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Supply, Demand, and a Polite Belch

June 26, 2014

The WSJ has a disturbing report today.  Beer prices are at risk of going up.  Well, really hop prices, but it’s going to lead to a rise in beer prices.  I won’t panic, well, not much.

The article is currently locked online, so I won’t quote heavily here.  But I’m obviously not shocked.  I live in an area of about 200,000 people, and the hop fest last weekend had 18 breweries of various sizes pouring beer.  We affectionately call our area, “beervana.”  While that skews my take on the market, I do see that it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere these days and not find a local brew in the stores.  Even if the sizes are small, the mass of new brewers is pushing the limits of supply and demand for hops and grains, and this is likely to raise prices on both component and final price.

This is probably a good thing, at some level.  It’s going to push the industry to look for new, and better, supply options over time, and it’s all being done without government regulation of components.  At least for now.  While BATFE definitely crawls all over the back side of the beer and alcohol process, it has not done a lot of  stomping on the actual creation side, other than some definition work.

But it will push prices up in the short and likely long term.  I’ve been taken aback by the recent increase in prices for both craft and regular beers, and this is likely to only push up farther.  Oddly enough, it’s pushed me to go more often for an inexpensive wine for the evening over a nice beer, and that might server to push prices in different directions over time.

And all of this is happening because people make choices based on their wallets, both in the end consumption, and also in the creation of products.  I think that’s awesome.

So when the congressional hearings start, don’t expect me to be happy…

Glass Travel, Stones, and Updated Adages

June 23, 2014

I travel pretty extensively for work.  I do it in part because it’s necessary, and in part because I live nearly four hours away from my office.  I mostly monitor my commutes because I’m conscious of how much travel wears on my body and my household.  I don’t begrudge or demean anyone for having to travel for work, and I wonder what in the world some environmentalists (including people in my own company who travel and feel guilty about it) are thinking.

So when a leading environmentalist gets busted for talking out of one side of the mouth… hey, grab the popcorn!

A Greenpeace senior executive commutes to work by plane despite the organisation’s anti-air travel campaign, it emerged yesterday.

Pascal Husting, Greenpeace International’s programme director, has been flying 250 miles between Luxembourg and Amsterdam at the charity’s expense since 2012.

Each trip costs Greenpeace £200 and would generate 142kg of carbon dioxide emissions, according to airline KLM.

This doesn’t seem to me to be like a problem.  An executive has to travel to maintain the team integrity.  I did that almost every week for two years not that long ago.  The funnier part is that Greenpeace has been kvetching about travel by airplane for quite a while, and therefore the guy has to twist himself into a pretzel to explain that it’s not really HIS problem, but EVERYONE ELSE’S problem.

But Mr Husting defended the arrangement and said he would rather not take the journey but it was necessary because the alternative is a twelve hour round trip by train.

He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘I spend half my life on Skype and video conference calls.

‘But as a senior manager, the people who work in my team sometimes need to meet me in the flesh, that’s why I’ve been going to Amsterdam twice a month while my team was being restructured.’

He said that from September he would switch to making the trip once a month by train due to ‘the work of restructuring my team coming to an end, and with my kids a little older’.

Mr Husting’s travel arrangements were revealed just days after Greenpeace was forced to apologise for losing £3million of public donations in an unauthorised currency dealing.

Do you like that last paragraph I threw in for fun?  So the organization can’t handle its money, and its executives are double-dealing weasels, but everything is just fine with the organization.  Even his boss tried to explain it away.  He’s a valuable employee with special circumstances, so the compromise has to be made.  That’s great.  In any business, I think those types of decisions are made every day.  It’s just funny watching this organization whine about every other company making decisions like this when they make the same ones themselves.

So, go ahead, guys.  Feel free to hop on that plane to do your business.  Just lay off me doing the same, thanks.

Getting Lucky With Customers?

June 20, 2014

About time, but not for the reasons most people think:

Pressure from US lawmakers has convinced Microsoft and Google to add a kill switch to their smartphone operating systems in a move to deter the larcenous.

The pressure came from “Secure our Smartphones” (SOS), an organization set up by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who were concerned about rampant smartphone theft in their cities.

The group had already convinced Apple to add the technology to iOS, but now such systems will be installed on 97 per cent of the smartphones in the US following the announcement.

There’s a bunch of stuff in here about how thefts have gone down over time, but I’m a bit skeptical.  Honestly, do you think phone thieves really know which models have kill switches?  No, at the street level, they probably just continue to steal phones.  There might be less money on the back end, so they’re focusing elsewhere, but I can’t imagine some petty criminal checking model numbers from ten feet away before trying to grab a phone.  I’ll be nice and humor the statistics, I suppose.

But really, this is likely to make a major customer of cell phones very happy… Corporations that do a lot of business on cell phones have been clamoring for a way to blow data off a phone.  After a few years of feet-dragging, this is likely to make big changes in the way companies handle the use of phones and the way data can be used remotely.

And all of this because government intervened?  Okay, I might have to be nice to government for a change.  Nah.

Whither Diversity?

June 18, 2014

I’ve long been a proponent of women in the tech workforce.  When I do my work in tech education, I like to see more women/girls getting into technology… mostly because more girls being interested in technology means that more boys will be interested in technology.

But filling the front-end of the pipeline doesn’t necessarily mean results immediately, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee any results.  Check out Yahoo, for instance:

The Purple Palace published the report online on Tuesday, breaking down its employees along both gender and ethnicity lines in its tech, non-tech and leadership divisions.

Much like Google, Yahoo! has fielded a workforce which is, by and large, male and either white or Asian. The company reported that its global operation was 85 per cent male in tech positions and 15 per cent female. Women accounted for a larger share of non-tech positions, with 52 per cent of roles.

If you haven’t seen the Google numbers:

The numbers at Yahoo! bear a striking resemblance to those at Google, which claims that men account for 70 per cent of its total workforce and 79 per cent of leadership roles. Much like Yahoo!, Google counts most of its female employees in administrative “non-tech” job categories.

The utopia of tech HR departments is a workforce that mirrors the world.  Well, go check the schools.  That’s not going to happen anytime soon.  The fallback is that the company matches the tech profiles of IT graduates, which is also a far cry from reality.  Getting a degree doesn’t appear to mean that you actually work in the field, and the field itself certainly doesn’t match what’s already in the workforce.

So, I’d expect that plenty of people will continue to look for solutions. The answer is to take the long view, and to keep tracking.  While results aren’t soon, they’re growing from where they were years ago.  But to that point, we in tech have a responsibility to drive the point harder to the places where decisions are being made.  If we catch kids in middle school, they’re more likely to at least start down the path.  Then it’s up to us to keep them on it.

Cyber-warfare Is Warfare

June 17, 2014

Control of the Internet and communication is now part of warfare.  If you want an example, just look to the (by pretty much any measure) disaster going on in Iraq right now.  The Register has some details:

Iraq has widened its internet ban to include virtual private networks and mobile data in a bid to halt the progress of brutal offensives in the country led by the extremist militant group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

Described as “fascist” and “criminal” by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, Isis has been using social media to broadcast horrific images of mass executions and other barbaric war crimes. It now controls much of Iraq and is closing in on its capital, Baghdad.

From a tactical perspective, I wonder… where does Iraq think this war is being fought?  I’d suspect that both sides in the conflict believe this to be an isolate civil war, and that cutting off the ISIS access (along with everyone else’s, we’ll get to that) to outside communication prevents them from waging psychological warfare with the Iraqi public.  Saving local morale is, to the Baghdad government, more important that letting the world see the carnage being waged to gain sympathy.

From a strategy perspective, the feeling is that control of communications by a reigning government is the best way to ensure that said reigning government stays in control.  Syria did the same thing, or at least tried.  It’s a pretty savvy thing to do by the government, but it could backfire in both local and global ways.

While I don’t believe that access to the Internet and communications is a human right, there are many who do.  Even as some pretty horrific stuff is being blocked by the government, so is the access to the general public in Iraq, which could cause enough bad feelings towards the government as to move public sentiment.  Getting the whole public majority behind the Iraqi government is nearly as important as rallying the troops to actually beat back the ISIS barbarians at the gate.  Likewise, sometimes letting the world see people who are essentially trying to perpetrate a modern scorched-Earth policy in an effort to win a PR battle is a great way to prove to them that their strategy is a bit, um, dumb.

But my greater point is that cyber-warfare is now just a part of warfare.  I’d suspect that we’ll see more on that, at least if we’re looking, in future conflicts.

The Computer Ate My Homework

June 16, 2014

I’m not the IT expert, but I’m a heck of a lot closer than pretty much anyone in congress.  So news, that the IRS had completely lost a set of e-mails from Lois Lerner’s computer stuck me as pretty odd.  As Hot Air notes, Sharyl Attkisson has a few questions that someone should probably answer in this fiasco:

  • Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.
  • Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.
  • I would also ask for those who discovered and reported the crash to testify under oath, as well as any officials who reported the materials as having been irretrievably lost.

There are plenty of other great ones in there, go read the whole thing.

We get constant legal training at my company on how e-mails are retained and what we can and can not say in e-mails.  But one essential piece of the puzzle is that pretty much any e-mail I’ve written in 20+ years can be recovered with the proper legal motivation.  The servers are backed up consistently, and the logs can be used to retrieve individual messages if necessary.  There are e-mail systems that don’t do this, but I can’t imagine that the feds actually use one of them, since it would pretty much violate every information security practice that’s been developed in the last, oh, three decades.

So as far as I can tell, one of two things is going on.  The first would be that the IRS IT department is so totally incompetent that they don’t even know what they’re doing.  The second is that they’re maliciously dissembling to congress and hoping that nobody’s smart enough to catch them.  Both of these scare the snot out of me.

Updated 6/17: Thanks to Mike and Paul for the reblogs.  Anyone visiting is always welcome to jump around the site and see what else we discuss here.  I’ve been kinda’ light on blogging the past few weeks, but it should pick up again for a bit while my travel schedule relaxes, and Lynn might even make a reappearance in a couple weeks.

Updated 6/19: So now the IRS is trying to change the subject to the fact that the hard drive in question from Ms. Lerner’s computer was destroyed.  Honestly, that’s standard operating procedure for an IT department.  You can’t have hard drives hanging around with partially-erased data.  At almost any decent organization, the hard drives are degaussed and crushed when they’re taken out of service, and that includes any hard drive from a decommissioned system.

This is still completely orthogonal to the real discussion.  In the IRS system, e-mail is backed up from the server, not from the client.  Especially as the government is concerned, those backups should be stored for quite a while.  So all this is a distraction from my above point.  This is either total incompetence or deliberate malfeasance, and both frighten me.

How Much Per Hour to Eat Cheese?

June 10, 2014

Most companies have a board of directors, who are in place to guide the company strategy.  While some boards are very active — I know one chairman who spends two full days a week in the offices mentoring the CEO and other key players — many meet on an infrequent basis for a day or two and rarely show to the office.

The Register has a quick article today on board compensation, and how some people are unhappy about it.  Facebook is the subject:

Facebook is currently following its 2012 equity incentive plan, which caps total awards at 25 million shares and individual awards at 2.5 million, which in theory could let the board award directors up to $157m in stock each, based on Monday’s closing price of $62.88.

Although the board hasn’t paid out that kind of package, Espinosa contends that last year’s average take-home pay of $461,000 to non-employee directors was too much. He said the sum was 43 per cent higher than the typical payout at firms like Amazon and the Walt Disney Company, where revenue was twice as high and profits were triple those of the social network.

And who sets the compensation?  Well… the board.  This type of self-governance is probably right to question on occasion, just to make sure the people who are supposed to be the responsible team in charge is actually, well, the responsible team in charge.

This is a tough one for me to comment.  I’m fond of saying that I don’t begrudge anyone’s ability to get paid, though I do begrudge the people who pay it.  Get a sweetheart pension for your work?  Well, fine, you’re the one working.  The union and bosses that negotiated it?  Well, they need to be held responsible.  In this case, though, the people voting on the payment are the people who are getting it.  That can always raise an eyebrow or two, especially if the ceiling is a high one.

I don’t mean to denigrate a company board, either.  Like I said, some members take their jobs very seriously, and actually spend a fair amount of time driving the company to do the right things.  The board is responsible for directing the company to success, and the executive team at the company builds the strategy and action plans to do it.  It’s only when the board is unfairly compensated for a weekend meeting that it generates some ire.

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