Monday, January 30, 2017

It's different on the other side of the barricades

This promised to be a momentous day at the City Hall at University City. This was the first day of work for two new city employees. And despite their surface differences, they were very similar.

Juanita Mandela X had been a lifelong resident of University City, and was well acquainted with the pulse of the town. Despite its reputation as a bastion of progressivism, Juanita had engaged in numerous battles with the city's power structure. While a student at the university itself, Juanita founded the Coalition for True Progress, which not only took on the university administration, but also the administration of the city itself. Juanita became well-known for her activism, and even acquired the nickname "Android Queen" for her use of her cellular phone to document and expose corruption in high places. Finally, at the urging of her coworkers at the Huey Newton Food Collective, Juanita ran for the City Council itself, handily defeating an incumbent with over 20 years of tenure on the council.

But Juanita was not the only outsider who gained access to the City Council's membership. Wayne "Bud" Wallace had not grown up in University City like Juanita had, but in his ten years in residence he had also established a name for himself. One would think that a Tea Party man in a "MAGA" hat would be completely shunned in University City, but many felt that Bud was a breath of fresh air in the town. Bud was also in food service, as owner of the city's only McDonald's franchise, and had successfully waged a war against the city to allow his franchise to be built. His message of freedom resonated throughout many sectors of the city, aided by his daily YouTube videos. The next logical step in his quest to "expose seedy government" was to penetrate government itself. Despite police harrassment, including attempts to compel Google to reveal personal information about his YouTube account, Bud prevailed against the city and wound up on the City Council itself.

Given their past tendencies, it was no surprise when both Juanita and Bud used Facebook Live to document their arrival at City Hall to formally assume their City Council duties. They even engaged in some good-natured banter as they approached the front door, with Juanita proclaiming "Make University City great again!" on Bud's Facebook Live stream, and Bud returning the favor by shouting "University City lives matter!" on Juanita's stream.

Holding their mobile phones aloft, they marched to the front door...

...where they were met by the City Attorney.

"Are you here on government business?" she asked.

"Yes," they both replied.

"Then you will need to conduct your business with government issued phones," the attorney replied. "Private phones do not conform to our city's security policy, nor do they conform to the city's public disclosure policy."

"Public disclosure? I'm publicly disclosing this entire conversation on Facebook Live!" Juanita responded.

"That's not the public disclosure that I'm talking about. Due to the Transparency Ordinance - an ordinance that both of you championed last year, by the way - all communications by government officials are part of the public record, and subject to public records requests. Therefore when conducting government business, you need to use a device with the appropriate software to facilitate the required disclosures."

"Required disclosures? I have a right to privacy!" exclaimed Bud.

"Not when you're conducting public business. I seem to recall that you were the one who insisted that all Planning Commission emails regarding your business application be publicly revealed. Well, now that you're a member of the Planning Commission, that applies to you too."

Juanita and Bud lowered their phones, shutting them off.

"Oh, and by the way," the lawyer continued, "Bud, I'm still waiting for you to file your ethics report documenting your restaurant's in-kind contributions to the University City Little League. There are obviously huge conflicts of interest here."

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Unintended consequences - will @SamaritansPurse be zipped up in Iraq?

Unintended consequences. When people do unto you as you have done unto them, business can suffer.

As I previously noted, U.S. companies such as McDonalds, Walmart, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks aren't that popular in Mexico right now.

Because of a new executive order (which I'll get to in a minute), Google and Netflix are having some issues around the world.

But I'm not going to talk about those companies, because they have been very, very mean to our President.

But what about someone who has been very supportive of our President - Franklin Graham - and his organization - Samaritan's Purse?

If you haven't heard of it, Samaritan's Purse is a well-known Christian relief organization that provides services throughout the world, including in Mosul, Iraq.

In addition to monetary donations, Samaritan's Purse needs people.

Christian medical personnel, especially lab technicians, are urgently needed to staff the hospital for deployments of three weeks or longer. Particular needs include trauma/general surgeons, anesthesiologists, emergency medicine physicians, operating room nurses, intensive care unit nurses, surgical technicians, and operating room sterilization staff.

So, for example, if you are a Christian doctor and a U.S. citizen who wants to help the people in Iraq, you can apply to serve. Presumably Samaritan's Purse will help with the necessary paperwork, including passport and visa issues.

Unfortunately for Samaritan's Purse, their job just got a little tougher:

...pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas).

This is an excerpt from Friday's executive order, and while other portions of the executive order (most notably section 7, biometric exit) have more applicability to me personally, the section above matters to a lot of people.

Specifically, those associated with countries referenced in 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12). While the law refers to a separate list of countries maintained by the Government, two countries are specifically called out - Syria, and Iraq.

"But that doesn't matter," you may say, "since it refers to people from those countries who want to enter the United States. It doesn't have anything to do with people from the United States who want to go to those countries. Samaritan's Purse can still send people to Iraq - right?"

Sure - as long as Iraq allows it. But what if Iraq follows the lead of one of the other affected countries, Iran?

Iran says it will ban all US citizens from entering the country in response to President Donald Trump's executive order limiting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, according to an Iranian Foreign Ministry statement published on state media Saturday.

Iran is among seven countries whose nationals are barred from entering the United States for 90 days under Trump's order.

But Iran is Iran, and Iraq is Iraq, right? Iraq loves us, right?

Well, let's see how much Iraq loves us now:

Lawyers for two Iraqis with ties to the US military who had been granted visas to enter the United States have filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and the US government after they were detained when they arrived in New York Friday....

The two Iraqi men named as plaintiffs in the suit are Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who worked as an interpreter for the US during the Iraq War, and Haider Sameer Abdulkaleq Alshawi. The suit said Darweesh held a special immigrant visa, which he was granted the day of Trump’s inauguration on January 20, due to his work for the US government from 2003 to 2013.

The lawsuit said the US granted Alshawi a visa earlier this month to meet with his wife and son, whom the US already granted refugee status for their association with the US military.

So follow this. These two men actively worked with the United States during the war in Iraq - one of them for ten years. Needless to say, these men were not popular with some segments of Iraq's population - both the secularists who supported Saddam Hussein and the religious people who now support ISIS. Presumably the one place where they WOULD be accepted would be the United States - and upon their arrival in the U.S., they were detained.

How do you think the Iraq government, responding to domestic political pressure, will respond to this?

How will Samaritan's Purse respond to this? And is it possible that the past statements of the leader of Samaritan's Purse have ended up causing problems for his workers in Iraq?

P.S. Before you say that this action of President Donald Trump has never ever happened before, remember the plight of the Vietnamese boat people. Of course, back in those days, it was the Republicans who wanted to bring the South Vietnamese into the country, and the Democrats who wanted to keep them out.

By Christmas of 1975, an estimated 130,000 Vietnamese refugees had been sponsored by churches and families who provided them with new homes in the United States. According to an article in Vietnam magazine, an American publication, the only state that initially resisted the influx of boat people was California, where Jerry Brown was then in his first term as governor. Brown’s administration reportedly attempted to prevent planes loaded with refugees from landing at Travis Air Force Base.

Brown received a stinging rebuke from White House photographer David Hume Kennerly, who had photographed the evacuation. According to the article, Kennerly said Brown had “no compassion for your fellow human beings.”

Friday, January 27, 2017

Starbucks getting roasted in Mexico...and in the United States

Starbucks has been a topic in the Empoprise-BI business blog since its beginnings in 2009. And now it's back in the news due to the spat between Mexico and the United States regarding the wall. There have been generalized calls for boycotts of U.S. companies.

TIME notes that some specific companies have been targeted.

Others messages call for specific boycotts of U.S. companies in Mexico, including McDonalds, Walmart and Coca-Cola. One of the most heavily trending hashtags is #AdiosStarbucks, or “Goodbye Starbucks,” referring to the Seattle company which has opened hundreds of coffee houses here.

However, in any type of boycott, there are innocent bystanders who are affected by unintended consequences.

A shift manager at a Starbucks in the middle-class Roma neighborhood of Mexico City said Thursday he had already seen a slump of about 10 percent in customers at that particular outlet. “It’s bad because this is a franchise and it affects the jobs of Mexican workers,” said the manager, who asked his name not be used as he was not an authorized spokesman.

And if anyone things that Trump will come to the defense of this Washington state-based company, think again.

Starbucks has not voiced any political support for Trump, and was itself the subject of a protest by Trump supporters in December.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Speaking of Apple and Donald Donald Trump actually Steve Jobs 2.0?

What do Buddy Holly, Marilyn Monroe, John Kennedy, and Steve Jobs have in common?

They all died before their time, and have been somewhat immortalized as a result.

Despite the fact that we know negative things about each of these people, they are on the whole regarded in a positive manner.

Because of this, any comparison of a living person against one of these people can get complicated, because the living schmuck cannot in any way compare to the dead revered one.

Which is part of what was going on in this Kara Swisher article that asked what would have happened if Steve Jobs had been around to witness the political triumph of Donald Trump. In essence, while Jeff Bezos and others are strangely silent as President Trump attacks their beliefs, Swisher argues that Jobs wouldn't have stood for Trumpism. Her opening to advance this occurs when an insider at a Washington eatery notes that the era of pirates is over.

Pirates - as in the people who hoisted a pirate flag over a small building at Apple's headquarters.

Where has that once-celebrated sentiment gone? Pirates. Break things. Disrupt. Resist. Win by being smarter and better. Believe in and embrace the future. Gone, it seems, with the election of one loud-mouthed politician, which makes me worry about what will inspire the next generation of innovators.

I'll get back to Swisher's question in a minute. But first, let's see what she said next.

It also makes me wonder how Jobs would react now to this Trump situation and what he would say in the face of an administration hostile to much of what Silicon Valley has stood for for so long.

Then, an admission that Jobs wasn't perfect - but he was no Trump:

I was lucky enough to interview Jobs many times over the course of my career, and it was entirely true he was deft at throwing up an epic reality distortion field, which was still in no way like the “alternative facts” that the Trump administration’s most deft Pinocchio, Kellyanne Conway, spews with an enthusiasm last seen in public when Joe Isuzu ruled the airwaves in the 1980s.

Then she provides an example of Jobs himself stating an alternative fact:

Look, Jobs did some sometimes dissemble, as do many in tech. He committed an epic whopper, for example, when he told me and Walt Mossberg onstage in 2005 that he was not likely to make a phone, even though he was working hard on the breakthrough iPhone he introduced in 2007.

Reality distortion, dissembling, an "epic whopper" - but no, Steve Jobs never uttered an alternative fact. As a beloved comedian used to say in a routine about Noah, "RIIIIIGHT."

But at this point the offended fanbois' necks are getting visibly red around their turtlenecks. "How can you compare Saint Steve to Trump?" they ask. "Look at the evidence! Trump, for all his bravado, is a complete failure at business! Steve Jobs was an unqualified business success!"

Um, not so fast. He was doing well at the beginning, and was doing well at the end, but there were some lean years during which he ended up leaving (or being forced out of) his own company, and then had to find a buyer for his new company that failed. That buyer, of course, was Apple, which was also infused by Microsoft money - a little tidbit that the fanbois sometimes don't get around to mentioning.

Oh, and one more thing...

Remember the question that Swisher asked about the pirate sentiment? Break things, disrupt, resist and all that?

While Swisher is bemoaning the fact that the pirate mentality is gone in the tech industry, you don't have to go far to find a remarkable example of a pirate in action.

Someone who was certainly disruptive, who did all sorts of things that you weren't supposed to do, who resisted (and continues to this day to resist) any attempt to conform to conventions. Someone who, despite being a pirate, triumphed in an industry where he wasn't supposed to triumph, over a competitor who was seemingly much, much smarter than he was.

If you haven't figured it out already, I'm talking about the "loud-mouthed politician" that Swisher hates - and frankly, who I don't really like myself.

But when you look at results, Donald Trump's electoral triumph is a "pirate" achievement comparable to the Macintosh, and the iPhone that Steve Jobs lied - yes, lied - about. Heck, Sean Spicer or Kellyanne Conway would be perfect flacks for Jobs - except that Jobs' huge ego wouldn't allow him to share the stage with anyone.

And before we talk about Trump's lapses in morality, what was the name of the product that came out before the Macintosh? And how much contact did daddy have with daughter during her first years?

We try to make pirates into beloved cuddly creatures, but pirates can be cut-throat and not nice at all. There are a bunch of victims of Donald Trump, just as there are a bunch of victims of Steve Jobs. The talent, or curse, of pirates is that they have the vision and temperament to look at a society and its rules and decide to do something better while breaking a number of rules along the way. For each pirate, we have to decide if piracy is worth it.

Business must change: is Apple moving from AuthenTec to another biometric modality? Maybe, maybe not.

(DISCLOSURE: I am employed in the biometric industry.)

At the time, it seemed like a weird purchase to most people. It was 2012, and Apple paid $356 million for a company called AuthenTec. Most of you had never heard of this company, and were wondering what in the heck Apple was thinking. Yes, AuthenTec manufactured fingerprint readers, but who was going to want a fingerprint reader on a phone? Yes, my former employer Motorola had released a mobile device with a fingerprint reader (the MC-75), but that was targeted for a vertical market. Apple was a consumer company. What were the chances that consumers would actually use a fingerprint reader?

Well...higher than we thought.

[Apple tasked] AuthenTec engineers with rethinking fingerprint scanning on mobile. The results were nothing short of amazing: Apple has managed to take competition by surprise by seamlessly integrating the sophisticated Touch ID sensor into the iconic Home button, a far cry from the unreliable solutions that require you to swipe the sensor.

The benefits went all the way back to my industry, biometrics. As people accepted the idea of using fingerprints on their iPhones, and eventually on other mobile phones, they became more accepting of using all types of biometrics in all types of consumer situations.

But by 2016, there had been more and more stories about how the fingerprint security had been defeated. No system is 100% secure, and even when you start incorporating technologies such as "liveness detection" into fingerprint readers, talented computer scientists can find ways to defeat the security.

Or, in one case, a six year old:

A 6-year-old girl from Arkansas may have just shown how vulnerable the supposedly secure Touch ID system really is after she was able to use her unwitting mother's smartphone to make several purchases online.

Ashlynd Howell from Little Rock surprised her parents when she was able to place $250 worth of purchases on Amazon earlier this month without their knowledge. The shopping spree was only discovered after the Howells received 13 order confirmations for Pokémon items.

At first, Ashlynd's mother Bethany thought her Amazon account had been hacked, leading to the illegal purchases. However, the mother soon found out that her daughter had scanned her fingerprint while the mother was taking a nap to bypass the Touch ID system on her phone.

Liveness detection would do no good here. Mom was obviously alive, and the finger had not been cut away from her body. And I guess all of us in the industry will start subjecting our technology to six year old kid hackers.

But is it necessarily valid to jump to the conclusion that fingerprints are so insecure that they should be scrapped for something else? One TechCrunch writer may be on to that path.

Will the Touch ID security feature of the iPhone be replaced soon?

A well-known analyst and forecaster of Apple's business moves has raised the possibility of Cupertino revamping its existing biometric and security features in 2017 iPhones.

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple might explore various new technologies such as better sensors and even a facial recognition system that it can incorporate into the latest installations of the iPhone.

The article goes on to cite the Arkansas story as a possible reason for the switch.

Well, if that's the reason, then you'd better sit down - or lie down. Facial recognition won't pass the six year old hacking test unless sleeping mom covers her head so her face can't be seen.

Now perhaps there may be valid reasons for Apple to release a phone without the AuthenTec technology and with a camera-based technology - cost, user acceptance, use cases, and the like. Or alternatively, Apple could implement my personal preference - multimodal biometrics, in which the device is capable of using a variety of biometric authentication methods, either singly or in conjunction. Let's say you wanted to hack Donald Trump's Twitter account, and you had gone through the trouble of duplicating Trump's fingerprints. What if you ALSO had to duplicate his face, his iris features, and his voice to be able to hack into his account? Again, not completely impossible, but much much harder than just hacking based upon a single biometric.

Or a password.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Police body cameras and the swing of the pendulum

Not too long ago, there were people that were demanding all police body cameras, all the time. I have previously noted some flaws in that model, most recently here.

Now people have apparently discovered that body cameras expose more than police brutality - and the previous "cameras always on" mantra is being modified just a bit. Examples:

For example recent legislation in some states strictly regulates when police should turn the cameras off. In the District of Columbia, officers are not allowed to record at a school if they are engaged in “noncritical contact.”

Connecticut prohibits officers from recording in a hospital, mental health or other medical facility unless they are engaged in recording a crime suspect.

More here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

How Britain's Alternative Meat Distribution System Benefits The Pharmaceutical Industry

National economies are complex things, and a new entrepreneur needs to figure out a lot of things to be successful. What goods will she sell? How will she obtain the finished goods? What is her distribution channel?

But before figuring out all of that, a new entrepreneur needs to figure out her business mission and goals. So let's start there.

The mission of Jane's Distributing is to net £50 to £100 daily to support Jane's heroin and crack habit.

Once you figure out your corporate mission, you can then answer the other questions about the goods to sell, the distribution network, and the like. A Vice article details the specifics of people who finance their heroin and crack habits by stealing meat.

Why meat?

Shoplifting is on the rise, and considering a slab of pork belly in your coat pocket is a little less conspicuous than, say, a boxed and tagged digital camera, it's no surprise the most recent Global Retail Theft Barometer study identified meat as one of the most commonly stolen items from supermarkets....

"People can see the price and the sell by date. I get half the sale price for it, which is good—a lot of other things you have to sell on for less," says Scott.

Once an entrepreneur decides that she's going to steal meat, the mechanics of getting the meat out of the supermarket (without the necessity of a financial transaction) dictates the type of meat that will be stolen. Expensive is good, bulky is bad. Scott even provided the Vice reporter with a list of the five most desirable meats to steal.

Then, an entrepreneur has to find customers. Sometimes it's a bit difficult.

"I have a few regular pubs I sell meat in; most of the pubs where I sell meat are estate pubs. In some of them the landlord will ask for first refusal before he lets me offer it to his customers. Sometimes I have to sneak in and sell it without the manager knowing."

And sometimes it's all too easy.

"Once I was in Co-op and I'd stuffed a load of posh hams costing £6 [$9] down my coat, but they had fallen out the bottom onto the floor right in front of this old lady. I swear she was not a day younger than 70. She picked them up, gave them back to me and said, 'If you're selling them, I'll meet you outside,' and she bought the lot."

But WHY do heroin addicts have to steal? I always thought that in the UK, methadone was just a shot away, just a kiss away. Well, Vice covered that also:

I’ve chosen not to take methadone, a synthetic opioid prescribed to substitute the use of heroin. Because, aside from the taboos associated with queuing to pick up that mug of green liquid every day, long-term methadone use has been linked to a variety of health problems, some of which aren’t related to heroin abuse, such as bone damage and tooth decay.

There are many other alternative treatments, of course, but methadone remains the one most commonly prescribed by drug services. Personally, I prefer buprenorphine derivatives like Subutex or Suboxone....However, Subutex and Suboxone cost the government or treatment service considerably more than methadone – perhaps why they're not offered as regularly – and, with an average price of £3,000, implants and Naltrexone-aided detox will never be an option for most people.

From the perspective of an opiate consumer, there are other downsides to switching from an addiction to heroin to an addiction to methadone:

This second addiction allows services to keep track of and control those in treatment. Although presumably unintentional, this involves degrading many of those people on a daily basis, forcing them to publicly consume a less desirable but free supply of drugs.

So the invisible hand continues its work, legalities or no.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why business social media account responses are important

Last week, I shared a Tourism Currents post entitled "'They never answered me' – do visitors say this about you?"

Let's say you manage a local tourism bureau, and as part of your work you set up a website with all sorts of information explaining why tourists should spend millions of dollars in Rockwall, Texas or wherever. While the information may be wonderful, there may be times when a potential tourist has additional questions. I bet that Rockwall is responsive to questions posted via its contact form, but this commitment is not universal. Tourism Currents:

[W]e spoke with a travel blogger recently who wrote a blog post....On Facebook, he tagged every single restaurant featured in the post, and he also tagged every single DMO [destination marketing organization] where the restaurants were located.


Of the six eateries tagged, only two responded by Liking his Facebook post and leaving a comment. Only one of the two shared it over to their own Page followers.

Of the six DMOs tagged, plus the state tourism board, only three Liked it, and of those, one left a comment and one shared it with their Page followers....

Finally, NONE of them left a comment on the actual brunch blog post itself, to maybe say “glad you enjoyed our brunch” or “thanks for visiting our town.”

Now I can't pretend that this problem only afflicts the tourism industry. Some people, when seeing a contact form on a web page, give up in frustration, figuring that the question would end up in the void.

But there are exceptions. While people can point to bad examples of social media responses, there are also good examples. Here's one, culled from this list of 14 outstanding responses:

While attending the #PSEWEB conference in Vancouver, Mike McCready tweeted that, while he liked his room at the Delta, the view wasn’t so nice. He didn’t tag the hotel, and he wasn’t asking for anything.

Within an hour, Delta responded – offering a room with a better view. And when Mike returned to his room after the conference, he found a dish of sweets and a handwritten card from the staff at his hotel. It made such an impact that he wrote a post about it – the very same day.

Consistency is important. Back in 2011, I reflected (negatively) on a company that had this to say:

You don’t have to engage with your followers all the time, but every so often. This will remind your followers that you are aware of their voice and you value it.

Or, as I put it,

And even those who concentrate more on the monologue than the dialogue realize that you have to at least pretend to listen.

Well, I just revisited this company - specifically, its Twitter account. Its Twitter biography says all the right things:

#DigitalMarketing Specialists | #ContentMarketing #Copywriting #AdWords #SEO #SocialMedia #InboundMarketing

Since they know all this stuff, perhaps I should use them to build up my Twitter account, specifically my number of followers and my Klout score. And I can learn the reasons why personal engagement is important but corporate engagement is not.

Bot, I don't care if your name is Siri or Alexa or HAL

I've talked about the concept of frictionless interaction before, and while I'm reluctant to use the term for fingerprint actions, there's no problem in using the term for voice actions.

Theoretically, I could go up to my local barista and simply say, "Tall coffee." Yet in polite society, such actions would be frowned upon. Even in American urban society, the actual conversation with a barista has more than two words. The barista may say, "Good morning, may I help you?" and I might reply, "Good morning, I'd like a tall coffee, please." 14 words instead of 2; terribly inefficient, but it's necessary to keep society running.

But what if we're talking to a bot? Bots are scary, and to make them less scary, it would help to personalize them.

Or so Elizabeth McGuane (lead content designer at Intercom) thought:

From a design perspective, bots are aligned with the whole concept of messaging-as-a-platform — we could build a bot right into our own messenger using the same simple elements we’d already designed for human-to-human conversation.

So when we experimented with building a bot, we wanted to use those simple elements to communicate. We gave our test bot a name and let it introduce itself like a real person would: “Hi, I’m Bot, Intercom’s digital assistant.”

What we found was surprising. People hated this bot — found it off-putting and annoying. It was interrupting them, getting in the way of what they wanted (to talk to a real person), even though its interactions were very lightweight.

We tried different things: alternate voices, so that the bot was sometimes friendly and sometimes reserved and functional. But we didn’t see much change.

It was only when we removed the name and took away the first person pronoun and the introduction that things started to improve.

McGuane concluded:

The name, more than any other factor, caused friction.

McGuane's solution - rather than humanizing the technology, she minimized its presence. In her use case, her customers already knew that they weren't speaking to a human, and that they were speaking to something more akin to a robot or machine. So why try to hide that fact? And since the customers knew that they were speaking to a robot, it was perfectly permissible to make the interaction as quick - and frictionless - as possible.

Or as frictionless as we want the experience to be. Some of us crave a little friction. For example, I usually say "thank you" to Siri, and Siri responds.

But there are also practical reasons to say "thank you" to Siri - at least if you are single:

“Pay attention to how your prospective beau treats the women in his life. If he doesn’t treat them with respect, sooner or later he’ll be doing the same to you.”...

Last month, I went on a Tinder date with a guy who seemed perfect. He was a successful oncologist with a great sense of humor and a face so symmetrical, it made my knees buckle.After dinner, we had a little time to kill before the opera he was going to take me to, so we decided to walk by the animal shelter he helps out at. He pulls out his phone and barks into it, “Siri, is it going to rain?”

That’s it. No “please.” No “thank you.” No small talk about Siri’s day to make her feel like she mattered as an individual. Nothing. You better believe I dumped his doctor ass before he could even finish offering to give me his jacket.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One case in which the "you will die" headline may be legitimate

Years ago, the medical and legal professions did not allow their practitioners to advertise.

Boy, has that changed - although they're careful about how they advertise.

Sort of.

Consider the many medical advertisements that sound something like this:

I had suffered from my myopia and deviated septum for years. Finally, when I turned to Super Duper Hospital, the trained physicians were able to assist me. Because of Super Duper Hospital's commitment to research, I was treated with new technologies that are not available anywhere else.

Well, that's what the actor portraying the patient literally said in the commercial. But the underlying message that the hospital is conveying is somewhat different. Imagine this message delivered by Arnold Schwarzenegger or the late Don LaFontaine:

If you go to any other hospital, you will DIE.

So when I first saw the headline for this article, my first reaction was to roll my eyes.

Secure IoT before it kills us

But then, when you start thinking about the things that are controlled by IoT devices, you realize that this is not an exaggeration.

2010: Stuxnet (believed to have been created by Israeli intelligence) vibrates centrifuges in Iran nuclear plant.
2011: Hacker takes wireless control of insulin pumps.
2014: Hackers commandeer hundreds of webcams and baby monitors.
2015: Researchers remotely take over and crash Cherokee jeep.
2015: Plane flight controls hacked via in-flight entertainment system.
2016: Smart thermostats hacked to host ransomware.

But there is a danger of overreaction on either side of the spectrum.

On the one hand, you could ignore the threat altogether and not really pay heed to the possibility that a device may be hacked. This opens you to a hacking incident and/or a lawsuit.

On the other hand, you could overreact and demand that no IoT device be deployed unless it is 100.000% secure. And as any security expert knows, 100.000% security is impossible.

But it certainly is possible to provide some level of security for IoT devices. After all, we do it all the time for the non-trendy computers.

As Microsoft’s [National Security Officer Stuart] Aston points out: “With each generation of smart things, we seem to have to relearn the lessons of the past.

“A lot of IoT security best practice is no different from the best practice we’ve learned through securing PCs and mobile devices over the years. We just need to ensure it’s rigorously applied.”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Who's on first - employees, or customers? (Or, why Uber is no Virgin)

Conventional wisdom dictates that the customer always comes first. However, Richard Branson of Virgin famously challenges that notion, stating that his highest priority is pleasing his employees.

"It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy."

And if Branson's employees are happy, then he believes that they will make his customers happy, which will make his shareholders happy.

Uber has a different view. Consider how it treats its employees - uh, wait a minute. Uber's actual employees are fairly limited in number, since Uber drivers themselves are not employees of the company. (Notice how ridesharing companies always say you can "work WITH Uber" or "work WITH Lyft" - not FOR.)

Uber's emphasis, and the emphasis of all companies in the gig economy, is on the service. It's not in building a dedicated group of employees, but in building a service that can use interchangeable parts - eventually, for example, there won't be drivers working with Uber any more, as Uber moves to driverless cars.

This emphasis leads to a customer comes first mentality, in which drivers (non-employees) are a distant second.

Although ‘being your own boss’ might sound like a good thing on the surface, there are lots of times when drivers are going to need help from the guys in charge. And even though Uber is constantly refreshing their help section, adding new options for drivers and testing new help features, their customer support reps still struggle mightily to address drivers’ most basic problems....

I think the ratings system is great for passengers since it holds drivers accountable for their actions but there are a lot of ways it can work against drivers too. One of my biggest complaints about the ratings system is that it is a one-sided marketplace. Drivers have to maintain a 4.6 rating in order to stay active, but passengers have no such requirement....

What a lot of these pain points really boil down to is a customer-centric approach to building a business. It’s hard to fault Uber for doing things this way....But it’s clear with a lot of these policies that the real customer is the passenger and not the driver.

Uber makes the retention of customers a high priority, as many companies do. But Uber does not prioritize the retention of drivers - something that leads to all sorts of issues for the company. (DISCLOSURE: I am employed in the biometric industry.

On fake friends (also known as business spokespeople who do not exist in reality)

Before I launch into the main topic of this post, let me provide you with an update on "The Porch" that I mentioned last November.

The update is that there is no update.

Here's what I said in November about the construction in the public area of my office building:

Now this would be the ideal time to post a picture of The Porch - perhaps a selfie with me, a cup, and the metal shop et al in the background. Except that The Porch is kinda sorta boarded up at the moment....

You see, my company does not own the building, and only leases a portion of the building. The rest of the building is empty, which is perhaps what is motivating the building owner to renovate the lobby area, including The Porch....

There's all sorts of construction now, and my formerly peaceful oasis has all sorts of scaffolding, temporary barriers to keep you from falling off The Porch, and construction workers scurrying around doing important stuff.

I'm not sure how much longer the construction will take, but we'll see what things look like when it's all finished.

Nearly two months later, the construction is still going on, and my formerly peaceful oasis has all sorts of scaffolding, temporary barriers to keep you from falling off The Porch, and...well, you get the idea.

In that same post, I mentioned my friend Liz. Her formal name is Elizabeth, but she lets you call her Liz. That's the name she uses on Twitter and Instagram. Now Liz works right across the road from The Porch, at the Wescom Building in Anaheim.

Actually, she works at the Wescom Building in Pasadena.

Actually, she doesn't work at either place.

Because - and I hope you're sitting down for this - Liz Wescom doesn't exist.

Oh, sure, we chat at times.

But that does not negate the fact that Liz Wescom is a fictional entity, created by Wescom's marketing department, or perhaps by an outside advertising agency. All that I know is that before she was on Twitter and Instagram, she was inside Wescom automated teller machines (see page 5 of PDF).

But Wescom isn't the only entity that creates non-existent spokespeople. As a child, I was scared of Mr. Clean, but was not all that scared of Mr. Whipple. And on a more geopolitical front, the United Nations tried (and failed) to enlist Wonder Woman as a spokesperson.

Let's face it, we like to associate with people, even when dealing with corporations. And if the corporation doesn't have a real live person like Lee Iacocca or Steve Jobs, then the corporation has to use a fake one. In some cases, a real spokesperson eventually becomes a fake one - Colonel Sanders being a notable example.

But do these fake spokespeople work? In some documented instances, they work really well. One example: the American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus, Georgia had a barrier when getting business, because someone asking for insurance isn't going to necessarily remember "American Family Life Assurance Company." Even the acronym - AFLAC - isn't something that you intuitively remember.

Unless a duck says it.

To solve this problem, they decided to experiment using a duck as a mascot since the brand name sounds like the “quack quack” sound a duck makes. Upon investing in advertising to promote the duck and the business, the result has been phenomenal with name recognition and profits soaring. In fact, name recognition has been at 91% – higher than big insurance companies MetLife or Cigna and in the same ballpark as behemoths McDonald’s and Coca Cola.

Now that recognition helps bring the revenue in to a life insurance company - or to a chicken fast food joint, a toilet paper manufacturer, or a credit union.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

#empoplaaybizz My most popular Empoprise-BI post of 2016 isn't popular any more (remember PokeStops?)

I just checked my analytics to see what my most popular post in the Empoprise-BI business blog was in 2016. To no one's surprise, it was a summer post about a really trendy topic - #empoplaaybizz PokeSTOP! Or, James Kim is NOT a marketing genius.

What - the name James Kim doesn't ring a bell?

He's the "marketing genius" who everyone was talking about in late July, because he had the great idea to open a chain of cafes and call then Pokestops.

Because, you see, if you call them Pokestops, then smartphone-wielding people will flock to them.

Or, that's what Kim thought in late July.

I was slightly more pessimistic.

So assume that Nintendo et al are extremely happy with the idea of giving Kim a cut of the money, and that the trademarks are approved, and that locations are selected. In a best-case scenario, we'll start seeing these "Pokestops" in...

...well, in 2017 if everything goes perfectly. If things get bogged down with litigation and zoning restrictions (imagine your average city council approving a restaurant that is designed to have a bunch of people milling around), the process could take years.

By which time the Pokémon Go fanaticism may have faded just a little bit.

Faded? Ya think?

Of course, my solution about deploying incense at restaurants wasn't that valuable either, since incense can only be used by the person who deploys it. But at least my other suggestion - the use of lures - would work (provided your establishment is already an official Pokestop, or is very close to one).

Meanwhile, everything has seemingly gone quiet on the James Kim front since August, when there was a "non-final action" on his trademark application.

Kim's probably busy on his Rogue One Restaurant concept.

A McDonald's on Vatican-owned property - what's the problem?

As many of you know, Vatican City is not only the center of the Roman Catholic Church, but is also an independent country in its own right. Vatican City itself occupies specific boundaries, but some Vatican-owned buildings spill over into the neighboring country of Italy. And the first floor tenant of one of these buildings is stirring controversy:

A new McDonald’s site opened last Friday in the Pio Borgo district of Rome, and the Vatican isn’t exactly “lovin’ it,” as it were. That’s because the new McDonald’s location, just around the corner from St. Peter’s Square, sits about 100 yards away from the walls of the Vatican State and within a Vatican-owned building....

While McDonald’s has another location some 200 yards from the Vatican (and there’s also a Burger King), the controversy comes more from the fact that the newest addition to the burger chain resides directly within Vatican-owned property. The building also just happens to be home to Vatican officials, including several senior cardinals. McDonald’s reportedly pays the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See more than $30,000 a month for the building’s bottom floor.


I fail to see the problem here. Unless the Cardinals are engaged in a perpetual fast, I don't see anything in a McDonald's that contradicts Roman Catholic doctrine. If McDonald's were anathema, we wouldn't see stories like this one out of Oklahoma.

Members of the St. Philip Neri Catholic School alumni class of 2016 delivered more than 30,000 pop can tops collected by the middle school to the Ronald McDonald House.

I suspect that the true controversy here is the fact that McDonald's is an American-owned company. I suspect a nice Italian restaurant would cause no controversy whatsoever.