tymshft

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Archive for the category “business”

Changes in donation collections

The types of folks who read Jim Ulvog’s Nonprofit Update have had to deal with some changes over the years.

Back when Jim (and I) were growing up, nonprofit organizations of all types could depend upon receiving funds from something called “spare change.” Kids would carry UNICEF boxes around. The Girl Scouts could count on you having a little bit of money to buy a box of cookies. And the offering plate could take a coin or a bill or two.

But even back in those days, we had to deal with Karl Malden urging us, “Don’t carry cash!”

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Now the specific product that he was hawking – American Express Travelers Cheques – has (almost) gone the way of the dodo bird, but more and more of us are using the fantastic plastic (or the smartphone) to fund our purchases, and therefore might not have the spare change to give to the Girl Scouts or whoever.

PYMNTS recently talked about a company called DipJar that provides a solution to this. DipJar has been around for a while, though – TechCrunch wrote about it in 2014. While the idea originated as a way to pay tips to workers by deducting a predetermined amount from a credit card, the idea has extended to the nonprofit realm. PYMNTS:

[T]he payment solution has enabled many charities to accept credit cards, including the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, which uses DipJar in both a retail setting to collect money for themselves and to collect money at events, and the Salvation Army, which uses branded DipJars for various campaigns.

The reliance on a single donation amount contributes to ease of use. And while there are other solutions (such as SMS-based solutions) that allow the same thing, some people probably feel more comfortable using a physical card to make the donation.

Betamax and VHS: 1975-?

I have not had occasion to mention Betamax or VHS in tymshft.

Well, actually I have.

In 2012, while writing about the narrowing of generation gaps, I wrote the following:

The much-talked-about blog When Parents Text recently published a post entitled Collectables. In the series of texts, a father offering something for an auction that his son/daughter was holding. The reaction: “Who would buy those?”

No, the father didn’t offer a John Denver 8-track tape.

And no, he didn’t offer a Betamax tape of The Breakfast Club.

And a 2013 post quoted from my Facebook rant (a “get off my wedding lawn, you Glasshole” rant):

When I was married, my big innovation was to ask the organist to play “Now the Green Blade Riseth.” I didn’t ask my bride to be to parade down the aisle accompanied by a Macintosh Plus, or with a VHS camera.

Some of the readers of those posts may not have been aware of what I was referring to in those posts. For those readers, I’ll catch you up – although as you can see, it’s too late. (Almost.)

I was oblivious to Betamax and VHS when they first appeared (I wouldn’t experience them until almost a decade later), so I’ll turn to Andrew Liszewski (NOT to be confused with A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz) to explain the beginning of Betamax and VHS:

[T]he first home video recorder to hit the market back in 1975 was from Sony, and used the company’s Betamax format. Soon after that, JVC released a competing home video recorder that was lighter, cheaper, and used VHS format tapes that could hold a two-hour movie instead of Betamax’s one-hour limit—and that was the key.

The idea of home video recording and playing was revolutionary at the time. Why? Because back in those days, if I wanted to see a movie, I had to walk five miles through the snow in my bare feet to get to a movie theater. Cable movie channels hadn’t really emerged yet, and it was rare when one of the three networks would show a theatrical movie. (You literally had to wait an entire year to see “The Wizard of Oz.”) So the whole idea of having a movie that you could take home and watch whenever you want was revolutionary. (Of course, the idea of just taping shows off the TV was also revolutionary, as the industry would soon discover.)

Betamax did not immediately go away, because it claimed technical superiority to the VHS format. In fact, when I started working at Logic eXtension Resources in 1983, all of the other employees had Betamax players. If I had bought a player at the time, it would have made sense to go Betamax. But I didn’t, and by the time I did, VHS had won the war.

Or the battle. Because eventually DVDs began to emerge, followed by streaming media.

So naturally, Betamax died due to all of the competition.

When? This year. While Sony quit making recorders in 2002, it was still making tapes in 2015, but planned to stop manufacturing tapes in March 2016.

Which leaves VHS.

Um…

Funai, the last remaining manufacturer of the VCR, will cease production of the players by the end of the month, according to Japanese newspaper The Nikkei (via Anime News Network). The company is citing a declining market and increasing difficulty in sourcing parts as the reasons behind the decision.

While Funai might not be a household name in the West, it did sell VCRs in North America, under the Sanyo brand name. With the rise in popularity of streaming services like Netflix, the declining market for VCRs might not come as a surprise, but something else might: how well they were still selling. Funai reportedly sold 750,000 VCRs in 2015.

Interestingly enough, this doesn’t mean that VHS itself is dead. After all, Betamax tapes were manufactured for over a decade after recorder manufacturing ceased.

So it’s quite possible that in 2026 you might walk into a store (a physical place where you can buy stuff) and see VHS tapes for sale.

But when the VHS tapes finally go away, the last free bastion of owning media will have disappeared.

Granted, you couldn’t completely own the prerecorded content on a VHS tape; you couldn’t edit it to your liking, for example. But at least you knew that if you bought a VHS tape in Rancho Cucamonga, California in 1983, it would still play in a player in Sydney, Australia in 2026 (accounting for TV format variations). Starting with DVDs, geographic encoding became the norm, so a DVD purchased in North America may not play in Europe. And of course with streaming media, sometimes the stream is shut off and you can’t enjoy it any more.

Kinda like seeing “The Wizard of Oz” only once a year.

Are bike-share stations the future…or the past?

If you’ve been in urban areas throughout the world, you might have noticed a bicycle rack with a bunch of bikes, and a credit card reader. These “bike-share” points allow passersby to use a bike for a few hours, and then return the bike to that station – or perhaps to another station managed by the same organization.

While I first noticed this in the French suburban town of Cergy, you can also find them in the United States, as the U.S. Department of Transportation notes:

Last year, the National Association of City Transportation Officials released a study revealing that since 2010, bike-share systems have been introduced in over 30 U.S. cities and riders have taken over 36 million bike share trips. These bike-share stations are a critical link for commuters. Some 2,291 stations are located within one block of a scheduled public transportation mode such as intercity bus stations, ferry terminals and passenger rail stations. This means that these stations are providing connections that extend the reach of our nation’s transportation network and simultaneously making scheduled public transit much easier to access.

The Department says that this is “previewing the future of transportation.”

Or is it?

While the bike-share stations are, at times, run by entities separate from the mass transit organizations mentioned by the Department of Transportation, they presently require coordination with the mass transit agencies. If you are in Anytown, USA and want to set up a bike-share station, you and/or the owner of the land on which the station will reside have to go to the Anytown Planning Commission, request a permit, assess the impact of the report, and coordinate with all affected entities. It can get involved:

The process for selecting a Capital Bikeshare station location is comprehensive and can take a couple of months to a couple of years, depending upon community support, property ownership, and whether constructing a concrete pad is needed. Arlington’s approval process includes:

•Identifying funding for the proposed station’s capital and operating expenses.
•Selecting a location which meets a list of siting criteria, as well as staff review and public input.
•Developing a station plan.
•Researching property ownership and obtaining a permit if on private property. The site could be owned by Arlington County, the State of Virginia, or a private entity. Each scenario requires a different permitting process.
•Fabrication and delivery of bikes and stations. Equipment is typically delivered within 4 months after ordering.
•Installation of stations and bikes.

But wait – there’s more:

Criteria for station locations include:
•4+ hours of direct sunlight daily;
•at least 11’ x 42’ of space;
•between 2 – 5 blocks (500′ – 1,250′) from the nearest station;
•if on a sidewalk, minimum pedestrian clearance of 6’ is needed;
•if on-street, preference for being adjacent or near a bike lane;
•would not block utility access, such as a manhole cover; and
•would not create a dangerous situation for street users.

Now try telling this to some of the denizens of Silicon Valley. You know, the kind that believed that government shutdowns are good things because government is an unnecessary evil and we can just let Amazon and Apple and Google and Microsoft run things and everyone will be happy.

These types are presumably applauding those people who don’t want for the guvmint.

In 2013 it seemed like a citywide bike share was moving forward. Then, somehow, it fell apart. Now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking to create a countywide bike share. The plan calls for finding an operator and starting with a pilot program centered in Downtown Los Angeles in 2016, and for the Central City to get 65 stations and 1,000 shared bikes. We’ll remain hopeful that things roll forward.

Fortunately, some in the private sector are doing more than hoping and waiting. They are digging into their pockets, buying bicycles, helmets and locks, and creating private bike sharing systems for their residential or office tenants. So far the operators of at least two housing complexes and one office building in Downtown have taken the step. Ideally, others will recognize the worth of such an effort and follow suit.

The idea is attractive. If a building owner wants to share bikes, but only has 10′ x 41′ of space rather than 11′ x 42′ of space – the business owner can share bikes anyway. And the world will not fall apart.

Why is Narrative Science SPEAKING at a conference?

I was reading an article recently, and something struck me as a bit odd. See if you can spot it.

Honeywell International Inc. boosted its position in shares of TE Connectivity Ltd (NYSE:TEL) by 0.0% during the fourth quarter, according to its most recent disclosure with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The fund owned 278,900 shares of the company’s stock after buying an additional 100 shares during the period.

What journalist would go through the trouble of explicitly writing that an investor increased his or her stake by precisely 0.0%?

An automated one.

Now I have no idea whether American Banking and Market News is using Narrative Science, but it’s obviously possible. And despite the little oddity that I mentioned, the article is informative and mostly well written. Probably better than I could write. Strike that – definitely better than I could write. (Yes, James Macpherson, you were correct.)

This reminded me that I hadn’t peeked at Narrative Science in a while, not since the CIA’s investment arm increased its stake in Narrative Science by an amount greater than 0.0%. So I looked for the latest news on the company – and found this.

Narrative Science, the leader in advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) for the enterprise, today announced two speaking presentations at the Gartner Business Intelligence & Analytics Summit 2016 taking place on March 13th – 16th, 2016 in Grapevine, TX.

This news excited me, because if any industry could use automation, it’s the public speaking industry. Heck, if you could automate Larry Ellison’s “Next slide, please” statements, you could make a fortune. In my mind, I could picture Narrative Science’s informative, yet computer generated, keynote:

Hello, this is Narrative Science speaking through voice automation. Narrative Science would like to thank Gartner for the invitation to speak, and I would like to extend my greetings to the 2,127 registered attendees at this Summit, and especially to the 1,306 people who are in the room at this very moment. Based upon the survey results that Gartner has already received, I will tailor my speech to the needs of the audience. So at this point I would like to address the hotel staff – the rooms are too cold! I will pause for audience laughter now.

Imaging the possibilities after the data is mined and interpreted, and the “speaker” tailors a presentation for the specific needs of the audience.

Sadly, we are not there yet. As I continued to read the press release, I found this.

During this interactive session, Narrative Science COO Nick Beil will demonstrate Narratives for Qlik to show how the extension accelerates time to understanding and drives intelligence by delivering dynamic narratives that explain the insights within a visualization. Josh Parenteau, Gartner Research Director of Business Intelligence, will lead the discussion and host Q&A at the end of the session.

It appears that Narrative Science will use real people to fill the speaking slots.

How inefficient!

I will be wrong (I think), but no one will notice

I derive a perverse glee from identifying instances in which I was wrong – for example, my prediction at the beginning of the football season that if any team in the NFC East did well, it would be the New York Giants. As it turns out, my Washington (team name that cannot be mentioned in polite company redacted) came out on top in the NFC East…for what that’s worth.

Over the last few years, I have felt that as jobs disappear during the current technological change, new jobs will appear. As I noted in a recent post, not everyone shares this view.

If I am wrong and Tad Donaghe is right, future generations will work less and will therefore have more idle time…

Well, Donaghe isn’t the only one that believes that many jobs will be lost. In fact, Rob Atkinson paints a rather dire future for those who want to work:

In fact, these new technologies are so awesome and amazing that they won’t replace most jobs; they will replace all jobs, save one. That job will be held by Zhang Wei, who is now a 15-year-old boy studying computer science at his local high school in Nanjing, China. He will invent the best artificial intelligence system ever and then run the company that puts all other companies out of business.

However, not all will go well for Zhang Wei:

“Well, on the one hand, it will be really cool having an annual income of 150 quadrillion yuan, but it will really suck that I will have to be the one person on the planet who is working when all my friends are out drinking.”

But after that…well, you have to read Atkinson’s article. And yes, it’s satirical. I think.

Incidentally, regarding that prior post of mine in which I talked about essentials not changing, Jim Ulvog has contributed another example: “Compare a successful siege by the Roman Empire to a nuclear war.”

Do the essentials change?

As I write this, I am in the process of listening to a Kim Komando podcast that asks what life will be like in 2050 – about 35 years from now. She started the podcast by asking what life was like about 35 years ago, or approximately 1980-1982. Inasmuch as Komando talks about tech, she concentrates on the tech things – for example, comparing the processing power of today’s smartphone to the processing power of the first IBM Personal Computer.

If you look at the business world, you can see all sorts of evidence of change also. The large companies of the Ronald Reagan area all sold things that you could touch. Today, while many businesses still sell physical things, there are large profitable businesses and business segments devoted to things that you can’t touch – not only virtual websites such as Facebook or virtual products such as today’s music, but the ever-growing services sector.

Or perhaps you can look at society itself. Maybe Ronald and Nancy Reagan were friends with Rock Hudson, but they wouldn’t publicly discuss his deep dark secret. And if you didn’t know what the popular song “In The Navy” was really about, you wouldn’t ask; and if you did know, you wouldn’t tell.

Futurists often concentrate on this kind of stuff.

But what about the essentials?

Compare the lives of a soldier under Obama, a soldier under Reagan, and a soldier under Julius Caesar. They all had to wake up in the morning. They all had to put clothes on. They all had to eat something. And they all had to face situations in which they might die. Death by a stealth bomber or a spear? As a former Secretary of State once said, it doesn’t matter.

Similarly, take the Komando comparison of a smartphone and an IBM PC – or Roman parchment. Now I will grant that my smartphone provides me with access to all sorts of information, and my computer keyboard is probably a faster input device than a quill, but the quality of my thought is not exponentially better than the thought of an educated Roman.

Now some advances over time DO have a significant impact on our lives. Improved health and the resulting longevity will certainly change the quality of my golden (diamond?) years to some extent. If I am wrong and Tad Donaghe is right, future generations will work less and will therefore have more idle time – and even now, I have more idle time than a coalworker of the 19th century or a farmer of the 17th century. And perhaps an argument can be made that our trajectory from printed books to Vine videos has served to shorten our attention spans.

But the speed of the processing chip in my smartphone is relatively meaningless.

The anonymity of the crowd – a new concept

In my day job, I spend a considerable amount of time monitoring public reaction to the use of biometric technologies. One subset of that is the reaction to the use of facial recognition in retail environments.

This Consumer Reports article provides an excellent introduction to the issues involved. I could say all sorts of things about the statements in the article – after all, this is my day job – but I will concentrate on one topic that would be interesting to the tymshft reader.

One can legitimately ask – what’s the difference between a bouncer staring out onto the street to look for known troublemakers, and a facial recognition camera doing the same thing? Some argue that there is a huge difference, because the camera and the software can do things that no mere human can do.

Here’s how the Consumer Reports article explained the power of the camera:

More importantly, facial recognition has the potential to erode the anonymity of the crowd, the specific type of privacy you experience when you stride through a public space, near home or on vacation, and refreshingly, no one knows your name. Marketers already can see every article we read online; do we need to let them record every shop window we gaze through?

The anonymity of the crowd. The freedom to walk through a city without having your every move be tracked. A freedom that has existed since the dawn of time.

Not.

During the Industrial Revolution, many people migrated to cities, and cities became larger and larger. The people who left villages where everyone knew their name found themselves in cities with tens of thousands of people or more – places where they truly could be anonymous. (As an aside, these new cities had to deal with crimes committed by unknown people, which caused a few people to develop ways to identify criminals by their physical characteristics – the ancestors to our facial recognition systems of today.)

But back in their home towns, there was no such anonymity. If Nigel was peering in a shopkeeper’s window, all of the neighbors knew about it. Even today, there are small towns in industrialized nations where everybody knows your name, and the concept of anonymity in the crowd simply does not exist.

Of course, society is always evolving, and perhaps the anonymity of the crowd is a good thing. But we have to remember that this is a relatively recent development.

Hack your chopsticks? Yes.

While the Wuzhen Internet Conference in the Shanghai area has attracted attention because of China’s different definition of Internet freedom, there are other things going on.

For example, one session discussed our increasing vulnerability to hacking. As more everyday things, such as cars and pacemakers, get connected to the Internet, the chance of our devices becoming subject to attack increases.

And there are a lot of everyday things that are becoming connected, as Bruce McConnell of the EastWest Institute noted.

Driverless vehicles, smart grid, smart cities, smart chopsticks that can detect food contamination, everything will be impacted.

Uh, what? Smart chopsticks?

Yup – this technology was introduced over a year ago by Baidu.

The sensor-attached chopsticks, known as kuaisou in Chinese, have the ability to detect the sanitary level of your food, the report said. The chopsticks’ sensors are linked to a smartphone or desktop app that shows whether the food’s contamination level is low or high. It will also be able to show the food’s temperature and calories in the future…

So the next time that your fork says that the food is cool and poisonless and you burn your tongue and keel over, blame hKr d00dZ.

In the year 2025, what will a robot do with $2,500?

I write about robots so much that I would write a song about them, except that someone beat me to it.

One theme in this blog is the question of how technical innovation will affect society. There are some that assert that this round of innovation is so dramatic that we will be left with significant underemployment.

I disagree with this view, and have previously noted that as today’s industries are eliminated, new ones will pop up and employ everyone.

Someone else who shares this view is Robert D. Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

I am willing to challenge the doomsayers. We say robots will boost productivity, lower prices, and increase wages. In so doing, they will increase demand throughout the economy, which will spur growth and, yes, create jobs.

Admittedly, Atkinson does have some self interest in making that assertion.

It would be economically disastrous, however, for policymakers to give into Luddite urges to throttle back on robotics, artificial intelligence, or other fields of potentially disruptive technology by redirecting federal research funds, imposing taxes, regulatory barriers, or any other means of staving off change to preserve the status quo for workers. We must recognize that technology innovation and productivity hold the keys, not to our undoing, but to higher living standards and a better quality of life.

Granting that, however, Atkinson is certain that the doomsday view of massive future underemployment is incorrect. And he is willing to put down cold, hard cash:

We will give $2,500 to the first techno-doomsayer who accepts our challenge and can show that in 10 years, despite continued advances in automation, the US unemployment rate has become jarringly different than it is today.

For the purpose of this challenge, let me be specific about the economic terms: ITIF is certain that in the fourth quarter of 2025, the US unemployment rate, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, will continue to be lower than 8 percent (which is to say one-tenth of what some alarmists have been predicting). The only caveat in this prediction is that if the country happens to be in a cyclical recession, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research, then the reference quarter will be the first quarter before the beginning of that particular recession.

So if you believe that the United States will have, say, 25 percent unemployment in 2025, contact Atkinson, and if you’re right, you may get TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS! (And if you say that in a Robin Leach voice, it’s even more impressive.)

But before you plunk your money down, think about this – what will $2,500 buy in 2025? If historical trends continue and inflation stays at around 1.5% per year, then perhaps we’re looking at $2,150 or so in today’s money. But if the apocalypse is truly on us and Obama or Sanders or Trump or whoever (take your pick) runs the economy into the ground, then that $2,500 may be enough to buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks – or Beatrice.

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.

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