Friday, December 13, 2019

McDonald's doesn't make hamburgers, and the National Labor Relations Board agrees (for now)

Lately (and in the past) I've been musing a lot on the increasing use of franchising, independent contractors, and other methods to isolate companies from the people who really do the work. To sum it up, McDonald's doesn't make hamburgers, and Uber doesn't transport passengers.

So I read a recent NPR article with interest.

The long and bitter litigation began in 2015, when the Service Employees International Union accused McDonald's and its franchisees of retaliating against hundreds of workers who supported the Fight For $15 labor movement....

The government's labor-law prosecutor at the time asked the judge, Lauren Esposito, to review the complaints and consider McDonald's a "joint employer" of franchisees accused of violating labor laws.

But with a new administration, the instruction was reversed, and the judge was directed to approve a settlement between the workers and the franchisees. The NLRB just upheld this.

Much of this is part of the ongoing war between Trump appointees and Obama appointees, who have different views on labor relations. And one of the issues is whether the people who work in restaurants with the McDonald's name are de facto workers for the huge McDonald's corporation, or are simply working for a franchisee who licenses use of the McDonald's name.

Friday, September 13, 2019

When Cracker Barrel's processes leave you feeling processed

I've been around a lot of process people over the years. After all, I worked for Motorola for nearly a decade. But even though a few of them seemed to be enamored of process for process' sake, the vast majority of them realized that processes are merely things that allow a company to reach its strategic objectives. In most cases, those strategic objectives are related to customer satisfaction.

Which brings me to the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.

When you think about it, it's obvious that Cracker Barrel is highly dependent upon process. Cracker Barrel markets Southern nostalgia - in its food, in its store, and even in its decoration. And for those who think that Cracker Barrel is merely Bubba and Grandma preparing the home cooking, take a gander at what Cracker Barrel executives really think about:

But turning to the larger dynamic, Cracker Barrel is dealing with declines across guest experience metrics and faltering on value positioning, as well as failing to deliver “craveable food offerings,” at the rate it needs. [CEO Sandy] Cochran believes this hurt traffic, especially with lighter users.

“We've been reevaluating the touch points we have with our guests in order to execute more consistently, particularly at dinner, which has been the most challenged of our dayparts,” she said in regards to the guest experience.

One example of this is what Cracker Barrel calls the “check back, check down,” process, where servers will give a table their check before they’re finished eating. This has worked with travelers and earlier dayparts, but it’s not an effective strategy with dinner guests in every market, Cochran said.

So Cracker Barrel is process driven. Especially in its food. When a customer leaves the interstate and goes to a Cracker Barrel conveniently adjacent to a freeway exit, the customer is expecting a certain type of food. For me it's fried okra.

And biscuits.

So today - Friday the 13th, of course - I had lunch at a Cracker Barrel. But what if I had chosen an alternative? Based upon years of (self-funded) competitive intelligence studies, I could have expected the following.

Perhaps I might have gone to an Olive Garden restaurant. If I asked for breadsticks to be brought before my meal, the wait staff would have no problem bringing me breadsticks. (Well, within reason.)

Perhaps I might have gone to a local restaurant like Coco's. If I asked for bread to be brought before my meal, it would have arrived.

Or, if I were in the mood for Mexican, I could have gone to the Inland Empire - Orange County chain Rodrigo's and asked for chips and salsa before my meal. The wait staff would have brought me chips. And then would have brought more chips.

But I didn't go to any of those restaurants for my Friday the 13th lunch. I went to Cracker Barrel, where I asked the waitress if she could bring some of those Southern nostalgic biscuits before our meal.

"No," she replied.

Eventually biscuits were brought, but the waitress and the manager made it very clear that such activities fell well outside of the process employed by this Cracker Barrel restaurant. I won't name the exact location, other than to say that it was somewhat south of the Victorville Cracker Barrel.

Somewhere along the way, the whole idea of customer satisfaction was lost.

But I bet the numbers look great. If not for the buttermilk biscuits, then certainly for the corn muffins - especially since that pesky Joe Koblenzer isn't around any more.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

When simple keyword searches affect your livelihood (and yes, my livelihood too)

Well, that was interesting.

Remember my Wednesday post that talked about content scraping? Here's the relevant portion for now:

I was following up on some links and I ran across an article that began like this.

Without revealing any specifics, let's just say that the links that I was following were sourced from a site that keeps track of particular keywords. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I am not going to reveal those keywords here, but let's just say that they rhyme with rompetitive shintelligence.

So basically this site conducts a simple keyword search and locates articles of interest that include those keywords. And anything that hits those keywords is automatically included on the site.

Even if it's poorly written garbled stuff such as "[Rompetitive shintelligence] collecting may be a beneficial exercising that yields important records to manual your enterprise and advertising strategy, or it can take a seat in a laptop document and accumulate the equal of digital dust in case you’re no longer care."

So my post was published on Wednesday.

On Thursday I went back to this site to keep what new stuff had been found. guessed it...there's a link to an Empoprise-BI post on the site - solely because my post included the words rompetitive shintelligence.

Now I'm not going to fault the site for using automated search techniques without human review. I guess I could, but I won't.

I am going to fault the search engines for not allowing more complex searches.

I use another site for my daily work that DOES allow such complex search statements, with a plethora of AND and OR and parentheses to help to make sure that I'm not getting a lot of "digital dust." And even then I have to manually review the results, and I get a number of false hits. For example, as I write this, the Alabama Sharpiegate stuff is showing up in my search results, even though it has nothing to do with what I truly want to see in my search.

Our current search tools are good, but they are not good enough.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

When content scraping affects your livelihood (well, not my livelihood)

The Internet demands content, and when the Internet wants something, it gets something. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Internet is getting a bunch of ORIGINAL content.

How many times have you run across an article from ReallyCoolNews that basically quotes a previous article from TodaysNewsForYou? Sometimes it seems like 90% of all news articles are regurgitating stuff from other articles.

In fact, if I'm going to be honest, this blog post itself is a repurposing (that's the euphemistic word here) of something I wrote on Facebook yesterday.

But, let's begin at the beginning (although, as you'll see, it's really at the ending - but I digress).

I was following up on some links and I ran across an article that began like this.

Competitive intelligence collecting may be a beneficial exercising that yields important records to manual your enterprise and advertising strategy, or it can take a seat in a laptop document and accumulate the equal of digital dust in case you’re no longer care. While an aggressive intelligence undertaking can convey out your internal spy, it may also lead to confusion, misinterpretation of statistics, and faulty approach-putting.

So I scrolled down to the bottom of the article to see if it was written by someone who was NOT a native English speaker...and found that the author had a name that appeared to correspond to a native English speaker's name.

And the author was employed as a marketing writer - or, as the brief author bio said, she worked for "a content advertising and marketing firm that offers mild advertising and marketing via sturdy writing."

My first reaction was to think of one of my high school friends, an editor who occasionally shares examples of shoddy writing. Boy, did I have a beaut for her!

But something seemed off about this whole thing. I couldn't imagine that a native English speaker who is employed as a marketing writer would write something that terrible.

And, as it turns out, she didn't.

Fast-backward to something that I wrote over nine years ago on this topic. Here's an excerpt:

But some sites move from "fair use" to uses that appear to have more questionable fairness....

In most cases, those types of sites take someone's content, pass it off as their own, and surround it with a bunch of ads. In essence, those people are definitely making money off of the original writer.

But I'm mystified by people who appropriate content and DON'T surround the content with ads or redirect you to other places.

So I began wondering - did someone lift some content from someone else and INTENTIONALLY garble the content to make it hard to link the revised content to the original?

Well, since the (alleged) content scraper included the name of the original author and her company, I did a little bit of searching and found the original article. And here's how the REAL article began:

Competitive intelligence gathering can be a useful exercise that yields important information to guide your business and marketing strategy, or it can sit in a computer file and collect the equivalent of electronic dust if you're not careful. While a competitive intelligence project can bring out your inner spy, it can also lead to confusion, misinterpretation of data, and faulty strategy-setting.

So this was just a case of super weird content scraping.

But in this case something else was at stake.

What if I had not pursued my questions, and if I had stuck with my earlier assumption that the author was an incompetent writer?

Worse still, what if I had gone ahead and shared this with my editor friend, without bothering to realize the truth that the original writer had been ripped off?

To be quite honest, if someone were to rip me off (again), perhaps some harm would be done, but it wouldn't really damage me. But when an independent contractor's work gets garbled, thus potentially damaging her reputation, that's a different matter entirely.

You will note that this post does not link to the ripoff version of the article. (If you really want to see it, pursue the link to my Facebook post at the beginning of this post.)

Or, better yet, perform your own Google or Bing search for the words 10 tips for effective competitive intelligence gathering. It turns out that multiple sites have published the ripped-off, garbled version of the original author's content.

By the way, the original author is Jeanne Grunert. Here is one of her websites. And one more time, here is the real article that she wrote.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Why the British love coffee so much (edit: LOVED coffee so much)

Everyone knows the major role that coffee plays in the United Kingdom, and how coffee remains popular in that country to the present day.

The first coffee house in London was not a Starbucks. It was actually opened by a Greek, Pasqua Rosée, in 1652 in a churchyard in London. It appears that Rosée started a trend - by 1663, there were 80 coffeehouses in London, and by the end of the 17th century, there were over 500 - approximately the same density in which Starbucks can be found in major urban cities in the United States.

One coffee house deserves special mention. It was opened by one Edward Lloyd. By 1691, the coffee house, named after Lloyd, had moved into London's maritime district. Lloyd actively sought out maritime customers by "holding maritime auctions and collating information." While many interested parties would come to Lloyd's Coffee House and drink coffee and talk, others would get their information from a publication called Lloyd's News. This paper, however, was short-lived, but did serve as one of the inspirations for Lloyd's Register, a publication that still exists today. And you've probably heard of other businesses that use the Lloyd's name, such as this one.

So with such a history, it's no wonder that coffee is still extremely popular in the United Kingdom today..., hold it. I have just been informed of some new information. It seems that the British people are really into tea now, rather than coffee.

So, how did that happen?

Well, at about the same time that Lloyd's Coffee House moved to the maritime district, a noted group of mariners - namely, the British East India Company - was encountering competition for that particular drink.

Toward the close of the seventeenth century, however, the East India Company was much more interested in tea than in coffee...[h]aving lost out to the French and the Dutch on the “little brown berry of Arabia.”

So, like any good company (even if this was in the mercantilist era, not the capitalist era), the British East India Company decided to diversify into a new product, tea, and to conduct a marketing campaign to promote this new product.

The Company engaged in so lively a propaganda for tea that, whereas the annual tea imports from 1700 to 1710 averaged 800,000 pounds, in 1721 more than one million pounds of tea were brought in; in 1757, some four million pounds were imported. And when the coffee house finally succumbed, tea, and not coffee, was firmly entrenched as the national drink of the English people.

In fact, it was so entrenched that by 1773, if you wanted to indicate your displeasure with Britain, one very symbolic way to do so would be to dump 342 chests of tea off a ship and into a harbor. Granted, the people who organized this action were low-life smugglers. You've probably heard of them - John Hancock, Samuel Adams. Actually, before getting famous from his association with tea, Samuel Adams was a brewer. However, Adams went bankrupt in that industry, which is why no one connects the name Samuel Adams with beer today...., hold it. I have just been informed of some new information...

There is a postscript to this story about the British and coffee. Since tea is obviously the drink of choice of the British establishment, it follows that anyone who wanted to pander to the British anti-establishment would choose a different drink.

The (2i’s) expresso coffee bar, run by two australian ex-wrestlers Paul Lincoln (aka “Dr Death”) and Ray Hunter, opened its doors on April 22nd 1956. It was named after two brothers called Irani who originally owned the café (unless the previous owners were apparently three Iranians and one went home).

The coffee shop had live music in its basement with a small 18 inch stage where Lincoln and Hunter started putting on skiffle groups.

Skiffle only lasted for a short while, but it dramatically influenced British music and thus world music. Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard were two of the names that emerged from the 2i's scene. And those artists, as well as other skiffle bands, served as inspirations to musicians all over Britain, including some backing musicians (Tommy Moore and some other guys) who toured Scotland with one Johnny Gentle.

As of 2018, there were nearly 1,000 Starbucks in the United Kingdom. No word on whether maritime news is discussed there.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

If this isn't #starbout is it #realout ?

Back in 2008, I wrote a series of posts, the first of which was called "Coffee Klatch Responds to the Most Important Story of All Time."

For those who don't know, Coffee Klatch (now Klatch Coffee) is a group of coffeeshops in the Inland Empire of Southern California.

It is not to be confused with Starbucks.

This was made very clear on this day in 2008, when the #starbout took place.

For those who don't remember, Starbucks closed all of its stores for three hours for an "Art of Espresso" training session, in which the baristas were told how to make coffee.

Needless to say, the non-Starbucks small coffee shops had great fun with this. Mike Perry of Coffee Klatch offered this comment:

"I'm not sure why it's going to take them three hours to learn how to press a button."

Well, eleven years have passed, and another large organization is going to close its doors for a few hours to train its employees.

However, this closure will only affect people in the state of California.

(IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE: My employer provides hardware, software, and services to the agency described below. Views are my own bla bla bla.)

So, who's closing on July 24?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

I could talk your ears off about REAL ID, a program that's only taken nearly two decades to implement because of states' rights and stuff. But I won't.

Here's the press release.

June 24, 2019

DMV to Close Offices Statewide for Half-Day ‘Operation Excellence: DMV Training’

Sacramento – The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will close its offices statewide for a half day on July 24, 2019, to better prepare employees to process REAL ID transactions and reinforce training on providing excellent customer service.

Operation Excellence: DMV Training will result in more consistent customer experiences statewide and equip employees with the tools they need to handle an unprecedented volume of REAL ID applications, which are more complex and take more time to process.

The training will take place at 183 DMV field offices, Commercial Drive Test Centers and Industry Business Centers throughout the state. More than 5,000 employees will receive the training at their home offices, which will open for business at 1 p.m.

“Our employees are at the heart of every transaction we perform,” said Kathleen Webb, DMV acting director. “With this commitment to training, we can ensure they have the proper tools, knowledge, and experience to provide excellent customer service to the people of California.”

DMV Call Centers (1-800-777-0133) will remain open during the half-day office closure. Customers also will be able to:

Conduct transactions online, at, including renewing a vehicle registration, changing an address, requesting a copy of their driving record or making an appointment.
Conduct transactions at DMV Now self-service kiosks located at grocery stores and select libraries, such as renewing a vehicle registration, filing for planned nonoperation (PNO) status, submitting an affidavit of non-use, submitting proof of insurance, and paying a $14 insurance reinstatement fee. A map of kiosks can be found online:
AAA members may visit AAA offices to conduct some transactions, including vehicle registration renewal.
Registration services also are available at California DMV Business Partners for a fee. Customers can search for partners with this online map:
Operation Excellence is an initiative of the DMV Reinvention Strike Team, which Governor Gavin Newsom created in January to lead a comprehensive modernization and reinvention of the DMV with an emphasis on transparency, worker performance, speed of service and overall consumer satisfaction. The Strike Team was created in response to long wait times in DMV field offices, which were exacerbated by the federal government’s REAL ID requirements.

Beginning October 1, 2020, the federal government will require passengers flying within the United States to present a REAL ID-compliant driver license or identification card – or a passport or passport card – before boarding a plane. REAL ID-compliant cards or another federally approved document will also be required to enter secure federal facilities such as military bases.

“The unprecedented complexity of the REAL ID requirements is what led to the idea that we needed to take the extraordinary step of closing DMV offices for a short time to make sure all employees have consistent information in order to complete the transactions successfully,” said Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer, who is leading the DMV Strike Team. “It is a complicated transaction and we want customers to be well prepared in order to receive their REAL ID efficiently.”

The DMV already is experiencing unprecedented demand for its services because of a greater volume of REAL ID applications, which must be done in person in the field office and cannot be processed online or via the phone. In addition, field offices are experiencing their normal summer surge of new drivers seeking licenses.

Field offices need to be prepared for at least a doubling of customer volume as the enforcement date approaches. On July 1, 2019, the DMV will open an additional 53 field offices early to handle the summer surge, bringing to 69 the total number of offices that open at 7 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to accommodate the increase in customers. The DMV also now offers Saturday service at 62 offices.

Curriculum for Operation Excellence addresses the specific challenges DMV employees have identified in processing REAL ID transactions. Frontline staff will receive detailed training and a toolkit they can utilize immediately for processing REAL ID driver licenses and identification cards in the field. They also will be trained on best practices on delivering excellent customer service.

This half-day effort is the start of ongoing training around REAL ID and builds on DMV’s renewed commitment to providing sufficient training on all significant policy and procedure changes.

Operation Excellence addresses findings in a March 2019 report by the Department of Finance’s Office of State Audits and Evaluations, which determined training to be lacking at DMV. Report recommendations include more timely and comprehensive training for new hires and expanded training opportunities, particularly surrounding significant changes to policies and procedures including REAL ID.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Gigged Out

Sandra had been with YouGigUp since its inception nearly nine months ago. In that time, she and the core team had developed the YouGigUp concept, which not only involved both the cloud AND blockchain, but also resulted in a successful funding round that appeared to guarantee that expenses would be covered for another nine months.

As the number three person in YouGigUp, Sandra was proud of the part that she had played in securing funding, and looked forward to greater contribution opportunities in the future.

As it turned out, the investors had some ideas about that also, as Sandra discovered when she was summoned to a meeting with the two lead investors.

Charlie started the conversation. "So, Sandra, I see that in the pre-funding round, you've done well for yourself, but not that well. Sure, you have a nice salary, decent stock options, a nice health plan, and a 401k."

"Well, I'm almost 23," Sandra replied. "I'm not getting any younger. That health insurance will come in handy someday, as will the 401k."

The other investor, Brad, interjected. "That health insurance and 401k are holding you back."

"I don't follow," Sandra replied.

"Sandra," Charlie said, "you know better than anyone that 20th century compensation plans are killing productivity, opportunity, and flexibility. The whole concept of YouGigUp is based upon this irrefutable fact."

Brad continued, "And we want you to take advantage of 21st century organizational trends." He took an envelope out of his pocket. "Starting today, you no longer work for YouGigUp. You work WITH YouGigUp. As you choose."

As he handed the envelope to Sandra, Brad got more excited. "This new arrangement will give you the flexibility to create six YouGigUps, or none at all! You are in complete control of your schedule, and can contribute to YouGigUp when and where you wish! You can see the maximum hourly rates here; pay attention to the surge pricing on Fridays and Saturdays! And note that even if you clock in only fifty minutes in an hour, you get paid for the entire hour! Such a package allows you to create your own benefits plans as you wish! This page includes the link to the Covered California website."

Sandra quietly looked over the papers before asking a question. "Is there a guaranteed number of hours?"

"That's the beauty of it!" replied Charlie. "It's completely flexible. The company will contact you if you're needed for an hour or two. You can submit a bid, and others can do the same, and one bidder will be selected to work with YouGigUp for the hour!"

"Subject to the hourly rates here?" asked Sandra.

"Well," replied Brad, "these are the MAXIMUM hourly rates. If someone wants to work with YouGigUp for a lower rate, they can certainly do so."

"So we wish you luck on your new adventure!" said Charlie as he and Brad left the room.

Andrea, rather than thinking of new adventures with YouGigUp, was trying to remember the name of her grad school friend who just got a job at In-N-Out.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

If I tell you something is "important" to me...

...don't be impressed.

"Important" sounds...important, but I have three levels above important.

Just above "important" is "urgent."

Just above "urgent" is "pomodoro" (not in the correct sense, but in a bastardized sense, where I just select a few things to work on in the next 25 minutes and do them). (Aside: some of you will recognize my use of the terms "urgent" and "important" is itself a bastardized simplification of the Eisenhower matrix. If something is in the lower right quadrant of the matrix - i.e. less urgent and less important - then why are you even tracking it?)

And above all of these is "forget about assigning a category, just drop everything and work on this."

Perhaps these examples will illustrate the differences.

"Hey John, here's an article you may want to read." That's important.
"Hey John, this stuff is due by close of business today." That's urgent.
"Hey John, this stuff is due in a half hour." That's pomodoro.
"Hey John, your brother in law died." (Click.)[1]

[1] (Sadly, this is a true story. About 14 years ago I was in a meeting, received a phone call, hung up, and left the meeting immediately.)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

When retailers INTRODUCE friction

This post includes a discussion of a product offering from my own employer - but I have a good reason for doing this.

But before I toot my company's horn, I want to talk about the concept of a "frictionless" experience.

While the definition has evolved over the years, the basic meaning of a frictionless experience is to make it as easy as possible for customers to purchase goods and services.

And there's a dramatic financial incentive to make shopping frictionless - roughly 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned without the customer purchasing anything, a potential loss of revenue for the company. The same thing can happen at old-fashioned physical stores, except that in this case the abandoned shopping carts are real shopping carts - and if there's frozen food sitting in an abandoned shopping cart, you have to deal with both lost revenue and lost inventory.

Which brings me to my employer IDEMIA, and a story about a university dining hall.

By PCHS-NJROTC - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

You can imagine what those can be like; assuming that the dining hall doesn't use an a la carte system, the basic question that you have to answer is whether you are entitled to a meal. Some students buy meal plans that let them eat every meal in the course of a week; others only buy a limited number of meals a week. However, all students are only allowed to eat one meal at a time; the student can't eat lunch at 12:05 and then have the same student - or a buddy - eat the same meal at 12:45. So everyone has to get in line - and the lines can get long, causing...friction.

Back in the spring of 2016, the University of Maryland decided to improve the dining hall process, and worked with several vendors, including one of IDEMIA's predecessor companies, MorphoTrak, to come up with a frictionless solution. This solution included a product, called MorphoWave at the time, that allowed a user to wave his or her hand to be identified, rather than dragging out a student card or a punched meal ticket.

The result? Faster, frictionless processing of students, most of whom are processed in under two seconds.

Now a lot of companies are coming up with a lot of frictionless solutions to make retail purchases either. For example, think of the various "pay" apps on mobile phones that allow you to easily make purchases without removing your wallet from your pocket. All of these tools make it a lot easier to buy things, and retailers are reaping the financial rewards.

You'd think that all retailers would be striving to achieve a frictionless experience to increase sales.

But some well-known retailers are moving in the other direction.

I was recently buying bubble wrap in a Walmart (yeah, that Walmart). I found the bubble wrap with no problem - and if I hadn't been able to find it, Walmart has an app that can show me where it is. I then purchased the bubble wrap - while I used a physical credit card to do this, Walmart has an app that lets me make the purchase more easily if I want to use it.

So everything was going smoothly and without friction - until it came time to leave the store.

As I neared the exit, I ran into a line of several people. No, they weren't talking with the greeter (I don't think our local stores have greeters anymore) - they were having their receipts scanned by the receipt checker.

It turns out that this Walmart was not only requiring every customer to have his or her receipt scanned, but also requiring that one of the recently purchased items also be scanned - presumably to make sure that the receipt actually corresponded to the items that the customers were carrying out of the store.

This caused friction - not only in a delay in leaving the store, but also in personal irritation.

There's a financial reason for receipt checking, just as there is a financial reason to make (legitimate) purchases as easy as possible. The financial reason for receipt checking is something called "loss prevention" in the industry, which is a fancy word for stopping people from shoplifting.

By MJOHN - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Now there are a variety of ways to reduce or prevent shoplifting, including electronic article surveillance (via tags), video surveillance, keeping expensive items in locked cabinets, and enclosing small expensive items in hard plastic packaging that can only be removed by nuclear weapons.

But receipt checking offers one clear advantage over other methods of loss prevention:

Unlike the locked display case, it doesn't interfere with the customer experience until after the purchase is complete.

The store's already made its money - it's just hassling customers on the way out the door.

Now some people are getting so angry with receipt checking that they're filing civil complaints and complaining that stores are violating the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when checking receipts. Before going down that road, however, it may be a good idea to see what the Fourth Amendment actually says.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

"But dude!" you might say. "That Walmart checker was conducting an unreasonable search and seizure on you! She should have gotten a warrant!"

However, you have to remember that the Fourth Amendment, like the First, is designed to constrain the actions of the GOVERNMENT. It was written to prevent a GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL from unreasonably searching you. Walmart is not a governmental entity - not even in Bentonville, Arkansas.

So in the same way that private businesses often do not have to guarantee freedom of speech - if you espouse socialist principles, or talk about making the country great again, the First Amendment can't stop you from being fired - private businesses are not necessarily constrained from asking you to prove that you bought the stuff you claim that you bought.

So don't claim that Walmart should be hauled to the Supreme Court for checking your receipts.

On the other hand, the last I checked, Target wasn't making you wait in line to leave their stores. Just saying.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Michael Italie, Brendan Eich...and Kay Coles James - what is truth?

By Nikolai Ge -, Public Domain, Link

I am going to begin this post by noting that Goodwill, Mozilla, and Google are private entities, not governmental entities.

This gives them the right (subject to possible state-level restrictions) to discriminate for political reasons.

As I've previously noted, Michael Italie was - completely legally - a member of the Socialist Workers Party. This was enough to get him fired by Goodwill.

And as I've also noted, Brendan Eich was - completely legally - a donor to a campaign to support California's Proposition 8. This was enough to get him f- ... oh, I'm sorry, he resigned from Mozilla.

And today we're all talking about Kay Coles James - who has joined an entity known as the Heritage Foundation, and is also the President of said organization. As I write this, the Heritage Foundation is legally allowed to conduct business in the United States (although perhaps I'd better check on San Francisco just to be sure). The Foundation itself has been around since 1973, and has been linked to conservatives ranging from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump (assuming Trump is a conservative, but that is outside of the scope of this blog).

Now James did not assault a liberal, or cause an economic crisis in San Francisco, or even fire a gender fluid person from the Foundation. No, James joined Google's Advanced Technology External Advisory Council.

And that was enough to enrage some Googlers.

Google must remove Kay Coles James from its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC).

On March 27, four days before Trans Day of Visibility, Google announced the members of its Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), which is tasked with informing the company’s decisions around AI and other technologies. Among those appointed to ATEAC is Kay Coles James, the President of the Heritage Foundation, who is vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant.

But what of the argument that if you want to reduce AI bias, you need to include people with diverse views?

Following the announcement, the person who took credit for appointing James stood by the decision, saying that James was on the council to ensure “diversity of thought.” This is a weaponization of the language of diversity.

The controversy boils down to the question of how Google should approach various issues. As it turns out, this is presumably one of the issues with which ATEAC (whoever is on it) will wrestle.

But what is a valid stand to take on any issue? See if you can guess the two organizations mentioned in this quote.

Both organizations act and provide information in such a manner that they could be considered another arm of the United State's Department of Defense. (DoD) If anything, the entirety of all mainstream media sources provide information in ways that either support political parties or of the agenda of the United States government.

The two organizations in question? Fox News and MSNBC. Some people believe that one is the gospel truth, some believe in the other, and some believe that both are stooges of the Trump-Obama military-industrial complex.

So when you have different cultural perspectives in different countries, or even in the same country, what should be presented by Google's search results (the one product that Google probably WON'T sunset)?

Because we can't agree on what artificial intelligence should do until we agree on what natural intelligence should do.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

DIKW AI OMG @gideonro

Well, this article from 2014 by Gideon Rosenblatt is up my alley.

It combines the idea of the data/information/knowledge/wisdom hierarchy (I wrote about this before) with the idea of artificial intelligence.

When it comes to developing knowledge, the first step is determining which signals have value and which are just noise. If we can offload that pattern-recognizing work to machines, we take a big step towards automating knowledge creation.

More of us are talking about "deep learning" than were talking about it in 2014, but Rosenblatt touches upon the topic.

Because it was 2014, however, he didn't address the 2019 topic of bias. (What if the data that you mine solely consists of Mein Kampf?)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Sometimes it isn't all about the money, but about the data

So now Google is in a fight with someone's aunt.

But it's not about flower arrangement.

Kieran Clifton, who is the Director of BBC Distribution & Business Development, explains why the BBC's podcasts are no longer on "certain Google products - including the Google Podcast app and Google [A]ssistant":

Last year, Google launched its own podcast app for Android users - they’ve also said they will launch a browser version for computers soon. Google has since begun to direct people who search for a BBC podcast into its own podcast service, rather than BBC Sounds or other third party services....

We...want to make our programmes and services as good as they can possibly be - this means us getting hold of meaningful audience data. This helps us do a number of things; make more types of programmes we know people like, make our services even more personalised and relevant to people using them, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences.

Unfortunately, given the way the Google podcast service operates, we can’t do any of the above.

Chris Welch of The Verge further clarifies:

Metrics have been a point of contention between podcast producers and the platforms that bring them exposure.

So, in an effort to see the other side of things, I poked around to see what types of audience data Google provides to podcasters. My survey may not be exhaustive, but I found this:

Types of reports

Listener activity report: plays & downloads

With the listener activity report, you can see playback and download statistics for your podcast or an individual episode.

The play and download statistics can be broken down per day for the podcast series or filtered to see the statistics for individual episodes.

Plays: The number of times a listener started listening to a podcast episode.
Downloads: The number of times a listener downloaded an episode to their device.

Subscriber report

With the subscriber report, you can see the total number of people subscribing to your podcast.

To be considered a subscriber, a listener must have added the podcast to the My Podcasts section of Google Play Music in the app or on the web. Subscribers can also choose to auto-download or get notifications for new episodes.

OK, perhaps there's something I missed, but if this truly IS the be-all and end-all of Google podcast reporting, the audience data that the BBC receives consists of number of plays, number of downloads, and number of subscribers.

That's it.

And we know that Google captures significant additional information about every entity that uses its service. I don't podcast, but I can easily derive all sorts of information about the people who access this blog, including information on the platform they are using to read a post, the geographic location from which they are reading the post, etc. If I were a major British broadcasting corporation, I would certainly want to know how many of my podcast subscribers are located in Manchester, and whether they are accessing the podcast on an old Android phone, a new Android phone, or something else.

And the BBC can presumably get these types of statistics from Apple. As of November 2018, Apple provided a slew of stats to podcasters, ranging from average consumption by episode (how soon do listeners literally tune out of a podcast?) to devices subscribed (people who decided that a particular podcast episode was so good that they chose to subscribe to the podcast). Geographic data is also provided, at least on a national level - I couldn't tell if it could be broken down to more local levels.

Now, The Verge's Chris Welch also raises the possibility that "This could also be seen as another example of podcast makers pulling back their content for the benefit of their own apps and services" - although in this case the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, has to abide by a Distribution Policy (PDF) that ensures that BBC programming is beneficial to the public interest, and not just to the BBC itself.

Of course, the content publishers have bigger issues with social media services - namely, issues about monetization and a "fair" (whatever that is) division of revenue that both acknowledges the social media services' role in publicizing the content, and the content providers' role in creating the content.

But this whole data thing could get important also.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Jive Talking - or Jive Meeting

The enterprise online meeting market is crowded. While personal users employ Skype, Facebook Messenger, and numerous other options for personal videoconferencing, there are a number of conferencing options for the enterprise market, including Jive, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, Open Voice, and

...and those are just the options owned (acquired) by a single company, LogMeIn.

The only problem is that none of these tools work together.

That's about to change.

LogMeIn plans to integrate Jive's cloud telephony with GoToMeeting's cloud video conferencing and collaboration. The move to unify the LogMeIn products comes as the vendor chases rivals Zoom and Cisco Webex, which already offer integrated portfolios.

How much are the rival offerings hurting LogMeIn?

GoToMeeting's market share has been hit particularly hard by the rise of Zoom, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that many customers have opted to switch to Zoom as their GoToMeeting licenses have expired, Kerravala said.

And Wall Street has issues.

The company's share value dropped 16.4% after announcing a global leadership restructuring earlier this month and plunged 23% on the day they released third-quarter financial forecasts that fell short of analyst predictions, according to Seeking Alpha.

As an aside, one thing that makes enterprise software tougher is that it has to deal And enterprises have all sorts of firewall and other security issues to prevent people from using something like meeting software to hijack your system. (The threat is real - one common feature in meeting software is the ability for a user to grant various kinds of control to another user.) As an example, I've been invited to sessions twice, but was unable to join via computer on my corporate network - I had to install on my phone to access the session.

Ah, forget about it - let's just get rid of meeting software altogether, and have everyone move to Silicon Valley and live in million dollar studio apartments.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Gerald Cotten and the ultimate in security

This is an old story, but worth repeating.

It's the story of digital asset (i.e. cryptocurrency) exchange Quadriga CX and its CEO, Gerald Cotten.

Cotten was always conscious about security -- the laptop, email addresses and messaging system he used to run the 5-year-old business were encrypted....He took sole responsibility for the handling of funds and coins and the banking and accounting side of the business and, to avoid being hacked, moved the "majority" of digital coins into cold storage.

In some ways, this is the perfect security setup. Noted security expert Benjamin Franklin has been known to observe that three can keep a secret if two are dead. After all, when two people know a secret, social engineering techniques can be used to pry the secret from one of them.

Assume, for example, that the nuclear launch codes are only known by Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Even though Jared Kushner does not know the codes, he could social engineer Pence by angrily calling him and saying, "The President needs the nuclear codes NOW!" If Pence agrees to provide them, security is broken.

So Cotten's approach to security is understandable, and in fact it could even be classified as perfect.

Too perfect.

Because, you see, Cotten died late last year.

The problem is, [Cotten's widow Jennifer] Robertson said she can’t find his passwords or any business records for the company. Experts brought in to try to hack into Cotten’s other computers and mobile phone met with only "limited success" and attempts to circumvent an encrypted USB key have been foiled....

"After Gerry’s death, Quadriga’s inventory of cryptocurrency has become unavailable and some of it may be lost," Robertson said, adding that the company’s access to currency has been "severely compromised" and the firm has been unable to negotiate bank drafts provided by different payment processors.

This inability to access "about C$190 million ($145 million) in Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether and other digital tokens" not only impacts the company, but also its customers.

But hey, the system's secure!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

What the Lumen5 text to video service taught me about...text

Last month, Sheila Scarborough wrote about repurposing content. One of her suggestions was to use Lumen5 to convert a blog post to video.

Lumen5 crawls the blog posts and makes a short draft video with key phrases and matching stock imagery. All we have to do is tweak the draft, maybe change some of the phrases or images (machines are not THAT smart!) and boom – we have a new video.

Good old artificial intelligence, or A.I., is supposed to make this process easy.

So I thought I'd try it.

I selected one of my more popular Empoprise-BI posts from 2018: Before Blogger is sunsetted, I'd better write this post on Google's customers.

When I loaded it into Lumen5, the A.I. went haywire.

And I can understand why.

My blog post writing style is notoriously dense. So Lumen5 had trouble automatically selecting portions of text to highlight in a video. When I tried to select text manually, even I had trouble.

Just for fun, take a couple of minutes to read my original post.

Now watch the video.

If I am going to convert text posts to video...

...they need more streamlined writing.

(Let's see if I did it.)

Friday, February 1, 2019

Why you shouldn't be pro-choice when it comes to product feature prioritization

I spent a decade as a product manager back in the day (way back - it was waterfall time), and I've interacted with product managers ever since. I think I can safely say that every single product manager has to deal with feature prioritization - namely, that there are more features that need to be added to the product than developer hours available to implement them all.

Once you get past the bad methods of prioritizing features (for example, prioritizing feature X because the development engineer thinks it's really cool and reminds her of The Matrix), you realize that you need to engage in some type of market analysis. Now I've worked with very small markets, where the total number of customers for my products can be counted in the hundreds. The snack chip makers who will be advertising in this Sunday's Super Bowl (there, I said it) deal with a somewhat larger number of customers.

But how do you get meaningful data from customers? After all, customers are focused upon their own needs, which in some respects resemble a 1960s protest rally.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1106-405 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, Link

What features do we want?
When do we want them?

In a universe with unlimited choices, people will choose all the things.

There are other issues with such surveys, as Jared Boyer of Price Intelligently notes:

Asking respondents to “check all the features that are important to you” can generate bias since respondents can easily be swayed by the concept that “more is better.”

But what if people are REALLY forced to choose? Here's how Boyer recommends that this be done:

[F]orcing respondents to simply choose a favorite feature and least favorite feature gives you a better opportunity to hone in on the aspects of your offering that are most attractive to customers.

Yes, Boyer advocates that you choose a SINGLE favorite feature and a SINGLE least favorite feature. In the first case, choose the ONE feature that you're not willing to give up, bearing in mind that you'll give up everything else. In the second case, choose the feature that you may NEVER EVER get.

Now THAT will make you think.

Even if you're not a product manager, or don't associate with those types of people, you can play this game for yourself. Choose your favorite application - Microsoft Word, Facebook, Angry Birds, whatever. Think about your favorite and least favorite features. Really think. Now imagine that 41 million 18-24 year olds in the United States are doing the same thing.

You can get a lot of data from that.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Can artificial intelligence correct the problems of artificial intelligence?

First, let me start off by saying that the views in this post are my own and not necessarily the views of my employer.

Why the caveat?

Because my employer, like many, is doing things in the artificial intelligence arena.

By Grafiker61 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Because of this, I make a point of monitoring discussions of artificial intelligence - especially recent discussions regarding possible bias in artificial intelligence algorithms. And while I'm not going to touch [REDACTED] topic, I'll take a moment to highlight this discussion from the MIT Technology Review:

Risk assessment tools are designed to do one thing: take in the details of a defendant’s profile and spit out a recidivism score—a single number estimating the likelihood that he or she will reoffend. A judge then factors that score into a myriad of decisions that can determine what type of rehabilitation services particular defendants should receive, whether they should be held in jail before trial, and how severe their sentences should be. A low score paves the way for a kinder fate. A high score does precisely the opposite.

By RoyHalzenski - Taken by RoyHalzenski (Myself), Public Domain, Link

Obviously an important tool - as author Karen Hao notes, the scores can dramatically impact your life. But Hao has one concern.

Modern-day risk assessment tools are often driven by algorithms trained on historical crime data.

If the potential problem with this isn't immediately apparent to you, let me share an example from outside the criminal world - in fact, it's from the hiring world. And this involves a company that's known for its involvement in AI - the company's named for a river or sumfin.

The team had been building computer programs since 2014 to review job applicants’ resumes with the aim of mechanizing the search for top talent...

“Everyone wanted this holy grail,” one of the people said. “They literally wanted it to be an engine where I’m going to give you 100 resumes, it will spit out the top five, and we’ll hire those.”

Sounds great, doesn't it! So what data was used to power that engine?

[The] computer models were trained to vet applicants by observing patterns in resumes submitted to the company over a 10-year period.

So what happens when you use such data to train algorithms? Because the company was based in the Pacific Northwest, presumably the algorithm favored applicants that liked coffee, wore flannel, and didn't have strong suntans. Those issues in and of themselves were not problems. However, the fact that the source data had a lot of successful candidates who were males - something that led the algorithm to prefer candidates who were male - WAS a problem that caused the company to scrap the effort.

The "garbage in, garbage out" issue isn't limited to AI, but it's something that AI needs to address if algorithms are going to work properly. So if you have garbage data, how do you make it ungarbage?

Another part of MIT proposes to solve the AI data bias problem with...AI.

A team from MIT CSAIL is working on a solution, with an algorithm that can automatically “de-bias” data by resampling it to be more balanced.

The algorithm can learn both a specific well as the underlying structure of the training data, which allows it to identify and minimize any hidden biases. In tests the algorithm decreased "categorical bias" by over 60 percent...while simultaneously maintaining the overall precision of these systems.

Now I don't have the scientific smarts to determine if this other MIT group is blowing smoke. And I should mention in passing that I am more concerned about facial recognition rather than face detection, if you get my drift.

But if we truly can develop algorithms that look at a set of data and normalize it, then the science will take a great step forward.

Assuming, of course, that the bias reduction algorithms are not themselves biased...

By Love Krittaya - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Awful, Incompetent, Malfeasant, Terrible-Boss...CEO?

As I write this, portions of the U.S. federal government have been shut down for over a month. And while there are a variety of views regarding the blame for the government shutdown, one fairly popular view places the fault at the feet of the President of the United States.

On Google Plus (note: this link won't work in a few months), Dave Hill describes one of the consequences of this. His post is entitled "The Awful, Incompetent, Malfeasant, Terrible-Boss President."

By Shealah Craighead - White House, Public Domain, Link

The President of the United States is many things, but one huge one is that he is the CEO and, well, President of the biggest organization in the US. A million federal workers work for him. And he is not just letting them down, he is actively screwing them.

Hill then describes the plight of many unpaid essential workers, including employees of the Coast Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and various parts of the Department of Homeland Security.

So, if President Trump has truly let these federal workers down, why is that? One possible reason is Trump's priority on loyalty. In the Trump Organization, he could insist that every employee be personally loyal to him. The federal government hasn't worked that way since the days of President Arthur. Trump can say "you're fired" to the political appointees, such as Jeff Sessions and Jim Mattis, but he can't terminate civil service workers.

The image, depending upon whom you talk to, is of a heroic President battling against millions of agents of the Deep State, or or a buffoon President wrecking a functioning government.

Either way, you have a head of an organization who is battling against his employees - something that would NEVER EVER EVER happen in the corporate world.

Um...think again. And look at the history of one of the most valuable companies in the known universe. Say, around 1980.

That's the year that the company then known as Apple Computer completed its Initial Public Offering. Steve Jobs was Chairman of Apple Computer, but not its Chief Executive Officer (at the time, that position was held by Michael Scott). Because CEOs rather than Chairmen ran Apple at the time, Steve Jobs was bored:

With the initial public offering of Apple Computers in December 1980, Steve Jobs became a multimillionaire – however, he possessed neither enough stock to lead Apple Computers alone nor to determine his own position within Apple. By the beginning of 1981, he actually found himself to be without management responsibility over any specific project.

Now perhaps for some board chairs, this would be fine. Let the professionals run the company, and just provide a bit of guidance. But this didn't sit well with Jobs, and wouldn't sit well with anyone who thought of himself as a (using 21st century terminology) stable genius. So he found something to do.

To Jef Raskin’s discomfort, [Jobs] threw himself into the Macintosh project, which had not been taken really seriously by the Apple board of management at that time.

As a consequence of throwing himself behind the Mac, Jobs not only considered the Apple II as the enemy (despite the fact that the bulk of Apple Computer's revenues would continue to be from the Apple II for years to come), but also considered the Lisa as the enemy. The fact that these were Apple products themselves didn't matter - Jobs would get what he wanted, regardless of how it affected the overall company.

Steve Jobs kind of came bopping by my [Andy Hertzfeld's] cubicle saying OK you’re working on the Mac now. And I said well I have to finish up this Apple 2 stuff I’m doing here. No you don’t that stinks that’s not going to amount to anything you gotta start now. And I said well just give me a few days to finish and he said no and what he did was he pulled the plug on my Apple 2 that I was programming just losing, losing the code I’m working on and start taking my computer and walking away with it and what could I do but follow him out to his car cause he had my machine he plopped it down in the trunk and drove me over to this remote building, took the computer out, walked upstairs, plopped it down on a desk, well you’re working on the Mac now.

Everyone knows how that turned out - the pirate flag, the name-calling of nearly everyone as bozos, the grandiose introduction of a revolutionary product that changed computer history...followed by lackluster sales. After a boardroom struggle between Jobs and his hand-picked CEO John Sculley, Jobs was impeached and convicted - whoops, I mean he was fired and/or resigned, and left Apple to start a new company, cherry-picking a few of Apple's key employees along the way.

Now I'm not the only one to compare the management styles of Steve Jobs and Donald Trump. Take a guy that we all know as Woz.

Asked whether Tesla CEO Elon Musk is similar to Jobs, the Apple co-founder replied: "Having been close to Steve Jobs, and not that close to Elon Musk, I'd say Steve Jobs is more like (President) Trump."

I fear I hear gasps of horror. Was Woz suggesting that he was the Mike Pence of his day?

Woz, however, justified his comparison by saying this of Jobs: "A lot of shocking things you would never hear about, but you would never want your own child to be that way. You'd just be shocked that a human being would do those things."

Some would claim that Woz may still bear a grudge because Jobs cheated him in an early business deal. But that early business deal is reminiscent of something our President would do.

But because this is my blog, I'll give myself the last word. This is something that I wrote two years ago, in January 2017.

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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

When the fine print destroys your image - the Burke Williams surcharge

Burke Williams, using the slogan "beyond the spa," provides massage and other services throughout California. The company's marketing emphasizes a refined, high-class image.

But if you look at the company's FAQs, you'll find something curious.

Why is there a surcharge on my invoice?

Beginning July 1st, 2018, in response to state and local minimum wage increase and to assure that our valued employees continue to receive the compensation and benefits they deserve, a 3% surcharge will be added to all services. 100% of this surcharge goes directly to the compensation of our employees.

Obviously this is a pricing presentation tactic, and in one sense could be compared to other pricing presentation tactics. Gas stations that price in tenths of a cent. Automobile sticker prices that exclude a bunch of things. Companies that charge extra for shipping and handling.

But as Megan Lynch notes, this pricing presentation tactic does not reflect well on Burke Williams' overall message.

You say the “surcharge” is due to minimum wage, but you want to make sure your employees get what they deserve. Which, apparently, is the least amount the law will allow you to pay despite your high prices & tony surrounding.

Think about it. Customers are going to, in Lynch's words, a "tony" place, and probably have above average income themselves - Burke Williams' listed prices (excluding surcharges) for simple massage are around $100 and up, and are higher in San Jose and San Francisco. The company's "transformative journeys" (which sound very Goop-y) are north of $500, and are again higher in San Jose and San Francisco.

Yet the existence of the surcharge suggests that these prices alone are insufficient for the cost of doing business, which (as of July 1, 2018) included wages somewhere between $10.50 per hour and $15 per hour.

Of course, this assumes that Burke Williams classifies its workers as employees and not independent contractors.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Top Ways People Could Prank A Fully Driver-Attended Vehicle

Phoenix New Times ran an article entitled "Top 12 Ways People Could Prank a Fully Driverless Vehicle." While taking great care to explicitly NOT advocate that people do these things (I guess they have lawyers on retainer), Phoenix New Times makes the point that the driverless car algorithms are fairly new, and that if you throw something at them that they don't expect, the algorithms could be fooled to act incorrectly. (Of course, these are examples in which society agrees what the correct activity should be.)

By Grendelkhan - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

So I read the 12 ways, and it hit me that while these could fool driverless cars, many of them could fool driver-attended cars also.


Get in, but not out. Autonomous vehicles at intersections presumably have their doors locked, but when an autonomous taxi is changing passengers, that's an opportunity for an intruder to get inside. Maybe the person is a rude prankster, or maybe just drunk. Maybe the person tries to take over driving operations. What happens next?

This can easily be shown to be something that isn't unique to autonomous vehicles - especially in South Africa.

A Toyota Corolla Quest, belonging to a Pakistan national who was hijacked at Jambila on the R38 between Barberton and Badplaas on Wednesday afternoon, was rediscovered in Johannesburg later that afternoon.

Unfortunately the R27 500 that was stolen from Ridwane Patel (30) has not yet been recovered and the suspects are still at large.

According to Capt Jabu Ndubane, police spokesman, Patel was hijacked by five men on Wednesday at around 10:00.

And Patel didn't have the benefit of a camera in his car and a Waymo employee waiting to assist.

Back to Phoenix New Times.

Getting punked. If no driver or riders are around, who will take the banana out of the tailpipe or help catch a prankster?

And what if a driver is around, and doesn't know what is going on? The car could still stall.

OK, here's another one.

Alter road signs to fool computers, but not humans. University of Washington computer-security researcher Yoshi Kohno showed in 2017 that if you know the algorithms that help the computers in driverless cars process their detection data, the computers can be easily fooled. In a spooky demonstration of the potential weakness in self-driving cars, strips of black-and-white tape on a stop sign caused a lab-based autonomous system to see it as a 45-mph speed-limit sign.

Yes, this is a wonderful, ingenious method that specifically targets the car's algorithms. But there's a lot easier way to do this that will not only fool autonomous cars, but every car.

A vigilante has secretly been protecting parking spaces by creating fake road signs - for a zone that doesn't exist.

Around 18 of the realistic "Zone F" signs have been placed on lampposts in Bath, Somerset.

They are professionally made and put up on lamp posts but the local council has confirmed there is no Zone F.

And if the vigilante doesn't want to park, she could just as easily replace a real stop sign with a fake 45 mph sign and watch the fun begin.

And if you go through the entire list, many of the autonomous tricks could easily be applied to all cars.

Well, except one:

Hack them.

While you can hack computer software, you can't hack an actual driver.

Or can you?

What if the driver is instructed by a bozo instructor?

One spring afternoon, my daughter was scheduled for her second in-car lesson. Just as school let out, the driving instructor pulled up in a bus lane to collect her. He insisted that she get behind the wheel and directed her to proceed through the bus lanes.

Luckily, no one was killed (although the daughter was shaken). But if the girl hadn't been subsequently instructed by someone with a brain (her parent), what could have happened?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Canine Biometric Access to Secure Cloud Infrastructures (Using Gluten-Free Blockchain)

(While many of you are participating in the "Help Facebook Improve Its Facial Recognition Algorithm Age Comparison" challenge, I'm participating in a challenge of my own.)

Canine Biometric Access to Secure Cloud Infrastructures (Using Gluten-Free Blockchain)
John E. Bredehoft[1][2]

Paradigm-shifting, self-actualizing firms are undoubtedly the wave[3] of the future, because they will get bigly[4] press just by being mentioned. Let's face it - you aren't going to get ahead in life by talking[5] about Sears.

I recently received[6] a very important communication from a senior representative of a paradigm-shifting, self-actualizing firm[7]. As I investigated the revolutionary nature of this particular business, I ran across a picture[8] of the staff of said company. Now I don't know if they were employees, or if 90% of them were gig workers who earned non-tradeable credits (rather than cash) for showing up on picture day. But the picture clearly indicates that the firm is like cool and stuff - primarily because two of the staff are holding dogs.

Those who claim that this is merely a picture of tech workers holding dogs are clinging to antiquated views of society which are no longer relevant in the post-Bitcoin world. Outmoded views of canine "ownership" are an antiquated[9] way of thinking that should be consigned to the scrap heap. Obviously these canines are employees of the company, just like people are, and the only reason that they are being held is to comply with ADA[10] regulations.

While I am not in any way whatsoever implying that being a working canine is a disability, that's what the law says, and tech companies obviously must accommodate their canine workers. But how can this be done when businesses abandon password-based authentication for biometric models[11]? While most[12] animals are unable to communicate to enter a password, most modern biometric systems are unable to accommodate horses, canines, or other species. Right?


To prove this, let me quote two excerpts from a REAL academic paper[13]:

The zebra is the most obvious example for an animal with minutiae based markings. The minutiae are easily recognized by human inspection....[T]here is some evidence that the pattern of the Zebra's fur has randotypic parts....

The line structures of the Acanthurus lineatus ... contain a few minutiae which seem to behave different for different fishes.

While the paper focuses on skin patterns, there are other biometric methods in use in the animal kingdom. Facial recognition is actually quite common[14]. Facial recognition is being used for salmon, cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, lions, tigers, birds, elephants, lemurs, whales, cats, ...and dogs[15].

PiP was developed from scratch by 15-year facial recognition technology veteran Daesik Jang, and Rooyakkers claims it’s actually more sophisticated than systems used for humans. “Humans have very standard faces,” he says. “For the most part, we know where the eyes, nose, and mouth should be. With pets, you have a huge variation–anything from the shape of nose to the overall shape of the skull.”

That makes the basic task more difficult, but PiP makes an effort. Using algorithms to classify characteristics and look for patterns, it weights each animal on a scale, and keeps learning as new pets are added by users. Rooyakkers claims a 98% identification accuracy rate during trials.

As anyone who is involved in facial recognition knows, 98% accuracy is not exactly a ringing endorsement.[16] But it's not bad.

However, I have not yet gotten to the meat (sorry vegans) of this paper - specifically, how can canine access be granted using gluten-free blockchain? After all, any solution that does not use gluten-free blockchain[17][18] is by definition oppressive and fascist. The following two references will not answer this important question, but they add a couple of additional references to my paper that should help me achieve my objective - more research funding.

In December 2017, Hacker Noon published a post[19] entitled "Ten years in, nobody has come up with a use for blockchain." But that obviously is fake news, so the very next month Hacker Noon published another post[20] entitled "10+ Uses for Blockchain that will Change the World."

And there you have it. I have successfully written a post with the title "Canine Biometric Access to Secure Cloud Infrastructures (Using Gluten-Free Blockchain)."

I never claimed that the post had to make sense.

Or that GSX 2019 would actually accept this[21] as a presentation[6].

[1] Empoprises, 1 Empire Way Suite 2525, Guasti, CA 91743.
[2] Graduate of California State University, Fullerton, California. Not that they care about this.
[16] The U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology is adversely impacted by the current U.S. federal government shutdown. Or something else is going on.