handbook warns against too much contrast. It recommends developers build using a very dark gray (#333) instead of pitch black (#000).

The theory espoused by designers is that black text on a white background can strain the eyes. Opting for a softer shade of black text, instead, makes a page more comfortable to read....Schwartz himself admits the conclusion is subjective.

Another common justification is that people with dyslexia may find contrast confusing, though studies recommend dimming the background color instead of lightening the type.

Several designers pointed me to Ian Storm Taylor’s article, “Design Tip: Never Use Black.” In it, Taylor argues that pure black is more concept than color....Taylor uses the variability of color to argue for subtlety in web design, not increasingly faint text.

Marks also makes the point that designers often design in optimal conditions - the best screens in optimally-lit offices. The designs that look great in such conditions may be look so good when you're standing outside on a sunny day, squinting at a mobile phone.

But all of that doesn't matter, because the trend is established and anyone who doesn't implement unreadable text will be ridiculed as not having a modern interface. After all, minimalistic designs are cool.

The design professional's description of this page says that is "uses just enough color to draw the eye to important content on the site." Of course, Weinstein, Marks, and others say that it accomplishes this by making the allegedly unimportant content completely unreadable. Which of course raises the question - if you don't want people to read that text, why did you put it there in the first place? Why not just use some "lorem ipsum" stuff instead? That text is quite popular; I guess a lot of SEO experts are recommending it.

But there's still hope, because the people that insist on unreadable interfaces are the same people who still insist on mandatory periodic password changes (see my #empoexpiire series of posts) - even though NIST no longer recommends mandatory password changes. Eventually the unreadable interface crowd will be locked out of their accounts, or (more likely) someone will guess their deceptively easy password and modify their code so that the fonts are readable.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Unintended consequences of the Starbucks app

In a 2015 post, I referred to Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay as a success. And frankly, it is - I remember back when I was a kid, we actually had to go INTO a business to order a drink and pay the money. Nowadays, you can order your drink AND pay for it in advance, and just pick the drink up when you get to the place. And, as Research & Markets has noted, proximity payment methods are not only becoming more popular, but also increase brand loyalty.

What could go wrong?

What if the ordering method becomes too popular?

While Starbucks has added a 15 percent increase in staff to its stores and is looking to add more down the road, 75 percent of polled workers said locations were not staffed to meet ... standards. Within the last three months, 62 percent of employees shared that the understaffing issue is impacting quality customer service.

Because while Mobile Order & Pay can reduce the workload at the cash register, it doesn't do anything for the workload at the food/drink production areas. And the baristas are apparently stressed.

So why did complete the survey? Because previously, someone launched a petition about Starbucks staffing. Excerpt:

The labor situation has gone from tight to infuriating. Labor has been cut so much in corporate stores, that one call-off (an employee calling in sick) impacts the entire day, as managers are directed to cut shifts to save on labor costs. Baristas trying to work more than 25 hours a week (myself included) find that a near impossible task. You end up taking it personally, when corporate directs your stores to understaff, and under schedule. You wonder if they realize how difficult it is to pay your bills when you work 25 hours a week?

And the survey mentions ANOTHER unintended consequence of Starbucks' loyalty innovations.

Before the implementation of a Starbucks Reward program (MSR), tips were higher. Now, with a growing percentage and majority of customers using the app, and their registered cards, tips are in major decline.

It's a common issue affecting numerous businesses - if someone gets food for free, why should they tip? (For the record, when my family uses the discounts provided by the Don Jose loyalty program, we calculate the tip based upon the pre-discount price. Oh, and I avoid Groupon deals.)

Naysayers would claim that perhaps Starbucks should just eliminate Mobile Order & Pay and the rewards program. That will reduce business to the old levels, and then employees won't be stressed until they lose their jobs.

The reality is that if customer service truly declines - and a survey such as this one can't really measure the level of customer service - then Starbucks will have to launch a NEW initiative to increase customer satisfaction.

(I'd say more, but I can't.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

What happens after Walmart topples from power? Look to West Virginia for the answer.

No company lasts forever.

I've talked about markets and supermarkets and big boxes ad nauseum, and I've repeatedly noted that A&P was displaced by the Krogers and Safeways, and that the Krogers and Safeways are being displaced by Walmart.

And Walmart will be displaced also.

Because someone - maybe Amazon, maybe someone else - will be able to cut costs lower than Walmart has.

And all the people who deplore what Walmart has done to Main Street will be REALLY unhappy when Walmart leaves.

Don't believe me? Look at what happened in a small town in West Virginia after the local Walmart Supercenter closed.

Hit hard by the longterm decline in coal mining that is the mainstay of the area, McDowell County has seen a devastating and sustained erosion of its people, from almost 100,000 in 1950 when coal was king, to about 18,000 today....

When you combine the county’s economic malaise with Walmart’s increasingly ferocious battle against Amazon for dominance over online retailing, you can see why outsized physical presences could seem surplus to requirements. “There has been a wave of closings across the US, most acutely in small towns and rural communities that have had heavy population loss,” said Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University who is an authority on Walmart’s local impact.

There are still Walmarts in the area, but they're an hour away, and people in West Virginia aren't used to driving an hour to get somewhere. (It's different in southern California.) So now it's hard to find work, and it's hard to shop. And the local governments are missing out on a lot of tax revenue, and are cutting services as a result.

But there was an unexpected consequence of Walmart's closure.

"It was a big thing for people round here when Walmart pulled out. People didn’t know what to do. Young people started leaving because there’s nothing for them here. It’s like we’re existing, but not existing.”

What? A closure of an impersonal blue and yellow store affects society?

You betcha.

Economic losses are only one aspect of the hurt felt locally as a result of Walmart’s passing. There is something intangible, less material – and more chilling – about the fallout, something that seems to flow from the dependency the people of McDowell County developed on the retail magic conjured up inside that big box.

It’s touched upon by Wanda Church when she tries to explain why she cried that day. It was because, she says, she lost her family when Walmart closed.

Her family?

“The people I worked with, I relied on them if I needed help. The customers, they were our family.”

You hear it from Darrell Williams, 42, a truck driver picking wild raspberries on the side of the road to make a fruit cobbler. He recalls that his twin boys acquired their nicknames inside the supercenter. “My kids grew up in there. They called them the Screamers, because they used to scream if they didn’t get what they wanted.”

For Dan Phillips, Walmart was a way of coping with bereavement after his wife died a few years ago. “If you were lonely and had nothing to do, you’d go to Walmart to talk to folk. It was a great social network.”

Being a schoolteacher, Phillips has a theory for what happened when the store closed. “Socialization. We lost our socialization factor. Now it’s hard to keep track of people, there’s no other place like it where you can stand and chat.”

And if Amazon replaces Walmart as the nation's Main Street, its socialization aspects are fairly rudimentary. Product reviews do not a society make.

I just downloaded the "Beauty and the Beast" movie, and the experience on my iPad, while not quite like the experience in the movie theater, is still superb.

Wanda, glad you liked the movie. Hey, how are those tomato plants doing?

Well, Mike, the sun's got the best of them, but some of the plants are still hanging in there. How's the wife?

Oh, she's doing good The cold spell we just had shook her up a bit, though.

Tell her to send some of that cold down here! Hey, will you be shopping tomorrow?

No, tomorrow's my day to play Pokemon Go, and my work has scheduled 24 hours of online meetings over the weekend.

That's too much, Mike! You take care.

You too, Wanda.

Now if Amazon were to buy Facebook...or perhaps Zynga...

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Supply, demand, and what @peter_turchin says about academic publishing

Acronym lovers know that Rick Perry heads the DOE. Acronym lovers - and others - also know that "DOE" does not stand for "Department of Economics." CNN quoted what Secretary Perry said about coal:

"Here's a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow."

I was actually an economics major way back when, and vaguely remember how supply and demand curves work, how elasticity and inelasticity work, and how this is all founded on the premise that all people in the market have the same information. Okay.

I never entered academia, although I do have one published article to my credit). The listed co-author, Brian Kleiner, was my professor at the time. As a professor, it was imperative for him to have journal articles published, and at the time the system was a win-win for everyone. Not only did professors get publishing credit, but, as Peter Turchin notes, the publishers did well also:

Thirty years ago scientific publishers could rely to sell 5,000 subscriptions to university libraries. They could afford to keep the subscription costs reasonable, since they made money in bulk.

But Turchin notes what has happened since.

The publishers started increasing the cost of institutional subscriptions. Meanwhile library budgets started declining, so libraries started dropping subscriptions. Publishers increased the costs even more, to make up for reduced volume, and libraries responded by dropping more subscriptions.

As even Rick Perry could tell you, this is not a sustainable business model.

This does not mean that academic publishing is going away, however. Industrial Management & Data Systems is still going strong, apparently. And new business models are emerging. Turchin himself is Editor-in-Chief of Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution. All articles are peer reviewed, but the articles themselves are available for free. However, as commenter Bob Sykes notes at Turchin's post, these journals aren't considered good enough by some:

Promotion and tenure committees ... routinely use publication in high impact journals as one of the chief criteria for promotion and tenure, the others being external funding and Ph. D. production. Most of these for-profit journals are still high prestige, and so Assistant and Associate Professors, and Professors with administrative ambitions will continue to send papers to them.

But if the number of high impact journals declines, will the promotion and tenure committees have to adapt?

P.S. While writing this post, I managed to find an online version of the 1991 Bredehoft-Kleiner article. And I can easily pick out the portions that I authored. Given the content (THE COMMUNICATIONS REVOLUTION!), this is a possible topic for a tymshft post at some point.

P.P.S. I forgot to credit Edward Morbius for pointing me to Turchin's article in the first place.

Monday, June 26, 2017

TMA (too many acronyms) and more cowbell

I wrote this in 2008:

My co-workers know about my various obsessions, so one of them suggested to me, "Hey, while we're at the IAI, why don't you Twitter it?" The idea was that this would be a good way to get some publicity out of our efforts there.

Unfortunately, this would only make sense if anyone were listening. I performed a search of both Twitter and FriendFeed, and I was unable to discover anyone other than myself who even had a passing interest in the IAI.

Times have changed. The IAI has its own Twitter account and even its own conference mobile app. The app is used to share the schedule for the annual conference, although you can also view the schedule the old-fashioned way.

For those who know about events in the forensic world, the IAI's Twitter presence obviously isn't the most earth-shaking event in the forensic domain. (Which reminds me: I need to update my 2014 post.) One of the changes has been an increased emphasis on the science behind facial recognition. To meet the demand for information, the IAI has scheduled a series of lectures on the topic, all of which are categorized with the prefix "FAC." For example, one of my coworkers is scheduled to speak on the fusion of facial recognition and video analytics, and her session has been assigned the catalog number "FAC-230."

Middle-aged British music fans know where this is going. (Note: I would have linked to Blade's web page rather than his Facebook page, but his web page requires Flash. Figures.)

You see, as I've previously noted, acronyms such as "FAC" can be used in a variety of ways. For many people, the acronym "FAC" reminds them of the notorious Factory Records catalog.

Now it's not unusual for record companies to have catalogs in which the music releases are numbered. What made Factory Records' catalog notorious was that they numbered all sorts of stuff. If you look at the list of Factory Records catalog numbers, you'll see that three of the first four numbered items were posters, "FAC 8" was a design for a menstrual egg timer, and "FAC 51" was a club and its membership cards.

There is only one Factory Records catalog number that I have memorized by heart - "FAC 321." This is the 10 minute video for "A Perfect Kiss" (the song itself is "FAC 123"). The video did not involve the band miming to the record, but was a live performance (well, as live as electronic performances get).

I think mrwire100 liked the video:

The stamp of immortality was bestowed on the record by the video that accompanied the release.

I remember seeing this as one of the trailers to the art-house shenanigans at the recently opened Cornerhouse in Manchester in late 1985 . Along with Betty Blue, I recall this as the finest cinematic experience of its time!

From 6:30, when the cowbell comes in (no, really), the music transcends all space and time to hit the highest of all highs.


Actually, the video is marked by its contrasts - that virtuoso cowbell performance is toward the middle of the video, but the video begins with the band kinda sorta looking at each other, and ends with the same. As I noted, the buildup from staring to cowbell is reminiscent of the buildup in Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense."

So when I saw that my esteemed coworker was presenting on facial recognition and video analytics, I was thinking of cowbell. And I was asking myself, "Is there a FAC 230 in the Factory Records catalog?"

Answer: no. There is a FACT 230 for the album One True Passion by Revenge, but no FAC 230 per se.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

From fragmentation to redirection to separation

Back in 2008, I spent a lot of my time blogging about FriendFeed. Often I would link to FriendFeed posts when writing about FriendFeed, but luckily for me I once chose to link to a Paul Buchheit blog post instead.

"Luckily," of course, because all of those links to FriendFeed conversations don't work any more.

Back to Buchheit.

To put the conversation into context, you have to remember that FriendFeed started as an aggregator that would simply reproduce content from Twitter or Google Reader or whatever. But as time went on, FriendFeed allowed you to comment on these things. Buchheit:

Although comments are one of our most popular features, they are also our most controversial feature. If you believe that there should only be a single, unified discussion, then the extra fragmentation caused by FriendFeed will seem like a step in the wrong direction. In fact, not only is there a separate discussion on FriendFeed, there may be hundreds of separate discussions within FriendFeed on the very same topic or link (because different people are sharing the link, and different people have different friend groups).

Buchheit thought that all of these fragmented conversations were wonderful. Needless to say, not everyone shared Buchheit's opinion. In a TechCrunch post, Nicholas Deleon was not enthused with what FriendFeed was doing:

Ah, but you can leave comments on feed entries some will point out and engage in a FriendFeed conversation. If most of the content on a FriendFeed is pulled from Twitter, wouldn’t discussing the points on Twitter be the logical outcome for the majority of people? Blog posts get comments on FriendFeed as well, but how rich an experience is a comment thread based on a headline with a link? As a publisher, wouldn’t you want people to hold these discussions on your blog?

Deleon - and Buchheit - may not have realized what was coming.

Back in 2008, people were puzzled over the fact that conversations wouldn't be held at someone's own site (i.e. a blog), but at some other site like FriendFeed.

By 2012, some conversations weren't being held at someone's own site because THERE WAS NO "OWN" SITE. The sites had been jettisoned in favor of Facebook and other social media sites.

T.J. Crawford, a Bank of America spokesman, says the bank dropped the blog because its social-media strategy is focused on Facebook and Twitter. "We want to be where our customers are," he says.

Hosting your content on someone else's platform is nothing new - remember how many companies had AOL keywords? - but these days, when you host your content on Facebook or whatever, Facebook runs ads that make money.

(And yes, I know that this blog is technically not "my own platform." But bear with me here.)

So now the content providers are fighting to get people off of the other platforms and on to their own sites again.

Where they can set up their own paywall.

But when you're behind a paywall, you're behind a paywall - something that the Wall Street Journal is discovering.

After blocking Google users from reading free articles in February, the Wall Street Journal’s subscription business soared, with a fourfold increase in the rate of visitors converting into paying customers. But there was a trade-off: Traffic from Google plummeted 44 percent.

The reason: Google search results are based on an algorithm that scans the internet for free content. After the Journal’s free articles went behind a paywall, Google’s bot only saw the first few paragraphs and started ranking them lower, limiting the Journal’s viewership.

I can see Google's point. A search engine should show you what can be found on the web. As far as I'm concerned, it shouldn't show me stuff that I can't get to.

The Wall Street Journal views it differently.

Executives at the Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., argue that Google’s policy is unfairly punishing them for trying to attract more digital subscribers. They want Google to treat their articles equally in search rankings, despite being behind a paywall.

“Any site like ours automatically doesn’t get the visibility in search that a free site would,” Suzi Watford, the Journal’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview. “You are definitely being discriminated against as a paid news site.”

And yes, Watford used the word "discrimination." Person the barricades!

But Google isn't the only party who is affecting the Wall Street Journal's profitability. When all that content gets locked behind a paywall, someone's going to try to suck it out. How many times have you seen an article like this?

Panera Bread has managed to cut its wait time to order food from eight minutes to one minute, thanks to the company's efforts to boost mobile ordering, the Wall Street Journal reported.

That article was on Business Insider. So basically you don't have to go to the Wall Street Journal to find out what it's saying. And it's not just Business Insider:

The Wall Street Journal reported today on its front page that “The median pay for CEOs of the biggest U.S. companies was $11.7 million in 2016, up from $10.8 million in 2015 and a postrecession record, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of S&P 500 firms.”

That was from an American Enterprise Institute blog post.

Very enterprising.

Back in 2008, people were worried about how Pea and GeekAndAHalf would be having these conversations on FriendFeed. Now conversations are fracturing all over the place. And unlike FriendFeed, which never had a monetization plan (other than "have Facebook buy us"), there's a lot of money flowing around all of these fractured fragments.

Of course, this blog post itself is one of those fragments - which is why I like it when you click through the links to the original sources.

Monday, June 5, 2017

(11) When a leader wants it, a leader gets it - even if the leader doesn't want it

It has been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it is most certainly true that a powerful person can get people to do his or her bidding. Even when the powerful person has more pressing duties, there are people who will cater to every inconsequential whim of the powerful person.

And when you talk about people with power, the one person who comes to mind is the President of the United States. There are people who are devoted to pleasing the President and always staying on the President's good side. And nowhere do we see this in a little episode with the President, Richard Nixon.

(What, you thought I was talking about someone else?)

By White House photo - Nixon Presidential Library [1], Public Domain, Link

Charles Colson was a devoted soldier for President Nixon, and while much of his devotion eventually led him to plead guilty to criminal acts and serve prison time, there were things that Colson did for Nixon that weren't illegal, but questionable in other ways. As we know from the tapes and from his associates, President Nixon would sometimes blow off steam and say things, and his associates knew that he really didn't mean what he said.

Or did he?

In his book Born Again, Colson recounts an incident in which the President got itchy one night. One tragedy of the post-Kennedy assassination climate is that Presidents are locked up behind multiple layers of security, resulting in a situation in which a President can't live like a normal person. And, understandably, they sometimes want to break out of the prison.

(The quotes below are from a New York Times 1976 review of Colson's book.)

The book has its lighter moments. There is a charming chapter called “The President's Night Out,” in which Our Man Colson scrambles to help the President, who looks forward to an evening of musical surcease at the Kennedy Center, with conductor Eugene Ormandy.

It turned out that Ormandy himself was not present - due to the immense power that White House assistants wielded, Colson learned that Ormandy was nowhere near Washington at the time - but President Nixon wanted to go out anyway. Colson, who had a (somewhat undeserved) reputation for doing ANYTHING to get the job done, managed to get Nixon to the Kennedy Center.

The next morning, Colson was contacted by another Nixon assistant, H.R. Haldeman.

In a horrifying epilogue, H. R. Haldeman chastises Colson the next day for having helped the President to escape. “Just tell him‐ he can't go, that's all,” said Haldeman. “He rattles his cage all the time. You can't let him out.”

This brings to mind the various schools of thought on how assistants can best serve a President - or a corporate CEO. On one extreme, the assistants can satisfy the leader's every whim, which could potentially get the organization into trouble if the whims are illegal or bad business practice. On the other extreme, the assistants can do what is best, regardless of what the leader wants; however, this potentially negates the wishes of the voters, or of the shareholders, who expected the leader to do what the leader said he/she would do.

I don't know if I'd agree that Haldeman's chastisement was "horrifying," but it does cast another light on all the President's men. Commonly criticized for doing the President's bidding, in this case Haldeman is accused of telling someone to disobey a direct order of the President.

Who was right - Colson, or Haldeman? With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Colson's exercise did no lasting harm. But if the President had been killed - or, more likely, if someone on the Kennedy Center stage had taken the opportunity to lecture the President on the Vietnam War - Haldeman would have been seen as the wisest man around.

(And yes, if you followed my second link, I know that Nixon was a Quaker, not a Lutheran. Oh well.)

P.S. If you're wondering why this post title begins with the number 11, have a peek at the Empoprises Twitter account and take a look at the other ten tweets that appeared beginning at 4:00 am Pacific time. (Well, unless Tweetdeck broke and the tweets didn't appear as scheduled.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

When shiny new objects get old - Odiowent

It started with so much promise.


Odiogo announced today the launch of the 'Listen Button' (, a web 2.0 service which allows Content Publishers to provide visitors with an easy and instant way to hear regular text articles. Located near the familiar 'Email' and 'Print' buttons on top of each article in mainstream media and blogs, the Listen Button when clicked will open a player which will read aloud the currently displayed article.

"With the PC entering the living room as the brain of the home multimedia center, text content providers need tools which seamlessly turn readers into listeners," said Marc Kawam, CEO of "Our Podcast solutions and the Listen Button empower content providers to mobilize and boost the value of their text content by making it instantly audible."

So as Odiogo rolled out, the tech press started writing about this shiny new toy. Mashable did. CNET did. DailyTech did. Politico added a Listen button.

In 2008, I signed up with Odiogo, and incorporated it into my blogs. The audio files were not only available at my blog posts themselves, but (via a podcast link) could be subscribed to, so that you would never have to even go to my blog. As I said at the time:

I'm not sure if this really has a practical use yet, but the service is available for those who want to truthfully say, "I don't read Empoprise-IE."

And I used it for years, until 2013, when I received this letter:

August 12, 2013

Important change to the Odiogo service

Dear Odiogo User,

We would like to share with you important information and changes we are making to the Odiogo Service.

When we started the company a few years ago, we were under the belief that our vocalization service would be paid for via embedded pre-roll ads. Unfortunately this did not prove to be the case. The many of brands and agencies we reached out to were skeptical about audio advertising on the web and preferred staying with the traditional banners and web formatted film ads for the videos.

This situation is driving us to shift to a different model which will help us sustain in the market and provide high standards of product and support. Starting September 1, 2013 the Odiogo Service will be made free only to personal, non-profit blogs. All other blogs or sites using Odiogo will have to switch to either the "Plus" or "Pro" plan....

While I could have remained with the service, I chose to interpret their terms to conclude that I was excluded.

And then I forgot about Odiogo until this morning, when I was playing mp3s on my computer and ran across an Odiogo file that I had saved - the reading of this post. A computer voice reading Spice Girls - what can beat it?

This got me curious - how was Odiogo's new business plan going?

Not all that well, according to The Hot Iron in a 2015 post.

A few weeks back, when I was integrating the new responsive design for this blog and was testing all links and functionality that I found the link to Odiogo did not resolve to anything, as if its servers were down. As I thought it may be a temporary issue I left all links in place. Now several weeks later, when I go to the Odiogo site, the resulting Web page is from domain registrar GoDaddy indicating the domain is available for sale at auction! Clearly somebody did not renew the domain name and the site and service is down.

I kept on search for information, but all I found were other user comments like this one:

Update: As of February 2015, it looks like Odiogo is dead. Broken link to above removed.

Everyone was writing about Odiogo when it started, but hardly anyone mentioned it at its passing.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The reality of Sears?

Last Friday, I shared two posts - one that talked about cost containment, and another that talked about employee views about their employers.

Let's revisit both of those, because one of the employers discussed was Sears, and Sears is somewhat involved in cost containment. Although, according to Sears CEO Edward Lampert, cost containment isn't the overriding priority at the company.

Six shareholders questioned Lampert. One, who said he had sold men's clothing at a Sears store many years ago, asked if Lampert was in denial about the company's losses.

Lampert said his reluctance to close more stores was not about denial, but about caring.

"I'll fight like hell" to fix stores, he said, adding: "We don't want to destroy value, we want to create value."

So, how is Sears creating value?

He predicted people will look back and wonder how they missed the Sears' turnaround, which he said would be driven by the Shop Your Way loyalty program.

Last year Sears teamed up with ride-services company Uber Technologies to give members loyalty points for trips. Lampert said he was trying to strike more such partnerships to boost overall sales.

So Sears is instituting a loyalty program AND partnering with Uber. Stop the presses! Perhaps Shop Your Way has outstanding features that no other loyalty program has - perhaps not. And while an Uber partnership might have seemed really cool a few years ago, the continued bad press at Uber (DISCLOSURE: I WORK FOR A COMPANY THAT PROVIDES SOFTWARE FOR FINGERPRINT CHECKS) makes that seem like less of a coup these days.

But these points are not the primary points that Lampert wants to make. According to the Reuters article that I've been quoting, Lampert feels that the press has been picking on Sears.

Sears Holdings Corp (SHLD.O) Chief Executive Officer Edward Lampert blasted the media on Wednesday for "unfairly singling out" the company over the past decade and blamed "irresponsible" coverage for the retailer's woes.

Yup, the media has been irresponsibly singling out Sears over the last several years. I was easily able to confirm this, by finding this Guardian article that talked all about Sears. Oh, and I guess Macy's was also mentioned. Oh, and JC Penney was mentioned too. And yeah, there were a few paragraphs on Urban Outfitters. And mentions of The Limited, BCBG Max Azria, Guess, American Apparel, and Abercrombie & Fitch. And the rent is (too damn) high. Yeah, the media is really picking on Sears, aren't they?

And once you anger the media, don't be surprised if the media says unflattering things about you. This lesson doesn't only apply to Sears, but there are enough things in the Reuters article that might have not been as prominent if Sears was nicer to those that cover it. A few examples:

Sears, once the largest U.S. retailer, warned investors in March there was a chance it may not be able to continue as a going concern after years of losses and declining sales.

Lampert, a hedge fund investor who is rarely seen in public, kicked off his appearance at an annual shareholders' meeting at Sears' headquarters in Hoffman Estates with a slideshow of headlines about the company's financial distress, dating back to 2008....

The company has not reported a profit for six years, which Lampert compared to Inc's (AMZN.O) early unprofitable growth....

That was a good one. Because when you think Sears, you think Amazon. Let's continue.

The bulk of Lampert's 90-minute appearance focused on news coverage, which he said had been "deliberately unfair."

Media coverage was "meant to scare our vendors" who then tried to negotiate better terms with the company....

Five journalists in attendance were not allowed to speak with Lampert or ask questions.

Perhaps Lampert should have scheduled private meetings with those five journalists beforehand. But (for the most psrt) he didn't.

I'll grant that I only have two data points on Lampert (here's the other), but it appears that Lampert doesn't have media savvy. Even when he did grant an exclusive interview to the Chicago Tribune (in advance of the shareholders' meeting), he didn't choose his phrases carefully.

I could argue that this transition phase is taking a lot longer than it should and that may be a fair argument. If we were making a meaningful amount of money it would enable us to move much faster in our transformation. But we've made a lot of decisions we would rather not so we can make those pension payments, so we can make vendors more comfortable when they're questioning, 'Are you going to be able to pay or not pay,' and why are they questioning it? Because there are a lot of articles that are speculating, and there are elements of truth, but they're certainly designed to scare people....

We're fighting like hell to change the way people do business with us. And my view is, we're the customer. If you're a vendor, and want to do business with us, then you have to treat us like a customer, you don't treat us like a pariah.

Luckily this was a Chicago Tribune article and not a New York Daily News article. Building upon the past, the headline might have been "Sears to Pensioners and Vendors: Drop Dead."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jill Donovan and Jon Schmitz were embarrassed on national TV - Donovan (eventually) recovered, Schmitz didn't

I saw a story on Forbes last week, and I thought I'd dig into the details.

Today Jill Donovan is the Chief Executive Officer of Rustic Cuff, but back in 2004 she was a practicing lawyer, with a lot of hobbies, and with one overwhelming desire - to get onto the Oprah Winfrey show. From Donovan's perspective, the whole thing sounded like a fun time.

But Donovan didn't realize how TV works. TV's idea of fun might not be the same as a potential guest's idea of fun.

Donovan didn't realize this when she discovered a sure-fire way to realize her dream of being on Oprah.

One day, while working on a divorce case, Donovan’s mind began to wander, and she checked Winfrey’s website, where the producers were looking for people who re-gifted. Donovan happened to have a closet at home filled with slippers, purses, hats and bracelets — years’ worth of stuff from birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, all ready to be re-wrapped. In a habit she got from her mother, she had been a self-described “chronic re-gifter” since childhood.

“It’s perfect,” Donovan thought. “That’s my backdoor.”

So she contacted Oprah's show, and her story must have impressed the producers, because she was invited to be on the air. And I'm sure that Oprah's people were really really nice to her. The day came, and she was in the studio, chatting with Oprah, and things were going great.

Then Oprah said something that would change the next several years of Jill Donovan's life.

“Let’s ask the etiquette experts.”

All of a sudden, Oprah and Jill were joined by several other people who expressed their views on Donovan's regifting practice. Here's the way that Oprah described what happened next.

What the Experts Say

Kim Izzo, etiquette columnist: Well I hate to say it, but, yes, it is rude. It seems like a twisted form of recycling. You can absolutely pass it on, but be open about it. Do it in the moment. Don't reroute it! I would just never pretend that I bought something.

After that, another expert chimed in, saying that the practice was not only rude, but also tacky.

The producers got their wish, and ended up with a compelling show that people would talk about. And to be fair, Oprah isn't the only one who does this - there are a ton of shows that are really, really nice to potential guests until they surprise them on the air. But after the taping was done, Jill Donovan left Oprah's studio and went home, embarrassed in front of a national audience. I have never been embarrassed in front of a national audience, but I doubt it is a fun experience.

It certainly wasn't for Jill Donovan.

Four or five years went by, and Donovan didn’t quite seem like the same person. She didn’t smile as often. Didn’t crack as many jokes. The old gift closet sat empty, everything thrown away or given to charity after she got back from taping the show in Chicago.

And somehow, deep inside Donovan, there was a place that felt as empty and bare as those shelves — a place that believed what the experts had said about her. She was rude and tacky and ashamed.

“I went into hiding creatively,” Donovan says.

As it turned out, JIll Donovan snapped out of it, and today is a successful entrepreneur. And Oprah Winfrey herself has been photographed wearing Jill Donovan's Rustic Cuffs.

Scott Amedure wasn't so lucky.

Scott Amedure wasn't a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show - he was a guest on the Jenny Jones show. He was obsessed with daytime talk shows, and agreed with Jenny Jones' producers to appear on a "secret crush" show, in which he would confess his love for his secret crush.

That's when Jenny Jones' producers contacted Jon Schmitz.

A gregarious waiter at the Fox and Hounds restaurant in the tony Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Schmitz, 24, had been told by producers that he had a secret admirer who would step forward on the syndicated Jenny Jones Show. Although he had balked the first time a Jones staffer had called, coworkers persuaded Schmitz to take a chance: Last fall he had split with his fiancée (a woman whose name has been withheld by his family), and he was eager to start a new relationship. Before leaving for Chicago, he spent $300 on new clothes in hopes of impressing his admirer.

Again, I'm sure that Jenny Jones' producers had been very nice to Schmitz as he prepared to meet the woman of his dreams. But Schmitz wasn't prepared for the fact that his secret admirer turned out to be a man.

No, Schmitz was not prepared for this at all.

Three days later, Jon Schmitz murdered Scott Amedure.

Amedure was dead, Schmitz ended up in prison (and could be released some time between August 2017 and December 2037), and Jenny Jones wasn't smiling when she had to testify in court.

So that's the story with televison - you never know what the producers are planning.

If you'd like to read a behind the scenes account of these shows, read this piece from someone who once lived in Chicago and attended both Jenny Jones AND Oprah Winfrey tapings.