There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

O Marlboroman

One of my first blog posts was a Laurie Anderson parody. An excerpt:

(telephone dialing)
VOICE (spoken) Bloody hell, who is this?
ANDERSON (spoken) Hello. This is Laurie.
VOICE (spoken) It’s three a m.
ANDERSON (spoken) It is earlier here. We have a different time.

This is obviously a parody of Anderson’s spoken word efforts, such as “O Superman.” But while listening to that song one day, I was struck by the dated nature of portions of the lyrics:

Here come the planes.
They’re American planes. Made in America.
Smoking or non-smoking?

Remember that the record was released in 1981. While the reference the “the planes” may have been inspired by the hostage rescue mission, the “smoking or non-smoking” line was inspired by something entirely different – a 1973 decision by the Civil Aeronautics Board to designate separate portions of airplanes as smoking or non-smoking. Contemporary fliers were not impressed:

As one critic of the policy put it: “A smoking section on an airplane is like having a peeing section in a swimming pool.”

By November 21, 1989, President George Bush (as we knew him then) officially banned smoking on domestic flights less than six hours in length. (Going to Honolulu? Light up.) By 2000, his successor President Clinton (as we knew him then) officially banned smoking on any flight entering or leaving the United States.

Then 9/11 happened, and performance artist Laurie Anderson was performing in Chicago that evening. Anderson lived in New York – I know this shocks you – and as she heard reports from home (and some dude named Lou Reed), she said nothing to the people attending her show that evening.

No, I take that back. Anderson is a spoken word artist; she’s always speaking.

The crowd was dead silent throughout [the concert], but when Anderson began “O Superman” you could hear the room shift as the already menacing song took on new layers of eerily contemporary meaning. “Hello? Is anybody home? Well, you don’t know me, but I know you. And I’ve got a message to give to you. Here come the planes. So you better get ready.” The lyrics chimed out like an answering machine message sent to the future, picked up several decades too late.

Smoking or non-smoking?

P.S. If you want to see a completely different perspective on the evolution of airplanes over the last forty years, read Jim Ulvog’s post.

Can robots issue citations? More importantly, can people issue citations?

Let’s start with the big disclosure – this post discusses red light camera systems, and the parent company (Morpho) of my employer (MorphoTrak) sells such systems. Therefore, I have a financial incentive to make sure that every city in the country has red light cameras at every intersection.

But let’s start with an even bigger disclosure – as the linked article notes, the city of Montclair, California used to have a red light camera system (not from Morpho). Back when this system was operational, it cited me for a red light violation. Therefore, I have a financial incentive to make sure that no city in the country has red light cameras at any intersection.

And let me also add that these opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any present or past employer or association with which I have been…um, associated.

Done with the disclosures. Now let’s move forward by moving back to my previous post about automated procurement. Within that post, I went off on a little tangent about self-driving cars.

Initial reactions to the idea [of self-driving cars] were – well, they were emotional. “You’re going to let an uncontrolled car just drive around on the streets where it may hit somebody?” Yet people began to reconsider this when they realized just how bad human drivers are, and how good the self-driving cars perform.

But in the same way that a self-driving car is an automated replacement for a human driver, a red light camera system is an automated replacement for a human police officer or traffic officer. In essence, the systems are programmed to track the locations of the automobiles and compare them against the status of the traffic light. In the case of my citation, I was provided with a set of pictures that showed that the light was red when my car entered the intersection.

Generally, such a system is programmed in the simplest way possible. Was the car violating traffic law, or was it in compliance with traffic law? Shades of gray are usually not programmed into the system.

Which brings us to San Mateo, California and what The Newspaper had to say about San Mateo’s contract with Redflex. The people who write The Newspaper do not like red light cameras – The Newspaper consistently publishes posts about people who vandalize red light cameras and speed cameras. But if The Newspaper doesn’t like red light cameras in general, it REALLY doesn’t like Redflex, for reasons that are obvious to anyone who tracks the red light camera industry in the United States. (Since the parent of my employer is a competitor of Redflex, I’ll just leave it at that.)

But if you boil away these impassioned feelings, and some of the issues surrounding traffic enforcement, there’s a really interesting issue buried within the arguments.

Last year, Redflex issued 4462 tickets worth $2.4 million. Sixty-three percent of these tickets went to drivers who made slow, rolling right hand turns.

Now opponents to red light cameras will look at this and say that advocates keep on talking about how traffic accidents result in death and dismemberment…and in actually, the majority of things caught by red light cameras involve right hand turns without stopping?

(ANOTHER DISCLOSURE: when I first moved to California, I was pulled over by Upland Police one night. The police officer said that I had made a “California stop.” He saw my puzzled expression, and explained that a “California stop” is one in which the car is supposed to stop, but doesn’t stop completely. That human police officer DIDN’T give me a ticket that time.)

Back to San Mateo. One member of the City Council was not bothered at all by the rolling right hand turn infractions.

Councilman David Lim was vocal in his support for each and every one of those citations.

“One area that I’m not convinced is this whole notion that we should not be enforcing these California roll stops,” Lim said. “You know, I’m not here to debate… It’s not worth it. All the emails I’ve received about ‘Woe is us, we’re more important than the law. We should be able to make slower stops and not be punished for it…’ I feel so strongly about this that I had to put that on the record.”

In essence, Lim is saying the following: the law states that this particular action is a traffic violation. It is not up to me, or to an individual driver, to say whether this is truly a violation. If it’s against the law, then the law should be enforced. Therefore, the automated red light system is working properly.

Going back to the previous post, opponents of red light cameras would claim that automation lacks an emotional element. A human police officer would never stop someone for something that silly.

Actually, some police officers wouldn’t make the stop, while others would. And some imperfect police officers would use all sorts of emotional criteria to decide whether this is truly a violation or not. Maybe the driver is a really pretty woman. Maybe the driver is the son of the mayor.

Some police officers enforce the law no matter what. Some of you may have known the late Jim Conley of the Anaheim Police Department. Jim let everyone know that if you were cited for something, and if you said that you know Jim Conley…you’d still be cited for that violation.

An automated system usually employs a boolean system – traffic violation, or no traffic violation. Human beings are more complex, and their decisions have a non-boolean outcome – traffic violation, no traffic violation, or “well, but….”

One of the complaints about red light traffic systems is that they appear to be mainly revenue generators. Perhaps human traffic enforcement, which is more inclined to let people off the hook – the California newbie who doesn’t know what a “California stop” is, the pretty flirtatious woman, the person who is the son of the mayor – isn’t generating ENOUGH revenue.

Can robots close? It depends on whether they’re selling to robots.

I like a challenge.

I am a subscriber to Sales & Marketing Management, and noticed an interesting article recently. The title? “Robots Can’t Close.” The piece is an interview with Geoff Colvin, who has written the book Humans are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will. While Colvin acknowledges that technology has made great strides, he believes that certain tasks will still require human interaction.

Where the relational element is predominant – where it’s a really complex sale, and it may take years to sell a product or service that may last for years – the people who can do that kind of selling are only going to get more valuable. It’s all about human-to-human interaction. Everybody who has been in the world of sales knows that when a company is buying a power [turbine] for $10 million or buying computer servers, a human being in that company is responsible for that purchase and we all know that with something that big, there is an emotional element in the making of that decision. They need someone to talk to to help them with it. That’s not going to go away.

Or will it?

Today, some purchases can be made by routine or automated means – General Services Administration (GSA) schedules, Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) bids, and other things that lend themselves to easy decision-making. Others require that “relational element.” In my employer’s industry, most biometric identification systems are purchased through a relational process that can take years, and often requires final approval by a government agency’s legislative body, such as a County Board of Supervisors.

But even in my industry, there has been at least one exception. I know of one buyer who bought a national biometric identification system via a reverse auction, which can be considered LPTA on steroids. Certain vendors were deemed to be technically acceptable, and the vendors competed against each other to see who could cut their price the most. While the determination of technical acceptability was made by humans in this case, it is possible to envision a case in which even this could be automated.

But what will happen in the future? Is it possible that more and more procurements will become routine – and automated?

For that to happen, the “emotional element” that Colvin mentions would have to be eliminated, and everyone would need to be convinced that automated systems – the robots – are better able to make purchasing decisions than people.

We’re seeing the first glimmers of this in the self-driving car industry. Initial reactions to the idea were – well, they were emotional. “You’re going to let an uncontrolled car just drive around on the streets where it may hit somebody?” Yet people began to reconsider this when they realized just how bad human drivers are, and how good the self-driving cars perform. (Of course, we are now getting to thornier issues – if I am in a car, and the car’s software has to decide whether to save my life by plowing into a crowd of people, or save the crowd of people by doing something that will kill me – what should the car do?)

Perhaps a day will come when automated procurement scoring systems are proven to result in better procurements than an overworked human procurement officer. If that happens, then perhaps the emotional element will be reduced, allowing more procurements to proceed without the need for a human “closer.”

Yet even then, there’s one thing that may derail any such effort.

Human politicians can receive campaign contributions. Robots cannot.

And it’s STILL hard to get to Jerusalem (a history of passports)

In my day job, I spend a lot of time thinking about passports and visas, especially those that have embedded chips with the document holder’s biometrics – unless the passport was stolen from someone else, in which case the chip WOULDN’T have the document holder’s biometrics.

However, the original purpose of the passport wasn’t to see if you were Osama Bin Laden. He hadn’t been born at the time of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 2:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

7 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah…”

This early occurrence emphasizes the main reason for a passport – to protect you when you leave your own country and go to another one.

Now King Artaxerxes didn’t willy-nilly hand out passports to everyone. Most people didn’t travel much, and many of those that did weren’t going to get a passport from the king. (Nehemiah had special access.) So the passport didn’t really take off until a couple of thousand years later.

Not until the reign of King Louis XIV of France did these “letters of request” become popular. The King granted personally signed documents to his court favourites….Within 100 years of Louis XIV’s reign, almost every country in Europe had set up a system to issue passports.

However, by the 19th century, people’s stay-at-home tendencies declined dramatically as rail travel made it easy to travel throughout Europe. So why even bother with passports? Similar sentiments appeared in the United States; passports were required for a brief period in 1861-1862, but then were no longer required.

Then World War I happened. This was a big war that was more terrifying than anything that had occurred previously. (This explains the peace movement of the 1920s; no one ever wanted to go through THAT again – and they didn’t, for about two decades.) Previous wars weren’t so dramatic; during the Napoleonic Wars, England continued to issue its passports in the diplomatic language of French, despite the fact that they were fighting the French at the time. By the middle of World War I, numerous countries, including the United States, set up passport requirements really quickly. The U.S. dropped the passport requirement in 1921, since the “war to end all wars” had already happened. When the next war started in 1941, we re-established the passport requirement, only to drop it again in 1945. By 1952, we required passports for almost every country, and now (since 2009) require it when Americans travel in ANY foreign country.

9/11 obviously affected passports and international travel, introducing the “No Fly List.” But a similar list occurred during the reign of Oliver Cromwell:

[Cromwell] developed an early prototype of the No Fly List by decreeing that no pass be issued to citizens until they promised they would not ‘be aiding, assisting, advising or counselling against the Commonwealth’. The No Sail List lapsed under Charles II…

This emphasizes a secondary function of passports – to keep people from leaving the country. (This is why rich people who are arrested have to surrender their passport before trial.) Yet the original purpose, to protect someone in a foreign country, was still important.

[P]assports were often obtained by U.S. citizens, whether newly naturalized or not, to protect themselves from being detained in other countries or (if naturalized) from their own mother countries. Some European countries were known to draft immigrants visiting their homeland into the military. A passport was used to prove citizenship and protect the traveler.

Big Data on the Farm

If anyone refuses to believe that farming has changed over the last 100 years, Bernard Marr discusses farming in the context of Big Data as a Service (BDaaS).

Another is agricultural manufacturers John Deere, which fits all of its tractors with sensors that stream data about the machinery as well as soil and crop conditions to the MyJohnDeere.com and Farmsight services. Farmers can subscribe to access analytical intelligence on everything from when to order spare parts to where to plant crops.

This is how farmers, or agricultural engineers, or whatever talk today.

Turn your data into information you can use with Operations Center. You can see agronomic data from your machine in near real-time, including average yield, total yield, average moisture, seeding variety and rates, and more. The Field Analyzer tool lets you compare these layers side by side. And you can easily share planting and yield data with trusted advisors and receive variable rate prescriptions from those advisors.

And yes, the “as a Service” trend will die down in a few years, but we will continue to see the use of computer sciences and other sciences (remember the GMO people) in agriculture. After all, agriculture has been spurring technology advances for a while – ever since 1862, “when Congress passed legislation to establish a national network of colleges devoted to agriculture and mechanics. These are known as the ‘land grant’ system because each state received an allotment of federal land to pay for its new school.” Yes, I know that we were in the midst of a Civil War at that time, but everyone realized that Northerners and Southerners alike would have to go home to the fields afterwards.

Campaign fundraising outsourcing

In the old days, politicians handled their own fundraising directly, or asked a trusted insider to do it for them. For example, John Kennedy had his father take care of fundraising. But these days, fundraising – like just about anything else – can be outsourced. According to Forbes, one of the emerging companies in this space is Stripe.

[B]y using Stripe, campaigns can avoid hiring employees to handle payments and donations. [Hillary] Clinton’s donations webpage, featuring a simple sign-up flow that promises security and the ability to set up recurring contributions, is powered by Stripe, which will process the gift, store credit card information and disburse the appropriate funds to the campaign.

The processing presumably includes compliance with all Federal and state campaign finance laws. For this service, Stripe gets a cut of up to 2.9% of the total dollars raised, which seems reasonable.

But Clinton isn’t the only person using Stripe. People from both sides of the aisle, ranging from Bernie Sanders to Mike Huckabee, are using the service. And some candidates are using more than one service.

[Rand] Paul paid $102,371 to Stripe for donations processing last quarter, compared to the $34,396 he disbursed to PayPal for similar services.

Stripe (like Paypal) is not just used for political donations; it can be used for any financial transaction. Interestingly enough, Stripe can accept Bitcoin payments. I’m not sure how the campaign finance regulators react to that, however.

The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, 1859 – 2015?

Back in 2008, I wrote a post that noted that while the Krogers and Safeways of the world were complaining that Walmart was putting them out of business, the Krogers and Safeways themselves had done their best to put even older companies out of business. After all, you can’t have a supermarket unless there was a market before that.

And one of the oldest of those markets, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, may be about to close its doors.

Back when A&P started, it only stocked tea and similar items, and only fulfilled purchased via mail order. In other words, it was a 19th century Amazon.

Eventually A&P not only began letting people actually come to its facilities, but actually let them wander up and down the aisles and select products themselves. As a result, A&P got big. Very big.

How big? Almost as big as General Motors. Courthouse News Service tells us that A&P was judged to be too big.

By the early 1950s the company’s dominance prompted federal regulators to step in and breakup what they feared was fast becoming a monopoly.

So A&P wasn’t quite as big, but it was still a going concern. When I was growing up in Virginia in the 1970s, I remember a small A&P store that was near my house. It was a small store – only four aisles – and nowhere near the size of the Safeway and the Giant Food down the street.

However, its old-timey size wasn’t the thing that doomed A&P. It was good old acquisition.

Although changing tastes and the market entrance of new competitors like Whole Foods proved challenging to A&P, most analysts say it was the company’s 2007 purchase of the Pathmark chain, right before the global economic crisis, that doomed it.

Since 2007, A&P has filed for bankruptcy twice. In its latest filing, the company states that if it is unable to sell 120 of its 300 stores to three competitors, it will be forced to liquidate.

Maybe it can return to its mail order roots and sell tea via Amazon.

My thoughts on .@tad ‘s thoughts on Microsoft, augmented reality, and virtual reality

Tad Donaghe has posted at Medium again. I’m going to skip over his thoughts on Windows Phone (although I actually owned a Windows phone many years ago) and concentrate on his views about Microsoft’s future endeavors. As Donaghe sees it, Microsoft now has an opportunity to devote additional resources to something else.

Here’s why: Microsoft’s Hololens Augmented Reality offering. By 2020 the Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) markets are predicted to be worth more than $150B. I suspect that by 2025 they will dwarf the current mobile market. So, if Microsoft can grab a significant share of the AR and/or VR market, they will be very well positioned to reap huge financial rewards.

I haven’t really looked at this market other than peeking at Kinect a little bit, so I’ll rely on Donaghe’s assertion that while Hololens may not be as advanced as the competing Magic Leap technology, Microsoft has at least exhibited Hololens to people.

And what if Microsoft gets Hololens to market? We all know the story about Microsoft products – version 1.0 often isn’t that good. But in some (not all) cases, Microsoft perseveres and releases version 2.0 and version 3.0, and ends up dominating the market for many years to come. Look at Netscape vs. Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer will be replaced by a new browser in Windows 10, nearly two decades after IE was originally launched. Netscape itself is long gone.

Today’s music is less weighty than the music of yesterday

Several years ago, I documented a conversation that you won’t find anywhere else (hint, hint) – namely, the conversation that launched the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (or so I claim).




Are you gonna eat five pizzas again?


What, like Cooperstown?


And the Stones?



Of course, those founders were all cool when the initial few rounds of nominees came into the Hall, but when they had to start considering people like the Sex Pistols and Nirvana, that was totally uncool, because, you know, the artists of the 1960s mattered, man. Like, they dealt with weighty issues and stuff.

And if you don’t believe that the old music was weighty, consider this report from NBC San Diego (h/t Rolling Stone and Astralwerks Records):

Too many vinyl records stored on the second floor of a San Diego building caused a collapse that damaged a popular thrift store.

Thrift Trader in the city’s Hillcrest neighborhood suffered significant damage when the second floor collapsed overnight.

Let’s face it – records have given way to cassettes, then to CDs, and now to entirely digital music.

So when an old hippie tells you that his music was heavy, he means it.

Text-to-911 advances

I recently read a story about the rollout of text-to-911 services in New Jersey. Rather than requiring someone to make a voice call, the person can send a text message to 911.

This has its advantages – for example, in situations where “people … fear being overheard when contacting 911,” the ability to quietly send a text is a plus. In addition, younger people who are used to texting in general may prefer this method.

It also has disadvantages. When two-way communication between the caller and the dispatcher is required, it’s much faster to do it by voice rather than by text.

Toward the end of the article, the following statement was included:

A representative of the state Office of Emergency Telecommunications Services did not return a call seeking comment.

Should have sent a text!

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