Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Whole Foods and the Myth of the Workplace Team

Here's an interesting post that I came across from a guy that worked at Whole Foods in San Francisco. My Whole Foods nightmare: How a full-time job there left me in poverty by Nick Rahaim details some of his experiences working at Whole Foods. It's an interesting read. I think that there are a couple of interesting take-aways from the piece.

From his description, it sounds like a strong bond developed between co-workers. The irony is that, while many businesses try to build this kind of connection, in Whole Food's case, it appears that the unifying factor is salary and union concerns. Imagine if that weren't the case and, instead, that team approach was directed entirely toward the customer experience.

In the piece he references a store meeting where they are are given a "vote" on which benefits to cut because of "Obamacare." In the article, he points to Whole Food's stock price, but possibly a better indicator would be profitability. Essentially, shareholders reap increased profits on the backs of the underpayed "team" members. Its surprising that they don't fold more of that profit back into the engine of the business. And yet, this is the problem with the alignment between the performance of a stock and the "success" of the business.

There is another irony in that, Whole Foods tends to cater to an upscale customer, and that most are probably shopping there because they feel a sort of "harmonizing with all of society, hippy coop" sort of vibe. And Whole Foods exploits this image, through in-store experiences and interactions with the staff in the store. It's also part of the reason why people are willing to pay higher prices and Whole Foods is able to command higher margins than many of their competitors. What do you think the impact would be on the Whole Foods customer base if Whole Foods employees -- the friendly staff that the store's customers interact with -- were broadly thought to be treated in the same way as employees of Walmart? It seems like a rather precarious business strategy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Alliance, Company Values: Good Enough Isn't

As I mentioned in my recommendation of The Alliance, it's given me a lot to think about. One aspect that has stood out prominently for me recently relates to company culture and values. Often in Silicon Valley, we work with the idea of "Good Enough". Minimum Viable Product is all about good enough. At the same time, when we deal with our internal culture and our relationships with employees, good enough isn't really good enough.

Don't get me wrong. Many businesses approach their employees with a Good Enough mindset. Good Enough is the checklist version of employee relations -- just enough health insurance to make it seem like the business offers more than minimal coverage, hamburgers and hot dogs at the employee event, an Xbox because all of the other companies have one. It's the checklist that is disconnected from the why (beyond being a minimum threshold for having employees), and it's a symptom of a business that doesn't understand it's relationship in the alliance.

If there is one lesson that the HR department should learn from us marketing types, it's that every action, every event, and every program should have purpose. It should convey a message.
 "For your holiday bonus, we've decided to give everyone a dollar."
Imagine that reality. Congratulations, you've just awarded every employee a holiday bonus; another check mark on the list of employee benefits. And yet most employees, if presented with this, would probably say, "why bother". Other than adding an item on a list, it's totally unrelated to employee needs or interests. Imagine if it were 50% discount coupons to Disneyworld? It's the HR equivalent of spam. Maybe you get response in the 1-3% range. Is that the way that you want to connect to the "corporate assets" that you depend on to produce the good shit?

At best, a good enough mindset and checklist employee relations is simply disconnected from its "constituent base". At worst, it's a trigger for anger at the organization -- "if you can't be bothered to take my interests into account, why should I care about the things that you say are important?"

And yet, regardless of how counter-productive Good Enough may be for employee relations, it's pervasive and it isn't going away. Why? Because these are the metrics that have been established to measure HR. Salary. Benefits. Costs. And because many businesses don't approach things like, 'we want the very best people, we simply need Good Enough.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

XBox One and Assassin's Creed Unity Bundle: A Review

The holidays are upon us and with it, toys, gadgets and new technology that speaks to the kid in all of us. From a pricing standpoint, the time around Black Friday is one of the best times to buy a gaming console. Often you'll find prices that are unmatched during the rest of the year. Last year, with the launch of the Xbox One and the PS4 consoles, it was another round of the console wars. And while the media plays it as a simple "which platform to choose" queestion, like switching cell phones or operating systems, the decision isn't as simple as this one or that one, with the entrenched user base and established locks playing a factor in the overall decision. In short, if you were already playing on one platform, upgrading was one consideration; but, switching across platforms, that requires a different level of consideration.

For people who have gamed on the Xbox console, Microsoft didn't make it easy with the Xbox One. When announced, the Xbox one had lower graphic performance specs that the PS4, forced you to use a Kinect, and forced an online presence and licensing terms that would limit the viability of the used game market. When the introduction of the XBone was met with a collective, "really?", Microsoft began a PR war, backpedaling from some of these features, bumping the processor speed, and enabling a "software disable" for the Kinect. Still, it wasn't enough and the sales of XBone lagged behind the "you can't find one" PS4 during the 2013 holiday season.

In 2014, you also saw game makers rolling out their new games on the Xbox 360, possibly offering an XBone version, but not forcing a migration. The Xbox 360 hadn't been EOLed, it was just quietly continuing to be good enough for most users. For many Xbox platform users, XBone was a "perhaps sometime in the future" upgrade, worth considering once Microsoft stopped acting so much like the Microsoft that rules the world and more like the Microsoft that made "the gamer's" platform.

For the holiday season in 2014, Microsoft began offering a Kinect-less Xbone, priced lower than the PS4. Theoretically, with a year of manufacturing them, they've worked out some of the hardware issues, but you never know -- Xbox has a long history of things like RROD. But hey, now with the XBone, they've completely eliminated one of their historical hardware problems, there is no more red ring.

And with the holidays comes game bundles. There are a couple of options for 2014, but Costco was offering a semi-black-Friday deal on the Assassin's Creed bundle, with the new Assassin's Creed Unity and Assassin's Creed IV/Black Flag. Black Flag came out last year and was available on the Xbox 360, but Unity is only available on the one (or PS4). After a bit of debate and some comparison of the upcoming pricing options, we decided to buy the bundle at Costco, reassured by Costco's awesome return practices that if anything went wrong, we could bring it back.

Of course, wrong doesn't begin to address the software train wreck that currently resides inside that plastic.

First, the XBox One
With some excitement and pics texted to gaming friends, we completed the ceremonial unboxing. Then, it was time to plug it up. After some basic configuration, the first thing that the "I Must Have Broadband" XBone wanted to do was a system update -- a nearly 1GB download. Having completed it's system update, it then walked you through a series of privacy agreements and basic interface settings before dropping you into the chaotic mess that is the basic OS, sort of a Windows 8 inspired assortment of tiles.

When you're dealing with a touchscreen like a tablet or a phone, you can it's easy to jump from one area of the screen to another. Not so with a mouse. It's even worse with the joystick on a game controller. I'm not a fan.

Perhaps the worst feature of the interface is this "Snap" feature. If you pop the power button on the controller, up pops this snap sidebar. This sidebar will stay with you regardless of the what's going on on the other screen. At one point in the midst of game play and trying to adjust settings, the snap bar popped open and it took fifteen minutes of back and forth between the main interface and the game just to get the snap sidebar to close -- because multi-tasking is so important when you're playing a game on a console.

Another thing that set off the horrific Snap experience was the search to try and change the brightness output on the XBone. The search for settings adjustment in the XBone was another 30 minute affair, punctuated by landing in a "calibrate your display for Xbox", that basically informed you to change the settings on your TV. The XBone isn't too dark, it's your TV that doesn't work correctly.

Multi-tasking and Retained States
The XBone has some features that seem like they'd be handy if you're a gamer and you have a one-to-one relationship with your console. When you restart the XBone, if you are logged in as the same person playing the same game as your last session, it remembers where you stopped and it restores your session -- no more re-watching the launch screen, you're back in the action at the same place that you left. Unfortunately, if that place was an interface bug (a common event in AC Unity), simply closing out of the game will not remedy it.

Again, if the purpose of this device is to be your entertainment center controller, then you may find this level of retained states and multi-tasking support helpful, but if you think your game console something that you want to play games on, then you may find this to be yet another feature that you curse about on the system.

Assassin's Creed Unity - The Crashiest AC EVAH!
After updating the XBone and sifting through the OS to find where to enter the game download code, next it was time to download the new AC Unity. I queued it up and began the download. In reading the paper disclaimer, it notes that AC Unity can take up to 50GB of space on your XBox hard disk. This was going to be a massive download, so I decided to make dinner while it downloaded. As I started to make dinner, I thought that it might be handy to put something on the TV while making food. On the Xbox 360, we have the Amazon Prime app installed, and we'll sometimes use it. As I went to fire up Amazon on the XBone (one of the tiles), it told me that I needed to download the updated app -- which it happily queued behind my AC Unity download. No multi-threaded downloads on this system.

What did surprise me though was, partway through making dinner, the console informed me that AC Unity was ready to play. Surprising, but it seemed like it would let me start with 'enough' downloaded -- sort of like a cached streaming video. What it seemed to do though, was let me play through an extended opening sequence before gearing itself up for a much longer complete download with no additional opportunities to play before the download was complete.

So let's talk about the game play
My first experiences with the game were... dark. Really dark. This is what sent me on the hunt to adjust the settings on the XBone, within the AC game, somewhere. There is a line between dramatic and playable, Assassin's Creed Unity seems to cross that threshold repeatedly. Several "night time" sequences were so dark, they were virtually unplayable. As with many aspects, it's difficult to measure whether this is the XBone or the AC Unity game.

By the time I did get to a daylight portion of the game, I was excited by the high resolution graphics. However, as I started playing through one of the 'chase' segments, I initially found the graphics to be a bit frustrating as it made it more difficult to identify and separate the important details from the unessential random graphic details.

There are other things that become more immediately apparent that you have probably read in other reviews. Probably my favorite in the Assassin's Creed series is AC 2. There are aspects that make the game like a tour of historic Italy. There's an immersive level of Italian language, including a fun level of Italian swear words. AC 2 is why "merda" and "requiescat in pace" entered my lexicon. But with Unity, while we have the French Revolution and all of it's immersive graphics, we get a comprehensive British accent overdub of everything. Despite Ubisoft's links to Montreal and, one would expect, the ability to turn out a product with some level of French feel, instead we are left with an environment that seems far less immersive that the version of the game that's five generations older. Devolution.

The other thing that has been an ongoing devolution in the series has been this increasing emphasis on cool action "parkour"moves. Sure it makes for cool video sequences to see your character make running, sliding hops over tables and under gates, but it seems as though many of these are added while sacrificing overall playability. And, while it's mildly amusing the first time your Arno character does a little cartwheel-like spin at the top of the building, it becomes rather tiring rather quickly. Similarly, the parkour emphasis means that sometimes your free run along the outcroppings of buildings will be supplemented by grabbing the building wall and doing a blind spin -- visually interesting the first time you do it, but equally as likely to interrupt your run and send you off in a direction that you didn't intend to go.

Simpler is Not Always Better
Free running has been evolving over the course of the series. At one time, you needed to use a combination of buttons to free run, but with Unity, you free run by pulling the trigger and use the A or B button as a modifier for "up" or "down". On the one hand, down makes a handy way to down-climb from a building, regardless of what the side looks. It also reduces the number of times that you find yourself accidentally leaping off a building and desyncing. At the same time, it's taken some of the challenge away. You hardly need to control your direction as the software will land you on the right place most of the time.

This same "make it simpler" has changed several other aspects of the climbing interface. While AC2 featured climbing puzzles that could frequently frustrating in their "you must be facing in exactly this direction and execute the correct key combination to make a side-leap off a wall in order to reach the ledge" kind of challenges, AC Unity has virtually removed things like jumping backwards from a hanging position on one wall to grasp at a ledge or handhold behind you. Now the interface features "Wall Eject" as an option, but more often than not, it doesn't even work. Even "Drop" sometimes doesn't work. This leads to numerous game hangs if you find yourself in a buggy location. I've gotten hung on a wall inside a building, two feet above the floor, in a corner next to a plant -- and the interface wouldn't accept any inputs. I would rather accidentally leap to my death than have the safety on the interface say, "nope".

Which brings me to another problem with the interface on this. Often, the engine finds itself switching back and forth between views as you jump between buildings. It's related to the not being able to do the back leap and the engine's seeming desire to give you a straight-ahead view. With several rapid changes in perspective, it becomes easy to lose any sense of real location. Sometimes during a fast down-climb, you'll find yourself facing the wrong direction and, correspondingly, interrupting your descent.

At the same time, one of the cool features is the number of "inside building" spaces that you have. Now, buildings are no longer solid objects, instead having floors and complete inside environments. For the most part, the inside buildings are a nice addition, but it's often frustrating trying to go through a window, even when the tip suggests "use left trigger to enter a window". In all, I would say that windows are still buggy.

Speaking of Bugs
You've probably heard and read a lot about the bugs. The AC series has always been kind of buggy, but Unity takes it to new levels. Playing on a recent Sunday, I think that the game went through eight or nine crashes that forced it to reboot. Essentially, it was play for 45 minutes or so, then crash. Repeat. Finally, midway through a memory mission, when I got hung up on the wall, I quit for the day. Gave up.

It's so buggy that, around Thanksgiving weekend Ubisoft pushed out a large update with something like 3000 bug fixes -- and it's still super buggy. They also sent an email providing the Dead Kings DLC to everyone for free. Another frustrating bug is this "Initiates" feature. Within the game, they've created this Initiates ranking that should link a registered user to their gaming history and provide them with access to things like additional clothing sets. It's the thing that remembers whether you finished the other Assassin's Creed games and things like that. The problem is that, for me and a number of users like me, whenever you try to connect to the Initiates function, it spits out an error and won't connect. That also means that a whole collection of yellow chests (and other in-game items) are essentially unavailable to you. Not a great experience for long term, theoretically loyal customers.

Multiplayer is Amusing
One nice thing about Unity is the multiplayer missions. Select a multiplayer mission and the software searches the cloud for others that are interested in collaboratively playing through a mission. Upon completion, everyone gets some skill upgrade points (only the first run through) and an armor item. While it may sound strange seeing another 1-3 people driving similarly enabled assassins through a collaborative mission, it's actually pretty cool. The missions with three or four tend to play better because they are less dependent on the coordination and collaboration between individuals. And yet, it's kind of interesting to see similar styles of game play and even, essentially uncoordinated collaboration towards a common goal. This is another nice addition.

XBox One and Assassin's Creed Unity: A Bundle Made in Error
Ultimately, there's a level of irony to the XBone / AC Unity bundle. The odds are pretty high that, if that wasn't a bundled option, we probably wouldn't have taken the XBox One console home this holiday season. Currently, there are still enough new titles -- like Dragon Age or Borderlands -- that are also available on XBox 360, that the change isn't quite mandatory. And while the graphics are nice, it's not so compelling an update that migration is a must.

At the same time, between the XBone interface and the bugs in the Assassin's Creed game, I must say that I don't love this console. Considering that, between sequences or fast travel transitions in Unity, it generates a load screen that takes a minute or more (which I believe may be related to the streaming loading of data) to resolve, it becomes a tiresome journey working your way through the game. As noted, the game has also generated more lock-ups and crashes than any console game that I've played, ever. As someone who's just stepped into this platform, it can be so bad that it might make you want to go back to the Xbox 360. We've been told by friends of ours that their experience with Halo not as bad -- like no crashes bad -- so it may be the software and not the platform. But still. I would have thought that somebody and Microsoft or Ubisoft would have said, it's not ready, you can't serve this to customers.

As for Ubisoft, I wish that they didn't seem compelled to crank out a new title each year and would instead focus on improving the depth and flow of the story and the gameplay. While we've been amused at how smoothly the graphics flow from cut scene to action with little degradation, couldn't we take advantage of that to reduce the number of cut scenes? Ultimately, I feel like Ubisoft has targeted a lowest common denominator demographic with the game play and the voicing where they could have done better bringing in closer to the AC 2 environment. I get the sense that they were drawn that way -- sort of the "let's get away from sailing" thing -- but still tried to keep it "safe".

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Uber and the Business that Isn't That Business

Over the past couple of weeks, I've watched as the various Uber scandals have played in the media. Or rather, I should say, the latest big Uber scandal and it's various associated threads. Several times I've felt compelled to write about the it and the various things that we've either learned or had reinforced over the past two weeks. Here are a few highlights for me:
  • Pando Daily gets my consistent reading attention because the writing and analysis is worth it.
  • Uber's visible, vocal flaunting of legal and ethical frameworks reminds me a lot of that once-vaunted company, Enron. The market loved them and they could do no wrong when the money machine was rolling, but then it wasn't. The blow-back was Sarbanes-Oxley. Remember this part? 'Taken directly from the act, a code of ethics comprises the standards necessary to promote "honest and ethical conduct; full, fair, accurate, timely and understandable disclosure in periodic reports;" and "compliance with applicable governmental rules and regulations.' Can you imagine the incoming congress fixing anything? Perhaps as long as it includes the option to ignore them for personal or religious grounds.
  • Ashton Kutcher. Really? Dude.
  • And then there's this, one of the more interesting things that I read about why you might want to consider deleting your Uber app. I know. It's Android, but still.
  • I think someone out there could write a long and eloquent post about the ludicrousness of a "sensationalistic" press writing about business
All of that being said, there's still a lot of discussion around how much money is sitting on table in this ridesharing market and whether, ultimately, that money supports an "end justifies the means" approach to business. Here's more analysis on "Why Uber Fights."

For me though, one thing that resonates is how Uber tries to play the "We're not THAT business" card. When facing cities and states with regulations governing taxis and limos, Uber says, "those laws don't apply to us. We're not a taxi company or a limo company. We're just facilitating connections between riders and drivers." And then, when it comes to the behavior of it's drivers, background checks, insurance or any of the other things that might cost money, the drivers are "not employees of Uber, we're just facilitating transactions between a driver and a rider."

Of course, this "outside of the lines of THAT business" approach stand in contrast to actual aspects of their business. For example, there's the blurred line between employee and contractor. Clearly, the goal of having employees be contractors is to escape many of the employer/employee relationship requirements. Similarly, while the company doesn't want to be categorized as a transportation company, a chunk of that investment warchest goes to fund a program where drivers can "borrow money" to buy Uber cars and the company can build out their fleet of "not Uber company" cars.

There are aspects of this approach that enable the company to grow faster, but you can rest assured that a significant percentage of their "not THAT business" approach is to skate between the lines and rules that bind the rest of the business world. It's as though they said, "this limit that says that a limo requires an advanced booking to pick up a passenger is wrong, so all rules are wrong". The reality is that there are reasons why many of these regulations and laws have made their way onto the books. And while the limits on booking a limo might have not kept up with the internet age and deserved disruption, that doesn't equate to all business laws, regulations and limitations being unbreakable.

Being a business that is "not THAT business" is a position that businesses take when they want to try and capitalize on a loophole. "Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to worry about this rule or that rule". Like ISPs not being liable for the content going through your broadband connection -- we don't have anything to do with what's going through the pipe until we realized we could make money inserting our ads to your content."

It may be that, by espousing a "between the ethical lines" strategy, a business can increase some short term profits. But in the long term, do these kinds of ethical gray areas pay off? Consider something like Silk Road, which probably adopted the notion of "not a drug dealer", instead just facilitating an online marketplace, a place where buyers and sellers could connect". Given enough government interest, it didn't really matter what gray area the people running it claimed, they were still arrested for criminal behavior.

Now it may be that there is not enough will within the government to "crack down" on these gray area definitions for Uber (the regulation bogeyman that conservatives hate), but that's just here in the states. As Uber expands into Europe and other international locations, some European governments are not as regulation-averse.

To date, Uber's approach has been to operate as though the on-demand ride has been an unjust barrier, then hoped that with enough adoption and positive public sentiment, they could overcome any regulatory barriers that were thrown up in their way. That approach is easier to execute upon when you're seen as a positive force, not a threat, a no-harm no-foul concession to technology changing the marketplace. But, as you push the envelope of legitimate business practices and people get threatened, hurt or feel ripped off, the tides can change.

Ethics, Morality, and The Mission Statement
It's one thing to look for exploitable loopholes. It's another thing entirely when that becomes the fabric of your business. Customers can understand and tolerate breaking a rule if that seems part of a bigger mission. Breaking one rule can make you seem principled. Break too many and you just seem slimey.

Ethics matter. Everyone jokes about Google's "Don't Be Evil" value, but consider -- despite many questions raised about aspects of their business, most people recognize that Google does good things with their products, technologies and practices. Or at least they try. Everything from free services to a loftier goal of scanning all of the books so that everyone has access to them -- these aren't things that are born out of a "how can I get leverage over the world" philosophy. And that's probably why people might be more likely worried about how Uber staff like Travis and his Bros might use their private data, where they wouldn't worry about Sergey and Larry in the same way. Sure people worry about what the ubiquitous Google is doing with their data, but it's unlikely that Google would publish their walk of shame/ride of glory.

Ultimately, if you look at the battle for this ride share market, there is this notion that the market is defined and it's just a matter of parsing the customer base. If Uber wins, it will own this market is the prevailing thought. I think what that seems to overestimate is our need for this service. Don't get me wrong, taxis and ride for hire has been around for a long time, but that doesn't necessarily translate to an automatic shift to Uber. While there are aspects of the taxi environment that we all may have encountered -- crazy drivers, unclean vehicles, and selective, sometimes limited support as examples -- there are still aspects of the service, like regulated fares, that have me choosing a taxi over Uber for many in-city rides.

But beyond that, there is this assumption that our need for a ride-share type ride outweighs any ethical limitations that might otherwise drive us to select an alternative. What happens when Uber drivers become like Internet fulfillment warehouse workers, run ragged on a barely minimum wage, indentured servants to the rider class. Will this ethical framework hold? Will there still be joy and enthusiasm in this service? Or will it be like Groupon, with unknowing shop owners leveraged into buy-one-get-one-free deals that drive a momentary customer boost at the expense of their quality, profits and reputation?

At some point, Uber will reach a tipping point, a time when it can no longer play the "not THAT business" card. In order to own it's quality, service and brand, it will need to become THAT business. Taking ownership would also mean taking ownership of it's management and it's ethics. Right now, it doesn't want to own anything -- it's not THAT business. But let's see how long that lasts.

Update: I stopped writing this post over the weekend and then I came across this piece on Pando talking about the differences between Uber and AirBNB. It's totally worth diving into.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

United Airlines and their Customers: Loyalty in Decline

It's the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a horrible time for traveling and airports. And yet, business needs forced my hand and I'm flying back to the east coast tonight. Perhaps the bigger irony is that, as I opened Jason Hirschorn's @MediaREDEF newsletter this morning, I came across this New Yorker article, Why I Left United Airlines by Tim Wu.

I found it amusing and ironic as he echoed many of my sentiments about United Airlines. As I mentioned in previous posts, done with United meant selecting a different carrier for my trip to Japan in October and for this upcoming trip to Boston. And, while I'm gritting my teeth, nervously anticipating the potential frustrations that JetBlue may put me through, particularly this evening (red-eye flight, currently stuck in front of an exit row in a middle seat in that doesn't recline -- not really what you want on a business trip), deep down I know that I'm already better off than I would have been on a matching United flight.

Nope, United, I'm done.

BTW, the article references Untied.com -- check it out if you want to read more unhappy United experiences. I found this NoFlyNoBuy complaint from MileagePlus members talking about a no-fly no-buy Thursday. For me, every day has become no-fly, no-buy.

But, for every business that isn't United, it's worth noting the power of dissatisfaction. How many of these dissatisfied customers do you think say, "don't fly United"?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Apple: More Frustrating OS Behaviors

Dear Apple: We've been together a long time. I've used Apple devices since before there was an Internet. One of the things that I've always counted on is that you employ people who understand the bigger requirements; that when you make decisions or choose directions, you keep professional users like me in mind even as you make it easier for novice users to work with the tools.

To that end, me and most of my Mac using friends have tolerated some of these experiments in making things easier. I remember the original introduction of the "Launcher", introduced -- I suppose -- because double-clicking on an application icon was too difficult for some people to understand. I also remember my friend's comment about getting rid of it, "the first thing you needed to do was to launch the Launcher."

But now, the current design direction seems to have shifted from utility to fashion -- and the almighty idea of harmonizing the appearance of the phone and the Mac. It's taking the Mac in such stupid ways. Internally inconsistent ways.

So the other day we were sitting around, streaming a video to our Apple TV using mirroring and VLC. But recently -- for whatever reason -- the mirrored video stream has become super-choppy. Tons of dropped frames and video lag. I found several suggestions online, including turning off Bluetooth, and switching the view to "extended desktop". When I did that though, VLC started to act strangely. I could launch a video and you could hear the sound, but there was no video visible. After clicking around and restarting VLC, the video would appear when I launched VLC.

I didn't think much about that problem until the other day when I was doing something that I often do, production-wise. I was entering data into a field into Salesforce in one window, while trying to have Excel in the background as reference behind it. To make it easier, I moved the Excel sheet over to my second monitor (and the extended desktop), then clicked back to my Salesforce window. The problem? Excel would "disappear" from the other window. Vanish. Gone. No more extended desktop.

After doing a bit of research, I discovered a checkbox in the Mission Control section of the system preferences. The setting "Displays have separate Spaces" is apparently checked by default. It appears that this behavior was made default even back in Mavericks. Deselecting it requires a log-out, so you can't do this in the middle of a project without a significant interruption. But once I made the change, I had true extended desktop functionality again.

So first, I'm at a loss to explain why you would make this kind of change in the first place. But beyond that, here's my bigger question -- what's the point of having transparency baked in as an effect throughout the system when you don't allow things to be transparent across application spaces? Is it because it's cool? It sure as hell doesn't provide me any utility.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Net Neutrality and Obamacare: Are There Similarities?

So Senator Ted Cruz claimed that Net Neutrality was like Obamacare. That spawned a number of comments about how he wrong. I even read one article "hoping" that he was right because Obamacare was a success.

Not to wade too much into the polarized politics of it, I suspect that whatever comes out of the current Net Neutrality debate will actually be a lot like Obamacare -- but I mean that in an entirely different way. When Sen. Cruz talks references Obamacare, what he's talking about is government involvement in health care, the regulation bogeyman, and "government overreaching". Remember the message, "regulation bad. Evil." with the subtext of, "our friends can't make as much money." When I reference Obamacare, I'm thinking more about the evolution of the legislation and the interests that must be addressed.

If you remember back in the early negotiations around Obamacare, one of the first things that they did was to sign an agreement with the big pharmaceutical companies to limit the impact of the legislation on drug companies. Why? Well, for the drug companies, this "concession" meant that they could count on their profits even if the legislation went through. Big pharma has big pockets, and they were part of the reason that healthcare reform was quashed back in the 1990s. This agreement was an attempt to take them out of the game.

Then there was another aspect of healthcare reform -- a single payer universal system. Medicare for all. It never even got to sniff the paper the legislation was printed on because most people understand that it would kneecap the for-profit health insurance industry. Instead, they kept it off the table and pushed through "everyone must buy health insurance", a broad concession to the insurance industry. Not that those guys weren't making money before, and not that they didn't complain through the process. The net effect was designed to be, we give you guys more business so you don't lose money.

What these two aspects of Obamacare have in common is the idea of finding ways to appease the moneyed lobbying interest while putting a public "we're taking care of you" wrapper on it. For years now, that's the same solution that they've been trying to find for Net Neutrality. To find a way to support the telecom and cable lobbying, to ensure that they can take whatever profits they want, all while finding enough of the right words to make you feel like you got things reeled back from Comcast being able to say, "whatever, I do what I want".

This is why they floated the more recent regulation saying in essence, "mostly net neutrality for the stuff that goes into your house, but big money companies like Comcast and Netflix can negotiate fast lanes." See Mom and Dad, you won't have to pay a premium to send grandma and grandpa that video of the school play. It just may take a couple of hours.

So when Ted Cruz says Net Neutrality is like Obamacare, he's not far off. That being said, Cruz isn't really playing to your interest -- unless your name is Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T.

And how about President Obama -- why weigh in on this now? I think that this was a, "we've crossed the threshold of the midterm elections, it's not like I have anything to lose one some of these issues." Thus, net neutrality and immigration.

Meanwhile, back at the "independent" FCC, they're going to have to look for some sort of path that can answer the issue while keeping "the industry" happy.